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25

Jun 2011

Bankruptcy Law Office Opening in Stafford Virginia

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 6 comments

Stafford VA Bankruptcy Lawyer Robert Weed

I’m Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Robert Weed.  My Stafford office is at 300 Garrisonville Road, #201, Stafford, VA 22554.

I’m Virginia bankruptcy lawyer Robert Weed, announcing the opening my newest location, in Stafford County, Virginia.

Many people in Stafford have been hard hit by the current economic crisis.

Zillow shows the average home value in Stafford has fallen from $400,000 in July 2006 to $250,000 today.  A loss of 38%.

Stafford County, VA, has some of the longest commutes in America.  So people in Stafford have been hit harder than most when gasoline hit four dollars a gallon.

Stafford also has a low average age–fifth lowest in Virginia.  That low median age translates to mean, young families with children.  The folks hardest hit when there’s a loss of income.

I’ve helped hundreds of Stafford families get a new start–seeing them at my locations in Woodbridge and Manassas, Virginia.

Why am I opening in Stafford?  I know several good bankruptcy lawyers in Fredericksburg.  I’ve long recommended Dale Adams; and more recently I’ve gotten to know more about Jason Greenwood and Bob Barlow.

It’s a strain, though, being a bankruptcy lawyer in Fredericksburg, VA.  Why?  People south of the Rappahannock River, Spottsylvania County and Fredericksburg City, are under the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court in Richmond, VA.    North of the river, that’s Stafford County, is under the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court in Alexandria, VA.

A lawyer who has to be in Richmond and Alexandria the same day–or even back-to-back–can be stretched pretty thin.   All my locations, Sterling, Manassas, Woodbridge, and of course Alexandria, are in the jurisdiction of the Alexandria court.  That enables me to meet people at each of my offices, and serve them all efficiently.

My law firm has the experience of twelve thousand bankruptcies.  Three thousand now under the 2005 bankruptcy law.   No other bankruptcy lawyers in Stafford or Fredericksburg have done near that many.

I’m opening in Stafford, July 5, 2011.  If you want to see if I can help you, make an appointment, fill in my forms, and come on by.

PS

I now have nearly a hundred five-star reviews from people in Stafford.  You can read them, here.

 

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16

May 2011

After bankruptcy: My house payments don’t show on my credit report.

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 538 comments

One reason to file bankruptcy is to get back to good credit.  Once your credit has gone bad, bankruptcy, for most people, is the fastest way to fix it. I encourage all my clients to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy.

So you may be disappointed, and even angry, about how the credit bureaus handle your mortgage payments.  Making your after-bankruptcy mortgage payments on time doesn’t help your credit score one bit.  Those payments don’t show at all.

Instead your mortgage will just show “included in bankruptcy.”

“Hold on” people say, “I didn’t include my mortgage.”

Actually you did.  When you file bankruptcy, you “include” everything.  That’s the law.  You pick and chose what debts you want to keep paying–keep paying the house if you want to live there; keep paying the car if you need it to get to work.  But you don’t pick and chose what debts are covered.

(The bankruptcy covers–discharges–your credit cards, medical bills, debt collectors, bank loans, car payments, mortgages.  It doesn’t discharge student loans, most taxes, child support or alimony.)

Making your house payment on time after bankruptcy, gives you a place to live. But it does not help your credit score.

Even if you are keeping the house, the discharge is an important benefit to you.  If real estate values don’t recover–or drop again–and you can’t sell the house when you are ready to move, you are still protected.  You can move out and not owe them anything.  (Remember though to pay your home owners association!)  Also, after bankruptcy late payments don’t count against your after bankruptcy credit.

If you complain to the mortgage company about your credit report, they will tell you that “you should have reaffirmed your mortgage.”  Reaffirming takes the house out of the bankruptcy.

Is reaffirming a benefit to you?  Maybe you get back to good credit a month or two sooner than you would just be getting and paying new credit cards.  The disadvantage?  If you can’t pay or can’t sell the house, you get garnished for up to eight years.

That disadvantage is lots bigger than the benefit.

If the credit bureaus worked for you and me, rather than the creditors, we’d set it up something like this.  The credit bureaus would report your house payments as long as you are current, but they come off if you get behind.  Sorry, but we don’t have that choice.

After bankruptcy mortgage payments–current or late–don’t show on your credit.  That’s just the way it is.

(The same rule applies on car payments.)

 

PS  What the Bankruptcy Judge Here Thinks

In early 2020, I was in court and saw a lawyer asking the judge to approve reaffirmation on a mortgage.  The judge, who is usually very nice, chewed out the lawyer for even suggesting it.  “I will never approve a mortgage reaffirmation,” she said.  “Don’t ask.”

PS  Read some of our 800 five star reviews

Read these Reviews and You’ll See the Smiles.

We are ready to answer your questions about bankruptcy, before, during and after your case. That extra effort shows in the comments you can read in these lawyer ratings and lawyer reviews.

Now every case is different. I’m required to tell you that results vary. When we get bad ratings, we have a few, we try to do better. It’s all we do.

We have helped fifteen thousand Northern Virginia families get debt relief through bankruptcy. If you read our reviews–from an independent rating service–you can see the smiles.

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21

Feb 2011

Bankruptcy exemptions in Virginia get better July 1.

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 6 comments

Bankruptcy exemptions in Virginia got a little better effective July 1, 2011.

HB 1422, sponsored by Del Dave Albo (R-Springfield) increased the exemption for motor vehicles from $2,000 to $6,000.  It also exempts one family firearm valued up to $3,000.

Bankruptcy exemptions are important because the bankruptcy trustee is supposed to take and sell your non-exempt assets and use the money to pay creditors.   The last major revision of this law had been in 1992, and 20 years of inflation had taken a toll on what people are allowed to keep.

The purpose of exemptions is to allow people (who maybe losing their home to foreclosure), to keep enough to be able to start over.  A $6,000 motor vehicle exemption will about cover a seven year old Chevy Malibu–a reasonable car for someone to get to work or the grocery store and feel safe with the kids.

Virginia has a “homestead exemption” of $5,000.  That  goes back in Virginia law to 1919 and was originally intended to protect real estate equity.  Recently most people filing bankruptcy with paid for cars had to use the “homestead” to protect their cars.

Many bankruptcy lawyers this year worked very hard to get the General Assembly to update all the Virginia exemptions to reflect changes in the last twenty years.  That didn’t work out.  We got a lot less than we asked for.

The members of the Virginia House of Delegates who did the most to help people on this issue were Del. Mark Cole (R-Stafford, Spottsylvania) and Del. Robin Abbott (D-Newport News).

Fairfax Senator Chap Petersen

Fairfax Senator Chap Petersen helped improve Virginia bankruptcy exemptions. Legislation passed in 2011 allows families filing bankruptcy to protect a car such as a seven year old Chevy Malibu.

State Senator Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) was our key supporter in the Virginia Senate.

Several Bankruptcy Lawyers worked very hard to persuade our elected officials to improve the Virginia exemptions.  Mitchell Goldstein, of Richmond, drafted our proposed legislation.   Darden Hutson, also of Richmond, coordinated the state-wide effort.  Daniel Press, of McLean, worked tirelessly and recruited Senator Peterson to help.  Bob Barlow, of Fredericksburg, talked to the legislators in that area.  Bob’s success recruiting Del. Mark Cole was key.

Other bankruptcy lawyers who worked hard include Jeanne Hovendon, Ellen Ray, and Jason Greenwood.

I should also mentioned Klinette Kindred, of my law firm.  (In 2011 she became a bankruptcy trustee and later moved to a law firm that doe primarily trustee work.)  She lives in Springfield VA, in the area represented by Del. Albo.  She made an appointment and asked him for support in December 2008.  That request from a local voter may have helped tip him over to us two years later.  Del Albo is the chairman of the committee that has jurisdiction over exemption law.

For my later blog on exemptions generally, go here.

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17

Feb 2011

Bankruptcy is better on your job resume than bad debt

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 3 comments

A bankruptcy client sent me a wonderful email yesterday.  “I can finally see light to get on with my life.”  Why?  “I got the job!”

Bad credit was no longer blocking him from getting the job he wanted.

My friend had been out of work for more than two years; and while he was out of work his credit had been completely shot.  And bad credit had been holding him back.  Filing bankruptcy got him the job.

He needed everyone of his bad debts to be reported as “in bankruptcy” on his credit report.   As soon as they did, he got clearance for a Federal government job.  A job he had been turned down for, just six weeks before.

I’m a lawyer in Northern Virginia.  I see a dozen people every month who have clearance issues on their jobs.  And it’s amazing how many people have it in their heads that bankruptcy is the worst thing you can have on your record.

That’s totally wrong.  The worst thing you can have when an employer checks your credit is–bad credit.  Unpaid bills.  Charge offs, repossessions.  All those things are career killers.

Bankruptcy is much better than those things.  Bad credit means you are in trouble now.  Who would anyone want as an employee?  Someone in trouble now?  Or someone who cleaned it up?

Obviously never being in financial trouble is best.  But once you are in trouble, wise employers and security clearance officers want to see that you took care of it.

I know some people reading this still don’t believe me.  So look at this letter.  This is the letter that TSA sends when they turn someone down for a job because of bad credit.  You get turned down if you have more than $7500 in charge offs, repossessions, collections, debts 120 days or more late.

With bad credit, you can't get a job at TSA. With bankruptcy, you can.

But TSA says it’s ok if those debts have been discharged “in bankruptcy.”

Bankruptcy is not the solution to all employment problems.  It does not erase the bad credit you had before–that bad history is still there.  (That’s one reason, if you know you can’t pay, why it’s smart to see a lawyer right away.  Going straight from current to bankrupt looks a lot better than dragging around late payments for a year.)

Some companies won’t hire you even after you put the problems behind you.  But most don’t care.

Between bad credit right now, and bankruptcy in the past, bankruptcy is nearly always much better.

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06

Feb 2011

Before bankruptcy: Virginia law is fast track for foreclosure

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 3 comments

Many people file bankruptcy right before foreclosure.  Sometimes the timing of the bankruptcy is to get more time to get a loan modification approved.  Sometimes the timing of the bankruptcy is to get more time to move.   Sometimes it’s because people are out of work and have no where they can go.

As a Virginia bankruptcy lawyer, I see a lot of that.  Because foreclosure is faster in Virginia than almost anywhere.  (And while other states are adding protection for homeowners, Virginia is not.  So reports the Washington Post.)

Now most people who are being foreclosed in Virginia are in fact behind on the mortgage payments.  And they do owe a payment to somebody.  But, it’s not always the company who is trying to foreclose them.

Just last week, I met with a couple filing bankruptcy on the eve of foreclosure.   They had letters in December from two different companies, both saying they owned the loan.

Does that matter? Well, some.  Now in this era of falling housing values, banks will consider loan modifications and work outs, rather than just foreclose.  But you can’t apply for a loan mod, if you don’t know who has your loan.

So, it’s no surprise that several members of the Virginia General Assembly have introduced bills to give homeowners more protection.  One of those was Del Bob Marshall from Manassas.

If anybody can get the attention of the General Assembly for a consumer bill, Del Marshall would be the one.  He’s a member of the majority party–a Republican.  He’s been there twenty years.  He’s a well known right-winger.  His bill has support from both parties.

Virginia Del. Bob Marshall introduces a foreclosure bill

Del Bob Marshall

(Del Marshall also said his bill would help the state collect a tax that the banks already owe and don’t pay. That was an appeal to law and order and fiscal conservative types.)

The General Assembly is in session right now.  Are they doing anything about this?  No so far.

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13

Dec 2010

Right after filing bankruptcy: A Motion for relief from stay.

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 15 comments

Before the housing crisis, I warned all my Chapter 7 bankruptcy clients, “make sure you are current on your house the day we file your case.”  If you went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy even one payment behind, the mortgage company would get relief from the automatic stay, and they’d start to foreclose.  Once that train left the station, it was hard to stop.

That’s still a good plan if you can do it; but not everybody can.  If you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy while the house is behind, the motion for relief from stay is important, but it’s not time to panic.

What to do when you get a motion for relief from the automatic stay?

Robert Weed

1.  If you can afford the house payment, and you want to be certain you will keep the house, then you need to get caught up.  In fact, you really should be caught up when the bankruptcy is filed.  Everybody knows, if you really want to keep your house, you need to get current and stay current.  That applies before bankruptcy, during, and after.

2.  If you don’t want to, or can’t afford to keep the house, make plans to move out.  See my blog on how long do I have.    (Remember to pay the home owners association!)   I suggest to many people that they file bankruptcy right before a foreclosure, to stop the foreclosure and get a little more time to live for free (except for the association) and save money for movers and the rent deposit.

3.  What if you need a loan modification?  Then it’s more complicated.  If you catch up (assuming you can), then you won’t get the mod.  You’ll never get a loan modification if you keep catching up.  At the same time, you don’t want to get foreclosed.  Trying to stay at least two, but no more than three payments behind is the safest place to get a loan modification.

Filing a motion for relief does not mean they have decided to foreclose you.   It may simply be their lawyers generating legal fees.  (Those fees will get put at the end of the mortgage if you get the mod.  If you don’t get it, the bankruptcy will wipe out what you owe so it doesn’t matter to you.)

The old rule was once they got relief from the stay, they went straight to foreclosure: that doesn’t apply any more.  Sometimes they do; sometimes they come with a mod offer much better than before; sometimes they wait for you to request a mod (again).  Really there’s no telling.

Once they get relief from stay, is there anything else I can do to stop them?

First, like I say, keep trying to apply for a loan modification.

Second, if your income has improved in a big way, you can file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  Under Chapter 13 , you would make your current payment, and make a monthly payment to the court to catch the house up.  Before the crisis, we did that a lot.  Now usually, if your income shows you can catch up, they will agree to that voluntarily.  So we don’t do that much any more.

Third, you can file against them in circuit court in your county, and make them prove they have the right to foreclose.  This is the Virginia approach to these foreclosure challenges in the news.  (In some states, they have to go to court against you to foreclose; in Virginia you have to go to court against them.)

There is one law firm I know of in Northern Virginia that does this.  Compliance Counsel. As far as I know, they have not gotten anyone a paid for house.  But they have, at least some of the time, gotten the mortgage companies to make a new mod offer, rather than fight it out.

Now, I got through all that strategy without explaining what a motion for relief from the automatic stay is.   If you are interested, that’s next.

Two bankruptcy protections.

People file bankruptcy to get protection from their creditors.   You get two kinds of protection.  You get long term protection from your debts.  That’s the bankruptcy discharge.   The discharge is your “new opportunity in life and clear field for future effort.”

Shorthand that’s your “fresh start.”   The Supreme Court said that your “fresh start” is the principal purpose of the bankruptcy code.

The bankruptcy discharge, about three months and two weeks after we file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, gets you your fresh start.  The discharge forbids anyone from taking any action to collect your discharged debts from you.

You get that discharge when your bankruptcy is approved.

The second protection, right when you file your chapter 7 bankruptcy case, is the automatic stay.  The automatic stay prevents your creditors from taking action against you–and it also prevents them from taking action against your property.  The automatic stay is sometimes called your “breathing spell.”

The automatic stay is temporary.  Why?  Because, when your bankruptcy is discharged–in about three months and two weeks–if you haven’t made your car payment, they are going to repossess your car.  And if you are not making your house payment, the mortgage company–at least the first mortgage company (maybe not the second)–will eventually foreclose on your house.

Unlike the automatic stay, the discharge does not stop people who are on the title or deed to your property from claiming the property, if you don’t pay.

Relief from the stay. Sometimes the creditors don’t want to wait that three months and two weeks, for the automatic stay to be replaced by the discharge.   They want it sooner.  The car creditors don’t want the car wrecked.  The mortgage companies–well who knows what they are thinking these days.

Anyway, they file a motion for relief from the automatic stay.  The judge will give them relief from the stay unless you are completely current.

As I said before, staying completely current, if you can afford the house, and want to keep it, is your best plan.  As I also said, if you need or want a mod, getting completely current means you won’t get the mod.  You need to go back to your strategy.

(One more thing to keep in mind.  Cash is king.  If you have the ability to catch up but want the mod, hang on to the money and see what happens.  You can always catch up later in the foreclosure process–you will need to cover the late fees.  Draining all your cash now, and then not being able to pay later, may not be smart.)

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11

Oct 2010

Don't file bankruptcy until March if you get a big refund.

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 11 comments

This time of year, you need to be very careful about filing bankruptcy in Virginia if you get big tax refunds.  Why?

Virginia law has a lifetime $5000.00 limit on how much cash you can have when you file bankruptcy, and your refund counts against that.  If you file bankruptcy in October, November, or December, the bankruptcy trustee is going to look at last year’s tax return and see how much money you got back.  Hummm.  If it’s any where near $5000.00, he’ll hold your case open and ask to see the 2010 return.

If that refund puts you over the cash limit, he’ll grab it.  Another reason this is a big problem is because Virginia only allows you equity in your car up to $2000.00.  That’s right, the Virginia General Assembly thinks the bankruptcy court should take your paid for car if its worth $2000.00.    (When I graduated from high school a brand new Volkswagen cost $1995.  But that was a LONG time ago.)

You can use your cash limit to protect a car that’s worth a little more, but that leaves the tax refund hanging out.

Darden Hutson and Mitch Goldstein, two excellent bankruptcy lawyers in Richmond, Virginia, are spearheading an effort to raise these limits.   But for now, they are what they are.

Now, there are two reason people get big tax refunds.  Some people get a big refund, because they pay big taxes–they over withhold.  If you are one of those people and you want to go ahead with your bankruptcy now, you should contact your payroll office and increase your exemptions to twelve.   Right, like you have twelve children.  (Both state and federal.)

That will cut to almost nothing the taxes you pay for the rest of the year–and we hope it sopps up enough of the refund that you stay under the cash limits.

Other people get a big refund because of the earned income credit.   The earned income credit is basically a boost that the federal government gives to families with children where the parents are working but not making much.   This was originally put in by Richard Nixon and increased several times over the years, including by Ronald Reagan.

Increasing your depedents to 12 won’t help people who get a big refund because of the earned income credit.  That’s because the refund is based on the number of children and the income–its not really based on what taxes were actually paid.

Unless there’s some real emergency, people who get an earned income credit should not file bankruptcy in Virginia after August.  Otherwise the money the federal government is giving to help your children will end up in the hands of the bankruptcy trustee.

Why am I saying file bankruptcy in March?  File your taxes as soon as you can in February and get that money in and spend it.  Don’t just throw it away–and you can’t bury it in your backyard or give it to your brother–but spend it on things the kids have been needing, probably since last year.

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21

Jul 2010

How "Avoid Bankruptcy" plan avoids Virginia consumer protection law

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 4 comments

After talking with a lady yesterday, we’ll call her Jerri, I went to the website of Greenshield Financial Services. Here’s what they say they do: “Greenshield Financial Services is a Financial Health Management Company serving individuals seeking debt relief or debt help by offering debt settlement programs as an alternative to bankruptcy.”

Jeri had a set up fee for Greenshield Financial Services of $3500–paid as $900 over four months. And then a monthly management fee of $425. A total of over $7000.00 had been paid to these people as their fee to help Jerri with debt settlement.

As a result of their work, two small credit cards had been settled. Jerri saved less than $1000 total. Spending $7000 to save $1000 is not exactly a good alternative to bankruptcy. She figured that out when the sheriff brought around court papers from some of her bigger credit cards, that had not settled their debts through Greenshield.

At first, I thought it was a violation of Virginia law. Virginia law says a debt management program can’t charge more than $75 set up and $60 per month.

Now $3500 is a whole lot more than $75–and $425 per month is more than $60. But Greenshield is not covered by the law.

Here’s how they avoid the law. To be a debt management program under Virginia law, the debt negotiator needs to collect the money from the consumer and pass it on to the creditor. Greenshield works out the settlement, but the creditor take the money directly from the consumer’s account. As long as Greenshield never touches the money, they aren’t covered by the law. So they can charge as much as they can talk people into paying. Which, in Jeri’s case, was a lot.

(And no, she is not likely to avoid bankruptcy.)

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06

Jul 2010

Before bankruptcy, can I spend down my money?

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy / 1 comment

Suppose, when you are filing bankruptcy in Virginia, you have too much cash.  You can turn it over to the bankruptcy court to divide among the people you owe money to.  Or you can find legal ways to spend it.

(When you file bankruptcy in Virginia, you are only allowed to have $5,000.00 in cash.  That’s about the lowest in the country.  It’s $10,000 if you are over age 65.  Also, your paid for car valued at more than $2,000.00 counts against that limit. )

A lot of people have too much.

Here are some things you can do:

Need to spend down cash? See the dentist

1.   Postponed dental work.  Many people in a tight spot financially haven’t gone back to the dentist to get necessary things taken care of.  You might need three or four thousand dollars worth of dental work.  And they can’t repossess your teeth.

2.  Laser vision correction.  Same as the dentist if you need it.

3. Roth IRA.  Everyone who is working is allowed to fund a Roth IRA–whatever other retirement you have (or don’t have.)   the limit is $5000 per person–$6000 if you are over age 50.  During the January – April 15 (tax deadline) time frame, you can contribute for both the current and the prior year.  Although I cannot give you investment advice, I can saw that I have IRA’s with Fidelity and Vanguard.

4.  Repairs around the house.  If you are planning to keep the house, maybe the gutters need to be replaced, or the a/c unit needs an upgrade.  The court can’t repossess fixtures–things that are attached to the house.

5.  The Virginia College Savings plan.   The 11 USC 541(b)(5) of bankruptcy code protects college saving plan money if it has been in the plan for more two years.  ($5000 one to two years.) But, Virginia law gives an immediate, unlimited exemption for the Virginia College Savings plan.  (The one set up by the state.)  One of the bankruptcy trustees here is challenging that,  so we need to be cautious until the court rules.

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30

May 2010

Before bankruptcy, does Navy Federal violate Virginia law?

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy, Virginia Bankruptcy / 3 comments

Before you file bankruptcy, once you have a lawyer, you should tell your creditors when they call, “call my bankruptcy lawyer.”  The law assumes that most companies with a good name will leave you alone at that point.

In my experience that’s true of just about everybody, but not Navy Federal.

Navy Federal’s collection department says they will keep calling you day and night, until the bankruptcy is filed with the court.  And they do.  (Some people told us Navy Federal calls almost hourly until the bankruptcy is filed.)

I think this is a violation of Virginia law.  Code of Virginia § 18.2-429 makes it a class 3 misdemeanor to cause someone’s phone to ring with the “intent to annoy.”  And the law expressly says that it can still be illegal even if there is also an “intent to communicate.”

The punishment in Virignia for a class 3 misdemeanor is a fine of up to $500.

I think its pretty clear that when Navy Federal calls four or five times a day, after being told, “I can’t pay, call my bankruptcy lawyer, I have to file bankruptcy”–that’s calling with the intent to annoy.

This spring, we helped one of our clients sue Navy Federal to get them to stop violating Virginia law.  We didn’t get far.  Just because something is a criminal law violation,  does not mean a private citizen can sue to enforce it.

So, the judge made it clear we would lose, unless we dropped the case.  (Which we did.  We are going after them under Florida law, but that’s for another day.)  But the judge suggested, here on page 13, that we could “bring it back as a criminal offense.”

My before-bankruptcy clients seem to have fewer complaints about Navy Federal than they did this time last year.  Maybe that’s because they have gotten nicer.

Maybe it’s because their lawyers were listening to that judge.  I hope so.

PS October 2016, CFPB slams Navy Fed

Saw in this morning’s Washington Post that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau went after Navy Fed.  Hit them for $23 million to unfair collection procedures.  I was really glad to see it.  You can read the Post story, here: Navy-Federal-to-pay-23-million.

PPS  January 2018, Navy Fed suddenly polite.

The last week of January brought a nice letter from a now very polite Navy FCU.  

NFCU was writing to tell me that Woodbridge resident “Stevie” asked them to stop calling her, and that they’d do it!  That’s a big change. 

Thank you Navy Federal.  I take back half the bad things I’ve said about you.

 

Here’s the polite letter

Here’s a sample of the polite letter Navy Federal sends now, when you tell them to “call my lawyer.”

 

 

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NORTHERN VIRGINIA BANKRUPTCY LAW OFFICES