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Are you overwhelmed with debt?  Are your unpaid bills piling up?  Are creditors or bill collectors hounding you for payment?  Are collection agencies calling?  Have you been sued, or has a creditor gotten a judgment against you?  Are your wages or bank accounts being garnished?  If so, declaring bankruptcy may be an option for you to consider.

Consumers have two options under the law for declaring bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.  Chapter 7 is a total liquidation of debt that wipes the debtor’s financial slate clean and allows the debtor to get a fresh start.  Chapter 13 sets up a repayment plan that allows the debtor to pay down debts over the course of 3 – 5 years.  Declaring bankruptcy under either chapter will stop collection efforts and garnishment.  If funds were garnished within 90 days of the date of the filing of the bankruptcy petition and all of the garnished funds are exempt, then the debtor might be able to get the garnished funds back.  The remainder of this article applies primarily to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

To initiate a bankruptcy, you file a bankruptcy petition and  accompanying schedules in the appropriate federal court.  The petition and accompanying schedules list all of your creditors, all of your debt, as well as information about your property, assets, and income.  A debt that is not listed on your bankruptcy petition is not discharged in bankruptcy.  In other words, you will remain personally liable for a debt not listed on your petition.  However, if you missed a creditor, you can add that creditor after you file your bankruptcy petition.

After you declare bankruptcy, your property becomes part of what is called your bankruptcy estate.  The bankruptcy estate is administered by the bankruptcy trustee, an attorney appointed by the bankruptcy court to supervise your bankruptcy estate.  The trustee will sell the property in your bankruptcy estate and distribute the proceeds to your creditors.

However, not all property automatically becomes part of your bankruptcy estate.  The law provides that certain property is exempt.  If you want to keep a certain item of property and that item of property is not exempt, you can either reaffirm the debt or buy the property back from the bankruptcy estate.  Most commonly, perhaps, a debtor owns a vehicle and wants to retain that vehicle rather than have it become part of the bankruptcy estate.  In that case, the debtor would reaffirm the debt by promising to continue making payments.  Alternatively, you can buy the property back from the trustee.  If, for example, you own a parcel of land in addition to your homestead, that parcel would become part of your bankruptcy estate.  However, you can buy the parcel back from the trustee and remove the parcel from your bankruptcy estate.

Not all debts are dischargeable in bankruptcy.  For example, back taxes, child support and alimony, fines, and student loans, among other kinds of debt, are generally not dischargeable.   However, after you receive a bankruptcy discharge, your personal liability for all dischargeable debts listed on your bankruptcy petition will be eliminated.

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents consumer debtors in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation today and find out whether declaring bankruptcy is the right option for you!

DISCLAIMER: Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. is a debt-relief agency, and Timothy H. Baland, Esq. is a debt-relief agent.  We help people like you to obtain bankruptcy relief.

WARNING: The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.

 
 
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INTRODUCTION

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) administers two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).  Although a detailed discussion of the criteria you must meet to be eligible for benefits under either program is beyond the scope of this article, SSDI is generally for persons who are permanently and totally disabled according to SSA’s definition of disability and unable to work, but have accumulated sufficient work credits from working to be eligible for benefits.  SSI is generally for persons who are older than age 65, blind, or disabled.

APPEALS

If you have applied for Social Security Benefits but your application has been denied, you can appeal that the denial, but you must act quickly because you only have 60 days from the date printed on the denial letter to appeal.  There are four levels of appeal: (1.) Request for Reconsideration; (2.) Hearing; (3.) Appeals Council; and (4.) District Court.  Each of these levels of appeal will now be discussed in more detail.

1. REQUEST FOR RECONSIDERATION

If your initial application for benefits is denied, you can submit a Request for Reconsideration (“RFR”).  By submitting an RFR, you are asking SSA to have an agent other than the agent that denied you benefits in the first place review your application.  The new agent will completely review your file, as well as any additional information that you submit, such as more recent medical records.  Generally, the reconsideration occurs without a hearing, although if you are appealing a denial of benefits because SSA says that you are no longer disabled, you may have to appear before a SSA agent to explain why you are still disabled.

2. HEARING

If your RFR is denied, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).  Again, you must act quickly, because you only have a limited amount of time to request a hearing.  After you request a hearing, SSA may ask you to produce additional information in support of your application for benefits.  You may submit additional information, and you may be required to an independent medical, psychological, or vocational examination.

At the hearing, the ALJ will question you, your witnesses, and SSA’s witnesses about your disability and other qualifications for benefits.  There may adverse witnesses from or on behalf of SSA who will testify against your claim, but you or your representative will have the opportunity to question those adverse witnesses.  After the hearing is concluded, the ALJ will issue a determination of your eligibility for benefits.  The ALJ will take into account all of the evidence submitted in support of your application, including your testimony, the testimony of any witnesses on your behalf, the testimony of any adverse witnesses, all of the evidence already in the file, and any additional evidence that you have submitted in support of your application for benefits.

3. APPEALS COUNCIL

If the ALJ denies your application, you may appeal the denial to the Appeals Council.  Your case will be reviewed by an Appeals Analyst, who will review all of the information in your file and then make a recommendation to an Appeals Judge or Appeals Officer.  The Appeals Judge or Appeals Officer will consider all of the information in your file, the ALJ’s decision, the reasons for the ALJ’s decision, the reasons for the original denial of your application for benefits, and the recommendation of the Appeals Analyst.  After considering all of these factors, the Appeals Judge or Appeals Officer will issue a decision either granting or denying your application and explaining the reasons why your application was granted or denied.

4. FEDERAL COURT

The last stage in the appeals process is filing a lawsuit in federal district court.  Again, you must file your lawsuit within the period of time listed on your denial letter from the Appeals Council.  Very few applicants get to this point, so I won’t discuss it in detail.  However, suffice it to say that filing a lawsuit in federal district is an extremely complex and difficult process, and you are well advised to seek out the services of an attorney to represent you.

ATTORNEYS

Applicants for social security benefits frequently ask if they should have an attorney represent them in the application and appeals process.  From my perspective, the short answer is yes, for two reasons.  First, you typically hire the attorney on a contingent-fee basis of 25% of past-due benefits, or $6,000.00, whichever is less.  That means that you don’t pay any money out-of-pocket, except for expenses, and that the attorney does not get paid unless you prevail.  Second, the law related to social security benefits is mind-numbingly complex, and you need an attorney to navigate the maze of laws, regulations, and cases that govern social security, apply the law to the facts of your case, put the facts most favorable to you forward, and zealously represent you in your application and at all stages of appeal.

So, you really have nothing to lose by hiring an attorney to represent you.  Some people apparently believe that you should apply for social security benefits by yourself the first time, when you do the initial application, but then hire an attorney if your application is denied.  I have to disagree with this notion, because you’re better off with an attorney representing you from the beginning.  The ultimate attorney fee might be less, but I’d rather see you qualify for benefits sooner  After all, the focus is on you, not the attorney.

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents applicants for social security benefits at all stages of the application and appeals process.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an initial consultation to discuss your case and options.

 
 
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I generally recommend that a landlord bring an eviction action as soon as a tenant falls behind in rent.  If the landlord lets two or more months go by without demanding that the tenant pay rent, the tenant will believe they can stay in the property without having to pay rent, lease or no lease.  Bringing an eviction action shows the tenant that the landlord is serious about payment of rent, and that the tenant has to pay rent in order to stay in the property.

After the landlord has successfully evicted the tenant, I recommend that the landlord sue the tenant in conciliation court for the unpaid rent and any other amounts due and owing under the lease in order to get a judgment against the tenant, and transfer that judgment from conciliation court to district court..  Although the landlord cannot expect to get any money that day, that week, that month, or even that year, the tenant will eventually want to buy a house, but will be unable to qualify for a mortgage with the landlord's judgment on their record

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents both landlords and tenants in eviction actions, and in other litigation related to the landlord-tenant legal relationship.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation today!

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.