September 19, 2017

Equifax Data Breach: What to do if your credit has been compromised

by Seena Gressin

Re-posted from the Federal Trade Commission Website

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.
There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)
    • Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
  • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
    • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
    • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do

 

Gain Financial Freedom in your Pursuit of Happiness!

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(obverse)_svg

Every year I re-read the Declaration of Independence and meditate on the amazing freedoms I enjoy (and sometimes admittedly, take for granted). This year I have been studying the history of Bankruptcy in America and came across this wonderful book called Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence by Bruce H. Mann.

untitled

After reading a bit of this book, I realized how incredibility blessed we are to have the laws that allow us to file Bankruptcy with ease of process, and without judgment or fear. It wasn’t always that way and not everyone who suffered from crushing debt was given that second chance. It took years and a lot of legislation to get the laws where they are today; the laws that protect debtors from their creditors.

untitledbooks

I believe the secret to happiness is the freedom of choice. When you choose to take the first step to get out of debt you begin on the road to financial freedom. Bankruptcy will help you keep your home, relieve you of unsecured debt, keep your utilities on and give you the freedom to start over. It was the best thing that ever happened to me (read my personal Bankruptcy story here) and was my own declaration of independence.

My Gift to You and Yours!

 

Everyone over the age of 18, especially parents of young children, need a simple Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney (these documents together are formally called an “Estate Plan”).

Estate Planning can be given as a gift to others and/or it makes a great New Year’s Resolution for yourself.

As a mother, and an attorney, the importance of planning for the future is at the top of my list!

Therefore, my gift to you this holiday season is 25% off all estate planning packages for the month of January 2017.  Please feel free to share this with your friends and family.

The process of making an Estate Plan is as easy as 1-2-3: First we talk, then I create the documents and lastly, you come in to visit me and sign them.

To arrange a free consultation in person or over the phone, call our office at 203-713-8877.

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday!

With much love & gratitude,
Theresa Rose DeGray
Attorney at Law

PS: Stay tuned for lots of exciting announcements, information, seminars, videos, blogs and much more in 2017!

l-o-g-o

Back To School Shopping On A Budget

Back to school shopping is no doubt a pain for all parents. If you’re watching your finances, school supply shopping can be even more difficult. However, back to school shopping on a budget can be a breeze if you do it right. Below are some tips every parent should incorporate into their August-September back to school shopping for their children.

  • Set a budget. Go into the back to school shopping season with a specific budget. Let your children know what the overall budget is and that there will be no going over it.
  • Make a list! Get a list of supplies that your children need from each of their teachers. Before you go out and purchase everything, go through your home and look for things you may be able to cross off the list. Look at what school supplies your children have left from the previous year and what things you may be able to reuse. Also separate the list into needs and wants. Get all of the essentials for your child and in order to keep under budget, consider skipping some of the “wants” on the list.
  • Don’t go right to Staples for your child’s school supplies. Get things like pencils and pens from your local Dollar Store.
  • Buy your child a bookbag that will last! Brands like L.L Bean and Jansport have a lifetime guarantee on all their bags so buy one that your child can use year after year so you will definitely get your money’s worth.
  • Reuse! Buy your children plastic folders instead of cardboard and such. The plastic will be reusable for years after the purchase as long as your children take care of them.
  • Look through your children’s closet and see exactly what they need so you may plan ahead. Avoid shopping in August for clothes. If you can, wait until mid September or around that time in order to hit the sales that go on after stores think that everyone in town has already completed their back to school shopping. Alternatively, your family can go clothing shopping for fall clothes at the beginning of the summer in order to take advantage of some deals.
  • Try shopping at local thrift stores or outlet malls. Some thrift stores sell name brands for cheap and outlets always have good deals on clothes and shoes.

 

Back to school shopping no longer needs to be a dreadful, money-sucking event that happens at the end of every summer. If you use these helpful tips, you will succeed in getting all the supplies your children need, but also stay well under your budget.

5 Ways To Save Money At A Carnival

Carnivals are a place that families go in order to have a fun night out together. With no admission fees to most carnivals or fairs, some people have the impression that they are inexpensive. Although, unfortunately, that is not always the case with these game-filled and ride oriented affairs. The cost of food, games, and rides most certainly adds up and your so-called “inexpensive” family night out has run your credit card the same amount of money as a five star dinner for two. Below are five ways to save money on a trip to the carnival.

  1. Allot one treat per child. Instead of spending over $100 on food at the carnival, talk to all of your children in advance and let them know that they are entitled to one treat and one treat only while at the fair. Treats such as funnel cakes, candy, popcorn, corn dogs, and things of that nature are so expensive at carnivals so be sure to bring snacks and drinks with you. Take things from your own home such as water, juice boxes, granola bars, and chips to snack on so your children’s one allotted snack each fills them up.
  2. Take a look at the fair or carnival’s website before you go to check for any deals that may be available. Sometimes there are coupons and discounts for rides only available online that are not advertised. You will never know that discounts and such were available unless you look for them!
  3. Think hard about souvenirs. Do you really need that $15 souvenir cup with free refills? No one needs that much soda in one day.
  4. Scope out the parking situation before the day of the carnival. On-site parking can be costly, but definitely more convenient. Alternatively, if you are looking to save money, maybe find an off-site parking lot that will most likely be much cheaper. Sure, you and your family may have to walk a little bit, but the money you will save will be well worth it.
  5. Limit the rides. Rides can be very expensive at fairs and may run anywhere from $4 to $9 each. Tell your children before even getting to the fair to choose their rides wisely because each child will only be able to pick two or three to go on.

Carnivals can be a fun filled family day, but if you do not plan your trip wisely, they can be quite costly. Check online for coupons and discounts that you may be able to use. Have a talk with your children and let them know that this day trip will not be a free for all. The children will be allotted a certain amount of rides and food choices each. Also think wisely about what souvenirs you buy. If there is a possibility you can get a souvenir somewhere else, it would be best not to buy it at a carnival for a more expensive price. Use these money saving tips above in order to have a fun money-saving family day!

Estate Planning & Identity Theft Seminar | Thursday, April 28, 2016 | Stamford, CT

FCBA SEMINAR

How To Get A Credit Card If You Have Bad Credit

It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it? In order to build your credit, you need to have and use a credit card. But in order to qualify for many credit cards, you need to have good credit. What are you supposed to do when you know that your credit is bad, and you fear that you won’t be able to get a credit card and bring up your credit score? Luckily, all is not lost! You can still qualify for many credit cards even if you have a low credit score. Just follow these tips on getting a credit card with bad credit.

  1. Find out your credit score. You might have a rough idea of what your credit score is, but you won’t be able to truly determine what credit cards you should and should not apply for until you know your credit score. You can get a free credit score report online. Once you know your score, you can plan accordingly.
  2. Know what you qualify for. If your credit score is 600 or above, you will probably be able to qualify for an unsecured credit card. If your credit score is below 600, you will most likely only qualify for a secured credit card. A secured credit card will require that you have the equivalent of your card’s limit available to the card issuer. An unsecured credit card doesn’t carry this requirement.
  3. Shop around. Just because you have a low credit score does not mean that you should be paying outrageous interest and fees. Do some research to determine what the most practical, reasonable credit card is for you. Make sure that you also find a credit card that comes from a reputable bank. Avoid credit cards that have high interest rates, don’t offer a grace period for interest, and that have expensive monthly fees.
  4. When you find the card you want, apply for that card only. You should apply for credit cards one at a time. If you have poor credit, you don’t want to be juggling multiple credit cards. If you are approved for your first choice, stick with this card. If you are denied, apply for your second choice.
  5. When you get a credit card, make your payments responsibly. If you are approved for a credit card, don’t make the company regret accepting your application! Make sure that you make all of your payments on time and that you do not overextend your line of credit. With online payments and credit card apps for phones, staying on top of your credit card has never been easier!

These are my top tips for getting a credit card, even if your credit is less than perfect. For additional advice to help you improve your credit, you can contact me here. I am happy to discuss your situation during a free consultation!

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Five: Preparing, Signing and Filing a Bankruptcy Petition

In this blog we will explore a very important step in your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process: Your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition Signing and Filing.

Once you have met with me for your free initial consultation, retained me to file your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition and delivered to me all of the required documents, I will then prepare your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition and schedule a convenient time for you to come in to our office to sign your Petition.

Your Bankruptcy Petition signing is a very serious step in your Bankruptcy Process and you will be required to carefully read your petition.  This appointment will take approximately one hour in which I will go over each and every page with you and answer any questions you may have.  Ultimately, you will be asked to sign several pages of the Petition under oath, swearing that the information provided is true and accurate to the best of your ability, and I will then electronically file your Petition with the Bankruptcy Court.

This blog is intended to give you preview of the many parts of a typical Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition. Please keep in mind that your Petition may differ according to your specific financial circumstances and that it is vitally important to always disclose all of your income, assets, debts (liabilities).  Not fully disclosing all of your information could lead could be deemed Bankruptcy Fraud which is a crime.

The first part of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition consists mainly of identification and general information.  It will list your name, address, and the last four digits of your social security number.  It will give a rough estimate (or a “range”) of how many creditors, assets and liabilities you have.  It will also include your signature (as the “Debtor”) and mine (as your “Attorney”), affirming that the information provided is true and accurate under the penalties of perjury.  Please note that your Bankruptcy Petition is a public document and due to that fact your Social Security Number will always be redacted to the last four digits for anti-identity theft purposes.

The next several pages in your packet will be your Means Test, the assessment used to determine if you qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing.  For more information on your Means Test please consult me, and/or my previous Blog in this Chapter 7 Series.

Your Means Test will be followed by Exhibit D which is your statement to the Court that you successfully completed your Credit Counseling requirement.  Credit Counseling is a mandatory course taken usually on the telephone or internet, which takes about one hour, analyzes your financial circumstances and helps you create a budget.  For more information on the Credit Counseling requirement please consult me, and/or my previous Blog in this Chapter 7 Series.

The next part of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition will be a Summary of the Schedules to follow.  This is a snap-shot view of your income, assets and liabilities as more fully reported on each individual schedule (described in detail below) and a Statistical Summary of Certain Liabilities (in layman’s terms that mean you “debt-to-income ratio”).

The Summary will be followed by a series of Schedules as follows:

  • Schedule A – Real Property: This Schedule will list any Real Estate that may be in your name according to the Land Records with a brief description and its location, along with the nature of your interest in the property (e.g. whether you own it solely or jointly), its current value and the amount of any liens (e.g. mortgages) against the property.  This list may also include time shares, if any.
  • Schedule B – Personal Property: This Schedule will list all of your personal belongings, such as cash, contents of bank accounts and safe deposit boxes, security deposits with public utilities or landlords, clothes, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, firearms, sports equipment, household goods and furnishings, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, patents, copyrights, or other intellectual property, future interests in any estates or life insurance policies, legal claims against other persons or entities, vehicles and any other personal property not already listed.
  • Schedule C – Property Claimed as Exempt: This Schedule will list all of your property that is exempt (or, in other words, immune) from being liquidated by your Chapter 7 Trustees in order to pay back your creditors.  It will also list the specific law that provides for each exemption.  A typical exemption is that for the equity in your car, or home (usually referred to as a “homestead exemption”).  Depending on your specific set of financial circumstances, I will determine if it is in your best interests to utilize the State or Federal exemption scheme in order to maximize the protection of your assets under the law.  (Check back to the Consumer Legal Services, LLC Blog site in the future for an extended explanation of the exemption system!)
  • Schedule D – Creditors Holding Secured Claims: This Schedule will list any creditors you have holding a security interest in any of your property.  Common examples of such interests are mortgages for homes and and car loans for cars.
  • Schedule E – Creditors Holding Unsecured Priority Claims: This Schedule will list any of your creditors that are holding unsecured (for which they do not have a lien) priority claims.  These types of claims arise when you have child support obligations, government student loans or tax debt.  These types of debts are considered “priority” and take precedence over your other debts.  They are usually not discharged in Bankruptcy and you will continue to pay them while your Chapter 7 case is pending.  Some exceptions apply, especially with regard to taxes. (Check back to the Consumer Legal Services, LLC Blog in the future for an extended explanation of taxes in bankruptcy!)
  • Schedule F – Creditors Holding Unsecured Non-Priority Claims: This Schedule will list all of your unsecured debt, such as credit cards, personal loans and medical debt.  Unless otherwise determined by the Bankruptcy Court, all of the debts listed on this Schedule will be discharged.  There will be an ancillary document related to this Schedule called the Verification of the Creditor Matrix.  This verification will include a list of your creditors in a matrix format for easy uploading to the Bankruptcy Court.
  • Schedule G – Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases: This Schedule will list all unperformed contracts and leases that you may be subject to.  The example I often give for an executory (or unperformed) contract is for snow plowing when it has not yet snowed and/or you have not yet paid the plowman.  A lease, for example, for an apartment or a car is an executory contract to the extent that it has not expired.
  • Schedule H – Codebtors: This Schedule will list any persons you have become liable with on a debt, other than a spouse in a joint petition.  Examples often include parents you have co-signed a loan for a child.
  • Schedule I – Current Income of Individual Debtor(s): This Schedule will list all current income you are receiving at the time of the signing of the petition.  If you are married, your spouse’s income must be included whether or not your spouse is filing Bankruptcy.
  • Schedule J – Current Expenditures of Individual Debtor: This Schedule will list all of your expenses that you will continue paying regardless of ever having filed for Bankruptcy, such as your mortgage, utilities, transportation and food expenses.

At the end of all of the Schedules there will be a “Declaration Concerning Debtor’s Schedules” which you will sign under oath stating that all of the foregoing information contained in the various schedules is true and accurate to the best of your ability.

Next there will be a document called “Statement of Financial Affairs.”  This statement will include information about such things as any pending lawsuits you are involved in, how much you paid for debt counseling and information related to any businesses you may own or have owned, among other pertinent information.

That statement will be followed by a Disclosure of Compensation of Attorney for Debtor.  On this document I will list the amount of money you have paid for my services.

The final document in your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition will be your Form B21, otherwise known as your “Statement of Social Security Number.”  This statement is the only non-public part of your Bankruptcy Petition and will only be seen by, you, me and the Bankruptcy Court.  It is not a public document and therefore, your entire Social Security Number will be protected against identity theft.  This is quite possibility the most important document you will read and sign at the time of filing.  In fact, I will require that you re-read this document several times, and even show me your Social Security Card to confirm the accuracy of your Social Security Number.  If your social security number is wrong on this form, your debts will not be discharged…but someone else’s may be!  So always triple check…and then check again!

After you have read and signed all of the documents you will be given a copy of your entire Petition.  After you go home, I will then electronically file your Petition.  During the e-filing process a Case Number, a Chapter 7 Trustee, and a date for your 341 Meeting will be randomly generated and assigned to your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case.  I will deliver this information to you by phone or email, and a Notice will be delivered to you directly on the mail by the Bankruptcy Court including this and other pertinent information about your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry in this Chapter 7 Series which will explain just who and what the Chapter 7 Trustee is and why the Trustee plays such a vital role in your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy!

For more information or to find out if you qualify for Bankruptcy, please call our office at 203-713-8877.

July-2014-Photos-37

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Three: Means Testing

After we have our Initial Consultation and you have delivered your documents to me, I will analyze your financial circumstances and perform your Means Test.  A Means Test is an assessment used to determine if you qualify to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

Before 2005 it was easy to file for bankruptcy; virtually anyone could do so.  In 2005 Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA)1 and added the Means Test requirement to prevent abuse of the Bankruptcy process.  Simply put if you “pass” the means test, you are a qualified candidate and can file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  If you “fail” the means Test, you may not file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy but you may enjoy other alternatives such as a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy (which will be discussed in a future series of Consumer Legal Services, LLC’s blog posts).

The Means Test primarily encompasses a two-step analysis.

STEP ONE: Your (the “debtor’s”) gross income is calculated on an average over a six month period prior to filing for Bankruptcy.  Gross income for means testing purposes includes wages, salary, tips, bonuses, overtime and commissions.  It does not include social security benefits.  The figure derived from taking the average is than considered the Debtor’s Current Monthly Income which is then compared to the median income for your state and household size.  If your current monthly income is less than the median income for your state and household size, than you “pass” the means test and are allowed to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  If, however, your current monthly income is greater than the median income for your state and household size, you may proceed to Step Two.

STEP TWO: If your current monthly income is greater than the median income for your state and household size, there is, in technical terms, a “presumption of abuse.”2 In order to rebut the presumption, or in other terms, to pass the means test by using the second step, the means test’s second section allows you to subtract from your current monthly income certain allowable and deductible expenses.3 These allowed deductions include, but are not limited to, expenses for living (mortgages and property taxes), transportation (car loans and car taxes), health insurance and charitable donations.  After the calculations are performed, and the allowable deductions are taken, and if you then have no disposable monthly income available, you will than have passed the Means Test (with no presumption of abuse) and may file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  If, on the other hand, you do have remaining disposable income, you may consider a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

The discussion above is an overview of the Means Test in basic terms and is in no way intended as a specific analysis of your personal financial circumstances.

For an analysis of your own financial circumstances, please contact Attorney Theresa DeGray at Consumer Legal Services to schedule your free consultation today.

________________________________

1See: 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)
2See: 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2) and 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(3)
3See: 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2)(A)

Theresa-83-M

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Two: Analyzing Your Financial Situation

During our initial Chapter 7 Bankruptcy consultation, I will go over a list of documents I need to analyze your financial circumstances.  I will ask that you prepare and deliver copies of the documents requested, and that you retain your originals.  These documents, which will include items such as pay stubs, bank statements and household bills, will help me prepare your Means Test.  A Means Test is an assessment that I will perform for you as part of my package of services to determine if you qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. 

There are three main categories of documents required to prepare your Means Test to determine qualification for bankruptcy, and ultimately to prepare and file your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  These categories are as follows: 

INCOME: Your income information is the most important data that I will gather from you to perform your Means Test.  Evidence of income includes such items as paystubs (also known as “pay advices”), unemployment benefit statements, social security payment reports, or if you are self-employed and own your own business, a profit and loss statement to provide evidence of your income sufficient to move your case along in the Bankruptcy process.  

ASSESTS: Lists of assets and supporting documentation will help me determine what you own and how I can seek to exempt your property so you can keep it.  If you own a home, a vacation property or other real estate, I will ask that you provide me with a copy of your recorded deed, a HUD-1 settlement statement and proof of mortgages, if any.  If you own a timeshare, I will also request copies of maintenance fee invoices.  If you own a car, I will ask that you provide me with a copy of the current registration, proof of insurance including the declaration page of the policy and a premium statement showing how much you pay to continue the coverage.  If a car is leased, I will ask for a copy of the lease, or if a car is financed I will ask for a copy of the monthly payment coupon.  I also request that you provide us with a Kelly Blue Book value of any vehicle including boats, trailers and recreational vehicles such as motorcycles and quads.  Other documents requested regarding your assets will include appraisals of any antiques or collectibles you may own, copies of stock certificates and bond information.  I will also require that you furnish a list of the contents of your home with the date of purchase and the value for each item. 

DEBTS (OR LIABILITIES): You will be required to give me copies of all your bills and I will request that you pull three credit reports (one from each major credit reporting bureau).  These bills and evidence of debts found on your credit reports, will be used to list your creditors (people and entities you owe money to) on your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  These will include secured debts (such as mortgages and car loans) and non-secured debts (such as credit card and medical bills), as well as household bills (those bills which you will continue to pay regardless of ever having filed for bankruptcy, such as your utility bills or daycare receipts).  Debts that are dischargeable in Bankruptcy may also include taxes.  (Stay tuned for future blog posts on what taxes are, in fact, dischargeable in Bankruptcy!) 

Please keep in mind, that the foregoing blog is not a complete list of all documents necessary to analyze your financial circumstances and prepare your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  This blog is only an overview of those documents.  Other documents may be required and requested by us or a Bankruptcy Trustee during the Bankruptcy Process. 

In our next blog I will deconstruct a Means Test and explain it step-by-step. 

For more information, or to schedule your free consultation today, call Attorney Theresa Rose DeGray at 203-713-8877.

Visit Us at 74 Cherry Street, Milford, CT

Visit Us at 74 Cherry Street, Milford, CT

This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.