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cell-phone-handI thought I’d take a minute to share common defenses faced by consumer lawyers such as myself — and help arm consumers with just how and what they should say to stop the calls.

First, a debt collector will always deny that you ever revoked consent to call.  They will argue that you did not provide enough personal identifying information for them to verify and therefore they could not process the DO NOT CALL request.

Second, they will argue that the consumer did not specify which number he or she did not want the calls made to.

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Who are all these people?  People who want to put an end to the student loan crisis.  Most are Bankruptcy Judges from the Middle, Southern and Northern Districts.  The rest are us committee members who helped to put in place a new Student Loan Modification Program which goes into effect September 1, 2019 for the Middle District of Florida.

As I like to put it, the idea behind the Student Loan Modification program is to: 1) increase communication between bankruptcy debtors and student loan servicers; 2) increase awareness of various options available to reduce student loan debt; and 3) end the needless forbearance and accrual of yet more debt in bankruptcy by providing easier access and instructions for federal programs as well as mediation opportunities for private student loans.

I have a few trainings scheduled in the near future for other bankruptcy attorneys who have requested this:

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robocallsHow many of us no longer answer our cell phone?  With all the caller ID spoofing/disguising nowadays, most people I know don’t answer, opting instead for the caller to leave a voice message.  This ensures they want to talk to the caller, and then they call back.  The caller may do the same.  I’m no different.  Until someone is added into my address book, they don’t exist.  Wasted time returning calls and listening to voice messages abounds.

Wouldn’t you like to see things turn around – and help make our cell phones useful for calls again?

The House just passed a near-unanimous bipartisan vote on the strongest anti-robocall legislation in decades.  Everyone is sick of robocalls it seems.  The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act now heads to the Senate, where similar but less comprehensive legislation was passed.  But robocallers are hard at work lobbying Senators to scrap parts of the House legislation and significantly weaken its consumer protections.  The consumer bar needs you to weigh in and insist the Senate keep key parts of the House rule intact to effectively stop unwanted robocalls.

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A 529 account and/or a Florida Pre-paid account is a no brainer.  A 529 account is NEVER taxed.  As long as you use the money for educational expenses, the gains from bond interest, stock dividends and stock appreciation is never taxed.  You can easily set up an account through Vanguard or Fidelity.  The 2019 changes for maximum contributions are located at the Vanguard link.

The definition of educational purposes is fairly broad and includes room and board, fees, books, supplies, equipment, computer hardware and software, and internet access and related services.

Also, parents can now use a 529 for private K-12.

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For anyone who has an interest in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or other forgiveness programs for federal student loans, we were interviewed by attorney Kenneth Landau on his radio show that will be broadcast at 3:00 p.m. today and available as a podcast thereafter at

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divorce-debtsRogers v. Rogers, 12 So.3d 288 stands for the general proposition that student loan debt incurred during the marriage is a marital liability.  See, e.g. Smith, 934 So.2d 636, at 641; Adams v. Cook, 969 So.2d 1185, 1187 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007); Banton v. Parker-Banton, 756 So.2d 155, 156 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000); see also Section 61.075(5)(a)(1).  Thus, in the absence of specific findings supporting the unequal distribution of a student loan debt, such debt must be equitably distributed between the parties.  See Smith, 934 So.2d at 641; Adams, 969 So.2d at 1187.

The fact that one party will not receive any benefit from the other party’s education because of the dissolution is NOT a factor to be considered when allocating a marital debt for student loans.  See Smith, 934 So.2d at 641; Adams, 969 So.2d at 1187.  Thus, absent some other justification for an unequal distribution, controlling case law forbids a trial court from awarding student loan debt incurred during the marriage solely to one party or the other.

If the loans were taken out before the marriage, then they would be non-marital debt.

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In the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin – the answer is “YES” in a ground breaking ruling against Great Lakes this week.    Servicers must tell the truth when a student loan borrower asks questions about their options to repay student loans.  Servicers who steer borrowers into plans that benefit lenders,forcing borrowers struggling to keep up with their loans, can be held liable.  Halleluja!! (yes, I had to look up how to spell that 🙂

In Florida, we still don’t know.  We have a pending class action on appeal with our co-counsel against the very same defendant, Great Lakes, making the same arguments in the context of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

This borrower, Nicole Nelson, says she was never informed about income-based repayment plans, which federal law requires loan servicers to offer. Income-based plans set monthly loan payments as a percentage of a borrower’s discretionary income, but, according to Nelson, these plans are less lucrative for lenders and the enrollment process is time-consuming for the loan servicer.  Instead, the servicer pushed forbearance.  We tell clients that forbearances are the drug of choice for servicers because it is easy to grant, and runs the loan balance up.  Forbearances do have their place, but they should be considered as a bandaid for a temporary reprieve, not a long-term solution.

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Which is the better option?

Debt management plans have no guarantee that the creditor will accept a negotiated discount.  Debt consolidators charge a fee regardless of whether a settlement is reached and often years go by with credit scores dwindling each month.  It’s often better to reach a deal with the creditor directly then try to include them in a debt consolidation plan.  Lump sums are needed.  1099s are sent for any forgiven amounts leading to a tax bill.  Any negotiated agreement must be in writing preferably with a line item deletion with the credit reporting agencies or at least reflecting the debt as paid in full.

Bankruptcy, particularly a Chapter 7, is often much faster — only three months for a Chapter 7 discharge.  While a Chapter 7 will remain on someone’s credit for 10 years, most people are able to get their credit score back up to high 600s or low 700s within six months to two years.  Bankruptcy is a legal mechanism intended to let people start fresh and credit rebuilding takes much less time than most people think.

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home-buying-tipsMany Floridians have moved beyond the foreclosure crisis and are now in the market to buy a home – we have some credit rebuilding tips in our free e-book “Reboot Your Life After Bankruptcy”  This e-book is not just for those in bankruptcy, but it also may help those who went through a short sale, foreclosure, deed in lieu or simply collection actions and debt settlements.

Until October 31, 2019, Bank of America is offering a new program to price match for interest rates AND will offer ZERO origination points for certain mortgages.  In a study from Lending Tree, 60% of customers pay between $1,000 and $5,000 in origination fees.  In high-priced markets, a lender can charge over $10,000 in origination fees.

We are developing a series of Home Buying Tips to appear on our blog and website.  These will focus on those who have had financial or legal challenges to overcome.  We don’t know what’s the best school district or things like that, but we do know a lot about how to easily qualify for a home purchase within your means – or even to purchase an investment home/duplex/small apartment building.

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financial-coachThe financial website “Marketwatch” released a study of the American people’s money situations. It was disturbing at best.

The report found about half of our households live paycheck to paycheck. 19% have zero in savings, while 31% have less than $500.

It’s no surprise that nearly half described themselves as “concerned, anxious or fearful” about their current financial well being. Keep in mind the survey was taken in the midst of a booming economy.

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