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Tackling Credit Card Debt

With credit card debt in the United States nearing 1 TRILLION dollars, it’s easy to say that a great deal of people are feeling overwhelmed by the debts carried on their revolving accounts. Many people who carry balances on their credit cards pay just the monthly minimums and ignore the problem.  This is NOT a good plan. Pretending your debts don’t exist just makes the problem that much worse. This strategy will backfire on you every time in the long run. It will make you miserable, it will cause you to be unable to save for the future and it could eventually drive you into bankruptcy.

If you are interested in trying to get started on paying down your long term credit card debts we have some advice for you.  The best strategy starts with the first step and that step is often to modify your spending habits by creating a budget and sticking to it. Just small modifications to your daily routine can mean big savings that you can then start using to pay down your balances one at a time, always starting with the payment with the highest interest rates.  

Step one is to decide on a repayment strategy.  Don’t allow yourself to continue to drown under the weight of multiple credit card payments each month.  If you start working your way down from the top (meaning you pay off your biggest balance or highest interest rate) you can begin to reduce your debts quickly, freeing up more and more disposable income that you can then use to continue to pay off other debts.

Another step you can take is to communicate with the people you owe money to. If you’re struggling with the exorbitantly high interest rates that are routinely charged by credit card companies, sometimes just giving them a call and asking for an interest rate reduction will allow you to free up more money to pay down the principal on the card each month.  Sometimes credit card companies will work with you on rates if you’ll commit to repaying the debt at that lower interest rate.

There are lots of options available to you if you feel like your drowning in credit card debt.  The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove can help you find a way out of debt for good. Contact us for a free, no obligation consultation to find out how we can get you started down a path to financial freedom.

 

Don’t “Cosign” Your Good Credit Away

So, you’ve gone and done it.  You didn’t listen when we told you not to do it.  You said to yourself, it’s OK, I know my brother won’t skip out on this loan and leave me holding the bag.  Well, you were wrong and he did. Not only that but the truck loan he convinced you to cosign on was just wrecked and your brother also didn’t have insurance.  You’ve got yourself in a mess. Here’s what happens to your credit now.

Your brother was late with his payment or he’s skipped one entirely.  This is a big red flag. It’s also a big red flag to the credit ratings companies.  Your credit score is going to get dinged, probably to the tune of 20-30 points. Honestly, even if your brother doesn’t miss his payments you’re still going to have credit problems.  

One of the thing credit ratings companies look at is something called your Debt to Income Ratio.  This is a measurement of how your income stacks up to your total debt load.  Lets say your monthly income is $10,000 and your monthly payments on all your debts add up to $6,000.  That’s a Debt to Income ratio of 60% and you’re now considered high risk. This loan you’ve cosigned with your Brother is factoring into that DTI of 60% and that’s hurting your credit score and your ability to get new loans at the best interest rates, or at all.  So your credit is taking a hit for your brother and you don’t even get the benefits of having something to show for it.

OK, so back to the issue at hand.  You’ve cosigned and now your on the hook.  Here’s the best ways to avoid massive hits to your credit or the possibility of ending up having to file bankruptcy.  First things first, monitor the borrower to make sure that their payments are on time and in full. This may mean you have to call them every month before the due date to gently remind them that the payment is due and make sure that they actually have the cash to cover that payment.  This is a hassle, and why we told you not to cosign to begin with. This will most likely pay off for you though because it will hopefully keep you from finding out the hard way (like nasty calls from bill collectors) that your brother hasn’t been making his payments and keep him from damaging your credit for years to come.

The next thing you should do is assume that your brother won’t be able to make his payment at some point and that you’ll occasionally have to step in to make the payment in order to keep your good credit score.  After you sign the loan you need to open up a separate savings account and place in that account enough money to cover payments for at least 6 months worth of payments. By doing this, you have a cushion built up in the event that your brother does what the lender thinks they’re going to do, quit paying the loan.  This also protects you in the event that your brother absconds with the truck. It’ll give you enough liquidity to call the lender and try to work out a deal. It’ll still hurt your credit but it hopefully won’t drive you into bankruptcy.

If you were convinced to cosign and now find yourself in financial trouble because of that loan, don’t worry.  We’ve given you a pretty hard time here today but in all honesty, people cosign all the time and it isn’t something that can’t be fixed.  The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove have the ability to make these issues go away using the tools provided in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Our attorney have decades of experience in handling cases like this and we are willing and able to help you in your time of need.  Contact us today to schedule your free, no obligation consultation with one of our attorneys.  

Your Cosigner filed Bankruptcy, What Now?

So often when someone needs to make a large purchase they must take out a loan.  The vast majority of us, myself included, have to incur debt to make these large purchases.  For many of us, getting this loan is going to require a cosigner. A cosigner is an additional person (besides you) that will agree to be liable for the debt in the event that you default on the loan and stop making payments.  The cosigner, just like you, is expected to pay back the loan in full if the other part can’t or won’t. What happens though, when your co-signer files bankruptcy? How is that going to impact your role as the primary borrower?

The best way to explain this situation is to give you an example.  Becky is looking to buy herself a new boat. Becky’s credit isn’t good enough to get the loan for the boat without a cosigner.  Becky’s cousin, Tammy agrees to be a cosigner on the loan but won’t be listed on the title as an owner of the boat. A few months later, Tammy has to file for bankruptcy and through the bankruptcy process, Tammy is remove from the loan and no longer required to pay it back.  You ask, what happens to Becky and her boat now?

Becky still has to pay back the loan.  As the primary borrower, she still owes the balance of the loan.  If Becky pays the loan back in full, the boat is hers, free and clear.  The only issue with being the primary borrower and the cosigner in a finance contract like this is that eventually the property will be titled in the primary borrower’s name.  Issues can occasionally arise if the finance company declares the loan in default due to the cosigner’s bankruptcy but these can usually be remedied by refinancing the loan in solely into the name of the primary borrower.  This can even result in lower payments for the primary borrower.

Additionally, Tammy’s bankruptcy shouldn’t show up on Becky’s credit.  Occasionally, situations arise where this is reported to credit bureaus but they can usually be resolved by filing a dispute letter with the three credit bureaus. Our advice is usually this: don’t cosign.  If you can’t afford to buy something using your own credit, maybe you need to explore less expensive options.

If you find yourself in financial trouble due to cosigning a loan with someone else, contact the attorneys at Harmon and Gorove today to see how we can help mitigate the damage of cosigning a loan.  

Cosigning is ALWAYS a Bad Idea

We understand how hard it is to say no, especially to a friend or family member.  Let me say this loud and clear, when a family member of a friend asks about cosigning a loan for them, RUN FOR THE HILLS! JUST SAY NO! DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES SIGN THAT LOAN!

No matter how sure you are that they won’t default on the loan, you may even feel it in your soul, DON’T DO IT.  If a lender is asking for a cosigner, there’s a good reason. It’s because they believe that the primary borrower won’t be able to make their financial obligations.  More often than not, the lender is right.

When it comes to cosigning, you’re being asked to guarantee a debt.  If the primary borrower doesn’t repay the debt, you’re on the hook for the debt and the creditor WILL come after you. You’ll be on the hook for late fees, collection costs, attorneys fees and the principal balance of the loan.  If the debt goes into default it WILL show up on your credit report. The bottom line is, cosigning is always a bad idea.

Cosigning is always a bad idea.  Have I made myself clear up to this point? Cosigning a debt puts you in the worst possible situation.  You receive no benefit from the loan you’re cosigning. You aren’t getting a student loan to improve your education, you’re not getting a house to live in and build equity in, you’re not getting that flashy new car to ride around town in. You’re just on the hook for all of it.  You can have you bank accounts and assets seized, your paycheck garnished, you could be subject to litigation and you could ultimately end up in bankruptcy.

We understand that it’s difficult to refuse to help someone you love.  Telling friends or family members no is one of the toughest things you can do. However, it may be the best thing you can do for your relationship.  Think about what your relationship will be like if your friend or family member defaults on the loan or even just misses a payment. That’s going to show up on your credit at a minimum and will likely bring your score down 20 or more points.  The damage that cosigning can do to relationships can not be understated. You’ll be left with a loan and a relationship that will be severely damaged from here forward.

If you’ve cosigned a loan with someone who has missed payments or defaulted on a loan completely and you find yourself on the hook for their mistakes the attorneys at Harmon and Gorove can help.  We are experts in dealing with these kinds of issues through the bankruptcy code.  Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation about how we can help you get out from under these debts and get your life back.

Obtaining Credit After Bankruptcy

People who come into our office considering bankruptcy are often concerned that they’ll never again be able to get credit after bankruptcy.  These fears are perpetuated by credit repair companies and debt settlement scam artists who are trying to convince people that THEY can fix their problems without the “stigma” of bankruptcy.

I’ll say this one time and one time only with as much emphasis as I possibly can.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DOES BANKRUPTCY PRECLUDE YOU FROM GETTING CREDIT IN THE FUTURE.

Yes, credit after bankruptcy will be harder to come by and you’ll likely pay a higher interest rate, but you can find credit.  Yes, a bankruptcy can stay on your credit for up to 10 years after your file but as time goes on, it plays a much smaller role in decisions relating to your credit worthiness.  Truthfully, you’re probably less of a credit risk now than you were before you filed bankruptcy. After your case is over there is less demand on your income and your debt to income ratio will be vastly better.  You may even see your credit score go up.

Within two to three years after the discharge of your case, you’ll likely be eligible for a mortgage loan on terms that are similar to what you would have received if you had not filed bankruptcy.  You’ll likely be on the same playing field as those with similar financial situations who haven’t filed bankruptcy.

Alas, there is no “right” to credit.  People who look at your credit (landlords, banks, credit card issuers) are completely within their right to consider your financial history when it comes to making a decision about whether to rent you a home or apartment, giving you a line of credit or a personal loan. However, you are protected from discrimination in employment or governmental licensing based solely on the fact that you’ve filed bankruptcy.

If you feel that bankruptcy is right for you, please contact our office to schedule a free,  no obligation consultation to determine what we can do to help you get back on the road to financial freedom.  

Calculating Your Credit Score: Why does it matter?

Any business that relies on consumer lending (ie. banks, car dealers, mortgage brokers, etc.) need credit scores. Using them allows them to quickly decide if you are worthy of credit and if so, what your interest rate will be. Using credit scores is a quick and easy way for lenders to keep up their volume of lending. A credit score allows lenders to decide immediately whether they can sell you a car or give you a credit card right away.

Consumers can improve their credit scores by planning their credit use to bolster their standing in the eyes of the credit agencies. To do this, knowing how the scores are calculated is extremely important. Here is what you need to know.

How a credit score is calculated

A company called Fair Isaac created the credit scoring system that is in widespread use today.  They keep the exact formula private but due to pressure from consumer groups and the government, they have given us a general framework of how their system works.  This information gives people who want to improve their credit score a leg up. By knowing what goes into the formula, consumers are able to make decisions with their money in ways that can improve their credit scores.

Credit Scores are composed of someone’s history of payments, current debt outstanding, how long your credit has been established, the number of new credit accounts, and types of credit accounts. Each of these different factors comprise a percentage in the formula used to calculate your credit score. Your credit history makes up 35 percent of the score’s calculation.

35% of you score depends on your payment history and whether your bills are paid on time. The formula takes off points for late payments, accounts you have had sent to collection agencies, and any bankruptcies you had in the past 10 years. When accounts you have that are in collections are satisfied, some of the point deduction falls off. This is also the case with accounts that are late. The longer a bankruptcy occurred in the past, the less it affects the score.

Outstanding debt makes up 30% of the score. It is almost as important as your payment history. While it may appear that payment history is vastly more important than your outstanding debt, in terms of credit risk, the two are very close in significance. Even if a person has a good payment history, a significant amount of outstanding debt indicates that person has fallen into a debt situation that has the potential to become unmanageable.

Length of credit history also plays an important role in your credit score. In this category, people who are older or established credit at a younger age have a major advantage. The formula uses length of credit history as the basis for 15% of the score. The formula estimates that people with longer credit histories are better to lend to than those who have just opened a line of credit. Also, it favors longevity with a lender versus those who have closed old accounts in favor of new lines of credit.

10% of your credit score is determined by how many new accounts you have opened. Any time you open a new line of credit it can temporarily lower your credit score.  While this may seem like a bad thing, opening new accounts for people with a limited credit history still improves their score because you must establish credit with a good payment history and ever increasing credit limits.

The kinds of credit accounts you open effects 10% of your score. Mortgages and car loans are better than credit cards. Credit cards are better than payday loans or title pawns. Having a mortgage makes you look more stable to lenders while having a payday loan and high credit card balances may indicate poor financial wellbeing.

Credit scores are convenient and they allow lenders to make decisions on credit quickly and conveniently for you and them. By building a credit profile that raises your credit score, consumers can make better decisions about credit and have more options to get credit at a lower cost.

Are you having trouble with your credit? Are lenders or collections agencies harassing you?  If they are there’s a good chance they have already had a negative impact on your credit score.  Come see the attorneys at Harmon and Gorove today for a free consultation about how we can change your financial situation through the bankruptcy process and start your on the road to rebuilding your good credit.