Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do You Know a Refugee or Asylee who wants to start a business around Philadelphia?

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, in Philadelphia, has a Small Business program that is working to contact refugees and asylees in the Philadelphia region who want to open a business.

Image courtesy of renjith Krishnan

They're working with the Women's Opportunities Resource Center to provide small business loans to qualified refugees and asylees.
The program is open to existing business owners as well as new entrepreneurs. For more information: 

Monday, August 25, 2014

You can overcome bankruptcy ...

When people come into my office to discuss bankruptcy as an option, they are usually at the end of their rope. They have been hounded by creditors, wreaked with embarrassment, and generally demoralized. But this doesn't need to be the end of their journey. People can leave bankruptcy with the fresh start it is meant to create. Here is a story I find inspirational:

Image courtesy of ddpavumba
"Marine bankruptcy was business bootcamp; now runs profitable Alexandria moving firm" This article highlights a Marine veteran's great success after his failed house-flipping business. About a year after declaring bankruptcy in his house-flipping business, he started his own moving company. Now, he has a business that he expects to gross $4.2 million this year.

The Marine explains his "three takeaways thusly:

'Perseverance. I had a business that did not succeed. It was maddening, frightening and depressing. I didn’t let any of that stop me. I learned from my lessons, haven’t repeated them, and now I have a company that made Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies in America.

'Leverage. I could grow Two Marines Moving at an even faster pace than our current trajectory by taking on debt or investors, but doing so would invite a host of new problems. We grow organically, reinvesting our profits in the company.

'Proficiency. I didn’t know how to do every job of everyone I employed with the construction business. I didn’t know the details of carpentry, plumbing, etc. Now, I know how to do every job that is done at Two Marines Moving . . . mover, driver, sales consultant, dispatcher, recruiter, marketer.'”

Without the bankruptcy, I believe this business owner would have had a much harder time establishing his second business. Also note, it didn't take years for him to get back on his feet.

People can rebound after filing for bankruptcy. This lesson is something for people to keep in mind as they weigh their options.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Putting money on the long shot ...

As the life expectancy increases and our savings drop, there is a good deal of talk about having a retirement fund to last as long as we do.   With that in mind, the US Treasury started pushing a new type of annuity. I came across this article on; "Betting on Getting to 80: Draw $40,000 a Year Forever, If You Don't Die First"

"With $125,000, a 60-year-old man can buy a policy from New York Life that guarantees an income of almost $45,000 a year starting at age 80. The same $125,000 in a regular retirement account would need to grow at the unlikely rate of 11 percent a year from age 60 to 80 to provide that income, assuming 4 percent is withdrawn annually after age 80."

The new risk you face is not living long enough. "Those who die early help pay for those who live into their 90s and later." Every place you look and everyone you talk to talk about the risk of out-living your retirement savings. First came long term care insurance. This seems like a logical step as life expectancy increases. It surely is not for everyone and I'm not sure how I feel about tying up money for this long but definitely worth considering.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Attracting and retaining talent in Philadelphia the focus of new credentialing program for high-skilled immigrants

I have met and talked to people working with the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia. Immigrant Professionals and foreign credentials is one of the issues they discussed. They talked of one medical professional (a Doctor or Nurse) who took a job at a hospital as a janitor because they wanted to work in the medical field and it was too hard to transfer their credentials. Hopefully, this program will develop a process to help.

"Attracting and retaining talent in Philadelphia the focus of new credentialing program for high-skilled immigrants - The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians receives $692,000 from Knight Foundation and The Barra Foundation to launch Immigrant Professionals Career Pathways Program - This program will be a powerful springboard for internationally-educated individuals who are eager to launch their professional work in the United States."

Check it out:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Custody Challenge - the balance of a mother and father as a couple becomes the tension after they split

Many family experts talk about the different parenting styles between mother and father. They talk about the nurturing and protective nature of a mother and how the father allows independence and exploration. Though I never formally studied this area, my own experiences and observations lead me to believe this idea. I think because of these differences in parenting, this is one of the factors that causes angst with custody after parents split.

Image courtesy of africa at

When parents live together, they tend to work together whether it is a conscious effort or not. The mother is protective and tries to keep safety paramount. That's not to say a mother cannot foster a sense of adventure and independence. But my sense is there is a more heightened concern for safety and security. The father seems to allow a child a greater deal of autonomy; even at the youngest ages. That's not to say fathers place their children at high risk of being harmed. But I think fathers will wait a little longer to see if the child identifies a risk before intervening. Together, parent seem to offset each other. Mother's reel kids in when fathers allow too much adventure and fathers push the envelope when mothers are being overly cautious. These roles and this balance, whatever it is, develops from the time the children are born.
(I realize these are broad generalization and do not fit every family. And I am not trying to offend with this entry. Read on because even if you disagree with my generalizations, I think some of my logic follows for couples filling the roles differently)

When parents separate, this balance is disrupted and just adds tension to an already traumatic event in the parents' lives. They are already angry, mistrust each other, and hurt. Then, they are forced to share or divide the most precious part of their lives, their children. The most upsetting point is when the parents realize they have lost most of their influence over the other parent while he/she is exercising custody. I have met very few mothers who truly believe their ex's can properly care for their child without instructions from them. Many fathers feel mothers can be over-protective and intrusive when they have custody. When the parents completely ignore the others concerns and desires, it becomes a flashpoint.
If parents fail to understand and accept they have lost significant control of the other party's parenting practices when that person has custody of their children; if parents fail to recognize that the balance is off and they need to find a new balance and lose to sight of the fact they still need to co-parent in their new relationship; if they find they cannot or decide not to cooperate with each other to raise their children; and/or if parents act on their own emotions only, then they the run the risk of committing themselves to years of litigation and thousands of dollars in attorneys fee. And ultimately not providing a better environment to raise their children.

I'm not suggesting one parent should not intervene through the legal system if a child is in real danger or at significant risk because of the other parent. But the court does not want to get involved with a true difference of opinion on parenting.
When my clients talk to me about concerns they have about the other person's parenting, I try to shift the focus from the objectionable activity and on to the probable effect on the child.  If the activity is not harmful and has no real negative long term impact on the child, chances are a court is not going to intervene. As a result, any emotions and resources spent on the issue are a waste and could be counterproductive for both parties.

If there is an issue that is just a little more serious, the court may intervene. But parents in Pennsylvania need to keep in mind the courts' preference is to divide custody as equally as possible. So the court's intervention will probably be minimal. As a result, the return on any efforts will be much less than desired.
With all this stated, I understand some people are just jerks and so selfish that they will use their children as a tool to agitate their ex-partners. Unfortunately, there is not much one can do to correct a poor personality. In fact many times any efforts to do so only encourages continued antagonistic behavior.

While it is not always possible, I encourage clients to negotiate as many issues as they can with their former partners and only litigate what they must. My goal for my clients is to establish the new balance as soon as possible so they can put the fighting behind them and refocus on the important task of co-parenting their children. Without building a new balance in their lives, a couple risks years of emotional distress and a significant financial burden in attorneys’ fees.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Great life advice; why do we forget it when it comes to financial trouble?

Will Rogers is credited with saying, “When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.” Not many people argue with this wisdom. But, for some reason, people seem to throw such wisdom out the window when they find themselves in financial problems. You will find many articles like this talking about people throwing good money after bad and people waiting too long before filing for bankruptcy.

Image courtesy of dan at

I think people do this for several reasons. First, I think most people just want to pay their debts. They feel obligated to pay their own bills. That is admirable. Other people want to keep the credit. They know that bankruptcy will crash their credit and they will be forced to stop spending. If that spending is for business reasons or medical bills, that is scary.

Also, people seem to be eternal optimists when it comes to paying bills. They always believe the balances are temporary. They will get a better pay soon, their next job will be bigger, etc. I think their debt is almost like that of a gambler; the next hand will bring them back. But the bump never comes and people have spent thousands of dollars they could have kept to help them with their fresh start.

Keep some things in mind. Think before you use your home's equity to pay off credit cards. Remember, credit card debt can be discharged in bankruptcy; a secured loan cannot. Also, pause before you take money from your retirement funds. Again, many times, retirement money is protected in bankruptcy and is money you will need as you age. Finally, think about what happens if you do get that new bigger, better job and a huge bump in pay. You could find your bills are still too much for you to handle but you make too much to qualify for protection under Chapter 7, Liquidation and your only option is a 5-year plan under Chapter 13.

So, take the advice you probably gave to your children. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Don't continue to fund debt, you can never repay if you don't need to.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bankruptcy ... It is all in the details ...

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto /
I remember the first Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition I filed. It was in the mid-nineties and one of the partners came into my office and said, "You wanted to try doing bankruptcy, right?" I sat at a conference table with copies of all the forms and schedules, pencils, a calculator, all the clients bills, and the code. I had to pour over the code ... pound out figures on the calculator ... and I had to understand the exemptions and how to apply them. I didn't have internet access, any special software, or even a "how to" book. But I knew the facts and details of my case and I learned the code or enough of the code to get the client through his bankruptcy.

Today, I have it much easier. Like most bankruptcy attorneys, I have specialized software, a couple "how to" books, the internet, and a network of colleagues. Even with all these tools, an attorney still needs to understand the basics. In fact, I think it might be more important to understand the code and master the facts of the case. I think it is more important because the program does the calculations and fills in the documents. Also, the software makes calculations based on selections the attorney makes. It is much easier to miss a mistake if you don't understand the details. The only way you know there is a problem is to recognize an anomaly from an answer without seeing the calculation. Attention to details is key.

I know that sounds simple enough and self explanatory. I was at a creditors meeting last week. They are not always private. While I was waiting I overheard the trustee talking to another debtor's attorney. I heard the Trustee say something like, "Do you do bankruptcy much?" Definitely not a good question. The attorney replied, "No." The trustee followed up by saying, "You used the Pennsylvania exemptions ... most attorneys in Pennsylvania use the federal exemptions..."

Not selecting the best exemptions, whether by making a wrong selection in the software or not understanding the exemption law and debtor's case, may allow the trustee to take property for the benefit of the creditors the creditors are not entitled to. This is a big deal to someone who has almost nothing and is making a fresh start with whatever is left. Knowing the details and understanding the code, even with all the modern tools, is still the important part.