Holiday Budget

Holidays can be hard on your good spending habits.   Generally, you do not want to max out your credit cards or open new lines of credit when you are trying to build credit (as for a home, auto, or student loan in the near future).  Minimize the holiday hangover on your credit card bills by building a budget. A budget can help you stay on track for your spending and saving goals.  If you can talk, text, and wrap presents, you can make a budget.  The Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has a free online holiday budget calculator at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/YMM/Calculators/Holiday.aspx. …And remember to pay your bills on time every time.   Read More

Cinderella’s Sad Story of Garnishment

Once upon a time, Cinderella had a money judgment entered against her.  She thought nothing of it at the time because she could no more pay her debt than go to the ball.  Then along came her Fairy Godmother and next thing you know, Cinderella had won the Prince Charming lottery. Right in the middle of happily ever after, a creditor garnished Cinderella’s newfound wealth.  Her brand new great big mound of money was swept clean from her account, just like that—poof!—it was gone.  “Surely you would not take my good fortune from me!” Cinderella protested. “The judgment is good for 20 years,” replied the creditor.  And thus Cinderella went from rags to riches and back to rags again.   A Money Judgment is just a piece of paper, EXCEPT a creditor may watch your bank account over the next 20 YEARS.  If your credit score goes up, that creditor might reappear.  With a Money Judgment, he may get your car, your real estate (except homestead), or garnish your bank account without prior notice to you, freezing any good fortune you come into. Everybody should pay their debts; however, certain incomes are exempt to prevent a choice between paying the […] Read More

Mediation Instead of Trial

Sometimes you just want to settle a conflict.  Even if it costs you more money, sometimes it may be worth it to you personally, professionally, emotionally, or with the right set of circumstances to have a matter settled.  A Mediation rather than a Trial may be able to bring you that. In Mediation, you control the crash.  In Mediation, you do not get as much of a winner and a loser, but you do get to settle the matter.  Depending on your circumstances and your goals, Mediation may be the right thing for you. A trial is going to result in a winner and a loser, and a judge is going to decide which is which.  In Mediation, however, you have the opportunity to sit down with the other side and hammer out a deal.  Then once the deal is made, it is made, and you have settled the issue.  It gives both sides more control over the outcome. There are a number of civil law matters where Mediation can be used, such as divorce and consumer debt defense.  Seek competent legal counsel to determine if Mediation is an option in your case, and if it would be beneficial to […] Read More

What To Do About Unwanted Calls

There could be many reasons you receive unwanted calls:  (1) Wrong Number (including for debt collection), (2) Debt, (3) Sales Calls, and (4) Donald Trump wants your vote.  While there is not much you can do about political campaigns and wrong numbers, you may be able to reduce the number of calls for debt and sales calls with these options: Option 1:  Pay Your Bills On Time Generally this prevents creditors from picking up the phone in the first place; it also helps to build your credit.  BUT if that ship has already sailed… Option 2:  Ask Collectors to Stop Calling You can ask the debt collector to stop contacting you.  You still owe the debt, but you do not have to deal with all the calls and letters while you work out your repayment. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. Write a letter to the debt collector or creditor asking them to stop contacting you, make a copy of that letter, and send the original to them, certified mail with “return receipt” so you will have a record of their receipt.  That should stop contact, with the exception of a communication to let you […] Read More

Infamous Black Tuesday

Today is Thursday, but in 1929 the 29th of October fell on a Tuesday…so did the Stock Market.  In more recent history, we have encountered the Great Recession.  While we continue the recovery, sometimes old credit card debt comes back to haunt, making consumers victims of Zombie Debt. Zombie Debt is debt that has been dead for a while, but does not know it is dead, and walks the streets looking for a victim.  The problem with Zombie Debt is that the debt is matured when the consumer fails to make payments.  Once the debt is matured, then the Statute of Limitations clock begins to tick, and runs for five to seven years (depending on which state the credit card is initiated). Another problem with Zombie Debt is that Zombie Debt collectors will say anything to get you to reanimate the debt; they whisper sweet nothings like, “Send us five dollars.” Beware, even a penny can resurrect the dead debt. Even if you already have a Judgment against you for this debt, you could be faced with a second Judgment for the same debt. The business model for collecting on Zombie Debt is based on numbers—debt-buyers purchase debt in bulk […] Read More

Social Security Reminder

Your Social Security benefits were not meant to be used to pay off a credit card debt in Small Claims Court.  If you are living off Social Security, you may be able to claim those benefits as exempt from a debt collection judgment.  The key to that exemption is that you have to claim it.  Just because you are eligible does not mean you automatically get it. August 15, 1953 is the anniversary of when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, providing financial assistance for the elderly, the blind, the disabled, and the unemployed.  While everyone should pay their bills, people have to be able to stay in their homes, feed themselves, and put gas in their cars.  Therefore, do not promise Social Security income to cover a collection judgment; claim an exemption instead. Seek competent legal advice to learn more about exemptions from judgment.  You can learn more at St. Johns County Legal Aid at 222 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine (no appointment necessary to pick up a free pamphlet about collection exemptions and how to claim them).  Even if you do not qualify for Legal Aid, they have a lot of pamphlets […] Read More

What If I Cannot Afford An Attorney?

There are many situations in which having legal counsel is beneficial; however, robbing Peter to pay your attorney…probably not a good idea, besides, you may not have to cover the legal fees yourself, depending on your financial circumstances. In a Criminal Case The Sixth Amendment gives you the Constitutional right to an attorney in a criminal defense.  Legal Counsel is so necessary in a criminal case that if a defendant cannot afford counsel, the State provides counsel without fee. In a Civil Case That Constitutional right to an attorney does not extend to civil matters (such as divorce, landlord-tenant dispute, or foreclosure defense).  We are fortunate in our area to have St. Johns County Legal Aid, a local non-profit agency that primarily serves the most vulnerable demographic of our population, aiding awareness of legal rights and options in matters of debt, foreclosure, housing, elder law, family law, and many other civil subjects.  Their motto is “A Wealth of Justice for Those Who Have Neither,” and they mean it. If you think you cannot afford an attorney in a civil case, contact your local Legal Aid office.  Even if you do not qualify for Legal Aid, they have a lot of […] Read More

Solutions to Unwanted Calls

There are ways to stop unwanted calls.  One is to pay your bills on time, another is to ask debt collectors to stop calling, and the third is to register on “Do Not Call” lists.  Here are details for these options. Option 1:  Pay Your Bills On Time Generally this prevents creditors from picking up the phone in the first place; it also helps to build your credit.  BUT if that ship has already sailed… Option 2:  Ask Collectors to Stop Calling You can ask the debt collector to stop contacting you.  You still owe the debt, but you do not have to deal with all the calls and letters while you work out your repayment. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. Write a letter to the debt collector or creditor asking them to stop contacting you, make a copy of that letter, and send the original to them, certified mail with “return receipt” so you will have a record of their receipt.  That should stop contact, with the exception of a communication to let you know that no further action will be taken, or a communication that they intend to take further action, like […] Read More

Courtroom Experience

The St. Johns County courtrooms are getting updated—huge TV sets are being installed.  With A/C, big TVs, and plenty of seating, the question is, which courtroom do you want for the Super Bowl? Not every person’s experience in court is as grand as a Super Bowl party.  While the courtrooms are physically comfortable, they can be an intimidating scene.  There are some very serious people who look like they know what they are doing, and there is a guy with a gun. You might not be up for this.  While you have the right to represent yourself in court, you may want to seek competent legal counsel before going in front of that big screen TV and the Judge. Attorneys remove the emotion so their clients can take the necessary steps to move through a legal problem.  A lawyer can reframe the situation into business terms to help you look at the possible choices and consequences.  Furthermore, the more you know about the legal process, the less stress you have about the unknown. If you think you cannot afford an attorney in a civil case, contact your local Legal Aid office.  Even if you do not qualify for Legal Aid, […] Read More

Retail Therapy & Your Credit Score

When living better through chemistry does not work, sometimes you need retail therapy. Last week I had a really rough day.  I turned into a crazy person.  I called my wife and she was at the Apple store.  Now I have an iPhone 6 and I am much better.  I understand the need for retail therapy and its benefits; furthermore, the more credit you have, the more therapeutic your retail purchases can be. Credit increases your purchasing power.  Good credit begets credit—the higher the credit limit or the more you can borrow.  Good credit also begets better cost to borrow—the better your credit, the smaller the interest rate on your loan to pay back the money.  It is good to have good credit because then you can have more things at lower costs to borrow to buy those things.  What if you have bad credit?  :0 Bad credit does not have to be terminal.  If you can talk, text, and chew gum, you can fix your credit score on your own.  Here are some starting blocks to build your credit: Pay your bills on time every time No new credit – do not open new credit accounts or take out […] Read More