Can I Sue the Person Who Stole my Identity?

Stories of identity theft are on the rise in this country, which comes as a surprise to those who have become rather comfortable with trusting various forms of technology in every facet of their lives. Indeed, our techno-centric lives have contributed to the creation of tech savvy criminals who can hack virtually any computer system or device.

Although it seemed like identity theft and account hacking were less prevalent for a few years, accounts of stolen personal identifying information are now on the rise again. Hackers have learned their way around firewalls, safety features and encryption settings designed to prevent this very crime.

It seems like nearly every day that we hear about a friend’s Facebook, email or other online communication/social media account being hacked. While those used to be more of a nuisance than a danger – we can now shop right from our Facebook and other social media profiles. This means a hacker can shop as you if they are able to gain access to your account(s).

Additionally, there have been far too many reports of corporations experiencing data breaches – nearly everyone has received at least one notification letter in the mail detailing what information of theirs was potentially stolen during their recent cyber attack. Even giants like Target and Equifax have been victims of cyber crime.

What would you do if you discovered that your personal information – that being your name, birth date, social security number, home address, and other identifiers was stolen during one of these data breaches and used by another person in order to create accounts in your name? The potential for damage to your credit score is huge. What recourse do you have?

While it can be a primal instinct to want to sue the pants off the person who stole your information, that isn’t always easy to do. However, if you are able to pinpoint the criminal in question (or the corporation who allowed your personal data to be leaked) – it is possible to sue for up to three times the damages you experienced.

As soon as you realize that another person has been using your personal information to make purchases or perform other actions while posing as you – make a police report at your local police station. The sooner your identity theft matter is on record, the better. It’s important not to simply ignore it and hope it goes away, because you definitely want to avoid hitting the statute of limitations on a crime like this. Reports show that the average identity theft victim spends an average of two years trying to prove their own identity, getting charges removed from credit cards and fixing credit reports that now contain false information.

For more information about New Jersey identity theft and the statute of limitations on such crimes in our state, read about the Wrongful Impersonation statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17) and contact a certified and experienced NJ credit repair attorney to help you right the wrongs that have been done.

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Should I Pay my Debts or Hire a Bankruptcy Attorney?

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When you are face to face with a huge pile of unpaid debt, you might wonder if it would be more cost effective to put a pay-off plan into effect or to make an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney. Naturally, both options are going to cost money – but there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you determine which option will end up costing you less in the end.

Firstly, it must be said that there isn’t a cut-and-dry, cookie cutter answer to this question, so please take the advice herein with that knowledge. There are a number of variables that will affect the direction you ultimately choose to take, like:

  • How much debt do you have?
  • What type(s) of debt do you have?
  • What is your current income?
  • Do you foresee your income increasing in the near future?
  • Is there a potential financial windfall in your near future (like a work bonus)?
  • How long do you want to spend paying off your debt?
  • Are you ok with losing credit score points (temporarily)?

If you are currently not even (or barely) able to make the minimum payment each month on sky high credit card debt, you’re looking at a very long road ahead and you will have paid a huge amount of interest at the end of your debt pay-off journey. In this case, filing for bankruptcy looks like it would be a better decision, because your bankruptcy attorney’s fees are likely to cost you less than how much you’ll be paying in interest over the years. Also, by filing for bankruptcy, you can rid yourself of your burdensome debts as soon as you case is approved for a discharge. This will allow you to start a savings account, put your child through college, or otherwise focus more of your income in a way that you weren’t able to before.

The bankruptcy route will knock your credit score down for awhile, but if you’re working with a bankruptcy attorney in NJ who knows what he’s doing, you’ll be counseled on how to potentially bring your score even higher than it is now. This can usually happen in 12-18 months after a bankruptcy discharge if you follow the recommendations given.

On the flip side of the coin – maybe you have more debt than you’d like to have but you’re not drowning in debt. This is not an uncommon situation to be in. If your income is substantial enough to handle your monthly cost of living plus (give or take) double your minimum payments on at least one of your debts, you may be a good candidate for avoiding bankruptcy.

It’s impossible to give you a completely straight answer to this question, as mentioned earlier, because everyone’s financial situation is so unique. The above general tips are just that – general – and you should base your final decision off of the in-person advice you get from an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney. He will be able to comb through your debts and assets in order to properly guide you toward making the choice that will best fit your finances.

Get in touch with a reputable New Jersey bankruptcy attorney today – most offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose but debt!

Divorce Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Credit Score!

While the act of separating and/or getting divorced from your spouse won’t affect your credit score on its own, it is likely to cause indirect damage to your finances. So, while there won’t be a giant mark on your credit report that says “GOT DIVORCED, automatic 100 point deduction,” your score can and will begin to drop after a divorce if you aren’t hyper-aware of the potential damage.

In order to take proactive steps to maintain a good or excellent credit score during and after a divorce, you first have to know what you’re up against. Some of the biggest factors that cause divorcees financial strife include:

  • Suddenly dropping from two incomes to one income
  • Joint debt that goes unpaid by your soon-to-be ex-spouse
  • Shared bank accounts that can be drained by either party
  • Spiteful actions of one spouse, like running up a joint credit card balance
  • Lack of an independent financial identity and/or credit history
  • Divorce expenses
  • Child support and/or alimony

Even if the split is something that will ultimately make you happier, the process of getting to that end goal is undoubtedly going to be stressful. It is much easier to miss a bill payment or make other financial errors when you are stressed to the max.

Why is My Credit Score so Important After Divorce?

Losing a few credit score points shouldn’t make or break anyone, right? In many situations, this may be true. However, for those people who are going through a divorce, maintaining a solid credit score is IMPERATIVE.

You may need to buy or rent, initiate utility services for, and completely furnish a new home. In order to do so, your credit must be fair to good at minimum (ideally in the upper 600s or above).

Additionally, many divorcees seek higher-paying jobs in order to make up for the second income that was lost in the split. These days, it is common practice for employers to check the credit history of all potential hires before extending a job offer. If your score tanks during or after your divorce, it may prove difficult to make even a lateral employment move.

What Can I Do to Maintain a Good Credit Score After my Divorce?

As soon as you know that divorce is in the cards, your first move should be getting a current credit report from each reporting agency. This will allow you to know precisely what debts and recurring payments are officially your responsibility as opposed to your spouse’s.

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty.” ~ Will Durant

After you have current credit reports in hand, it’s important that you take smart action based on the information contained in your report(s). For example, you may not have realized that your spouse listed you as an ‘authorized user’ on a credit card. If the card’s balance gets maxed out due to extra expenses during your divorce and your ex-spouse stops making payments, you could be held responsible for the balance. In addition to removing yourself from any joint accounts, you should:

  • Create an amended budget using your adjusted spending limit.
  • Make it a priority to make all of your payments on time.
  • Closely monitor any accounts that you’re unable to separate immediately.
  • Get educated on the topic of good financial habits.
  • Seek the help of a financial advisor or NJ credit repair attorney, if needed.

 

 

 

 

How to Dispute a Debt and Win!

We’ve talked a lot on our blog about how to handle your unpaid debts so that your credit score doesn’t tank, because a low credit score makes it much harder for you to borrow money, buy a house, and purchase a vehicle. Even potential employers today have the ability to find out how you handle money before deciding whether or not to hire you. For the aforementioned reasons, keeping a decent credit score is something that rightfully demands your attention.

Keeping tabs on your ever-shifting credit score and the details contained within your credit report(s) is the easiest way to ensure that you don’t have any long-lost debts doing serious damage without your knowledge. If and when you discover an unpaid debt that belongs to you, it’s important to pay the debt ASAP to avoid losing valuable credit score points. Working with your credit repair attorney in NJ, you can negotiate a debt pay-off schedule that works for you. Remember to check back in with the credit reporting bureaus as soon as you’ve paid off said debt to make sure it has been removed from your credit report.

What happens if you receive a notice from a collection agency for a debt that you have no recollection of owing? While your first instinct may be to toss it in the trash with the rest of the “junk mail,” slow down for a minute. There are two very good reasons why you should NOT ignore any letter from a debt collector.

  1. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s possible that you do owe an original creditor money. Bills are be misplaced, mis-sent, and lost every day. The original creditor may have also made a billing error when they originally charged you. The bottom line is that it is possible that you owe money that you forgot about or didn’t know about.
  2. Debt collectors can continue to attempt to collect on a debt, even if it was never your debt to begin with, unless you respond to them, in writing, within 30 days. Therefore, even if a collection agency is completely falsifying information in the hopes that you will simply send them some money, do not ignore it.

If you are being held responsible for a debt that you don’t recognize or remember, you can dispute the debt by sending the collection agent a letter via Certified Mail, with return receipt requested. In your letter, state that you are writing to dispute the alleged debt, and that all collection attempts should cease unless they can provide you with all of the following:

  • The full amount of the alleged debt
  • The name and address of the original creditor
  • Proof that you are responsible for the alleged debt
  • Documentation showing that the collection agency is licensed to collect debts in New Jersey

If the person attempting to collect money is doing so fraudulently, you should never hear from them again once they receive this letter from you. On the other hand, if there is a legitimate debt that you’re responsible for, you will receive the information you requested. Either way it is advisable to contact a credit repair attorney and/or a consumer fraud attorney in order to get your desired results and to keep your good credit score safe.

Image: “Credit Dispute” by Cafe Credit – licensed under CC 2.0

Fixing Your Credit to be Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Loan

If your credit score is very low (under 500), you may feel like you’ll never be approved for a mortgage. Owning your own home is a life-long dream for so many people, and luckily, it’s not one that you have to give up. You will, however, have some work to do before you will be granted a mortgage loan.

Anyone who is looking to buy a house in the relatively near future should take a good look at their credit report(s). The higher your credit score is when you’re approved, the better your mortgage rate will be. This can save you hundreds of dollars on your monthly mortgage payment. First, request a copy of your most recent reports from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

As an aside, it’s wise to take a look at your credit report once a year on a regular schedule even if you’re not in the home-buying market.

Once you have a copy of your credit reports, the first thing on your agenda should be scanning it with a fine-tooth comb to check for any errors. This is the easiest way to give your credit score a quick boost.

If you find any errors (debts that are being reported incorrectly, satisfied debts that continue to show up as unpaid, payments marked as late when you paid on time), filing a dispute with the agency whose report contains the error(s) is the next step. Working with a New Jersey credit repair attorney is a good idea if you have errors and a lot of negative marks on your credit report. Your attorney will negotiate with your creditors, requesting forgiveness for lesser offenses like late payments. This “goodwill letter” is frequently an effective approach to jump-starting your credit repair process.

Once you’re sure that any errors have been appropriately dealt with, the following behaviors will give your credit score further boosts to get it up to your “goal range.” Your NJ credit repair attorney will know how much your score needs to increase in order for you to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan.

Make your monthly bill payments early

Even better, if you can make an extra payment each month on your credit cards with the highest balances, you’ll be able to zap your debts faster.

Create a debt resolution plan

In addition to making more than one payment per month, create a plan to pay down all of your existing debt until it’s gone. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better.

Raise your credit limits

Related to lowering your credit utilization ratio, you can also request a higher credit limit on one or two of your credit cards. Be careful with this tip, though, and only do this if you have the self-control to keep yourself from charging even more purchases.

Consolidate

If you have more than one card with the same lender, keeping your oldest card active and transferring balances from newer cards (and then closing the newer cards), the overall age of your debt will be older, which looks good to credit bureaus.

If you are diligent about reigning in your spending, paying all of your bills early or on time, and taking the steps listed above, it is possible to boost your credit score 50-100 points in six months to one year. Your results will be dependent on your starting credit score and the type and number of dings currently on your credit report.

Before you know it, you’ll be walking out of your lender’s office with a mortgage pre-approval letter!

Will too Many Credit Cards Hurt my Credit Score?

While you may be worried that you have too many credit card accounts open, the truth is that there isn’t a magic number of credit cards that is “right” or “wrong”. With that being said, there are some important things to know about holding multiple credit card accounts at the same time.

The average credit cardholder has approximately 5 to 7 credit cards. This includes open and closed accounts. There is no cutoff number where we would tell you “You have too many credit cards,” because what we are more concerned about is your debt to credit ratio.

What Is a Debt to Credit Ratio?

Essentially, the debt to credit ratio means: how much of your total available credit (on all of your credit cards) have you used? In other words, if you have a total of $10,000 of credit available to you spread out over any number of cards and your current balances add up to $9000, you have a very high debt to credit ratio of 90%.

Why is this number important?

The reason why your debt to credit ratio number is significant is because it plays a big role in determining your credit score. Ideally, you want to keep your total credit card balances at 30% or less of the credit you have available to you.

You can have a really great debt to credit ratio with 10 credit cards (many people open cards in order to take advantage of different “points” systems), and you can also have a poor ratio with only one or two credit cards.

How Can I Improve My Debt to Credit Ratio?

While opening new credit cards would seem like the most logical strategy to increase your total amount of credit available, it is important that you don’t open multiple new accounts in quick succession.This will send up a red flag to credit reporting agencies because it may mean that you are borrowing money that you won’t be able to repay.

Try opening one or two new credit cards per year in order to gradually boost your total available credit. More importantly, make sure that you are paying your monthly minimums (or ideally, more) in a timely manner on a consistent basis. In fact, this is actually more important than your debt to credit ratio number. Your credit score is calculated by looking at a number of your financial habits, your income and your total debt. Approximately 65% of your credit score is based on how well you stay on top of paying your bills.

Additionally, your credit score will improve if you have a variety of types of credit. Credit diversity makes up about 10% of your credit score.

If you feel you have too many credit cards because the balances are way too high and you’re having trouble making payments, your problem lies in your debt to credit ratio rather than how many credit cards you have.

To reduce your total amount of credit card debt, you can choose one of many effective and proven methods. If you have already attempted to reduce your credit card debt and feel like you are drowning in debt you’ll never be able to repay – filing for New Jersey bankruptcy may be an option that you should consider.

Image: “Credit Cards” by Sean MacEntee – licensed under CC 2.0

Do You Understand Your Mortgage’s Fine Print?

Now that the housing/mortgage crisis has begun to level out in most parts of the country, it has once again become a buyer’s market, and this time in a much more reasonable manner. Interest rates are good, but not unbelievably good like they were leading up to the 2007 crisis. As we all know by now: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just because we’re looking at the US Financial Crisis (2007-2008) in the rear view mirror doesn’t mean that getting a mortgage loan today comes without risks, though. In fact, there is a lot to be learned from the mistakes made a decade ago.

In order to ensure that you aren’t getting yourself into something you can’t handle or something that will change over time (and not in your favor) – you simply MUST have a complete and solid understanding of everything contained in your mortgage agreement.

To most people, this probably sounds like common sense. But have you ever looked at a real, live mortgage agreement? They are very lengthy with a lot of industry jargon that can quickly spin you into a confused puddle on the floor.

Your best bet is to find a New Jersey lawyer with real estate knowledge. Make sure you trust him and his team implicitly – in all likelihood a paralegal may also work with you on real estate matters, so be sure to meet everyone in the office who will be helping you understand your documents.

Questions to have ready for your attorney and/or paralegal include:

  • Is my rate variable or fixed? If the answer is variable, find out the lowest fixed rate that you’ll be able to lock in your loan.
  • Will there be penalties if I have to break my mortgage contract?
  • Am I required to pay mortgage insurance? If so, find out why. You may be able to work with a different lender who will not require mortgage insurance. If mortgage insurance is non-negotiable, be sure to ask how long you’ll be paying it, because it can often be a significant sum.
  • How long does my mortgage loan last? Will different terms lower my monthly payment?
  • What fees am I required to pay up front and are there any fees that were tossed into the total loan amount?
  • Do I have a balloon payment clause?
  • What are mortgage “points?”
  • Is a down payment required?
  • What is my monthly payment?
  • What is my credit score? We left this question until the end for a reason. We wanted to leave you with it on your mind. Finding out your credit score should be one of the first things you do even before you begin applying for mortgage pre-approval.

Your credit score will have a significant impact on the interest rate you will be offered by lenders. If your score is less than desirable, or even “fair”, talk to your NJ real estate attorney and paralegal about waiting to buy a home until you can boost your score into the “good” or “excellent” range. Work with your trusted legal team to raise your credit score. They will also be able to guide you in determining the best time to jump into the real estate market so that you qualify for the best loan options. This will save you a lot of money throughout the length of your mortgage.

 

 

Images: “Chocolates 1” and “Chocolates 2” by Windell Oskay – licensed under CC 2.0

5 Expert Recommended Methods to Raise Your Credit Score

If you are researching how to raise your credit score, regardless of the reason, we give you major kudos. Perhaps you are trying to repair a credit report that was damaged due to years of poor financial choices. On the other hand, maybe your credit score is fair and you’re getting ready to make a big change in your life that will be much easier with good to excellent credit, like buying a new house or starting a family.

You should always strive to have the best credit score possible, but many people experience dips in their credit score just as we experience ups and downs in life. Such is the nature of the beast. In order to raise your credit score effectively, we’ve gathered some expert-recommended tips that can make a significant difference in your overall credit report and number.

Before making any changes, you’ll want to make sure you pull your own credit report and have a good look over everything listed on it. Comb through each credit report from the three main credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) very carefully to check for any mistakes that may have been made like debt that is being reported that doesn’t actually belong to you.

You can contact the reporting agency about any errors on your own or you can work with a New Jersey credit repair attorney to help you make the contact and clear up any errors that may be unnecessarily dragging your credit score down.

After you have determined that there are no errors currently weighing down your score, take the following expert-recommended steps to boost your score higher than ever before:

Pay monthly credit card bills before their closing dates

Even if you are managing to pay your credit card bills in full each month, you may be paying after your lender has already reported your balance to the credit bureaus. This will make it seem that your balance is high every month. What you must do is contact your credit card company or lender and ask when they make their monthly credit bureau reports. Henceforth, make your monthly payment well in advance of that credit card company’s closing date so that your balance will be reported to the bureaus as zero.

Create a debt paydown strategy

In order to optimize your credit utilization ratio (which means keeping it lower than 30% but optimally under 10%), work hard to pay down the balances on your card(s) that have the highest balances first.

Pay your debts every time you get paid

Most people pay their bills once a month, but there is a better way! Since it is common practice for most employers in the US to pay their workers on a biweekly basis, make it your new practice to make two payments on your credit card debt per month. Pay your monthly minimum as soon as you receive your first paycheck of the month, and then pay a little bit more with your second paycheck of the month. This will nudge your balance down much more quickly than only making one payment per month.

Lower your credit utilization ratio by requesting a higher credit limit

Although this is something that should not be attempted if you don’t trust yourself to stay within your own self-imposed spending limits, requesting a higher credit limit from your credit card company can lower your overall credit utilization ratio. Naturally, this will only work as long as you refrain from racking up anymore debt.

Consolidate multiple credit cards from the same issuer

With the ultimate goal of keeping your total credit limit the same, if you have more than one credit card with the same institution, consider requesting a consolidation of those cards. The goal of this is to increase the average age of your overall revolving credit, so request that your newer card be combined into the older card. This will eventually eliminate that newer card from your credit history and your debt will have an older overall age, which will help improve your credit score.

 

Image: “5” by Steve Bowbrick – licensed under CC by 2.0

Bankruptcy Law and Family Law: How They’re Connected

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Anyone who has been through a divorce knows that, second only to your love life, your finances are often the hardest hit area during a split. Many people continue to have financial difficulties long after their divorce is finalized, as well. Family lawyers who handle divorce cases know from experience that financial strife can be a huge contention between divorcing couples.

While your family law attorney will assist you in creating a Property Settlement Agreement that settles some of your money troubles (you may begin receiving child support or alimony payments after the divorce is finalized), oftentimes divorced couples will struggle with things like losing their family home to foreclosure, credit card debt, and potential bankruptcy.

As much as your divorce attorney may want to assist you with all of the above money matters, they have to focus their attention on everything within their own wheelhouse to ensure that you (and their other clients) achieve the desired outcome from your divorce. Their duties are many, and include drafting your PSA, attending court dates, negotiating and corresponding with counsel for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, handling domestic violence matters, and much more.

Frequently, family law attorneys find it very beneficial to work in tandem with an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy, real estate and/or debt relief. Because financial strain is a given in most divorces, it can be helpful for everyone involved to work as a team. Your divorce (family law) attorney will walk you through all of the steps of your divorce. With your permission, ideally he would then discuss your case with his tandem bankruptcy attorney, whom you would then work with to clean up your finances.

Of course, family law attorneys attend to matters other than divorce, like name changes, parenting time, grandparents’ rights, pre-nuptial agreements, child custody (unrelated to divorce), adoption, restraining orders, and domestic violence. Some of these matters can also be made easier by working with an attorney who specializes in finances. For example, the financial aspect of adoption matters can be quite intense. While your family law attorney will handle much of the adoption paperwork, he can refer you to a financial specialist like Veitengruber Law if you need more help organizing the necessary finances.

Every attorney has a lot on their plate every single day, regardless of their practice area(s). The best attorneys limit their focus to a limited number of practice areas so as not to get overwhelmed and spread too thin. If your family law attorney attempts to do it all himself, you may find that he’s too busy to set aside time to keep you updated on your case. On the other hand, a smart divorce lawyer will say, “Hey, while I’m working on negotiating your child visitation schedule, why don’t you go see George Veitengruber to start sorting out the fact that you can’t afford your mortgage payment?”

When attorneys work together, their clients always have a better result. Mutually beneficial relationships between experienced professionals give clients a well-rounded experience and optimal outcome. Veitengruber Law welcomes family lawyers in New Jersey (Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties) to reach out to our firm if and when your clients need our services. We will gladly return the favor so that our mutual clients are well-cared for and happy with our services.

Image credit: Kamaljith KV

How to Repair Credit Quickly

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Although we regularly counsel our clients that it can take some time to significantly raise a damaged credit score, there are times when you may want or need to boost your score rather quickly. Perhaps you need to buy or rent a house soon due to a job transfer. You might be expecting a baby and want to have a more stable financial situation before s/he arrives. Maybe your car is about to conk out on you, and you’ll soon need to be able to purchase a new vehicle.

Whatever the reason, if you want to get your credit score quickly moving in the right direction, there are some steps that can speed up the process.

  • Fix any errors: Before you start taking any other actions at all, be sure to check your credit report for any mis-reported information that may be unnecessarily dragging your score down. Commonly seen errors include debt that you already paid off that hasn’t been reported as paid, debt that doesn’t belong to you and credit limits reported lower than your actual limits (makes it appear that your cards are maxed out when they aren’t).
  • Use your credit cards: That’s right – surprising though it may be, you need to demonstrate the ability to use your credit cards wisely for your credit score to rise. The keyword here is obviously “wisely,” so be sure that you’re charging only 10-30% of your credit limit monthly – and pay it all off every single month.
  • Negotiate: Whether or not you’ll be able to convince a credit card company to forgive any of your debt is debatable, but you can usually negotiate your credit card’s interest rate as well as your credit limit. The more you charge each month, the higher your limit should be so that you’re only using a maximum of 30% of your extended credit. Any more and your credit score’s upward climb will halt.
  • Pay off debt: This tip probably goes without saying, but some people don’t realize they’re carrying too much debt. Some credit card use is good, as mentioned above, as it shows your ability to control your spending. However, if you have multiple credit cards that are maxed out, you’ve simply got to pay them down. If paying them all off at once isn’t something you can do, work hard to throw as much money at them every month as possible. Getting a nice tax return this year? Put all or most of it toward your credit card debt.
  • Be on time: In addition to making sure you pay your credit card minimums every month, pay close attention to your other monthly obligations. Paying all of your utility and other monthly bills on time month after month looks very good to the credit bureaus and will give your score a nice jump. You may also want to consider paying your credit card bills two times a month if you can only afford the minimum payment. Paying once just after each paycheck will ensure that you attend to your debt before spending more money.

 

Image credit: Ozzy Delaney