Know Your Rights: New year is a good time to build new credit

By Richard Alderman
Jan. 5, 2013 at 4:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 4, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.

I have been having some trouble getting credit. I checked my credit report and found that I have several problem debts from about six years ago. Since that time, I have paid all my bills on time and done everything I can to get a good credit rating. What can I do to have these old, bad debts removed from my credit report?

There is probably nothing you can do to have this information removed. Under the law, if the information is not accurate or complete, you can insist that the credit-reporting agency re-investigate and remove the information unless it is substantiated. On the other hand, if the information is accurate, there is no way to have it removed simply because it is negative. Credit reporting agencies are in the business of reporting information, good or bad.

All the law requires is that the information they report is accurate and complete, not necessarily favorable. I should note, however, that after seven years, the information will become obsolete and will no longer be reported. It sounds like within a short period of time, your credit history will again appear very good. Keep paying your bills on time, and the new year will bring a substantially improve credit rating.

I filed bankruptcy a few months ago. My father recently died and left me his ranch property. My lawyer says that the property will be sold, and the proceeds will go to my creditors. I thought that after you file bankruptcy, you got a fresh start and didn't owe anything?

Bankruptcy is designed to give you a "fresh start." As a general rule, after you file bankruptcy, you no longer owe most of your debts, and you can keep your exempt property. Anything you acquired after you file - for example, additional income - is not part of your bankruptcy estate and does not go to your creditors. There is, however, a major exception. The drafters of the law were worried that people might file bankruptcy right before they inherited property as a way of protecting that property from creditors. To avoid this, the law says that any property you inherit with 180 days of filing becomes part of your bankruptcy estate and goes to your creditors. If you filed "a few months ago," you are probably within the 180 days and what your attorney told you is correct.

I loaned a person $12,000, and he has not repaid me. I do not want to hire an attorney and would prefer to file in small claims court. Can I just agree to take $10,000 and file in small claims court?

As you seem to understand, small claims court is limited to claims up to $10,000. If the claim is over that amount, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit and will dismiss the case. The relevant amount, however, is the amount in dispute, not how much you would be willing to settle for. In your case, you are owed $12,000. That is more than the limit of small claims court. You will have to file your claim in either county or district court. I should point out, however, that Texas law allows you to recover attorneys' fees if you prevail.

I would like to know how child support is determined. Is it based on the number of children or a percentage of income? Would you pay the same for one child as you would for three?

State law establishes guidelines for child support. The amount is based on a percentage of net resources and the number of children. For one child, it is 20 percent, and each additional child, up to five total children, adds 5 percent. For six or more children, the amount is an amount not less than the amount for five children. The guidelines are not mandatory, but most courts follow them.

I am one of three brothers who inherited an equal share of a house. We do not get along and are not able to agree on selling the house. One of us offered the other two $10,000 each to buy their interests, but the offer was refused. How can we get the property sold?

If you cannot agree on the value of each share, the only way to deal with this problem is to sell the house and split the proceeds. If everyone will not agree to voluntarily sell the property, you will have to go to court and get the court to order the sale. If you do go to court, however, you will spend a substantial amount of money for attorneys' fees. I suggest you let the other two people know that it is in everyone's interest you agree to sell the property and avoid an expensive legal proceeding.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at Richard Alderman



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