Saturday, December 5, 2015

Have you ever heard a commercial offering free credit reports?

Most of the commercials for free credit reports actually do provide the opportunity to get a free credit report, but there is a monthly charge for credit checks and monitoring or other services that can cost you a substantial sum of money each year.  The good news, though, is that about 10 years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted a law that requires each of the credit bureaus to provide you a free credit report on an annual basis.  The free credit report is available by calling 877-322-8228, by completing a form available here and mailing in the request, or by going to the website

Recently, I saw a statistic that over 35% of the American population has incorrect information appearing on their credit report.  You might be surprised to learn that credit reporting is not just for car loans and mortgages, but it is also used by companies for making decisions regarding approvals of cell phone plans, job opportunities, and even interest rates you would get for a savings account. Additionally, incorrect information can affect your ability to open credit cards, cause reductions in credit limits, and lessen options such as miles and rewards available to you.

The three credit bureaus all have most of the same information but some companies only report to one agency due to the cost of reporting to all three.  For example, in the past ComEd only reported to one bureau and the information was often incorrect. Therefore, it’s important to check all three and look for differences.

Each year you should print your credit reports and review it for any inaccuracies. You will notice the name of the creditor may be different from the name that you know.  If there is a tradename sometimes it is listed.  Other information to take note of includes the address of the creditor, your high balance, the balance available, your current balance, and your payment history. Your current balance may be from a few months prior to the date you request the credit report, so if that number is not accurate to the penny it should not worry you. However, if you see late payments that are incorrect or items you do not know about then you should take action.

Each issue has a different path for resolution. The different credit bureaus’ websites list the way to disputes the findings and information listed. For example, if a missed payment or late payment is noted incorrectly on the credit report, you should contact the specific company directly and discuss your issues. That company will be the one who can rectify the situation.

You may also see that something like a student loan is listed for five or even six times. Loans are often sold and serviced by different companies, perhaps without your knowledge. If you see balances on these items or late listings it may be of concern to you.
If you see credit lines that you know you did not open, that is a definite cause for concern and when the real problems begin. The first step is to contact the company by the phone number listed within the credit report. Inform them that the credit line was opened without your permission and appears on your credit report. Compile as much information as you can and take that information to the police. Once the police create a report, provide that report number to the credit agencies.

If you encounter serious problems with your credit report and you need the assistance of an attorney, I am here to help.

Friday, November 27, 2015

What to do at the First Meeting with an attorney.

At the meeting:
1.       Having a friend at the meeting may make you comfortable but the meeting may not be confidential then so choose wisely.
2.       Be yourself.
3.       Be organized when you first meet with the lawyer.
4.       Tell the story, but only provide a summary.
a.       This meeting is not the time to share every minor detail. If the attorney wants more information, he/she will ask.
b.       Try to have a written summary or outline of your problem.
5.       Take notes!
a.       Quite often people leave the initial consultation and realize later they felt overwhelmed by the experience. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll remember everything that was discussed without writing it down!
6.       Ask the questions you prepared and speak up if you don’t understand.
a.       Has the attorney had experience with this type of problem before? How recently? How often? What was involved?
b.       What percentage of the attorney’s practice is devoted to this kind of problem?
c.       Will the specific person you’re meeting with actually be working on your case? In what way? Will any other persons be doing work on your case? What will they do? How will it affect the fee or relations with the lead attorney?
d.       Will the attorney talk to you in plain English when you do not understand "legalese"?
e.       Will the attorney provide you with copies of all documents and letters received or written in your case? Will that be treated as an out-of-pocket expense or will you be expected to pay for such expenses in advance? Will the attorney allow you access to your case file at his/her office?
f.       Will the attorney keep you informed about all developments in your case? For important things, will the attorney allow you to make the final decision?
g.       Will the attorney send monthly billing statements?
h.       What kind of continuing legal education classes has the attorney attended and how recently? (One way to judge a lawyer's competence is by the amount of time they devote to keeping up with changes in the law through continuing legal education.)
7.       Set expectations as to what you want out of your representation.
8.       Be honest as to what you can afford. MOST lawyers want to help people and some are willing to work with you on payment arrangements.

Making a Decision:
1.    When you hire a lawyer, the lawyer will be working for you. He/she should be genuinely interested in your problem and in giving you the best possible advice.
2.    The lawyer may not be able to accomplish everything you desire because of the facts or the law that apply in your case. Many times a good lawyer will advise you to avoid court action.
3.    A lawyer should be able to explain, in terms you can understand, what he/she hopes to accomplish for you and how he/she plans to do it.
4.    Think about how the lawyer responded to your questions, his/her experience, and whether you will be able to work with the lawyer.
5.    If you are satisfied with the interview, tell the lawyer everything about your problem, including facts that may be unfavorable or embarrassing to you. Unless you are completely candid, the lawyer will be unable to advise you properly and help fully.

Strict rules prohibit the lawyer from repeating to anyone what you say, unless you admit any ongoing or planned criminal activity.   


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to Prepare for a First Meeting with an Attorney

Choosing an attorney can be a mind-numbing experience. That first meeting can be scary, but simple preparation will make the experience better. Most attorneys offer free initial consultations, which is a time for you meet, briefly discuss your situation, and then decide if you want this person to work for you. What you may not have thought of is that the attorney is also looking across the desk and deciding whether he/she wants to work with YOU.

An hour meeting goes fast, and the attorney will only answer general questions so do not expect to be told what form to use or how to do it yourself. 

A normal meeting follows this basic structure:
1.       Introductions 5-10 minutes.
2.       Telling the facts 10-30 minutes.
3.       Questions and answers for 10-20 minutes.
4.       Going over representation and billing 10-15 minutes.

Before you call:
1.       Think about what you want done.
2.       Look online for reviews.
a.        Understand that most clients do not want to share their reason for meeting with an attorney, and in some situations no one wins.
3.       Your friend may have used an attorney, but what is important to YOU?
4.       Confirm that the attorney works in the area of law your issue falls within.

During the call:
1.       Were you able to speak with the attorney directly?
2.       Was your call answered professionally?
3.       This call usually only lasts about 5 minutes, but ask a few questions:
a.       Does the lawyer have experience with your kind of problem?
b.       Does the lawyer charge for an initial interview, and if so, how much?
c.       Is your problem a routine one, and if so, does the attorney have a standard fee? What does it cover?
d.       If your problem appears more complicated, ask about hourly fees.
e.       Does the lawyer have a written agreement describing fees and services provided for the fees?
4.       Was a meeting set for a time you are satisfied with?
5.       Did you feel that the person on the phone wanted to speak with you?

Before your meeting:
1.       Gather all paperwork you may have.
a.       receipts, contracts, medical bills, repair estimates, checks, tickets, etc.
2.       Write down any questions that you may have, such as:
a.       What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
b.       What would you advise me to do about my situation?
c.       Can a timetable be set for my case?
d.       If I hire you, what will you be doing for me, and when and how will we get back in touch with each other?
e.       Is there a statute of limitations, or legal deadline, in my case that we must be careful not to miss?
3.       Decide how much money you have to spend.
4.       Think about what “winning” means to you. (This is probably the hardest question to answer.)