No one can see the future, and although no one deliberately makes decisions that lead to needing a Southern Colorado bankruptcy lawyer, it happens more frequently than you might think. Debt accrues interest, fees, and grows beyond what many would ever imagine, and it becomes simply unmanageable. Excessive spending or the use of credit cards is only one possible reason. A lot of the time, unforeseen circumstances arise, like large medical bills for example. This can leave people in financial devastation that can not be undone given the monthly income they make every year. These are reasons to consider the relief that filing for bankruptcy can offer.
If you’re like many other Americans, you may think that bankruptcy is just another word for being broke, or not having any money, but in this age of extended credit, how do you define ‘broke’? When do you know when you don’t have any money?
This can be a complicated problem, because many people may think to themselves, “well, I have a job and I’m making money, so I’m not broke”. Unfortunately, the sad fact of the matter is that it is possible to be broke, or insolvent, while still earning money from a job.
With the practices of today’s predatory lending companies, who encourage you to spend and create debt for yourself, it can be all too likely that you’ve racked up more debt than you can easily pay off. You can end up paying off interest on credit and giving the bank far more money than you originally borrowed, and that’s money that isn’t going to feeding your family and paying your bills.
In cases like these, filing for bankruptcy may be just the help that you need. With the help of an experienced Colorado bankruptcy attorney, many of your debts can be flatly forgiven, and others can be made to work with you to create a payment schedule that doesn’t interfere with your quality of life.
Far too many people wait too long to file for bankruptcy because they don’t think it applies to them, or they don’t think it would help them.
Don’t wait to consult with a bankruptcy attorney, because some even give free consultations. It could change your life!
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be stressful enough, but then your Colorado bankruptcy lawyer informs you that you must attend something called a "Meeting of Creditors" before your debts can be discharged? That might be enough to make you wonder what you got yourself into. Good news! There is no reason to fear this hearing when you have an experienced bankruptcy attorney by your side.
What is a Meeting of Creditors?
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the meeting of creditors is a short court proceeding where the bankruptcy trustee and your creditors can ask you questions about your finances and the information you supplied in your petition while you are under oath. This meeting, which is also known as a 341 hearing, is essential in determining whether the papers you filed are accurate and complete.
Who Will Be at Your Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors?
Typically, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee will moderate the meeting of creditors, which means there will be no judge present. In fact, most Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers don't see a judge unless they are facing an objection or reaffirming a debt. In any case, all of your creditors will be invited to attend this meeting but they rarely show up. This is because creditors have a very short period of time in which they will be allowed to ask questions so they don't benefit much from being there. However, if a creditor has reason to believe you are hiding assets or committing another form of bankruptcy fraud, they may show up to present such evidence.
What Happens at the Meeting of the Creditors?
In most cases, you will only be examined by the bankruptcy trustee, but remember, your meeting of creditors is open to the public and several hearings are held within the same time period so you may have other debtors observing your hearing as they await their case.
When your case is called, you will go before the desk of the trustee to be examined under oath. You will be asked to provide the trustee with your full name and provide identification as well as your social security number. Since Chapter 7 bankruptcy authorizes the court to sell your nonexempt assets, most of the trustee's questions will focus on these assets.
After the trustee questions you, your creditors are allowed to examine you as well. If a creditor comes to the hearing, you may be asked about the nature or location of your assets; however a creditor will not be allowed to conduct a lengthy investigation at this meeting.
After the trustee and creditors have finished their examination, the trustee will conclude your hearing. Unless the trustee requires more information, you won't have to come in for another hearing like this. You can expect to receive your discharge once all the other requirements are satisfied.
If you have more questions about the process of filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Colorado, schedule a consultation with a Colorado Springs bankruptcy attorney.
Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So many people call a bankruptcy lawyer expecting to file for bankruptcy next week, when in reality there is a process that must be followed. For example, you must receive credit and budget counseling from an approved credit counseling service within the 180 days prior to filing a petition. The credit counseling agency will review other options with you to help you avoid bankruptcy, which should be viewed as a last resort. Some of these agencies will provide counseling via telephone or online, but most people find it more helpful to meet in person. If and when you decide to file for bankruptcy, your forms must include the certificate from this agency indicating you received credit and budget counseling.
How to choose a credit counseling agency
When the time comes to choose a credit counselor, you may find it difficult to distinguish one from another. Many agencies are legitimate but there are others that are rip-offs. Just because they say they are "approved" for bankruptcy counseling doesn't guarantee a good reputation. Remember, even the best agencies won't be able to help you much if you are in serious financial trouble.
Many of the approved credit counseling agencies will also offer debt management plans, also known as DMPs. A DMP allows you to repay some or all of your debts by consolidating them with the agency. The counseling agency then distributes the money to your creditors. Be careful if you choose an agency that offers this service, as some will try to enroll you in a DMP even when it doesn't make sense. In many cases, bankruptcy might be the best solution for you, and if you sign up for a plan that you cannot afford you will end up in bankruptcy anyway.
When should you meet with an attorney?
For most individuals, it is a good idea to meet with an attorney prior to hiring a credit counselor. Some law firms will have a specific counselor that they recommend. A bankruptcy lawyer can also give you legal advice about whether bankruptcy is the answer for you, as well as many other suggestions.
Which property can I keep in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy?
Another one of the most common bankruptcy-related questions is concerning property. Everyone wants to know what property they will be able to keep, but it all depends on the type of bankruptcy you choose. For example, in a Chapter 7 case you can keep all the property that is "exempt" from creditors' claims. However, in a Colorado bankruptcy lawyer will tell you there are some exemptions in this state.
Here are the Chapter 7 exemptions in Colorado:
It is important to remember that the value of the property is not based on what you paid for it, but rather what it's worth now. This will be especially helpful in determining the value of furniture and cars.
What about Chapter 13?
In a Chapter 13 case, you can keep all of your property if your plan meets the requirements of the bankruptcy law. In most cases you will have to pay the mortgages or liens as you would if you didn't file bankruptcy.
In most cases you will not lose your home or car during your bankruptcy case as long as your equity in the property is fully exempt. Even if your property is not fully exempt, you will be able to keep it if you pay its non-exempt value to creditors in Chapter 13.
Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
If you've watched any late night television lately, chances are you've seen former U.S. Presidential candidate Fred Thompson out there pitching reverse mortgages. Many seniors are enticed by these very noteworthy spokespeople as they explain the process of cashing out their home equity. While it's not necessarily a bad decision to do this, it is important to be aware of fraudulent companies looking to capitalize on cash-poor retirees.
On the FTC's web site, a variety of consumer data is available for the individual who wants to learn more about unusual consumer credit offers. The site explains that if you are 62 or older, a reverse mortgage can help you finance a home improvement, pay off your current mortgage, supplement your retirement income, or pay for healthcare expenses. It works by converting part of the equity of your home into cash without the need to sell the home or make payments on a second mortgage. Unlike a traditional equity loan, the reverse mortgage is repaid only when you die, sell your home or the home is no longer your primary residence. Many companies don't have income restrictions for these loans and they are generally tax-free.
With a traditional mortgage, you make monthly payments to the lender, but with a "reverse" mortgage, you receive money from the lender, and generally don't have to pay it back for as long as you live in your home.
Types of Reverse Mortgages
There are three types of reverse mortgages:
Single-purpose reverse mortgages are the least expensive option. Most homeowners with low or moderate income can qualify for these loans.
HECMs and proprietary reverse mortgages may be more expensive than traditional home loans, and the upfront costs can be high. This is an important consideration, especially if you plan to stay in your home for just a short time or borrow a small amount. HECM loans are widely available, have no income or medical requirements, and can be used for any purpose.
Before applying for an HECM loan, counseling is required by the lender. Their counselor is required to explain the loan's costs and financial implications, and possible alternatives to a HECM, like government and nonprofit programs or a single-purpose or proprietary reverse mortgage. He or she also should be able to help you compare costs for various types of reverse mortgages and explain the different payment options, fees, and other costs affect the total cost of the loan over time.
The amount you can borrow with a HECM or proprietary reverse mortgage depends on several factors, including your age, the type of reverse mortgage you select, the appraised value of your home, and current interest rates. In general, the older you are, the more equity you have in your home, and the less you owe on it, the more money you can get.
The HECM lets you choose among several payment options. You can select:
Other important facts from the FTC web site about reverse mortgages:
Lenders generally charge an origination fee, a mortgage insurance premium (for federally-insured HECMs), and other closing costs for a reverse mortgage. Lenders also may charge servicing fees during the term of the mortgage. The lender sometimes sets these fees and costs, although origination fees for HECM reverse mortgages currently are dictated by law. Your upfront costs can be lowered if you borrow a smaller amount through a reverse mortgage product called a "HECM Saver."
The amount you owe on a reverse mortgage grows over time. Interest is charged on the outstanding balance and added to the amount you owe each month. That means your total debt increases as the loan funds are advanced to you and interest on the loan accrues.
Although some reverse mortgages have fixed rates, most have variable rates that are tied to a financial index: they are likely to change with market conditions.
Reverse mortgages can use up all or some of the equity in your home, and leave fewer assets for you and your heirs. Most reverse mortgages have a "nonrecourse" clause, which prevents you or your estate from owing more than the value of your home when the loan becomes due and the home is sold. However, if you or your heirs want to retain ownership of the home, you usually must repay the loan in full – even if the loan balance is greater than the value of the home.
Because you retain title to your home, you are responsible for property taxes, insurance, utilities, fuel, maintenance, and other expenses. If you don't pay property taxes, carry homeowner's insurance, or maintain the condition of your home, your loan may become due and payable.
Interest on reverse mortgages is not deductible on income tax returns until the loan is paid off in part or whole.
As a Colorado bankruptcy attorney, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How much control will creditors have over my personal possessions?” It is rarely a surprise when creditors seize automobiles, boats or other expensive luxury items, but do they really want your clothes and furniture too? Good news: unless you happen to have a collection of valuable jewelry or brand new designer clothing, those items are usually exempt from seizure and liquidation.
Every state has different laws governing bankruptcy so it is always better to ask your attorney, but there are a few major things to know prior to filing. Once you file, a trustee will be assigned to your case, and he or she will have a particular interest in certain issues. Some of the biggest issues include:
Transfer of assets
Before filing for bankruptcy, it may be tempting to transfer assets out of your name, but this may actually put the property more at risk. For example, in most cases an attorney can easily protect a vehicle that is fully paid off and registered in their client’s name. But if the client had recently transferred the vehicle to a family member or friend, or even a stranger, it may be difficult to protect that vehicle from being scrutinized.
State legislatures and courts don’t want people to file for bankruptcy after they’ve transferred all of their valuable assets. If it were that simple, many people would take advantage of bankruptcy laws to discharge bad debt and hold onto their assets. People who live in states that don’t allow protection of many items must take steps to responsibly plan for bankruptcy. In Colorado, an experienced bankruptcy attorney will know the legal ways to protect assets without transferring them out of your name just before submitting a bankruptcy filing.
After you file for bankruptcy, each creditor will want to look closely at your account. If you have recently taken large cash advances from a credit card it could be viewed as fraudulent behavior, but even more importantly it could mean you have to pay back some or all of that cash after the bankruptcy filing.
Payments to family
Remember, if you borrowed money from your parents and siblings they might also be considered creditors. Just because you feel obligated to pay them back doesn’t mean the court considers their debt to be more important than other creditors. It is best not to make any payments to family members until your bankruptcy attorney recommends it.
Pending or current lawsuits
Bankruptcy filers who are in the midst of a current or pending litigation may not think the two cases are related, but lawsuits are also considered “assets” and must be disclosed. Your trustee might not have an interest in the suit, but you must still provide the trustee with the first opportunity to review the litigation.
Disclose any potential inheritance
If you are about to receive an inheritance of any kind, it is important to communicate this to your trustee. There are some time limits involved when an inheritance is due to you, so it would be important to mention this to your attorney.
Bankruptcy before foreclosure
If you plan to file for bankruptcy to slow down a foreclosure, this can be done. There are a few exceptions, but as long as you have other debt, such as a second mortgage or credit card debt it is legal to file before a foreclosure. Every state has different laws concerning bankruptcy and foreclosure, but filing just beforehand should buy you some time.
Bankruptcy and credit scores
Of course, one thing that bankruptcy can take from you is your good credit rating. Just like any other negative mark on your credit report, a bankruptcy filing stays on there for seven years.
What property will you be able to keep in a Colorado bankruptcy?
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you won’t be forfeiting any assets because this type of bankruptcy repays your debts, but in Chapter 7 bankruptcy you may be asked to surrender some assets in exchange for paying off unsecured debts. In this case, a trustee will liquidate these assets and use the proceeds to pay your creditors.
In general, the following assets are exempt in Chapter 7 bankruptcy:
Sometimes, exceptions may be doubled for married couples, and there are dozens of exemptions and exceptions to the rules. A good bankruptcy attorney should not submit your bankruptcy petition until he or she has protected as many of your assets as possible.
Which Assets Are Not Exempt?
In most bankruptcy filings, the following assets are not exempt from seizure: non-homestead property (e.g., vacation homes), cash savings, tax refunds, recreational vehicles, boats, fine jewelry and firearms. It will become necessary to surrender these assets to the trustee or make arrangements to “buy them back” through a financial agreement with your trustee.
If you have property, which is non-exempt, you could sell it before filing bankruptcy and use the money to purchase things which are exempt; such are food, furniture, or clothing. However, you cannot give property away to friends or relatives, and have them give it back to you after the bankruptcy. Any transfers of property without receiving fair value for it within one year before filing bankruptcy are considered a “fraudulent transfer.” The property could be taken by the bankruptcy court and sold to pay some of your debts. If the bankruptcy court finds you have been dishonest in your filing, your discharge could be denied and you could be charged with state or federal crimes.
As a Colorado bankruptcy attorney, I am often asked if bankruptcy rates are going up or down, and if the demographic makeup of bankruptcy filers has changed. Over the past few years, as the U.S. has gradually emerged from the recession, the number of people filing for bankruptcy has decreased, but there are a few trends that have little to do with the economy.
Many people who file for bankruptcy are lower-income individuals who simply cannot afford to pay for unexpected major expenses. A job loss or a major illness might be just enough to push them into financial ruin. While peaks in petitions are a sign of economic downturn, filings will also increase in states with fewer consumer-friendly laws
2005: A record year for personal bankruptcy
Among the patterns revealed by recent research, the number of bankruptcy filings has steadily risen over the past century, particularly within the 25 year period between 1980 and 2005. In fact, bankruptcy filings hit an all-time high in 2005 when a record of two million cases was filed. In that year, an astounding one out of every 55 households filed for bankruptcy. Interestingly, in 2006, bankruptcy filings dipped to the lowest point in twenty years.
Consumers outpacing businesses
In 1980, businesses accounted for 13% of all bankruptcy filings, but today they only account for 3 percent. The vast majority of bankruptcies are now filed by consumers. But these statistics are by no means consistent across the country. The number of bankruptcies varies widely from state to state, partially because the policies surrounding bankruptcy differ in each state, but also because of the number of people who live there.
States with highest number of bankruptcies
As of 2011 the state with the most bankruptcy filings was California, with more than 240,000. The number was so large it accounted for 17% of all the nation's bankruptcies that year. The five states with the highest number of petitions in 2011 were responsible for 38% of all the nation's filings that year.
These are the top five states and their number of declared bankruptcies in 2011:
Why are people filing for bankruptcy?
A study from 2005 revealed that 46 percent of bankruptcies were related to medical expenses from a serious illness not covered by insurance and the resulting loss of income. However, shortly after this study was completed, drastic changes in the economy caused bankruptcy from unemployment, underemployment and credit card debt.
Demographic changes in bankruptcy filers
Over the past few decades, researches have noticed some key differentiators among the "typical bankruptcy petitioner." For example, the average filer is older and married, has a high school education with no college, and earns less than $30,000 per year.
At the time of bankruptcy, the age of the petitioner seems to be getting older. Since the early 90's more senior citizens are declaring bankruptcy while fewer filers are under the age of 25. In fact, since 2007 those under 25 made up less than 2% of all filers. During that same period of time, the percentage of older petitioners more than doubled, now accounting for nearly 20% of all filers.
As a result of these fluctuations, the median age of a bankruptcy-seeker has increased from 38 to 45 years of age.
What about repeat filers?
Recent data suggests that 8 percent of those who seek bankruptcy protection have filed at least once before. Repeat filers are now responsible for 16% of all bankruptcy cases.
Some experts point to these repeat filings as proof that bankruptcy laws are exploited, but new laws have been enacted to curb abuse of the bankruptcy system. However, these recent policy changes have little effect on who files for bankruptcy and when.
Gender and marital status
Contrary to what one may believe, the gender distribution of bankruptcy filers is roughly equal parts men and women, and the gap seems to be shrinking. As of 2010, more than 64% of all bankruptcies were filed by married individuals, with only 17 percent of the debtors single, 15 percent divorced and 3% widowed.
Level of education
In 2010, about 20% of all bankruptcies were filed by people with a bachelor's degree or higher, while 36% have a high school education level and 29% have some college education.
A study from 2011 found that 60% of bankruptcy seekers earned less than $30,000 per year, a decrease from 66% four years earlier. During the same period, a higher number of filers reported earning more than $60,000 per year.
While it's true that there is a "typical profile" for someone who is likely to file for bankruptcy, certain life circumstances increase the possibility. No one is immune to having serious financial trouble. If you find yourself struggling financially, it may be time to contact a bankruptcy law professional who can help you understand your option.
That's it, you've had it! After struggling for months, or even years, to pay your debts, you are ready to consider filing for bankruptcy. The time has come to find a bankruptcy lawyer but you have no idea what to look for, or which questions to ask. It's not uncommon to see a bankruptcy attorney advertise on television. Some even advertise on billboards, but you can't be sure. It might be awkward to ask friends and family for a recommendation, so most people opt for an online search.
Believe it or not, a lot can be learned just by reading through an attorney's web site, but you shouldn't stop there. Filing for bankruptcy is pretty serious and it requires the right representation. Here are some ways to find, and then select, the best bankruptcy lawyer for you.
Look for signs of professionalism
Before you get started, it makes sense to check in with some professional organizations. Membership in organizations such as the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, is a good indication that the firm or attorney is up to date on the latest developments. Once you locate a few members in your area, visit the web site for your state's bar association and check their certification. Most states will have special certification requirements for practicing bankruptcy law. A certification is given when the lawyer has been practicing for a minimum number of years and spends at 50 percent of the time on bankruptcy cases. A peer review and a passing score on a written exam will also be required.
Credentials and association memberships will give you the assurance that an attorney has all the practical knowledge necessary to help you, even if your case gets complicated. It will also tell you that the attorney takes professionalism seriously.
Prepare to interview a few bankruptcy lawyers
After you have found a few firms or lawyers that look interesting, take a look at their web sites. They should include a clearly written statement of educational information about bankruptcy, plus financial forms that you can download and in preparation for filing.
Schedule a few appointments and as for a free consultation. It may be tempting to go with the first one you like, but plan on seeing more than one. You should feel perfectly comfortable with the attorney and confident in his or her abilities. To save time, complete any forms you find on the web site and bring them along. Bring a list of questions you might have and use the same list of questions with each attorney. The answers you get may help you determine which one to hire.
What should you look for in a bankruptcy lawyer?
While professionalism and rapport are important, it is also essential that you trust the person you hire. Look for the following qualities during your initial consultation.
Do they discuss with you the alternative bankruptcy solutions? For example, an attorney should tell you that a Chapter 7, or complete cancellation of eligible debts, isn't the only answer. Other options should be explored whenever possible, such as credit counseling or negotiation with creditors. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy might also be on the table if you have enough income to support at least some of your liabilities, or if you own property that could be seized in a Chapter 7 filing. It is important to understand the full range of possible resolutions before making a decision that you could later regret.
Does the attorney express a passion for his or her profession? It is important that your lawyer is personally involved and enthusiastic about the process. Many attorneys find their work rewarding and fascinating. Find out what drove them to specialize in bankruptcy law and listen carefully to the response. To be honest, there are few other practice areas where an attorney can do so much good for a client in such a short period of time.
Do they listen to you closely and understand your situation? Declaring bankruptcy can be a painful decision and there are plenty of emotions involved. You will want an empathetic attorney who is interested in helping you reach your goals, but who also shows a willingness to ask you probing questions. If the lawyer doesn't ask you how you about your biggest concerns, or what got into your financial predicament, he or she may not be viewing you as an individual. You should walk out of your meeting feeling like the attorney really wants to help you.
One of the most disturbing trends in money management is overuse of debt consolidation loans. Sure, they may be the perfect solution for people who have gotten into unforeseen financial trouble, but debt consolidation loans are too often used to treat symptoms instead of addressing an underlying problem. One of the greatest myths about these loans is that they save money on interest. The only way interest rates get cut is when someone borrows against home equity, but home equity loans can become a crutch as well.
Bankruptcy attorneys have seen many clients come into their office after thinking they had "fixed" their finances through debt consolidation, only to find out later on that the old habits are still there. They just "moved" the debt to a different collector. It's a bad idea to think you can borrow your way out of debt. A true fix will be neither quick nor easy, but it will have a lasting effect.
People who find themselves in debt frequently are likely to avoid addressing its real source, which is overspending and undersaving. Financial coaches rarely recommend a debt consolidation loan for clients because they know it doesn't work.
Statistics about debt consolidation
Some debt consolidation firms estimate that more than 78 percent of the time, after a client consolidates credit card debt, it gradually grows back. The reason for this is the client hasn't developed a game plan to prevent it from happening, such as saving for unexpected events or paying cash all the time.
When a debt consolidation offers lower monthly payments, most people feel like they've "won," but they soon find that the lower payment isn't coming from lower rates; just a longer payment term. Staying in debt longer usually means you pay the lender more money, which explains why so many lenders jumped into the debt consolidation business.
For example, say you've accumulated $30,000 in unsecured debt, including a four year loan for $20,000 at 10% and a two-year loan for $10,000 at 12%. Your monthly payment on the $20,000 loan would be $583 and you would pay $517 on the $10,000 loan, with monthly payments totaling $1,100. A debt consolidation company comes along and tells you they can lower your payment to $640 per month and by negotiating with your creditors lower your interest rate to 9% because all of your loans would be rolled into one. While this may sound tempting, what they don't tell you is now it will take you six years to pay off the loan. Instead of paying the $40,392 you would have owed on the original loans, now you're paying $46,080, even with the lower interest rate of 9%. Not such a great deal after all. But now do you see why these debt consolidation companies are so profitable?
How Can You Really Get Out of Debt?
The solution is not in the interest rate. You will need to change your spending habits by committing to a written game plan and sticking with it. If needed, get a second job and start paying down your debt. Figure out how to live on less than you earn and be frugal! Changing your habits isn't easy, but it will put you on the path to financial freedom and out of bankruptcy court, which is where you want to be.
Will a Debt Consolidation Damage Your Credit Score?
A lot of people think that a debt consolidation will make their credit report look better because it will show a lot of closed, paid-off accounts. But the answer really depends on what you do afterwards. If you get the debts consolidated and then start using your old credit cards again it will hurt your credit score. The best thing to do after a debt consolidation is to cut up your cards and stop filling out credit card applications. Make your loan payments on time every month and check your credit score regularly for any changes.
Consolidating credit cards with high balances using an installment loan — a loan with fixed monthly payments — may actually benefit your credit rating, especially if you use the loan to pay off credit cards that are near their limits. At the same time, any new loan can cause a short-term dip to your credit scores — so don't be surprised if that happens.
Transferring a high-rate credit card balance to a card at a lower rate can be another way to consolidate. If you decide to go this route it's important to be disciplined in your approach. Otherwise, you may fall into traps such as getting stuck with a balance at a high interest rate after the introductory period ends. If you use a substantial portion of the available credit on the card to consolidate balances from other cards with lower balance-to-available-credit ratios, your credit scores may drop.
Remember, moving around debt is not the goal here. The goal is to pay off those balances to free up cash flow as well as to help build strong credit. A consolidation loan, used correctly, can help you get there just a little faster.
Contact Us today for more information and to receive a free consultation.