Can I still file bankruptcy?


Yes! Bankruptcy relief is still available. Although creditors would love to have you believe it is no longer an option because of the law passed by Congress in 2005, you can still file bankruptcy. It is true that the 2005 bankruptcy law makes the process much more complicated, but the basic right to file bankruptcy, and most of bankruptcy’s benefits, still remain for most consumers. The cost of filing for bankruptcy also has increased, both in terms of fees you have to pay the court and the fee you will have to pay your attorney.


Why not wait and try to negotiate with creditors?


Often, even when people are in danger of foreclosure or car repossession, or are being sued, or are having their wages garnished – even then, they do not want to think about filing bankruptcy. It is very painful to think of filing for bankruptcy – especially before understanding the issues related to bankruptcy. In most cases, once bankruptcy options are explained by an experienced attorney, people are greatly relieved to find that their problems can be resolved after all. Do not wait until after your house is foreclosed, your car is repossessed, or your wages are being garnished. Find out what bankruptcy relief is available to you sooner rather than later. We can possibly stop the foreclosure, the repossession, and garnishment, but we probably can’t recover it once it is gone. Also, the more time we have to help you, the better result we can accomplish. Plus, it costs you nothing to find out your rights. Call now for a free phone consultation.


Why not try debt counseling, credit repair, and bankruptcy-related scams?


Sometimes, when people are in difficult financial situations and they fear they cannot afford an attorney, they may listen to the assurances of unscrupulous operators who are all too willing to take their last remaining dollars. These operators appear in a number of types of businesses, but all offer the lure of a cheap, easy way to make financial problems disappear. They invariably leave the person poorer and, in many cases, much worse off than before.

Here are some of the scams: Most often our clients have first tried “credit repair” or credit counseling. Those individuals who really need to file bankruptcy find that they have wasted time and resources trying to work with credit counseling. A big problem is that there are many “credit repair” companies that are not associated with the established nonprofit credit counselors in the community. These outfits promise to make credit problems go away. However, they know no magic tricks. Their business model is to take as much money from an individual as possible and do nothing for them. In no time, individuals using these services find they are out thousands of dollars and they have judgments, garnishments, liens on their home, and frozen bank accounts-in other words-a real mess. Even legitimate credit counseling companies obtain most of their funding from credit card companies and so they will often give advice that is good for the credit card companies but not good for the individual. The best thing is to call us for a free phone consultation at 888-588-3328 so you can know your rights.

Other rip-off artists sell services that consumers could obtain for free or at minimal expense. After taking the consumer’s money, they may offer a debt-consolidation loan, which often means a home-equity loan or a refinancing of the debtor’s first mortgage. These loans can be big mistakes, turning unsecured credit card debts that can be wiped out in bankruptcy into mortgages that cannot be discharged; or trading debts with little or no interest for debts with high interest rates. The brokers or lenders who push these loans on debtors with poor credit histories usually charge very high fees. Some individuals may try to use non-local bankruptcy services. However, our Bankruptcy Courts and Trustees require local representation and a case will usually get dismissed if out of state attorneys are used. When debtors whose cases are dismissed try to file a second, corrected case, the new law takes away many rights they would have had in the first case.

Therefore, it is very important to get the advice of an experienced local bankruptcy attorney for your first case so that you will have all the rights and protections possible.


I am a senior. Should I get a reverse mortgage?


Senior citizens with fixed incomes frequently think about filing for bankruptcy. Even though we have experienced a horrible mortgage meltdown, many retired people have actually paid off their houses and, at least in theory, still have equity. Yet their social security income is not enough to live. Even worse, many pensions have been cut back because of the company’s bankruptcy. So here are the problems we need to solve:

  • Ongoing high expenses

  • High credit card balances

  • Lawsuits by credit card companies

  • Judgment creditors threatening to get a lien against the senior’s house

  • Inability of the senior to sell the house in this very difficult real estate market

  • Inability of the senior to get a mortgage or refinance on her house because of lack of income and frozen credit markets

What can be done? Reverse mortgages are not for everyone. Here are some problems with reverse mortgages:

  • High fees to set up a reverse mortgage

  • Complex regulatory requirements

  • Hard to distinguish honorable from unscrupulous in the industry

  • Maybe can’t leave the house to children as a part of the senior’s estate

  • Maybe can’t take advantage of subsequent increase in value of the house

But for the right person, there can be many benefits:

  • Seniors get to keep their house.

  • Seniors get the chance to tap equity in the house for living expenses

  • Creditors can’t touch the house – it is now encumbered by a mortgage

  • Not likely to be challenged as a fraudulent transfer

  • Reverse mortgage proceeds can be used to settle debts – possibly for a fraction of the face value.

  • Subsequent bankruptcy case by the senior would not lead to loss of the house.

Reverse mortgages are not for everyone. Careful planning and thoughtful legal advice are necessary. You can get legal advice by calling us.


Will I lose my house and my car if I file bankruptcy?


Most clients do not lose their house and their car when they file bankruptcy. First, you must be able to continue to make the payments for the house and car to retain them. In New York State, an individual can exempt up to $50,000 equity in her home. The equity is the difference between the value of the home and the mortgage against it. For example, if your house was worth $150,000 and you owed a $100,000 mortgage, your equity would be $50,000 ($150,000-$100,000) and so your house would be protected in the bankruptcy. If a husband and wife own a house together, we can add the exemptions to $100,000. The exemption for a vehicle is $2,400 for each individual which admittedly is not a lot. However, most clients find they owe more than their car is worth.

New York State also allows exemptions on household goods, tools of the trade and retirement which allows us to protect all or part of these assets. We have limited ability to protect luxury items in a bankruptcy. Please call us toll free and tell us your situation and we can let you know how your assets will be affected by the bankruptcy process.


Why do I need a knowledgeable bankruptcy lawyer?


The decision to file for bankruptcy requires careful analysis of your situation. You should file for bankruptcy only after determining that it is the best way to deal with your financial problems. There are a number of potential pitfalls and tricks in the 2005 bankruptcy law, so it is very important to consult with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney. If your case is filed incorrectly, it may be dismissed for not filing a required document, and if you have to file a new case you may not be able to get the same protection from your creditors.

A good bankruptcy attorney is well-versed in the possible complications that might arise in what seems to be a simple and straightforward case; is aware of recent changes in the law and of court decisions in the local courts; can usually find ways of making a bankruptcy case more productive and effective than it would be if the debtor tried to handle it without an attorney, ultimately saving the debtor many hundreds or thousands of dollars more than the attorney’s fee. Finally, having a good bankruptcy attorney can bring debtors the peace of mind that results from knowing their cases are being handled without the mistakes that they might make on their own. Bankruptcy is all we do. Other attorneys may not do a lot of bankruptcy work so it is easy for them to make a mistake. Make sure your attorney limits his or her practice to bankruptcy.


How much will it cost to file bankruptcy?


This is a question that everyone asks. It is a good question. Part of the cost is the Bankruptcy Court filing fees which are approximately $300. You also must take a “Credit Counseling” course before you file bankruptcy and a “Debtor Education” course after you file bankruptcy. These courses can cost anywhere from $25 to $150 each. The attorneys will need to have your credit report and copies of several documents, including the titles to your vehicles, the recorded deed to your home, the recorded mortgage to your home, copies of 7 months of paystubs, 2 years of tax returns, and copies of your bills. In the bankruptcy process, if things are not done correctly, you may not get a discharge and there would be additional fees to reopen your case to fix the problems.

Also, as part of the bankruptcy process, the trustee can take certain assets, such as your tax refund. Does your attorney have a system to minimize this potential? If things are not done correctly, your lender can repossess your car. Does your attorney have a system to prevent this from happening? Also, creditors can claim fraud and prevent a discharge of certain debts. Does your attorney have a system to minimize this potential? What if you need to wait to file the bankruptcy? Does your attorney offer any type of protection while you are waiting to file? Our firm has systems to make the experience of filing bankruptcy as smooth as possible. Our firm has more staff than all other firms in this area which allows us to better follow up with you, your trustee and your creditors.

The cost to file bankruptcy depends on the circumstances of your case. We offer a free phone consultation and once we understand your situation we can give you the costs, including the court filing fees, the courses, and the credit report. We take payments to make it easy for you. Please call us toll-free right now.


What if I can't afford to pay an attorney? I'm broke.


Many people do not want to talk with an attorney about bankruptcy because they think they cannot afford to pay an attorney. First, we offer a free phone consultation so you don’t need any money to find out your rights. Call us toll-free now so we can answer your questions. During the initial consultation, the attorney may develop a filing strategy that will allow you to save money you are currently paying to creditors. Many of our clients use tax refunds to pay for most of the attorney fees. Our firm allows you to make payments while letting creditors know that you have retained an attorney to file a bankruptcy petition. After notification, the creditors should call our office and we usually have time to allow the client to make payments for the fees. We want to work with clients so that they can get a fresh start. Also, our firm now accepts debit cards for making payments.


How do I find a good bankruptcy lawyer?


Just as there are good doctors and bad doctors, good teachers and bad teachers, good auto mechanics and bad auto mechanics, so, too, there are good lawyers and bad lawyers. Indeed, some attorneys are barely competent or even downright incompetent. Just as there is no simple, guaranteed way of finding a good doctor, there is no simple, guaranteed way to find a good lawyer. Here are some things to look for:


It would seem obvious that an attorney who has been practicing for 25 years should know more than an attorney with only 10 years of experience. However, that is not always the case. There are some attorneys who have practiced bankruptcy law for many years but have never really mastered the subject. There are other attorneys who have pursued a general practice, filing a case now and then. If they have been practicing for 25 years without much in-depth experience in bankruptcy, that does not translate to the expertise you need. Tip #1: Look for an attorney with many years of experience in consumer and small business bankruptcy law, who enjoys the respect of other bankruptcy attorneys, the trustees, and the judges. Our firm limits its practice to bankruptcy and we have 25 years of bankruptcy law experience. Laura Harris-Courage is the only Certified Bankruptcy Attorney in the Syracuse area.

Training & Competence

After an attorney graduates from law school and passes the state bar examination, then the real learning begins. Even when there are not many new laws being passed on a particular subject, attorneys improve their skills by attending educational seminars. Now, with the enactment of the 2005 bankruptcy law, education is an absolute necessity. So many basic concepts under the prior law just don’t work anymore. And, the 2005 law is so complex, an attorney is making a big mistake if s/he thinks s/he can understand it by just sitting down and reading it. There is only one organization that is devoted to training attorneys who represent debtors – the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). Tip #2: Is the attorney a member of NACBA? Did the attorney attend NACBA educational events? The attorneys at our firm are members of NACBA and have been attending the conferences for years.

Someone Who Will Listen to You

An attorney who tells you what you should do before s/he even listens to the facts of your situation is not the right attorney. Unfortunately, some attorneys have a “cookie cutter” approach to legal advice which completely ignores the true difficulties or opportunities that your case may present. Tip #3: You want an attorney who will listen to your facts and ask the right questions so s/he will truly understand your case. We will answer your questions when you call. We do not require you to make a special appointment to come into our office to get answers to your questions.

Someone Who Will Give You Specific Advice About Your Situation

Tip #4: Your attorney should listen to you and then consider your specific facts in the context of the law. You would not want a doctor to tell you how to fix a problem before you told him about it first. We will listen to your concerns and situation first. Only by doing that can we give you the advice you deserve – good advice.