Lisa M. Sassone Joins Balmer Black

Balmer Black is pleased to announce the addition of Lisa M. Sassone, Esq. to its New Jersey office.

Ms. Sassone spent more than nine years as counsel for a variety of non-profit organizations that provided civil legal services. During that time, she handled hundreds of cases per year, primarily family law cases, cases involving domestic violence, and disability matters. She has assisted numerous families in resolving disputes, obtaining protection for survivors of domestic violence, and assisting disabled children and adults obtain disability benefits which they were wrongfully denied. She also handled landlord tenant cases, public entitlement matters, and other civil legal matters.

Ms. Sassone is a graduate of the University at Buffalo Law School. During law school, Lisa was the 2005 Recipient of the Kaplan and Reynolds Public Interest Fellowship, which allowed her to intern with a non-profit organization in Buffalo, New York where she worked on the Grandparents Rights Project. This experience shaped her interest in working with families and children. During her final year of law school Lisa worked handling public entitlement cases under a student practice order.

On a personal note, Lisa takes great pride in being the first member of her family to attend college and has a special interest in working with families, children, and the disabled. Lisa is excited to return to her home state of New Jersey and is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina.

 

 

Do I Qualify For Bankruptcy?

 

In order to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy you must qualify by passing the means test. The “means test” was designed to limit the use of chapter 7 to only those who truly cannot repay their debts. To qualify, your household income must lower than your states median income, or you must pass the means test formula.

How does the “means test” work?

If your household income is below your states median income then you automatically pass the test and qualify for chapter 7. However, if you make above the median income then additional calculation must be done. The calculation can be done using a particular formula. This formula considers all your expenses and household income for the previous 6 months and determines if you have enough disposable income to repay some of your debts.

What is the median income for New York?

The median income for New York is $49,028.00 annually. Form 22A-1 requires you to list your last six months of your income, if it is lower than $24,514, then you are presumed eligible for Chapter 7 under section 707(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code. If you make over this amount, you must continue on to Form 22A-2, which calculates your expense deductions. This is the first step of the means test, which is simple: if your household annual income is lower than the median income for your state, you pass. Period, you’re done. You don’t need to complete the rest of the test; you can file chapter 7.

What if my income is above the median income? What do I do then?

The test can get slightly more complicated if your household income is higher than your state’s median income. The further calculation determines whether you have enough income left over after paying all allowed expenses (disposable income), to pay at least a portion of your unsecured debt (credit card bills).

What is household income?

Household income considers all the income from all persons in the household. This obviously increases your annual income according to the means test calculation. The good thing is that the median income of your state is higher depending on how many people are in the household. This usually includes dependant children and spouses, not roommates. For example, if you are a single parent with 3 dependant children, the median household income limit is increased to $88,642 annually.

What are allowed expense deductions?

Allowable expenses vary depending on what county you live in, each county has different allowed amounts for categories of expenses such as: housing, transportation, and basic necessities. If you live in New York County it’s highly likely that your monthly expenses are higher than someone with similar means that lives in Niagara County. Examples of expenses that are considered are your rent, public transit costs, out of pocket health care costs, and living expenses such as food, clothing, and household supplies.

How do I do the expense deduction calculation?

You can find calculators online to enter your income and expenses to see if you qualify; however, these are not always up to date and accurate. Don’t rely on these calculators, but it can help give you a ballpark of whether or not you would likely qualify. It is always best to speak with an attorney to determine whether or not you qualify for chapter 7.

What if I don’t qualify?

If you don’t qualify that doesn’t mean you can’t file for bankruptcy. It just means you can’t file chapter 7. You may still likely file chapter 13; however, that is a different type of bankruptcy. If you are not sure about what chapter 13 is, please refer to: https://balmerblack.com/what-is-chapter-13-bankruptcy-the-basics/.

Conclusion.

Qualifying for chapter 7 is a requirement that can determine if you are eligible to have your debts discharged. This does not always mean that if you do qualify it is in your best interests to file. Sometimes even if you qualify, it may not be best for you to file. It is important to remember that everyone situation is different and to be advised of all your options it makes sense to speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

 

The above post was written by Joshua C. Sibenik, Esq.

 

5 Major Myths of Bankruptcy

Many people do not understand how bankruptcy works and have many misconceptions about the process. Bankruptcy often is looked at as a big scary life-changing event, and as such, comes with embellishment and exaggeration of the truth. Unfortunately, these false facts can scare people away from bankruptcy when they could seriously benefit from the benefits. The following are a list of myths that are commonly accepted as fact by consumers.

  1. I Will Lose Everything I Have.

Many people don’t file for bankruptcy relief because they incorrectly think that they will lose everything they own. This is not true. There are things called exemptions that can cover your things allowing you to keep them. For an example of how exemptions are used to protect a car that you own please refer to: https://balmerblack.com/will-i-lose-my-car-if-i-file-bankruptcy/

Exemptions can cover much of the assets you do have, such as household goods, money in savings (up to a certain amount), money in retirement accounts, family photos and videos, religious texts and other books & magazines, as well as a vehicle and home. If the assets you have are not too valuable you will likely be able to retain all of your things.

  1. Everyone Will Know I Filed Bankruptcy.

Although it is true that Bankruptcy is a public legal proceeding, the practical aspect is that it is very private. Unless you are a prominent person, it is highly unlikely that the media will pick up your filing and publicize it. There are simply too many people filing bankruptcy that very few publications have the manpower, space, and interest to publish all the names. For the vast majority of people the public filing of bankruptcy remains private.

  1. It’s Difficult to File Bankruptcy.

In reality filing bankruptcy can be relatively simple. Technically, you can do so on your own without an attorney. However, it is advised that you do not go through the process on your own in case any issues come up. Depending on your particular income and assets, bankruptcy can be straightforward and easy. You will need to provide some documentation like pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, and liens or titles of assets. Then the bankruptcy petition has to be completed and filed, which is followed by a meeting with the trustee. As a whole, it’s not a complicated process.

  1. Bankruptcy is Too Expensive.

Although it’s true that there are some costs to file bankruptcy, the court understands that people with the need for bankruptcy are insolvent so they make the costs reasonable. Depending on what attorney you choose, the entire process can cost anywhere from $1,400.00 – $2,500.00. If you decide not to retain an attorney, your case can be completed for as little as $400.00. This is no small sum of money, but it is often worth the piece of mind that comes with a bankruptcy discharge.

The costs are broken down into the filing fee ($335.00), debtor education and credit counseling courses (anywhere from $30 – $100 for both courses), credit report ($25-$50), and legal fee, which can range depending on the attorney and your location.

  1. I’ll Never Get Credit Again.

Many people believe that if they file bankruptcy that they won’t be able to get good credit again. Bankruptcy is considered “credit suicide” and is the biggest “negative” you can have on your credit report, which remains for 10 years. However, it is essentially rock bottom, which will allow you to move your credit in the right direction, up.

Once your discharge has been granted, you will be able to slowly but consistently build your credit score back up. It is very common for debtors to receive credit card offers shortly after bankruptcy, although they are often from subprime lenders with ridiculously high interest rates. It may take a few years to build your credit again, but with smart budgeting and financial management you can achieve great credit quicker than you would think.

The bankruptcy process may be relatively simple, but everyone’s situation is different; therefore, it is always advisable to speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to discuss all the options available to you.

 

The above post was written by Joshua C. Sibenik, Esq.

Will I Lose My Car If I File Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often referred to as a “no asset” bankruptcy. However, the bankruptcy laws do allow you to retain certain assets through bankruptcy. Because chapter 7 is a liquidation of assets, the trustee will sell any non-exempt valuable assets to pay creditors. The bankruptcy laws do not allow the sale of assets that are not covered with an available exemption. The basic idea of chapter 7 bankruptcy is that all your dischargeable debts will be forgiven once your non-exempt assets are liquidated. Many times, people think that because they own a car that the trustee will sell it; however, this is not necessarily the case.

What is an exemption?

An exemption is a very valuable tool in bankruptcy. Basically, an exemption is a bankruptcy law that allows you to retain certain assets through the discharge of the bankruptcy. In chapter 7, there are two sets of exemptions to choose from. These sets are the State exemptions and Federal exemptions. You cannot mix and match some state exemptions and some federal exemptions to use.  You have to choose either state or federal for your case. Your assets usually determine which set of exemptions to use. Each set of exemptions are limited to a certain amount.

New York State Vehicle Exemption

The motor vehicle exemption is how you can save your car from its liquidation. For example, using the New York State exemptions, you can exempt up to $4,000.00 worth of equity. According to New York Debtor & Creditor Law § 282(1), if your car is worth more than $4,000.00 and you don’t owe anything on it, then you may be forced to sell it. However, there is also a wildcard exemption that you can use another $1,000.00. A wildcard exemption is an exemption that you can use to apply to any type of property that you have. You may use it to save your car, money in the bank, or any other valuable property you have. You can combine it with any other exemption. If you use it for your car the total equity you can exempt in a car is $5,000.00. There is one limitation with the wildcard exemption, you can only use the wildcard exemption if you haven’t used the Homestead exemption for your home.  If you are disabled and the vehicle is equipped specifically for your disability then you can exempt up to $10,000.00 in equity. If your vehicle is worth significantly more than the available exemption the trustee will likely sell it to pay creditors.

Federal Vehicle Exemption

According to federal bankruptcy law, the motor vehicle exemption amount for a vehicle is $3,675.00. It works the same way that the State exemption, as long as your equity in your car is less than the exemption amount, then you will be able to retain it through the bankruptcy.  There is also a wildcard exemption for the federal exemption $1,225.00.

Changes in Exemptions

State and Federal exemptions change every few years. Usually, the amounts are increased approximately every 3 years. It is best to check with a bankruptcy attorney to see if the amounts have changed. Because everyone’s finances and assets are different, it is best to discuss your case with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

 

The above post was written by Joshua C. Sibenik, Esq.

350,000 New Yorkers Settle with Collection Law Firm Mel S. Harris & Associates In A Lawsuit Over Sewer Service

In 2009, a Bronx resident by the name of Monique Sykes was being harassed by debt collectors and decided to fight back. Eventually, Skykes and 350,000 other New Yorkers, joined the class-action suit against Leucadia Corporation, a collection law firm Mel S. Harris and Associates, and process server Samserv Inc.

After several years of litigation, the case has been settled for 59 million dollars and the defendants have agreed to cease their debt collections efforts and businesses as part of the settlement. 

Sewer Service

At the heart of the lawsuit is what we in the legal world call Sewer Service. Essentially, Sewer Service occurs when a false Affidavit of Service, a document alleging that a defendant was properly served with notice of a lawsuit, is filed with the court. The major issue with Sewer Service is that these false Affidavits are  grounds for the plaintiff to enter a Default Judgment against the defendant.  Under New York Law, a defendant only has a limited time to respond to a lawsuit once they are served and the Affidavit of Service is the legal document that proves when and how a defendant was served with notice of the lawsuit.

Another potential issue with Sewer Service is that a defendant might not be notified of the lawsuit until there is an execution in place such as a wage garnishment, bank levy, lien place on real property, etc..

What To Do If This Happens To You

If you believe that you have been a victim of Sewer Service, or other deceptive collection practices, you should immediately contact an attorney.  There are laws that protect consumers and an attorney will be able to help you decide what your best course of action is.

New Jersey’s New Car Seat Law – Toughest in the Nation?

Recently, the state of New Jersey has been all over the news for passing a tough, new car seat law and here is a brief overview of what you need to know.

Summary

As per the State of New Jersey’s Department of Law & Public Safety, any child under the age of 8 years old and a height of 57 inches shall be secured as follows in the rear seat of a motor vehicle:

  1. A child under the age of 2 years and 30 pounds shall be secured in a rear-facing seat equipped with a 5-point harness.
  2. A child under the age of 4 years and 40 pounds shall be secured as described in (a) until they reach the upper limits of the rear-facing seat, then in a forward-facing child restraint equipped with a 5-point harness.
  3. A child under the age of 8 and a height of 57 inches shall be secured as described in (a) or (b) until they reach the upper limits of the rear-facing or forward facing seat, then in a belt positioning booster seat.
  4. A child over 8 years of age or 57 inches in height must be properly secured by a seat belt.

If there are no rear seats, the child shall be secured as described above in the front seat except that no child shall be secured in a rear-facing seat in the front seat of any vehicle that is equipped with an active passenger-side airbag. The aforementioned is acceptable if the airbag is de-activated. For the full text you can please see: Legislation – P.L. 2015, c.50; available at: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/PL15/50_.PDF

Frequently Asked Questions pertaining to the New Law

My child is 7 years old and is 58 inches tall. Is he required to ride in a booster seat?

  • Although he is only 7 years old, he is over 57 inches tall and requires only a properly fitted seat belt.

 

My daughter is 8 years old but only weighs 76 pounds. Does she need a booster seat?

  • Once a child is 8 years of age, s/he no longer needs to ride in a booster seat, but s/he must be secured in a properly adjusted seat belt.

*Note: While the children described above are exempt from the child restraint law, the seat belt may not fit them properly. The lap belt should lay across the child’s upper thigh (the pant’s pocket area) and across the chest and collar bone (so that it’s not cutting into the neck).

 

How can I determine if my child will be properly protected by the vehicle’s seat belt?

  • Use the seat belt fit test on all children under 13 years of age to be sure they are big enough to safely use the adult seat belt without a booster seat.
  • Have the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat. Check to see if the knees bend naturally at the seat edge. If they do, continue the test. If they do not – the child should continue to ride in a booster seat.
  • Buckle the lap and shoulder belt. Be sure the lap belt lies across the upper legs (the pant’s pocket area). If it lays across the upper thighs, move on to the next step. If it does not, the child should continue to ride in a booster seat.
  • Be sure the shoulder belt lies on the shoulder or collarbone (and is not cutting into the neck). If it lies on the shoulder, move to the next step. If it is on the face or neck, the child should continue to ride in a booster seat. DO NOT place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child’s back!
  • Be sure that your child can maintain the correct seating position for as long as you are in the car. If your child begins to slouch or shift position so the safety belt contacts the face, neck, or abdomen, the child should continue to ride a booster seat until all the steps can be met.

 

The above information is from the State of New Jersey’s Department of Law & Public Safety website: http://www.nj.gov/lps/hts/childseats/childseats_newlaw.html

Karan Bhugra, Esq. has joined our firm!

Balmer Black, P.C. is happy to announce that Karan Bhugra, Esq. has joined our firm.

Mr. Bhugra’s practice focuses on immigration law and personal injury litigation.  Mr. Bhugra also has experience in various other areas of the law including; civil litigation, criminal defense, landlord/tenant, real-estate law, and claims arising under the violation of the FCPA.

Prior to joining Balmer Black, P.C., Mr. Bhugra was an associate attorney at a very fast-paced and high-volume personal injury law firm located in Hudson County, New Jersey.  Mr. Bhugra completed his undergraduate studies at Rutgers University and received his JD from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan where he served on the Student Bar Association Board as the Director of Budget and Finance and was also an member of the Moot Court Executive Board.

Currently, Mr. Bhugra is a member for the Hudson County Bar Association and an active participant in his community by serving with the South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey and the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association.

For more information about Mr. Bhugra please visit: https://balmerblack.com/attorneys/

Monica Grace Lee, Esq. has joined Balmer Black, PC!

Balmer Black, P.C. is happy to announce that Monica Grace Lee, Esq. has joined our firm.

Ms. Lee’s practice focuses on implementation of compliance procedures, international tax, and tax planning in the context of estate planning, real estate, and general business planning.

Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Lee ran her own practice and has experience with the FCM of Bank of China International and Morgan Stanley.

Ms. Lee is a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and University of St. Andrews, Scotland.  She attended New York Law School where she received her J.D. and her LLM in Taxation.

For more information about Ms. Lee please visit: https://balmerblack.com/attorneys/monica-grace-lee/

A Filtered NYC Public Transit – By: Ashley Hill

Initial Ruling:

Judge John Koeltl previously ruled that a pro-Israel advocacy group was granted permission to post public advertisement on New York City buses. The phrase “Hamas Killing Jews” was the group’s key phrase that has since caused much uproar. Defending his decision he stated that the ad was previously seen in both San Francisco and Chicago public transit back in 2013 with no harm done. Koeltl expressed that taking away individuals’ freedom of speech and expression would not squash future violent attacks. The Judge stayed the effect for a month so it can be appealed.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Decision:

The lawsuit itself was filed last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative after the MTA decided to only post three out of four of the group’s ads. The fourth and final one was thought to have too violent of a connotation — “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” In the ad itself a picture of a covered face with the words, “Hamas MTV” was followed by, “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”

After the MTA held a recent board meeting which yielded a 9-2 vote, the decision was made to ban all political advertising that’s expressed on public transit in the city. Although this type of advertising brings in money for the city, it only accounts for less than $1 million out of an annual $138 million revenue. Other populated cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia have underwent changes to prevent such advertising from appearing on subways and buses. The authority claims, however, that in the end it will still allow commercial advertising, government messages, and various public service announcements.

Public’s Reactions:

As expected, the decision has brought about many conflicting viewpoints. While many of the board members have voted in favor of restricting these advertisements there are still several others that see the issue in a different light. Some say that the general public should not suffer, that it is unlawful to take away their rights to freedom of speech and expression. Others declare that this ruling was made narrow-mindedly. Thomas F. Prendergast, the authority’s chairman, argued that the first and foremost concern of the MTA is to ultimately maintain a safe and functioning transportation system.