Hi there. This is Erica Merrill. I’m the founder of perfect legal video. And I’m very excited to welcome back to the show attorney Robert Geller. He is a bankruptcy attorney, owns a firm down in Tampa, Florida, and he has got some really great information for us today on why it is a good idea to file for bankruptcy. Now we’re going to go over all of the pertinent information to what’s happening and you know, how things are running. How are you today, Robert?
Robert: I’m doing great.
Erica: So we’re going to be talking about all the reasons why it might be a good idea to file for bankruptcy and if in fact that is something that you need. But first I want to cover the current circumstances with the pandemic. There are a lot of places that have been shut down for the past couple of months. So is your office open and if so, how are you guys working?
R: We closed our physical office and my staff has been working remotely since the middle of March. I didn’t want to have my staff potentially exposed to the COVID virus. And I didn’t want to potentially expose my clients to the virus and felt the most important thing for me and for my staff was to make sure we kept everybody healthy.
We meet with about 300 people on a monthly basis. So the odds were high we’d contract the virus and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone. It was really important that we remain healthy because if we’re not healthy we can’t help people. Sosince middle of March everybody’s been working from home and very happy and healthy. We’ve been working remotely, very busy, and we’ve even expanded our staff to ensure clients get the best service possible. I miss my staff and seeing clients in our beautiful office, but the most important thing is to maintain our health and make sure that we can try and protect our clients as well.
E: Well, I think that’s a smart idea and I can absolutely vouch for the beauty of your office, the warmth of staff, and the deliciousness of your cookies. Cause I’ve been to your office a few times and you always treat your clients and your staff like family.
R: So as far as the current situation goes, the title of this is why file for bankruptcy now? It’s been quiet and maybe creditors aren’t working, so people aren’t getting calls from bill collectors. But as things start to open up and return to normal, people will likely start to get those calls. And the lawsuits will get filed and foreclosures will start up again. Maybe mortgage companies are having sympathy now or they don’t have access to the usual tools they have. In some cases there are laws against filing foreclosure and eviction notices. But that won’t last forever. And unfortunately, because so many people aren’t working, they’re going to miss mortgage payments and be at risk of foreclosure. We can help people with that. And with so many people losing their jobs and the economy being so unpredictable, we expect to be very busy in the coming months and throughout 2021.
I also want to note the bankruptcy court never closed. Everything has just been filed electronically. So we’ve still been helping people with filing. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and the bankruptcy court has never stopped taking cases. People need the protection, the relief from creditors, especially now. Bankruptcy is an essential business and bankruptcy lawyers are essential, so that hasn’t stopped.
E: Yeah, no, I absolutely think that lawyers are essential. There’s still things that happen that you need lawyers to protect you from certain situations. I think it’s great that everyone has been able to set up their remote situations fairly quickly. Nobody saw this coming. So it’s pretty impressive that you guys have been able to really turn over such a big staff into a remote workforce and work so seamlessly. And like you said, you haven’t stopped filing bankruptcies. Y work has been uninterrupted by the pandemic and I think that’s fantastic. And just so that people know, when you do use an attorney to file for bankruptcy, what happens to your creditors?
R: So once you hire us – as soon as you hire us – you can tell your creditors that you have an attorney and that we represent you about the debt. Under the fair debt collection practices act, as well as the Florida Consumer Collections Practices Act, creditors cannot call you. Once you tell them you have an attorney, they can’t call you or write to you or do anything to collect the debt from you. You give them our name and our phone number and they have to stop calling you. They might try and they might try to mislead you, which is illegal. We sue creditors who don’t like to follow the laws.
Now, they can still file lawsuits against you regarding a debt, but they can’t call you or harass you about the debt. So you get a little breathing room while we decide what to do next. And if you decide to file for bankruptcy, that stops those collection lawsuits against you too. Once you file for bankruptcy, creditors are barred from all debt collection efforts. Bankruptcy stops creditor lawsuits in their tracks.
E: So one of the biggest concerns people have when they are considering filing for bankruptcy is that they are worried that it’s going to ruin their credit forever.
R: So a couple of things are going on right now. In some cases, people are paying their bills, their mortgages are up-to-date, and things seem fine. But something has drastically occurred financially and they know things won’t be fine for much longer. The virus is a good example. Maybe they were laid off from work or had their pay reduced. Now they can’t pay their bills or afford their mortgage, so they have to do something. Their credit is great right now, but it won’t be because of what’s going on. In these cases, bankruptcy might be a good option, but it might not be.
In the other cases, people currently have a lot of debt and their credit is already poor and they aren’t paying their creditors and haven’t been able to for some time. In these cases, bankruptcy is almost always the best option because it helps them rebuild their credit quickly.
I want to tell you a little about our law firm’s 720 credit program. Once someone has filed for bankruptcy, we begin looking forward to the future. We help clients get back to a 720 credit score within 12 to 24 months. 720 is pretty much considered a good credit score. It’s good enough to get a conventional mortgage or a good car loan, so that’s the score everyone should strive for if they are below that number. This program is included in our representation when you file for bankruptcy. Other firms might charge you as much as $1000 for this help, but we offer it as part of our usual representation. It’s taught by a former banker and nationally recognized and we’ve been offering it for seven years now.
E: That’s really great information to have. What about income and what if it changes – how does it affect your ability to file for bankruptcy?
R: So right now, if you have been financially affected by the COVID virus, it may be a very good time to consider filing bankruptcy because your income determines your eligibility to be able to file a chapter seven bankruptcy.
There is a means test that you use when you file. The means test is a calculation that I run for you as your attorney to determine whether you’re eligible for chapter 7 based on your income. And it’s roughly for an individual in Florida $50,000 or less. There’s more to it than that, but the important thing to know is that it’s beneficial to earn less when you file for bankruptcy. If you wait too long and you wait until you go back to work, you’ll still have your debt burden but not be eligible to file chapter seven.
So it may be an opportunity for you to get rid of that debt rather than waiting. If your income has been affected now may be a great time to consider filing bankruptcy or at least consider it and get a free consultation so somebody can give you that information that you need so that you can make a good decision.
It’s also a good time to consider filing for bankruptcy now because you can do it right from the comfort of your own couch. We’re working remotely and clients are hiring us by phone or video and we’re walking them through the process remotely. We’re getting the things that we need for them.
And we’re preparing the documents we provide to them online, they sign the documents, we file them electronically, and the clients don’t even have to go to court anymore. They don’t have to drive downtown or find parking or deal with any of the hassle. There’s no need to get through security at the courthouse or sit in a room full of people waiting for your case to be called. You can do it from the comfort of your own home. And just like in the courtroom, we’re with you throughout the process. We make sure you’re protected from the trustee and the creditors, just as we would do in person. We’re there every step of the way.
Filing for bankruptcy is just a little bit easier right now and if it makes sense for you due to financial difficulties, now is a great time to file rather than wait.
E: I love that and you’ve really described what a pain it usually is to file, having to go to court and deal with a long process. So yeah, it is a good time to file. I hadn’t thought of that with all that’s going on and people having less income now, but also having to avoid a lot of the hassle of filling in the traditional way. So that’s really great.
R: So, you know, if you’re over the limit for filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy by just $200 or $300 you won’t qualify. The worst thing you can do after suffering for three or four months while you’re out of work or getting a pay cut is to suddenly be back to work and be making a few more dollars that disqualifies you from filing, even if you’re still behind on your bills. Finally, you’re back to work and things are looking up, but you still have your bills and you can’t get help by filing for bankruptcy. It happens all the time. I say to my clients “I wish you would have come to me a little sooner. I would have been able to file chapter 7 for you.” I’m not saying that chapter 13 is a bad thing, but it is a longer process and your debts aren’t discharged as quickly and it takes longer to rebuild your credit than it does when you file for chapter 7.
I worked with a really nice lady who was a teacher and she had a property that another lawyer was defending in foreclosure for a couple of years. She didn’t want to lose it but she finally gave up on the property and she was worried she would need to pay it back. The mortgage company was continuing the foreclosure process and by the time she came to me, she was making too much money. It wasn’t even that much more, but it was just enough that it prevented her from filing for chapter 7 and just wiping out the debt connected to the property. Had she come to me two or three years earlier, she wouldn’t have had to pay back that money and extend the foreclosure. Chapter 7 bankruptcy would’ve wiped out the debt. It had been two years dealing with it and had she started with me, she would’ve had good credit by the time we even got things started. Waiting is not always a good thing.
E: Yeah. And you know what, there’s a lot of reasons people wait and typically it’s misinformation about what bankruptcy is and what it can do for you. And so, and I know that we’re going to talk a lot and we have spoken a lot about that topic. We’ll retouch on it again in the future, one of these interviews, but there really is a stigma to it and, and it shouldn’t because it does give people a fresh start.
Now, one of the other things that I’d love you to tell us about, and you’ve given us a lot of reasons to file now, but I’d love to hear your opinion about what’s going to happen in the future with the courts. Will filings be up, will there be a huge wait to get your case heard?
R: Well, unfortunately, at least everything that I’ve read and watched on the news and I read a lot about the economy, they were predicting that bankruptcy filings were going to be increasing pretty much beginning next year, before we even had the COVID virus. Now we have unemployment. I think I heard on the news today that one in four Americans who are working Americans are now unemployed. I think there’s 40 million unemployed people. So that’s about 10% of the entire country is not working. Of course, that includes people who don’t work like kids who are retired or seniors. But it’s still a lot of people. So unfortunately, yeah, there’s going to be a huge demand for assistance.
People are going to have very difficult times and filings are going to increase very substantially. Um, that that really is a shame. I hope that for everybody’s sake that we can go back to normal and go back to restaurants and be able to go back to Disney World and be safe. But right now I I’m really concerned that a lot of businesses aren’t going to survive, especially restaurants. They run on a very tight margin and if they can’t be a capacity, that’s going to increase the unemployment rate. And so their filings will be greater.
What does that mean to somebody who’s considering filing bankruptcy? Well, it’s going to be potentially a little tougher to find attorneys to help you because they’re going to be so busy. They may not even be able to take on your cause they already have too many cases.
There may be some novices that want to try and get into the bankruptcy field, novice attorneys who don’t really know what they’re doing yet. And bankruptcy is really, really pretty complicated thing. You know, I have three lawyers that work for me and my firm one that’s been with me for 20 years. I I’d say that he’s probably one of the best bankruptcy lawyers around for consumer bankruptcies. I have two younger lawyers who’ve been with me for a little over a year now and they’re learning with our supervision, but there’s a lot to it and we have to train them. So it’s a good idea if you have concerns to get things filed sooner rather than waiting.
I would also say that it’s probably going to affect the cost of filing bankruptcy if lawyers are so busy.
It might also be a good idea to consider filing now to get a hearing which will be more difficult if the filings are up because there’s only so many bankruptcy judges and they can only hear so many things at one time and that may potentially slow things down a little bit, unless they hire more bankruptcy judges.
But I would probably say that bankruptcy filings will probably, in my opinion, double in the next year or two, maybe even more than that based on what’s going on. It’s unfortunate. You know, if my caseload went down, I would be happier, at this point, I’d rather be able to have more of a normal existence.
With seeing people have these very difficult times every day, I’m dealing with my clients that have lost their jobs and can’t make their mortgage payments. And it really does break my heart. People have families and children and I lived that way. It happened to me once. My parents lost their business and it wasn’t a fun time when I was, a kid and it was even less fun for my siblings. So, hopefully I’m wrong. Maybe we’ll get back to work and filings will go down, but I just don’t necessarily see that from everything I’ve read.
E: Well. Yeah. And nobody thinks that you or anyone who wants to see this terrible situation ruin lives. And the good thing is that you’re able to help people get through this, to get a fresh start. The economy will open up again. It might take a little while, but in the meantime, you’re able to really clear up some of the debt and people don’t think about it, but the stress, the toll that it takes on your health and your relationships with your family members and with anyone else who deals with sleepless nights. I’ve tried to function on no sleep for a long period of time. I mean, all of that is very, very bad for you and your body reacts to it. So find out if it’s the right thing for you right now, by picking up the phone on and call Robert’s office to find out if bankruptcy is the right thing for you.
And it might not be. They don’t want to tell you to file bankruptcy just for the sake of filing. Really look at the pros and cons and what your options are and take a good, hard look at whether you are really going to be able to pay off the debt that you have with the interest rates that you have. Is it really feasible because if you’re just lying to yourself because the problem’s just going to get worse over time?
So I know that they’re very realistic with you and that it’s going to be a great call to make. And Robert, you mentioned earlier in the interview that you have a book out and we’re going to do an interview on your book specifically, but I don’t know if you want to just mention really quickly.
R: Yeah, actually I have it right here. It’s called Bankruptcy: Your Bridge to a Brighter Future. It’s what you need to know to give you a financial freedom and I’d be glad to provide them with a copy of the book by PDF. All you have to do is reach out to our office and we’ll be glad to send you a PDF version or an actual hardcover version if you like it as well. It’s a great book. It covers pretty much everything you’ll want to know about filing either a chapter 7 or a chapter 13 bankruptcy.
E: Well that’s great and I’m sure that people will give you a call and get that book. It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to get an overview of what’s going on. So, I want to thank you so much for joining us today, Robert, it was a very thorough interview on what’s happening now, and I know people are very interested to hear from you – the expert – in this area. So thank you so much. We’re looking forward to interviewing you in the future and it’s just always a real pleasure to have you.
R: Thank you, Erica. I look forward to doing these interviews. It’s fun. And thanks everyone for watching. We will talk to you soon.