Archives for July 2012

Navigating the tricky waters of medical bills-to protect yourself against errors and abuses you need to watch and keep good records

This article in the New York Times highlights a problem we have seen increasingly of late, the sometimes confusing morass of medical bills.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/your-money/health-insurance/navigating-the-labyrinth-of-medical-costs-your-money.html?_r=1. In this day and age, everyone needs to watch closely and keep careful records. In law as in life “those with the best paperwork tend to win”. Fighting and challenging medical bills, and demanding that insurance companies pay what they should is time consuming, and sadly, sometimes necessary.

Doing this, we know, can only compound the stress and distress of other problems. Unpaid medical bills may, and are often only part of the problem. If you are loaded with other debt, various forms of debt relief, or debt relief planning may be essential.  Medical bill collectors are held to the same rules and standards as other bill collectors.

We recommend:

1. Keep all your medical bills and medical records for at least 12 months, or until your treatment with that provides is finished and fully paid for 6 months.

2. Read the notices on your right to appeal limitations or denials of insurance and exercise your rights.

3. Anytime you speak to someone, take notes of the date, who you spoke to and what was said. If possible and something significant was said, confirm by fax or email.

4. Read all bills or Explanation of Benefits when you get them. Keep complete copies of all medical insurance policies for at least the past 4 years.

5. When signing agreements with providers, always ask for a copy of what you signed. This is your right. Watch out when signing for someone else.

6. If the bill is old, (ie over 6 years in New Jersey) watch out that by making even a small payment you may resurred an old and timebarred debt.

7. Don’t accept any abusive behavior from any debt collector.

Seek qualified legal advice.

 

Moving out of your home could deprive you of protections under the New Jersey Fair Foreclosure Act

New Jersey’s Fair Foreclosure Act [“the FFA”]  gives homeowners various protections and rights in the event of foreclosure. These include the right to a 30 day “Notice of Intent to Foreclose” so that they can bring the loan current before a foreclosure is started. Also included is the right to notice and a further opportunity to cure the arrears before the lender applies for a judgment by default.  The FFA’s procedures provide not only multiple opportunities to avoid foreclosure, but substantially lengthen the time from the start of the process to foreclosure sale. The FFA applies, by its terms only to “residential mortgages” which are defined as those where the property is a house, real property or condominium located in New Jersey, which is occupied, or is to be occupied, the an individual borrower or  or a member of the [his/her] immediate family, as that person’s residence. The property can contain up to 4 dwelling units as long as the borrower or a family member lives in one of them. The final requirement is that the property “is or is planned to be, occupied by the [borrower] or a member of the [borrower’s]  immediate family as [that person’s] residence at the time the loan is originated.

In a recently reported case in Cape May County, (Sturdy Savings Bank v Roberts) Judge William Todd held that these protections are lost when the borrower or family members move out before a foreclosure is started with no intention to return. This is admittedly contrary to a strict reading of the statute, but Judge Todd looked instead to the purpose of the law, to protect those who currently occupy a mortgaged residence. Since the Roberts’ had moved out long before the foreclosure, he held they were not entitled to the protections intended to help those in residency.

Certain other requirements contained in the court rules, intended to counter abuses such as “robo-signing”, still apply, Judge Todd ruled

For a variety of reasons, we have long encouraged those facing foreclosure not to move out sooner than they have to, unless there is good cause to do so.  This decision simply underscores and confirms that advice. Proper advice and planning, from a qualified attorney, is always wise and worthwhile.

Foreclosure Advice

Is the foreclosure mess ending? Hopeful signs but careful planning still needed.

Recently, the New York Times has reported that the residential housing market is showing signs of life, with prices and sale activity in certain aress going up.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/business/economy/new-indications-housing-recovery-is-under-way.html. Another article reports that increasing numbers of homeowners in financial trouble have been able to get help through a refinancing program called HARP. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/realestate/mortgages-increased-interest-in-expanded-harp.html. (HAMP is the other program people have heard about. HARP is for people who are current on their mortgages)

This is good news for many, but we caution not to look at the problem piecemeal. Too many of our clients did just that, thinking that refinancing their home or taking money out of pensions or IRA’s would solve all their problems when in fact the underlying problem of too little income and too much expense or debt remained. When we help people with a mortgage modification or restructuring, we always counsel that this is only part of the solution. A close look at spending vs income, with planning for future needs (the car will need tires! I need that root canal!) is essential.

Most important is a long term change in lifestyle and priorities. Just as a crash diet fails without long term changes in eating habits, any credit fix will fail if overspending continues. We always explore all the choices our clients have with a  broader long term view in mind.

We hope that all our clients will find their way to long term financial stability, and will learn to enjoy not having to worry about how to pay the next unexpected bill.

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