Sunday, May 17, 2009

Struggling With The Decision to Call a Bankruptcy Attorney

Before joining my husband’s law practice as a bankruptcy paralegal in 2006, I worked at the corporate headquarters for Jack in the Box, Inc. for 11 years in human resources and training, the last year of which was spent as a recruiter for the Quick Stuff division. Interviewing potential job candidates was a very rewarding experience as both the job candidate and I would work through the interview to determine if a job was a good fit for them and for Jack in the Box.

As the senior paralegal in a family-owned bankruptcy law firm now, I am often the client’s first contact in the information gathering process. I view the initial phone call to us as a unique opportunity to show a potential client from the beginning that we care, to talk with them about their situation and to provide general information, in easy to understand terms, of what bankruptcy is and how it works.

Picking up the phone to call a bankruptcy law firm is a big step, especially if someone has been battling stress and depression because of their financial situation, and fear of shame in needing to call. For each person that I talk with and hear this in their voice, my goal is to be a friendly voice that shares information about what bankruptcy is and is not, so that they can begin to explore if bankruptcy is the right solution for their needs.

My experience with client interviews has allowed me to develop my own mental checklist of common client experiences that indicate they have made the right decision by calling us:
  • If you are routinely taking cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum balance on another
  • If you can barely afford to pay the minimum balances on your credit cards
  • If you are considering using cash advance checks or getting a payday loan to meet basic expenses while trying to pay credit card bills
  • If you are looking at credit card offers in the mail, and hoping you can qualify for just a small amount to tide you over
  • If you are afraid to pick up the phone or go to the mailbox
  • If you lose sleep over not being able to pay your bills
  • If financial stress is affecting your health
  • If you cannot enjoy daily activities with friends or family because of worry over your finances
  • If you find yourself hiding bills from your spouse
  • If you live paycheck to paycheck with no available credit and no reserve for any emergency
  • If you park your car different places each day to avoid repossession
Bankruptcy is not a magic pill that will make all of your troubles go away. However, people who seek us out will hear a friendly voice and an open ear. If you are in Southern California and can identify with the warning signs above, let us help. Please contact us for a free consultation.

About the Author: Lisa F. Starrett has been a bankruptcy paralegal since 2006 and uses her human resources background to connect with clients of the Law Offices of Carl H. Starrett. Mrs. Starrett graduated from the University of San Diego in 1989 with a degree in Political Science and a paralegal certificate from a program approved by the American Bar Association.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

5 Signs That It May Be Time to File Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is intended to help honest debtors get a fresh start, but there is no hard and fast rule on who will benefit the most from filing for bankruptcy. These are some of the warning signs that I look for when advising a potential client that it may time to file for bankruptcy:

1. Struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. When someone is faced with mounting bills, some debtors will play a game I call the Credit Card Shuffle, randomly choosing which minimum payment to make based on how nasty the collection call will be. Some debtors will even pay credit card bills before paying their rent or mortgage rather than face those harassing collection calls. This is simply wrong. Food and shelter should take priority over credit card debt.

2. Stress. Are you losing sleeping or constantly arguing with your spouse because of your debt problems? Money problems are a leading cause of divorce. Bankruptcy is not a cure all, but it can help remove your financial problems as a source of difficulties and stress in your marriage.

3. Health. I have seen far too many clients losing sleep and suffer stress-related health problems because of their financial struggles. A willingness to work multiple jobs or crazy overtime hours may be a sign a good character, but it can lead to burnout, exhaustion and anxiety.

4. Changes in your normal behavior. Are you considering doing something illegal to fix your debt problems or something that could put your health or the health of your family at risk? Have you taken up gambling or drinking? Are you doing things that are “out of character” for you? These may be signs of desperation and it may be time to see an attorney.

5. The Balance Transfer Shuffle. Are you constantly applying for new credit cards to take advantage of low balance transfer rates? This may be a sign that you are in over your head in debt.

If you identify with one of these warning signs, schedule a consultation with a bankruptcy attorney and explore your options. Debtors in Southern California may contact us for a free consultation.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.