I have seen a lot of clients recently who have had to file bankruptcy because they turned their cars in to the dealership.  They expected that this it would be a solution to the problem of a car payment they could not afford.  Nope.  Big, big mistake.

Turning in a car to the dealership is, for legal purposes, exactly the same as a repossession.  The dealer goes through the same steps.  The dealer takes the car to auction and sells it — usually to themselves — for way less than the amount of the outstanding loan.

The remaining loan balance — known as a deficiency — is usually the subject of a lawsuit against the borrower.  Most of the time, the borrower does not bother to contest the lawsuit. (There are few legal defenses to the lawsuit on the deficiency anyway.)  The result is a judgment against the borrower, often for tens of thousands of dollars.

News outlets are starting to report that real estate values may be beginning to drop.  ” ‘Anything goes’ list-price strategy no longer working,” says a headline in CNBC news.

Sales of all homes — new and existing — fell in June to the lowest level since last year.  Mortgage applications have fallen, and so has construction of single family homes.

Whereas sellers were seeing ten to fifteen offers at the beginning of this year, that number is dropping to about half of that, realtors say.

California tax and bankruptcy expert Morgan King writes in his latest newsletter:

“The IRS has begun certifying federal tax debts of more than $50,000 to the State Department, which poses problems for travelers. Why? Because the State Department generally won’t issue passports to taxpayers who have been flagged for delinquencies.

Internal Revenue Code 7345 allows this. Once the State Department is notified, it can either deny a passport application and/or revoke a current passport. If it happens while a taxpayer is out of the country, the State Department may issue what’s called a limited validity passport that only allows a taxpayer’s direct return to the U.S.

It’s a little-known secret — and too infrequently exercised right of a debtor — to “redeem” a car in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that is, take the car back from the lender at what the car is worth, not what you owe.

Yes, you heard that right: A debtor in Chapter 7 bankruptcy has a right to take his or her car back from the lender at what the car is worth.

Section 722 of the bankruptcy code gives Chapter 7 debtors the right to force the lender, who is holding as collateral personal property intended primarily for personal, family or household use (such as the family car), to fully release its lien in exchange for a lump sum payment by the debtor of the retail value of the item.

It happens often:  Somebody has a debt and/or tax problem that’s been bothering them for  a while.  They know they should do something about it, but they find excuses.  The most typical excuse:  I can’t afford to pay for legal services.

Right now may be the time to get the situation fixed.  Many of our clients finance legal services from the tax refund they get this time of year.

And particularly, if you’re getting garnished, may as well keep it out of the hands of a creditor you’re going to discharge anyway, stop the garnishment and put that money to good use fixing that problem once and for all.

BEWARE HIGH-VOLUME TAX HELP ADVERTISERS
Evening TV commercials offering to help taxpayers with tax debts.They promise to help you solve your delinquent tax problems. But are they legit?

High volume advertisers typically collect hefty retainer fees from a large number of burdened taxpayers, make quick, superficial efforts to protect the taxpayers, often accomplish nothing – then change their names and come back the next week with more high-volume advertising. Some evenings five or six different advertisers make their pitch on local T.V.

The biggest money pit I see when I interview prospects with financial problems is the car — always.  I have even seen people paying half of their disposable income in car payments (plus insurance, tolls, repairs, maintenance, tickets and all the other costs we don’t often consider).  It’s insane.  Here’s a post from Jay Miles in Quora.com, in answer to a young man thinking about buying a Tesla, that says it perfectly:

No, don’t buy a car.  Cars don’t make money.  They’re depreciating assets.  You already have a wife, so there’s no need to show off.

Scammers are targeting bankruptcy filers throughout the country by posing as attorneys or law office staff and telling them to immediately wire money to pay a debt.

Don’t fall for it. One of the best ways to avoid a scam is to stop the caller and make a direct call to the supposed person or company. For example, if they say it’s your attorney’s office, stop and YOU PLACE THE CALL DIRECTLY TO THE OFFICE. You know you’ll be dealing with the real person or office, instead of a phony. Don’t be hurried by the caller. Situations of this type do not call for immediate action and can wait a day or a weekend if necessary.

Here’s the bulletin issued by the bankruptcy court serving northern Virginia (with information applicable to all jurisdictions):

UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGNIA
CONSUMER ADVISORYALERT
Phone Scammers Target Bankruptcy Filers in Virginia and Other States

A sophisticated phone scam is targeting bankruptcy filers in several states, using personal information from filings and posing as attorneys to coerce intended victims to wire money to the scammers immediately to satisfy a debt.

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Probably one of the most frequent problems I encounter with new cases clients bring to my office is the lack of documentary evidence.

No one bothers to put down in writing that agreement with the brother-in-law or “friend” about the business they were starting together, the house one was going to buy (by signing on the mortgage) and which the other was going to “own” (by going on the title) and paying the mortgage, the investment they were going to make together, or any other manner of legal arrangements.

Then, when things “go south” and the “owner” does not pay the mortgage or the business fails (or even prospers, in which case you will see fights over profits), the differences in each person’s understanding of what was agreed becomes painfully obvious.

But what’s worse is that the prospective client has nothing in writing to back up his side of the story. It becomes a “he said / she said” dispute hard to win in court. Convincing a judge or jury of the rightness of your position is now just a coin flip.

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It may not be a well-know fact, but the truth is a lot of financially-responsible people are turned down for loans because they have NO history of recent borrowing. None.

This may be because the person saves up and pays for purchases without financing, or because they have not bothered to start building a new credit history by borrowing (and showing on-time payments) after a major financial event such as a bankruptcy or foreclosure.

After a bankruptcy discharge, a debtor needs to make sure that, after his or her case closes, there is a new credit history being reported with either new lines of credit that are opened, or old lines that were maintained and still being used.

Many of these individuals are credit-worthy but the current credit reporting and scoring system is not set up to evaluate this.

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