How to Avoid Bankruptcy in Retirement

bankruptcy in retirement

Bankruptcy filings for retirees are rapidly increasing across the US. As poorly funded pensions and retirement savings shrink, retirees look to bankruptcy to put a stay on some of their monthly payments. Rising healthcare costs, adult children living at home for longer, and the financial inability to properly save for a retirement that extends into longer lifespans have all contributed to the rising senior bankruptcy rate. How can you avoid this trend and spend your golden years in peace? Here we look at a few ways to make sure you aren’t filing for bankruptcy after retirement.

1. Settle Your Debts

Regardless of how much you have invested into your retirement, if you’re carrying a mountain of debt into retirement you could end up financially strapped pretty quickly. Paying off as much debt as possible before retirement should be your number one goal. High interest credit cards are the most important to pay off, followed by your mortgage and car payment. The less debt you carry into retirement, the more money you will have to cover your living expenses. If you are struggling to tackle your debt and you are approaching retirement, sit down with a debt negotiation attorney to figure out what your options are.

2. Be Clear with Children and Other Family Members

It is very tempting to be generous with family members and other loved ones. However, you need to be realistic about when you can actually afford to help and how much this will impact your retirement savings plans. Parents should not feel obligated to pay for college, a wedding, or other big life events if they do not have the means to do so. The best thing to do is communicate these financial boundaries early. Adding more debt to your plate in order to help a family member can be disastrous for seniors looking at retirement. After all, if you do not prioritize your financial health over that of your loved ones, you could end up becoming a financial burden to them later on.

3. Downsize

Retirement comes with a lot of big life changes. More leisure time, the freedom to travel, and the ability to explore new hobbies come hand-in-hand with some harder lifestyle changes. With the inevitable reduction of income in retirement, retirees often find they cannot afford to keep up with their day-to-day expenses. Buying a smaller home or renting and downsizing to one vehicle instead of two or three can help you establish a leaner budget before retirement. This should make it easier to embrace a reduced retirement income.

4. Be Smart About Social Security Benefits

The biggest concern most people have about retirement savings is running out of money. Getting a part-time job to boost your retirement portfolio can help buoy your finances in retirement. Most retirees need about 80% of their pre-retirement income to maintain their lifestyle. Your Social Security benefits will mirror the average of your pre-retirement wages. It is important to keep in mind that your social security benefits will likely not cover even half of your retirement expenses. The longer you can go without tapping into social security, the better your financial situation will be in retirement. Even if you have the option to start using your Social Security, only do so when it is absolutely necessary.

5. Invest!

The shakiness of the market over the last two decades has many Americans making uber conservative investment decisions about their retirement. Investing doesn’t have to be scary. In order to keep up with cost of living adjustments and to give yourself a generous nest egg to work with in retirement, it is important to invest savings into a diversified portfolio of common stocks. Especially if you are a few decades away from retirement, it is a good idea to use the time you have to put your assets into money market funds. Investing your money, as opposed to letting it sit in a bank, can make all the difference for your funds in retirement.

Many seniors and those approaching retirement age have anxieties about the financial realities of retirement. Veitengruber Law can provide the services you need to establish a robust retirement plan. From asset protection and debt management to bankruptcy litigation, we can help you get the peace of mind you need. We also work with a diverse network of professionals who can help you invest, downsize, and make a comprehensive retirement plan that will be effective. Don’t wait until you are enjoying your golden years to have second thoughts about your retirement plan. Take action today to secure your financial future.

Advertisements

Secured vs Unsecured Debt: Understanding the NJ Bankruptcy Petition

New Jersey bankruptcy

At the beginning of every bankruptcy case, the person filing will need to complete official bankruptcy forms. The cover document, known as the petition, will include identifying information like your name, address, and the chapter of bankruptcy you are filing. The petition will also include information about your income, your creditor claims (or debts), and assets in specific forms called schedules. Classifying creditor claims can be complicated. All of your debts will need to be listed as either a secured or unsecured claim. It’s important that you properly label each debt. Here, we look at how to list creditor claims in your bankruptcy paperwork.

Secured Claims

In order to have a secured claim in bankruptcy, you must have two things: a debt that you owe and a lien or security interest on property that you own. Examples of secured debt are a mortgage, a car payment, or another collateralized debt. If you fall behind on payments or are unable to keep up with the terms of your contract, the lien can allow the lender to recover the property through foreclosure or repossession. The lender will then sell the property and use the proceeds to pay down your account balance. Secured claims are typically voluntary, but a creditor could obtain an involuntary lien against your property. A creditor could secure an involuntary lien against your property through a lawsuit, whereas if you fall behind on your taxes, the IRS automatically has the right to a tax lien against your property.

During bankruptcy proceedings, a creditor with a secured claim has an advantage. A bankruptcy charge will remove your obligation to pay a debt, but it will not remove a lien on your property. Because of this, a creditor can still opt to take back the property if the loan does not get paid. Therefore, if you file for bankruptcy but you don’t want to lose your property, continue making payments to the lender until the debt is paid off. It is possible to get rid of specific types of property liens in bankruptcy. One option is to get a legal judgement on the grounds that a lien negatively impacts your bankruptcy exemptions. Another option is to wipe out an unsecured junior lien through Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Things can get complicated, though, if there is significant equity in the property in question, as you will be able to protect a certain amount of equity in bankruptcy. Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the trustee will likely try to sell the property. However, the trustee has to make enough in the sale to pay off the loan, return any exempt funds to you, and pay off creditors. The trustee will likely not sell the property if there is not enough equity to pay something worthwhile to creditors. On the other hand, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy will allow you to keep any property with significant equity, as long as you can afford high monthly payments towards the nonexempt equity in the plan.

Unsecured and Priority Claims

With unsecured claims, there is no lien involved in the debt owed. It is, however, important to know if the claim is priority unsecured or nonpriority unsecured. Priority unsecured claims are not dischargeable and will take precedence in repayment plans over nonpriority debts. Examples of priority claims are alimony, child support, tax obligations, and debts from personal injury or drunk driving lawsuits. Priority debts cannot be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and you will still be responsible for paying back the full balance. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will have three to five years to pay back the balance in full.

Nonpriority unsecured claims are dischargeable with the exception of student loans. Before these debts can be paid with bankruptcy funds, all priority debts must be taken care of first. Examples of nonpriority unsecured claims are credit card debt, medical bills, and personal loans.

Filing for bankruptcy includes a lot of detailed, complex paperwork. Determining how to categorize your debts can be confusing for the average consumer. Veitengruber Law offers a total approach to debt relief. Our experienced legal team knows how to expertly demystify the bankruptcy process so that our clients have a clear understanding of what is happening – every step of the way.

Can a NJ Bankruptcy Forgive Gender Reassignment Surgery Debts?

NJ Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is one of the more maligned aspects of the law. Unfortunately, some people feel like bankruptcy means they are a financial failure. But the truth is that bankruptcy can be a true lifeline when all other options have been exhausted. People on the brink or already in financial ruin can be given a clean slate and a chance to start over.

One specific group of the population for whom mounting debt is a real problem are those undergoing gender reassignment surgery. In some cases in NJ, gender reassignment surgery can be covered by health insurance when deemed medically necessary. However, even if a patient’s plan does cover the surgery, the costs can still be overwhelming. The process can span over a few years, and includes ongoing treatment including hormone therapy. Many gender reassignments require multiple procedures and/or surgeries as well.

Many aspects of a person’s transformation are considered “cosmetic” by health insurance companies and are therefore not covered. Some of these include voice alteration, jaw reduction, chin implants, hair removal, lip reduction, pectoral implants, and more. The costs can quickly spiral out of control. Medical bills can easily cripple your finances and declaring bankruptcy may be the only viable solution.

 

What Chapter Is Right for You?

It’s important to have a lawyer on your side who can help you navigate the confusing differences in the various bankruptcy filings. Veitengruber Law can guide you through the process of determining which chapter will be right for you and your future financial health.

Individuals can file for New Jersey bankruptcy in one of two ways: Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. There are important differentiations between these two types of bankruptcy and it’s important to choose the right one for your unique situation. If the medical bills from gender reassignment surgery are your chief debt, you can find relief through debt discharge in both of these filings.

 

The First Step

Before any individual may file for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they must receive credit counseling from an approved non-profit counseling agency within 180 days.  Veitengruber Law can assist you in this process. We can help you choose an agency that qualifies, that will work with you on the fees if necessary, and that will be the most beneficial for your financial education. The main objectives to the credit counseling are to instruct you on how to remedy your current poor finances and how to achieve and maintain financial health.

It is entirely possible after credit counseling to discover that filing for bankruptcy isn’t actually necessary for your situation. You may be able to work out payment plan(s) or pay negotiated sums to pay off your medical debts. In addition to your medical debts, you can naturally include other non-medical debts within the same bankruptcy. Some creditors will be more willing to accept reduced balances if they are aware that you are beginning bankruptcy procedures. To them, a portion of repayment is better than discharged debt, which will mean they end up with no payment at all. If, however, you are unable to come to a solution after attempted negotiations, bankruptcy may in fact be the best course of action.

 

Chapter 7

If you don’t own property or many assets, this may be the course for you. In Chapter 7 cases, the debtor’s assets are given to a trustee who sells them off to pay your creditors. Certain personal property is considered exempt, however it is important to know the rules specific to your state. There is a list of federal property exemptions and NJ state exemptions. You can choose which list you are going to use, but you cannot use both. That is why consulting with a local bankruptcy attorney can be the difference in saving thousands of dollars of lost property. If you have no personal property to liquidate, it can still be possible for you to file for Chapter 7 with the help of an experience New Jersey bankruptcy attorney.

After your assets are liquidated and creditors paid based on priority, the remainder of your debts will be discharged – with certain exceptions – like student loan debt.

 

Chapter 13

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is that it gives the debtor a chance to reorganize. The petitioner must file a plan of repayment to creditors that will usually take place over a period of three to five years. After the repayment period ends, the debtor will receive a discharge of the remaining debts. The key difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy is that in Chapter 13, the debtor remains in possession of their assets. If you own a home or other property, you will want to consider Chapter 13. This is another situation in which a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney like George Veitengruber is invaluable, because he can guide you to the type of bankruptcy that will be most beneficial for your situation.

 

Post-petition Debts

From the date that you file your claim, any additional debts you incur will not be included in your bankruptcy case. This can be a major consideration in your decision to file if you are trying to clear debts from gender reassignment surgery. Medical bills can be extremely slow to process. Each doctor’s office must bill medical insurance, wait for the claim to process, receive the claim, and then bill the patient. It can be weeks or months from the date of a procedure to when you receive the bill. If you are accumulating debt from multiple procedures, you may want to wait until after you have been billed for all of your procedures and appointments before filing. When you file your bankruptcy claim you will be required to provide a detailed list of all the creditors and amounts due. Any debts that are incurred after the date your petition is filed, will not be discharged and you will be responsible for paying them back.

Undergoing a major transformation like gender reassignment is a life-changing experience. If you need to go through bankruptcy proceedings, don’t be intimidated.  George Veitengruber is an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process every step of the way: seeking credit counseling, negotiating credit balances, choosing the right chapter, maximizing your property exemptions, minimizing your post-petition debts, and making sure much of your debts are discharged, including medical debt from gender reassignment surgery.

Filing for Bankruptcy in NJ = Finding Financial Freedom!

filing for bankruptcy in NJ

If you find yourself facing unmanageable debt from credit card bills, loans, medical expenses or a variety of other potential issues, bankruptcy can provide a path towards a brighter financial future. Filing for bankruptcy in NJ can be an excellent way to take control over your finances and make the process of repaying your debts much more affordable. Unfortunately, despite the many benefits of filing for bankruptcy, many people are hesitant to file when they should. Some debtors feel a sense of failure or shame in filing for bankruptcy and wait years to file, while their financial situation becomes more unmanageable in the process. This delayed filing can be disastrous for your financial future.

A recent study by the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBR) found that nearly two-thirds of those who eventually file for bankruptcy report struggling under the weight of their debt for two or more years before filing. The study found that most people are filing for bankruptcy only after years of significant financial hardship. This period of time is commonly referred to as “the sweatbox.” While in the sweatbox, debtors are constantly bombarded by debt collectors, face the threat of losing their homes, and many even experience wage garnishment. Debtors in the sweatbox can find themselves in lawsuits over unpaid debt and may even be unable to pay for basic needs like food and electricity. Often times, these financial situations could have been avoided by filing for bankruptcy earlier.

When we meet with clients in the sweatbox, they almost always wish they had talked to us sooner. Often, those who wait to file for NJ bankruptcy do so with fewer assets and a much higher debt-to-income ratio than those who file earlier. Essentially, the longer you wait to file, the worse your financial situation is likely to be. On top of this, the stress and uncertainty of struggling through years of unmanageable debt will take a very real emotional and mental toll on anyone. And yet, many of our clients who finally file for bankruptcy long after the pros greatly outweigh the cons still express feelings of failure and shame.

At Veitengruber Law, our goal is to help people see bankruptcy as an opportunity for positive financial change—not as the end of the line. We work with our clients to dispel some of the prevailing myths about bankruptcy. We know that many of our clients face bankruptcy due to a number of circumstances outside of their control. Loss of employment or underemployment, divorce, medical expenses, and student loan debt are some of the most common obstacles to financial security that our clients face. We understand that no two clients are the same, which is why our debt relief solutions are created to fit your particular needs and goals. Bankruptcy is just one of the many tools we can help clients use to restore financial health.

Struggling through years living under the enormous weight of crushing debt is not a measure of personal integrity, nor is it financially advisable. Waiting too long to file for bankruptcy can put your financial security at greater risk. Don’t spend years struggling in the sweatbox. Veitengruber Law’s holistic approach to debt management and bankruptcy strategies will ensure that you receive personalized service for your specific needs. Filing for bankruptcy can be an intimidating process, but you do not have to do it alone, and working with us will not put you further in debt. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

When you call us for your free consultation, we will answer any questions you have and help you decide if bankruptcy is the right choice for your circumstances. If bankruptcy is not the right option for you, we will offer you alternative solutions that are viable in your specific situation. No risk – no obligation. We’re here to help!

Image: “FREEDOM!” by Gonzalo Baeza – licensed under CC by 4.0

Filing for NJ Bankruptcy isn’t the Only Solution to Unpaid Debt

nj bankruptcy

School loans, medical bills, mortgage payments, credit card bills, auto loans, past due utility bills, overdue taxes: what do they all have in common? They’re all forms of debt. If you’re dealing with multiple types and sources of debt, you know that they can deplete your bank account and tank your credit score. If the concept of getting out of debt feels like scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro, it’s beyond time to take action. Fortunately, filing for NJ bankruptcy isn’t your only option, even if your debt mountain feels insurmountable.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to be aware of exactly how much money you owe. It can be challenging to really SEE the true culmination of your debts, but trust us when we say that facing the reality of your situation is the only way to make a change. Ask yourself if you are more inclined to stay on top of a digital plan or if the act of physically writing things down works better for you. Then, sit down with a pad and pencil or your laptop. Compile a comprehensive list of your debts, being sure to include the following information:

  • Type of debt (Ex.: Mortgage, Student Loan, Credit Card, etc)
  • Name of creditor (Ex: Bank of America, Sallie Mae)
  • Total amount of each debt
  • Monthly minimum payment amount
  • Interest rates applicable to each debt
  • Due dates for each debt

IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t disregard the list once you’ve made it. Refer back to it often, especially when paying the bills. As your amount of debt fluctuates, and hopefully decreases, make sure to update the list. Watching your total debt amount go down is immensely rewarding and can be the motivation you need to continue making progress.

Your next step is to determine how you will manage and pay off your existing debt. There are many different strategies, tactics and approaches that can help you chip away at your total debt amount before you even formulate a repayment plan. For example: if you currently pay monthly or quarterly utility bills, contact your provider(s) and negotiate a more manageable payment plan. If you show that you are being proactive, they will be more inclined to work with you.

Another way to make your debt more manageable right off the bat is via loan modification. If you can get the monthly payment reduced on one or more of your largest debts, your jumping off point will be much more advantageous. Additionally, you may want to explore settling a debt through a lump-sum payment.

As you create your debt resolution plan, you should employ (at the very minimum), the four following strategies:

1. Prioritize the debts that need to be paid off first.

Primarily, you want to consider the interest rate. Eliminating debts with a higher interest rate first will reduce your overall amount of debt faster. If the interest rates on all of your debts are all similar, you could choose to pay off the debt with the smallest balance first to give yourself a goal that is achievable.

2. Pay your bills on time each month.

By doing this, you’ll not only boost your credit score and keep your account in good standing, but also sidestep the possibility of having to make late payments, which will increase the amount of money you have to pay out.

3. Pay something, even if you can’t make the minimum payment.

Sometimes it’s a reality that you may not be able to pay the full bill on time or even the minimum payment. If this is a temporary situation, call your creditor and tell them how much you can pay that month. Paying even the smallest amount is putting forth a good faith effort that many creditors will look upon favorably. This doesn’t actually decrease your amount of debt, but it can sometimes buy you a month without late fees as long as you reach out to the creditor and explain your situation.

4. Create a monthly payment calendar.

This will give you a better idea of how and where to allot each paycheck. If your paychecks fall on the same day each month, for example the 1st and 15th, you can keep the same calendar from month to month. If payday varies for you, we suggest making a new calendar every month until your debt is under control – and even beyond.

If this all seems like more than you can manage, consider working with a professional. Many people balk at the idea of a debt-relief attorney because they don’t want to be “coerced” into filing for bankruptcy. However, in the same way that physicians don’t treat every patient with a one-size-fits-all remedy, attorneys don’t nurture financial health with a blanket answer.

Our goal at Veitengruber Law is not to see how many people we can get to file for NJ bankruptcy! Rather, we take the time to formulate an individualized plan for each and every client, particularly when they’re seeking advice for running a household or business. With this goal in mind, we will strive to restore your financial health to its optimum function. We have significant experience in dealing with creditors to negotiate debt resolutions other than bankruptcy. We will, however, give you our honest opinion if filing for bankruptcy truly is your best option. Call, email or FB message us today – let us know where you are in your debt struggle, and we’ll get started formulating a plan post-haste.

5 Mistakes to Avoid After NJ Bankruptcy

NJ bankruptcy

After your NJ bankruptcy, a common concern is how to re-establish your credit score. The real challenge is creating new financial habits so you don’t find yourself back in the same hole all over again. At Veitengruber Law, our holistic approach to financial health means our job doesn’t end after the bankruptcy is closed. We work with you to repair your credit and create healthier financial habits.

 

Top Mistakes to Avoid After a Bankruptcy Discharge:

 

1 – Ignoring your credit report

When rebuilding your credit subsequent to a bankruptcy discharge or reorganization, you will want to be very attentive to your credit report. Your creditors are supposed to report any discharged debts included in the bankruptcy to the credit bureaus. These reports should show a zero balance and include a note indicating the debt has been discharged. It is crucial to follow-up on this and ensure that all creditors are reporting to credit bureaus correctly. If discharged debt is being wrongly reported—as either a charge-off or an open account—late or missed payments can continue to show up on your credit. This can further damage your score and make it more difficult for you to get new credit.

2 – Applying for multiple new credit lines

It can be tempting after bankruptcy to rush out and apply for a gaggle of credit cards or loans in an attempt to quickly repair credit. However, it is important to give your credit score time to rebound before applying for new credit. The impact of a bankruptcy is strongest in the first year after filing, although it can stay on (and affect) your credit report for up to ten years. Instead of rushing into opening several credit lines at once, be patient and take the time to research your best options.

3 – Failing to read the fine print

When you do start applying for credit cards, it is important to remember that not all credit cards are created equally. Some credit cards will be more helpful to those rebuilding post-bankruptcy. A secured card, for instance, allows you to deposit cash as collateral up front to create a line of credit. That way, you are not able to charge more than your initial deposit. With any card you choose, it is important to read the fine print of your terms to make sure the card will work in your favor.

4 – Falling for credit repair scams

Many unethical “credit repair companies” make big promises about performing miracles to improve credit scores, but they rarely ever deliver the results promised. These companies rely on misinformation to scam those that don’t know much about how credit works. Some of their tactics may even be illegal. Keep in mind that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

5 – Making things too complicated

Ultimately, when it comes to rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy, you need to go back to the basics. What bad habits caused you to file for bankruptcy in the first place? An unflinching assessment of your spending habits will help you determine which factors led to the bankruptcy and determine where you need to make changes. Figure out what your credit-bingeing triggers are and work toward setting spending limits for yourself. Simple things like making on time payments, keeping debt to a minimum, and sticking to a healthy budget are excellent foundations of any financial strategy and will get you on the road to financial health quickly.

You’ve been through the hard-fought financial battle of bankruptcy and come out victorious on the other side. Now is the time to think positively about your financial future. Rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy takes time and patience, but you can use the knowledge and financial savvy you’ve learned along the way to move forward to a brighter future. Veitengruber Law is here to help. We are skilled in advising clients and creating easy-to-follow strategies to rebuild credit. Call for your free consultation today.

Seeking Legal Counsel When You’re Out of Money and Out of Time

nj bankruptcy attorney

 

You have reached that critical point; you can no longer keep up with your bills. You might have a mountain of credit card debt, a house going into foreclosure, a looming sheriff sale on your property, shut off notices for services, a garnishment or repossession on a vehicle, or all of the above! Perhaps you are considering bankruptcy. The point is that you need the help of a legal professional. You need it done well, you need it now, AND you need to find a way to pay for it.

 

How Can You Afford It? (How Can You Not??)

You’re going to have to spend money to save money.  HOWEVER, you’re going to save your peace of mind and hopefully some assets too.

 

  1. Take advantage of a free consultation. A qualified attorney can give you your options. Is bankruptcy right for you? Is your situation ripe for credit consolidation or negotiation? How far along are you in the foreclosure process? Is it possible to stop a pending sheriff sale? Be honest and you’ll receive realistic expectations for your individual circumstances.

 

  1. Use Your Tax Refund. Uncle Sam has been holding on to your money, but now it’s the perfect nugget of cash infusion to save you bigger money in the long run.

 

  1. Ask family and friends. It’s difficult to swallow your pride, but you never know what your support net is until you ask. If it’s a gift, then that’s great. If it’s a loan you can let your loved one know that he or she will be listed as a creditor if you file bankruptcy. For other situations; set up a plan of when and how much you can realistically repay. It’s much easier to keep your job if you have stable housing and a solid financial plan under your belt.

 

  1. Stop Paying Your Unsecured Debt. If, after your consultation, bankruptcy is in your future, stop making payments on credit cards or other unsecured debt. The total owed will be dealt with as part of the bankruptcy, so those monthly minimums can now finance your legal fund.

 

  1. Reduce your expenses and minimize outgoing expenses. Fancy coffee every morning, premium cable channels, gym membership, daily lunches “out” – all gone. It adds up fast!

 

  1. Try to earn some extra money aside from your primary occupation. Sell old electronics or find a temporary part time job. Go through your attic or basement and have a yard sale, or hit eBay. Lighten your load while filling your wallet.

 

  1. Request a payment plan. Your bankruptcy attorney may allow you to list them as a creditor in a Chapter 13 filing, thus allowing you to pay them over a period of months. Chapter 7 fees can be paid over time as well, although without the federal court supervising. (Keep in mind that you must be paid in full before your attorney will file the case.)

 

  1. Withdraw from your retirement account. Only do this as a last resort. Those funds are otherwise protected, but you could be facing a large tax consequence if you withdraw early. That being said, in some circumstances it may be the best option. Also, consider options where you essentially “borrow” the funds from yourself and replace them with a payroll reduction each pay period going forward.
    IMPORTANT NOTE: Always discuss this option with your credit repair attorney BEFORE taking any money from your retirement fund(s).

nj bankruptcy attorney

How to Find the Right Attorney

You want someone with a proven record of results who can and will act in a timely manner. You could call your local bar association or attorney referral number. You could get a referral from a friend. Or, you could count one problem solved and realize that you already know a top legal representative for all types of financial duress – Veitengruber Law.

 

Don’t represent yourself.

This isn’t small claims court, or a traffic ticket. This is your entire financial future. Your chance of successfully completing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy without legal counsel is less than 1%; the chances of completing a solo Chapter 7 is less than 50%. Besides, you might end up losing more money trying to navigate your financial issues alone than you would have spent on legal counsel in the first place.

 

You wouldn’t ask a podiatrist to work on your car, or the babysitter to fix your plumbing. You need the right person for the job – you need an expert! When you’re looking for a NJ lawyer with experience who you can trust, you need Veitengruber Law.

Bankruptcy Balderdash Basics: Know the Lingo

bankruptcyNew Jersey is a great place to live. We have mountains and beaches and lakes, great sports teams, attraction such as Six Flags and Atlantic City, and we are conveniently close to Manhattan and Philadelphia. That being said, we also have one of the highest costs of living in the nation. That amounts to our residents having more debt than most of the country. Average credit card debt is the second highest in the US, and don’t forget student loan debt, higher property taxes and longer commutes. All of these factors contributed to nearly 27,000 NJ residents filing for bankruptcy between October 2017 and September 2018.

 


Just the word BANKRUPTCY can loom large. It’s without a doubt a very overwhelming concept to contemplate.


 

Ultimately, though, the process can provide help on many fronts such as relief from hounding creditors, stress, and uncertainty. Bankruptcy is a complicated process, and you should avoid trying to navigate it without a consummate professional by your side.

 

Going into your first consultation with a debt management attorney can feel almost as daunting as the bankruptcy process itself. Chapter 7, Chapter 13, Chapter what?! Trustees, claim forms …. before you know it, you’re swimming in jargon. Veitengruber Law wants you to feel at ease from the very beginning. Alleviate some of that apprehension by understanding the bankruptcy balderdash and get to know the lingo.

 

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy – Also known as a straight bankruptcy, it provides protection from creditors to individuals (or companies) who legally file for bankruptcy, providing for sale of certain assets to pay debts. Only certain possessions, up to specific dollar limits, can be kept when you file for Chapter 7. It’s an option for people with limited income. Chapter 7 is basically a liquidation of most of your assets – the proceeds of which are divided up among your creditors. Then, any remaining debt is “forgiven,” and you financially start anew with a clean slate. Keep in mind that you will be debt free at the end of the process, but the bankruptcy will remain on your credit report, making you a high credit risk for the next 10 years. That may be a more desirable outcome than drowning in debt, but you have to consult with legal counsel to have your personal circumstance evaluated.

 

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy – a reorganization bankruptcy, similar to Chapter 13, but used primarily by businesses and corporations.

 

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – This option allows you to keep key assets such as your primary residence and your vehicle. Under this plan, the court gives you a repayment plan to satisfy your debts.  You’ll have between 3 and 5 years to pay off that debt by sticking to the plan. You are expected to keep to the repayment plan and be current with all of your debts through the end of the plan. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 7 years.

 

Exemption rules – New Jersey has its own set of exemptions that you may use when filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Exemptions determine what property (such as a residence, vehicle, retirement accounts, etc.) you may keep in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and how much you must pay to certain creditors in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You may use either the NJ state exemptions or the federal bankruptcy exemptions. You are not allowed to mix and match from both lists. If you choose to use the New Jersey state exemptions, you may also use any applicable amounts in the federal non-bankruptcy exemptions. Unless noted otherwise, if a couple is married and filing jointly in New Jersey, each spouse may claim the full amount of each exemption. The lingo for that is “doubling.” (You can see how it gets complicated quickly, and why it is vital to have expert counsel to guide you.)

 

Examples of New Jersey exemptions: burial plots, household goods up to $1,000, stocks valued up to $1,000, pensions, certain life insurance proceeds, some disability and health benefits.

 

Examples of Federal exemptions: homestead, jewelry up to $1,600, health aids, lost earnings payments, public benefits, alimony and child support.

 


This is by no means an exhaustive list, and each exemption has caveats, so be sure to discuss the best option for you with your legal counsel.


 

Proof of Claim – a form that creditors file with the court to prove that they have a valid claim against the bankruptcy estate. Before a creditor can get paid through your bankruptcy, they must file a proof of claim. When you file for bankruptcy, all creditors listed in your schedules receive notice of your case as well as a deadline to file their proof of claim. If a creditor doesn’t file a proof of claim, they can’t get paid through your bankruptcy. The debtor can also file a proof of claim on behalf of a creditor who has not done so on their own. This usually happens if the debtor specifically wants to pay that creditor through the bankruptcy. (Proof of claims must contain certain requirements, and are not always required in certain types of Chapter 7, so if you are in doubt, consult with an expert.)

 

Repayment Plan (Chapter 13 only) – a plan which lasts from three to five years, whereby you pay off some debts in full; other types of debts are paid in full or part depending on how much disposable income you have. Putting together a plan that the court will confirm, with the assistance of counsel, is key to your Chapter 13 bankruptcy’s success.

 

Trustee – a person appointed by the court to administer and oversee your case. The trustee reviews your bankruptcy paperwork (and supporting documents) to gauge accuracy in your petition. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, the trustee’s primary responsibility is to find and sell your nonexempt property to pay back your creditors. In a Chapter 13, the trustee does not sell your assets but reviews your repayment plan to make sure it is both realistic for you and fair to your creditors. After approval by both the trustee and the court, you make one monthly payment to the trustee, and he or she distributes your monthly payments to your creditors pursuant to your plan. Depending on your situation and the type of bankruptcy you file, you may also be required to attend certain hearings, in which your trustee will preside, before your case is completed. These can include: Confirmation Hearing, Meeting of Creditors, Reaffirmation Hearing, Hearing on Creditor’s Motion, and others.

 

Automatic Stay – the simple request for bankruptcy protection automatically halts most lawsuits, repossessions, foreclosures, evictions, garnishments, attachments, utility shut-offs, and debt collection activity, by way of injunction. There are numerous provisions and exceptions to the automatic stay.

 

Credit Counseling – required before a debtor may obtain bankruptcy relief under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. It involves education in personal financial management, and an overall assessment of your financial situation to see if bankruptcy is your only option. The process is used to help individual debtors with debt settlement through education, budgeting and the use of a variety of tools with the goal to reduce and ultimately eliminate debt, rather than discharge it through the court.

 

As you can see, there are a lot of choices to be made, and even more questions to answer. Don’t risk a misstep that could affect your entire financial future.  Call Veitengruber Law today for your free consultation.

 

Can I File Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Without an Attorney?

NJ bankruptcy attorney

Though filing bankruptcy without an attorney may seem like something you can handle, it’s not necessarily the recommended option. This is not to say that filing for bankruptcy is impossible without an attorney, but it requires serious dedication, time, and self-education. Even with the most extensive research and attention to detail, it’s easy to make a mistake or miss a crucial step in the process. If you’re thinking about filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy without an attorney, be aware of the common mistakes that pro se individuals most often make. Ultimately, whether or not you decide to hire an attorney is up to you, but as always, Veitengruber Law is more than happy to provide you with stellar bankruptcy representation.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy provides the opportunity to construct a repayment plan that will help you pay back your debt. In order for your Chapter 13 application to be approved, you need to be able to prove that you have a steady job that provides enough income for you to realistically be able to pay off your creditors within three to five years.

If you’re considering bankruptcy as a solution to your financial struggles, we want you to know that it may not be your best option. Certain forms of debt, known as nondischargeable debt, cannot be relieved by filing for bankruptcy. Related to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your assets may be at risk if you are unable to exempt them. Knowing these small but significant details will assist you when making the decision to file.

For most people, deciding whether to file for bankruptcy and which type to file depends on: the type of debt they want to eliminate, whether or not they own nonexempt property, if they are able to pay back debt outside of the bankruptcy case, and other details that are unique to their case.

One of the biggest disadvantages of not having an attorney to guide you through the process is that you may not be aware of some of the steps that are imperative to a successful bankruptcy outcome. Just one of these key steps is the credit counseling/debtor education requisites. For any type of bankruptcy filing, it’s necessary to work through credit counseling. If you skip this step, the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court will dismiss your case. To initiate this process, you’ll need to find an agency that can provide an approved credit counseling program. Once you submit your case to the court, you will need to provide the court with proof of counseling completion. Following the submission of your bankruptcy case, you will need to conclude with a debtor education course, also known as personal financial management. If you fail to complete this, you will not receive a discharge from the court.

As with most financial processes, there is a plethora of arduous paperwork to file in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. These include your petition, schedule, statement of affairs, creditor matrix and many other necessary forms. Obviously, if you don’t have an attorney, you may not know which documents need to be completed (along with their deadlines). By choosing not to work with a NJ bankruptcy attorney, you take this responsibility into your own hands.

Believe it or not, bankruptcy court laws are not universal; every state and county court will have their own set of local bankruptcy procedures and regulations that you will be required to follow. Because you have to submit local tax returns and other forms to your bankruptcy trustee, it’s possible that the trustee will have additional, specific forms for you to complete as well. When you fail to follow any of these rules or meet your deadlines, expect to have a delay in or a dismissal of your case.

A huge part of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey means creating a repayment plan that assures creditors that you have the ability to pay back the debt. If you’re foregoing an attorney’s help, it’s your job to design your repayment plan. Once you submit the initial plan, the court must approve it before finalization. The creditors will reject the plan if it doesn’t meet bankruptcy code. While this task is not impossible to do on your own, writing up a repayment plan simply isn’t in the average person’s skill set. This is a step wherein working with an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney is extremely beneficial.

The complexity of filing for bankruptcy shouldn’t scare you away, but because of its nature, it is our advice that you work with a bankruptcy team that has experience with Chapter 13 cases like yours. If you’re set on skipping an attorney, be sure to do ample research online and ask questions of your local bankruptcy court if you are unsure of something. In the end, we would recommend finding a trustworthy legal team near you to walk with you through all of the steps of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy

How “Keeping up with the Joneses” can Send You into Bankruptcy

bankruptcy attorney

What exactly is “Keeping up with the Joneses”?

 

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a phrase that originates from a 1913 New York Globe comic strip by Arthur (Pop) Momand. The use of this coined phrase now refers to the actions of striving to keeping up with one’s neighbors in reference to social status and spending. “Keeping up with the Joneses” sometimes begins to happen for an individual when they bear witness to a neighbor or loved one coming into a large financial windfall – perhaps by winning the lottery. The neighbor may start to spend their newfound money on luxuries like cars, vacations, clothing, etc. This inspires said person to begin spending money outside their means to compensate for jealousy of the newly rich neighbor. Unfortunately, these actions can lead to debt, financial crisis, and bankruptcy.

 

Take the story of NJ lottery winner Pedro Quezada, formerly from the Dominican Republic. Quezada was from Passaic, New Jersey, and winner of $338 million. After hitting the jackpot, Quezada (owner of a local bodega) proclaimed he was thrilled because he could properly take care of his family.  Spending immediately began, but maybe not in the exact way his neighbors anticipated.  He was constantly approached by frequent customers of his bodega and friends of his looking for handouts, some traveling from as far as Colombia. There were even several false reports on news outlets claiming he declared to pay the rent for his neighbors, and eventually this led to a falling out with them. In fact, Quezada was even sued by his live in girlfriend of ten years for half of his winnings a year after winning the lottery. Eventually Quezada’s attorney won the case because the couple had never been married therefore his ex-girlfriend was not entitled to any of the winnings.

 

Unrealistic expectations

 

Suppose you have a neighbor (or family member) who just won the lottery. They decide to throw a lavish party to celebrate and show off their windfall. Maybe they add in that in-ground pool they have always wanted, or purchase that car or boat they had been dreaming of, and while they’re at it they make upgrades to their landscaping and home. These types of actions can cause a trigger effect with neighboring individuals who begin to look for ways to get rich quick or take out a loan much larger than they are capable of repaying just to be able to unrealistically and irrationally upgrade their lifestyle to keep up with their newly rich friend or loved one. This is a common theme that leads more often than not to bankruptcy and financial crisis.

 

Managing your money well

 

Watching someone win the lottery may seem like a super exciting event, and you may feel inspired to make rash decisions which can then result in irresponsible spending. Our advice? Forget about “Keeping up with the Joneses.”

As an NJ bankruptcy attorney firm, we at Veitengruber Law focus on aiding individuals with managing their debt and finances more realistically to protect their assets in order to avoid bankruptcy. If you feel as though you are lost in your expenses and debts because you’ve tried to live beyond your means, please reach out to us PRONTO. We can help, and we WANT to help.