• Nobody Should Be Left In The Cold This Winter

    When residents are unable to pay their gas or electricity bills, they are one step closer to becoming homeless, according to Sandi Murray, director of the Homelessness Prevention Call Center in Chicago. “When you are struggling to pay your rent or mortgage, you are going to put paying your utility bills last,” Murray told the Chicago Tribune for a story published on December 6, 2011. “Until you are disconnected, that’s all you can do. Your landlord may be knocking at your door. When people can’t pay their utility bills, it’s because they are busy paying everyone else. It’s not because they don’t want to pay.”

    The Tribune said that this year there is a number of larger agencies that offer financial assistance reporting an increase in the number of people asking for help. The Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County has taken more than 117,000 applications for assistance with utility bills from September to December of this year. The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago reported that 8,168 residents called 311 to get help specifically paying their heating bill and another 13,138 residents requested help with their electric bills between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011.

    Despite officials at social service agencies saying that the number of residents needing help has increased, the Tribune said both Peoples Gas and Nicor Gas reported that fewer households were at risk of having their gas service shut off this year than last year. Bonnie Johnson, manager of public relations for Peoples Gas, told the Tribune that approximately 12,000 residents were disconnected from their gas service between September 1 and October 31, in comparison to about 17,800 heating disconnections for the same two-month period last year. Margi Schiemann, a spokeswoman for Nicor Gas, told the Tribune that 4 percent fewer customers have been disconnected for nonpayment in 2011 than were disconnected by this time in 2010.

    While the Tribune noted that energy companies do not disconnect gas from December 1 to March 31, Murray said families who enter the winter without working gas heat are more likely to use space heaters and turn to unsafe means to keep warm. Furthermore, when a family is unable to pay for heat, the Tribune noted that they likely are just steps away from being unable to pay rent.

    “If they are cut off from utilities, it’s an indicator of a bigger issue,” Murray told the Tribune. “They are usually already behind on their rent or they are late. There is some sort of crisis or something happens that they can’t weather.”

    If you are at risk of having your utilities cut off or need foreclosure help before winter kicks in, a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy could help you get rid of some bills and get others in order.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyer

  • Famous Bankruptcies: Abraham Lincoln

    Chances are good that you have probably seen the infamous “Abraham Lincoln Didn’t Quit” list that has appeared in numerous emails and books ever since it was first created, even appearing in Reader’s Digest in 1967. The 16th President of the United States indeed overcame a number of difficulties in his life, but as the urban legends reference pages at Snopes.com notes about the “Didn’t Quit” list, much of the information contained on the list is guilty of exaggeration or taken out of context.

    One claim on that list is that in 1833, Lincoln “borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.” As Snopes points out, “Honest Abe” had no money for his half when he and William F. Berry purchased a general store in New Salem, Illinois, that year. Rather, he signed a note with one of the previous owners for his share. When he was unable to pay off that note after the debt on the store became due the following year, CNN noted, “Lincoln didn’t have modern bankruptcy laws to protect him.”

    CNN said Lincoln lost his two remaining assets, a horse and some surveying gear, but as Snopes notes, “Lincoln had obtained a position as the New Salem postmaster, and by 1835 he was earning money both as a surveyor and a state legislator.” While CNN reported that Lincoln continued paying off his debts until well into the 1840s, Snopes pointed out that it did not take 17 years nor  was Lincoln “completely financially encumbered until it was paid in full.”

    While Lincoln’s struggles might be subject to some embellishment over time, the fact remains that the man whose face appears on the penny had a period of time in his life where he did not have “a single cent to spare,” as CNN put it. And as CNN also mentioned, other presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant and William McKinley have also experienced bankruptcy.

    You might not have hopes of becoming commander-in-chief, but Abraham Lincoln and other presidents who overcame bankruptcy can hopefully prove to you the heights still available after filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

    Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy attorney