Q. I hear you can no longer file for bankruptcy. Is that true?
A. You can still file for bankruptcy! The laws have changed, and there are more hoops to go through, but most people who could file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy under the old laws can also do it under the new laws. For others, Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be an excellent alternative.
Q. I just can’t take the phone calls any longer! What can a bankruptcy do for me?
A. We’ll stop those calls! Filing for bankruptcy stops collection activities by creditors, even tax creditors! Let us take the calls for you. That’s our job at Steidl and Steinberg.
Q. I think that I might be interested in filing for bankruptcy, how do I get started?
A. Contact Steidl and Steinberg by phone, e-mail, social media or request information through our website. Once you contact us, you will speak to one of our attorneys over the phone about your situation. At that point, you can schedule a free consultation to come in and meet with us.
Q. The interest rates and monthly minimums on my credit cards have skyrocketed. I used to be able to keep up, but can’t now. Can bankruptcy help?
A. If you have some money left over at the end of the month to put toward your credit card debt, but the payments are getting out of control, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy debt reorganization could be a good option for you. It will allow you to pay back what you can afford at no interest.
Q. I am having a hard time paying my bills, but I have a good credit score that I am afraid of damaging. Is bankruptcy an option for me?
A. It is a misconception that bankruptcy is the only thing that can damage your credit. Things like missing payments, maxing out your credit cards, and settling your credit card debt also damage your credit score. While having a good credit score is definitely something to work toward, if you are losing sleep wondering how you are going to pay your bills or buy groceries next week, maybe it shouldn’t be your priority.
Q. Do I have to be behind on my bills in order to file for bankruptcy?
A. No, in fact, many of our clients at Steidl and Steinberg are current with their bills when they contact us, but they are beginning to feel overwhelmed and know that they will start falling behind on payments in the near future. Often times, it is better to deal with the problem before it gets out of hand.
Q. What type of debts can bankruptcy help me with?
A. Depending on the type of bankruptcy you file, the bankruptcy laws are set up to help with a wide variety of debts, including: credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, lines of credit, utility bills, mortgages, car loans, income taxes, real estate taxes and student loans.
Q. Can I still keep my house and car if I file for bankruptcy?
A. In almost all cases, yes. The answer depends on how much the house and car are worth and how much you owe on them. One of the attorneys at Steidl and Steinberg would be happy to answer this question for you based on your particular situation.
Q. I owe the IRS money. What can a bankruptcy do for me?
A. In some cases, particularly with older income tax debt, the tax debt may be dischargeable in a bankruptcy. In other cases, the bankruptcy laws may be able to help you get a lower payment than if you negotiated a payment directly with the IRS. We’ll be able to discuss this with you in more detail during our free, in-person consultation.
Q. What is the difference between bankruptcy and debt settlement?
A. Debt settlement and debt management are different from bankruptcy in several ways. Debt settlement and debt management companies base your payment on the amount of money you owe. For example, if you owe $60,000.00 in credit card debt, your payment to debt settlement and debt management companies might be $1,000.00 or more. Under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your payments would be zero. Under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the payments are often based on the amount of income that you have left over after reasonable monthly expenses are paid, sometimes as low at $150.00 per month.
Bankruptcy also protects against lawsuits, phone calls and any other collection activity. Neither debt settlement or debt management does.
Finally, in a bankruptcy, the amount of money you save on your reduced debt is not taxable by the IRS. That same money is taxable by the IRS in debt settlement and debt management.
Q. How does bankruptcy give me protection from my creditors?
A. The second that a bankruptcy case is filed, something called the “automatic stay” goes into effect. The automatic stay prevents all of your creditors from trying to collect money from you. The automatic stay stops phone calls, letters, lawsuits, garnishments, repossessions and foreclosures.
Q. Is it true that credit card companies can garnish my wages?
A. No, in Pennsylvania, credit card companies cannot garnish your wages. However, they have other options to try to collect money from you. If you owe money to a bank that you have a checking or savings account with and become delinquent paying the debt, the bank has the right to deduct the money for the payment right out of your checking or savings account. Also, if a credit card company sues you and you either lose or fail to respond, the credit card company could gain access to your bank account or even schedule a sheriff’s sale of your personal property, including your car.
Q. I’ve been sued. How long do I have until there is a judgment against me?
A. Credit card companies and collection agencies can sue you either in Common Pleas Court or in front of your local magistrate. If you are sued in front of the local magistrate, a hearing date will be set, at which point you will either win or lose the case. If you do not appear at the hearing, you will lose the case and a default judgment will be entered against you. If you are sued in front of Common Pleas Court, a hearing date will be set, but if you don’t read the fine print and respond to the lawsuit, you could have a judgment against you before the hearing date even occurs.
Q. I’m not even sure who I owe money to at this point. How can I get a free credit report?
A. It is very common for debts to get sold to collection agencies multiple times. It can get very confusing. If you have any doubt about who you owe money to, it is always a good idea to pull a credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each one of the three credit reporting agencies. If you have access to the Internet, you can print your free credit report right from annualcreditreport.com. If you do not have Internet access, you can request one over the phone by calling 1-877-322-8228 and it will be mailed to you.
Q. Can I use my credit cards now to buy things and then file for bankruptcy?
A. I hope you’re kidding. This is fraud, pure and simple. It is also against the law, if the moral issue isn’t enough of a deterrent. If any attorney tells you differently, go somewhere else! Recent use of credit cards can delay when you can file for bankruptcy, sometimes by many months.
Q. Can I keep some of my credit cards and personal loans out of bankruptcy if I want to keep paying them on my own and continue to use them?
A. No, all of your debts must be included in the bankruptcy.
Q. There is a possibility that I could be getting divorced; does it matter whether I get divorced before or after I file for bankruptcy?
A. The timing of a divorce can significantly impact any prospective bankruptcy case. Please contact one of Steidl & Steinberg’s attorneys in order to plan the best way to time your bankruptcy in conjunction with your divorce.
Q. Do I have to go to a court hearing?
A. Not exactly, but in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, you will go to a Court-sponsored meeting to which your creditors are invited, but rarely appear. There you will meet a Court-appointed Trustee who will review your bankruptcy schedules, ask you some questions, and make sure that you qualify for the type of bankruptcy you are pursuing. For most people, the meeting takes only five minutes or so.
Q. How much does it cost to file for bankruptcy?
A. Each type of bankruptcy and individual case requires a different amount of work, therefore, we do not have set prices. You will be quoted a price when you come in for your free consultation to meet with one of our attorneys who will fully assess your situation. Feel free to ask your attorney about paying in installments.
Q. What counties does Steidl & Steinberg serve?
A. We serve Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Our Erie, Meadville and Hermitage offices serve all of Northwest Pennsylvania. If you live in a county close to these areas, give us a call. We may still be able to help.
Q. I have my appointment to come in and meet with an attorney. Do I need to bring anything?
A. We request that you bring in an informal list of everyone you owe money to and how much you owe them, a few of your most recent paystubs and a list of your normal monthly living expenses such as utilities and insurances. Read our blog to see what else you can expect at your initial consultation.
Q. I have already met with an attorney and think I am ready to file. What is the next step?
A. Once you have the required money and documents, you will need to make an appointment to come in and meet with one of our paralegals. They will prepare your bankruptcy paperwork for you. If you were not provided with a list of documents when you met with your attorney or have lost the list, call us at 1-800-360-9392.