Do you know what it means to have a judgment entered against you? Judgments arise from lawsuits – often collection lawsuits – and they happen when a state court judge decides in favor of the other party.
In collection lawsuits, this means that the judge has ruled in favor of the plaintiff – usually a credit card company, finance company or other person or company who is suing you for money damages. Sometimes a judgment is entered after trial but most of the time, a default judgment is issued when the defendant (i.e., you) does not answer the lawsuit.
In Georgia, if you are sued, you must file a written “answer” with the clerk of court, within 30 days after you are served with a lawsuit. If you do not file an answer in a timely manner, the plaintiff can go to court and ask the judge to issue a default judgment.
Unfortunately you will not know when or if this default judgment is entered. If you choose not to participate in the litigation, you may not receive notice about the status of that litigation.
Here at Ginsberg Law Offices we often speak to clients who only found out about a judgment when they opened their pay stub only to discover that 25% of their take home pay was seized, or when their savings or checking accounts were seized by the judgment creditor.
The take away from all this is clear – if a sheriff’s deputy or process server knocks on your door and hands you a lawsuit, your next move should be to call a lawyer for guidance. If you hear a rumor that someone has sued you (perhaps out of state or in the county where you used to live), don’t ignore the problem hoping it will go away. Instead, call a lawyer. Lawsuits usually do not go away, and, as discussed above, bad things can happen if a judgment is issued.
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit to collect credit card debt is 6 years. This means that if your account is inactive for six years, you have a winning defense to any credit card collection lawsuit.
The clock on this statute of limitations begins to run when you last use the card or when you last make a payment. There is some authority to suggest that the creditor can restart the statute of limitations clock if you acknowledge that you owe the debt, enter a payment plan, or accept a settlement offer.
If you get a collection call or letter from a creditor or collection agency on a credit card debt that has been dormant for almost 6 years, it would not be wise for you to accept the call or say anything to the caller. Instead you should contact a lawyer to speak on your behalf. [Read More…]
One of the most difficult decisions for a bankruptcy filer involves surrendering a home. Nobody wants to take this step, but sometimes there is just no choice. Home ownership involves not only a mortgage payment, but it also includes repair expenses, homeowners association dues and utility bills.
Giving up your home will be traumatic – even if you recognize the financial realities. Your family life will be disrupted, the kids may have to change schools, and you will have to sell or store furniture and other personal property that may not fit into a rental.
One of the questions that I get whenever a client has to surrender his home is “when will I be able to qualify for a mortgage so I can buy another house.” Many people are under the misconception that home ownership will be delayed five or ten years or more. The reality is much less harsh. [Read More…]
One of the issues that many of my bankruptcy clients have in common has to do with lack of budgeting. Most of us have a general idea about our income and expenses but very few people sit down and write out a formal budget.
When preparing a bankruptcy petition, I use my petition preparation software to create a budget, which, of course, I discuss with my clients. Many of my clients are surprised or even shocked to discover how much they spend each month and how far in the red they are.
In many cases, bankruptcy can help solve this problem by consolidating payments in a Chapter 13, or by eliminating debt (and sometime surrendering property) in a Chapter 7.
Obviously bankruptcy can function to solve an immediate problem but filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 won’t help you if you revert back to the same old bad spending and savings habits after receiving your bankruptcy discharge. [Read More…]
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a federal agency) has filed a lawsuit in federal district court against Frederick J. Hanna & Associates and its three principal partners for operating a “collection lawsuit mill” that uses illegal tactics to intimidate consumers into paying debts they may not owe.
According to the CFPB, Hanna & Associates violated federal law which prohibits deceptive practices in the consumer financial marketplace. The Agency wants compensation for victims, a civil fine and an injunction against the firm and its partners.
The allegations in the complaint include:
- intimidating consumers with deceptive court filings. Hanna & Associates allegedly used automated processes to generate lawsuits with little or no involvement by attorneys. One of the firm’s lawyers, for example, “signed” more than 130,000 collection lawsuits in a two year period.
- introducing faulty or unsubstantiated evidence. Lawsuits filed by Hanna & Associates included sworn statements about a particular individual’s debts. These sworn statements were issued by officers of the banks, credit card issuers and debt buyers who had hired the Hanna firm. The CFPB argues that these officers could not possibly have had personal knowledge about the individual cases and that the Hanna firm has dismissed over 40,000 suits in Georgia alone when these sworn statements were challenged by defendants.
In a statement, Hanna & Associates denied any wrongdoing and stated that it has followed all state and federal laws. [Read More…]
On May 8, 2014 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals released an interesting ruling denying a claim for damages filed by Chapter 13 debtors against their mortgage company. The Lodge v. Kondaur Capital Corporation and McCalla Raymer arose when a mortgage company started foreclosure proceedings against Mr. & Mrs. Lodge who were then debtors in an active Chapter 13 case.
Under the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code, of course, lenders cannot initiate or continue collection activity against a debtor who has filed Chapter 13 unless and until the lender first convinces the bankruptcy judge to lift the automatic stay.
In Georgia, most foreclosures are non-judicial meaning that to start foreclosure a lender needs to notify the debtor and run a written notice of the pending foreclosure in the legal newspaper of the county where the property is located. In the Lodge case, the mortgage company started the foreclosure process and bought the ad.
The day after purchasing the ad, the lawyer for the mortgage company, McCalla, Raymer, recognized the mistake and immediately canceled the foreclosure process. Unfortunately for them, however, it was too late to stop the ad from running. [Read More…]
I am permanently disabled due to cognitive decline resulting from a craniotomy to repair one of three aneurysms. I also suffer from back pain, anxiety, depression and panic attacks. In addition to my 2012 brain and gallbladder surgeries, I underwent back surgery in 2011 and two foot surgeries in 2010, and due to complications from my back surgery I have not been able to return to work. . I was very recently approved for disability retirement after 25 years as an employee with the federal government. I also receive SSI. I filed a chapter 7 in 2008 and am unsure what my options are in regard to having my student loans forgiven. I am seeking a full discharge.
Let’s start with the most immediate problem – currently, Jane’s eligibility to file bankruptcy. Under Bankruptcy Code Section 727(a)(8), Jane is not eligible to file Chapter 7 for eight years after previously filing a Chapter 7 1. Depending on when in 2008 she filed, she would have to wait until at least 2016 before filing a second case. [Read More…]
- assuming that the previous Chapter 7 resulted in a discharge ↩
Almost without exception my clients who are subject to wage garnishment in Georgia report that they feel “violated” or “horrified” by discovering that 25% of their take home pay 1 has been seized by a creditor. I can certainly understand this emotion – especially if you depend on every penny of your paycheck to cover monthly expenses like rent, utilities, car payments and insurance costs.
How Wage Garnishment Happens in Georgia
With limited exceptions, you can only be wage garnished in Georgia if your creditor has first filed a lawsuit and obtained a judgment. More than a few of my garnishment clients claim that they do not remember being sued – this is an issue for another blog post but anytime you find out that a sheriff’s deputy or process server is looking for you, it is time to take action because this means that you have been sued. [Read More…]
Have you made the decision to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy? If so, you should understand that Chapter 13 serves as a bankruptcy court approved and supervised payment plan. The court approved and supervised part is important because the bankruptcy court will protect you from creditor actions as long as you stay current with your plan. By contrast, non-court supervised payment plans offer no legal protection – even if you pay every month on time payment plans that are not Chapter 13 will not stop lawsuits, wage garnishments, bank levies, vehicle repossessions or foreclosures. [Read More…]
I enjoy meeting with my clients to discuss solutions to debt problems. And over the years I have met some really pleasant and interesting people. That being said, I hope that when your bankruptcy case is over, I will never see you again – at least for another bankruptcy filing.
If you win the lottery and need legal help setting up a charitable foundation or a corporate structure to organize your investments, please call me. If you know someone who needs to file an injury claim, I can help you there too. But I really hope that this bankruptcy case will be your last.
Here are several suggestions that will absolutely help you avoid the need to file another bankruptcy:
- set up online access to your credit accounts – you will be able to schedule payment reminders, fraud alerts and other control reminders.
- set up automatic payments from your checking account to cover minimum payments – most of the time your minimum payment will be $25 or $35. When this is paid automatically, you avoid late charges and late payment downgrades to your credit score.
- pay off your entire balance each month – if you find yourself running a balance, this means that you are spending more than you are earning. This should be a warning sign. Stop spending until you get your balance down to zero. Spending more than you earn will lead you back to…..bankruptcy!
- never, ever, ever, ever (apologies to Taylor Swift) co-sign a loan for someone else – nothing good ever arises from co-signing for someone else – your brother, your sister, your kid, your mom. Just say “no.”
- write out a budget – if you can use a spreadsheet, do so. When you see your income and expenses in black and white on paper, you will have a much clearer idea where your money goes
- set aside funds for emergencies – you are going to have to replace tires, your kid will break a tooth, you will need to make an emergency plane trip. Start setting aside $50, $100, or whatever you can in a savings account. Try to build up 3 or 4 months equivalent to your monthly take home pay. Forget that this money exists for any purpose other than a true emergency.
- start planning for retirement. Create an IRA account. Contribute to your company’s 401(k) or pension. Besides bankruptcy I represent people in Social Security disability claims and I will advise you not to rely on Social Security to pay for your retirement
There is an old saying that if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail and this is especially true when it comes to personal finances. The difference between a comfortable and manageable life and a stressful, unpleasant life can boil down to $200 or $300 per month. My hope for all of us as we enter 2014 is to live below our means and to prepare for the unexpected.