Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drop in Illinois Bankruptcy Filings May Not Signal Economic Recovery

Our Oak Park bankruptcy lawyers know that deciding to file for bankruptcy is a difficult decision for anyone.  It can be a complicated and seemingly overwhelming process, but your situation may not be as hopeless as it appears.  We recently explained that many debtors fail to seek professional assistance when facing bankruptcy.  Yet getting help from professionals versed in Illinois bankruptcy law can ease the minds of struggling Chicagoland residents as they face rising personal debt, high unemployment rates, and a large-scale economic decline.  

Some states, including Illinois, recently reported lower rates of bankruptcy filings, but economists warn that such numbers may not be a sign of an economic recovery.  In fact, it could be just the opposite.  

According to an article in Authority Empire, lower rates of bankruptcy probably are not a sign of a prospering economy.  Rather, it may merely mean that people do not have enough assets that need protection.  If they did, then bankruptcy might still be a viable option to safeguard those assets.  It could also indicate that many people are relying on credit to get through these tough economic times or that they simply do not have the money to pay the attorney fees and court costs associated with filing for bankruptcy. 

Earlier this month, The State Journal-Register also reported that bankruptcy filings dropped 14 percent in central Illinois.  The article cited consumer reluctance to take on debt in an uncertain economy and tighter credit standards as two reasons for the decline. 

Bankruptcies often increase when credit is harder to get and people do not have as many options.
Unfortunately, economic analysts noted that the events that most everyday, hardworking people face—divorce, medical bills, and unemployment—are still the top reasons for filing for bankruptcy, despite the overall downturn in such filings.

Although bankruptcy generally should be a last resort if possible, it can prevent home foreclosure, wage garnishment, harassment from collection agencies and creditors, and repossession.  Many of our clients are relieved once they seek out our help because negotiating with creditors can be an arduous task.  Some creditors are not as willing to work with debtors as you might think, even if it could ultimately be to the creditors’ benefit. 

The Chicago bankruptcy attorneys at the Emerson Law Firm frequently handle Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.  Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows you to consolidate student loans, protect loan co-signers, or eliminate credit card debt.  You may want to consider filing for bankruptcy if you have faced a serious financial setback, such as divorce, an injury or illness resulting in high medical bills, or job loss or a reduction in pay. 

Remember, bankruptcy may not eliminate all debts you owe.  Debts such as child support, student loans, spousal maintenance, or recent cash advances typically cannot be discharged.  However, filing for bankruptcy is intended to repair your credit, which can help you regain control of your life and your finances.  Under Illinois bankruptcy law, some of your property will also be eligible for protection.  Such property is considered “exempt” under the law.  It includes, but is not limited to, child support and maintenance, clothing, pensions, and workers’ compensation. 

For a confidential bankruptcy with a legal professional at the Emerson Law Firm, please call our office at 708-660-9190 or visit us online to fill out our contact form. 

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Illinois Lawsuits Filed Against Companies Allegedly Involved in Chicago Mortgage Foreclosure Scams

In these trying economic times, our Oak Parkforeclosure defense attorneys know that many Chicagoland consumers may have reached out to various debt and mortgage relief companies to help assist them with their financial struggles.  Illinois homeowners should be able to rest assured that the companies that purport to help struggling Americans during times of great need are treating consumers honestly.  However, that is not always the case. 

Unfortunately, the Emerson Law Firm has learned about another incident of scamming in connection to Chicago mortgageforeclosure.  Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed lawsuits on Tuesday against several Chicago-area companies allegedly involved in fraudulent mortgage rescue and debt settlement schemes that cheated consumers out of thousands of dollars.  The suit alleges that the companies illegally charged their customers when they failed to provide little, if any, help to avoid foreclosure. 

According to a press release issued by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the suits were filed in Cook County against defendants Debt Care Financial Group Inc., in Chicago, and its president Malgorzata Baran, and Starlex Financial Consulting LLC and Flagship Mortgage Corporation, in Deerfield, and employees Jeffrey M. Entratter and Neil Borland.  The state also filed suit against E.A.C. Financial LLC, based in Chicago, and its owners Everett D. Pope and Colbi Andry.

Instead of helping their customers manage their finances, the companies allegedly took large upfront fees, but did little to provide the promised services.  The companies offered a variety of financial services, such as helping consumers to obtain loan modifications on their mortgages or to reduce their growing debt by negotiating with creditors.  Attorney General Madigan stated that the companies were “nothing more than scam operations.”  In fact, the companies potentially made foreclosure more likely for many of their customers and put Chicago residents into deeper debt.

In the lawsuit against Malgorzata Baran and Debt Care Financial Group, the Attorney General Office claims that the defendants advertised debt settlement and loan modification services, promising to reduce debt by 50 to 70 percent.  The company charged customers at least $66,000 for work that was never performed and repeatedly ignored requests for refunds.  In some cases, Baran also harassed or intimidated these consumers.

The lawsuit against E.A.C. Financial LLC alleges that consumers were charged large fees up front to obtain assistance in modifying a loan or settling their debt.  Consumers were told to stop making payments to their creditors while the alleged services were being provided, which left some consumers facing higher payments in the end since the company ultimately provided little assistance.
The Attorney General’s Office is asking the courts to shut down the fraudulent businesses and to obtain restitution for consumers.  

Our Chicago mortgage foreclosure lawyers have worked with many families to help them avoid foreclosure and manage their debt.  We find the actions of these scheming companies to be reprehensible.  It is bad enough that banks and other lenders deceived consumers, the courts, and regulators with robo-signing and other fraudulent mortgage foreclosure tactics, but it is particularly concerning when those who claim to work on behalf of consumers actually act to swindle them. 

Sadly, many Chicago homeowners fail to seek help—often because they feel overwhelmed, worry that their situation is hopeless, or fear being judged—but obtaining assistance from a legal professional can help ease consumers’ worries and get them back onto the right track toward financial stability.  Please consider stopping by our office or visiting us online for a legal consultation from a qualified professional at the Emerson Law Firm. 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chicago Bankruptcy Lawyer Shares New Report Revealing Many Debtors Fail to Seek Professional Assistance

There is no easy way to admit that you are struggling to keep up with your monthly financial obligations.  Our Oak Park bankruptcy attorney has worked in the area long enough to understand the social, mental, and emotional challenges that come when one hits a rough financial patch.  Besides having the worry of not being sure how you will pay for basic needs, many local community members have the added stress of feeling ashamed about their financial position.  Yet, the fact remains that help is available for all residents to get out of these sticky financial situations. One need only know where to look.

Unfortunately, a new study reported in Loans Safe explained that a large percentage of those who could most benefit from have guidance with debt and credit issues fail to seek out the available help.  The latest research indicates that the number of people who visited a professional to receive debt assistance decreased 20% last year.  Instead, many families have taken a “head in the sand” approach which often leads to even more credit card debt, late payments, and the stress that comes worrying about how the situation will ever be resolved.  Ask any Chicago bankruptcy lawyer and they will explain how many of their clients admit to waiting longer than they probably should have before seeking out their services to learning what options are available.

Those looking into the matter explain that various factors may be at play in discouraging those who could benefit from visiting a professional from doing so.  For one thing, the emotional stress that comes with admitting that help is needed prevents many consumers from taking steps when they should.  In addition, one researcher said, “I think some are just tired of trying and have given up.”  With unemployment figures remaining high, poverty increasing, and ideas for improvement few and far between, it is easy to see how some facing complex financial challenges feel like giving up.  But it is important to remember on the flip side of the coin that the moments when things feel the most hopeless are the same moments when there is nothing to lose from trying something new.

The first step in getting things back on track is understanding what financial challenges you face and learning how the law applies in your case.  Visiting a Chicago bankruptcy lawyer to learn about your options does not obligate you to any course of action.  However, no matter what, much peace of mind comes with discovering whether bankruptcy is a logical step in your situation.  Contrary to the misperception of some, filing for bankruptcy is not a step that will permanently ruin your credit.  In fact, it is intended specifically help repair credit and allow those who need it a fresh start to get their financial affairs back in order.   In our area, Illinois bankruptcy law eliminates certain debts while allowing the resident to keep certain property such as pension and retirement plans, Social Security benefits, life insurance policies, and a variety of personal property.  Please consider giving our legal professionals at the Law Office at Sandra M. Emerson a call or visit us online today to schedule a bankruptcy consultation.     

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Illinois Foreclosure Complaint Procedure for Wronged Homeowners Soon To Be Announced

Chicagoland homeowners who believe they have been unjustly harmed during a foreclosure proceeding will soon have a new avenue for recourse, according a report in the Chicago Tribune. In the next few weeks, federal regulators will announce a new complaint procedure, which will be led by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.  Our Oak Park foreclosure defense attorneys know that many Chicago residents are struggling to make ends meet, often through no fault of their own.  Even worse, errors, misrepresentations, and other deficiencies in the foreclosure process may have contributed to the hardship that many Illinois homeowners have had to endure.  The new complaint procedure is supposed to fix the problems in the mortgage foreclosure process while also providing some relief to wronged homeowners.

The complaint procedure aims to allow everyone who has a case to be heard and to provide a remedy for those who have been financially injured.  The plan covers a wide range of fraudulent Illinois mortgage foreclosure practices, including instances of robo-signing, such as when bank and lending services employees signed off on foreclosure documents they had not read or verified as accurate. 

The new review procedure will not be open to all homeowners, however.  Only aggrieved borrowers who had a primary residence in any stage of the foreclosure process between January 2009 and December 2010 will be eligible to have their cases reviewed.  Also, only certain lenders will be covered.  Of the 14 servicing companies and banks that will be covered by the new plan, several of the largest in the field are included, such as Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase.  Smaller entities will also be included—Ally Financial, HSBC North America Holdings, PNC Financial Services, U.S. Bancorp, MetLife, and SunTrust Banks, to name a few.  Additionally, a homeowner may lodge a complaint even if his or her case is still pending or if the foreclosure action was dismissed for some reason.  The eligible claims need only be regarding foreclosures that were pending at any point during the two-year review period covered under the new procedure.

The Chicago foreclosure defense lawyers at the Emerson Law Firm recognize that the new complaint procedure is an important opportunity for Illinois homeowners.  A serious breakdown in the foreclosure process occurred, and significant injustices happened.  It is time for negligent mortgage lenders to rectify their wrongs by affording Chicago residents a chance to have their concerns addressed.  Any borrower who thinks he or she was given the runaround by a bank or service lender, was provided with incorrect or inaccurate information, or did not receive due process under the law will be eligible to have his or her complaint heard. 

The review process will operate as follows.  Independent consultants hired and paid for by the 14 banks and servicers will work together to locate affected borrowers.  The consultants will use intake forms and offer a single website and toll-free phone number for anyone who seeks to have his or her case reviewed.  Affected borrowers can go online to file a request.  They can also print out a request form to submit by mail or to seek assistance in submitting their complaints.  Each complaint will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis in order to identify financial injury or harm.  In cases where injury is found, the servicers and banks will be required to create a remediation plan and make appropriate restitution.  Essentially, they must make the wronged borrowers “whole.”  That could mean paying a monetary settlement. 

If you are a homeowner and think you may have been treated unjustly during a mortgage foreclosure procedure, please contact a qualified legal professional to learn about your rights.  Illinois foreclosure law is changing all the time, so it is essential for Chicagoland residents to be aware of all of the resources available to them. 

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Once Affluent Chicagoland Families Struggle to Pay Bills in Tough Economic Times

Economic challenges have affected virtually all parts of the country for so long now that it is essentially “old news” to talk about the struggle that so many families in our area are facing.  However, for the actual residents worrying every single day about how they will make it to the next morning, the news is not old at all.  It is fresh and very real.  Our Oak Park bankruptcy lawyers continue to work with many of these community members who have done nothing wrong but have still found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  When jobs are lost, business revenues decreases, and opportunities evaporate, so many local residents have difficulty keeping up financially as they did before the trouble hit.

A recent Chicago Tribune article explored the struggles that so many area residents continue to face.  The problem is not affecting any single spectrum of society.  Even those who were once well-off are now scrambling to make ends meet.  For example, the story highlights one family that has been hit hard by the economic turmoil.  The breadwinner of the family was earned a six figure salary as a bank manager in 2008.  However, the job and that salary were gone when the financial crisis hit, and the man has struggled to find steady work since then.  As a result his family faced a Chicago home foreclosure, has been evicted from two rental properties, and now lives in a modest ranch home with rent paid for by a relative.  The man admits that his family now relies heavily on government and charity for food, health care, and day-to-day necessities. 

Low-income families have been hit hard as of late, but more affluent Chicagoland families have also suffered.  Many once-wealthy families have had their lives turned upside down by lost jobs, pay cuts, disappearing savings, and home value decreases.  The emotional toll can be tough for those involved.  It is natural for pride to get in the way when families begin to rely on outside help—such as food pantries—to get by each day.  These pressures create everyday stress each, and family dynamics are often affected.  Many marriages have been frayed in these tough times, and children are made to handle situations with which they had never before been presented.

No matter how hard things get, local advocates remind all community members that help is available for those who need it.  For example, one local woman recalls visiting the Illinois Department of Human Services office for the first time to apply for Medicaid and food assistance.  She explained how she covered up her emotions while inside the facility but broke down into tears afterward in the parking lot.  Many local families have had to face similar tough realities in the last few years.

The Oak Park bankruptcy lawyers at our Emerson Law Firm have experience helping residents who are facing a wide variety of financial problems.  Whether bill collectors are become too aggressive, the bank is threatening to take the house, or some other financial challenges are at hand, it is important to remember that legal tools may be available to help.  Many residents in this situation often assume that disaster is inevitable, and so they wait out the clock without seeking any professional guidance.  This is a mistake.  We continue to urge all residents to contact our office and see how we can help.  There is nothing to lose from learning more, but much that can be gained.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fannie Mae’s Missed Chances To Stop Robo-Signing Hurt Chicagoland Homeowners

Our Oak Park foreclosure defense attorneys have closely monitored the robo-signing scandal from the beginning, because we understand that thousands of homeowners were made vulnerable when unscrupulous mortgage lenders engaged in fraudulent lending practices.  Robo-signing refers to a number of fraudulent lending practices, including when foreclosure documents are illegally signed.  The robo-signing scandal is an example of one of the worst foreclosure abuses in recent times. According to a report by NPR, big-time mortgage financiers like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac knew about the fraudulent robo-signing practices as early as 2006 but failed to do anything to stop the illegal behavior.  Instead of implementing an effective system to stop the abuse and prevent further fraudulent mortgage foreclosure practices, Fannie Mae missed important opportunities to detect and prevent them. 

For example, in 2005, Fannie Mae hired independent investigators to follow up on allegations of fraudulent and defective foreclosure paperwork.  A year later, the outside investigators reported that law firms working for Fannie Mae had filed false documents in foreclosure proceedings.  In many instances, Fannie Mae’s lawyers had signed documents they’d never bothered to read or used fake signatures.  Even after Fannie Mae was put on notice that its attorneys were committing fraud and breaking the law, regulators determined that Fannie Mae failed to make any improvements in overseeing its attorneys.  To add insult to injury, government regulators then failed to ensure that the mortgage-financing company cleaned up its act. 

Reports released last week by the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which was created in 2008 to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, indicate that Fannie Mae simply did not have enough examiners to control the risk.  As a result, the two mortgage-financing giants, which back the majority of mortgages in the United States, apparently failed to institute an effective level of quality control.  The reports suggest that if the mortgage lending companies had employed better risk control, they may have been able to prevent mortgage foreclosure abuses.  Better risk control likely would have forced Fannie Mae to alter its lending practices, which could have exposed flaws in the processing of foreclosure documents, including forcing its employees to more carefully consider individual foreclosure cases. 

Although courts in Illinois and across the country halted mortgages foreclosure proceedings while investigations into the fraudulent robo-signing practices were launched, it was not enough.  Struggling Chicago homeowners have suffered the consequences because lenders and their attorneys cut corners and left everyday consumers to pick up the pieces.  Oak Park homeowners who believe that fraudulent paperwork may have been filed in their mortgage foreclosure cases should consider seeking out legal advice from a qualified professional.  Illinois foreclosure defense law frequently changes, so it is important to receive up-to-date information about your rights.  The Chicago foreclosure defense lawyers at the Emerson Law Firm assist struggling homeowners day in and day out as they defend their rights in foreclosure suits or simply obtain mortgage loan modifications.  If saving your home is important to you, it is important to us. 

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