Setting yourself up to fail: Filing “Pro Se” Bankruptcy

Yes, as with all legal matters in the United States, you are allowed to file for bankruptcy protection yourself and you can usually find the forms online or in a do it yourself workbook that you find at local bookstores or online. You are allowed to file “pro se” in bankruptcy court, just as in all other courts. As the saying goes though, just because you can do something, doesn’t  mean you should.

Bankruptcy Law is complicated.  It is a hybrid blend of the laws of the State of Georgia and Federal Government.  The amount of time you spend learning and researching the law, completing the mountains of forms and taking time off from work to appear in court pales in comparison to the extremely costly mistakes you can easily make by not hiring a competent bankruptcy attorney.

Bankruptcy Laws can vary from state to state

The books you purchase and forms you find in those books and online can make it seem to be a simple enough process, but that’s the point. It may even look like you will be saving some money by not hiring a competent debt relief attorney. However, the truth is quite the opposite. The laws are  very complicated. As mentioned previously, bankruptcy is a hybrid type of law that blends state law with federal law and what you can do in one state may not be what you can do in others. There is a high likelihood you will omit something important, make a mistake on the means test or say or do something that will cost you your home, your car or other assets, including your retirement savings. Losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to save a few bucks is a very real possibility.   

 

The reality of Filing “Pro Se”

Once you file for Bankruptcy “pro se”, there is a high likelihood you will be faced by mountains of paperwork being filed on behalf of your creditors by attorneys whose job is to get the absolute best deal for your creditors as they possibly can.  These attorneys will work tirelessly and ruthlessly to ensure that your bankruptcy fails and that your creditors can resume harassing and collecting from you. Beyond the creditors attorneys, you will also be opposed by a trustee who is a highly trained attorney.  It is the trustee’s job to secure as much of your assets for your creditors as possible. Just because you’re not an attorney and don’t know the law doesn’t mean the creditors’ attorneys, the trustee or the judge will take it easy on you. You are still expected to know the United States Bankruptcy Code and the procedures of the bankruptcy court, including the local procedures of each individual federal bankruptcy judge.  

Investing in your future

The low cost of being represented by a competent bankruptcy attorney is one of the best investments you can make for your future.  Beyond not having to learn the many aspects of the law that your attorney is familiar with, it’s reassuring to have someone on your side who knows how the bankruptcy process works and can guide you through it successfully.  Beyond knowing the law, the attorneys at Harmon and Gorove have a long and successful relationship with many of the creditor attorneys and all of the current Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees in the Newnan Division, all of whom know not to try to take advantage of our clients.

Hiring a Competent Bankruptcy Attorney

The experienced attorneys at Harmon and Gorove can give you advice based on your individual circumstances. Their decades of experience aren’t something you can get from a form you find in the internet. Do yourself a favor and invest in your future. Contact the competent and compassionate attorneys at Harmon and Gorove today for a FREE consultation.  Let us help you get your life and your financial freedom back from greedy creditors.

Cramdown: reducing the principal on secured debts

When considering filing a chapter 13 bankruptcy, you may find yourself in the position to be able to reduce the principal balance of a secured debt to the actual value of the property (car, household item, etc.) it is secured by. When you reduce this amount of debt in this way it is known as a “cramdown” and can be a very valuable tool in your bankruptcy case that can potentially save your automobile, real estate investments, and other personal property you have pledged to secure a debt. Because of the way the law is written, you aren’t allowed to use the cramdown provision on your primary home  but using it in other aspects of your financial life can net massive savings.

When your attorney initiates a cramdown, you’re taking the value of a secured item like a car and reducing the balance you owe in order to match the item’s true book value. When this happens, the crammed down amount is then placed in your unsecured debt in your Chapter 13 case. A cramdown can be extremely beneficial in certain cases and might allow you to pay only a small percentage of your unsecured debt.  Filing things this way could result in all of your unpaid unsecured debt being discharged at the conclusion of your Chapter 13 case. There are many other advantages to cramming down your loans with a Chapter 13. This includes reduced interest rates, the potential to stretch the payments across a greater period of time which might very well reduce monthly payment amounts to a more affordable level. Another fantastic benefit is that you can escape liabilities on any deficiencies by using a mortgage cramdown on investment real estate.

As with much in life, the cramdown in a Chapter 13 seems often seems too good to be true. While this is not the case, it does come with certain guidelines that were passed by Congress to place certain restrictions on how, why and when you can initiate a cramdown. The cramdown restrictions to remember are the 910 Day (roughly two and a half years) Rule on car loans, the One Year Rule on personal property (think TVs, furniture, etc.), and the restrictions on investment real estate mortgages.

The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove are extremely experienced in using cramdowns to the benefit of their clients.  With decades of combined experience, our team can help you find out of you qualify for a cramdown in a Chapter 13 and help you successfully navigate the intricacies of a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy so that you may emerge on the other side debt free.  Call our office today to set up a free consultation with an experienced and compassionate Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Attorney.

How do I find a good Bankruptcy Attorney?

This is a very important question, especially from people that haven’t ever had the need to hire an attorney or who are considering bankruptcy for the very first time. Depending on where in the State of Georgia you reside, there can be any number of options.  Finding a competent Georgia Bankruptcy Attorney is the most important factor in the outcome of your case. Below, we add a few bits of extra information to help you know that you have chosen the best lawyer for you that can help you navigate your way through the bankruptcy process successfully.

Finding the RIGHT Attorney

First, and most importantly, you want to make absolutely sure that the lawyer you choose is a SPECIALIST in bankruptcy law. We can’t possibly stress the importance of this enough.  Much like medicine, the law is extremely specialized.  Having an attorney who focuses on specific types of law allows them to have the kind of expertise you need in order to make sure your case is given the attention it deserves and has the outcome you want.

The United States Bankruptcy Code is second in complexity only to the United States Tax Code and thus, only an attorney who is a specialist in bankruptcy can possibly know all the ins and outs of the bankruptcy code of the United States and the specific laws of Georgia.

You have likely found several attorneys in your area that practice bankruptcy.  The question is, how do you choose between them? Probably the most important attribute of the best bankruptcy attorneys are their timeliness. Because of the very strict timelines in the bankruptcy filing process and the large amounts of paperwork necessary, the lines of communication between you and your lawyer are very important. At Harmon and Gorove, we pride ourselves on responding to our clients’ most urgent needs quickly and providing expedient service to keep their case on track.

Aside from timeliness, you want to find a local bankruptcy attorney who is not only experienced in successfully filing bankruptcies, but who also has a good relationship with the bankruptcy trustees in your division. Because each bankruptcy division and judge can do things a little differently than the other courts, it pays significant dividends to have a team of lawyers that is highly knowledgeable about the workings of the court in which YOU will be filing for bankruptcy.

There are many ways to find a good lawyer who can help you file bankruptcy, which include getting in touch with your state bar association, the local bankruptcy court, or asking friends or family who have filed before. Another good way is to just drive around and see which bankruptcy offices are actually open every day. Many of the bankruptcy attorneys you see advertising in the area only have satellite offices that are rarely staffed and if you do hire them, you likely won’t see them after the initial consultation.  Their attorneys work out of a centralized office somewhere in Atlanta and you definitely won’t see them walking through downtown, your kids won’t go to school with their kids and grandkids, and they won’t be at the high school football game on Friday night. Your attorney may not even show up at court with you, hiring a fill-in lawyer because you simply aren’t worth their time.  Finding an attorney that doesn’t just come in to the community to take your money just makes sense. Our attorneys at Harmon and Gorove are specialists who deeply care about the success of each client’s case. OUR attorneys will be there, by your side, every step of the way. We answer our own phone, we give you our direct emails and WE show up at court with you.

If you are looking for an attorney to help you through the bankruptcy process, give us a call to schedule a free consultation and let us show you why we’re the BEST choice to help you through the bankruptcy process.

Garnishment? My paycheck? Really?

The long and short of it is, yes, garnishment of wages can happen to you.

Finding yourself in a situation where you are experiencing financial difficulties can often create an immense amount of stress and people who find themselves in this unfortunate situation often don’t know who to turn to. When you have exhausted your other options one of the best solutions is to file for bankruptcy protection with the help of a qualified Attorney.

One of the concerns people face when dealing with financial hardship is the reality that your wages may be garnished by a creditor. If this happens, it magnifies the burden and will likely pose even greater problems than you were previously facing. Depending where you live there are federal and state laws in place that limit the amount that creditors can receive in a garnishment. However, when money is already tight any income you lose will have a dramatic effect on you.

When creditors seek a garnishment, they must first file suit in court and notify you of the pending legal action. Generally speaking, in Georgia, creditors can take no more than 25% of your disposable income or the amount that is above 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.

Rather than continuing to deal with unnecessary stress, many consider filing for bankruptcy protection as it causes all of the collection actions to cease immediately, under penalty of law.  In Georgia, we may even be able to recover some of your garnished wages. All of your creditors collection actions will be put on hold until your bankruptcy status has been determined and your case discharged. While many people view bankruptcy as giving up, we look at it as a form of relief when there are simply no other options available.

Filing for Bankruptcy allows you to get your finances back on track to give you more freedom and peace in your life.  When filing for Bankruptcy it is important to seek out a highly qualified attorney who SPECIALIZES in filing consumer bankruptcies. The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove have filed more than 5,000 successful bankruptcy cases and will put their knowledge and experience to work for you.  Contact our office today to arrange a FREE consultation with one of our highly trained attorneys.

How much debt does it take to file Bankruptcy?

Tons of people ask the question each day, “Do I have enough debt to file bankruptcy?”  The long and short of it is that the US Bankruptcy code lists no minimum amount of debt to be able to qualify for bankruptcy. However, in consumer bankruptcy, there is a debt ceiling that prohibits an individual from filing a Chapter 13.

The Minimum Amount of Debt

As we stated previously, there’s no minimum amount of debt you have to have to file for bankruptcy. That being said, the amount of debt you have should be a determining factor in whether or not you decide file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Should you have creditors who are unwilling to work with you, you find yourself owing more debt than you can pay back during the the next five years, or you are facing lawsuits due to debts in collection the time may be right to file bankruptcy. There is, however, only one way to decide if the time is right and that is to contact a local bankruptcy attorney to analyze your individual situation.

The Maximum Amount of Debt

Some people find themselves faced with insurmountable debts. One thing you should understand is that there is a limit to the amount of debt you have have in order to file a consumer bankruptcy. Owing more than $1,184,200 in secured debt or $394,725 in unsecured debt as of 2018 disqualifies you from being able to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you find yourself in this situation then you may be forced to work on settling your debts or reducing outstanding principal in order to lower your debt load before we can file a Chapter 13. .

Bankruptcy in Georgia

Making the decision to file for bankruptcy protection is one that has long lasting implications and therefore shouldn’t be rushed into. Making contact with a local bankruptcy attorney like Harmon and Gorove can give you a better idea of where you stand financially and will allow you to determine which of your debts can be eliminated during bankruptcy and which ones you will have to pay back.

The Automatic Stay: A Saving Grace in Bankruptcy

Tens of thousands of Americans struggle with credit card debt, medical expenses, mortgages and other bills each day. Many of those people have been contacted by creditors in increasingly predatory and harassing ways about late and delinquent payments. Many businesses have probably even turned your unpaid and deficient amounts over to a collections agency. Many of these collections agencies contact you at the most inconvenient times or in the most inconvenient places such as your work, or at dinner time after a long day away from your family.  They are often ruthless in hounding you and over time may become more and more aggressive towards you in an attempt to collect from you. The best way to stop all of these harassing collection attempts is to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will stop all collection attempts while your attorney works out the details of your debts with the trustee, this is called the automatic stay.

The best thing about a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is the automatic stay.  The automatic stay is issued to your creditors once your bankruptcy case is filed in the courts. When meeting with your attorney it is extremely important to include a complete and total list of who your creditors are, their address and phone number and how much you owe them in your bankruptcy petition. Doing this will ensure that these agencies receive notice to stop attempting to collect on your debt and to leave you alone. Once the automatic stay is in place, collection agencies can’t contact you, they must stop garnishing your wages and can no longer initiate or pursue lawsuits. Many of our clients often feel a deep sense of relief their case is filed and the threatening collector calls stop.

During, before and after the automatic stay bill collectors are also banned from taking certain actions including making threats, calling you at extremely late or very early hours, using profane language, increasing debts beyond the terms of the contract and threatening to have you arrested if you don’t pay their balance. These are protections afforded to you by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you feel that your right have been violated or you are tired of receiving the harassing phone calls and letters, being served with lawsuits or having your hard earned wages garnished, call one of the experienced attorneys at Harmon and Gorove.  They can help you find the right debt relief options for your situation and customize a plan to help get you out of debt for good. We offer convenient appointments and our consultations are ALWAYS free.

Bankruptcy, Foreclosure and the American Dream

During times like this more and more Americans have found themselves to be faced with the prospect of foreclosure or bankruptcy. American society puts a high value on owning a home and for many people it is a source of personal wealth and pride. For the many people who have been through the foreclosure process or filed for bankruptcy protection, being able to purchase a new home and start over again seems like it is an unattainable dream.

There is good news though, recent interviews with people in the housing industry (builders, realtors and lenders) suggest that people who have been through the foreclosure process or have filed for bankruptcy protection are often able to return to homeownership sooner than previously thought.  There are steps to take though in order to attain the dream of homeownership again.

Getting back on track

Foreclosures and bankruptcies often stay on someone’s credit for 7 years or more.  Because of this you must take deliberate steps towards rebuilding your credit as soon as you possibly can.  Consistently making bill payments on time, paying down credit cards, lowering other debt, and avoiding going into additional debt can cause credit scores to be dramatically improved within months of being discharged from bankruptcy or completing the foreclosure process.

Many experts say that many people who work diligently at rebuilding their credit and are save money for down payments are able to buy another home within two to 3 years. Federal Housing Agency (FHA) loans are a frequently used way for previously foreclosed upon homeowners to be able to finance a new home purchase. Many former homeowners who have been through a foreclosure or bankruptcy cannot qualify for conventional mortgages and FHA loans have exploded in popularity amongst people with little credit or damaged credit

Generally speaking, conventional mortgages offer interest rates that are lower than FHA mortgages but conventional mortgages often require a downpayment of 20 percent of the price of the home, a credit score of at least 720 and a proof of income. Comparatively, FHA mortgages, only require credit scores of about 620 and a down payment of 3.5 percent of the home’s purchase price, which makes it much more attractive for lower income people or people with little savings.

FHA loans have drawbacks. In addition to higher interest rates, FHA mortgages are subject to a mandatory insurance premium of 1.75 percent of the loan. While this sounds like a lot more money up front, often, these costs can be rolled into the total amount of the loan. Additionally, payments of 1.25 percent of the outstanding balance are required of the homebuyer each year. Many Americans find that FHA loans are a more affordable option despite these drawbacks.

FHA mortgages are not the only available option for homebuyers. Many former homeowners eligible for first-time homebuyer programs and if you qualify for Veterans benefits, you might qualify for a mortgage under the VA. These different programs help buyers to make the down payment and handle the closing costs of the loans. Generally speaking, programs like this are available to homeowners who have not owned a home within the previous three years.

A competent Attorney can help

If filing for bankruptcy is something you’re considering or you find yourself  threatened with a foreclosure it can feel like your world is collapsing around you. We cannot state more emphatically that this is not the case. The experienced bankruptcy attorneys of Harmon and Gorove can explain the bankruptcy and/or foreclosure process and advise you on how it will affect your financial situation. Armed with facts, expert analysis and years of experience our team can recommend the best debt-relief option for your particular situation. With the planning, guidance and the expertise of our team your dream of owning a home again can once more become a reality.

 

Bankruptcy and Divorce: They often go hand in hand

Financial problems are often a source of major problems in a marriage. Many couples in Georgia have found themselves facing the prospect of divorce at least in part due to unsustainable debt or different spending habits. Many couples choose to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in an effort to save their marriages from divorce.  Unfortunately, this decision doesn’t always end up working out and leaves divorce as the only option. Divorce can leave the parties wondering how their bankruptcy will be impacted.

There are several factors that play into the options for people facing divorce in this situation. Bankrate states, some people may be able to convert their Chapter 13 case to a Chapter 7. Another important thing to consider when looking at your options is whether the case was filed as a joint case or a single case.

There is a different set of circumstances for those who did not begin their bankruptcy proceedings before deciding to get divorced.  Those people will need to look at which type of bankruptcy plan is best for them according to a blog called My Horizon Today. The types of debt, the new incomes of the divorcing parties and the expenses incurred by new living situations are just some of the factors that will contribute to this decision.

Another important thing to think about during this time is how well the divorcing couples are able to work together to achieve their financial goals. If the divorce is not amicable and the former spouses are unable to communicate, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy might not be the best idea. However, for divorced couples who can get along and communicate, this type of plan may be the best thing for them even though they would likely have to communicate and work together through the 3 to 5 year bankruptcy term.

If you find yourself facing debt problems that could potentially lead you to divorce or you are divorcing and find your new financial reality untenable, contact the compassionate attorneys at Harmon and Gorove. We offer same day appointments and free consultation so we can show you how we can help you achieve a new level of financial freedom and get your life back on track.

Living Paycheck to Paycheck? You’re not alone.

Despite the booming economy and record low unemployment, many Americans are unable to pay their bills and save for a rainy day.  In fact, only 29 percent of families have enough money saved to cover 6 months worth of bills in an emergency fund and a whopping 23 percent have no savings at all. A recent study noted that 78% of American families are living paycheck to paycheck.  It is among the highest number ever recorded.

There are many reasons to explain why this might be the case.  Despite a low unemployment rate, millions of people are underemployed.  Underemployment is when you have a job but are unable to work as much as you would like or work for wages that are too low to support your lifestyle.  Countless others work in the gig economy, driving for rideshare companies or doing contract work that pays intermittently and doesn’t provide benefits or a steady paycheck.  Still more people find themselves saddled with debt that is eating up their paychecks and stopping them from being able to save for the future and get ahead.

The average American household has $137,063 in debt with the average American earning just over $59,000 last year.  While much of this debt is due to a mortgage or student loan, the average American carries a balance of $6,379 on their credit cards.  The total outstanding credit card debt in America now exceeds 1 TRILLION dollars.  Cars are getting more expensive as well. The average American household owes more than $30,000 on car loans.  Suffice to say that millions of Americans are struggling to get ahead and and countless more are actively falling behind, struggling to handle untenable loads of debt.  

If you find yourself among the nearly 8 in 10 Americans living paycheck to paycheck and you feel like you are drowning in debt, you are not alone. The competent and compassionate attorneys at Harmon and Gorove are here to help you get your finances back on track.  We offer free consultations and have helped thousands of people achieve financial freedom. Call us today and let us help you!

Don’t let holiday debt get your 2019 off on the wrong foot

A lot of Georgians enjoy the holidays but for others it can be a bit of a season of mixed emotions. For many, it’s an opportunity for people to have extra time to spend with family members that they might not get to see often or to attend fun holiday celebrations with friends, co-workers and family. For many though, there can be a substantial monetary cost to the holiday season.  That cost goes beyond even the standard gift buying that Americans are unable to avoid. It includes things like planning and hosting parties or travelling great distances to visit loved ones. People already struggling to make ends meet often find themselves in an untenable situation and all of this added expense during the holidays can lead to significant holiday debt that can put a strain on their already difficult financial situation.

According to the The Motley Fool, nearly 50 percent of all people will find themselves in serious debt by January, nearly all of it related to holiday spending. 8 in 10 of those people will have driven up their debt load buying presents for friends and family. About 3 in 10 will have gone in debt to fund holiday travel and another 20 percent will have incurred new debt in order to fund events and celebrations during the holiday season.

Bloomberg, a major financial news outlet, states that the relatively healthy economy gives consumers the confidence to spend significant amounts this holiday season, especially compared to years past. Amazon has indicated that 2018’s Cyber Monday was the biggest shopping day ever for the company in its history and many other retailers are reporting extremely strong holiday spending during their Black Friday sales.

Mastercard  has put out news that online shopping in the holiday season exceeded 2017 spending levels by 19 percent. Total shopping sales for the entire year of 2018 rose by more than five percent over 2017 levels, as reported by Mastercard.

As we celebrate a new year, don’t let the prospect of serious holiday debt drag you and your family down.  With the average credit card interest rates exceeding 20% and rising, your financial future hangs in the balance with each passing day.  Don’t let the scourge of credit card debt ruin your 2019. Come see the attorneys at Harmon and Gorove today for a free consultation and let us develop a plan that can help you get your finances back on track and secure a bright future for you and your family.