May - June 2022
Finding the Right Bankruptcy Attorney
Bankruptcy is one of the hardest decisions that anyone may have to make in their life. It's important that if you have to file for bankruptcy that there are experts around you who will be there to answer your questions and help you through this difficult time. Finding the right bankruptcy attorney to represent you is a good way to start your financial rebirth.
Here are some tips to follow when looking for bankruptcy representation. Brought to you by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
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:
Experience. 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.
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 a completely different bankruptcy law, education is an absolute necessity. So many basic concepts under the prior law just don't work anymore. And, the new 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). NACBA held two-day workshops in Chicago (July 2005) and Orlando (September 2005) to teach attorneys how to practice under the new law. More than 3,000 attorneys crunched numbers, filled out worksheets, and learned the new concepts necessary to practice under the new law.
Tip #2: Is the attorney a member of NACBA? Did the attorney attend NACBA educational events?
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.
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. Only by doing that will s/he be able to give you the advice you deserve - good advice.
The economy is affecting all parts of our lifestyles these days. Many families this year may even decide to forgo their annual vacation plans. There is a more budget-friendly alternative that is quickly catching on in popularity and it's a "staycation". A staycation is exactly what it sounds like; you take time off but don't go anywhere. This may not sound like a way to spend your hard-earned time off, but there are ways to make it just as fun and relaxing as a family getaway.
A good plan is a great place to start. Figure out some things that you would like to do during your staycation. Plan some special events beforehand so you don't spend your time off wondering what you should do.
Let people know ahead of time that you are going on vacation. Set your email and cell phone messages to let people know you are "away". If you must, check your messages once a day or give instructions on how to get a hold of you in case of an emergency. You may also want to limit the amount of TV time you take in. Though many people may enjoy a movie on vacation so you could rent some DVDs to watch, especially if you have a day where Mother Nature doesn't want to cooperate.
Get out of the house. As tempting as it may be to sleep in every day and order food while you lounge in front of the TV, you may get much more fulfillment by going out and finding activities to partake in. More than likely there are plenty of places in your surrounding area that you can affordably visit. Open up the Yellow Pages or fire up the computer to find activities in your area.
Whether it's a visit to the museum or lunch in the park, do some of the things that the tourists who usually visit your area would do. Chances are you may not have been there in a while and it's nice to explore your own town every once in a while. You can even check with the visitor's bureau or chamber of commerce to find events going on or affordable attractions for families. Plus, if a tourist ever approaches you, you can then suggest the places that you have experienced firsthand.
Search around and try and find a good deal on a hotel room or a bed and breakfast in the area. Since you won't be spending money on travel expenses you may be able to reserve a honeymoon suite and get to spend a "get away" with your spouse. You may find a good deal if you choose a weeknight as opposed to a weekend. It can't hurt to do a little searching.
Another affordable getaway is going camping. Not everyone is within a reasonable traveling distance but those who are can load up the car with a tent and some gear and enjoy the great outdoors for a couple of days. Fees for camping are considerably cheaper than most hotels you will find and by grilling your own food there are no high price restaurants to worry about.
You may also decide to take up a hobby or start a project that you haven't had time to do while working. Have you always wanted to take a cooking class and never had the time? Has there been a best-selling novel that you have been dying to read but couldn't find the time for? Perhaps you have been meaning to add new life to your kitchen with a fresh coat of new paint. The point is, you can take some of this free time to get stuff done or get back into a hobby that you have had to sacrifice because of your busy time schedule.
Make sure you document your staycation as you would a regular vacation. Bring along your camera and video recorder and get shots of the kids having fun or get a couple of "cheesy" shots in front of the attraction. This will make it feel more like a regular vacation and it's important to have memories to share.
The most important thing to consider is it doesn't really matter where you go as long as it contains quality time together as a family. Long work hours and a two-income family can have a strain on the family relationship. Time off is an important time to refuel the bonds between husband and wife and parents and kids. There are countless activities you can do together where you will have fun regardless of where you are.
A staycation is a great way to enjoy your well-deserved time off and it also gives a boost to your local economy, which is essential right now in many cities. It's important to be creative but remember to have fun and enjoy quality time.
Penny Pinchers Club
Are you the type of person that comes up with terrific ways to Pinch Pennies? If so please email us and share your ideas.
HERE IS OUR PENNY PINCHER FOR THIS MONTH
"I would suggest asking about programs with your local art/science museum. We buy a pass each summer for the family and go multiple times and receive updates when they have a new exhibit or program for the kids. It's a very affordable form of entertainment for our family."
-Colin H. NE
Recently, many homeowners have been asking their lenders about a mortgage modification. Many homeowners have their backs up against the wall and are looking for any way possible to save their homes. Mortgage modifications have even been a popular story in the news with the Obama administration passing a mortgage modification program for US citizens. With its popularity we thought we would explain what a mortgage modification entails and whether or not this is a viable option for you.
Modification is a synonym for change, and that's essentially what a mortgage modification is. You are changing the terms of your mortgage to make your monthly payment more affordable. There are several different ways your loan can be modified to adjust the payment depending on your particular situation.
They can add missed payments to the end of the loan to bring you current and allow you a fresh chance. This is if you had a hardship and couldn't make your payments but are now back on your feet.
There is the option to reduce your interest rate or switch you from an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) to a Fixed Mortgage with an interest rate that will not get higher or lower.
They can extend the term of your loan in order to get the monthly payments down to a more comfortable payment for you. So if you had 20 years left on your 30-year mortgage they would take the money that you have paid on the principal and then adjust that amount to a new 30-year contract. It's important to note that this will depend on the situation, your current debt to income ratio, and the percentage of your current mortgage payment to your gross income.
Banks and lenders are not just giving loan modifications to everyone, however. You need to show proof and documentation of any hardships that are causing you to be delinquent on your mortgage payments. The documentation can include recent pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, and a detailed budget to show where your money goes each month. The more information that you can provide to prove your hardship the better the lender can assess your case. Along with the documentation, you will be required to provide a letter that states the reasons why you are having trouble with your mortgage, and in most cases, they will want to know what type of payment you will be able to send in right away if a modification is granted. You will also have to include what has changed in your life so that you will be able to make your payments if a modification is given.
This process helps lenders determine if you are an eligible candidate for a loan modification. After reviewing your information the lender will either go ahead with the process or explain to you why you have been denied. In some cases, you may be denied because the lender feels you should be able to make your payment with the amount of money you are making.
The process of a loan modification can be a long one. You will go back and forth with your lender, gathering the information that they request from you. Once they receive everything that they want it will still take a few weeks before you even find out if you qualify. During that time it is important to make payments and maintain a good relationship with your mortgage lender.
In many cases, you will be required to attend a post-purchase counseling course to help teach you ways to maintain a budget so you can make your mortgage payments and avoid running into trouble again.
There may be some fees and costs associated with a mortgage modification. Often you can have these costs added to the principle of your loan so you are not required to come up with additional money. This again is based on your specific situation.
This article is just an introduction to what a mortgage modification is. We suggest that you talk to your lender or a HUD Certified Housing Counselor if you have more questions or if you are interested in a mortgage loan modification.
Keep Cool, Save Energy
Everyone is trying to save where they can, so finding ways to reduce the energy you use will save you money on your bills and can also ease the burden on the environment. There are plenty of things you can do in and out of your house this summer to conserve energy and save money.
If you have a central air conditioning unit set your thermostat to 78 degrees. This is the best way you can conserve energy. This may be too warm for some people but if you are conscious of some of the things you do around your house you can prevent the air temperature from getting too high in the first place.
A good way to regulate your temperature settings is to have a programmable thermostat. That way you can have different settings for different times of the day. You can have it up a little higher while you are gone during the day and perhaps at night when you can open a window and take advantage of the cool air. You can then put the settings lower for times you are at home.
Keep your shades and windows closed during the day. The heat from the sun can quickly warm up a room. Once the sun goes down you can open the shades up but may want to keep the windows closed if the outside air temperature is still high.
Avoid using appliances that use heat. Wait to run the dishwasher and the dryer until the cooler parts of the evening. They generate a lot of heat that can be trapped in your home and cause the inside temperature to quickly rise.
You will also want to avoid using the oven if possible. Think about it, if you need to warm your oven to over 300 degrees that heat has to go somewhere. That's one of the reasons so many people choose to grill out on summer nights.
Try and take hot baths or showers in the early morning or late evening and make sure you use an exhaust fan if you have one.
Turn off the lights. Not only does it use energy when they are on, but lights also give off additional heat, which raises the temperatures in your home. Only have the lights on in the room that you are currently in. I know this may be hard since we tell you to both close the shades and shut off the lights but you will get used to it and your home will stay cooler.
Use ceiling fans to circulate cool air throughout the house. Even if you don't have any consider buying one. They are relatively inexpensive and are not too difficult to install. Most fans have a switch that can either direct airflow up or down. Make sure your switch is set so the air is blowing downward. The upward setting can be used in the wintertime to help circulate heat better.
Those are just a few ways to make sure your house stays a little cooler and helps limit the amount of time you will have to run your air conditioner.
Another way you can save money is to replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Fluorescent bulbs have a higher upfront price tag but the payoff in the long run. You don't have to replace all of your bulbs at once but you can replace a bulb as they go out. Soon you will have them all replaced and will find yourself not having to replace them for a long time.
You will want to replace your heating and cooling filter. You may have to replace this a few times a season depending on how much you run your air conditioner. A clean filter helps the air conditioner run more efficiently. You will also want to clean or vacuum out any air vents around the house to make sure air is freely flowing through them and preventing strain on your air conditioner.
Another easy way you can save some energy is to unplug things that you are not using. Go around your house and see how many things you have plugged in that do not get used everyday like cell-phone chargers, dvd players, video game systems, and kitchen appliances just to name a few. These draw small amounts of power even if the device itself is off. By unplugging these you are ensuring yourself that they are not drawing any power.
You can also take advantage of your basement and spend more time down there while you are indoors for the summer. The basement may be cooler than the upstairs as warm air rises and the basement may contain fewer windows for warm air to come in.
Follow some of these tips and you will not only be more comfortable this summer, but your utility bills will also be a lot lighter as well.
PIONEER NOW OFFERSPRE & POST BANKRUPTCY COUNSELING
My Financial Journal
Since we last spoke my family has welcomed its newest addition to the household. My wife gave birth to our son on the morning of May 4th and with her unbelievable willpower and practice did it without any drugs. So financially speaking we saved some money on our hospital bills. Not that saving money was our intention in having natural childbirth it's just a little perk.
So now that the baby has arrived and all are healthy we come to the downside of childbirth, and that's having to juggle statements. Statements from the doctor, the hospital, and from the insurance company will start to show up daily. It's like a puzzle you have to put together. Things rarely seem to ever match up and there is a lot of back and forth on the phone. I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who takes "pleasure" in dealing with this.
One of the first things I will make sure that I do is to request an itemized bill from the hospital. This way I can at least see what we are getting charged and it's the only way to find any mistakes they may have made (and it happens more than you think). It also personally makes me feel better to see the charges as opposed to just getting one sheet that has a large number on it along with the request to pay it within 30 days.
There are not many of us who can pay a large medical bill within 30 days, even with good insurance. There is a company that works with the hospital and patients to help them come up with a payment plan to pay off their medical debt. This will take some of the stress from having to pay those bills.
My wife and I made another big-money decision recently. Just a few weeks before we were expecting our second child our dishwasher quit working. After finding out that it would cost just as much to repair it as a new one would cost we decided to start looking for a new one. After a couple of weeks and many hours spent washing dishes by hand (which I used to do all the time without complaint), we decided to go to a local store that was having a big sale.
Along with our dishwasher, our other kitchen appliances were out of date. We had been contemplating whether or not we should just go with all new appliances. Chances were we were going to have to replace them sooner than later and thought it would be easier to match them now instead of replacing them one at a time. So at the store, we told the nice salesman we needed to replace our dishwasher. He showed some nice ones and we knew what we wanted. We then asked him about a fridge, stove, and microwave that matched. I could literally see the sparkle in his eye and fire in his step.
After finding a set that matched and being told about the discounts that come with buying multiple appliances from the same manufacturers my wife and I took 45 minutes to crunch some numbers in our budget and decided to take the plunge. We went in with the intention of buying a $400 dishwasher and came out with $3,000 worth of wonderful kitchen appliances.
I don't suggest you do the same thing without knowing ahead of time you can afford it. Even though we were only looking for a dishwasher we had previously talked about the additional appliances and knew that we could afford it if we ultimately made that decision. Just for the record, I am extremely happy with our new appliances and a bonus is they are energy star appliances and will run a lot more efficiently than the ones we previously had.
We now had appliances that we needed to get rid of. The dishwasher was going to be taken by the appliance store but we had a stove, microwave, and refrigerator that all worked fine. I was ready to just let the company take these as well as I figured it would just be easier. We thought about keeping the fridge for extra storage but decided we didn't have the room and it wasn't the most energy-efficient refrigerator so decided to try and get rid of it.
My wife suggested we put them in the paper to see if we could sell them. I was hesitant as it sounded like more work with no guarantee for results. Guess who was right? Here's a hint; it wasn't me. We put a small ad in the paper for $12 and sold both the fridge and stove the first day. The microwave we donated to my in-laws whose current broken microwave is being used as a nice bread cabinet.
So the summer hasn't even started yet and I have a new baby boy and a kitchen full of new appliances. I would love to be able to lock up the check-card for a while but I have a feeling I have just started juggling budget categories with 3 weddings and a high school reunion on the horizon. I'm sure the next time that we talk I will have more interesting antidotes but until then I'm sure there is a baby that needs to be burped and a load of dishes that need to be put away. Until then, good luck and have fun.
Frugal 4th of July
Independence day, our nations proudest day, a day to gather with friends and family and enjoy each other's company amongst the smell of grilled hot dogs and the illumination of fireworks in the night sky. To keep your 4th of July festivities from breaking your budget follow some of these tips on hosting a party and grilling.
The smaller amount of people you invite to your event the less you will have to spend. So try and keep the invite list small. One way to do this is to only invite a particular group of acquaintances. You may only invite close friends and family, or you may decide to just invite the crew from work. It may be hard being selective but it will make for a better budget for you and perhaps a better atmosphere for attendees.
Don't try and test out your culinary expertise with fancy recipes. For a 4th of July grill out stick with the easy stuff; hamburgers and hotdogs. This is more affordable and just makes it easier for the cook. If people ask if they can bring something, by all means, let them. If everyone brought a salad, chips, or dessert you will have most of the food taken care of.
When buying the meat for the grill, buy in bulk. You will save money on the unit price. When it comes to hamburgers you can even buy the kind that has a little more fat in it. The higher the fat content the cheaper and since you will be grilling a lot of the fat and grease will run off the meat onto the grill.
Another place where you can save money is on beverages. If you want to provide beverages you can once again save money by purchasing in bulk at a warehouse store. You should be able to find better deals on sodas, juices, wine, and spirits than you would at a regular grocery store.
You can also tell the invitees that the party is a BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage) event and then you will not have to worry about what kinds of beverages to buy. You can always make a special signature drink or punch to provide to your guests along with the beverages they bring themselves.
If you need decorations the best place to look would be at your local dollar store. They usually carry holiday-specific decorations as well as balloons and streamers year-round that will work well for any gathering. Party supply stores may also have better deals on decorations. Many grocery stores carry decorations but they may be more expensive since it's not an item they carry year-round.
If there are some items that you need for the party don't hesitate to ask a friend or family member if you can borrow something. It makes more sense to borrow a friend's punch bowl than it does to go out and buy one if you are not going to use it very often. Friends and family are usually more than happy to help you out to make the hosting duties easier on you.
Even though it is the 4th of July you may want to avoid heading to the local fireworks tent. You can quickly spend too much money on fireworks that only offer a few seconds of enjoyment at a time. It's almost like literally blowing up your money. Stick to sparklers, which are affordable and safer for more kids. You can save a ton of money on throwing a great frugal party but waste it all if you have to make an unscheduled trip to the emergency room because of a firework incident.
If you want to enjoy a fireworks display chances are there is one near you that won't cost you any money to enjoy. You may have to make a choice on whether to host a get together or attend a fireworks display. You may be lucky enough to be able to do both, because you either live close enough to watch fireworks from your own house or you can schedule a party and then arrange for transportation to a good spot to watch a display.
The 4th is a great chance to get together with friends and by making smart choices it can also be very affordable.