J was afraid to pick up the telephone. She got calls every day from collection agencies and debt collectors yelling at her to pay her bills. They scared her and made her cry, saying they were going to get a judgment and take her car and her belongings and garnish her salary and throw her in jail. She could tell some of the calls came from foreigners overseas even though they had American names. She was sure someone with the name "David Smith" should not have an Indian accent. They told her they could call her everyday, and call her boss at work and also her friends. At 8:30 am, like clockwork, the phones started ringing. They called repeatedly at work too, and her boss was getting angry at her. She didn't know how to stop the calls, or how to stop the harassment from debt collectors.
J was also afraid to open her mail. She couldn't face the mountain of debts that came in her mailbox so she stopped opening her mail. She knew that each bill got larger and larger each month because of high interest rates and charges. She was also afraid of getting sued and hoped that if she didn't open the mail somehow the lawsuit would magically never happen. But secretly, she knew it would.
J had considered debt consolidation, like she heard on the radio, but quickly found out they wanted to be paid a lot of money first before they would even start to negotiate with the creditors, and in the meantime, the debt would keep climbing and climbing.
J had considered debt settlement, but didn't know if she could trust the collector, and she had heard that settled debt was considered income by the IRS, which would lead to a larger tax bill she couldn't pay.
J had a job and made some money, but not enough to pay her high credit card balances and still pay her rent and feed herself.
The debts had built up on her slowly. In the beginning, she could pay the bills because she was getting overtime, but that had now dried up. Also, she had gotten sick for a month and fell behind, and now found it impossible to catch up no matter how hard she tried. With the crazy interest rates, she guessed the total debt was maybe a year's gross salary.
J had never considered filing bankruptcy. She had always paid her bills and wasn't looking for an easy way out, but the credit card collectors and their lawyers were giving her no choice. They said they would consider modifying her loans, but somehow she never seemed to qualify, or the terms they offered were crazy and beyond her ability to afford. As the lawyers stalled for time, her debts kept going up and up. She was willing to be fair with her creditors, but none of her creditors were willing to be fair with her. Also, many of the debts had been sold to other companies with strange names like LVNV and to debt collection law firms, who didn't want to make a reasonable deal. Even if she could get overtime again or even a second job, she wouldn't be able to pay enough to satisfy what the creditors wanted her to pay.
Then the lawsuits started coming with letters from collection law firms like Pressler & Pressler, and Fein Such.
She was at the end of her rope and didn't know what to do. So finally, she called me and made an appointment for a free consult at my office. She explained her story through her tears. It was a story I had heard many, many times before.
I explained all of her options (which were not many by that time), and after a thorough explanation and discussion, she finally decided to file for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. Although she knew that she had tried her best not to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy, she also realized that she simply had no other choice that made sense at that time. She didn't want to screw her creditors; she just wanted the creditors to stop screwing her.
Once she made up her mind, she felt a little better. So she hired me.
Once I was retained, I told her to pick up the phone for every call and tell all the creditors to call me instead. If they refused, she should tell me so I could threaten them with a lawsuit. You see, I do to creditors what they do to you. I make THEM nervous. If they violate the law, I threaten to sue them. If they keep violating, I do sue them. Debtors have rights. I told her to open her mail and give it all to me. When I'm on a case, we don't hide from creditors - you have nothing to be ashamed of and I am there to help protect you. That's why my website is called woflprotect.
The second I filed J's case, she was protected by a federal court order - it's called an automatic stay. It's a federal judge holding up a legal "stop sign" to your creditors. Federal judges don't like it if creditors ignore their court orders, so I can assure you that the automatic stay has teeth. If a dumb or nasty creditor keeps bothering you after we file your case, we tell the court and the judge makes the creditor come in and pay money. Seriously. It's like making the creditor go to the principal's office to get spanked Federal bankruptcy courts are not a commercial business like a debt settlement company or a consolidator. They don't make false promises. They uphold the law because they ARE the law. The courts provide serious and real protection. They don't make advertising promises - they issue orders and sanctions. Also, the U.S. Trustee Program that manages cases is a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice - just like the FBI.
J had some personal things that had a little bit of value. No one was going to take them away in a bankruptcy because the law gives debtors "exemptions" - a certain amount of value in things a debtor can keep despite the bankruptcy. So J was not going to lose any of her property, only her debts.
After she filed, the calls stopped, the letters stopped. It was amazing. Peace and quiet.
She had one meeting, and it was at a trustee's office, not a court. They called her name and it was over in 20 minutes. The trustee asked questions, but I had already told her what the questions would be, and there were no surprises. She had taken the two new required courses through some companies I recommended, which made an effort to relax her and made the process easier for her. After the trustee meeting, she was surprised that it went so smoothly. She was actually smiling and relaxed
About three months later she got a letter from the court that her debts were discharged. She never had to pay the creditors a single dime more. Since I taught her to be alert for creditors who disobey the court, she now looked forward to picking up the phone, hoping a creditor would bother her so she could sue him and get money. Fear was gone and she got her fresh start.
I'm a bankruptcy lawyer. I'm licensed to file cases in New Jersey and in New York. Yes, I get paid to work for clients, but what I do is not simply a business - it's a profession, a calling, and a pleasure. I enjoy giving hell to collectors - I know the law and what my client's rights are, and I figure the collectors could use a little payback for what they do to you. Every time they call me about a "mutual client" I give them hell. Yes, that's what they call you - a mutual client. They all seem to work from the same written script. But it's a lie. Their client is the creditor, not you. So when they lie to me, I call them on it, scold them and I raise their blood pressure. It's only fair.
Congress changed the law in 2005, but don't worry, bankruptcy is not dead. I still do it and I still get debt relief for my clients. Now they call me a "federal debt relief agent" but I'm still a lawyer (although I'm tempted to buy a badge). You have to take a few courses now, but it's not hard. If you make too much money, you might have to file a different kind of bankruptcy, but usually you can still file.
By the way, I don't have a client named J - but this is the story of most of my clients - the facts are real, the tears are real, the fears are real, the "being afraid to make a move" is real. So is the look of relief on a client's face when he or she realizes that I've gotten them out of the never-ending nightmare, that the financial quicksand has dried up and they can walk tall again. Once the stress is gone, my clients actually look younger. No, I'm not promising I can make you younger, I'm just saying that once you get a judge on your side and the stress lifts, you will feel younger. They all tell me that it's like a weight lifted off their shoulders and they can breathe again. It's something you can see. That's real.
I can't match the promises made by the commercial companies. I'm not allowed to make those promises. No lawyer is. So since they have less regulation, they can make all kinds of crazy promises and so they have a better chance of getting you to sign with them than I do. It's not fair, but that's how it is. I only make one promise - you'll stop being afraid to pick up the phone. Now you know why.
So instead of being afraid to pick up the phone when it rings, why not pick up the phone right now and call me instead at (973) 735-2740? Instead of the collectors hunting you, I'll teach you how to hunt them. It's only fair.