• More Consumers Refuse to Be Cleaned Out by ‘Messy Business’ of Debt Collection

    Dr. Chris DeRitis, a consumer credit expert at the economic research and consulting firm Moody’s Analytics, told the Times-Tribune of Scranton, Pennsylvania, that all debt collection is under the microscope. “A lot of this debt gets traded three, four or five times,” Dr. DeRitis told the Times-Tribune for the story published on October 21, 2012. “It’s a messy business.”

    The Times-Tribune noted that many collection agencies that buy debt do not have all the documentation to support the original agreement, meaning many companies are filing debt-related lawsuits with “insufficient records, faulty documents and questionable claims.”

    “Some companies are doing this more responsibly than others,” Dr. DeRitis told the Times-Tribune. “There are cases of fraud where unscrupulous debt collectors put charges on people’s accounts.”

    Allegheny County Judge R. Stanton Wettick, who has presided over “hundreds of cases in which banks sold delinquent credit card accounts to debt buyers who filed litigation to recover the money,” told the Times-Tribune that sometimes the affidavits do not appear to be signed by the right people. The story noted that debt collectors frequently prevail in court because many defendants in credit card suits never contest the action. “If 100 get filed, 75 turn into default judgments,” Judge Wettick told the Times-Tribune.

    However, the Times-Tribune also pointed out that because default judgments enable debt collectors to freeze a consumer’s bank account or garnish wages to recover obligations, more consumers are now challenging the evidence. “For a lot of companies now, if someone shows up and contests it, it may not be worth their while to pursue it,” Judge Wettick told the Times-Tribune.

    If you are being harassed by debt collectors about your credit card debt , filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will end those phone calls. You may be able erase your credit card bills and other unsecured debt by filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy , or you could pay back a fraction of what you owe through a Chapter 13 plan. Contact our firm at (866) 930-7482 or complete the form on this page to have our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers determine which plan would work best for you.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy attorneys

  • US on Pace for 70 Percent Increase in Foreclosure Rescue Scams in 2012

    This is a 2008 documentary produced by the Northwest Justice Project about foreclosure rescue scams. Four years later, these schemes remain a real problem, as the Chicago Tribune reported on October 19, 2012, that the Treasury Department’s  Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said reports of foreclosure rescue scams rose during the first half of the year. “Nationally, if the reports of suspicious activity continue at their first-half pace, the total for 2012 could be as much as 70 percent greater than in 2011,” the Tribune reported.

    Debra Olson, executive director of the DuPage Homeownership Center, told the Tribune that she thinks there are “plenty of incidents of scams that are never reported” because people are embarrassed. Olson told the Tribune that she believes that there are people who have been taken advantage of, but do not even know it. Many homeowners throughout the country in need of foreclosure help paid several thousand dollars to someone promising to help them save their homes, realizing too late that they were duped.

    “By the time people come to us, more than likely they’ve been the victim of the fraud,” Olson told the Tribune. “The sad thing is by the time they come to us, they’re so much farther in arrearage.”

    As the Tribune noted, “while authorities might be able to shut down bogus companies and order them to pay fines and restitution, it is often too late for victims.” Michael Dickman, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago, estimates he is working on 150 cases. Dickman told the Tribune, “It’s truly like we’re standing behind a dike and we have 10 fingers and there’s 100 holes in the dike.”

    If you are facing foreclosure, do not let a bad problem become worse by falling victim to one of these rescue scams. Filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be a legal way to stop foreclosure proceedings, end debt collector harassment and reorganize your finances. If you are facing foreclosure, it is in your best interest to contact our firm at (866) 930-7482 or complete the form on this page to let our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers see what Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy could do for you and your family.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyers

  • ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ Author Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

    This video shows Robert Kiyosaki’s appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in 2000 following the publication of his successful financial self-help book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” On October 12, 2012, Business Insider reported that Kiyosaki filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection after losing a nearly $24 million court judgment to The Learning Annex, a private adult education school based in New York.

    Business Insider described The Learning Annex as being “one of Kiyosaki’s earliest backers,” but the personal finance guru never paid Annex its rightful share after it arranged “the speaking engagements and platform that led to his massive success.”

    “I took Kiyosaki’s brand and made it bigger. The deal was I would get a percentage, and he reneged,” Bill Zanker, The Learning Annex’s founder and chairman, told the New York Post. “We had a signed letter of intent. The Learning Annex is the greatest promoter….Oprah believed in him, and Will Smith believed in him, but he didn’t keep his promise to us.”

    As Business Insider noted, Kiyosaki “probably won’t feel the pinch in his wallet” since “Forbes pegs his net worth around a cool $80 million.” However, we highlight famous bankruptcies like Kiyosaki’s to illustrate that many successful individuals experience financial hardships. If you are overwhelmed with debt because of late mortgage payments or astronomical medical bills, it is important for you to understand that you are not alone.

    The good news is that filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help you get a fresh start. Contact our firm at (866) 930-7482 or complete the form on this page to let our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers see how we can help.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy attorneys

  • Layaway Looks Attractive, But Many Plans Can Cause Ugly Problems

    On Monday, we discussed the increase in seasonal work this year that could help a lot of families in the Chicagoland area during the holidays. While that additional income could make a real difference, this 2011 video from WNXV-TV addresses another issue that can cause problems during Christmas shopping: layaway plans.

    Chicago Tribune consumer news reporter Gregory Karp noted in a column published on October 12, 2012, that on its face, layaway “seems harmless enough.” However, Karp said layaway is “illogical” and wrote, “Almost nobody should use it for holiday gift purchases this year.”

    While many fans and proponents of layaway claim that such programs allow consumers to save on the interest they would incur by using a credit card, Karp called that a “straw-man argument.”

    “Credit cards are not the alternative to using layaway,” Karp wrote. “Paying cash is.”

    Karp also noted the statement of New York’s US Senator, Charles Schumer, who demanded last year that retailers display the true cost of layaway fees in credit card terms. Schumer said a $100 purchase with layaway fees can have the same effective interest rate as a credit card charging 81 percent annually.

    “These layaway programs are nothing more than hideaways for sky-high interest rates that consumers would never tolerate with a credit card,” Schumer said in a news release last year. “The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and not taking, but these layaway programs are taking advantage of people and charging them outrageous interest rates, under the guise of making it easier and more affordable to shop.”

    Karp also addressed issues with initiation and cancellation fees that can create additional headaches. As thousands of families all over Illinois prepare for the holiday shopping season, we encourage you to read the fine print of any layaway agreement you might be considering. And if foreclosure or credit card debt is already creating problems, you could gain some peace of mind by filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy before the end of the year. Timing could be a critical element to successfully filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, so it is in your best interest to take action today. Contact our firm now at (866) 930-7482 or fill out the form on this page to see let our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers see how we can help.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyers

  • Survey Shows Happy Holidays Ahead for Seasonal Workers

    This September 2012 video from WPRI-TV and a story published in the Chicago Tribune on October 16, 2012, shared two observations: there will be more seasonal or holiday employment opportunities this year than in years past, but the time to be looking for these jobs is right now.

    According to the Tribune, an annual holiday hiring survey by Snagajob, the nation’s largest hourly employment network, found that 63 percent of year-end hiring managers intend to add seasonal workers this year. That is up 12 points from last year and the highest percentage since before the recession started in 2007. Many of the nation’s largest retailers will be hiring tens of thousands of holiday workers, with “a 10 percent increase from last year for many,” according to the Tribune.

    There is more good news, though. The Tribune reported that that the pay for these seasonal jobs is likely to be “a tad better,” increasing from an average of $10.60 an hour last year to $10.70 this year. Additionally, about half of the seasonal positions are expected to offer full-time hours. According to the Tribune, that is the highest share in the survey’s five-year history. The Tribune also noted that you can help your odds of getting a job by being willing to work nights and weekends.

    Money becomes tight for thousands of individuals during the holidays, and the stress can be even more overwhelming for families that are already struggling to pay their bills. You should know that filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy could help you avoid foreclosure so you do not have to worry about where you will be celebrating Christmas. By filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy , you could erase unsecured debt like credit card bills.

    However, timing is critical and it could be in your best interest to take action before making a bad situation worse by accumulating more holiday debt before filing. Our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers can help you determine when is the best time to file when you contact our firm at (866) 930-7482 or fill out the form on this page to let our Chicago firm review your case.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy attorneys

  • Sinking Incomes No Help for Underwater Homeowners

    In discussing the thousands of Illinois homeowners needing foreclosure help throughout the week, we concluded on Wednesday by noting the benefits of filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy for homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages. However, we noted that individuals need to have the income necessary to make Chapter 13 repayment plans work. Many recent reports suggest that households throughout Illinois are struggling to keep up with their bills after seeing declines in their incomes.

    On September 20, 2012, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Census Bureau estimated that the median household income of Chicagoans was $43,628 in 2011. This figure was nearly $7,000 less than the national figure of $50,502. According to the Chicago Tribune, the 2011 median household income was “$4,000 less than in 2009 and part of a steady decline over the past three years.”

    While these realities make it difficult for many homeowners to have the income necessary to enter a Chapter 13 repayment plan, the good news is that individuals who are underwater on their mortgages and have lower incomes may still be able to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy . Unlike Chapter 13, individuals filing Chapter 7 will not be able to save their homes. However, they can use Chapter 7 to walk away from the house owing nothing. Also, individuals filing Chapter 7 will be able to live rent-free for a few months and discharge most or all of their unsecured debt.

    If you are uncertain whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 is the best option for you and your family, our Chicago bankruptcy attorneys can help when you fill out the form on this page or contact our firm at (866) 930-7482.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyers

  • Foreclosures Pushing Down Home Values, Nearly 250K Underwater

    On Monday, we discussed some of the options available to the thousands of homeowners in the Chicagoland area and throughout Illinois needing foreclosure help . This crisis affects entire neighborhoods, as the Chicago Tribune reported on October 2, 2012, that a CoreLogic report said local home prices in the Chicago area declined 2.5 percent from a year ago and slipped 1.7 percent compared to July. This was the second largest decrease in the United States.

    Two days prior, a commentary in the Tribune by urban affairs consultant and teacher John McCarron noted that Chicago has “22,169 dwellings in serious mortgage delinquency headed for default and an additional 9,240 already repossessed by lenders and up for sale.” However, McCarron added that the figure does not include thousands of “bungalows, three-flats, walk-ups” in which “delinquent mortgage-holders have handed the keys to lenders who, in turn, are letting the residences rot without trying to resell.” McCarron wrote that some experts estimate the city now has at least 40,000 vacant dwelling units.

    McCarron added that the Woodstock Institute found that more than a quarter of all mortgaged homes in Cook County were “underwater” going into 2012. That translates to some 245,486 locations in which borrowers owe more than their homes are worth; McCarron points out that the average home price has declined 39 percent since 2006. He also noted that the situation is even worse in the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods that were “heavily worked-over by subprime lenders,” as values have fallen more dramatically and the underwater rate is “a predictor of future foreclosures.”

    If you are underwater on your mortgage, filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy could allow you to remove a second mortgage or home equity line of credit and pay back only the first mortgage if your home is worth less than the balance due on your first mortgage. However, you need to have the income necessary to make a Chapter 13 repayment plan work, and that can be an issue for many homeowners throughout Illinois.

    The good news is that filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy also has its benefits for homeowners facing foreclosure, and we will further discuss that in our next blog post. If you are facing foreclosure and want to know which plan would work better for you, contact our firm at (866) 930-7482 or use the form on this page to have our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers see which plan would be best.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy attorneys

  • Illinois AG Calls Attention to Foreclosure Assistance Programs

    This astonishing interactive map from WNYC uses data from real estate information company RealtyTrac to display foreclosure rates by county across the United States. You can press play to see how the foreclosure rate increased between January 2007 and July 2012, with the darker colored dots signifying higher rates of foreclosure. If you zoom in on Illinois, you can see a significant increase in the number of dots statewide during the five years, but you will also notice that the colors in the Chicagoland area are the darkest for nearly every single period.

    On October 4, 2012, the Chicago Sun-Times published an op-ed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan entitled, “How to find foreclosure help .” “As Illinois attorney general, tens of thousands of Illinois borrowers have reached out to my office for help navigating the bewildering and frustrating experience of trying to save their homes,” Madigan wrote. “Sadly, thousands more never call for help.”

    Noting that “legitimate help won’t come looking for you,” Madigan said homeowners in foreclosure or trying to prevent it should be aware of the following options:

    • Housing counseling agencies certified by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – “Housing counselors can help you understand your options and work with you and your bank to achieve the best outcome,” Madigan wrote.
    • Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) – This federal program offers loan modifications and other forms of assistance to homeowners who are employed and behind on their payments.
    • Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) – Another federal program, which helps homeowners refinance into a new loan with more affordable payments if they are current on payments but unable to secure traditional refinancing because they are “underwater.”
    • Illinois Hardest Hit Fund – A program providing payment assistance to homeowners who lost their jobs and are behind on their payments.

    Foreclosures remain a problem for thousands of homeowners throughout Illinois, and we will continue to discuss this issue throughout the week. If you are facing foreclosure, you should know that another option is filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy . You could delay the process by filing Chapter 7 , or a Chapter 13 repayment plan may even be able to help you save your house. Our Chicago bankruptcy attorneys can help when you complete the form on this page or contact our firm today at (866) 930-7482.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyers

  • New Tool Helps Consumers Manage Credit Card Debt, Save Interest

    Holiday shopping will be here before you know it, which could make some new tools on one website particularly helpful for thousands of families. The New York Times reported on October 1, 2012, that the website CardHub.com introduced calculators that help consumers decide the best option for paying down their credit card debt .

    The website features a “credit card payoff calculator” that lets you enter the amount of debt you aim to pay off, the card’s regular interest rate (plus any introductory rates) and the length of time over which you would like to pay off the debt. The Times reported that the calculator not only tells you how much you will need to pay each month, but how much you will pay in interest as well.

    According to the Times, the tool also recommends other credit cards that could have more favorable terms than your current card. CardHub Chief Executive Odysseas Papadimitriou told the Times that “it might make sense to seek the best deal you can get and pay off your debt in the most cost-effective way,” but cautioned against applying for a new card just save on interest if you expect to apply for significant credit in the near future, such as a mortgage.

    The tool can also be beneficial if you plan to incur some debt and simply want to evaluate the best way to pay it off. According to the Times, “two other versions of the tool let you compare different credit cards, and another takes into account any balance-transfer fees you might pay.”

    Are you overwhelmed with credit card debt? You should know that you may able to discharge your unsecured debt by filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy , or you could end up paying back a fraction of what you owe through a Chapter 13 repayment plan. If you wanted to see whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 , contact our firm now at (866) 930-7482 or use the form on this page to have our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers review your case.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy attorneys

  • American Express Will Pay $112.5 Million For Deceiving Customers

    The Associated Press reported on October 1, 2012, that American Express has agreed to pay $112.5 million in refunds and fines after a multiagency investigation of the company revealed the company “charged unlawful late fees and deceived customers to pressure them to pay off old debts or buy extra credit card services.” In addition to $27.5 million in civil fines, American Express will refund $85 million to about 250,000 customers.

    The settlements were announced by four federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions.  The AP reported that the agencies said American Express violated federal laws prohibiting deceptive practices by using false statements to get customers to settle old debts, including falsely telling customers that remaining balances would be forgiven if they agreed to settlements to partially pay off their debts.

    CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement that American Express violated consumer protection laws “at all stages of the game – from the moment a consumer shopped for a card to the moment the consumer got a phone call about long overdue debt,” according to the AP. The company charged late fees on some credit cards based on a percentage of the debt owed, unlawfully discriminated against consumers applying for new card accounts on the basis of age and failed to report customer disputes over billing to the consumer credit reporting agencies.

    This news will certainly be welcome for the many victims of American Express’ unethical practices. If you are currently dealing with calls from creditors and struggling to make monthly payments, you can get relief from substantial credit card debt by filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy . You may be able discharge your unsecured debt in Chapter 7 , or you could pay back a fraction of what you owe through a Chapter 13 repayment plan. To see how our Chicago bankruptcy lawyers can help, fill out the form on this page or contact our firm today at (866) 930-7482.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyers