Helping Resolve Consumer Debt Issues, Including:
Contrary to popular belief, in most cases there are options for dealing with student loan debt. Regardless of the situation, if it involves student loans we can probably help. Unfortunately, there are some situations that are impossible to resolve, but you can't know where you stand without having an expert review your details with a practiced eye. That's why I always start with my $199 "Step 1 Student Loan Analysis." (More on that later.)
Some people only have federal loans, some have private, and some have both. Many people aren't even sure what kinds theirs are, and some who believe that theirs are one kind are surprised to learn that it's actually the other. Whether yours are federal, private, both, or you just aren't sure, we can help you figure out where you stand and what your options are, often for a lot less money than you might think. Once you know where to start, some of those options can be quick, cheap and very effective. Most of the time this does not involve bankruptcy at all, but in certain situations bankruptcy can be a valuable tool for dealing with student loans, especially if you have other problematic debts in addition to student loans.
Please do not wait until things are out of control. Even if you are technically in default, most student loan debt is fairly easy to deal with as long as there is no active garnishment or lawsuit. Even if there is a lawsuit, our firm has an excellent track record for resolving lawsuits with no judgment being taken. However, once the garnishment starts and/or once the judge rules in their favor in a lawsuit, things become much more difficult and expensive, and sometimes impossible to deal with.
The fee for our “Step 1 Student Loan Analysis” is only $199, during which you will learn everything that you need to know about your student loan situation, including where you stand, exactly who you are dealing with, what options you have going forward, and how much it might cost to take further action. After some initial back-and-forth, Step 1 usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes, with an absolute limit of one hour. This can be done by telephone, via Zoom (or other teleconference), or in our office (with proper precautions). There is no obligation on your part to proceed past Step 1.
After several years of doing this we have found that in roughly half of our cases Step 1 is all that you need, either because there is nothing else that can be done, or because what needs to be done is so simple that you can do it yourself, or some situations call for waiting for some other process to play out before taking action. In 95% of the cases where there is more to be done, the fees for the next step fall between $300 and $1,000 (most commonly $500 or $700). Any additional fees are set in advance, so there are no surprises. The main exceptions to that rule come when we are defending collection lawsuits which were filed outside of Shelby County and/or they are seeking more than $25,000.
Why do unsecured creditors file collection lawsuits? It's simple. Because winning the lawsuit gives them tremendous leverage. Before filing suit there are only three things that they can do to people who haven't paid: (1) Bother you; (2) put negative information on your credit report; and (3) file suit. In other words, there is nothing that they can actually do to you or your property. Even the filing of the lawsuit, by itself, means very little. Of course if you are served with lawsuit papers you have to take that seriously and respond properly, but in a way it's just a warning that something bad could happen soon if you fail to deal with it properly. The mere fact that a lawsuit was filed against you has no actual effect on you, your property, or your credit. It’s the judgment that comes when they win the lawsuit that gives creditors all of the extra rights and powers. Once a judgment is taken against you (meaning that the bad guys won the lawsuit), creditors can garnish wages, levy on bank accounts, register the judgment as a lien against your property, and even force you to come back to court every so often to testify under oath as to your income and assets (to make it easier to collect from you). If you have been sued but no judgment has been yet been taken, we can often prevent the taking of that judgment. In many cases we can force them to dismiss the lawsuit outright, and in other cases we can negotiate very favorable settlements. Of course, that isn't always the case, but we have a very good track record.
If someone has already taken a judgment against you, or if it is inevitable that a judgment will be taken, we will make sure that you know what to expect, what to watch out for, and what your options are, up to and including bankruptcy. We offer consultation for this and most other situations, and for most of our lawsuit defense cases we charge a standard flat fee, so there are no surprises. If you have one or more lawsuits pending, and if you are going to file bankruptcy anyway, try to get the bankruptcy filed before they take any judgments because in most cases that will stop the lawsuit(s) cold. That way the bankruptcy will be the only big negative on your credit record. If they take the judgment first then the bankruptcy will still discharge the debt, but the legal fact of the judgment will stay in the public records section of your credit report for 7 more years.
Two pieces of free advice:
1. Never ignore lawsuit papers, even if you are certain that it's a mistake, or that they have the wrong person (which happens more often than you might think). If you are served, and you don't either go to court or hire a lawyer to do it for you, then they WILL take a judgment against you, and once that judgment becomes final 10 days later there may be nothing that can be done about it.
2. Conversely, if you get word that you have been sued, but you haven't been served with the lawsuit papers yet, DO NOT go to court. It is the plaintiff's burden to serve you with those papers, and the lawsuit cannot go forward unless and until you have been served. If you show up in court the judge will rule that you have waived service of process, so then the lawsuit can go forward even though you haven't been served. There is one exception to this, but it's too complicated to explain here. Just call us and let us show you how to check the court clerk's online docket for yourself. (This assumes that the lawsuit was filed in Shelby County. No other counties around here have that online access.)
Income Tax Debt
The IRS and other taxing agencies are inconsistently aggressive. Sometimes they go after a relatively small amount of money, while at the same time they will overlook someone who owes $100,000 or more. Don’t try to make any sense out of it, but don’t take any chances either. Regardless of the amount, if it’s a lot of money to you, then you need to get out ahead of the problem.
Beware of the companies that advertise on TV and on the internet about resolving IRS debts “for pennies on the dollar.” They aren’t even coming close to telling you the whole story. In the first place, while they make it sound as if they are miracle workers, what they are actually doing is taking advantage of a specific process set up by the IRS. It’s a fairly simple formula, which either works for you or it doesn’t. If it does, great. We can do that just as well as those other guys, but we don’t spend millions on advertising, so we can charge less. If that process won’t work in your particular situation, and if you owe more than you could ever possibly pay within a few years, or if you have other out-of-control debts at the same time, then bankruptcy is definitely something to consider. Yes, personal income tax debts can often be discharged in bankruptcy. If your only significant debt is this outstanding tax, then we will do our best to find an option that does not involve bankruptcy, but the more debt that you have, the more attractive bankruptcy becomes. We offer a free 45 minute consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss your options.
Note: We do not prepare tax returns, but can refer you to a few different professional tax preparers.
Repossessions & Foreclosures
Repossessions and foreclosures are two branches of the same tree. These two terms essentially describe the same thing, but there are some significant differences between foreclosure of real estate and the repossession of vehicles or other personal property, and it is important to understand those details. With a foreclosure, you usually have some actual warning such as letters from your mortgage company and/or their attorneys, but once the foreclosure sale has happened you will probably never get that property back. With a repossession, there is often little or no warning, but in some cases there is a chance of getting the car (or whatever the property might be) back. In rare cases you might even have the right to sue the creditor or the repo man. In most cases we can get a repossessed vehicle back if a Chapter 13 is filed within ten days of the actual repossession (sometimes longer). Let us help you understand your options if you are behind on your mortgage or car loan. Please contact us for consultation.
Debt Collection Defense
Always remember that you have rights, even if you really do owe the debt. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies only to debt collectors (almost anyone other than the actual original creditor), and the law requires them to treat you with truth, fairness, dignity and respect. If a debt collector is bothering friends, family, co-workers, employers or anyone else about your debt, cursing or calling you names, or threatening to have you arrested, or especially if they are contacting you about a debt that was never yours, or has already been paid, or has already been settled in compromise, or the statute of limitation has expired, or that was already discharged in bankruptcy, then you may not only have the power to make them stop, but in some cases you could actually sue the debt collector and force them to pay our attorney fees. Contact us to schedule a consultation.
Credit reports are a necessary evil in today’s world. Unfortunately they are nothing but confusing, and the information is not always reliable. We can help you with issues such as identity theft, credit repair, trade lines, mistaken identity (such as Senior/Junior mistakes), general incorrect information, etc. Most credit report issues aren’t really that hard to deal with, but there is one right way to do it and a dozen wrong ways. We can guide you through the process, usually at very little cost to you. In fact, we don’t charge anything at all to review your credit reports with you or to to help you dispute incorrect notations on your reports (although you will have to pay the postage, which can be considerable). Please contact us to schedule a consultation.
Tax Debt: Income & Property
The most common property taxes are for real estate, but businesses also have to pay “personalty taxes” for their machinery, equipment and vehicles. When you fall behind on those property tax payments the city, county, and sometimes the state can and will take action to collect, including forced sale of that property. If you or your business is being dunned or sued, or if a tax sale has been scheduled, then we can often either help you set up a payment plan, or if you have other significant debts, we can save the property by filing a chapter 13 case, or perhaps a chapter 11 for a small business whose debts exceed a certain limit. If the county has already sold your home or other property for taxes, you have anywhere from a few months to one year to “redeem” that property, depending on how far behind you were at the time of the sale, among other factors. Redemption basically means that you repay whoever bought the property at the tax sale, plus interest and court costs. We recommend not attempting this process on your own due to the intricacies of deadline and court filings. Please contact us for a consultation.
No two bankruptcy cases are exactly alike. Two people with very similar circumstances and desires may end up with different results. Any specific examples offered in this web site are meant to demonstrate possible results. They are not to be taken as predictions of the end result of your particular case.
All statements regarding bankruptcy law and procedure refer to local practice in the Western District of Tennessee, which courts are located in Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee.
Auto Fraud, Lemon Law & Car Warranties
RBConsumerLaw.com Auto Fraud Content
At Ralston Buchanan Consumer Law Group, we use a combination of state and federal laws to protect consumers from unfair and/or deceptive business practices. In most situations the relevant laws are either state OR federal, but there are so many different flavors of Auto Fraud that it’s not unusual for us to invoke both state AND federal laws in the same case. Auto Fraud is very a broad term that includes all manner of situations, some of which are related to the sale process, some to the financing, some insurance issues, repair and maintenance, and right down to wrongful repossession, and sometimes even with the way the car gets sold away following a repossession. Here is a brief list of just some of those areas:
First, let’s get the terminology straight. The term “Lemon Law” is often misused, at least as it’s defined under Tennessee law. Strictly speaking, “Lemon Law” refers to a state law that basically requires manufacturers to honor their warranties on new cars. That’s all. Some states do have lemon laws that cover used cars, but Tennessee is not one of those states. Our law only applies to the sale or lease of a NEW car that is intended for personal use (not business use), and then only for a certain length of time (at least 1 year; often longer). If a car fits that description, and if either the same thing goes wrong and has to be repaired a certain number of times, or if the car is out of service for a certain number of days, then our Lemon Law applies. You can use it to force the manufacturer to repair or replace the car, and in extreme cases to give you a full refund. Plus they have to pay all or part of your attorney fees, which makes it more likely that you will be able to get a lawyer on your side.
It’s a shame that such laws have to be passed, but over the decades there have been so many times that manufacturers refused to honor their own warranties that now practically every state has its own lemon law.
While Tennessee has no specific lemon law as to used cars, there are often other laws that do apply. See below for examples:
Types of Warranty; Manufacturer, Extended, and Implied:
There are a number of different types of warranty that may go into effect in any one situation, but manufacturers, sellers and insurance companies sometimes have ways to stop those warranties from going into effect.
Manufacturer Warranty: manufacturer warranties cover defective parts of the automobile listed in the policy for a short term after the initial purchase—usually something in the range of 3-years or 36,000-miles: whichever comes first. In some very limited circumstances manufacturers will offer a Certified Pre-Owned (“CPO”) warranty. This is for a car that has been inspected and certified by the manufacturer and they have issued a new warranty. False claims of CPO warranties are rampant in used auto sales. Be wary of dealerships with no direct association to the manufacturer claiming an automobile is CPO. Get any such promises in writing, and if possible take another adult with you to the dealership, so they can verify what was said. Manufacturers who refuse to honor the terms of their warranties can be held liable for the consumers damages under state lemon laws.
Extended Warranties: warranties that supplement or extend after the life or beyond the scope of a manufacturer’s warranty are called extended warranties. These can often be purchased from a dealership alongside the purchase of an automobile or from a third-party after the purchase. Be careful about buying third-party extended warranties, they are sometimes consumer scams! Dealerships don’t just make money by selling cars, they also make money by selling extended warranties, so don’t assume that they are trying to protect you. They are looking for extra profit. The parts of the automobile covered and for what time/milage-frame will be set out in the policy. Enforcement of the warranties can be accomplished through contract law, and state unfair and deceptive business practice laws such as the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
Third Party Extended Warranties: The only thing that can truly be called a “warranty” is the one offered by the manufacturer. Anything else is just an insurance policy. Think long and hard before paying extra for one of these. If they promise you the moon, and then deny the claim when something goes wrong you have to be able to prove what they said, so again, either get it in writing or bring have someone trustworthy with you at all times, especially when you’re in their office signing the contract.
Implied Warranties: any time two or more parties contract for goods or services, under Tennessee law there are certain guarantees that are assumed to go along with that contract, unless the contract specifically states that those guarantees are not being made. These are called implied warranties. One very important implied warranty in the context of an automobile purchase is the “implied warranty of merchantability,” which guarantees that in any consumer purchase the product must meet with industry standards and it is automatically included in every contractual sale between a merchant and a consumer, unless the contract says very specifically that it is not included. In other words, when you buy a car you have a right expect to get a vehicle that will reliably get you back and forth to work, school, the doctor, etc.
The Yo-yo Sale: The Yo-yo sale, also sometimes called a “spot delivery” in the industry, is often used to intimidate a consumer into agreeing to unfavorable credit terms. This happens when a dealer agrees to finance a car for a consumer under one set of terms, allows the consumer to take the car home, and then calls at a later date to say that the consumer must return and sign a new credit agreement, under less favorable terms, or give the car back (hence the term “Yo-yo”). In many cases the buyer has to surrender their down payment, and if they traded a car in as part of the deal their old car is now long gone. A dealer can only do this if on the day of the initial sale the consumer has signed an agreement to return the car if a third-party finance company does not agree to purchase the financing contract from the dealer. Sometimes this agreement is called a “Spot Delivery Notice.”
Odometer Fraud: rolling back the mileage indicator on an automobile used to conjure images of a fraudster upside-down in the driver’s seat with their head buried under the dashboard attempting to wiggle the screwdriver just so to cause the odometer to roll backwards, thus lowering the milage and increasing the sale price. Hence the term Odometer rollback! In the modern age the same can easily be accomplished by purchasing a computerized tool that plugs into the automobile’s operating computer and changes the recorded mileage. It’s no surprise then that odometer fraud is seeing a comeback!
Airbag Fraud: under State and Federal law all cars and light trucks manufactured subsequent to September 1, 1998 and sold by a merchant in the United States for the purpose of use on public roads must have a functioning airbag system for the driver and front seat passenger.
Financing Disclosures/TILA Violations: often automobiles are purchased on credit. The Truth in Lending Act and other State laws require the merchant selling the car to make certain financial disclosures before the completion of the sale and limit the maximum amount of interest that can be charged.
Wrongful Repossession: when a consumer falls behind on payments for their automobile the creditor has the right to repossess it, but they can only do so if the consumer is in default of the financing agreement and even then they may not breach the peace to repossess. For instance, they cannot open your garage or move another car to access your vehicle. There are many ways in which the repo agent may breach the peace. If you think a repo agent may have breached the peace, contact our office now. (See the separate section on Repossessions and Foreclosures for more on this subject.)
These are just a few examples of this growing phenomenon in consumer protection. If you believe you have been the victim of a business’s unfair and deceptive business practices, contact our office today to schedule your consultation!
The Ralston Buchanan Consumer Law Group
We are a federally-recognized debt relief agency. In addition to all of the other ways we help people with debt and credit issues, we also file bankruptcy cases under Title 11 of the United States Code.
Ralston Buchanan Consumer Law Group
Hours of Operation
Monday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tuesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wednesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thursday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
*Later times may be available. Please contact us.