About HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm and our mission. (2023)

Learn More About HELPS, the Nonprofit Law Firm Making a Difference in the Lives of Senior Citizens and Legally Disabled Persons.

Advocates for fair and adequate legal protections of senior citizens, veterans and disabled persons struggling with debt.

When you've pawned your dead husband's wedding ring and you've cracked your dentures, life feels about as low as it can get. . .until another debt collector calls.

Senior citizens are not immune to economic hardship. This hardship frequently includes significant debt. Indeed, the National Counsel on Aging reports that about a third of senior households have no money left over each month after all debt expenses are met.* And these are the households that can meet their debt expenses.

(Video) 1/19/23 HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm - Educating Seniors With Financial Difficulties About Their Rights

HELPS (Help Eliminate Legal Problems for Seniors and Disabled) was founded by Eric Olsen, a bankruptcy attorney with more than forty years of practice in the area of consumer debt. During this time, Eric met a lot of lower income senior citizens struggling with debt. He knew their retirement incomes and minimal assets were protected by law. Because creditors could not take what little these seniors had, a bankruptcy was not necessary. Telling seniors they could keep their limited funds felt like good news. It was also the truth.

But a lot of these seniors came back. Debt collectors were unrelenting. Harassing collection calls and intimidating demand letters made life miserable. Fortunately, as a bankruptcy attorney, Eric was very familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act – a federal law protecting consumers from debt collectors. He knew debt collectors could not directly communicate with a person represented by an attorney if notice of legal representation is received. Rather, debt collectors had to communicate with the attorney providing notice.

Consequently, he founded HELPS to become the attorney who communicates with debt collectors. Because senior citizens were not the only demographic with protected incomes, HELPS could also serve lower income veterans and persons receiving disability. These vulnerable segments of the population could use their protected incomes for basic needs and not be harassed by debt collectors. Relief was available without unneeded bankruptcy filings.

Education equals empowerment

HELPS did not stop with using laws to protect lower income senior citizens, veterans and persons surviving on disability. It began a still ongoing mission to educate the demographic it serves about the laws protecting them. HELPS believes all lower income senior citizens, veterans and disabled persons deserve to know about the laws protecting their assets, social security and retirement incomes. Just because a person is not an attorney does not mean he or she cannot understand basic information and make better decisions based on understanding.

(Video) What does HELPS do?

For too long, information about what a debt collector really can do has been accompanied by terrifying warnings and raised eyebrows of judgment. Some websites and so-called legal “experts” give senior citizens advice about dealing with debt that amounts to advising you to glue a helmet to your head for protection from a possible meteor strike. Could it happen? It could. Will it happen? Well, the odds of being struck by a meteorite are about one in 1,600,000. The likelihood of a credit card company wanting a to execute a judgment on 2001 Toyota Camry is just about as remote.

It might be hard to understand why access to realistic information about debt collection matters, until you're the one trying to pay for basic expenses on a fixed income. When advice about debt comes without any consideration for the situation of the person seeking help, financial decisions are made based on unreasonable worry. We believe all senior citizens, disabled persons and veterans have the right to choose survival over paying for old debt.

Bringing Awareness to Inadequate Laws and Lobbying for Change

Federal law protects social security and most retirement incomes from garnishments, unless the garnishment is for federal debt. To a lower income senior citizen, having already meager funds offset for old can be can be a catastrophe.

And these catastrophes are on the rise. From the Small Business Administration to Navy Federal Credit Union, time and circumstance do little to temper the aggressive collection efforts of some federal agencies.

(Video) 1/12/23 HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm - Educating Seniors With Financial Difficulties About Their Rights

The basis for determining which federal agencies offer relief to lower income senior citizens is anything but rational. The IRS and Department of Education offer mechanisms for relief and income based repayment. Other agencies, however, offer no escape mechanism from starvation causing offsets outside of death.

With no adequate tool available to protect senior citizens from these draconian offsets, HELPS is trying to bring awareness to the issue. "These garnishments are grinding the faces of poor seniors who have no voice. It's difficult to imagine that our lawmakers realize this is happening. HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm urges organizations that help seniors and others to join with HELPS and ask Congress to act now to correct this draconian practice."

Government agencies causing lower income senior citizens to suffer great financial hardship doesn't just happen on the federal level. Many state taxing agencies fail to offer solutions for lower income persons surviving on protected incomes or inform them of their rights. Collection notices come with intimidating words that sound a lot like criminal prosecution. Federally protected incomes cannot be offset for state tax debts, but most state agencies aren't going to tell anyone.

HELPS seeks to change this problem. Starting with the Oregon Legislature, HELPS has committed time and resources to lobbying for change. As a result of HELPS' efforts in Oregon, pioneering legislation placing sweeping restrictions on state tax collectors was signed into law by Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

(Video) 1/5/23 HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm - Educating Seniors With Financial Difficulties About Their Rights

These efforts continue. “We aren’t stopping the fight here,” said Olsen, “We’ve got clients all over the United States who come to us after paying their limited incomes to state taxing agencies, thinking they’re avoiding a prison sentence. I won’t be happy until every state informs its judgment proof citizens that they don’t have to pay these tax debts if they can’t afford it.”

HELPS hasn't just drawn attention to problems with the way some government agencies are collecting government debt. It has also called for reform on the way some local government agencies act as agents for debt collectors. When Olsen realized how many of Utah's constables were threatening to take away the meager possessions of lower income senior citizens, he wanted more people to know what was going on.

Daily interaction with America's lower income seniors reinforces what HELPS already knows. Legislative change needs to happen. From allowing endless debtor's exams to facilitating the miserable cycle of payday loans, laws across the country does not adequately protect the poor. Senior citizens and legally disabled persons are especially vulnerable to these lack of protections.

As a nonprofit law firm, HELPS understands the scope of its ambitions are large. The amount of lower income senior citizens struggling with debt is growing. Legislatures are subject to political trends. All of the obstacles, however, are outweighed by the bettered lives of the population HELPS serves. When a senior citizen calls to tell you about the air conditioning he can new afford or a single mom on disability describes the new shoes she just bought her child, it makes everything worthwhile.

(Video) Debt Management -- What to know | Helps Nonprofit Law Firm

*National Council on Aging. “Older Adults and Debt: Trends, Trade-offs, and Tools to HELP.” Accessed June 2018. https://www.ncoa.org/wp-content/uploads/NCOA-Older-Adult-Issue-Debt-Brief.pdf

FAQs

Is helps nonprofit law firm legitimate? ›

HELPS is a 501(c)(3)charitable organization. We are classified as as a charity by the IRS. Around one third of our clients receive our services for free. Our suggested fees are based on our client's ability to pay.

Do senior citizens have to pay credit card debt? ›

So, seniors' income is protected by various laws, and if they don't pay their debt, or if they're unable to pay their debt, even if they're sued, it can't be garnished or taken from them.

Can creditors seize Social Security? ›

In general, the answer is no, creditors and debt collectors cannot seize your Social Security benefits.

Are non profits trustworthy? ›

Charities are the most trusted institutions in the United States, according to a recent Give.org survey. People trust the nonprofit sector more than businesses, banks, the media, government (a lot more than government), and even organized religion.

Can a credit card company sue you if you are on Social Security? ›

For a creditor to be able to garnish social security income, they must sue you, but most of the time they cannot do so under federal law. Although it is not impossible to have your social security income garnished, it is unlikely. It will take a long time in court and typically the cost is not worth it for them.

At what age should you be debt free? ›

In 2018, Kelvin O'Leary, a personal finance author, said that 45 years old is the ideal age to be debt-free. This means that if you've made the right financial choices, by the age of 50 you should be in a place where you are debt-free, and your retirement savings should be enough to give you a comfortable life.

Do I have to pay my deceased parents credit card debt? ›

Generally, the deceased person's estate is responsible for paying any unpaid debts. When a person dies, their assets pass to their estate. If there is no money or property left, then the debt generally will not be paid. Generally, no one else is required to pay the debts of someone who died.

How much money can you have in the bank if you get Social Security? ›

The monthly limit is $1,350 in 2022 for non-blind individuals and $2,260 for individuals qualifying for benefits as statutorily blind, so it is a good idea to keep records of the source of deposits that you make into your bank account.

What bank accounts Cannot be garnished? ›

In many states, some IRS-designated trust accounts may be exempt from creditor garnishment. This includes individual retirement accounts (IRAs), pension accounts and annuity accounts. Assets (including bank accounts) held in what's known as an irrevocable living trust cannot be accessed by creditors.

Can Social Security see your bank account? ›

Access to Bank Account Information. The Social Security Administration has a legal right to look inside someone's bank account if they participate in the Supplemental Security Income program. This review serves as a way to investigate whether they actually fall under the requirements of the program.

What do you call an attorneys organization offering free legal service? ›

Assistance Group (FLAG), mangyari lamang pong mag. email sa: (a) flag@flag.com.ph (para sa mga isyu na. nasa labas ng Metro Manila) at (b) flag.

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