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If You Declare Bankruptcy, Which Debts Disappear?

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Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy laws allow Americans who are overburdened by bills to have many types of debt wiped away. One way to understand this debt relief is to talk about the kinds of debts that do not disappear.

Debts included in a bankruptcy proceeding can usually be discharged unless they fall under one of the exceptions listed in the bankruptcy code or unless the bankruptcy judge decides that you should pay the debt based on the circumstances of the case.

Most Unsecured Debts Disappear
Most types of unsecured debt can be discharged through personal bankruptcy. An unsecured debt is one that is not attached to an item of property that guarantees payment through the possibility of foreclosure or repossession. The most common types of unsecured debts that people discharge through personal bankruptcy are credit card bills, personal loans and medical bills.

Secured Debts May Be Erased
Secured debts include items you have financed, such as a car or a house, which were used as collateral to secure financing by giving the creditor the right to take the item back if you stop paying. These debts do not automatically disappear when you file bankruptcy, but you usually have the option of getting out of the debt if the terms of the financing arrangement have become unbearable. Depending upon the type of personal bankruptcy, you can often give back the property and void the financing agreement.

Federal Income Taxes and Personal Bankruptcy
Federal income tax obligations may or may not be dischargeable under personal bankruptcy, depending upon the status of the tax delinquency and the type of personal bankruptcy case you file. A federal income tax debt starts out as an unsecured personal debt. However, the Internal Revenue Service has the option of filing a tax lien against your property to secure the debt.

If you file a bankruptcy petition while your past tax obligations are still unsecured, you may be able to discharge the debt. You cannot discharge the tax debt after the IRS has secured the debt through a tax lien. Further, the tax obligation has to be more than three years old to be eligible for discharge in bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy Stops Garnishments
Personal bankruptcy will stop any garnishments that result in money being deducted from your paychecks. The underlying debts that caused the garnishment may or may not be discharged, however. Unsecured debts will likely be discharged, while debts arising from unpaid child support or alimony won’t be discharged because they fall under an exception in bankruptcy law.

Certain Personal Judgments Can Be Discharged
Court judgments against you that do not involve intentional infliction of personal injury, intentional property damage or drunk driving will usually be wiped out by Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy. If a judgment has been entered against you for a car accident, for example, you'll likely be able to discharge the debt, provided that the judgment does not involve any of the discharge exceptions.

A Personal Bankruptcy Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding discharge of debts in personal bankruptcy is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a bankruptcy lawyer.

Article from lawyers.com

12 Myths About Bankruptcy

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Like most big, bad scary things, bankruptcy has a reputation based on a few tidbits of truth and a lot of embellishment. And like most creepy crawlies, it's not nearly as frightening once you know the truth.

With a mind toward declawing the monster, here are a dozen misconceptions about bankruptcy:

  1. Everyone will know I've filed for bankruptcy.Unless you're a prominent person or a major corporation and the filing is picked up by the media, the chances are very good that the only people who will know about a filing are your creditors. While it's true that bankruptcy is a public legal proceeding, the number of people filing is so massive that very few publications have the space, manpower or inclination to run all of them, although some local newspapers do print the names of those who have filed in that community.
  2. All debts are wiped out in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You wish. Certain types of debts cannot be discharged, or erased. They include child support and alimony, student loans, restitution for a criminal act and debts incurred as the result of fraud.
  3. I'll lose everything I have. This is the misconception that keeps people who really should file for bankruptcy from doing it, says Chris Viale, the chief operating officer of Cambridge Credit Counseling in Massachusetts. "They think the government will sell everything they have and they'll have to start over in a cardboard box," Viale says. While bankruptcy laws vary from state to state, every state has exemptions that protect certain kinds of assets, such as your house, your car (up to a certain value), money in qualified retirement plans, household goods and clothing. "For most people, they'll pass through a bankruptcy case and keep everything they have," says John Hargrave, a bankruptcy trustee in New Jersey. If you have a mortgage or a car loan, you can keep the property as long as you keep making payments (like the rest of us).
  4. I'll never get credit again. Quite the contrary. It won't be long before you're getting credit card offers again. They'll just be from subprime lenders that will charge very high interest rates. "There are innumerable companies that will provide credit to you," says California bankruptcy attorney and trustee Howard Ehrenberg. "I don't advise any of my clients to run out and run up the bills again, but if someone does need an automobile, they can go and will be able to get credit," he says. "You don't have to go underground or something to get money." 
  5. If you're married, both spouses have to file for bankruptcy. Not necessarily. "It's not uncommon for one spouse to have a significant amount of debt in their name only," Hargrave says. However, if spouses have debts they want to discharge that they're both liable for, they should file together. Otherwise, the creditor will simply demand payment for the entire amount from the spouse who didn't file.
  6. It's really hard to file for bankruptcy. It's really not. Technically, you don't even need an attorney -- you can do the paperwork without one. However, going through the procedure alone is not recommended.
  7. Only deadbeats file for bankruptcy. Most people file for bankruptcy after a life-changing experience, such as a divorce, the loss of a job or a serious illness. They've struggled to pay their bills for months and just keep falling further behind.
  8. I don't want to include certain creditors in my filing because it's important to me to pay them back someday, and if the debt is discharged, I can't ever repay them. Bless you for even thinking about such a thing. You're no longer obligated to repay them, but you always have the opportunity. If your conscience won't let you sleep because you didn't pay your debts, there's nothing in the bankruptcy code that prevents you from doing that once you're back on your feet. But it is nearly impossible to leave any account with a balance out of your list of creditors. In general, all creditors receive notification of your bankruptcy filing, whether they are listed in the petition or not.
  9. Filing for bankruptcy will improve my credit rating because all those debts will be gone. Filing for bankruptcy is the worst "negative" you can have on your credit report. Unlike other negatives, which stay on your report for seven years, bankruptcy can be there for 10 years, but you do get to rebuild your credit eventually.
  10. You can't get rid of back taxes through bankruptcy. Generally speaking, this is true. However, there is such a thing as tax bankruptcy, says tax educator Eva Rosenberg, known on the Web as TaxMama.
  11. You can only file for bankruptcy once. The truth is, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy only once every eight years, says Justin Harelik, Bankrate's bankruptcy adviser. For Chapter 13 reorganization, you can file more often than that. Of course, that doesn't make it a good idea. "Multiple bankruptcies are really bad," Rosenberg says. "Many people get into the habit of once they've done it, it becomes a way of life. This is not good for your karma." Or your credit rating.
  12. I can max out all my credit cards, file for bankruptcy and never pay for the things I bought. That's called fraud, and bankruptcy judges can get really cranky about it.

Article from money.msn.com

9 Myths About Fixing Your Credit

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Building better credit takes patience, discipline and a clear understanding of the strategies that really make a difference. Start by knowing the financial moves that don't work.

Like child rearing and curing ailments, credit building is chock-full of old wives' tales. Smart financial moves such as closing accounts or paying off loans early may not be the credit boosters you think they are.

Sadly, there are no real quick fixes despite what some commercials or online credit-repair ads might proclaim. The key to increasing your credit score is good payment behavior along with time and a healthy mix of credit types.

To help you sort the facts from the fiction, Bankrate tackles some long-held but bogus beliefs that won't help you build better credit.

1. Opting out of credit card offers will help
Many consumers assume if they opt out of credit card offers, there will be fewer credit inquiries on their credit reports, says John Ulzheimer, the president of consumer education at Smart Credit. However, those inquiries are considered "soft" inquiries and don't affect your credit score, Ulzheimer says. You can keep the offers coming if you'd like, but doing so won't help you build better credit.

If you want to opt out of offers to reduce your junk mail, call toll-free (888) 5-OPT-OUT/(888) 567-8688, or visit OptOutPrescreen.com to remove your name from the credit-reporting agency lists for unsolicited credit and insurance offers. That will remove your name for five years.

To keep your name off the list, mail in the permanent opt-out election form available on the website. Consumers can also opt in on the website if they've already opted out.

2. You can bump hard inquiries off your credit report
A "hard" inquiry is generated when creditors pull your report or score after you apply for a loan or line of credit. Your score falls because it shows you're interested in taking on more credit and, therefore, more risk. Other inquiries are considered "soft," such as those triggered by you, your employer or companies sending credit card offers in the mail.

Some consumers believe if they pull their credit report every day to load up on "soft" inquiries, they will bump off the hard ones that weigh on their credit score.

"It's speculative. There's no indication there's a finite amount of space for inquiries," says Ulzheimer. And it's only a small part of the score. "There's better bang for your buck if you do more legitimate things."

3. Closing old accounts will boost your score
This is a hard-to-kill-off myth. Closing accounts typically won't help your score and could possibly dent it, says Trey Loughran, the president of personal information solutions at Equifax. The results can shorten your credit history eventually and leave you with a smaller amount of available credit, both of which can harm your efforts to build better credit.

The length of credit history shows how seasoned a borrower you are, so the more positive experience you have, the better. Having more available credit helps to keep your utilization rate low. The utilization rate is how much available credit a borrower uses; the lower the percentage, the better.

"Say you have $100 in debt with $1,000 in allowable credit across multiple accounts and you close a credit card with a limit of $500. Then you doubled your utilization rate from 10% to 20%," Loughran says.

4. Opening many accounts will improve my credit score
Some consumers with credit problems believe opening many accounts will be proof that they can handle credit. Actually, it has the opposite effect.

"That makes lenders scratch their heads and wonder why you need all that credit," says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian. "It's a sign of risk." Your credit score can suffer as a result.

What lenders will see is a boatload of new, hard inquiries on your credit report. Those inquiries will deduct from your credit score, while lenders will worry that you're in dire financial straits and desperately need access to credit to make ends meet.

5. Paying off delinquencies will restore your credit score
Nope. It will help, but don't expect a supersized boost, says Ulzheimer. That's because the delinquency will stay on your report, even if it has a zero balance.

Most derogatory information such as late payments, collection accounts, charged-off accounts, tax liens and judgments live on your credit report for seven years before dropping off. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can linger on your report from seven to 10 years, while Chapter 7 bankruptcies remain on your credit report for 10 years.

"Don't expect your score to recover to what it was before the incident, because it ain't going to happen," Ulzheimer says. "The more important part is the incident."

6. Paying off loans early is better than making payments
"It's a Catch-22," says Sarah Davies, the senior vice president of analytics, product management and research for VantageScore Solutions, because while it may be good for your personal finances to pay off a loan, it doesn't do much for your credit score.

Indeed, a closed, paid-off account adds to your score, but an open credit account in good standing boosts it more.

That's because an open account shows you're consistently handling credit wisely. A closed account only shows good payment behavior in the past and becomes less and less predictive of future habits.

7. Paying before the due date helps your credit score
Your credit score takes into account how much available credit you're using. Paying a credit card balance in full 10 days or one day ahead of the due date won't help your utilization ratio and thereby improve your score. That strategy doesn't work because the balance of the account has already been reported to the credit agency, says Ulzheimer.

However, if you pay the balance in full before the statement closing date, which appears on your statement, your report will post a zero balance for that account. That will help your utilization rate, or how much credit you are using, along with your credit score, says Ulzheimer.

To get started, you will have to pay one credit card bill earlier than usual and then consider your statement date as your due date, says Ulzheimer. Also, you will need to check your balance online or over the phone to make sure you pay the correct amount.

8. All delinquencies are created equal
If you're in the unenviable position of having to miss a payment, choose carefully. Missing a mortgage or auto loan payment will ding your credit more than skipping a credit card payment will. "Those are more substantive debts, so they carry more weight in the credit score," Davies says.

Of course, missing a payment is a last resort. Pay the minimum payment to keep accounts current. To head off a catastrophe, contact a nonprofit credit-counseling service that can help you work with your lenders to come up with a more affordable, temporary payment plan or another solution.

9. I can't have any negatives on my report

"I'm here to tell you that you can have anything from a 30-day missed payment to a bankruptcy on your report and still have a really good score," says Barry Paperno, the consumer operations manager at MyFICO.com.

The most recent information on credit reports is weighted more heavily than older data, Paperno says. So if you have a bankruptcy from five years ago but have had good credit performance since, it's possible to have a 700 FICO score.

To build better credit, Paperno preaches consistent good payment behavior instead of a quick fix. The advice is simple: Pay the minimum payment every month at least, if not the full balance. Diversify your account types, and keep balances low. The result will be a higher credit score.

Article from money.msn.com

Decision: Bankruptcy vs. Debt Payment Plan

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If your debts have started spiraling out of control, you may have thought about whether to file for bankruptcy.

Massive debt can be crippling, but filing for bankruptcy can also be life altering. Here's a quick guide to help you decide.

 

Pros to declaring bankruptcy

While declaring bankruptcy may seem like a harsh measure, it's important to remember that these laws are actually designed to protect you. As such, filing for bankruptcy can provide some relief for those mired in debt.

"Bankruptcy immediately stops wage garnishment, telephone calls, collection efforts," explains David Leibowitz, co-chair of the American Bankruptcy Institute Consumer Bankruptcy Committee.

It's important to note that there are several different types of bankruptcy, each with its own set of rules. With Chapter 7 bankruptcy, for example, individuals can keep all of their personal property, depending on their state laws. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows individuals to catch up with their arrearages on secured debt over a period of up to five years.

 

Cons to declaring bankruptcy

Perhaps the most glaring downside to declaring bankruptcy is the damage it will do your credit record. "Bankruptcy remains on a person's credit report for 10 years," Leibowitz explains. In addition to a tarnished credit score, some employers and insurance companies may view bankruptcy as a negative on your applications.

It's also important to remember than bankruptcy does not clear all your debts. Back taxes, student loans, alimony, child support and various other debts will remain outstanding after you have filed.

 

Pros to foregoing bankruptcy

Sidestepping bankruptcy allows you to retain greater control over your finances and evade a nasty blemish on your credit record. By tackling your debt on your own terms, you can devise the best solution for your particular situation. If it looks like you might be able to recover from your financial woes within a few years, it may well be worth your while avoiding the damage caused by filing for bankruptcy.

 

Cons to foregoing bankruptcy

In certain cases, your income may also be garnished, and some of your property could be sold to supplement your creditors. While avoiding a black mark on your credit rating might seem like the most favorable option, in some cases, fighting your way out of debt may ultimately become a losing battle.

 

"Digging out may be simply too hard for many people, especially for those who got into trouble through no fault of their own by: reason of death in the family, disease, divorce, unemployment, casualty, or natural disaster," says Leibowitz.

Article from Foxbusiness.com

7 Credit Tips for After Bankruptcy

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Declaring bankruptcy is a decision that affects not only your finances but also your credit score. While your score may decrease after financial hardship, there are practical and real ways to improve it and get back on a better financial path.

Before you start taking steps to fix your credit score, it is important to know what the score is and why it's so important to your financial future.

When you apply for any type of credit -- credit cards, car loans, mortgage or rental agreements, student loans -- the financial agency first looks at your credit history to determine if it should lend to you. Many lenders use FICO scores as part of those decisions. If your FICO scores are in the mid-700s or above, that generally means you have good credit and it shouldn't be difficult for you to get approved, provided you meet lender's other requirements.

How do I improve my credit score?
It is important that you understand what happens when you file a bankruptcy. A bankruptcy can remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, and there is a good chance your FICO score will be low until you have started rebuilding your credit. You can take the following seven steps to start raising your scores.

1. Review your credit report
The first step is knowing where you are and where you need to go. The first thing you should do is obtain a copy of your credit reports and make sure there are no errors or inconsistencies. You can try Credit.com's Free Credit Report Card for an overview of your credit standing and an explanation of how it's broken down, and you can request one free copy of your credit report per year from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. Pay bills on time
Your payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. One of the easiest ways to improve your score is to make sure you pay bills on time.

Tip: Set up reminders on your calendar to pay bills every month by the due date. Many banks and creditors offer services that allow you to set up your payments electronically so you don't forget. 

3. Apply for credit . . . cautiously
If you didn't keep a major credit card account open during your bankruptcy, it's a good idea to get one after your bankruptcy has been discharged. You may have to start with a secured card, which requires that you place a security deposit with the issuer. Once you get the card, it's perfectly fine to pay the bill off in full each month. You don't have to carry balances on your credit cards to build good credit.

4. Add a loan down the road
Once you have gone a year or two post-bankruptcy, consider getting a car loan or line of credit. If it's a car loan, buy a vehicle that is affordable and that you can pay off successfully. You may receive a higher interest rate to start. Shop around for the best rate, and keep in mind that once you have raised your credit scores, your next interest rate on a loan will likely be lower.

5. Beware of credit repair services
You may receive offers from credit repair services promising to help repair your credit. Make sure you thoroughly investigate these services before you use them. Their fees can be high. There are many ways you personally can rebuild your own financial future at no cost. In this case, DIY is often best.

6. Know your limits
Again, once you begin re-establishing credit, it is crucial to know the limits on your credit cards and to keep your balances well below them. You may have a very low limit due to your credit history. That's OK. Use your cards sparingly and continue paying the bill on time.

7. Do not close accounts
You may think you're doing the right thing by closing lines of credit and swearing off all credit cards. This action does far more damage to your credit than you might think. Closing accounts reduces the amount of credit you have available to you. This leads to lower credit scores. It's best to keep the credit lines open. If you're tempted to spend, cut up the cards.

The most important lesson to learn is to be patient. The road to bankruptcy did not happen overnight. And neither will the road to improving your credit. By following the guidelines above, you can move toward a better financial future and improved credit score.

Article from money.msn.com

Too Broke For Bankruptcy?

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A common response bankruptcy attorneys are hearing these days is that “I don’t have the money to go bankrupt.” The economic recession that commenced in 2008 has seemingly taken its hold on even those still working and trying to get by. What just a few years ago was difficult to fund is now impossible. Such has been the focus of numerous articles, including this recent one reprinted on MSNBC. MSNBC- The Working Poor 

This creates enormous challenges for Law Firms such as ours, whose goal remains the elimination of these debt burdens through the Federal Bankruptcy Law. The long stated purpose for the bankruptcy law is to provide debtors with debt relief and the opportunity for a “fresh start.” Given the current economic state, the need for bankruptcy relief is now greater than ever. The elimination of that debt burden is often the only way one keeps their home or even pays the necessary bills. This protection was and remains the fundamental goal of the Bankruptcy Code. The first statutory bankruptcy act in the United States was signed by President Ulysses Grant in 1869 and the English common law provided for other forms of debt relief going back hundreds of years before that. Regrettably, however, with the changes to the bankruptcy laws of 2005, this protection is now more complicated and expensive, sometimes making it seemingly out of reach for many individuals. 

Abelson & Truesdale remains committed to our purpose of providing these vital legal services to as many individuals as possible. We have reduced our fees to accommodate those with severe financial difficulties and have created new and extended payment plans to permit individuals to obtain the benefit of our unique specialized services in Bankruptcy Law. We will work with all clients, if at all possible, to develop an individualized payment plan to ensure that the bankruptcy relief remains available to those who need it the most. 

How to Survive Bankruptcy

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Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 is a hard blow for most people, but it can be the first step toward a more financially stable future.

To some, having to declare bankruptcy seems to constitute the ultimate failure. For others, it is a brand-new start and an opportunity to manage their financial life responsibly in the future. Bankruptcy is not something to be entered into lightly, and it has major impacts on your credit score and on your ability to obtain credit in the future. It is never the end of the world, however. You can survive bankruptcy and come out on the other side more financially solid.

Avoiding bankruptcy
Of course, it's best to avoid bankruptcy in the first place, if possible. If you have a financial adviser or lawyer who is recommending that you file, get a second and third opinion. In many cases, there are ways to avoid bankruptcy and work out your current debts. Some advisers are more willing than others to help you explore those options. In some situations, however, declaring bankruptcy is the only path forward, and for these people, it is the first step to a new financial life.

Types of bankruptcy protection
There are two major types of personal bankruptcy filings in the United States: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 is used most often by people who have few assets and no ability to work out a repayment plan on their existing debt. Most assets are turned over and sold to repay debts, the debts are then wiped out, and the debtor emerges from the process quickly. Chapter 13 allows the debtor to keep most of his or her assets and forces lenders to work with the courts to come up with a modified repayment plan. This type of bankruptcy filing is used when the debtor owns significant assets, such as a car and a house. These filers have ongoing sources of income and need most of their existing assets to continue to earn the income. A Chapter 13 process can last for years until the debts are paid off. While both types of bankruptcies last for 10 years on your credit report, a Chapter 7 filing can have a more detrimental effect on your credit score.

Rebuilding credit
After emerging from a Chapter 7 filing or during a Chapter 13, the first goal is to begin to rebuild and repair your credit. Despite all of the fantastical claims by credit repair companies, there is no quick and easy way to boost your score. The credit hit your score has taken will make you ineligible for most forms of new debt. You may be able to obtain a secured credit card. This type of card requires you to put up a cash deposit and you have access to use up to the amount of the deposit. While this doesn't actually provide you with new credit, the benefit is that the company will report the activity on the card to the credit bureaus and you can begin to build a new credit history. It may take several years, however, before your score is high enough to apply for a car loan or mortgage. Actively monitoring your score and diligently managing your post-bankruptcy credit will slowly allow your score to rise.

Managing your credit post-bankruptcy
While filing for bankruptcy offers you a new start in your financial life, avoiding ending up in the same position in the future can take some work. Managing every dollar that comes in and goes out the door is important to ensure that you don't drive up your debts going forward. Many people who declare bankruptcy had to do so because of factors beyond their control -- an irresponsible spouse, unexpected medical bills, etc. -- but for many others, debts simply crept higher and higher without notice. A simple budgeting program, such as Quicken, can help you know how much money you spend and earn every month, as well as your total assets and debts.

The bottom line
Filing for personal bankruptcy is the last resort for those who cannot carry their current debt load, but it often comes with further financial damage and emotional strain. Understanding the reasons for your crushing financial picture and slowly rebuilding your credit history are critical steps in surviving the process.

Article from money.msn.com

Foreclosure Scams - Don't Be a Victim

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If someone who is not your mortgage lender promises to save your home and asks for you to pay money up front, WATCH OUT. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants target homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments. Here's what you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

  1. DON'T transfer title or sell your house to the foreclosure rescuer. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often promise that if the homeowners transfer title, they may stay in the home as renters and buy it back later. The foreclosure consultants claim that transfer is necessary so that someone with a better credit rating can obtain a new loan to prevent foreclosure. BEWARE! This is a common scheme "rescuers" use to evict homeowners and steal all or most of their home's equity.
  2. DON'T pay money to people who promise to work with your lender to modify your loan. It is unlawful for foreclosure consultants to collect money before (1) they give you a written contract describing the services they promise to provide and (2) they actually perform all the services described in the contract, such as negotiating new monthly payments or a new mortgage loan.
  3. DON'T pay your mortgage payments to someone other than your lender, even if he/she promises to pass the payment on to the lender. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often keep the money for themselves.
  4. DON'T sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a new loan to pay off the mortgage they are behind on. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership to the "rescuer."
  5. DON'T ignore letters from your lender. Consider contacting your lender yourself, as many lenders are willing to work with homeowners who are behind on their payments.
  6. DO contact a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who may be able to help you for free. For a referral to a housing counselor near you, contact HUD at 1-800-569-4287 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or www.hud.gov.
  7. DO consider contacting the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HOPE), which assists consumers facing foreclosure, at 1-800-995-HOPE or www.995hope.org. HOPE is a non-profit organization that partners with community-based organizations, mortgage companies, and government agencies and is part of the HOPE NOW Alliance supported by the U.S. Department of Treasury and HUD.

IF YOU TRANSFERRED YOUR PROPERTY OR PAID SOMEONE TO "RESCUE" YOU FROM FORECLOSURE, YOU MAY BE A VICTIM OF A CRIME.

Please contact the Attorney General's Office Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section PO Box 45029 Newark, NJ 07101 (973) 877-1280 and ask to file a complaint.

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