Tips and Information Regarding Legal Issues
|Posted on April 26, 2018 at 1:50 PM|
DUI Could Mean Prison Time
A cause of concentration loss is being under the influence of a substance, such as drugs or alcohol. With booze being the most common source of distracted driving, let’s look at those laws. In South Carolina, it will come down to severity and previous offences, but a first offence offers a maximum six months jail time. If your blood alcohol content is over 0.15% or it is a second offence, then there is an indefinite sentence available.
How To Stay Focused and Avoid Accidents
Avoiding distracted driving starts with awareness. By nature, those who are distracted are slow to realize so. Driving can be boring and the mind wanders. Help yourself concentrate by keeping your phone switched off while driving. You should also stay hydrated and eat beforehand so that your brain can more easily retain focus. Be smart and responsible by pulling over before engaging in any activity that could be dangerous.
Since distracted driving causes so many injuries and fatalities, it should be your main concern after passing your test. Failing to abide by distracted driving laws could mean loss of licence, fines or jail time. When driving, focus on the task in hand and you’ll avoid any legal ramifications.
|Posted on April 26, 2018 at 1:45 PM|
What Are the Legal Ramifications of Driving While Distracted?
South Carolina has the third worst drivers of any state, with two thirds of all accidents involving the use of cell phones. However, this isn’t the only cause of distraction for drivers. Eating, doing hair or makeup, and chatting to passengers can divert a driver’s attention at a crucial moment. When traveling at speed, just a few seconds of lack of attention on the road can be potentially deadly. With South Carolina having more fatalities per 1000 miles than any other state, there are strict laws against distracted driving in place. Do you know the legal consequences of your driving habits? Read on to find out more.
Fines for Texting
Some research suggests that smartphones have lowered a human’s attention span to less than that of a goldfish. Checking for texts, notifications, emails and alerts has become addictive for many people. If you’re on an hour long road trip, this can feel like a long time to not look at your phone. However, it could land you in serious legal trouble.
There is no statewide ban on texting and driving in South Carolina, but most cities, including Columbia have their own laws. If you are caught using a cellphone while at the wheel then you will likely face a fine. This will be $100 for first time offenders and up to $300 for third timers, plus legal costs.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:35 PM|
WILL NEW BILL HELP PEOPLE FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY DUE TO MEDICAL DEBT?
A new bill seeks to change the laws governing medical debt bankruptcies, which represent a substantial proportion of bankruptcies in the U.S.
Many people in Irmo, South Carolina, have struggled with medical bills at some point; today, even people with insurance may find it difficult to keep up with rising healthcare costs. According to CNBC, medical debt was identified as a leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. during a 2013 NerdWallet study. A recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed that over half of bankruptcy cases sent to collections involve medical debt.
Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act, medical debt remains a substantial problem. Even seemingly reasonable medical costs, such as prescriptions and annual deductibles, can accumulate into substantial debt over time. Unfortunately for people who file for bankruptcy, the filing process and long-term consequences can be unfavorable for people with medical debt.
Unique aspects of medical debt
Medical debt is distinct from other types of debt, The Huffington Post points out. In most cases, people do not know what their healthcare expenses will be when they decide to seek treatment. Even if a rough price is known, unexpected costs often increase the final amount due. Some debtors do not even realize they owe money until they receive notification from a collections agency or notice the debt on their credit report.
According to the same article, people with medical debt often do not fit the profile of a typical debtor. A CFPB survey of 5 million people found that those with medical debt were more likely to repay their debt than people with the same credit score who had other forms of debt. This suggests that credit score decreases may penalize medical debtors too harshly, and that measures, such as credit counseling, may not be necessary for those with medical debt.
In recognition of the differences between medical debt and other types of debt, two senators have introduced a new bill, the Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2014, which would address some of these issues.
The bill would make three key changes to make it easier for medical debtors to file for bankruptcy and move on afterward. According to the bill text, these changes are:
Allowing debtors to forgo credit counseling. This counseling is currently mandatory, but it is not typically helpful to medical debtors, who often have little real control over the debts they accrue.
Letting debtors exempt $250,000 in property, making it easier for debtors to keep their homes. Currently, most debtors can only keep their homes by filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which involves a court-ordered repayment plan.
Allowing forgiveness of student loans in certain cases. Currently, debtors can rarely discharge student loans through bankruptcy, even if they have additional forms of debt.
The bill was assigned to a Congressional Committee in June. If the measure ultimately passes, it may help people struggling with medical debt substantially.
In the meantime, anyone considering filing for bankruptcy to relieve medical debt should meet with an experienced attorney. An attorney can provide advice on the different chapters of bankruptcy and help people understand the likely long-term outcomes of filing.
Keywords: bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Chapter 13
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:35 PM|
DEBT A MOUNTING PROBLEM FOR AMERICAN RETIREES
Retirement is supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of a career's worth of work. Unfortunately, the recent recession has taken a huge toll on the investments that many Americans were counting on to fund their retirements.
This means that a lot of Americans may face the prospect of not having enough to live on during retirement. In fact, a recent survey conducted by TD Ameritrade found that nearly three-quarters of all Baby Boomers plan to place significant reliance on their Social Security payments during retirement. However, the average Social Security check is only $1,230 per month, which may not stretch as far as many retirees will need it to.
The problem is even further compounded by the fact that so many seniors are coming into retirement with debt. The federal Survey of Consumer Finances showed that almost 65 percent of Americans over age 64 had mortgage debt in 2010. By contrast, only about 27 percent of seniors still owed money on their mortgages in 1989. During this same period, the average outstanding mortgage debt nearly tripled.
Credit card debt is also an issue for older Americans. A survey conducted by AARP found that more than one-third of respondents used credit cards to fund basic living expenses like food, utilities and housing payments. The average debt load was approximately $8,248.
All of these things can lead to significant financial problems, including bankruptcy. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling says that nearly one-third of its clients who end up filing for bankruptcy are over age 55.
Financial health during retirement
Filing for bankruptcy is not a sign of failure. Economic conditions for retirees are worse now than at almost any other point in recent history. In many cases, bankruptcy can offer a solution to unmanageable debt and a fresh start that allows retirees to focus on enjoying their golden years.
With that said, most people would prefer to avoid getting into a situation where bankruptcy is necessary. While no one can control the economy, there are some steps people can take to help secure their financial health during retirement:
- Set a budget: Retirement means living on a fixed income. This lifestyle will be easier to adjust to if you set a realistic budget and stick to it. It's also a good idea to avoid carrying a balance on a credit card, since interest charges can add up quickly.
- Streamline your expenses: Stop paying for things you don't need. If you don't watch much TV, then don't pay for cable. If you hardly ever use your cellphone, don't buy the most expensive plan.
- Evaluate your insurance: Most people don't need to pay for life insurance once they reach retirement age, so long as they have a good estate plan in place. However, having sufficient home and auto insurance can help protect against unanticipated expenses.
- Manage travel expenses: Traveling is one of the most fun parts of retirement. It is also one of the most expensive. It's worth taking the time to plan and shop around in order to save money.
If you do get into financial trouble, know that help is out there. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can work with you to review your financial situation and make a plan to get you back on your feet.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:30 PM|
BANKRUPTCY AN OPTION FOR SOUTH CAROLINIANS STRUGGLING WITH DEBT
Nearly one million people filed for personal bankruptcy in the United States during the first three quarters of 2012. Many people in South Carolina go through bankruptcy in order to make ends meet and relieve themselves of demanding debts.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy
The purpose of bankruptcy is to give a person struggling with debt a fresh start by discharging certain debts. Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows people struggling with debt to liquidate their assets and pay off creditors. The assigned bankruptcy trustee will put together all of the person's assets, sell all of the assets that are considered nonexempt and use the proceeds to pay creditors.
This discharge is only for individuals. After bankruptcy, the individual is no longer liable for the debts that were discharged. Once a bankruptcy petition is filed, an automatic stay is issued, which means that creditors must stop all collection efforts until a court order is issued or the bankruptcy case is resolved.
A person filing for bankruptcy must provide the court with a wealth of information regarding their finances, including a schedule of assets and debts, information about current income and current expenses as well as a financial affairs statement. If people are filing for bankruptcy individually, they still must provide the same information for their spouses. Some types of property are exempt from creditors; state law varies as to what types of property are exempt.
The bankruptcy case trustee
Each bankruptcy case will be assigned a trustee whose role is to liquidate the assets in order to maximize the payoffs to the creditors. The trustee holds a meeting within 21 to 40 days after the filing of the petition is filed. The meeting will include the trustee, the person filing for bankruptcy and the creditors that wish to attend. The debtor is put under oath and asked questioned by the trustee and the creditors about the assets, debts and other financial issues. The trustee will also request financial documents from the debtor. The debtor will also be questioned by the trustee to make sure that the implications of going through bankruptcy are understood.
Approval or disapproval of discharge
After the meeting is completed and all the necessary documents are gathered, the court will make its decision. The grounds for disallowing discharge are quite narrow. For example, if the debtor provided the court with inaccurate information or refused to cooperate with the trustee, the discharge may not be approved.
Individuals struggling with financial hardship should contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney to help them through the process. A bankruptcy attorney will help an applicant gather necessary information for the bankruptcy petition, help create schedules and report expenses and petition the court for discharge of debt at the conclusion of a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:30 PM|
CONGRESS URGED TO CHANGE BANKRUPTCY RULES ON CERTAIN STUDENT LOAN DEBT
Many students in South Carolina and elsewhere in the United States are graduating with historic levels of student debt while also facing challenging job prospects. The dual issues of a high debt burden and low job prospects can set young individuals on a path to financial insecurity. Under today's personal bankruptcy laws, student debt is generally not dischargeable, but that may eventually change for one type of student loan.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau urged Congress to review the bankruptcy exemption for private student loans. According to The Wall Street Journal, Richard Cordray, the CFPB chief, said it would be sensible for Congress to consider modifying the bankruptcy code, "in light of the impact on young borrowers in challenging labor-market conditions." In addition, Cordray said the law that prohibits the discharge of private student loans has not achieved the law's objectives in bringing down the costs of borrowing and providing greater access.
Experts in favor of reform believe the threat of discharging private student loans in bankruptcy will force lenders to provide borrowers with more options for financial relief in the event of economic hardship. The change may also incentivize lenders to adopt underwriting criteria that will prevent students from taking on massive educational debt. The chief operating officer of Sallie Mae also supports allowing private student loans and even public student loans to be eligible for discharge during bankruptcy. Sallie Mae, in particular, is in favor of a policy that would allow borrowers who make a good faith effort to repay their student loans over a five- to seven-year time period and still face economic difficulty to be eligible for discharge of their student loans in bankruptcy. However, many banks and private lenders are opposed to the proposed reform.
Those who oppose reform say debt forgiveness for private student loans through bankruptcy will increase the costs of student loans for all borrowers because it may raise the interest rates of student loans. Private lenders and others who are opposed argue that the root of the problem is the increasing cost of tuition.
For students with a high student loan debt burden the issue is of real concern, but under current bankruptcy rules the discharge of any student debt is extremely difficult. To discharge student loans, a debtor must show that:
He or she cannot maintain a minimal standard of living based on current income and expenses
Additional circumstances exist that demonstrate the current situation will not change for a significant portion of the repayment period of the student loans, and
He or she has made a good faith effort to repay the loans
While it may be difficult to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy, bankruptcy protection may be appropriate for the discharge of other debt. A burdensome student loan debt payment can impede the ability to pay other obligations and debts such as car loans and credit card bills.
If you face an unbearably large debt burden, contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney to discuss your legal options for financial relief.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:30 PM|
REBUILDING CREDIT AFTER FILING BANKRUPTCY
Most people are aware of how important it is to maintain a good credit score. One of the reasons that many people who are overwhelmed with debt are hesitant to explore filing bankruptcy is the fear that it will do even more damage to their credit scores than they have already done in falling behind in paying their bills. However, those who have filed bankruptcy can take steps to rebuild their credit scores and should be aware of some common pitfalls to avoid during the process.
One of the best ways to begin rebuilding credit is to apply for a secured credit card. A person can open a secured credit card with a bank or credit union by giving the bank the amount of money equal to the credit limit. For example, if a person gives the bank $500, the card's limit is $500. After several months of reliable payments, the person can raise the credit limit by giving the bank more money. Some banks allow up to $10,000 limits on secured cards.
The cardholder must make sure that the bank will report the card's activity to the three major credit reporting agencies, however, or the card will not help a person build positive credit history. Additionally, a person seeking to rebuild credit should avoid institutions that require hefty fees to open a secured credit card, as the fees will eat up much of the credit limit before a person can make any purchases and the card will not help build credit as much.
This path will eventually lead to the ability to take out unsecured credit cards, as well. However, a person needs to be diligent in paying the balance off every month. Carrying a balance on a credit card does not build positive credit and could lead to a person spiraling into the same situation that led to filing bankruptcy in the first place.
What to Avoid
People trying to rebuild credit need to apply for new credit selectively. Numerous credit inquiries lower a person's credit score, so a person should be confident that he or she will receive credit before even filling out an application.
People should also be wary of getting credit from finance companies that charge excessive fees and exorbitant interest rates. Credit from such businesses does not look as good on a credit report as credit from a bank or credit union.
Consult an Attorney
Trying to find a solution to financial problems can be overwhelming. If you are struggling with debt, consult an experienced debt relief attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:25 PM|
Applicants With Criminal Records Face Greater Employment Challenges
With the economy still reeling from the recession, unemployment remains high in South Carolina and around the country. In July 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, with an even higher rate of 9.6 percent unemployment in South Carolina. In these difficult economic times, finding work in South Carolina can be difficult for anyone - and for many people who have been convicted of certain criminal offenses, the task has become nearly impossible.
A recent Fox News report examined the issue of seeking work in South Carolina after a prior criminal conviction. The report included interviews with job seekers, policymakers and employers about the difficulties faced by people looking for work after a criminal conviction in South Carolina, as well as what is being done to address the issue.
One job seeker quoted in the article has been seeking work for more than a year. The woman was convicted of a felony criminal conspiracy charge in 2008 after she was found in a vehicle with another individual who was arrested on drug charges. Although her own offense was nonviolent and was not drug-related, she says she is turned down for multiple jobs per day. Even when she is granted an interview, she says potential employers routinely say they won't hire her because of her felony conviction.
This woman's story is repeated many times among the approximately 40,000 former offenders in South Carolina who have served their debts to society and are attempting to re-enter the workforce. Although research has shown that gainful employment is an important factor in preventing recidivism among former offenders, many employers are simply unwilling to hire applicants with criminal records.
One South Carolina legislator, Sen. Darrell Jackson, has sponsored legislation that would give nonviolent offenders the chance to clear their records by going before the pardon and parole board. The measure was defeated at the subcommittee level this year, but Jackson says he plans to reintroduce the proposal next year.
Particularly in today's difficult economy, when jobs are scarce and competition is fierce, the long-term consequences of a criminal conviction can extend far beyond the courtroom and the jailhouse. People facing the possibility of criminal charges in South Carolina are encouraged to seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney who will work hard to defend their rights and protect their futures.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:25 PM|
Mortgage Fraud Convictions In South Carolina Can Carry Stiff Penalties
A couple from Myrtle Beach recently pleaded guilty to crimes based on mortgage fraud; the man illegally collected $36,500 and the woman $200,000 through a real estate deal based on fraudulent statements. Each may receive sentences of up to five years in jail and $250,000 fines.
A Fort Mill ex-councilman is in jail after violating his parole for mortgage fraud he committed by lying on a home loan application. In addition to a year and a half in jail, he also has an order to pay back $314,750 to the victim.
A West Columbia Realtor overvalued a number of homes, costing a Wachovia bank almost $1.7 million in losses. The Realtor, who also works as a mortgage broker, may spend up to 20 years in jail in addition to paying a $250,000 fine.
Mortgage fraud can be a misstatement, misrepresentation or omission relied upon by a lender or underwriter when funding, purchasing or insuring a mortgage loan. One may incur criminal charges for mortgage fraud stemming from actions taken at the time of loan origination and later, during the foreclosure avoidance process. Schemes targeting certain types of consumers during short sales, loan modifications or credit clean-ups are common.
People convicted of mortgage fraud are subject to a number of forms of punishment, including:
- Jail time
- Restitution — paying back the victim's losses
- Legal costs and fees
Not only may state laws and penalties be imposed, but mortgage fraud is also a federal crime, which can carry punishments of up to $1 million in fines and 30 years in jail.
Even if an alleged perpetrator is not convicted in criminal court, he or she may be sued in civil court. Because the burden of proof — the amount of evidence needed to prove wrongdoing — is lower in civil cases than in criminal, a finding of "not guilty" may not provide a respite for the accused.
If you are charged with a crime, you need experienced assistance from an attorney knowledgeable of criminal law matters. There is too much at stake to avoid seeking the legal help you need.
|Posted on April 10, 2018 at 4:20 PM|
Popular South Carolina Legislator Faces DUI Charges
It is commonly known that a DUI charge can result in devastating consequences. Last fall, a well-known state legislator was charged with DUI after returning home from a football game.
The legislator refused a Breathalyzer test when officers stopped him several hours after the game. He was on his way to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit family.
Eventually submitting to a field sobriety test, the man was held for several hours. He was finally released after paying a bond of nearly $1,000.
His license was suspended for six months for refusing the Breathalyzer test. He was only allowed the use of a provisional license for going to and from work.
He has requested a jury trial to dispute the charges. With no prior criminal record, he says his license has only been suspended in the past for not paying traffic tickets, which he later paid.
Modifications To South Carolina DUI Laws Result In Enhanced Penalties
DUI laws in South Carolina were always serious, but in the past few years, DUI penalties have become significantly more severe.
New DUI laws went into effect in 2009. The new laws and penalties apply to both in-state and out-of-state residents.
The new laws impose mandatory minimum sentences for even first-time offenders. A driver found with a blood alcohol content (BAC) between the legal limit of .08 percent and .09 percent automatically receives a $400 fine and potentially faces up to 30 days in jail.
A higher BAC means substantially higher penalties. For example, a first-time offender with a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher may spend up to two months in jail and pay a fine of $1,000.
Additionally, all drivers convicted of DUI are required to attend substance abuse counseling as part of their sentences. Responsibility for paying for this type of program, which can cost up to $2,500, falls on the driver.
The modifications also include greater felony DUI penalties. An impaired driver who causes "great bodily injury or death" to another can be charged with a felony DUI. Felony DUI penalties are especially harsh, with a driver facing potential prison time of 15 to 25 years. Fines may also reach as high as $25,000.
Finally, as demonstrated by the case above, refusal to submit to a Breathalyzer test results in an automatic six-month license suspension.
Being charged with DUI is an overall unpleasant experience. As the current penalties illustrate, even a first-time offender faces hefty fines, potential jail time and mandatory substance abuse treatment. The consequences may cause significant problems for years to come.
If you are charged with DUI, it is a good idea to retain an experienced traffic and DUI attorney with a thorough knowledge of criminal and traffic law. A skilled attorney understands the methods the government uses to prosecute DUIs and can use this understanding to craft an effective defense against the charge. The attorney can also protect your rights and work toward the best possible outcome for the case.