Consumer Warning from NACBA

David Kelly - Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

Here verbatim is a consumer warning I have been asked to post from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Lawyers.

Telephone-Scam Soliciting Wire Transfers Prompts NACBA and Vermont Attorney General to Issue Consumer Warning

Across the country, consumers are falling prey to a new scam targeting people who have filed for bankruptcy and others just getting started with the process. Bankruptcy attorneys are joining forces with public officials to sound the alarm bell to unsuspecting consumers.

The con artists are using software that “spoofs” the Caller ID system so that the call appears to be originating from the phone line of the consumer’s bankruptcy attorney. Victims of the scam are being instructed to immediately wire money to satisfy a debt that supposedly is outside the bankruptcy proceeding. Some consumers have been threatened with arrest if they fail to wire money to pay the debt.

In some instances, the perpetrators are using personal information from public filings to identify consumers, assume the identity of their attorneys and sound more convincing by phone. These calls are typically placed during nonbusiness hours, making it difficult for clients to verify the call by getting in touch with their attorney to ask about it.

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) and its individual members want consumers to know that under no circumstance would a bankruptcy attorney or staff member telephone a client and ask for a wire transfer immediately to satisfy a debt. Nor would the bankruptcy attorney and staff ever threaten arrest if a debt isn’t paid.

Consumers should be advised that legitimate debt collectors and agencies cannot threaten arrest in order to satisfy. If you or a family member receive this kind of call, the best thing to do is to hang up and contact your bankruptcy attorney as soon as possible. Do NOT give out any personal or financial account information to the caller.

Losing Ground on Payday Loans? Perhaps Bankruptcy is the Answer

Payday loan worries

If you’ve been reading my stuff, you know I’ve said this before.  My clients are good people.  Prior to giving up and deciding to come see me, they have tried just about everything and anything to avoid bankruptcy.  Among the various desperate measures many have tried is the payday loan.  What is a payday loan?  It’s one of the worst, most despicable, predatory schemes ever devised by the greedy and clever.

How does a payday loan work?  Well, it’s aimed of course at people who are employed and who as a result have a regularly scheduled payday.  It can be done at a storefront or on a web site.  These days most of the payday loans I see have been done on line.  One starts by providing bank account information along with employment information.  This includes the amount of a  typical paycheck and when it is ordinarily received. One site I just looked at claims to be able to approve the loan within two minutes.  Typically the amount will be about $500, but sometimes it can be more.  The money will be deposited into the borrower’s checking account within a day or less.

The borrower doesn’t have to repay the loan until after his or her next paycheck is deposited into the checking account.  What can be the harm?  At about the time the pay check from the borrower’s job is deposited into his or her account, the whole loan is automatically repaid by an automatic withdrawal, with interest – lots of interest.  One site I just reviewed states that the annual interest rate will run somewhere between 261% and 1304%.  At first it doesn’t seem that bad.  For example, at an annual rate of 300% the interest on a $500 loan over two weeks is “only” about $58.

The trouble is that once a person starts doing this, it can become very addictive.  As soon as it’s been done it once, when payday comes there’s a big hole missing from the paycheck as soon as the automatic payment of the loan is made.  So what’s the obvious temptation?  Do another one, of course, to make up for the missing money.  Pretty soon it’s not hard to start taking multiple payday loans from the multiple web sites that are available for this purpose.  Then the extremely high interest, rate which didn’t look so bad at first, can really becoming quite a burden.  It can become a treadmill of dependency on these loans.  It can interfere with one’s ability to eat, pay rent or buy gasoline.  Much like the psychology involved in the slot machines at a casino, somebody has figured out just exactly what is required to keep people coming back and paying in. Usually if I see one payday loan it means my client has been at it for a long time.  It may only be one loan, one loan at a time that is.  Sometimes it’s two or three or four at a time, enough to entirely consume each paycheck.

Even after my client has hired me to do a bankruptcy, and after I have advised the client that this is the point at which they should stop paying many of their debts, there is a tendency to assume that this advice somehow does not apply to the payday loan.  It can be a surprise when I say, “it’s your account and it’s your bank and you can stop that automatic withdrawal any time you want”  I have had a few clients leave my office in a rush to try to make it to the bank in time to stop the next withdrawal.

The StarTribune recently published a feature article about payday loans and one of the big businesses in Minnesota that makes them.  According to the article the average interest rate customers in Minnesota pay for a payday loan is 277%.  Sounds like theft to me, but Minnesota is among 36 states which allow it.  If you find yourself going nowhere and losing ground on this payday loan treadmill, it’s probably time to call me for a free over the phone screening as to whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Nothing on this site is intended to be a substitute for retaining a competent attorney.  I am a debt relief agency.  I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

 

Why Everything Has to be Disclosed when Filing Bankruptcy

Time in federal prison

I recently noticed a familiar name and face in an article in the Star Tribune.  The headline was “Minneapolis Bankruptcy Trustee Smelled a Rat and Got the Goods on Jewelry Store Owner,” an article by reporter Randy Furst.  The article describes a situation  where a gentleman, Daniel Rohricht, apparently closed his jewelry store, went out of business and filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  This was about four years ago.  The debts listed in the bankruptcy came to over $250,000.

Mr. Rohricht claimed that all the jewelry was gone, having all been sold.  The bankruptcy seemed to go well.  One of our local bankruptcy trustees, a lawyer named Nauni Manty, was appointed as the trustee handling the case.  Ms. Manty knows a lot about jewelry and the jewelry business, but there was no evidence that anything was being hidden.  It is the trustee’s job to find assets for the creditors.  But after doing what investigation she could, she accepted a settlement of $17,500 from Mr. Rohricht.  The settlement agreement stated, however, that if Ms. Manty became aware of any undisclosed assets, the deal was off and they were back to square one.

Years passed, but Ms. Manty did not forget Mr. Rohricht.  Eventually she got wind that he had purchased a store in Wisconsin and had gone back into business.  She was able to prove that the jewelry and precious stones that he was hauling into the new store were items he had hidden in 2009 prior to filing his bankruptcy.  To make a long story short, he recently pled guilty to concealing assets and is now facing federal prison and a very large fine.

It’s not unusual that I will run into a person who has something he or she doesn’t want to disclose in their bankruptcy case.  They tend to believe firmly that it is something nobody would ever find out about.  That’s what Mr. Rohricht thought too.  I get asked why whatever it is must be disclosed.  Here’s why.  My understanding is that every year in Minnesota on average two or three people are convicted of bankruptcy fraud.  It’s never happened to any client of mine, and I really want to keep it that way.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

 

What’s the Difference between a Debt and a Lien in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

I recently had a conversation with a person who had just received a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  He had also received what he thought was a very weird item from his mortgage company. The mortgage company had sent him a form for his signature which would give them permission to start sending monthly statements again even though the mortgage debt had been discharged. In the fine print on the back of the discharge there is a court order requiring all creditors – including the mortgage company – to make no attempt of any kind to collect the debt.   This includes mortgages, even if the homeowners want to keep the house.   But most homeowners who have mortgages want to continue paying the mortgage so they can keep their home.  Having a monthly mortgage statement helps a lot in keeping  track of that, but without permission to start sending statements again, the mortgage companies tend to be afraid to do so.

The permission to restart monthly statements form DOES look a little weird.  It usually will start off by saying something like: “Well, we know you’ve been discharged in a bankruptcy and you don’t owe this personally anymore, so don’t take this as attempt to collect a debt.  We were just wondering if maybe, not that you actually owe this anymore, you might still like updates on the status of the mortgage, for information purposes only, in case you might still want to make some payments on a strictly voluntary basis – not that we would really want the money or anything like that.”

This odd language is the result of there being two seemingly contradictory facts for a homeowner with a mortgage following a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge.  The first fact is that the personal obligation to pay the debt no longer exists.  The second fact is that the lender still has a mortgage lien on the house, and if you don’t pay the mortgage that lender will foreclose.

In the phone conversation I felt a bit put on the spot.  I was asked repeatedly to explain if the debt has been discharged, how can there still be a lien on the house that carries with it a right to foreclose.  I tired to explain that a mortgage lien is actually a property right  – a form of partial ownership – which the lender has.  The bankruptcy discharge takes away the personal obligation to pay the debt, but it does nothing to the ownership interest.  The discharge only affects personal obligations, not property interests.

So the bottom line is that when it comes to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, if you want to keep your house you better keep paying your mortgage or mortgages.

This was confirmed within the past few days by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court issued on June 1, 2015.  In the case of Bank of America v. Caulkett, the court ruled that mortgage liens cannot be stripped off in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  Under certain limited circumstances, the situation can be different in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  More about that in my page about keeping your house.

This post is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice.  Interactions here do not create an attorney-client relationship.  Consult your own attorney concerning the details of your case.  I am a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

“Thank you” Recently Received from Client after Bankruptcy Discharge

During the holidays several of my clients received their bankruptcy discharge.  The discharge is a court order which states that the Debtor is no longer legally obligated to repay most if not all of  his or her debts.  In most cases the only debts that are not discharged are student loans and taxes.  Sometimes even taxes can be discharged, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

When that discharge comes out,  many of my clients thank me profusely.  For some reason I often have a hard time accepting thanks.  When I was growing up I think it was part of the culture to assume that when somebody was just doing their job, there was no need to thank  them.  And if somebody thanked me I tended to say “no need to thank me” or “it was nothing” or other similar words which more or less blew it off.  Later in life I learned that such responses diminish the importance of the gratitude being expressed and the person expressing it, and a simple “you’re welcome” is a much better way to respond.

Gratitude is one of the most noble of feelings and it should always be acknowledged – still it remains hard for me to do.  Even so, with the client’s permission I’d like to share with you the following somewhat poetic excerpt from an email I received from one of the clients who recently got that discharge:

“This is the best holiday present ever!
That difficult experience of the past few years can now finally be a ghost….So many sleepless nights.
Thank you David for helping us to straighten out our lives..
We still have a hard road a head to try to prepare for being too old to be employed…
It would have been impossible with the mess we were in and it is still a long shot but we do have better odds now.
You were our guiding light and we will always be grateful.
Many many thanks to you David, …….”

I tend to get a little emotional around the holidays anyway, but this email really touched me.

Don’t be Tricked by Misleading Bankruptcy Attorney Fee Advertising

Plan ahead before you sign the marriage license.

A lot of the advertising about attorney fees for bankruptcy is misleading – even tricky. Today I checked on a Google ad and the web page it leads to which says a certain law firm will file a bankruptcy after a payment toward the attorney fee of only $99.  I found this to be not exactly accurate.

The web page says that $99 toward the attorney fee, along with the court filing fee and counseling program fees, would be all one would have to pay prior to filing.  It was a slick web page, obviously done at considerable expense, where I found the following statement:

“You only have to pay the court filing fee of $335 and the credit report / credit course fees of $65 and an attorney fee of $99 to file.”  It also said:  “Only $99 Down, No Co-Signer Needed, File Now/Pay over Time, Affordable Payment Plans” in big blue letters.

I wondered how can these people can be doing this. I could never cover my office rent, malpractice insurance, phone and internet bills and office supplies if I didn’t charge a lot more than that.   So I went to the bankruptcy court web site and ran a search for actual cases they had filed.  This is not free, so I didn’t look very far.  All I did was check the last two cases this law firm filed to see what the attorney fee had been.  Attorney fees have to be disclosed on the bankruptcy petition.  What I found was that for the last two cases they filed, both Chapter 7s, their fee was $990. And the court filings also said they had received all of the $990 before filing the case.   That’s lower than what I would usually charge, but it’s a lot more than $99.

Now one thing you should understand about attorney fees in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is this. If the attorney does not collect his or her fee prior to filing, any part of the fee that is still owing is just another debt in the bankruptcy case. The attorney is just another creditor.  The attorney, like all the other creditors, is under an immediate court order requiring that he or she do nothing to try to collect.  It is illegal and unethical for the attorney to collect anything from the client once the case is filed.  That’s why you may see references to a co-signer in some advertising.  The lawyer can still try to collect the fee from a co-signer as long as the co-signer is not his bankruptcy client.  This of course puts the bankruptcy lawyer in the position of being a bill collector. I don’t EVER want to be a bill collector.

I went back to the web page thinking it must be referring to Chapter 13 bankruptcy only. When it comes to paying attorney fees after the case is filed, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a very different animal from a Chapter 7. If you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy it is possible to pay part of the attorney fee through the Chapter 13 payment plan.  I hit Control F to search the page and typed “13” into the search box.  No mention of “13” or “Chapter 13” appears anywhere on the page.  The page seems to be talking about Chapter 7.  The only filing fee the page mentions is $335, which is the Chapter 7  court filing fee. The court filing fee for a Chapter 13 is slightly lower.

When I look at their web page I can see that it is very slick, and at the bottom is the name of a web development company that designed the page.  I can remember a few years back when I hired a person to redesign my page.  The person I hired started adding all sorts of new key words and content, which was submitted to me for review.  There was a whole lot of it, and it was hard to keep up with what the designer was doing.  Is it possible that the web designer wrote up this stuff while the law firm was not paying attention?  It could happen.  I’m now back to doing all my own web design work. I found that having my web page in the hands of a professional design and marketing person was scary.

So maybe they just have a busy marketing person who they can’t keep up with.   Maybe it’s not entirely the law firm’s fault.  But I do want to suggest to you that you should be very wary when you see something like this and don’t be taken in by it. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

This posting is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency. I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

Dave Kelly, Kelly Law Office, Minnetonka, MN 952-544-6356

Avoid Having your Bank Accounts Seized when you File Bankruptcy in MN

I don’t know what banks and credit unions are doing in other parts of the country.  I speak here only of what I have seen and heard about here locally in Minnesota, and specifically just the Twin Cities area. Here in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities area, there is a substantial danger that your savings and checking accounts will be seized or frozen by your bank or credit union when you file a personal bankruptcy.  I have always believed it to be a despicable thing to do.  Some banks and credit unions are worse than others at doing this.  When you choose a lawyer to handle your bankruptcy case, you might want to make sure that he or she is a person with enough experience to be aware of this problem and how to head it off before it happens.

The problem is this.  If the bank or credit union is one or your creditors, you can expect that institution to seize your accounts as soon as they are notified of the bankruptcy.  If this is not planned for it can result in quite a surprise – checks bouncing, a debit card that has stopped working, and the evaporation of money you thought you had.  There are some banks that are worse than others  when it comes to this problem.  They might freeze your account even if they are not a creditor, especially if your account has a fairly large sum of money – something in excess of $3,000.  I don’t want to mention them bank by name here, but I believe I did mention one in this video.

You should expect your bankruptcy attorney to coach and advise you as to how this is to be avoided. What I tell my clients is that if they have an account with a bank or credit union which they owe money to, that account should be closed well in advance of the filing of the bankruptcy case – whether it’s a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you don’t close that account, the bank or credit union will claim a right of setoff against your money in the account, which is a fancy way of saying that they will seize the money.  There are certain banks where all accounts should be closed if at all possible, whether you owe them money or not. Once they seize the money you won’t get it back – or at least usually won’t.

So the thing to do is to close all such accounts before you file your bankruptcy case.  It takes planning of course. I’m not saying you should try to live without a checking account.  What you need to do is open an account at a bank which is NOT one of your creditors, and get all your automatic deposits and automatic withdrawals up and running with the new account before we file your bankruptcy case.  I believe that the best banks to use for this purpose are the small neighborhood banks – for example a bank with a name that starts with “State Bank of …” or “Citizens Bank of …” The process of getting the new account set up and getting the auto deposits and auto payments moved over to and set up at the new bank may take a few weeks, but I consider this to be part of the normal planning and preparation that goes into making your case as painless as possible.

Using the Federal Wild Card Bankruptcy Exemption in Minnesota

Your wild card exemption - no joke

In either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Minnesota, once it’s established that you qualify to use the federal exemptions, the most important exemption of all is probably the one they call the “wild card” exemption. It is also sometimes called the “catch all,” and is provided for in 11 USC 522 (d)(5).   You might hear me call it “the d 5.” Here’s a video I posted recently on the subject.

Yes, sorry the lighting and sound are terrible on this video, but I’ve leaving it up because the content is valuable.

The exemption has a minimum of $1,225 and a  maximum of $12,725.  Most of my clients qualify for the maximum.  It’s called the wild card or catch all because it can be applied to any asset.  Unlike all other exemptions, the asset does not have to fit into a particular category before it an be exempted under the wild card.  The best thing about it probably is that it can be used in combination with another exemption.

For example, say you have a car that has equity of $4,675.  It has a KBB private party value of $9,675, but there’s a car loan with a balance of $5,000.  First I would claim the federal automobile exemption which is $3,675.  Then I would apply $1,000 of the wild card to take up the slack.   Now the car is 100% exempt.  My client gets to keep the car.  The trustee can’t have it.  And my client still has $11,725 of wild card to apply to other assets.

In a joint filing by a married couple, each party has their own wild card exemption of up to $12,725.  If all the assets were joint, that would have the effect of doubling the wild card for them.  However, I’ve never seen a couple yet that owed everything jointly.  Most couples have a hodgepodge of assets – some his, some hers and and some theirs.  This would be worse yet if Minnesota were a community property state, but we’re not.  I often find that I have to take out a pad of paper and make columns listing his wild card items and her wild card items separately, so I can make sure that neither column exceeds the $12,725.  It’s quite unusual to see a situation where those limits are exceeded, but I have seen it happen.  Using a note pad is a pretty low tech way to figure it out, but my soft ware doesn’t do that job for me.

Getting the exemptions right is quite tricky. Be sure you have a lawyer who knows what he or she is doing, and don’t even think of trying to do the case yourself. Failure to properly exempt assets is one of the most common mistakes made by people who try to represent themselves in the bankruptcy court.

This is for general information only, is not legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency.  I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

No Inflation in Housing, Home Furnishings or Car Costs Since 2012?

Every two years as long as I can remember the Minnesota exemptions were increased.  But guess what, this year – 2014 – the Minnesota Department of Commerce has announced that there will be no increase in the Minnesota State exemptions.  Here’s a video I recently posted about this.  Some day I’ll get the lighting right when I do these videos.

This is based on some statistics that they have showing that apparently there has not been enough inflation to trigger any increases. This would indicate that the cost of buying a car has not increased, the cost of buying a home has not increased, and the cost of household goods and furnishings and appliances has not gone up.

I am inviting your comments and feedback. Has there really been no increase in the cost of buying a house, the cost of buying a car or the cost of buying home furnishings and appliances during the past two years? If those costs have gone up in other parts of the county, have they not also increased in Minnesota?

Do you think the MN Department of Commerce is right, or have you experienced some price increases in the past two years?

This is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency.  I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

 

What if You Have a Rental Property and Need to File Bankruptcy?

Rental property and personal bankruptcy

Here’s a video I posted at YouTube where I comment about how rental properties should be dealt with in a personal bankruptcy.  I talk primarily about Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy, but I also get into Chapter 13 bankruptcy to some extent.  Unless it is properly handled, the filing of a bankruptcy may result in the property being taken away from you. It’s complicated and you would be well advised to find and consult a good lawyer about the exact situation you have with your rental property.   The video is only three and a half minutes long, and only scratches the surface if it even does that.

These days it has become common for families to have a former home that they could not sell. Maybe they outgrew the old house, or maybe they had to move because of their employment. Not being able to sell the old place, the best they could do was to rent it out. It seems as if most of the time these places have a negative cash flow, although not always.

When the time comes to look into filing a personal Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the rental property can become quite a problem. Typically the trustee will not find it acceptable to say on your budget sheet that you intend to continue to pay the expenses of a property that is losing money.

Even if the place has a positive cash flow, trying to keep it in a bankruptcy situation tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. The extra income might be just enough to disqualify you from filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, especially if you have stopped paying the mortgage on the property.

The best way to hang on to a rental property, if that is something that you really want to do, may be to do a Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead of a Chapter 7. For that to work you would need to have the equity in the property not amount to much and to have it producing a positive cash flow.

Unless it is properly handled, the filing of a bankruptcy may result in the property being taken away from you. It’s complicated and you would be well advised to find and consult a good lawyer about the exact situation you have with your rental property.

This is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. Neither the video nor these comments create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case.  I am a debt relief agency. I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.