Annual Check-Up on Your Credit Report

Keep an eye on your financial statements, and check your credit report annually for free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.  If you want your credit score there is a fee, but it is free to look at your credit report from all three reporting companies so you can check to make sure the information is accurate. It is a good idea to monitor your credit report annually because as my colleague, Zach, points out, sometimes there are ‘blended’ files where a person’s name is similar to your name, or has a similar Social Security number.  And of course there is the possibility of identity theft. If you do find an inaccuracy, you can dispute errors with the credit reporting agencies.  There is more information provided by the Federal Trade Commission with sample letters at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0291-disputing-errors-credit-reporting-companies.   Read More

Are You Receiving Unwanted Calls?

If you owe money you may be getting calls from creditors or debt collectors.  To learn more about your rights as a debtor, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection. If you do not owe money and are tired of sales calls, try these free registration websites for DO NOT CALL lists at the State and National levels: National DO NOT CALL LIST registration: https://www.donotcall.gov/ Florida DO NOT CALL LIST registration: https://www.fldnc.com/   Read More

Debt Collector Decorum

The Debt Collector Cotillion does not include calling consumers late at night, or causing their phones to ring continuously or repeatedly.  A good debt collector knows how to inspire you to pay within the law.  A bad collector strays into unfair debt collection practices. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. The Federal Trade Commission has put together a two-minute video to walk you through the basics of debtors’ rights (you can view it online at http://bcove.me/t6s6l7lf); seek competent legal counsel if you need further assistance asserting your rights.   Read More

Exempt Incomes from Money Judgments

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.  That is the idea behind Social Security, disability, pensions, and income that provides more than one-half the support for dependant or minor children—those are exempt incomes from money judgments. Small Claims Court can be a lot bigger than you think.  Even though it only deals with matters less than $5,000, that can be a big claim if you have limited means. Everybody should pay their debts, but you should not have to decide whether to buy food or pay the electric bill.  Thus there are certain incomes that are exempt from money judgments. The key to an exemption is that you have to claim it.  Just because you are eligible for a collection exemption does not mean you automatically receive it.  Exemptions have to be filed within 20 days of the Notice of Garnishment that you receive after your account has been frozen. A Judgment is bad, but ignoring it is worse.  Seek competent legal advice to learn more about collection exemptions.  (You do not need an appointment to pick up a pamphlet at Legal Aid about collection exemptions and how to claim them.) Read More

Steps to Better Credit

Are you receiving calls from creditors and collection agencies?  Working overtime to try to keep up with your bills?  Using your savings to cover daily expenses?  These can be signs of bad credit.  While bad credit is a problem—it makes getting a new loan more expensive or impossible—there are steps you can take to improve your credit score. The basics are basics include pay your bills on time, pay down outstanding balances, and stay away from new debt.  Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi offers these further tips to personally manage your debt: Set up a household budget to guide your spending patterns. The budget should detail your monthly income, as well as your monthly expenses. Your budget should outline a spending plan which insures that your income will exceed your expenses each month. Don’t go any deeper in debt! Put your credit cards away and make a concerted effort to refrain from accumulating any more debt in the coming months. Pay cash or use a debit card. If you must charge something in an emergency, use the card with the lowest interest rate. Use daily money-saving strategies to free up more money. Cut out needless expenses and save money where […] Read More

New Lease on Life – Legal Aid

What do you do if you are disabled, elderly, living on a fixed income, and your landlord locks you out of your apartment?  Contact Legal Aid. St. Johns County Legal Aid “Provides a wealth of justice for those who have neither.”  It is a lot of administrative law, poverty law—a lot of law that most people are unaware of—that makes a huge difference in individual’s lives.  It can give a new lease on life, whether in a landlord-tenant case or other civil law matter (such as consumer debt, foreclosure, housing, elder law, and family law). If you are seeking an attorney but think you cannot afford one, contact your local legal aid office.  Even if you do not qualify for service, the offices have many helpful pamphlets or they can refer you to attorneys willing to take cases at reduced rates.  St. Johns Legal Aid is located at 222 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine and they are open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every business day. In St. Johns County, visit http://jaxlegalaid.org/v2/pamphlets/St.%20Johns%20County%20Legal%20Aid%20Information.pdf, and in Jacksonville, visit http://www.jaxlegalaid.org/v2/. Read More

What Is Good in 20 Years?

You can get a 20-year warranty on a mattress, roof shingles, and vinyl flooring.  You know what else is still good in 20 years?  That debt judgment against you. So you got sued in Small Claims Court.  If you had nothing for a creditor or debt servicer to collect, then they still did not get paid and all they got was a judgment against you.  The thing is, that judgment is good for 20 years.  Your creditor or debt servicer can collect at any time during those 20 years.  That is a good deal for creditors and debt servicers…not so much for you. The other thing is, once you have a money judgment against you, the collection can happen with fewer symptoms than a heart attack.  You wake up one morning and the money in your bank account got disappeared.  They can garnish everything in your account up to the amount owed without prior notice.  Again, a good deal for creditors and debt servicers…not so much for you, especially if you were trying to pay rent that day. Everyone should pay their bills, but you have to be able to stay in your home, feed yourself, and put gas in […] Read More

No Defense? No Problem

Debt collectors are standing by to take up to 25% of your paycheck.  Did you have trouble paying your credit card bill?  Maybe you did not notice the Small Claims Court suit filed against you (or you did not know what to do about it)?  No problem.  If you did not show up to your court date the debt collector has a simple remedy:  Get a default judgment against you that allows him to take 25% of your paycheck every payday. That is no big deal, right?  After all, what is a quarter of your earnings?  What would you use that money for anyway—Rent?  Groceries?  Gas to get to work?  Everybody can give up 25% of their net income, right? Everybody should pay their bills; however, you should not have to decide whether to pay your credit card bill or put food on the table.  There are exemptions you can file to protect certain incomes so that you can pay for basic needs.  Exempt incomes include: Income of head of household at a certain level Social Security benefits Pension Disability The key to an exemption is you have to claim it.  Even if you have an eligible exemption, you do […] Read More

Payback is Heck with Consumer Debt

Being in debt is bad.  Having up to 25% of your wages garnished, or having your bank account swept clean without advance notice can be a life-affirming experience…not in a good way. In Florida, debt collectors can take up to 25% of your net pay for things like old credit card debt, medical bills, and/or student loans.  Or they can sweep your bank account for the amount that you owe without prior notice—you wake up one day and whatever you owe them, that money got disappeared.  Later when you receive that notice of garnishment, you also get a form to file for exemption.  Everyone should pay their bills, but you have to be able to stay in your home, feed yourself, and put gas in your car—that is why certain incomes are eligible for exemption, like head-of-household at a certain level, pension income, Social Security benefits, or disability. The key to that exemption is that you have to claim it.  Just because you are eligible does not mean you automatically get it. Seek competent legal advice to learn more about exemptions from judgment.  (You do not need an appointment to pick up a pamphlet at Legal Aid about collection exemptions […] Read More