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Federal Eviction Moratorium Update

September 28th, 2020 at 7:00 am

The current federal eviction moratorium comes with a number of qualifications and conditions. Be aware of them. It’s a limited but helpful tool.

 

Our last three weekly blog posts have been about the new Agency Order temporarily stopping many residential evictions. This Order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) went into effect on September 4, 2020. It expires on December 31, 2020, when all unpaid rent will be due and evictions can resume.

Three weeks ago we described this eviction moratorium. Two weeks ago we discussed how renters could get more benefit from the moratorium with a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” Last week we got into how Chapter 13 could help significantly more. This week we provide additional important practical information.

Exceptions to the Eviction Moratorium

The CDC’s evictions ban did not cover all possible evictions. As a renter you need to make sure that you qualify and take the right steps to avoid being disqualified.

First, as emphasized last week, you must complete and give your landlord a Declaration form to trigger the eviction ban. Otherwise you do not qualify for the moratorium.

Second, you sign that Declaration under penalty of perjury. If you are not truthful, you’d expose yourself both to criminal liability and to eviction. So make sure you meet the stated income and other qualifications.

Third, the Declaration requires you to make “timely partial payments” as much as you can afford. You can’t necessarily just stop monthly payments altogether. In fact “timely” indicates that you should try to make partial payments when the regular rent payments are due each month. But what determines whether and how much you can afford to pay? The CDC’s Agency Order says you must use your “best efforts.” The “partial payments [are to be] as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses.” This is all quite vague. But if you can afford to pay something and you don’t, your landlord has potential grounds to evict regardless of the moratorium.

Fourth, the Declaration makes you liable not just for rental payments, but also for “other obligations that I may have under my… lease agreement… .” This includes “fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent…  on time… .”  These “may still be charged or collected.” Presumably this means landlords can collect these additional charges only after the moratorium expires, so starting January 1, 2021. But don’t lose sight of these add-ons—they can really add up.

Evictions for Other Reasons

The Agency Order states clearly that even if you otherwise qualify and deliver a truthful Declaration, your landlord could still try to evict you “for reasons other than not paying rent….”

Some but not necessarily all such reasons include:

(1) Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises; (2) threatening the health or safety of other residents; (3) damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property; (4) violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or (5) violating any other contractual obligation, other than the timely payment of rent or similar housing-related payment (including non-payment or late payment of fees, penalties, or interest).

85 Fed. Reg. 55,294 (Sept. 4, 2020).

You need to be mindful of these other reasons for eviction that defeat the moratorium. However, also note that landlords face a significant risk if they violate the Agency Order by trying to wrongfully evict you. These include significant fines ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 per event, and even possible imprisonment. These penalties should discourage frivolous attempts by landlord to evict with invalid justification.

Expired or Lack of Lease Agreement, Subtenants

Three common situations are not addressed directly by the Agency Order.

First, you may have signed a month-to-month lease agreement with a one-year term, but continued on after that one year. The landlord and you essentially assume that you both continue to be bound by the lease agreement. But legally it’s clearly expired. Assume you’re not paying rent because of the moratorium, but the landlord has somebody else who can afford the rent. Can the landlord evict you without violating the moratorium because you have no valid lease agreement? It’s certainly plausible.

Similarly, what if your lease agreement expires at the end of this month? Presumably the landlord is under no obligation to renew or extend the agreement. So he or she may be able to evict you in spite of the moratorium.

What about verbal lease agreements? Or month-to-month ones in which both parties can legally end that lease at any point. Seems like the landlord could have the right to end the agreement and evict in spite of the moratorium.

Finally, many people are subtenants who are not on the original lease agreement. So they don’t have a direct relationship with the property’s landlord. Similarly, a number of residents may live under a lease signed only by one of the housemates. If you don’t have renter’s rights because you are not the legal renter, the moratorium does not apply to you. If the renter on the agreement does something allowing the landlord to evict him or her, the moratorium will not likely help you.

Conclusion

The federal eviction moratorium gives you a potentially helpful additional tool during these intensely challenging times. But you have to act to qualify for it. And there are various conditions and exceptions you’ve got to be aware of.

In addition, the eviction moratorium is just one tool of many. It may best be used in conjunction with a range of bankruptcy tools. See a bankruptcy lawyer to find out how to use all the available legal tools to help you meet your goals.

 

Chapter 13 and the Eviction Moratorium

September 21st, 2020 at 7:00 am

Use Chapter 13 to catch up on back rent that piles up during the eviction moratorium, so that you can stay in your rental long term. 

 

Our blog post two weeks ago was about a recent federal order temporarily stopping certain residential evictions throughout the country. Check out that blog post to see who is covered and how to take advantage of this eviction moratorium.

Asserting Your Right Not to Be Evicted

Assuming you qualify, you must act to assert your right not to be evicted. This mostly means you need to print up, review, sign, and give your landlord a two-page declaration form. Here is that Declaration form.

The Declaration starts with a quick explanation for how to use it, then lists the qualifying conditions you must meet. You have to be truthful about qualifying for the conditions, so read those carefully. You sign under penalty of perjury. So, “you can be prosecuted, go to jail, or pay a fine if you lie, mislead, or omit important information.”

Also, every adult renter included on “the lease, rental agreement, or housing contract should complete” it. Then get it to your landlord.

Important: as broad and clear the moratorium may seem, it is being interpreted differently by different state and local judges. For example, some judges believe that landlords can’t file eviction lawsuits at all. Others believe that they can be filed and processed, with only the eviction itself stopped by the moratorium. See this New York Times article about these inconsistencies: How Does the Federal Eviction Moratorium Work? It Depends Where You Live.

The Challenge Created by the Moratorium

Let’s assume you qualify and deliver the Declaration to your landlord. The big problem with the eviction moratorium is that it is temporary. It expires on December 31, 2020. Just as big of a problem is that it does not forgive any rental payments whatsoever. So even if you do everything right, you’d owe a pile of rent money on January 1, 2021. (You’d owe the piled up rent earlier if you earlier reach the point when can afford to pay rent again.)

So let’s now assume that you could afford to start paying your monthly rent in January 2021. (Or at any point earlier.) What to do with the months of back rent you owe then?

One option: move somewhere else and forever write off (“discharge”) the back rent with a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” See our last blog post about that, and other possible ways Chapter 7 may help.

But the challenge is if you really want to stay in your rental long term. Chapter 7 does not give you a reliable legal mechanism to pay the unpaid rent. Is there’s a better solution?

The Opportunity Created by Chapter 13

At the heart of a Chapter 13 case is a 3-to-5-year partial-payment plan. You and your bankruptcy lawyer prepare and file this plan at the bankruptcy court. Here’s the court’s official Chapter 13 Plan form.

Just as in Chapter 7, under Chapter 13 you have to choose whether to “accept” or “reject” your rental agreement. If you want to stay in your rental you have to “accept” the agreement and say so in your proposed plan. See Part 6 (starting on page 6, titled Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases) of the Chapter 13 Plan form.

The crucial benefit under Chapter 13 is that generally you can catch-up on the accrued late rent payments over time. The payment plan that you submit contains the terms of repayment of those accrued rent payments. You could theoretically stretch those catch-up payments over the 3-to-5-year life of your plan.

The real beauty of Chapter 13 is that once your bankruptcy judge formally approves your payment plan, your landlord is forced to accept your repayments terms.

Landlord Challenges to Your Terms

Your landlord could object to the payment terms, before your Chapter 13 plan gets court approval. But you have a number of advantages.

First, your filing of the Chapter 13 stops the landlord from being able to proceed with eviction. This is true even if the national eviction moratorium had expired by then. The “automatic stay” imposed by any bankruptcy filing stops virtually any eviction proceeding in its tracks, at least temporarily. So time is more on your side.

Second, the landlord has the burden of objecting. If your plan shows that you can resume regular rent payments and presents a reasonable schedule for catching up on the late payments, the landlord may decide to accept your proposal. The landlord thereby avoids paying out more attorney fees. Under your proposed plan the landlord gets rent payments every month starting right away. Your plan should give the landlord some confidence in getting the back rent paid. The alternative is losing it all, and maybe another few months of no rent payments if you’re forced out.

Third, if the landlord does object to what you and your bankruptcy lawyer propose, there is often room for compromise. You have a lawyer on your side to look out for your interests. You’d likely be able to amend your Chapter 13 plan to satisfy both sides.  

More Chapter 13 Advantages

The way Chapter 13 works is that usually you pay “general unsecured” debts only to the extent that you can afford to do so. “General unsecured” debts are ones like medical bills, most credit cards, and such. Most likely you will want to pay your rental arrearage ahead of your “general unsecured” debts. Indeed you’ll be forced to if you want to stay in your rental.

The nice thing is that in many situations the money you need to pay for the past due rent reduces the amount you pay on your “general unsecured” debts. That’s because you can only afford to pay a certain amount to all of your debts over the course of your case. Your budget dictates that amount. The catch-up rent in effect comes out of what you’d otherwise have to pay the “general unsecured debts.

Another Chapter 13 advantage is that you can often delay paying certain debts until you’re better able to do so. For example, you may be able to pay less monthly on the back rent for several months, then more later. This may be because you anticipate increase in income, such as when a spouse returns to work. Or it may be because you anticipate a future reduction in expenses, such as paying off a vehicle loan.

Finally, Chapter 13 is flexible in other ways. You’re not necessarily tied into your payment plan forever. Its terms can shift with your changing financial circumstances even after it’s approved by the court. Or if you change your mind about staying in your rental, you can amend the terms of the plan. Or you can even convert into a Chapter 7 case and likely discharge whatever you then owe to the landlord.

 

Bankruptcy and the Eviction Moratorium

September 14th, 2020 at 7:00 am

  

The CDC’s recent order stopping all U.S. residential evictions gives you a new tool to use with some wise bankruptcy planning. 

 

Last week’s blog post was about a new federal order temporarily stopping certain residential evictions throughout the country. Please see that blog post about which renters and rental properties are covered, and how renters qualify for the moratorium.

If you are a tenant and are considering filing bankruptcy, this eviction moratorium can affect the timing and tactics of your filing. We start addressing that today.   

The Moratorium Ends on December 31, 2020

The most important aspects of the eviction moratorium are that it is temporary and does NOT forgive any rental payments. The “order prevents you from being evicted or removed from where you are living through December 31, 2020.”  However, “[y]ou are still required to pay rent… .”  

The obligation to pay the rent is just delayed. “[A]t the end of this temporary halt on evictions on December 31, 2020, [your] housing provider may require payment in full for all payments not made prior to and during the temporary halt… .” Your “failure to pay” then would make you subject to eviction at that point. 85 Federal Register 55292, 55297.

Note that you would almost certainly then owe more than just the missed rental payments. You also continue to be liable for “fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent” imposed under your lease agreement. See Declaration, p. 2.

The Bankruptcy Timing Consequences—Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

Bankruptcy generally allows you to discharge—permanently write off—debts that you owe at the time you file the bankruptcy. It does not discharge future debts.

So one seemingly straightforward option is to delay filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, then file to discharge the accrued rent. Any other contractual fees and penalties could also be discharged. Assuming you qualify for the moratorium, this lets you live rent-free for several months.

The crucial practical question is whether you’d be able to continue living at this rental or would have to move.

The situation is relatively simple if you do move away at that point. You would be liable for any rent or other fees accrued after you and your bankruptcy lawyer file your case. That’s because again the bankruptcy discharge does not cover any obligations accrued after the filing. So you’d have to move before or at the time you file the Chapter 7 case. Or else you’d have to pay rent and any other fees accrued after the date of your bankruptcy filing.  

Staying at Your Rental after Filing a Chapter 7 Case

But could you discharge any pre-filing obligations to your landlord and continue living there by paying all after-filing obligations? There’s a legal answer and a practical one.

The legal answer is very likely “no.”  You have to pay the pre-filing obligations if you want to stay. After filing a Chapter 7 case you have a short time to decide to “accept or reject” the lease agreement. You have 60 days. If you “reject” it, you leave and then usually don’t owe any pre-filing obligations to your landlord. If you “accept” the lease agreement, you have a very limited time to pay any pre-filing obligations. If you don’t accept the lease agreement on time, your landlord can evict you.  Or if you do timely accept your lease but then don’t pay the pre-filing obligations on time, your landlord can also evict you. (See Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code on unexpired leases, one of its more complicated provisions.)

Notwithstanding all this, under some circumstances you might be able to persuade your landlord to let you stay. We live in crazy times. Your landlord may have multiple renters unable to pay their back rent, and may prefer that you stay. Your bankruptcy filing, in which you’re presumably discharging lots of other debts, will likely make you better able to afford your rent. The landlord may be open to negotiating something you can live with.

Obligation to Make Partial Rental Payments

Relatedly, be aware that to qualify for the eviction moratorium you have to try to make partial rental payments.  You have to certify the following:

I am using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses… 

85 Federal Register 55292, 55297.

The point of this is that it opens you and your bankruptcy lawyer to some creative planning and negotiations. You could agree with your landlord to make partial rent payments during the period before filing bankruptcy (which you could otherwise discharge). In return you or your bankruptcy lawyer could ask for the landlord’s flexibility about payment terms after your bankruptcy filing.  

Or more likely, you use the threat to reject the lease and discharge all the pre-filing debt as leverage. Instead you agree to accept the lease but pay only part of the debt and/or get payment terms you can tolerate.

A Chapter 13 Teaser

As you can see Chapter 7  is quite helpful, used with the eviction moratorium, if you’re leaving the rental property. You live there without paying the rent for months and then discharge that obligation in bankruptcy.

But if you want to stay, Chapter 7 leaves you to a large extent at the mercy of your landlord. You only get a bit of leverage, which may or may not work with your particular landlord.

What if you could legally force your landlord to give you much more time to catch up? What if you had many months to pay the rent not paid during the moratorium? In our next blog we’ll show you how a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case may let you do this.

 

New Federal Eviction Moratorium

September 7th, 2020 at 7:00 am

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just asserted its COVID-fighting power to stop most residential evictions through 2020. 

 

On Friday, September 4, 2020, a federal order went into effect temporarily stopping certain residential evictions throughout the country. Issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), it’s titled “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19.”  The legal basis and purpose of the Order is “to temporarily halt residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

It covers residential rentals, NOT home mortgage foreclosures.

The Renters Covered by this Order

The CDC Order states that any “landlord… shall not evict any covered person from any residential property… during the effective period of the Order.”

Most residential renters unable to pay their rent likely qualify as a “covered person.” To be a “covered person” an individual must meet a number of conditions:

  • Either “(i) expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), (ii) was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or (iii) received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) [under] the CARES Act.”
  • Has “used best efforts to obtain all available governmental assistance for rent or housing.”
  • Is “unable to pay the full rent” because of one or more of the following:
    • a “substantial loss of household income
    • a reduction in “hours of work or wages”
    • lay-off
    • “extraordinary [unreimbursed] out-of-pocket medical expenses” (exceeding 7.5% of adjusted annual income)
  • Eviction would likely result in either homelessness “or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting—because the individual has no other available housing options.”

Covers All “Residential Property” through the End of 2020

The Order is very broad, including “any property leased for residential purposes.” This explicitly includes “any house, building, mobile home or land in a mobile home park, or similar dwelling leased for residential purposes… .”  Because this list is inclusive it MAY include other types of rental circumstances not listed (such as a rented houseboat?). “Residential property” does NOT include “any hotel, motel, or other guest house rented to a temporary guest or seasonal tenant.”

The Order is effective from September 7 through December 31, 2020. It could possibly be “extended, modified, or rescinded” at any time.

Renters’ Declaration to Qualify for the Protection

The procedure to take advantage of the eviction moratorium seems to be straightforward. The tenant reviews, signs, and gives the landlord a two-page declaration form. Here is the Declaration as provided by the CDC.

It starts with a quick explanation for how to use the Declaration. It then lists the qualifying conditions listed above (and a couple others discussed below).

Each adult renter included on “the lease, rental agreement, or housing contract should complete” it. Deliver a copy to your landlord, property owner, or whoever has the right to evict.

It must be signed under penalty of perjury. Meaning “you can be prosecuted, go to jail, or pay a fine if you lie, mislead, or omit important information.”

Major Potential Penalties for Noncomplying Landlords

The Order includes serious criminal penalties for landlords which don’t comply. Potential fines range from up to $100,000 and/or a year in jail for individual violators and $200,000 for business violators. If a violation “results in death,” the potential fines are two and a half times higher.

Significant Limitations of the Order

The most important practical problem with this Order is that tenants must still pay the missed rental payments later. Immediately after December 31, 2020 the landlord “may require payment in full for all payments not made.” These include payments missed both before and during the moratorium period. The amount due can also include all “fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent” allowed under your rental agreement.

Furthermore, even during the moratorium period the tenant must make partial rent payments “as close to full payment as the individual’s circumstances permit.”

Also, careful: evictions can continue during the moratorium for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. Specifically the Order does not stop evictions for:

“(1) Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;

(2) threatening the health or safety of other residents;

(3) damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property;

(4) violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or

(5) violating any other contractual obligation, other than the timely payment of rent or similar housing-related payment (including non-payment or late payment of fees, penalties, or interest).”

Note: the Order does not stop any state or locality from creating a stricter moratorium on residential evictions.

Last thing: the Order does nothing for landlords who need tenant rental payments to pay their own mortgages. Because of prior state and local eviction moratoria, many landlords have already not been receiving rental income for months. The Order essentially passes the economic pain temporarily from tenants to landlords.

This impact on landlords, and the short-term relief for tenants, puts pressure on Congress for a better solution.

 

The Effects of an Income Tax Lien

August 31st, 2020 at 7:00 am

Try to file bankruptcy before a tax lien gets recorded. But if you can’t, here are the effects of a tax lien under Chapter 7 and 13.

 

This blog post continues a series about the smart timing of your bankruptcy filing. (It was interrupted by two blog posts updating federal unemployment benefits.) The last in this series was about how good bankruptcy timing prevents you paying certain income tax interest and penalties. We ended with this: “The effect of a tax lien depends on whether the tax at issue qualifies for discharge, and whether you file a Chapter 7 or 13 case.” That’s today’s important topic.

Bankruptcy Timing and Tax Liens

The recording of a tax lien by the IRS or state often causes extra headaches. So it’s usually better to file your bankruptcy case before you’re hit with a tax lien.

But you may go to see a bankruptcy lawyer until after that’s already happened. Or your lawyer may advise to you wait to file for some tactical reason. That reason may be related to your income tax debt(s). It’s not unusual to delay filing until the tax meets the conditions for discharge (full write-off). While you’re holding off on filing, you run the risk of the IRS/state recording a tax lien.

If you’re waiting to file on the advice of your bankruptcy lawyer, he or she will likely tell you about the risks and potential effects of a tax lien. The following outlines what you may hear.

General Effect of a Tax Lien

The recording of a tax lien gives the IRS/state a security interest on everything you own. Your assets then become collateral on the tax debt.

Actually, where or how the IRS/state records the lien determines the assets that it covers. Usually one tax lien covers your real estate, while another covers your personal property—everything else you own. Look carefully at the wording of the tax lien to see what tax years it covers and what assets it encumbers. These details matter as you and your lawyer determine the effect of the lien(s).

A Tax Lien on a Non-Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 7

Assume you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case and you owe a tax that does not qualify for discharge.

The recording of a tax lien on such a tax does not greatly affect what happens in that bankruptcy case. As discussed in our last tax-related blog post, you’ll have to arrange to pay that tax after completing your bankruptcy. You’ll also have to pay the ongoing interest and penalties.

The tax lien may put more pressure on you to make those payment arrangements. You’ll also want to get reassurances that the IRS/state will not take any other collection actions while you pay as agreed. The lien will also motivate you to pay the tax as fast as possible to get a release of the lien.

You’ll usually go this Chapter 7 direction if it will discharge your other debts so that you can reasonably pay off the tax debt(s).

A Tax Lien on a Non-Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 13

The situation is somewhat similar under an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 case. You still have to pay the tax that doesn’t meet the timing and other conditions of discharge. But you do that through your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan. This gives you the benefit of not having to make payment arrangements with the IRS/state. The Chapter 13 procedure does that for you.

You just pay your monthly play payment, and your tax debt is incorporated into that. The IRS/state must comply with the “automatic stay,” which prevent all your creditors from taking any collection action against you. At the end of your case you will have paid off the tax. So the IRS/state will release any tax lien related to it.

A pre-existing tax lien in the Chapter 13 context can be meaningful in one way. The tax lien effects the payment of interest and penalties.

In a Chapter 7 case with a nondischargeable income tax you have to pay all interest and penalties. That’s true regardless whether there’s a pre-filing tax lien. The tax lien mostly serves to put more pressure on you to make payment arrangements and pay it off fast.

A Chapter 13 case is different. If there’s no tax lien, you would not have to pay ongoing interest and penalties. You’d likely pay only a portion of the penalties accrued as of the date of filing the Chapter 13 case. Sometimes you’d pay none.

 But with a tax lien, you must generally pay ongoing interest in your Chapter 13 payment plan. That can add how much you must pay into your plan and thus how long your plan takes.  

A Tax Lien on a Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 7

The effect of a tax lien on a tax debt that otherwise qualifies for Chapter 7 discharge can be huge. The Chapter 7 case would usually simply discharge that debt, so you would owe nothing.

But if there’s a prior recorded tax lien, that lien survives the bankruptcy case. The discharge of the tax debt does not legally affect the lien. Then the key issue becomes the value of the assets to which the lien attaches.

If you don’t have any real estate and your other assets are minimal, the IRS/state has less leverage over you. Especially if the tax debt was not large, some tax entities will then voluntarily release the tax lien. Both the tax and the tax lien would then be gone.

But some tax entities are more aggressive. This is more likely if the amount of the dischargeable tax is relatively large. They will leverage their tax lien to require you to pay all or part of the tax debt. They won’t release their lien otherwise.  Sounds unfair considering that the debt is otherwise dischargeable. But that’s the potential effect of the tax lien.

This leveraging is understandably much more likely if the assets to which their tax lien(s) attach are substantial. And in particular, this is true if that asset is equity in your home. You could be made to pay an entire tax debt that otherwise qualifies for discharge because of a tax lien.

So there’s a lot of uncomfortable ambiguity when you have tax lien on a dischargeable tax in Chapter 7.

A Tax Lien on a Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 13

A lot of this ambiguity is resolved in a Chapter 13 case. That’s because there’s an efficient procedure for determining the effect of a tax lien.

You and your bankruptcy lawyer will propose the value of assets that are encumbered by the tax lien. That’s done in the Chapter 13 plan you file with the bankruptcy court. You’re effectively stating what you believe to be the practical value of that tax lien, and thus the amount you’ll pay.

The IRS/state can object to this proposed treatment or not. If it objects, the value and amount you pay is usually negotiated, or if necessary decided by the bankruptcy judge.

Or, as is often the case, the IRS/state does not object. That often happens if what you and your bankruptcy lawyer propose is reasonable. Next, whatever you proposed becomes the court-approved plan. Assuming you pay off the plan as approved, that will take care of the IRS/state. Then at the end of the case the judge will discharge the remaining debt. With the debt gone, the IRS/state will then release the tax lien(s).

 

Which Type of Bankruptcy Is Best for My Financial Situation?

August 26th, 2020 at 2:29 pm

Texas chapter 7 lawyer, Texas chapter 13 attorney Bankruptcy is often seen as a last-ditch effort to overcome the financial burden that you may be experiencing. While this is typically the case, the level of debt that one may be in can vary greatly depending on their circumstances. Some may have no income and are struggling to pay basic bills, while others may have a steady income but have found themselves buried by exponential medical or credit card expenses. There are two common ways that Texans can file for bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. By looking at your unique circumstances, you can determine what type of bankruptcy filing is appropriate.

Chapter 7

When imagining what filing for bankruptcy looks like, people often imagine something along the lines of Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Also known as “liquidation bankruptcy”, this form of bankruptcy has the trustee sell the debtor’s property and use the money collected to pay off their debts, as close to the total amount as possible – all remaining debts will be forgotten. This form of bankruptcy may seem preferable to some, since the process only takes about six months and some debts may be forgotten, but it is not available to all debtors. If the debtor’s income falls below the state’s median household income, which in Texas is $59,570, he or she is eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The debtor will not lose all of his or her assets during the bankruptcy process, since some personal property can be claimed exempt from the process.

Chapter 13

For those who have a steady, dependable income, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is not an option. These debtors will file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which involves formulating a payment plan over a three- to five-year period. In other words, none of their debts are forgotten and they are expected to pay it off in time. However, Chapter 13 filers will not be required to give up any of their property or assets to pay off their debts as long as they follow the terms of their payment plan. A portion of their paycheck will go towards these unpaid debts once their basic needs are met.

So, Is Bankruptcy Really Best for Me?

You may still be wondering if filing for bankruptcy is your best course of action. You should consult a bankruptcy attorney for advice on whether your financial difficulties warrant filing for bankruptcy. Even before speaking with an attorney, you can take your own financial inventory to really see where you are at. Take a look at the following financial areas to gauge your need to file for bankruptcy:

  1. Debts. Take account of all of the debts looming over you. This includes any unpaid credit card bills, overdue loans, or other outstanding balances. List these debts in one area to give yourself a general estimate of your financial burdens.
  2. Monthly Costs. Next, list out your monthly expenses below your total debts. This should include any monthly bills, such as rent, utilities, food, and more. You can estimate some of your monthly costs but should include anything that you purchase on a regular basis.
  3. Income. Look at your income from the past six months, excluding social security. If you have a spouse, include their income in your calculations. By looking at your current debts and monthly expenses, you may be able to re-budget your income to begin paying off these debts.
  4. Assets or Property. Do you have an extra car that you rarely use? Or perhaps you have a vacation home that you are willing to part with. Before filing for bankruptcy, consider your other options to obtain the money you need to pay off your debts. If you do not have any additional assets or any that you are willing to part with, you may need to seriously consider filing for bankruptcy.

Contact a New Braunfels Bankruptcy Lawyer

Making the executive decision to file for bankruptcy can be one of the most difficult, and humbling, decisions you have to make. The stigma that surrounds bankruptcy often leaves people putting off the inevitable and continuing to build up debt in the meantime. If you are struggling financially, turn to the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee for advice. Our compassionate legal team provides free consultations to allow potential clients to discuss their case before making a decision. Rather than allowing things to stack up and become even more burdensome, contact our San Antonio bankruptcy attorney for help at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/finance/bankruptcy_02.html

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/TX?

States’ Reactions to Trump’s Unemployment Benefits Extension

August 24th, 2020 at 7:00 am

  

How are states responding to Trump’s Memorandum providing $400 (or maybe $300?) weekly extended unemployment benefits? It varies widely.

 

Last week we explained the President’s Memorandum of August 8 which extended reduced federal unemployment benefits. The $600 weekly benefit had expired on July 31. The House of Representatives had previously passed a bill extending the $600 benefits into early next year. The Senate had proposed to extend the benefits but at only $200 weekly. The two Houses of Congress were not resolving their differences. Then the Memorandum directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund supplemental unemployment benefits out of its Disaster Relief Fund. This was to cover $300 of a $400 weekly benefit. The remaining $100 weekly was to come from the states.

National Developments Since the Memorandum

The Memorandum raised some confusion, especially about the states’ contribution. The President’s contemporaneous remarks indicated that the federal money would only be available for states that paid their $100 share.

But this implication was changed through a 6-page U.S. Department of Labor letter of guidance issued on August 12. It relieved states of paying the $100 share in order to receive the $300 federal contribution. States could pay the $100 share to their unemployed residents, in order to pay out a $400 weekly supplemental benefit. Or states could choose not to pay the $100, resulting in only a $300 weekly benefit.

So What Have States Decided?

States are all over the map, both in their decisions and where they are in the process. As of this writing (Saturday, August 22, 2020), many states have applied to FEMA to get started while others have not yet decided what to do.  One state—South Dakota—has decided to decline the assistance. About 14 states’ applications to FEMA for the assistance have been approved, while others are in process. Most states are going to pay $300 weekly, but at least 3 are paying $400.

Here are additional details about what’s happening at 7 states, to give an idea of the variety of situations:

Indiana

Governor Eric Holcomb announced last Wednesday (Aug. 19) that the state would apply for the federal $300 benefit. It would not be paying the state’s additional $100 weekly.

FEMA approved Indiana’s application on August 21. The commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Fred Payne, says that “it will take maybe 2 to maybe 4 weeks for us to get this in place.” There are additional details on the Department’s website.

Kentucky

Governor Andy Beshear announced last Wednesday (Aug. 19) that the state would apply for the federal $300 benefit. It would also add the state’s $100 additional amount for a total of $400 weekly. Since FEMA is doling out the money in 3-week increments, the current plan is to go at least these 3 weeks, longer if funds are available. Because these benefits are retroactive, this first installment covers the weeks between July 26 and August 15.

FEMA approved the application on August 21. The first $400 payments are expected to pay out in early September.

Texas

Governor Greg Abbott announced in a press release last Thursday (Aug. 20) that the state would apply for the federal $300 benefit. The press release made no reference to the state paying the additional $100.

FEMA approved Texas’s application on August 21. The above press release stated that “eligible claimants should expect to receive the additional benefits on their first payment request on or after August 23, 2020. These funds will be backdated to the benefit week ending August 1, 2020.”

New Jersey

As of Friday (Aug. 21), Governor Phil Murphy had not yet decided whether to apply for the additional federal benefit. His chief counsel, Matt Platkin said on Friday: “They’ve never run it through FEMA this way. And there’s some concern that if they were to come back – if Congress were to come back and enact an extension of the $600 that then the state would have to go back and recoup this money… .” The governor concluded: “If we can do it and we’re not on the hook for that back $100, and it doesn’t come back in the future where we’re going to have to repay any or all of that, we’ll sign up,” Murphy said. “But we’ve got to get guidance on that first.”

California

California applied last Wednesday (Aug. 19) for the federal $300 benefit. It will not be paying the additional $100 weekly.

FEMA approved its application on August 21. California’s Employment Development Department says that it will receive $4.5 billion, with the possibility of additional funding going forward.” This apparently is to cover $300 weekly benefits “for a limited period of time, a minimum of three weeks.” Coverage is for “weeks of unemployment dating back to August 1.”

West Virginia

Back on August 10, the Monday after Trump signed the Memorandum, Governor Jim Justice committed to paying the state’s $100 share. “Hands down, period, West Virginia is going to pay it,” he said. The governor added: “I believe that the federal government will eventually reverse their stance on that and that they will pay the full 100 percent in the end. But we’ve got the money set aside to make it work either way.”

According to a press release last Wednesday (Aug. 19), Workforce West Virginia is in the process of applying to FEMA. As of this writing (Aug. 21), the application has not yet been approved. According to Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia, “The federal government requires each state to set up a system that complies with the program. We are in the process of doing that now.”

Montana

Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) applied to FEMA back on August 15, and sent additional information on August 17. It announced on Wednesday (Aug. 19) that FEMA approved its application for the extended benefits. Montana will be paying the additional $100 weekly. It’s doing so out of Montana’s allocation of the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund. Montana’s DLI press release of August 20, 2020.

Acting DLI Commissioner Brenda Nordlund said. “Programming to meet the new requirements is underway and we should be up and running as soon as possible.”

 

Trump’s $400 Weekly Unemployment Benefits Extension

August 17th, 2020 at 7:00 am

Trump’s Memorandum Providing $400 Weekly Unemployment Benefits from August to December Is Complicated.

 

A Quick History

The CARES Act’s $600 per week additional federal unemployment benefits expired on July 31, 2020. Section 2104 of the CARES Act.  Back in May the U.S. House of Representatives had passed the HEROES Act extending these $600 benefits through January 31, 2021. Section 50001 of the HEROES Act. Then on July 27 the Senate announced its HEALS Act; it reduced the additional federal benefit to $200 per week. (This was to last through September, and then transition into a total unemployment amount of 70% of lost wages.) The Senate bill did not come up for a vote in the Senate.  Intense efforts to reconcile the House of Representatives’ HEROES Act and the Senate’s HEALS Act have so far gone nowhere.

Trump’s Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program

 Then on August 8, 2020, President Trump signed a “Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program for Major Disaster Declarations Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019.”

This Memorandum creates an “Assistance Program for Lost Wages.” This potentially provides for a weekly “lost wages assistance” of $400 per week. Theoretically it would cover the period from August 1 through December 6, 2020. See Sections 4—6 of the Memorandum.

But there are a series of practical challenges.

Can the President Act without Congress on This?

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse: to make laws about collecting and spending tax money. U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8. Not the President. The Memorandum is clearly about spending billions of dollars of tax money. So how does Trump get around this?

He uses a law passed by Congress, the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. This law mostly pertains to federal housing assistance after a major disaster. But it also allows the president to provide for “Financial Assistance to Address Other Needs.” Specifically, the law allows for “financial assistance… to address… other necessary expenses or serious needs resulting from the major disaster.” 42 U.S.C Section 5174(e)(2).

This law empowers “the President, in consultation with the Governor of a State,… [to] provide [the] financial assistance… to individuals and households… .” 42 U.S.C Section 5174(a)(1).

So there’s at least a sensible argument that Trump can spend money to extend unemployment benefits needed from the pandemic.

But Where Does the Money Come From?

Under the Memorandum the new unemployment money comes from two sources.

First, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund “has more than $70 billion in emergency assistance funding available.” The Memorandum directs “up to $44 billion” of this money to go towards the unemployment benefits. The remaining “at least $25 billion” in to be “set aside” for “ongoing… and potential 2020 disaster costs.” 75% of the $400 weekly benefits are to come from this $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund.

Second, the Memorandum says that the remaining 25% to fund the extended benefits is to come from the states. It references the CARES Act’s $150 billion earmarked to states and some other local governments for COVID-related costs. The Memorandum asserts that “more than $80 billion [of these] dollars remain available.”

Are These Sources of Money Actually Available?

Start with the 75% federal share. To keep it simple here, assume that above-mentioned Disaster Mitigation Act contemplates supplemental unemployment benefits to be a “serious need” for people unemployed during the pandemic.  Let’s put aside the wisdom of dedicating nearly 2/3rds of this natural disaster fund for this purpose.

One bit of reality is that the $44 billion the Memorandum earmarks for this purpose is only enough to cover 4 or 5 weeks of benefits. That barely makes a dent in the August to December period referenced.

How about the States’ Share?

As for the states’ 25% share, this provision comes with a bunch of practical challenges.

First, many states vehemently disagree with the Memorandum’s assertion that “more than $80 billion remain available” from the CARES Act. The states counter that this money is necessary for other absolutely critical pandemic purposes. In many cases already been explicitly earmarked for those purposes.

Second, beyond these CARES funds, the Memorandum has states use “other State funding,” to pay its 25% share. But states are in dire financial straits. Tax collection is significantly down and expenses are significantly up because of the pandemic. This includes huge increases in state unemployment benefit payouts, which continue at historic highs. State legislatures are going into emergency sessions to address the severe shortfall. Unlike the federal government, states must balance their budgets every year. They simply do not have money to pay for this new program.

Third, the Memorandum also says that “States should also identify funds to be spent without a federal match” if the federal money runs out. So after 5 weeks of the federal government paying 75%, the states are supposed to pay for the entire program. If there’s no money for 25%, there certainly isn’t money for 100% of the cost.

So Where Does This Now Stand?

Arguably the Memorandum was mostly meant as leverage to get Congress to agree on some kind of unemployment benefits extension. It’s been more than a week (as of this writing on August 17) but there’s been no progress there.

If you had been kept afloat by the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefits, this is an intensely frustrating time.

 

Does Filing for Bankruptcy Damage Credit?

August 12th, 2020 at 2:07 pm

TX bankruptcy attorney, Texas chapter 7 lawyerYou have likely seen TV commercials about the numerous credit cards available or regarding where you can go to calculate your credit score. These shiny advertisements can leave many young adults applying for credit cards without knowing the impact that this can have on their spending habits. Receiving your first colorful card in the mail can quickly lead to two or three more, each with their own amount of debt steadily piling up. While these bills may seem harmless as a young, single college graduate, the debt enclosed with these credit cards can burden you for years to come. As the debt continues to increase, you may be wondering where you can turn for help. Bankruptcy is a valid option; however, its negative impact on credit scores can have most people seeking out financial alternatives first.

Sell Some Assets

The best way to get rid of debt? Pay it off. If you have any assets that you can spare, the money that you can gain from selling these valuables can help alleviate you from the lump sum sitting on your credit cards. Take to digital marketplaces, such as eBay or Craigslist, if you have any jewelry, furniture, or electronics that you are willing to part with. If you have multiple TVs, laptops, antique furniture that you have tucked away in storage, or an old necklace that you never wear, it may be best to see how much money you can earn by selling them to a new owner.

Speak with Your Creditors

Have you tried explaining your situation to your credit card company? While they hear situations like yours on a daily basis, they may be willing to extend your debt payment’s due date or build a payment plan that better aligns with your monthly income. Although it may be difficult to do, you should explain to your creditors that you are going through a financial hardship and are doing your best to avoid filing for bankruptcy. They may be able to lower your monthly payment or decrease your interest rate.

Consider Consumer Credit Counseling

If your creditors refuse to work with you, enlist someone who has a little more experience in the field. Consumer credit counselors work to negotiate with creditors. One of their jobs is to help debtors obtain a reduced interest rate or monthly payment. They will also assist their clients in creating a monthly budget to help them stay on track with their amount owed. Working with a consumer credit counselor may still negatively impact your credit score.

Speak with a San Antonio Bankruptcy Lawyer

Filing for bankruptcy is never the path that anyone wishes to take, but unfortunately, some people run out of alternatives. If you have attempted to pay off your debts using the tactics described above, it may be time to work with a reputable bankruptcy attorney. The Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee works to help their clients overcome their financial difficulties. With over 20 years of experience, Attorney McGhee takes the time to discuss the implications of bankruptcy and any valid alternatives before moving forward with the bankruptcy process. If you are unsure about how to proceed, contact our New Braunfels bankruptcy attorney at 210-342-3400 to discuss your situation in your free consultation.

 

Source:

https://www.thebalance.com/six-ways-to-avoid-bankruptcy-960626

Avoiding Income Tax Interest and Penalties

August 10th, 2020 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy timing can affect not only whether you must pay a tax debt but also whether you must pay certain tax interest and penalties.


This blog post is in a series about the importance of smart timing of your bankruptcy filing. Today we cover how good bankruptcy timing can prevent you having to pay certain income tax interest and penalties.

Avoiding Income Tax Interest and Penalties by Discharging the Tax Itself

Two weeks ago we discussed how to time a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” appropriately to discharge an income tax debt. “Discharge” means to legally, permanently write off the tax. Then last week we discussed how to discharge an income tax in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. When you discharge a tax in these ways what happens to the interest and penalties tied to that tax?

Generally, if you discharge an income tax debt, that also discharges any interest and penalties associated with that tax. That’s the most straightforward way to avoid such tax interest and penalties.

What If the Tax Does Not Qualify for Discharge?

If your tax debt doesn’t meet the timing and other conditions for discharge, what happens to the interest and penalties? That depends on whether you (with the help of your bankruptcy lawyer) file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case.

Interest and Penalties on Nondischargeable Tax under Chapter 7

If you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy you continue owing the tax, and the interest and taxes keep accumulating.

You do receive one brief benefit. During the 3-4 months of the bankruptcy procedure the IRS and/or state legally may not collect the tax. The “automatic stay” that stops just about all debt collection activity applies to all your income tax debts. But as soon as the Chapter 7 case is done, the tax collection activity can resume. The interest and penalties continues to accumulate even during your case. And after the case they will continue accumulating as normal until you pay the tax, interest, and penalties in full. So with taxes that don’t qualify for discharge, Chapter 7 does not help with tax interest and penalties.

Interest and Penalties on Nondischargeable Tax under Chapter 13

However, if you file a Chapter 13 case there is some help with tax interest and penalties. This can be true even with a nondischargeable income tax.

In most Chapter 13 cases you do not have to pay any ongoing interest and penalties after filing your case. Through your payment plan you pay the tax over the 3-to-5-year life of your case. But the IRS/state writes off any after-filing accumulating interest and penalties as long as you successfully complete your case. (If you don’t complete your case, the IRS/state tacks on any accumulating interest and penalties to whatever tax you didn’t pay.)

What about the before-Chapter-13-filing interest and penalties? You must pay the interest portion along with the nondischargeable tax that you have to pay.

However you usually don’t have to pay the before-bankruptcy-filing penalty portion in full. Sometimes you don’t have to pay any of it. The tax penalties are a “general unsecured” debt. You generally pay general unsecured debts only as much as you can afford to pay during the life of your Chapter 13 case. This means that you may pay as little as none of the pre-bankruptcy penalties.

Furthermore, in most cases these penalties don’t add a dime to the amount you must pay into your Chapter 13 case. That’s because in most cases you pay what you can afford into the pool of general unsecured debts over the life of your payment plan. A set amount filters down to these debts. So the dollar amount of tax penalties merely reduces how much other general unsecured debts receive. You don’t pay any more. The amount you pay just gets shifted around among these debts.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to the above. Sometimes the amount you pay into your payment plan is driven less by your budget than by non-exempt (unprotected) assets. Then you may need to pay more to your general unsecured debts (which includes the pre-bankruptcy penalties). You may even need to pay them in full—a so-called 100% plan. But that’s rare. Your bankruptcy lawyer will discuss this with you if you have this unusual situation.

What about the Effect of a Recorded Income Tax Lien?

That’s a great question. The recording of an income tax lien before filing a bankruptcy case can definitely create additional headaches for you. This can be true about both the underlying tax itself and the related interest and penalties.

So the simple timing preference is, when possible, file your bankruptcy case before the IRS/state records a tax lien.

The effect of a tax lien depends on whether the tax at issue qualifies for discharge, and whether you file a Chapter 7 or 13 case. We’ll cover these in our blog post next week.

 

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