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The Dangers of Sonoma County Debt Settlement Companies

drowning-in-debt4.jpgDo you find yourself laden with debt? Have you been tempted to contact a debt-settlement company that promises to reduce your debt by negotiating with your creditors?

A new report issued by the Center for Responsible Lending indicates that consumers who enroll in a debt settlement program may increase their debt by as much as 20%.

What Is Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement can occur when a company you retain negotiates with your creditors to accept a lump sum that is less than the amount you owe. Unsecured debt, such credit card and medical bills, are usually eligible for settlement. In a typical case, a consumer will contact a debt settlement company, enroll in a program, and pay a fee once the debt is settled.

It sounds great, doesn't it? But problems can and often do ensue.

The inherent problem of the debt settlement process is that these types of companies advise its clients to stop making payments to creditors. Ostensibly, this tactic is used to communicate to the creditors that the consumer is in trouble and to further entice the creditors to accept partial payments. However, when consumers stop paying their bills, their credit score plummets.

In addition, there are times when creditors refused to negotiate the debt owed. In those cases, consumers can become embroiled in continued collection activity and lawsuits.

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Watch Out Santa Rosa: Deceptive Mortgage Practices Are Back!

agent.jpgDo you remember when a federal jury decided that Bank of America was guilty of selling subprime mortgages and ordered the bank to pay $863 million in damages? In that case, the US Justice Department argued that Countrywide, which Bank of America purchased in 2008, committed fraud by selling shoddy home loans over a two-year period to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Bank of America wasn't the only culprit. The US subprime mortgage crisis was the main culprit of the recession back in 2008. However, there were other factors contributing to the recession including the steady decline in home prices after peaking in mid-2006 and the percentage of households that became increasingly indebted. Inventive loan packages, such as easy initial terms and interest-only loans, were also to blame for the economic crash.

Industry experts agree that the banking and mortgage industries were mainly to blame. As a result, big banks became unpopular, and many private mortgage companies went out of business.

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FTC Rebukes Harsh and Deceptive Debt Collection Practices

debt-collector.jpgAre one or more debt collectors hounding you? Have you been tempted to authorize payment of your debt over the phone?

In a recent case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) determined that a Houston debt collection company - RTB Enterprises, Inc., which does business as Allied Data Corporation, and Raymond T. Blair - wrongly bullied English- and Spanish-speaking consumers and charged them transaction fees.

In addition, the FTC said the bill collectors were deceptive in their methods and claimed to be speaking on behalf of attorneys. Finally, the company threatened to sue consumers and coerced unsuspecting individuals to make payments toward their debts or reveal their personal information.

The FTC sued the debt collection company to rescind their contracts, provide restitution to consumers, and to stop the company from proceeding with its tactics.

The Case Against Houston-Based Allied Data Corporation

Allied Data Corporation had been engaged in third-party debt collection since 1993. Its clients included marketing companies, retail stores, retail websites and hospitals. Annually, Allied collected on one million accounts.

The FTC noted in its complaint that the company used more abusive debt collection tactics against Spanish-speaking consumers than those whose primary language was English. For example, the company's collectors claimed to be attorneys when they attempted to seek payment from Spanish-speaking consumers.

The collectors also warned that the case, if not closed, would head next to Allied's litigation or pre-litigation departments, even though those departments didn't exist within the company.

Oftentimes, Allied's employees would tell consumers that legal proceedings had already begun against the targeted consumers. They went so far as to convey file numbers to further intimidate individuals.

Perhaps worst of all, Allied's employees would tell consumers that they needed to pay the debt right away to avoid up to thousands of dollars of court fees. Allied made these threats even though it had no intention of suing the consumers they targeted. In fact, the lawsuit noted that Allied had no authority to sue consumers without seeking approval from their creditor clients.

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Judges Can Exercise Discretion Over Attorneys' Fees in Bankruptcy Cases

January 7, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Atty fees.jpgA recent study found that while bankruptcy attorney fees vary from state to state, between 2005 and 2009 fees averaged $1,080 to $1,200. In Idaho, fees were as little as $700. In other parts of the country, they can climb to $2,500.

Those fees are in addition to the fees the bankruptcy court will collect when you file. Filing fees can range from $306 for a Chapter 7 filing to $1213 for a Chapter 15 bankruptcy.

Is Your Bankruptcy Attorney Charging You Too Much?

If you feel that your attorney is overcharging you to handle your bankruptcy, you may find some relief from the judge. Bankruptcy judges may regulate attorney compensation and have the authority to discipline attorneys for charging excessive fees.

Take the example of James Glen Whitley. In 2008 and 2009, he failed to reorganize his debts under his Chapter 13 filing. On March 4, 2009, the court dismissed Whitley's 2008 petition without prejudice (without prejudice means that none of Whitley's rights or were considered to be lost or waived). However, in 2009 the court dismissed his case again, this time with prejudice (when a judge dismisses the case with prejudice, the party who filed the claim is forbidden from re-filing the case). But then a few months later, the court vacated its dismissal of Whitley's case and converted his filing to a Chapter 7 case.

This Was a Complicated Legal Case

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Filing for Bankruptcy During the Federal Shutdown: What You Should Know

October 8, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Shutdown.jpgFederal defense worker Rob Merritt was barely making ends meet when President Barack Obama and Congress reached an impasse, forcing many federal departments to come to a halt.

As soon as the shutdown began, visitors to national parks were turned away and U.S. residents found doors shuttered to other federal services. In many departments, large numbers of federal employees were furloughed, leaving those who remained poorly equipped to properly serve members of the public.

For example, the National Labor Relations Board furloughed 1,600 employees, leaving 11 workers in place. The Internal Revenue Service, which employs 94,516 workers, dropped to just 8,752 workers.

Even worse, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes housing costs for the nation's poor, slashed 8,360 employees from its normal rank of 8,709.

Some federally furloughed employees, some of whom have to continue to work without pay, are now like Merritt, financially vulnerable.

Merritt, who earns $80,000 annually, was already borrowing money using his credit cards to support his wife and four children. He accumulated an insurmountable amount of debt when he underwent heart surgery in April. His wife was in the process of changing careers but had to stop interviewing to help take care of her husband.

If Merritt had been furloughed - like tens of thousands of other federal workers - he would be filing for bankruptcy right now. He's one of the luckier federal employees. Although his check will be delayed, he will eventually receive one - unlike furloughed employees who aren't working and won't ever be able to recoup the lost income.

Is Now a Bad Time to File for Bankruptcy?

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Abusive Debt Collection Tactics Are Under Fire

bigstock-Tax-Man-898892-300x199.jpgAre you being harassed by a debt collector? You now have a formidable advocate on your side: President Barack Obama.

Obama's consumer protection agency, angered by the tactics of some debt collectors, is on a mission to teach consumers how to battle abusive attempts at debt recovery.

From Home Loans to Credit Cards

Not so long ago, federal regulators began targeting the debt collection practices of some mortgage lenders. Unfortunately, some of those same, harassing tactics are now being used in the credit card business as they attempt to recoup delinquent debt.

It's been reported that national banks and large department stores sometimes relentlessly pursue consumers who are delinquent in their payments even though this debt collection method is restricted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act prohibits collection firms from committing deceptive or abusive acts or practices. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is using this regulation to curb the efforts of collection firms by teaching consumers how to protect themselves.

If you are being targeted by a collection firm and feel that its actions against you border on being abusive or deceptive, you can use a letter the CFPB created to send to your bank or other collection agency to stop the abusive tactics.

The CFPB also has letters to let collection firms know that you need additional information before proceeding with payment. In addition, there are templates for informing collection agencies that you dispute the collection amount and that it needs to stop contacting you until it can provide evidence proving that you're responsible for the subject debt.

The CFPB is also educating consumers about the little known fact that consumers have the right to tell collection agencies to stop harassing them with their incessant phone calls.

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Are Santa Rosa College Students Headed for Bankruptcy?

Ball-Chain-student-loan-debt-wedding-300x295.jpgAfter years of studying and spending tens of hundreds of hours in the library, you're finally free from school.

Unfortunately, you're not free of the student loan debt you accumulated.

If you just graduated from law school or medical school, your student loans will be even higher and possibly saddle you with debt you'll need to repay for many years to come.

The good news - if you consider this good news - is that you're not alone. It is now estimated that 70 percent of the graduating classes of 2013 owe an average of $35,200.

$1.1 Trillion in Student Loan Debt

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education, 38 million student-loan borrowers now owe in excess of $1.1 trillion. Their debt includes federal, state and private loans and loans made by their families. Some students placed a portion of their debt on their credit cards and are paying exorbitant interest rates.

The student loan debt in California is lower than the debt in New York but more students in California are delinquent in repaying their debt, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Some experts believe this discrepancy is due to students attending East Coast private schools that better equipped them to repay their loan debt.

Hello, McDonalds!

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What Do You Do When Your Credit Report Is Wrong?

CreditReportIllustration.jpgHave you checked your credit card report lately? It could have errors that are causing you to unnecessarily pay higher interest payments, mortgage and vehicle loans, and insurance premiums. Those errors could even prevent you from landing a new job.

According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as many as five percent of consumers had errors on one of three major credit reports. In some cases, the errors worsened the consumer's overall credit rating.

Credit reports contain more than a record of your debts. It also includes information about whether pay your bills on a timely basis and will note if you've been sued or filed for bankruptcy.

Your Credit Information Is for Sale

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What Happens When Your Debt is Purchased?

February 19, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

images.jpgThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives more complaints about debt collectors, including debt buyers, than about any other single industry.

The Problems with Debt Buying

What is debt buying? It occurs when companies purchase a creditor's debt and then tries to collect the amount owed. Debt purchasing can be a lucrative business, with companies known to purchase debt for just a few cents on the dollar.

For consumers, debt buying can become a nightmare. There are cases in which debt collectors seek to recover funds from the wrong consumer for an erroneous amount.

In 2009, the FTC studied the issue by obtaining information from nine of the largest debt buyers that together amassed 76.1% of all debt sold in 2008.

As part of the study, the FTC studied 5,000 portfolios containing nearly 90 million consumer accounts. Although the accounts were worth $143 billion, debt buying companies purchased the debt for $6.5 billion. Credit card debt accounted for 62% of the portfolios.

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You May be Responsible for Your Ex's Credit Card Debt - Santa Rosa Divorce

November 27, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

couple in debt.jpgIf you remember nothing else from this post, remember this one rule, lenders don't give a damn about what your judgment for dissolution says.

A marital dissolution judgment addresses, among other things, division of both the assets and debts accrued during the marriage. This includes credit card debt. However credit card companies, and other third parties not a party to the action are not bound by the judgment.

Unless you are careful right from the moment you decide to separate, you can end up being liable for credit card debt incurred by your ex. It is best if divorcing couples exit the marriage without any joint debt.

When divorce is anticipated, make every effort to close any joint accounts, paying off the existing debt or allocating it to new credit card accounts - one for each of the responsible spouses.

If you rely instead on a divorce degree that allocates a portion of the debt to your ex, but both names stay on the account, creditors can still come after you for any unpaid debts if you ex fails to make payments or declares bankruptcy. These debts become yours. In addition, your ex's late or missed payments will damage your credit record.

Some credit cards are in one spouse's name, with the other listed as an authorized user. Authorized users cannot be held liable for charges on this type of account. If you are the owner of the account, immediately request that your spouse be removed as an authorized user. If you are the user, ask to have you name removed from the account.

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Chapter 13 bankruptcy vs. Debt Management Programs

do-it-yourself-debt-settlement.jpgThe following summary was written by Robert Christopher and is being reproduced by permission of Mr. Christopher. The views and opinions expressed in his article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of JVS Law. The information and/or opinions in Mr. Christopher's summary are based on sources believed to be reliable but no representation, expressed or implied, is made as to its accuracy, completeness or correctness.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy vs debt management - Which outperforms the other?

If you've racked up piles of debt on your credit cards, you must be looking for an option to delete your financial worries. When it comes to choosing between debt management programs and bankruptcy, this may be a difficult choice. Nowadays, due to lack of funds among the Americans, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with high interest credit cards, car loan payments and medical bills. When people are running from shortage of cash, what steps are they supposed to take in order to forget their debt woes? Should they opt for debt management programs or should they file bankruptcy? Debt management is more like debt consolidation through which you can combine your debts into single monthly payments but Chapter 13 is not much different from this. Read on the concerns of this article in order to know which option suits your financial conditions better.

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Banks Are Not Required To Present Any Proof In Order To Obtain Default Judgment

debt-consolidation-reverse1.jpgIn HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A. v. Aguilar, the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles County Superior Court held that a bank was not required to present any proof in order to obtain a default judgment against a holder of a credit card.

HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., sued Lizet Aguilar for money damages based on Aguilar's alleged default on a credit-card agreement. Aguilar did not respond. HSBC requested entry of default and a clerk's judgment.

The clerk entered Aguilar's default, but refused to enter judgment. The clerk instructed HSBC to submit either an original promissory note or contract or, if necessary, a declaration of a lost original. HSBC did not comply with those instructions. The trial court ordered a show-cause hearing.

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The Student Loan Debt Bomb: America's Next Mortgage Economic Crisis

February 14, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

student-loan-consolidation.jpgThe National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) prepared a report regarding the dischargeability of student loans in the bankruptcy court. I have summarized the report below, but click here to review the entire report .

According to the NACBA, Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards. The amount of student borrowing crossed the $100 billion threshold for the first time in 2010 and total outstanding loans and exceeded $1 trillion for the first time last year. The reason: Students and workers seeking retraining are borrowing extraordinary amounts of money through federal and private loan programs to help cover the rising cost of college and training. In many cases, parents responsible for the student loans are in or near retirement years and facing repayment demands.

How big is the danger to the U.S. economy? "Evidence is mounting that student loans could be the next trouble spot for lenders," said Dr. Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer at FICO and head of FICO Labs.

With rising debt comes increased risk, both to borrowers and to the economy in general. Even in the best of economic times when jobs are plentiful, young people with considerable debt burdens end up delaying life-cycle events such as buying a car, purchasing a home, getting married and having children. Piling up student loans in middle age is even more troublesome. Aside from the simple truth that there is less time to earn back the money, it also means facing retirement years still deeply in debt. And, parents who take out loans for children or co-sign loans will find those loans more difficult to pay as they stop working and their incomes decline.

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Credit Card Delinquencies Continue to Drop - Santa Rosa Bankruptcy

October 27, 2011, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

First-Savings-Credit-Card.jpgCredit card delinquencies have reached a six-year low, according to the latest Credit Card Index from Fitch Ratings according to Consumer Bankruptcy News. The report also shows credit card charge-offs ticking up for the first time in the past several months.

Credit card accounts more than 60 days past due dropped to 2.15 percent in August, marking the 19th straight month of decline from a record high of 4.5%. Accounts on which consumers have missed one payment declined from 3.34% to 3.02%.

Credit card defaults increased from 6.33% to 6.41%. The Fitch Ratings Report said the increase was driven by two of the larger trusts--Citibank and Bank of America--posting higher losses. The report added that charge-off rates of 6% are considered normal.
Consumers repaid 21.14% of their credit card debt in August. That figure was less than the 21.76% paid in July, but was well above the index average of 16.3%.

Some may point to this as an indication that the economy is improving. I'm not convinced. Is it possible that credit card delinquencies have decreased because credit is harder to get? Can it be that credit is no longer considered an American citizen's right but a qualified privilege?

If you are suffering from an unhealthy amount of credit card debt the Law Offices of James V. Sansone can help. We are located in Santa Rosa, California and serve clients with their bankruptcy needs throughout the North Bay area of California, including Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Lake County, Santa Rosa, Napa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport and Kelseyville.

401(k) Contributions May Increase Postpetition - Santa Rosa Bankruptcy

October 25, 2011, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

401k.jpgChapter 13 who are repaying loans from their 401(k) retirement plans when they file for bankruptcy do not necessarily need to step up their plan payments after the loans are repaid. They may be able to increase their plan contributions instead.

In this case the debtor's attempted to avoid filing for bankruptcy by taking out loans from their 401(k) plans. The payments for those loans were included in the debtors Means Test deductions. The debtors intended to increase their 401(k) contributions when the loan payments ended. The trustee objected on the basis that the amount of the loan payments needed to be added to the plan payments when the loans were paid off. The trustee did not object to the continuation of the 401(k) contributions being made prepetition, but argued that the debtors could not increase those contributions postpetiton.

In disagreeing with a holding in the 6th circuit, the Court stated, in part, "section 541(b)(7) contains no language from which this Court may infer a basis to adopt a per se rule prohibiting the debtors from increasing the amount of their postpetition contributions to their respective 401(k) plans," Judge Magdeline D. Coleman stated in In re Egan, 22 CBN, 2001 WL 3902817 (Bankr. E.D. Pa. 08/30/11). Finding that all the debtors disposable income was committed to plan payments, the court overruled the trustee's objection to confirmation.

So debtors may still be able to adjust their retirement savings to a higher amount even in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

The Law Offices of James V. Sansone is located in Santa Rosa, California and serves clients with their bankruptcy needs throughout the North Bay area of California, including Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Lake County, Santa Rosa, Napa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport and Kelseyville.