July 26, 2017

Gain Financial Freedom in your Pursuit of Happiness!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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The Role of the Executor

Being named as the executor of someone’s Will is an honor. The deceased clearly trusted you with a very important task – taking care of his or her affairs once he or she could not, and ensuring that all debts are paid off and the remaining assets and property are given to the rightful heirs. This is a big responsibility and it can seem, at times, like an overwhelming job. If you have been named executor of a loved one’s Will, there are some things you need to know about this responsibility.

Do I Qualify as an Executor?

Because an executor has to deal with laws and finances that are oftentimes complex, you might think that only an expert in these fields would qualify as an executor, but this is not necessarily the case. Anyone can be an executor so long as they fulfill what is called fiduciary duty. Fiduciary duty refers to the duty to act honestly and with good faith in order to represent someone else. This means that you must be an honest and impartial person in order to be an executor. If you feel that you have these characteristics, you can be an executor.

What Does the Executor Do?

An executor has many jobs including:

  • Paying debts. The executor will have to notify creditors of probate proceedings and pay off any debts that the deceased has.
  • Paying taxes. Similarly, the executor is in charge of filing the final income tax return on behalf of the deceased. This income tax return should be filed for the start of the tax year up to the time of death.
  • Identifying the deceased (or decedent’s) property and assets.
  • Managing the decedent’s assets and property until the inheritors can take them. This duty could include deciding to sell securities or real estate or deciding to hold onto them.
  • Supervising the decedent’s property as it is distributed to the inheritors. The executor has to make sure that the property and assets are distributed to the right people according to the decedent’s Will.
  • Establishing a bank account for the estate. This account will be used to store money owed to the decedent.
  • If necessary, filing the Will in probate court.
  • Determining the necessity of proceedings in probate court.
  • Taking care of general details. This might include dealing with notifying credit card companies and banks/federal agencies of death.

As you can see, fulfilling the role of executor is no small task. If you think that you are up to the challenge, you will have many responsibilities. At times, this role can be confusing and overwhelming. If you ever feel like this is the case, you can contact a probate lawyer such as myself for guidance. I can give you the answers that you need and walk you through this experience. Even if you are not ready to retain my services, I offer free consultations, so we can meet together and discuss your situation at no cost to you. If this sounds like a good option to you, contact my office today!

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

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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!

5 Easter Ideas On A Budget

Holidays can be a lot of fun, but they can also get expensive! As Easter approaches, you are probably interested in making some festive food and partaking in fun activities with your children, but you might not be sure if you can afford it. Luckily, Easter is a holiday with many opportunities to save money. For some cheap Easter ideas that your family is sure to love, read on!

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  1. Dyeing hardboiled eggs. This is a classic Easter activity, and it is a resourceful one at that! At 1-5 dollars per dozen – depending on the type of eggs you buy – eggs are a cheap and filling meal. High in protein and good cholesterol, eggs make for a healthy breakfast, so you can feel confident serving them to your family. On top of the money-saving and health benefits, coloring Easter eggs is a classic activity to do with your kids. For a few extra dollars, you can pick up an Egg Decoration and Dye kit. You and your kids can have fun decorating Easter eggs, which will double as a delicious breakfast. Total cost: $3-7.
  2. Easter egg hunt. Another classic Easter activity, you can save a lot of money by reusing plastic eggs and putting small presents in each. Plastic egg packets only cost a few dollars per dozen, and you can fill them with loose change, candy, stickers, special coupons, stick-on tattoos, glow sticks, fruit snacks, etc. Once you invest in the eggs, you will be able to reuse them for years to come. In all, you can create an incredible hunt for your kids for around $10.
  3. Deviled eggs. Another great use for your decorated Easter eggs is to turn them into deviled eggs. This is a simple and easy recipe. All that you need are hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, sweet relish, and paprika. You can make a dozen deviled eggs for around $3. Bring them to a party or share them with the family – deviled eggs are always a crowd pleaser!
  4. Easter bunny project. You and your kids can use old paper towel tubes, paint, markers, stickers, and more, to create a cute Easter bunny family. Use whatever you have in your house to create a fun, free activity that you can do with your family. Total cost: free!
  5. Host a potluck arts and crafts party. Invite the kids in the neighborhood or your child’s classmates over for an arts and crafts party. Have each child bring their own activity to contribute to the party – this will provide tons of different ideas for the kids to do at little cost to you. Total cost: $10 to provide some snacks and basic craft resources for the kids.

These are just five ideas for Easter food and fun, but the possibilities are endless. Start with these activities, which will be easy on your wallet, and expand from there.

Happy Easter!

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.

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Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Four: Credit Counseling

Once your Means Test is complete and it is determined that you are a qualified candidate for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, I will the instruct you to complete a Credit Counseling Course which is the next step in the bankruptcy process.  The completion of a Credit Counseling Course is required by the Bankruptcy Code.1 I will give you a list of credit counseling agencies approved by the United States Trustee and answer any questions about the course you may have before you start. 

After you select an approved agency, you can take the course in person, or, more conveniently, online or on the telephone in the comfort of your own home.  The course takes approximately one hour in total to complete. 

[Quick Tip: If you take your credit counseling course online (versus in person or on the phone) you can start it and stop it as many times as you need to, like a DVD.  This is usually more convenient for people who have jobs and children!] 

The course customarily consists of an introductory briefing, a budget analysis (some call it a “mini-means test”) and at the conclusion of the session, you will be given a final briefing on your options in bankruptcy as well as non-bankruptcy alternatives.  The class is rather straightforward and nothing to be nervous about. 

Most approved agencies charge $30 to $50 for an individual and may give a discount to a married couple.  It is important to note that the credit counseling course must be done within the 180 days before the day you file your petition and may not be done on the day you file.  There are few exceptions to the credit counseling requirement (e.g. exigent circumstances, etc.) but failure to comply with the credit counseling requirement, unless otherwise ordered by the Bankruptcy Court, could result in a dismissal of your case.  

Upon completion of the course you will be given a “Certificate” of completion.  You can also instruct the agency to deliver a copy of the certificate to my office via e-mail or fax, or you can send me a copy yourself.  Your certificate will ultimately be delivered to the Bankruptcy Court upon filing of your Bankruptcy Petition along with an “Exhibit D” called the “Individual Debtor’s Statement of Compliance with Credit Counseling,” which you will sign under oath stating that you completed the course within the required time period before your filing and completed it with an approved agency.   

The next step in the Bankruptcy process is to return to my office for the signing and filing of your Bankruptcy Petition.  In our next installment of this Chapter 7 Blog Series I will explain each section of a typical Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition so you will have a preview of what you will be reading and signing before we meet again. 

For more information on Credit Counseling or for a Free Consultation, please contact Consumer Legal Services, LLC, the Law Offices of Attorney Theresa Rose DeGray, at 203-713-8877.

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1See 11 U.S.C. § 109(h)

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