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27

Aug 2016

Fast Track Debt Relief Violates Virginia Consumer Law

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Fast Track Debt Relief Violates Virginia Consumer Protection Law

I’m a bankruptcy lawyer, in Woodbridge Virginia. I see a lot of people ripped off by debt settlement scams, before they come to see me. Last month, a judge in Fairfax County agreed with me that Fast Track Debt Relief violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

When the Sheriff knocks, is anybody home?

Figuring out who to sue in this case was a tangled mess. Our client saw an advertisement from Fast Track Debt Relief. Stacy Singer, on behalf of Fast Track Debt Relief, emailed back and forth with our client.

8-27-2016 1-52-41 PM Hoffman Stacy

Stacy Singer sent this email on behalf of Fast Track. Her letterhead is Cornerstone. The contract is with Credit Advocates. When the sheriff knocks, who answers the door?

Stacy Singer listed Cornerstone Legal Group on her letter head, but she signed the contract on behalf of Credit Advocates Law Firm.  Her email letterhead was Cornerstone Legal Group. Stacy Singer listed three different debt settlement firms in just one email!

Credit Advocates is rated F by the Better Business Bureau.  It looks like they are out of business. Same with Cornerstone. What’s going on here?

It looks to me like Fast Track reels in the consumers, and then assigns the “debt settlement” work to somebody else.

We showed the court that the contract, with Credit Advocates, had a lot of false promises. And that there was no way it could work. And that Credit Advocates listed phony addresses, pretending they had lawyers in Virginia, where they didn’t.

But could we make Fast Track pay for the false promises of Credit Advocates?

The Virginia Consumer Protection Act helped us out. That law says we can go after sellers, suppliers, manufacturers and distributors of consumer services. So we were able to keep Fast Track in the case and get a judgment against them.

Fast Track seems to still be in business, and has a B+ from the Better Business Bureau. The judge said they owe $3400.44 to the consumer, and $1700 to my law firm. So far, they have made no move to pay.

Credit Advocates claimed they had lawyers at these Virginia addresses, when they didn't.

Credit Advocates claimed they had lawyers at these Virginia addresses, when they didn’t.

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14

Aug 2016

Bankruptcy: The Best Credit Repair for Most People

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Bankruptcy is The Best Credit Repair for Most People

Is bad credit costing you thousands of dollars every year?  It is, if you are paying more than 5% on your car loan.  People with great credit are paying less than 3.0%.  The difference between 3% car loan and an 18% car loan on a $24,000 car is $178 a month–$10,680 over a five year loan.

Some people try to fix this problem with “Credit Repair.”

What is Credit Repair Anyway?

Lexington Law says they are “the leading credit repair law firm.” 

Lexington Law does credit repair. I explain why bankruptcy is usually better.

Lexington Law does “credit repair.” I explain why bankruptcy is usually better.

They say you have “the legal right to dispute inaccurate items on your credit reports with the credit bureaus and your individual creditors.”

Is your bad credit caused by inaccurate items—or accurate items?

From what I see, as a bankruptcy lawyer, most of the bad credit on most people’s credit reports is accurate. Credit repair firms hint, but don’t dare say, they can remove accurate items from your credit report. (Sometimes they do, obviously, but they can’t promise it.) So, they mostly don’t do much good.

Lexington Law admits as much, if you read closely. They say on average their clients have “24% of their presenting negatives, removed within 4 months.” That means that 76% of the negatives are still there!

How is bankruptcy better?

Bankruptcy repairs your credit because it gets rid of your debts. The Federal Reserve, in two different studies, found that filing bankruptcy helps your credit score. Why is that a surprise? Your credit is better because you don’t have all those bad debts!

Isn’t bankruptcy is black mark on your credit? Of course it is. Then why does you credit score go up?

Evan Hendricks explained how it works in a case where I used him as an expert witness in a case against Capital One. He testified that the credit scoring models support the fresh start in bankruptcy, because bankruptcy counts as only one “derogatory” no matter how many debts it covered. 

Suppose your credit is wrecked. You have a repossession, three charge offs, three collections, and two accounts that are 60 days past due. That means you have seven derogatories, and two delinquencies. Try credit repair? On average, that gets rid of two of your nine problems. You still have seven.

Bankruptcy changes those nine problems into just one: the bankruptcy. (No, your credit history is NOT wiped clean; the bad credit is still there. But it does NOT drag down your score the way it did—because while the bad history is there, the debts are gone.)

Credit repair, on average, changes your nine black marks into seven. Bankruptcy can change them into one!

The Fresh Start is a second reason bankruptcy is better

Some of the time, credit repair does knock accurate information off your credit report. But that does NOT mean the debt is gone. 

Suppose you have a $5000 credit card that went to charge off, and is now owned by a debt buyer like Midland. Credit repair may some of the time knock Midland off your credit report. But that doesn’t help you if the sheriff bring a warrant in debt to your door.

When you file bankruptcy, the law gives you a fresh start. Besides helping your credit score, the creditors can’t call you, they can’t send you bills, they can’t take you to court or garnish you. Credit repair can never do all that.

For most people, bankruptcy is better for your credit score than “credit repair.” And the bankruptcy “fresh start” give you so much more.

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08

Jul 2016

Debt Collector Chad Steur Law Refuses to Pay Up

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Debt Collector Chad Steur Law Refuses to Pay Up

Chad Steur Law, LLC, a debt collector, owes my client, Helen, $2280.58. So far, Steur refuses to pay up. 

Chad Steur, debt collector

Chad Steur is admitted to the practice of law in Utah and California. He hires debt collectors to collect debts in Virginia. So far, he hasn’t paid Helen’s judgment against him, here.

Before she came to see me, Helen was being harassed by a debt collector, calling for Chad Steur Law.  The collector told her he was calling from a law firm and they’d sue her if she didn’t pay up. That was a false threat, violating the FDCPA at 15 USC §1692e. (You might also call it a lie.) Chad Stuer is licensed to practice law only in Utah and California. He isn’t a lawyer in Virginia.

Frightened, Helen agree to let Steur take payments out of her bank account. Later, when she calmed down, she told them to stop. They took a payment anyway after she told them they were not allowed to. That’s another violation of 15 USC 1692e–taking an action that’s not legally allowed. (Taking money not authorized by law out of people’s bank accounts, happens fairly often with debt collectors. A very angry prosecutor might look at 18 USC §1334.)

Since he seems to be a respected lawyer, I contacted Steur last August, to see if he knew debt collectors were using his name. I didn’t get a reply. (I now see on his website that he hires debt collectors, in house and remote, to collect money using his name.)

We had a trial in March in the Courthouse in Manassas. Steur didn’t show up himself or send a Virginia lawyer–we won. The judge awarded Helen $2280.58. We’ve called and written Steur asking him to pay up. No answer so far.

(I’m primarily a bankruptcy lawyer.  But I hate it when credit bureaus and debt collectors do illegal stuff to my clients. So, for a bankruptcy lawyer, I’m quick to sue.)

 

 

 

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14

May 2016

Keep the Car In Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Posted by / in After Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Keep the Car In Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: What Are your Choices?

When you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you are “in the drivers seat” with some choices on how to keep the car.

One choice is to give it back.

One choice is to give it back.  Especially if you have a terrible interest rate on the car—and if you can put your hands on a junker—give them the car back. You are supposed to give the car back six weeks after you file your bankruptcy case. That gives you time to figure out another way to get around.

(Finding another way to get around is NOT going out and financing a car right after the bankruptcy. You’ll find car dealers eager to put you in a car at 24%—that gets you right back into financial trouble. But if you have a friend or family member who can give or lend you a car for a year or longer, you can then find some good financing deals. You can read about Alice, who got a 4.76% a year after bankruptcy. People who have a friend or family member who knows a lot about cars, also have good luck buying a car for cash, through a site like EBay.)

You can keep up the payments and keep it

Except for the special problems with Ford and Credit Unions, you can keep up the payments and keep your car. For most people, this is the best choice. No paperwork is required, you just need to be sure to make the payments on time. If you get late, they won’t call and yell at you. (That would violate the bankruptcy discharge.) They will just come and get the car.

Since they don’t want to violate the bankruptcy law, most car finance people will stop billing you. You need to pay them on your own. Honda Financial Services has a good set of instructions. And here are sample instructions from USAA. Making the car payment will be like paying the rent—you gotta remember.

You can redeem your car.

If you owe more than your car is worth, but really like your car, you can redeem it. You can keep the car by just paying the book value. (Book value under the 2005 law is what you’d have to pay to buy it.) There are some honest lenders who will finance that straight out of bankruptcy.  One we used is called 722 Redemption. If you know your car is in good shape, this can be the way to go.

But you now have an after bankruptcy car loan. If you pay it, you are building up good credit. If you don’t, you are building up after-bankruptcy bad credit. You really don’t want after-bankruptcy bad credit.    

You can keep up the payments and change your mind later.

Keep the car

Suppose a year later, your car has mechanical problems. You can change your mind and give it back.

The good thing about keeping up the payments is, down the line you can change your mind. Suppose a year later, the car has mechanical trouble. You can give it back without owing anything and without damage to your credit.

Suppose a year from now, your uncle offers you his car. You can give the old one back, without owing anything and without damage to your credit.

Suppose two years from now, your credit union will offer you a car loan at 3.9%. You can give the old one back, without owing anything and without damage to your credit.

People often ask me, how long do I have the option to give the car back? My answer: Until it’s paid for. Once it’s paid for, you can’t give it back.

Is there any paperwork? None. Just call and tell them to come and get it. Or, stop paying and they will come soon enough.

Can I keep the car without making the payments?

The short answer is, No, you can’t keep the car without making the payments.  

At least, you can’t keep the car–unless the car finance company never bothers to come any get it.  Sometimes they never bother. If the car will bring good money at a car auction, they are going to come and pick it up.  But recently, a couple of people have told me nobody ever came and got their cars. Those were cars with about a hundred thousand miles on them–not junkers. But the credit union, in both cases it was a credit union, never picked them up.

So, you might get lucky. 

Can I reaffirm the car loan?

There are reasons why some people need to reaffirm car loans with Ford or with Credit Unions. Except for them, reaffirming a car loan is not a good idea.

The car loan people want you to reaffirm—because it benefits them, not you. When you call, they will tell you your lawyer should have reaffirmed—because it benefits them, not you.

Under the law, the judge will not approve a reaffirmation, unless I sign off that it’s a good idea. 

I don’t think it’s a good idea. So I’m not signing off. So the judge is not approving it. (The judge can, and often does, turn it down even if a lawyer signs off. Which I don’t.) 

I explain more on that, here. 

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14

May 2016

Filing Bankruptcy and Keeping Your Car with Your Credit Union

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

The Small Print Says Your Credit Union Can Repossess Your Car If You Are Late on Your Credit Cards.

When you get a car loan from a credit union, you sign in small print that they can repossess your car if you don’t pay your credit cards.  (I have never seen a bank do this; I don’t know why they don’t.)  That would apply to a credit card you already had with the credit union, or one you get later.  This is usually called cross-collateralization. 

Credit union car loan

Credit Unions get you to sign in small print that they can repossess your car if you don’t pay your credit cards.

Credit Unions really do it, too.  If you get maybe three months behind on your credit card payments with your credit union, they will apply your car loan payments to the credit card, and send the repo man to your house, to pick up the car.

How Does Bankruptcy Change That?

The basic rule of law is that secured debts–debts attached to something like your car–pass through the bankruptcy unaffected.  So the deal may still be the same.  

In my experience, once you file for bankruptcy, the credit unions will usually allow you to just pay the car loan.  (Since the credit card is discharged, applying the car payment to the credit card would violate the bankruptcy discharge.)  But once the car loan is paid for, they won’t send you the title.  That’s because the credit card is still attached to the car and the credit card has not been paid off. So, you never really have a paid for car.

If they want to be mean about it, the credit unions can just pick up the car.  Because under the 2005 bankruptcy law, they are allowed to pick up your car when you file bankruptcy, even if you are current.  (I explain that, here.) I’ve seen Alaska Credit Union and Suncoast Credit Union do that.  (There are probably others that do. There are 7000 different credit unions; I barely know seven.)

The Credit Unions around here will give you a chance to reaffirm the loan.  That means you make a new, after-bankruptcy promise to pay, and they agree to accept it.  When that new promise is paid off, they should send you the title.  (They “should” send you the title. The reaffirmation form, set by law, says nothing about that. I got into a fight with Apple Federal Credit Union on that, once.  Apple, an outfit we like, then agreed to send the title.)

Ordinarily, I do not like to reaffirm car loans, as I explain here.  But you do get something when you reaffirm with the credit union. You get the title when the reaffirmed loan is paid off. So if you want to, I’ll sign your reaffirmation. (I charge $100 for doing the very annoying form.)

Do They Ever Negotiate?

Recently, I had a client who had two car loans with PenFed Credit Union. On one, he was about break even; on the other, he owed $11,000 and the car was only worth $8,000. He told me to tell PenFed, “I won’t reaffirm for more than the car is worth.” So, I crossed out his agreement to pay back $11,000, wrote in $8000, and sent it back to them.  They told me, “We’re not negotiating on the loan; we’re coming to get the car.” “Don’t do that,” my client said, “I’ll sign.”

As your lawyer, I have to sign on your reaffirmation, that I helped you “negotiate” the reaffirmation. I’ve never actually negotiated any change from what the credit unions demanded. They will drop the credit card cross-collateralization; beyond that, they won’t budge.

 

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22

Apr 2016

Alice Gets After Bankruptcy Car Loan at 4.76%

Posted by / in After Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Alice Gets After Bankruptcy Car Loan at 4.76%

after bankruptcy car loan

In less than a year, Alice is approved for an after bankruptcy car loan on a Nissan Versa at 4.76%


Alice came to see me in March 2015.


She’d just gotten back to work after being out for over a year.  Her financial situation was so bad, she’d been living in a women’s crisis center, at very low rent

We filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Even working again, she could not afford her credit cards.  I told her filing bankruptcy was the fastest way back to good credit.  Much better than continuing to send in late and partial payments.

Good news in April 2016.  Alice just emailed me to tell me about her after bankruptcy car loan.

Here’s the rest of the story in her own words.

Hi Bob,

So as you may recall, after my bankruptcy discharge in June, three months later at the end of August I had to turn in my leased Honda.

You told me that every month I could wait for a car I would save. So I have lived without a car for seven and a half long months.

I have walked and taken the bus and the metro through the winter. And it looks like it’s paying off!

On Saturday I went to a Nissan dealer, and they were able to get me financing at 4.76% for a shiny new black 2015 Versa Note SV! Today I went back there tonight to make sure the bank had actually given final approval for the financing at that rate – I told them on Saturday that even though it was in the range I was pre-approved for, I thought it was too good to be true.

But apparently it IS true! They showed me the screen today that tells them they have received final approval, and they assured me that they have it.

Less than a year after Chapter 7 discharge, I have a new car at 4.76% – 259 a month for 72 months! (I know that’s long but this is a new Nissan with some options that should help the resale value and I plan to refinance in 6 months or a year for a lower interest rate and shorter term.)

It’s been a slog for 10 months but maybe I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!

Thank you again, SO much, for everything! The world needs more of you.

Grace and peace to you,

–Alice

 

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NORTHERN VIRGINIA BANKRUPTCY LAW OFFICES