Your Frequently Asked Questions about Debt and Bankruptcy in Houston
Although you may feel very alone right now, you should take solace in the fact that we didn't just invent these questions—we hear them frequently from individuals just like yourself. Consumer debt is a nationwide problem and with a little legal guidance, you can be well on your way to living a fulfilling life.
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If I've had my identity stolen and my credit ruined, is there help available?
Yes. The Federal Trade Commission offers a new resource that permits you to report the problem you are having, and at the same time receive a free ID Theft Recovery Plan. Watch the video below for more information.
If you have serious debt problems and you live in the Houston Texas area or surrounding counties, give our office a call anytime to set your free first visit with one of our attorneys, or to request information.
How long does filing bankruptcy stay on my credit reports?
A bankruptcy filing can stay on your credit for 7-10 years depending on the chapter that you filed under. Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on credit reports for 10 years, chapter 13 for 7 years.
But that doesn't mean you can't re-establish credit for those periods of time! I have many clients that have gotten back on their feet, credit-wise, within 1-2 years. Scores in the mid-600's are common after that period of time, and scores of over 700 are not uncommon.
We do a free "credit clean-up" as part of all of our consumer bankruptcies, that makes sure that your creditors accurately report that their debts were included in the bankruptcy, and that you have a "zero" balance due (assuming their debt was discharged in the bankruptcy).
If you really are serious about re-establishing great credit quickly, we offer an online video course, "7 Steps to a 720 Credit Score" by Phillip Tirone. If you follow the steps, you can reach a 720 or higher credit score, which mean you can qualify for the very lowest interest rates on loans and credit cards, within 12-24 months after your bankruptcy discharge.
If you live in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area, give our office a call at 713-772-8037 for your free bankruptcy consultation with one of our attorneys to get started.
How long does it take before we can buy a home after filing bankruptcy in Houston?
After filing bankruptcy, you may think that you will never be able to get a new mortgage to buy a home, particularly if you've also lost a home to foreclosure.
But you would be surprised. Even though a chapter 7 bankruptcy can stay on your credit for 10 years from filing date (chapter 13 for 7 years), the mandatory waiting period to apply for a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is from two to four years.
In fact it is even possible to apply for an FHA loan while you are in chapter 13 bankruptcy, so long as you have been on your plan for at least one year, and have paid all of your trustee payments timely.
But you should do what you can to repair and rebuild your credit first, in order to get the best interest rate that you can. As a New York Times article recently said, just because you can apply for a mortgage loan doesn't mean you should. You don't want to get stuck with a lousy interest rate.
That is why our law firm does a free "credit cleanup" for our clients following their bankruptcies, to make the credit bureaus accurately report their discharged debts as a zero balance. We also offer our clients a "7 Steps to a 720 Credit Score" course offered at www.720creditscore.com to teach them how credit scores work, and how to obtain a 720 or higher credit score within 12-24 months after a bankruptcy.
So yes, filing bankruptcy is something to be avoided if you can, but if you can't avoid it, it is not the end of the credit world for you, not by a long shot. If you have serious debt problems and live in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area, call our office at 713-772-8037 to make an appointment or request information
If I pay a collection agency account, will it still count against my credit score?
Before very long, it should not. FICO (formerly Fair Isaac & Company), the company that invented the FICO credit scoring model, issued a Press Release on August 9, 2014. It announced that paid collection agency accounts will be "bypassed" in determining credit scores, under it's new FICO credit scoring algorithm or formula.
This will likely take a while to be fully implemented, but it should be a big help for some consumers trying to recover their good credit score after having financial difficulties. FICO also announced that medical collections won't count as much against consumer's scores, as other types of items.
Can I file a Texas bankruptcy and not include my spouse and not hurt their credit?
If you have credit accounts just in your name, and your spouse has credit just in their name, and only one of you has financial problems, it's an easy decision that only the one that has financial problems should file bankruptcy.
Just because you are married does NOT "merge" your credit files. If you apply for credit together, yes, both your files are shown to the creditor pulling the credit. But the only thing that causes both of you to suffer credit-wise when only one spouse has financial problems, is if you have joint credit accounts, according to credit expert Phillip Tirone in his recent blog post, "Marry Your Spouse, Not Their Credit Score."
Many times, people come into my Houston, Texas bankruptcy law office and only one spouse wants to file bankruptcy, so that they can "keep the other spouse's credit" so that they can buy a house or something else in the future. Well that is fine, if all of the debts that will be listed in the bankruptcy are in the spouse-to-file's name.
But if people have been married a long time, it's common that they have one or more "joint" accounts, on which they are both equally liable. And it's not a good idea, as Mr. Tirone explains in this article, for only one spouse to have credit, period. Both should have some credit, in case something happens to the other spouse or they get divorce, etc.
In my experience, if the debt that you and your spouse have or a substantial part of the debt is joint debt, it is better for both spouses to file bankruptcy. After bankruptcy, we do a free "credit clean-up" to make your credit as good as it can be. Your credit can recover quickly after a bankruptcy, so long as you do not default on new obligations.
I also offer all of my clients Mr. Tirone's "7 Steps to a 720 Score" credit rebuilding program. If you follow his instructions, you can rebuild a 720 or higher credit score within 12 to 24 months after your bankruptcy discharge.
Is it legal for a company to pull my credit report without my permission and without a "permissible purpose"?
No, it is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) for a company or person to obtain your credit reports, unless they have your permission, or unless they have a "permissible purpose" under the law.
If this occurs, you have the right to bring suit, to have your attorney fees paid, and to be paid $1000 as statutory damages.
A recent court case by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a case, because it wasn't brought within the statute of limitations for such suits, which is 2 years from the date the credit report was received. Mack v. Equable Ascent Financial, LLC, 5th Cir. 2014.
Does it help improve my credit score to pay off my credit cards every month?
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), not necessarily. It's more important to pay your bills on time, and don't use very much of your available credit.
There is a thing called a "credit utilization ratio" that measures how much of your available credit that you use. For example, if you have a $5000 credit limit on a credit card, and you charge $4500 each month, even if you pay it off each month, that will likely reduce your score somewhat, because you are close to being "maxed out" and it looks like you are in danger of default.
Credit experts stay that you should try to keep your utilization ration below 30%, it will likely help your credit score. So even if you have a low limit on a credit card, say $500, you can help your credit score by never having a balance on the card of more than $150.00.
I got a denial from a payday lender, but I had not applied! What if my credit is being stolen?
Possibly because of the recent Target credit breach, people are starting to contact us about having credit fraud, more than usual it seems.
If you have or had a Target credit card, you may want to put a "credit freeze" on your credit reports, to protect them from potential fraudsters opening up credit in your name.
Otherwise, if you are in debt trouble anyway, you may want to come in for a consultation, so that we can review your options with you.
Fraudulent charges can be disputed using your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act and other laws, but if you are in debt and are "over your head," you may want to consider your options, including the possibility of filing a bankruptcy or other debt relief option.
If you live in the Houston Texas area, call our office at 713-772-8037 anytime, 24/7, to make an appointment or to request more information. We help people throughout the Houston area, including the following cities and towns: Alvin, Angleton, Arcola, Baytown, Bellaire, Bellville, Brazoria, Brookshire, Bunker Hill Village, Cleveland, Clute, Conroe, Dayton, Deer Park, Dickinson, Freeport, Friendswood, Fulshear, Galena Park, Galveston, Hedwig Village, Hempstead, Hitchcock, Houston, Humble, Jacinto City, Jamaica Beach, Jersey Village, Katy, Kemah, Kendleton, La Marque, Lake Jackson, La Porte, League City, Magnolia, Manvel, Meadows Place, Missouri City, Mont Belvieu, Montgomery, Nassau Bay, Needville, Orchard, Pasadena, Pattison, Pearland, Richmond, Rosenberg, Sealy, Shoreacres, Simonton, South Houston, Southside Place, Splendora, Spring, Stafford, Sugar Land, Surfside Beach, Sweeny, Texas City, Tiki Island, Tomball, The Woodlands, Thompsons, Waller, West Columbia, Willis, West University Place.
I can't open a bank account because of Telecheck in Houston. Can bankruptcy help me get an account?
Companies such as Telecheck in Houston, Texas gather up information about how people use their bank accounts. If you have bounced checks, or overdrafted your account, or owe the bank money for fees etc. they can close your account and not do business with you any more.
And a bank may subscribe to a company like Telecheck or Chexsystems to see how you have handled your banking relationships in the past, and deny you a new account if they don't like what they see.
But if you file bankruptcy, be sure to tell your attorney that you owe a bank for an overdrafted account. Then the attorney can list the bank as a creditor, so that what you owe the bank can be discharged or canceled by the bankruptcy.
Then after the bankruptcy, a letter should be sent to Telecheck with a copy of the discharge, and a list of the debts that were discharged, to make sure that they correct their records. Here is information about exactly how to do that.
I lost my home to foreclosure when I lost my job. Now I can't get a job because of bad credit. Is there anything I can do?
Maybe. Some lenders and mortgage companies are not reporting foreclosures, short sales, loan modification, and certain other derogatory items correctly to the credit bureaus.
Many people in the Houston and Harris County, Texas area, and millions nationally, are having a hard time getting their credit reports re-established because of the recent Foreclosure Crisis and the Great Recession, according to a recent report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), authored by Chi Chi Wu.
The report calls these events "situational circumstances or “trembles” within a consumer’s life that are often responsible for the delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures – not bad character, but bad luck." The title of the report is "Solving the Credit Conundrum: Helping Consumers' Credit Records Impaired by the Foreclosure Crisis and Great Recession." The report highlights 5 problems with credit reporting that could be holding you back; (1) lenders or mortgage servicers that are reporting short sales as foreclosures; (2) mortgage servicers and lenders that are trying to collect deficiency balances after a short sale or a foreclosure (when there is no deficiency due); (3) reporting the entire balance of a mortgage as still due, after a foreclosure (we see this a lot when we pull credit reports before we file a bankruptcy for someone); (4) credit reports that are not reflecting the terms of a loan modification; and (5) reporting loan modifications in a way that makes it look like the borrower is only paying partial payments, when they are paying the full amount asked of them.
If some or all of these things have happened to you, don't just take it. Work on your credit reports. Make it a hobby. Do the best that you can to make the credit bureaus report the derogatory item or items accurately. Even if you don't want to purchase anything on credit anytime soon, your credit reports are very important in today's society.
Your credit score can be used for such things as employment, renting a house or apartment, whether or not you qualify for insurance and how much your premiums will be, even how much you will pay for utility service. A poor credit score can literally cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires credit bureaus to use "maximum possible accuracy" in credit reports. You are entitled to free credit reports once per year from each of the major credit bureaus, as well as if you have been denied credit. Review your reports carefully, and dispute the erroneous items. If they won't fix it, and it causes you damage such as a credit denial, a higher interest rate, or higher insurance premiums or a job denial, you may have a cause of action or a lawsuit against the credit furnisher and/or the credit bureaus.
If you still have debt problems lingering, you may need to consider filing a bankruptcy to get rid of your debt. We have clients that can reach a 720 or higher credit score, within 12-24 months after a bankruptcy filing. For more information, call our office anytime for a free consultation, or for one of our publications.
I had a bankruptcy over a year ago. How long until I can get financing to buy a home?
~~If you had a foreclosure, short sale or bankruptcy caused by the recent housing bust, you may be eligible to buy another house this year, according to some housing experts. They are calling 2014 the year of the "boomerang buyer."
It depends on your circumstances, but you may qualify to buy a home as little as one year after a chapter 7 bankruptcy, or possibly even while you are in a chapter 13 bankruptcy.
There have been hanges made to Federal Housing Administration guidelines, and also there have been updates to Fannie Mae loan approval systems to permit people that lost homes or had a bankruptcy during the recent downturn, to qualify for new home mortgages in as little as one year after a foreclosure or other financial calamity.
Founders of the San Diego-based company AfterForeclosure.com said last month that millions of banned borrowers in the United States will be eligible for a mortgage in 2014.
Under the FHA's "Back to Work" program, certain borrowers will be approved for a home loan just one year after a foreclosure, short sale, deed in lieu of foreclosure or bankruptcy. Previously, FHA's timeline was three years for a short sale and foreclosure and two years after a bankruptcy.
Can I obtain my credit scores from the credit bureaus for free, or do i have to pay for them?
Consumers can get their credit REPORTS for free once per year, from the three credit bureaus, through a website set up for that purpose: www.annualcreditreport.com. It's recommended that all consumers check their credit reports at least once per year, to check for mistakes or possible fraud.
Consumers can then dispute any inaccurace items on their credit reports, to the credit bureaus. Otherwise inaccurate, derogatory items can harm credit scores unnecessarily.
But credit SCORES have not historically been for free to consumers, at least not without going to a third-party site like creditkarma.com. Third party sites may try to sell the consumer other products and services. And the third-party sites' scores are not the same as the ones that the creditors see, when they pay for and obtain your scores through Fair Isaac.
Recently some lenders have begun providing free credit scores to consumers. If you have a relationship with one of these lenders, you likely are receiving free credit scores as part of your monthly bill, or you may have to log on to the lenders' websites to obtain your free credit scores.
If you do not have access to free credit scores, you can buy your scores at www.myfico.com, or at the websites of the individual credit bureaus.
How can I find a no or low-cost housing counselor that I can trust to help me with my mortgage?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has set up an online tool for you to locate HUD-certified housing counselors in your area.
The counseling agencies on the list are approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and they can offer independent advice about mortgages, loan modifications, or other issues that you have concerning your mortgage.
If you are in danger of foreclosure, you can also contact our office at 713-772-8037. If you qualify, we can help you file chapter 13 bankruptcy, to stop foreclosure and allow you to cure your delinquent payments over a 3-5 year period of time.
If I file bankruptcy without my spouse, will it hurt my spouse's credit?
Probably not. Credit reports and scores are kept separately for each individual. So if you file bankruptcy, the fact that you filed will not show up on your spouse's credit report on the "public record" section of the report.
On the part of your credit report that lists your debts, the "tradeline" section, the story is a little different.
If you have "joint" credit accounts, that you are both liable to pay, then the creditor can still seek to collect the debt from the non-filing spouse. They can also continue to report the status of the debt on the non-filing spouse's credit. So to preserve their credit, the non-filing spouse would have to timely pay the debt.
Also, if your non-filing spouse (or someone else) is an "authorized user" on one of the credit cards that you intend to list in your bankruptcy, you want to have them removed, if possible, before you file bankruptcy. Otherwise, the account will show it was discharged in bankruptcy on their credit report.
As a practical matter, it is often better for both spouses to file bankruptcy together, to get a fresh start for the both of them. Your credit scores can recover quickly after a bankruptcy, and it is usually little or no more expensive on the attorney fees for both spouses to file together.
How do I fix an error on my credit report? Two credit bureaus are correct, I settled the debt. The other one says it is still owed.
It should not be difficult to correct an error on your credit report. You don't need to hire anyone to help you!
Just send a letter to the credit bureau that is reporting it, and dispute the error. You do not have to dispute the item with the creditor themselves, although it doesn't hurt to send a copy of your dispute to the creditor. It's recommended that you send your letter via certified mail, return receipt requested. That way, you have proof that it was received, and when it was received.
Include copies of any documents that support your position, like receipts, canceled checks, or other proof of payment. For an example of how to do it with instructions, visit the FTC website.
Credit bureaus are required by law to investigate your dispute and respond to you in writing within 30 days. If they make a change to your report, they must also send you a free copy of your corrected report.
It's been 10 years since I filed chapter 7 bankruptcy. Will it come off my credit reports by itself, or do I need to do anything?
Pursuant to federal law, specifically the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a chapter 7 bankruptcy cannot be reported for more than 10 years from the date of filing. Your bankruptcy should no longer appear after the 10 years runs. You should not have to do anything.
To be sure the bankruptcy no longer appears on your credit, once the 10 years runs, order your free annual reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. You should likely order all three, from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, to be sure all have stopped reporting the bankruptcy.
I filed bankruptcy in Houston 5 years ago. How long does filing bankruptcy stay on my credit report?
If you file chapter 7 or chapter 11 bankruptcy, the fact that you filed shows on the "public record" part of your credit reports for 10 years from the date the bankruptcy was filed.
The individual "tradelines" or creditors that were listed on the bankruptcy and discharged should show a zero balance with a notation "account included" in bankruptcy, and they should be removed from your credit reports after 7 years.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy comes off your credit reports after 7 years. But it doesn't take nearly that long to re-establish credit.
Our firm does a "credit clean-up" for you after your bankruptcy discharge which increases your credit score from 25-150 points. We also currently offer bankruptcy clients a free "7 Steps to a 720 Score" video educational program that shows you how to reach a 720 score (when you qualify for the best interest rates) within 12-24 months following your bankruptcy discharge. The retail price of this program is $1000 at www.720creditscore.com.
Will I Ever Be Able To Get A Mortgage and Buy A House in Houston After A Bankruptcy, Short Sale or Foreclosure?
Yes, if you work at it.
After you have suffered a short sale, a homebuyer can qualify for a conventional mortgage loan after only two years, with 20% down payment. If you only have 10% down, you may have to wait four years to qualify for a conventional loan. And with a down payment of less than 10%, it can take seven years to get a new home loan.
But if you qualify for an FHA loan, you can get mortgage financing as little as 3 years after a foreclosure or short sale, with as little as 3.5% down. And if you can explain to a lender the extenuating circumstances that caused the problem, perhaps even sooner.
Are you a veteran or do you qualify for a V.A. loan? You will only have to wait two years after a foreclosure or short sale, and you don't have to pay a down payment.
If you are serious about buying a home, get your credit score as high as you can. The best mortgage rates go to people with a 720 or higher credit score. For our former bankruptcy clients, we provide a free "7 Steps To A 720 Score" educational course that guarantees that they can get your credit score to 720 in as little as 12-24 months. This course usually retails for $1000.00. This is a limited time offer.
Also, if you do a short sale instead of allowing your home to foreclose, be sure it shows on your credit correctly. Lenders would rather see a short sale, than a foreclosure, if possible.