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So You Want a CHEAP Bankruptcy Attorney…

So you want to hire a cheap bankruptcy attorney. Certainly understandable, you need to file bankruptcy because money is tight, but you need money to do it – quite the catch 22. So you get out your trusty smartphone, or go to google, and search for Cheap Bankruptcy Attorneys in Grand Rapids MI and you are confronted with a bevy of bankruptcy attorneys all promising to do the best job possible for the least amount of money. Heck, I am looking at Google right now and see the following “Cheap bankruptcy $149” “$187 Flat Fee Bankruptcy” and “Affordable Bankruptcy Attorney” all of them just aching for you to click on their link. Well, before you do, let’s have a chat.

Your Dad always told you, you get what you pay for, and it is no different with a bankruptcy attorney. The cost of every bankruptcy is different depending on the complexity of the case, and which type of bankruptcy you file, so I would be very skeptical of anyone who quotes you a price over the phone without meeting you in person. It’s like asking a plumber how much it will cost to fix a leak before they can look at the problem!

You can find a bankruptcy attorney in Grand Rapids to file your bankruptcy for $700.00 or less, but you can’t find a reputable one to do it for you. As I said before fees will vary from case to case, but you simply cannot get a bankruptcy done properly for less than $1,000. This is one of those situations where spending a little money now could save you a fortune later. Let me give you an example:

I met with a couple last year who wanted to file bankruptcy, after discussing their case with me I quoted them a fee of $1,500.00, they said they would think it over and left. A week later they called back to see if I would file their case for $1,200.00 because while they felt comfortable with me, another attorney promised to do it cheaper. I explained to them that no, I could not properly represent them at that price, and they thanked me and hired the other attorney. I heard back from them two months later because they needed my help. Their cheaper attorney did not think to ask them about how much they would get in tax refunds that year, did not properly calculate their income, and did not properly fill out their schedules. Their trustee was trying to take their $5,000 income tax refund and attempting to have their case dismissed. Both of those situations could have been avoided if their bankruptcy attorney had known what they were doing. Their attorney who was $300 cheaper almost cost them $5,000 and left them with all of their debts, not to mention all the stress and worry they had to endure.

At Mapes Law Offices, we are experienced bankruptcy attorneys. Bankruptcy is all we do, we know the potential problems and can help avoid them from the get go. If it is money that is holding you back from contacting us, please call, we are flexible and can work out payment arrangements so that you can get the help you need now. We are not the cheapest bankruptcy attorneys in Grand Rapids, but we are the best bankruptcy attorneys in Grand Rapids. So call us today or schedule an appointment on line so we can help you get back on your feet.

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The Final Countdown Shutdown…

Happy Government Shutdown! Okay, it hasn’t completely shut down but all ‘non-essential’ services are shut down. So how will this affect your bankruptcy? Well, that all depends on how quickly it gets fixed, but let’s take a look at what is going on with the players in the meantime:

1.       The Bankruptcy Court: Well this one is definitely still open – for now. The Bankruptcy Court has an emergency fund that will last for ten business days. That is unfortunately the only concrete thing I can say about the Courts. Last Thursday the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts for the Federal Judiciary issued the following statement:

“In the event of a government shutdown on October 1, 2013, the federal Judiciary will remain open for business for approximately 10 business days. On or around October 15, 2013, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance. All proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised. Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents with courts.”

Reassuring, isn’t it. Essentially let’s wait and see what happens. So the court will be open for at least ten more days, we bankruptcy attorneys in Grand Rapids and everywhere else still have to abide by deadlines, and carry on as if everything is normal. (Am I the only one who pictures Kevin Bacon in Animal House yelling “Remain Calm! All is Well!” right now?). But at least the ECF electronic filing system is still in effect.

It does however lead me to wonder what happens after ten days? Can we still file bankruptcies? If a house is about to be foreclosed and the filing system is down, is there anything we can do to stop it? I’m really hoping I don’t have to be able to answer those questions. So the court is open temporarily, but what about the trustees?

2.       The United States Trustee: Well, as of midnight last night, this one is shut down. There is currently a sign posted on their main office in Grand Rapids explaining they are shut down due to the budget shortfall. I have been assured they have ‘critical staff’ in place, but I very much doubt they are able to operate as they normally would.  It should be noted that the panel trustees who conduct the 341 Meeting of Creditors are not governmental employees, and they are not directly affected by the shut down, so for now at least the meetings will continue.

If the shutdown persists you should expect the following: Delays or cancellations of Meetings of Creditors, Delays in confirmation of Chapter 13 Plans; and Delays or cancellation of Bankruptcy Court hearings.  For now, we aren’t experiencing any of those, but stay tuned because it could happen soon. So let’s all remain calm, and pray for our leaders in Washington are able to remove their heads from certain body parts and get things moving again.

Why Can’t I Pay Taxes with a Credit Card?

April 15th, the dreaded tax day, is still a ways away but it often sneaks up on people and leaves them scrambling to pay Uncle Sam what they owe. If you are self-employed, you have hopefully been making quarterly estimated tax payments, but even those don’t always protect you from writing a hefty check in the middle of April.

More and more people have been trying to find ways around paying taxes and a recent scam involves using your credit card. The U.S. Government allows you to pay your tax bill using a credit card, but you will be charged a 2% convenience fee. That is, of course, on top of any interest that your credit card company charges you if the balance is not paid in full after a month. With all those extra charges, you might wonder why anyone would choose this option. According to recent news reports, it’s becoming more popular because people think they can then file for bankruptcy and have the tax debt, along with the rest of their credit card bill, erased.

Before you whip out your credit card, charge you massive tax bill and file bankruptcy, there are some things you should know. The Federal Government is wise to these types of scams and the bankruptcy code specifically disallows the portion of your credit card debt that was racked up paying your taxes to be discharged. In laymen’s terms, it means you are still on the hook for your credit card bill related to your tax payment, even if you file bankruptcy.

If a high tax bill and other debts have you struggling to find a way to stay afloat financially, contact Mapes Law Offices for a free consultation. We have been helping people in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing with difficult financial decisions for years. We can review your financial situation and help you decide on the best course of action. If bankruptcy is the right choice for you, we will help you every step if the way and get you back on the road to financial stability.

Thinking of Bankruptcy? Still using your Credit Cards?

There is no perfect time to file for bankruptcy. Ideally, when you file, your credit cards have not been used for several months, and you have been making the minimum payments on your debts. But, at Mapes Law Offices, we realize the world is not perfect and, if you are facing a bankruptcy filing, you have likely been using your credit cards for basic necessities. We understand you cannot stop using your credit cards for things like food and shelter, but there things you should make sure you are doing in regards to credit card debt.

The Bankruptcy code sets out several different conditions under which credit card debt will not be discharged when you file bankruptcy. Some of those include more than $500 of debt towards luxury goods or services that are incurred within 90 days of your bankruptcy filing or cash advances of more than $750 owed to one creditor within 70 days of your filing. Basically, if you are planning to file for bankruptcy, or even thinking about it, don’t go out and rack up credit card debt on vacations, electronics, jewelry or other items that could be deemed a luxury.

Companies that you owe can challenge your bankruptcy filing for two main reasons, which are:

• Using your credit card in the last three months for anything other than necessities like food, clothing and shelter.

• Using your credit in the recent past where it can reasonably be assumed you would not be able to repay the debt.

With those in mind, if you are thinking about filing bankruptcy contact one of our offices in Grand Rapids, Lansing, or Kalamazoo and speak with one of our highly skilled bankruptcy attorneys now to make sure things are in order. We realize that no one takes the decision to file bankruptcy lightly and we can help you make that difficult choice by showing you the ways it can help you and your finances. If you are even considering a bankruptcy filing, stop using those credit cards for anything other than necessities and give our office a call. We will meet with you for a free initial consultation and answer any of your questions. Together, we can navigate this difficult process and get your finances back where you want them to be.

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Where Do Your Debts Go When You Die?

Are you Responsible for the Debt of a Deceased Relative?

When a family member dies, the last thing you want to think about it money. But, unfortunately, you do sometimes have to deal with money matters during a time of deep sadness. In addition to paying for the funeral and those associated costs, you can also be faced with unpaid bills your loved one left behind.

If you start receiving phone calls from debt collectors regarding debts from a deceased loved one, there are several things you need to know. Don’t just pay the bill, even if the collection agent makes threats. Instead, make sure you are informed about your rights and responsibilities.

There is actually a federal law that protects you from a deceased relative’s debts, the Fair Debt Collection Act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Here’s what you need to know about the Fair Debt Collection Act.

Who’s responsible for debts after someone dies?

In most cases, the debt gets paid with money from the deceased’s estate. If there is not enough money in the estate to cover the bills, they usually remain unpaid.

Am I legally required to pay off any remaining debt?

Most relatives are not legally required to pay any remaining bills. In the case of a spouse, you may be obligated to pay off debt, but each circumstance is different. We can help you examine your individual situation.

What should I do if a debt collector contacts me?

The most important thing is to not give any of your personal information out to the debt collector. There have been reported cases of con artists using the obituaries as a spring board for identity theft. If you are asked for your social security number, birth date or any other information, do not supply it. Instead, give the debt collector the name and phone number of the executor of the estate. If you are handling the estate, ask for proof of the debt and see if you can negotiate a compromise or payment plan.

Can I ignore debt collection activity?

Yes, you can, but that’s not likely to make it go away. Direct the debt collector to the estate’s executor or, if that is you, attempt to work out a payment plan. Ignoring phone calls or letters is just likely to increase the activity, not cause to to stop.

How can I stop the debt collectors from contacting me?

Write a letter to the debt collection agency asking her to stop attempting to collect the debt from you. Make sure you send the letter by certified mail so you receive a receipt when it is delivered. Once the debt collector has received the letter, you can only be contacted for two reasons – to tell you about a specific action, like a lawsuit, or to inform you that collection efforts are ending.

If debts from a deceased relative are causing you problems, let Mapes Law Offices help you determine the best course of action. Call today to schedule your free consultation.

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Student Loan Debts Now Exceed Credit Card Debt in Michigan

Here in West Michigan we are surrounded by colleges, between Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Kalamazoo we have over a dozen different colleges and universities. That means a lot of students, and a lot of student debt. A recent study in USA Today claims that outstanding student loan debt now surpasses outstanding credit card debt in the United States. As of late 2011, the country owed a collective $850 billion in student loans and only $828 billion on credit cards.

 

The study goes on to discuss the repayment numbers that many people are facing and the outlook is often bleak. The average person carrying student loans owes $30,000. At an interest rate of 6.8%, the borrower will end up paying $350 per month for ten years. US Today says that, at this level of debt, the average person would need to earn at least $42,000 per year.

We often see clients who owe far more than $30,000 in student loans. Many of our clients have debt from undergraduate and graduate studies and can owe upwards of $100,000. Even in a good economy, those numbers are unsettling. With so many people losing jobs and others working for less than what they expected to earn, staying current with a student loan can be tough.

The bad news is that student loan debt is usually not dischargeable under current bankruptcy laws. Judges usually rule that only serious, life threatening medical conditions fall into that category. So, in most cases, you will be expected to pay your student loan debt, even if you file for bankruptcy.

At The Law Offices of Jeffrey D. Mapes, we will work with you to figure out the best way to handle your student loan debt when filing bankruptcy. There are several different repayment plans, including deferment and lengthening the life of the loan, that can lower your payments and allow you to stay current on your bills while rebuilding your financial base.

If you are drowning in credit card or student loan debt – or any other type of debt, call The Law Offices of Jeffrey D. Mapes to schedule a free consultation. Our staff will help you decide if bankruptcy is the right option for you and help you get on the road to financial freedom.

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BANKRUPTCY ISN’T NEARLY AS PAINFUL AS A PAYDAY LOAN (If you have a good attorney)

BANKRUPTCY ISN’T NEARLY AS PAINFUL AS A PAYDAY LOAN (If you have a good attorney)

Companies all over Grand Rapids are offering payday loans these days. Most of these types of cash advance businesses are found in storefronts and offer consumers quick cash for money emergencies. What looks like a good deal, though, might end up landing you more in debt than you were before you took the loan.

Cash advances are normally based on the promise that the loan will be repaid when an expected deposit, normally a paycheck, comes through. You will likely have to write a post-dated check or give the business electronic access to your checking account to guarantee the loan will be repaid. Most companies charge close to 300% interest on cash advances and you can also face fees if you bounce a check or do not pay the loan on time. A $300 cash advance to pay off a car repair bill can quickly balloon into a $1,000 loan bill. Normally, once the cash advance has been repaid, you will be short on money for other bills and the cycle starts again.

If you find yourself looking for short-term loans like a cash advance, it is probably time to speak with a bankruptcy attorney. We can work with you to find a better, less expensive way to pay off your debts. Continued use of cash advance or payday loans will just put you deeper into debt and add to your money problems.

We offer free bankruptcy consultations in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Kalamazoo, where we can help you find a better way to manage your finances. If you are juggling cash advance payments and your regular bills, consider ending the cycle of debt and getting your finances back on track. We are here to help, you just need to make the first call.

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Can Facebook Ruin my Bankruptcy?

Social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter have changed the way our society interacts. While these websites have brought about lots of positive changes, they have also changed the practice of law. Divorce lawyers often find fodder for their cases on the opponent’s personal Facebook pages and there are even stories of fugitives who have been brought to justice after a Facebook posting about their location.

You might think that Facebook can’t impact your bankruptcy case, but you would be wrong. Bill collectors and creditors will often troll Facebook looking at personal pages  – and, in some cases, finding relevant material. There are several ways that you can threaten your bankruptcy case by posting what you might consider innocuous information. The following are top among them and should be avoided at all costs.

• Posting Information About Property Not Listed in your Filing 

When you file for bankruptcy, you are required to list all of your personal property. At Mapes Law Offices, we will then work with you to protect that property under state and federal laws. Any property that is not protected CAN be taken to pay off creditors. Depending on the items, it will likely not be seized, but you have to give creditors that option. If you do not declare ALL of your personal property, you are in violation of the bankruptcy laws.

If you post photos of your new car or the boat your husband just purchased on Facebook, your creditors can see that and go after the items or even ask that you pay back an amount equal to the value of the property. Even items that are gifts can fall prey to this, so be careful about what you put on Facebook.

Vacations

Nowadays, it is common for people to post pictures of their recent vacations on Facebook. But, if you just filed for bankruptcy and then went on a 14-day trip to France, it might raise a few eyebrows in Bankruptcy Court. If your creditors notice this type of spending on your Facebook page, the issue could be raised in court and your filing could be challenged.

At Mapes Law Offices, we understand that there are extenuating circumstances and you might not have even paid for the trip, but your creditors might not be as understanding. If you want to avoid problems, it is better to not post those type of pictures on Facebook while you are in the middle of a bankruptcy filing.

• New Jobs

If you get a new job, especially one that pays well and is a promotion from your current one, you want to tell the world. But, before you do that, consider the repercussions. If your creditors notice your earning power has gone up, they might challenge the bankruptcy. If your new employment has not been reported, that is another cause to fight the filing.

These are the most common problems that social media websites can stir up during bankruptcy filings, but there are others. To be sure you don’t run into any of them, make sure your privacy settings are correct on your Facebook page. Don’t tweet any personal information and consider getting rid of friends or followers you don’t know. It’s better to risk offending a stranger than giving a debt collector information they can use against you.

Chapter 13: Why It Might be the Right Chapter for You

When considering filing for bankruptcy, most people think only of Chapter 7, where you are not required to pay back your creditors. However, your financial situation may in fact be better suited to a Chapter 13. Are you struggling with sky-high interest rates on your car? Is your mortgage company threatening to foreclose on your home? In a Chapter 13, you are able to keep both your home and car through a repayment plan, even if those creditors have been unwilling to work with you in the past.

Saving Your Home

If you have fallen behind on your mortgage payments because of a job loss, illness, or unexpected expenses, you can put what you are behind on your mortgage (arrears) into your bankruptcy repayment plan. You will pay this amount over time, rather than the lump sum your mortgage would require otherwise. You will also be permitted to make your regular mortgage payments again. If you fall behind on property taxes, you can also pay those taxes through your Chapter 13 Plan.

Lowering Car Payments

If you have fallen behind on your car loan, you can include it in your Chapter 13 Plan and lower the interest rate substantially. We know that cars depreciate quickly. If your car was purchased more than two and a half years ago, you have the option to pay only the current value of the vehicle (called a “cramdown”). The rest of the amount owing on the car is paid as an unsecured claim, which only receives a percentage of the total amount owed.

Benefits of Chapter 13

Much like a Chapter 7, individuals who file under Chapter 13 are protected by the automatic stay. This is a bankruptcy court order that requires your creditors to stop attempting to collect from you. Once your Chapter 13 is filed, your creditors cannot call you, send you letters, file lawsuits against you, or garnish your wages.

A Chapter 13 is a great tool for individuals who now have a regular paycheck but have fallen behind on bills due to unemployment or medical issues. You may have tried to get back on track on your own, but have found that your mortgage company or car loan creditors are unwilling to work with you. The benefit of a Chapter 13 is that the bankruptcy code requires creditors to accept your repayment plan as long as it meets the bankruptcy code’s requirements. You should consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney who can assist you in understanding how a successful repayment plan can help you.

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Divorce and Bankruptcy: When to File

If you are currently involved in a divorce proceeding, you undoubtedly have many concerns. If you or your soon-to-be ex-spouse have significant debts, you are also likely considering whether you should file for bankruptcy. Filing jointly before the divorce is final does save you money on filing fees for the bankruptcy court. However, there are many factors to consider when deciding when to file.

 

Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13

If you file a Chapter 7, you can get rid of most of your unsecured debts such as credit cards and medical bills. Because you can receive a discharge in a few months, your bankruptcy would be completed quickly before a divorce. However, if you choose to file jointly, both incomes have to be included in the determination of eligibility to file for Chapter 7. A Chapter 13, on the other hand, takes 3-5 years to complete a repayment plan. If Chapter 13 is the best option for you based on your financial situation, you should consider filing as an individual.

Property Division in Divorce Settlement

http://mapesbankruptcyattorneys.com/kalamazoo-mi-bankruptcy-attorney/Filing for bankruptcy before a divorce can simplify the issues regarding the division of debts and property in a subsequent divorce. For example, if you filed a joint Chapter 7, because you and your spouse are no longer responsible for your unsecured debts, you do not have to agree to pay any joint debts in a divorce settlement.

If you filed for divorce first and agreed to be responsible for jointly-held debts, your subsequent bankruptcy might not eliminate your responsibility to pay those debts. Your spouse could force you to pay the debts even after a completed bankruptcy.

Another important issue to consider before filing for bankruptcy jointly is whether your state’s exemption laws allow you to protect all the property you own with your spouse. Michigan allows you to use the federal exemptions, which permit you to double your exemption amounts if you file for bankruptcy jointly. If you have a lot of property, it may be better to file jointly to fully protect your property.

Because there are many issues to consider based on you and your spouse’s unique financial situation, you should consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney who can guide you through the process and provide advice as to the best option for you.