A. First off, great question. Elite experience and performance in combination with unmatched accessibility and hands on work. Every phone call of substance, meeting and keystroke of each individual piece of paperwork/email/correspondence are all handled personally by Attorney Blackwood. We are available on weekends and after hours by appointment. We respond to calls, texts and emails promptly and at all hours. You will not find a more experienced and knowledgeable Bankruptcy attorney in the state who does all these things. Additionally, with a little assistance from the Psychology background, we pride ourselves on being able to provide “Compassionate Representation Through Difficult Times” which has been the firm’s slogan since we opened in 2005.

A. Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding to resolve your debts and is based on the concept of a fresh start, that you are entitled to receive if your facts fit properly under the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. Thousands of New Hampshire residents file to receive their “fresh start” each year.

A. In addition to filing both business and personal Bankruptcies as a Debt Relief Agency, we also assist clients with non-Bankruptcy debt resolution options. This is for the people that don’t want to file a Bankruptcy or the people a Bankruptcy just doesn’t make sense for. These strategies can include negotiating reduced settlements, negotiating payment arrangements, tax withholding adjustments interrelated with detailed budget planning among other options. It’s very client specific. Some people just need some time, guidance and a good game-plan and they are good to go, whereas others may seek more active, ongoing assistance.

We’ve done this long enough to recognize that Bankruptcy is not the solution for everyone, even if they have a wholly workable case. We’ve helped so many people with creditors over the years in the non-Bankruptcy context that we decided it was time to make clear we provide this service.

A. Absolutely not. This is the single biggest piece of misinformation out there. With proper post-Bankruptcy behavior, following a Chapter 7 (which takes about 90 days), you can have shockingly good credit within a year; two years out it should have little or no impact. It can and will stay on your credit report for 10 years (Chapter 7), 7 years (Chapter 13) and this is where the misperception (in part) comes from. Though your 2015 Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will show on your credit report until 2025, there’s no reason you couldn’t have bought a home for a prime (or close to prime) rate in 2018. I have had many clients do precisely that. Again, it will be on your credit report all that time, but that does not mean it is dragging your score down. The damage is done at the start and then gets better from there. Please do your own research on this. The information is out there; just be aware that some information out there is from high interest lenders who have a vested interest in misinforming you about Bankruptcy.

It’s easier for people with surviving car or home loans, but even for the people coming out of Bankruptcy with no debt at all, they can rebuild their credit very quickly following this strategy: Credit card offers will come in right after the Bankruptcy discharges. We advise all clients to get at least two credit cards. Put the car insurance on one card. Put the cell phone bill on the other. Pay them both off in full when the credit card bill comes due. Then repeat month after month. This way you never run a balance, never pay any interest and quickly rebuild credit. You can get more aggressive by adding a small credit rebuild loan. The reality is that with proper credit use, credit should be largely recovered within 1 year.

A. The Bankruptcy discharge is the order that relieves you of the legal obligation to pay the debts. It wipes them out. This includes credit cards, personal loans, older IRS Debt, online loans, medical bills, car repossessions, lawsuits, utilities (while keeping the lights on), foreclosure deficiencies etc. Pretty much everything gets wiped out by a Chapter 7 discharge except: child support, alimony, recent IRS debt, student loans and criminal restitution/fines. There are other types of debts that may not be discharged which your attorney will discuss with you if appropriate, though these are quite uncommon.

To be clear, this does not mean people are getting people free cars and houses. We do not get to wipe out secured debts (car loans / home loans) and keep the property without paying for it. You will need to keep paying for the car, house or motorcycle after the Bankruptcy just like before if you want to keep it.

A. In New Hampshire, we have the ability to protect your property with a series of exemptions which are either Federal or State. Both exemption schemes are very generous. In my almost 1500 cases, we have “lost” assets only a handful of times and we knew in advance that would be the case. Over 99% of my clients kept everything and here is the reason why: the exemption schemes are generous and allow us to protect the following:

NH Exemptions:

-$120,000 of equity in one’s homestead; ($240,000) for a married couple.
-$10,000 of equity in one automobile; double on a joint case.
-Clothes, household goods and furnishings (within reason – 20 mink coats will cause a problem)
-Unlimited protection for retirement accounts including state or Federal Retirement accounts, 401-K’s, IRA etc.
-$5,000 for tools you need for your work
-An additional $8,000 “wildcard” exemption (that comes partially out of other exemptions but is usually fully available) per filer, so a $16,000 wildcard for a couple that files. This can be used to protect anything including cash.

With appropriate Chapter 7 facts, a couple could keep their $240K house with no mortgage, their two $10K cars, each of their $100K 401-K’s, all of their personal property (presuming nothing out of the ordinary like the $25K signed Lou Gehrig baseball card), and have $12K cash in the bank on the day they file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and still not lose one cent.

Federal Exemptions:

Federal exemptions are also quite generous but come with a much lower per person homestead exemption of $25,150. So, if people have significant equity in their home, then we use the NH Exemptions (if we can – there are residency timing rules). If we don’t have much equity in a home, we will almost always use Federal Exemptions because they are just as generous as NH’s with a larger “wildcard” exemption and a few extras (like a personal injury exemption). That “wildcard” exemption is so large that I have used it to protect cash in the bank of over $25K for a couple because the Federal per person “wildcard” exemption is $13,900.

Long story short, in 99%+ of our cases (and the vast majority of cases overall), we have been able to protect everything. The point of hiring an experienced Bankruptcy attorney to help you with this stuff is to protect all your property while dealing with your debts with no surprises. We determine in every potential case if there any assets at risk in the initial analysis. This stuff does not sneak up on you as long as people are honest and they hire competent and experienced attorneys. I’ve seen far too many people who filed on their own or with a less experienced attorney lose assets that could have been protected with better lawyering.

A. Chapter 7 is by the far the most commonly filed type of Bankruptcy. It is called a “liquidation” Bankruptcy because non-exempt assets can be sold by the Trustee for the benefit of creditors. But as we’ve just talked about, almost all Chapter 7 cases have no assets and people lose nothing. These are called “no-asset” Chapter 7’s. And if assets were at risk, we would have thoroughly covered that long before filing a case.

A Chapter 7 discharge is the order from the Court that relieves you of the legal obligation to pay the debts. This order discharges credit cards, personal loans, older IRS debt, online loans, medical bills, car repossessions, lawsuits, utilities (while keeping the lights on), foreclosure deficiencies etc. Pretty much everything gets wiped out by a Chapter 7 discharge except: child support, alimony, recent IRS debt, student loans and criminal restitution/fines.

To get from date of filing the case to order of discharge from the Court takes just over 90 days in most cases.

A. Chapter 13 is a “debt reorganization” Bankruptcy in which filers have a single monthly payment to the Chapter 13 Trustee over 36-60 months (though we try to finish most 13’s in about a year if we can with an early payoff) to deal with their debts. There are a few common Chapter 13 types:

1. An income based Chapter 13. These cases are Chapter 13’s because the income was too high to qualify for a Chapter 7 and the monthly Chapter 13 Plan payment goes almost exclusively towards unsecured debts.

2. Stop the foreclosure/save the house Chapter 13. A Bankruptcy filed up to the second before the foreclosure will stop a foreclosure and then the filer uses the monthly Plan payment to catch up on the mortgage arrearage (what they’re behind) over that 36-60 months, while also paying regular monthly mortgage payments moving forward. This type of case would  resolve all the unsecured debts also. This is the most common type of Chapter 13 we have seen over the years.

3. Secured Debt Resolution Chapter 13. There are a variety of things that can be accomplished under Chapter 13 pending the specific facts. You can “cramdown” car loans to their fair market value and reasonable interest rate. You can strip second/third mortgages or liens of your home if the home value is lower than the first mortgage. (That’s not at all a common fact at this moment in time for obvious reasons, but if/when the housing market normalizes, these may become very popular. In the years following the 2008 collapse, we stripped a bunch of second mortgages for people including some near and above $100K.) You can also propose to modify secured loans in a variety of ways pending the specific facts in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

4. “Too much stuff” Chapter 13. This is for the person with the $35K car that they own outright that I can only protect $22K of. They don’t want to file Chapter 7 and have the Trustee sell their Corvette. So, this person files a 13 to pay about $10K-$13K to the creditors (the amount we couldn’t protect) to keep the Corvette. You are in complete control of your assets in a Chapter 13.

5. IRS issues Chapter 13. These cases pay recent IRS debt through the Plan while wiping out older IRS debts and other unsecured debts.

Chapter 13 also discharges things a Chapter 7 cannot discharge such as a marital property settlement.

A. As soon as you retain a Bankruptcy attorney (which for us is often at the conclusion of the free consultation) the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act kicks in which requires your creditors to call your attorney and NOT you, once you inform them that you have retained a Bankruptcy attorney for a specific Chapter and given the contact info out. From there, Federal law requires them to call us, not you. You’ll still get the letters and bills, but we want you saving those for us anyways. But the calls will all stop almost immediately.

A. Bankruptcy has income “means testing” which compares your gross income from a period before Bankruptcy to the annual gross median income for a household of your size in NH. If your income is below the median income figure for your given household size, you have “beaten” the means test and are presumed to qualify for Chapter 7. Those median income figures for New Hampshire are the highest they have ever been, currently:

Household of 1: $72,047
Household of 2: $83,344
Household of 3: $107,942
Household of 4: $129,738

and another $9K for each household member beyond 4.

If you are over median you may still “beat” the means test and qualify for a Chapter 7 pending your specific facts. Alternatively, you may not “beat” the means test and it will calculate your projected Chapter 13 monthly payment amount.

For what it’s worth, having filed and seen thousands of cases over the years, we have found Bankruptcy to be a largely fair and just world. For the most part, the people that can’t afford to pay, get the Chapter 7’s and quickly move on with life. The people that end up in the Chapter 13’s have the higher incomes and a Plan payment always much lower than what the prior debt payment was and with an actual end date.

A. While every office it is a little different, here’s the simplified version of the process for a typical Chapter 7 and how we do it at Blackwood Law, PLLC:

-Free consultation; usually an hour or so. Upwards of two for a complex matter.
-Client leaves with total amount of fee due and list of outstanding paperwork.
-Client does required ~90 minute online credit counseling course.
-Attorney Blackwood works with you directly to fill out all paperwork. We are not dropping 30-60 page questionnaires on you and asking you to ‘build’ your Bankruptcy petitions like some of our competitors do.
-Once all paperwork is in and fees have been paid, we will carefully review the initial draft of the petition at the “signing appointment” (which can currently be done virtually), going through line by line every question and item until everything is 100% accurately filled in.
-Then print, sign and file the case electronically once we are both happy with it.
-We get the notice the next day for the “Meeting” with the Trustee (currently done by phone) which is scheduled 30 days out.
-That is your one and only “court” appearance though it’s neither in a court nor is there a Judge present (even when we’re back doing it in person again).
-At that Meeting, the Trustee will ask you a couple minutes of questions that we will have thoroughly prepared for in advance. Usually this takes just a few minutes and people are not required to justify or argue for their Bankruptcies. More to confirm the information in their Bankruptcy Petition and questions the Trustee may have about it. The vast majority of these meetings are very short, routine and painless.
-From there, you do a second, required online course and we get an Order of Discharge 60+ days after the Trustee Meeting and then we’re on to the credit rebuilding.

A. The fee varies significantly based on the complexity of a given Chapter 7 fact pattern. Average Ch. 7 attorney fee in the state runs about $1800, but, again, there is a wide range. There’s a big difference in price and complexity between the little old lady making $600/mo. of Social Security Disability with no car living in subsidized housing and the married woman making $160K in a half million dollar house with four children. Both fact patterns were successful Chapter 7’s, but they had significantly different fees. We give quotes following the free consultation and analysis. Anyone who quotes you a number without reviewing your facts is doing you a disservice. To suggest that a single flat fee price structure could ever be applicable in Bankruptcy is silly. Those two fact patterns above didn’t have fee structures anything like each other, nor should they have.

What we can say having filed almost 1500 Bankruptcies is that we can usually find a way to make it affordable for most people. Majority of our clients chip away at fees over a period of months while we deal with the creditors, giving them a calm, quiet period before the Bankruptcy. People frequently pay with a tax refund or the assistance of a friend or family member. We haven’t taken a few thousand people through Bankruptcy without being able to find a way to make it affordable for just about everybody over the years.

Chapter 13’s are a higher fee than Chapter 7 as they go on for longer and are more involved, but typically we get paid the majority of our Chapter 13 fees out of the monthly Chapter 13 Plan payments that clients would be making anyways (without raising them). So, it’s not uncommon for a client to only need to come up with $1500 in attorney’s fees to get a Chapter 13 filed.

A. The time to talk to someone about resolving your debts either through Bankruptcy or some other avenue is the point at which you do not have a short term plan to resolve your unsecured debts. By short term, I mean two years. If you’ve got a budget and a plan and are on track to eliminate unsecured debt within 24 months, you probably won’t get much out of the consultation. Anyone who does not have that firm, concrete plan to resolve the debts in 24 months will likely benefit from the consultation. As we like to say, we’re giving it away for free. A free consultation with a financial and debt resolution expert with no cost and no obligation. If nothing else, people walk out the door from that free consultation with a lot more information than they walked in with and the ability to make an informed decision on the best path towards debt resolution. And with their stress significantly dialed down if we have done it right.

A. I see four main categories where people leak money that they cannot afford:

1. Meals out and take-out: Groceries are expensive enough now. If you take two parents and two kids out to eat anywhere except fast food, you’re going to spend upwards of $100).

2.Buying too much house: Be careful here, especially first time home buyers. Just because the mortgage broker qualifies you for a $300K mortgage, that doesn’t mean you can afford it. We generally recommend you shave 20-40% off what the mortgage broker qualified you for. With our first house, the broker qualified us for $280K. We could barely afford $200K and ended up getting a loan for $175K.

There are ancillary costs that come with home ownership from the maintenance/repairs to high utility costs. Just be careful. I’ve seen people qualified for monthly payments that are 35%-40% of their gross income. That’s not a good idea. 

For first time home owners in particular, we recommend you itemize every single budget item including the new mortgage, utilities and home maintenance and see how that compares to your actual take home income. Always a good idea to get input from someone who will not profit from you getting the loan. The mortgage broker gets paid to sell you the loan. A financial advisor/planner is a great resource for this. Even a family member wise in the ways of finance. Just don’t let the person who profits from selling you the loan be the only one advising you on your largest ever purchase. Like most professions there are some absolutely spectacular mortgage brokers that will think about this and take good care of you. While there are others who want to sell as many large mortgages as fast as possible to buy their Porsche.

3. The cars. People that always have a car payment. They never make it to the end of the car loans. They roll it over to a newer car, roll negative equity and just basically exist eternally with a car loan (or 2 for a couple). Car leases are also tough because at the end of the 36 month lease, you not only own nothing, but you usually owe the dealer for mileage and wear and tear.

The goal is to own the car outright and not have a car payment. You can also save massive money buying newer used cars. We all know that a vehicle loses a huge chunk of it’s value the second it drives off the lot. That newer used car does not. Why do we want to lose that $10K-$15K in a matter of minutes?

4. Monthly memberships/kid app/video game purchases: I’m not talking stuff we actually use that is healthy like the gym. This is the stuff you’re not using. The $1.99 here for storage. The $0.99 in App purchases (especially of the kids). The V-Bucks, the Robux. The X-Box/Playstation memberships that no one uses.

Check all the credit cards and bank account for every single automatic monthly debit and make sure it is something that you are using, that you need and that you can afford.

5. Household goods: This one’s pretty simple. If you don’t need the new pillow, chair, blanket or table and you have unsecured debts that you have not paid, why are you buying it? I’m not suggesting people suffer or live like paupers. But if something is working perfectly fine or is wholly unnecessary, then why are we buying it if we have debt issues?