Anyone who has ever done a Google search for “how to file for bankruptcy with no money” has no doubt seen the ads offering so-called free bankruptcy filings. As with most things, these are too good to be true. I have often said that when you are facing the federal courts, as you are when filing for bankruptcy, you need an attorney on your side. Very often these “free” bankruptcy filings are anything but, and they often do not even have an attorney on hand to advise you. You will end up dealing with bankruptcy preparers - who simply fill out forms and cannot offer legal advice – or paralegals who despite the title are not allowed by law to offer legal advice. Think about it – paramedics are medical professionals, but you won’t see them performing surgery or diagnosing an illness – right?
Image credit to Alex Const
This may be my last Fitty blog post. You see, rapper Curtis Jackson – known as 50 Cent - has exited bankruptcy with his death discharged. Thus ends a long strange trip that began with Curtis Jackson on the losing end of a lawsuit that he lost to Lastonia Leviston after being found liable for damages of $7 million in a sex tape case. Ms. Leviston has agreed to drop her $7 million dollar award for a lump sum payment of $6 million – with the caveat that the sum must be in 30 days or the original sum will be reinstated. All told, the settlement will pay out $23 million dollars on nearly $30 million owed to creditors from around $8 million on hand and a nearly $14 million settlement in a legal malpractice case.
You know the drill – the constant phone calls, letters. Bothering family members, even calling your job. Debt collectors act as if they are a law unto themselves, but I am here to tell you that it’s not true. There are laws that govern what collection agencies can and can’t do to collect a debt, and if they violate the laws, they can get some hefty fines, or even get arrested. They can even be banned from the debt collection business. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is to protect debtors from a variety of sleazy practices and even outright fraud that some collectors were using to harass and intimidate people who – in some cases didn’t owe any money, had paid the debt, or were trying to collect on a time barred debt.
Bankruptcy filings are on the decline, after reaching a high 2011. Over the past five years bankruptcies have fallen by 50 percent for Chapter 7, and by 25 percent for chapter 13. Business reorganizations have fallen as well from a high of almost 12,000 in 2011 to little more than 7000 at the end of 2016. However, for those of us who have very clear memories of the previous recession there are certain markers that make one nervous. For instance, housing prices are now back at the level they were before the bubble popped. There is a huge amount of consumer debt out there in auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt. It’s hard to say with the factors in play that we’re not so much exiting a recession and recovery, but getting our heads above water before the next wave.
The retail fallout is still going on, with more closings expected from Macy’s, Kmart, and Sears just to name a few. Mall stalwarts like The Limited and Claire’s are going out and leaving only darkened storefronts behind. Amazon, conversely, is expecting to add 100,000 jobs in the next year and a half. The brutal truth is that even after the Recession we were jammed to the rafters with retail in the form of malls. Going shopping is increasingly more likely to mean going online than going to a location, with even specialty retail holding a significant presence in e-commerce. Unfortunately all these closings mean that people who have been pinched by stagnant wages for years are losing their lifelines and now they need financial help.
Being in debt after losing a job is not the end of the world.
Just when you think that you’re doing all right, something happens. You think that you can deal with your debt, maybe you’re already paying it down and improving your credit rating. Then the bottom falls out – the job that pays your debt pays your bills and pays your rent is gone. You don’t need a recession to experience job loss, and even if a business survives the last recession, there is no guarantee that it is going to survive the changing times. There is no such thing as a fail-proof business, just the same as there is no get rich quick scheme. It’s what you do after the rug is out from under you that determines how you’re going to land
There are people who think that bankruptcy is the worst fate ever. It’s not, and nobody gets to the point where they’re considering filing for bankruptcy without a lot of lost sleep. What bankruptcy is a way to either say, “I have nothing to pay off this debt with, or it’s ruining my life!” or “I have this debt but I can’t pay off all of it, or it will ruin my life!” or “My business has more debts than assets, but I think we could make it if I could pay some of the debt.” In this case, the options are Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 for individuals, and Chapter 11 for businesses.
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Student loans
- Creditor’s judgements – credit cards, medical bills, auto loans, personal loans, etc.
- Defaulted lease – car or dwelling
- Delinquent bills
Q: I am in over my head with bills and expenses, just barely making it from month to month. I was doing okay until I had a major medical issue earlier this year, and my ex lost his job and fell behind on child support. The double whammy has left me at my wits end and afraid that all the stress I'm under is bad for my kids. I'd consider consolidation, but I'm afraid that I couldn't make the payments. How can I tell if I should be filing for bankruptcy?
About Chad Van Horn
Chad T. Van Horn, Esq. is a South Florida business leader and founding partner attorney of Van Horn Law Group, P.A. Through a combination of dedicated philanthropy, spirited entrepreneurship and legal expertise, he applies his resources and network to helping people. Learn more about Chad Van Horn.