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Forgotten Debts

April 22nd, 2019 at 7:00 am

What do you need to do, what efforts is worth taking, if there are debts you don’t have any records on or you’ve forgotten about?  

 

Several blog posts ago we introduced the law that debts “neither listed nor scheduled” risk not being forgiven in bankruptcy. Section 523(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code. This follows the bankruptcy principle that debts are forgiven—“discharged”—unless a debt fits within a specific exception. Debts “neither listed nor scheduled” is one of the exceptions.

Related to this exception to discharge we’ve recently looked at:

  • how to add a debt after filing your case that you didn’t originally list, and your timing for doing so
  • an exception to this discharge exception, that is, your unlisted creditor’s debt still being discharged if it still finds out about your case, and does so on time
  • debts sold or assigned to collection agencies

This leaves one last question for today about unlisted debts:

What do you do if you don’t know all of your debts because you’ve moved or lost track of them for any other reason?

This practical question gives us the opportunity to apply the principles we’ve been digging into these last few blog posts.

The Potential Consequences of Not Listing Debts

Start with the assumption that you will continue to owe any debt you don’t include in your bankruptcy debt schedules. Obviously, filing any kind of bankruptcy is a big deal. The discharge of debts is a legal right, but one that you can exercise very seldom. Hopefully it’s something you’ll only need once in your life. You want to do it right.

Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” generally takes about 4 months from start to finish. It costs pretty much the same in fees and damage to your credit whether you include all your creditors or miss one or two. You vastly increase its effective cost if afterwards you continue owing a debt or two that you could have discharged. Plus, instead of getting the peace of mind of a full fresh start, you’d be saddled with potentially avoidable debt.

Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” involves a payment plan lumping together all your debts. Most unsecured creditors have to share out of a pool of money based on what you can afford to pay. That is often a small percent of what you owe, perhaps even 0%.  If you neglect to list a debt in your schedules, it can’t participate in your plan. So, instead of paying that debt the same percentage that you’re paying others, you’d have to pay it in full. Since all your money is earmarked for your other creditors, you’d have nothing to pay the unlisted creditor. So when it forced you to pay—such as by garnishing your paychecks—that would disable your Chapter 13 plan. Frankly, that would be a mess.

So, of Course, Do All You Can to Know and List All Your Debts

We don’t want to scare but rather to motivate you. It’s worth the effort to figure out who you owe and to find their accurate addresses.

One obvious place to start is with a credit report. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about getting free ones from all three of the major consumer credit agencies.

But it’s very important to know that a credit report is NOT necessarily a complete list of your debts. For some people it might be. But for others their credit reports would be woefully incomplete. Financial institutions and major consumer creditors will quite reliably be on your credit reports. But medical providers and various other kinds of creditors—not so much.

It IS worth sifting through ALL of your paper and computer files (and piles!) to find any other debts. Scour through your memory about possible obligations you haven’t thought about lately. Think about old unpaid landlords and utilities, possible bounced checks, or unpaid personal loans from friends or family.

Possible Claims, Ambiguous Amounts

Consider situations where you may or may not owe anything. Are there any old or more recent unresolved vehicle accidents? Might you have caused personal or property damages to some person or business? Are there any unusual possible claims against you, for defamation, embezzlement or other misuse of funds or of trust? Could there be any claims come out of an old or not so old divorce, non-marital relationship, any family fight, or the closing of a business? Are there any almost forgotten threats against you to pay for anything whatsoever?

Bring any of this stuff up with your bankruptcy lawyer, preferably at your first meeting. Some situations may genuinely not warrant including as a possible debt. Your lawyer is the person who knows how to protect you, and to guide you through the tough judgment calls. You need to ask the questions so that he or she can give you the right advice.

Debt Amounts

 It’s generally not that important to know how much you owe—a sensible estimate is often good enough. But again talk with your lawyer, because sometimes—depending on the type of debt—the amount is important.

Collection Agencies

If you know the original creditor but not a subsequent collection agency, start by listing the original creditor. It may well pass on your bankruptcy filing information to the collector (although you can’t count on this). Also, the original creditor may actually still owe the debt. The collector may have only a temporary collection agreement.

You still do want to list any and all collectors on an account. That’s because it’s hard to know who owns the debt. That may take not just looking through all your papers but also doing internet research and making phone calls. Your bankruptcy lawyer and his or her staff will be your guide.  

Very Old Debts

Most debts can get old enough that the creditors can no longer collect on them. Most states have statutes of limitations on the collection of debts.

But those laws are often complicated, with different lengths of time for different kinds of debts. There are different triggers that start the time running, and other events that can suspend (“toll”) the time from running. The time limit can sometimes be extended simply by you being out of state or hiding from collection.

Even if a statute of limitation arguably applies you’d rather not have to defend a collections lawsuit on this basis.

Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about what to do to best protect your from old and very old debts.

 

Debts Sold or Assigned to Collection Agencies

April 15th, 2019 at 7:00 am

What happens if you list a creditor in your bankruptcy case but, unknown to you, it sold the debt to a collection agency that you don’t list? 

 

Our blog post two weeks ago was about needing to list all your debts in a bankruptcy case in order to write them off. This is part of a series of blog posts about debts that may not get discharged (written off) in bankruptcy. The law says that bankruptcy does not discharge debts that are “neither listed nor scheduled” in the bankruptcy documents. Section 523(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Special Scenarios

This raises some practical questions, including the following:

  1. Is a debt covered if you don’t list it but the creditor still learns about your bankruptcy case?
  2. What happens if you list the creditor but it had previously sold the debt to a collection agency?
  3. What do you do if you don’t know all of your debts because you’ve moved or lost track of them for some other reason?

We addressed the first of these last week, and discuss the second one today.

Debts Listed but Sold to Collection Agency

So you list the creditor on your bankruptcy schedules but after filing learn it sold the debt to another entity. Let’s assume you know the name and address of the new creditor or collection agency.

Debts Sold Before Your Bankruptcy Filing

Let’s start with the situation that the debt was sold to the new entity before you filed the bankruptcy case. You only find out about it after your filing. You either receive a new notice about it or dig up an older one you hadn’t found earlier.  What should you do?

There’s a decent chance that when the creditor you listed gets the bankruptcy notice it will forward it to the new owner of the debt. That would seem to be the sensible and business-like thing for it to do. Then the new owner would learn about your case even without being listed on your bankruptcy schedules. It would be covered by your bankruptcy case and the debt would likely get discharged. (See our last blog post about the creditor’s “actual knowledge” exception.)

Three Problems

There are three problems with this.

First, the listed creditor may simply not bother to pass on your bankruptcy notice to the new debt holder. The creditor no longer has any interest in the debt. It doesn’t owe you any favors. Why shouldn’t it just throw away the bankruptcy notice, and not inform the new debt holder? Then this new debt holder—the creditor you actually owe—may well never find out about your bankruptcy. You could easily continue owing the debt. It’s not safe to rely on the listed creditor to tell the new debt holder. It’s way too risky.

Second, even if the listed creditor does pass on the bankruptcy notice the new debt holder may not receive it. Or that debt holder may simply say it never received it. Good luck getting proof that it did. Collection agencies sometimes attempt to collect debts (purposely or inadvertently) that a bankruptcy has legally discharged. Without proof that the collection agency received notice of your bankruptcy filing you may still owe the debt. At the very least you’d have a much harder time getting them to stop trying to collect on the debt.

Third, even if the new debt holder does receive notice about your bankruptcy filing, it may not happen fast enough. You have no control when your listed creditor would get around to passing on information about your filing. There would be some delay between the time the creditor receives the bankruptcy notice and when it forwards it. In some situations the timing when the new debt holder receives the bankruptcy information is crucial. See our last blog post for a discussion about this timing issue.

Formally Adding Creditors to Your Schedules After Filing

So instead of relying on your listed creditor to inform the new debt holder it’s better to take the initiative.

First, you can formally add the new debt holder to your bankruptcy schedules, after your original filing. Your lawyer does this through an “amended schedule.” This is generally the safest option. Here’s one local bankruptcy court’s information about this procedure.

You do have to pay a modest additional filing fee (currently $31—see item #4 in the court fee schedule).  Plus your lawyer might charge you for the extra service (although not necessarily).  

Another option may be to contact the debt holder—either yourself or your lawyer—without using an “amended schedule.” This contact may fulfil the requirements of the “actual knowledge” exception. What’s critical is to have appropriate evidence of this contact in case you need proof of it later. There may be timing considerations. Also, you may be required to use an “amended schedule” based on local bankruptcy rules.

 Don’t decide this on your own. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer for advice about resolving the situation the safest and most cost-effective way.

Debts Sold After Your Bankruptcy Filing

Creditors should not sell or assign your debt after they get notice of your bankruptcy case. At least they shouldn’t without informing the new debt holder about your bankruptcy case.

But sometimes they do sell the debt after getting notice about your bankruptcy case, whether intentionally or out of carelessness. Then the discussion above applies. If your bankruptcy case is still active, your lawyer should probably file an “amended schedule” adding the new debt holder.

The creditor’s sale or assignment of the debt can also occur between the time you file bankruptcy and the time the creditor receives notice of it. It may sell or assign the debt after you file bankruptcy but before it knows about your filing.

Again, the discussion above applies. You could hope that when this creditor gets notice of your bankruptcy filing it will inform the new debt owner. There’s a decent chance that it would do so, since the sale had just happened. Its file on you may still be open or would have just been closed a short time earlier. But again, your listed creditor may still not bother to inform the new debt holder. So, talk with your bankruptcy lawyer as soon as you find out about new debt holder. Remember that timing can be extremely important. In most situations filing an “amended schedule to add the new debt holder is the appropriate solution.

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Texas Bankruptcy

April 12th, 2019 at 10:11 pm

TX bankruptcy attorneyBeing in debt can often feel like being in quicksand — the more you try to climb your way out, the quicker you sink further. Making the decision to file for bankruptcy is a very serious one and should only be made as a last resort. Because of this, most people who file for bankruptcy are in an overwhelming amount of debt. This can cause much uncertainty and may have you wondering how you should file, which type of bankruptcy is right for you and what your life will look like after your bankruptcy is done. Here are a few frequently asked questions about bankruptcy and their answers:

When Should I File For Bankruptcy?

This is a very personal question and because of that, the answer will never be the same for all people. There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to deciding when you should file for bankruptcy — it should be your last resort. Before you file for bankruptcy, you should try other ways of relieving debt, such as budgeting and consolidating your debt. If you feel that you are drowning in debt, it may be time to consider bankruptcy.

Which Type of Bankruptcy Is Right For Me?

For private consumers, there are two types of bankruptcies that you can apply for: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common type of bankruptcy where most of your debt is discharged and you are given a clean slate. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy utilizes a repayment plan to help you pay off your debts, rather than discharging them. The kind of bankruptcy that is best for you depends on a variety of factors — which you should talk to your attorney about.

How Will a Bankruptcy Affect My Credit Score?

It is never known for sure how exactly a bankruptcy will affect your credit score because beginning scores can range. If you have a higher beginning credit score, you will usually lose more points than a person with a lower credit score. Regardless, most people’s credit scores will fall within the same range after a bankruptcy — usually, somewhere within the mid- to high-500 range.

A New Braunfels, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help

Filing for bankruptcy can be a long and confusing process. There are many things you must consider before you file for bankruptcy and there are many questions that come along with the process. This is where a skilled Kerrville bankruptcy lawyer can be extremely helpful. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we can help answer all of your bankruptcy questions and we can also help you make the best decisions for your situation. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.bankrate.com/finance/debt/life-after-bankruptcy-1.aspx

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/after-bankruptcy.asp

Creditor Not Listed But Knows about Your Case

April 8th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Usually if you don’t list a debt, it doesn’t get discharged.  An exception is if the creditor still learns about your case, on time. 

 

Last week’s blog post was about the importance of listing all debts in a bankruptcy case to write them off. Debts “neither listed nor scheduled” in the bankruptcy documents are not discharged (legally written off). Section 523(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Special Scenarios

This rule raises a number of practical questions. Here are some common situations:

  1. You don’t list a debt but the creditor finds out about your bankruptcy some other way.
  2. Your debt has been sold or assigned to a collection agency without your knowledge
  3. You don’t have good records of your debts and you may not know some of their names and addresses.

Today we address the first of these.

Creditor Knows About Your Bankruptcy Case

If you don’t list a debt it’s still covered by your bankruptcy case if that creditor knows about the case. The Bankruptcy Code says a debt is not discharged “unless such creditor had notice or actual knowledge of the case.”  Section 523(a)(3)(A) and (B)

This doesn’t mean that you can avoid listing a creditor on your debt schedules because you know it will find out about your case some other way.

First, what if the creditor doesn’t actually find out or claims that it didn’t? You could end up owing the debt. It’s much safer to list the debt in your bankruptcy documents.

Second, you are required to list all your debts. Bankruptcy is not just about you and that one creditor.  If you want the benefits of bankruptcy you must play by the rules, which include listing all your debts.

If you have any reason for not wanting to list a debt, talk with your bankruptcy lawyer. There is usually a workable solution to your concerns.

Must Know about Your Case “In Time”

There’s an important condition to this “notice or actual knowledge” exception. Your creditor needs to learn about your case in time to participate in it.

So what’s the deadline for your creditor to learn about your case if you don’t list its debt?

There are 3 possible different deadlines for 3 different kinds of cases.

1. Proof of Claim Deadline

First, some bankruptcy cases give creditors the opportunity to file a “proof of claim.” That’s a document a creditor files at bankruptcy court documenting what it believes you owe. In Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” cases creditors file proofs of claim to receive any money through your payment plan. In “straight bankruptcy” Chapter 7 “asset” cases creditors file proofs of claim to possibly share in the liquidation of any non-exempt (unprotected) assets. In these cases the bankruptcy court mails out a formal notice giving a strict deadline to file proofs of claim. 

In these cases your unlisted creditor must learn about your case in time to be able to file a proof of claim. Section 523(a)(3)(A).

2.  Creditor Objection Deadline

Second, sometimes a creditor has grounds to object to the discharge of its debt on the basis of your fraud or similar bad action in the incurring of the debt. This can happen in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case.  In all cases the bankruptcy court mails creditors a notice of the strict deadline to file an objection. 

In these cases your creditor must learn about your case in time to be able to file such an objection. Section 523(a)(3)(B).

3. Possibly No Deadline

Third, in other bankruptcy cases neither of the two situations above applies. In fact that covers most Chapter 7 cases. Most have no assets to distribute because everything the debtor owns is exempt, or protected. The case is a “no asset” case. With nothing to distribute, the court does not ask creditors to file proofs of claim. So there’s no deadline to do so. Also, most creditors have no grounds based on fraud or similar bad actions to object to the discharge of its debt. So any deadline to file such an objection doesn’t apply. So what’s the deadline for an unlisted creditor to learn about your case so that its debt is discharged?

In some parts of the country there is essentially no deadline in these kinds of cases. If you find out at any time about a debt you didn’t list in a “no asset” Chapter 7 case, you or your lawyer may be able to simply inform the creditor and the debt is covered in your case. The debt is then included in the discharge of debts that you received in your case. That may be true even if your case is already completed.

But because the statute does not directly address this situation, your local court may interpret it differently. You might still owe the debt because you didn’t give the creditor notice about your bankruptcy. Again, talk with your bankruptcy lawyer as soon as you learn about a debt that you forgot to include for advice about your specific options.

 

Debts You Don’t List in Your Bankruptcy Case

April 1st, 2019 at 7:00 am

If you don’t list a debt in your bankruptcy case, and don’t add it in on time, it may not be written off.  So carefully include all debts. 

 

Supposed to List All Creditors 

You can’t pick and choose which debts to include in your bankruptcy case. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code says that the first duty of a bankruptcy debtor is to provide “a list of creditors.” Section 521(a)(1) of Bankruptcy Code. That list includes secured, priority, and unsecured debts, which you put on Schedules D, E and F, respectively. As these Official Forms state clearly, you must

  • “List All Secured Claims”
  • “List All of Your Priority Unsecured Claims”
  • “List All of Your Nonpriority Unsecured Claims”

In the Declarations page you declare “Under penalty of perjury” that the “schedules filed with this declaration… are true and correct.” That page includes the very stern warning that “Making a false statement … can result in fines up to $250,000, in imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both.”

Truthfully, that is an overly stern warning because penalties like that simply don’t happen in the consumer bankruptcy context. Not for not including a debt!

The point is that it’s a federal crime to intentionally lie on your bankruptcy documents. So you need to list all your debts. Talk with you bankruptcy lawyer if you believe you have a reason for not listing a debt. There’s usually a practical solution to your concerns.

Unlisted Debts Not Written Off

Today’s blog post is not so much about intentionally not listing a debt but doing so inadvertently. If somehow you don’t include a debt in your bankruptcy schedules you risk owing that debt after your case is over.

In the last 5 weeks we’ve covered the following categories of debts not written off in bankruptcy:

  • Criminal fines and restitution
  • Income taxes
  • Child and spousal support
  • Student loans
  • Damages arising from driving intoxicated

Debts “neither listed nor scheduled” in a debtor’s bankruptcy documents are another category of debts not written off. Section 523(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code.

If You Forgot a Debt

If you didn’t include a debt in the schedules filed by your bankruptcy lawyer, you can often add it later. But you may need to act quickly.

Figuring out your deadline to add a missing creditor is somewhat tricky. It depends on the nature of the debt and the nature of your case.

The Deadline(s) to Add a Debt

First, if the debt is of the kind that the creditor could object to the writing off of the debt based on certain bad actions by you (for example, lying about your financial situation to acquire the debt), then there is a short, strict deadline. You have to add the debt to the case in time for the creditor to have time to object.  The objection deadline is usually about 3 months after you file your case. So you’d have to add the debt a bit before that. Section 523(a)(3)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Second, if your case gives the creditors the opportunity to get paid something through your bankruptcy case, you have a different deadline to add a debt. Most Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” cases don’t give most creditors the right to receive anything from the case. There are no assets to distribute to creditors (when all a debtor’s assets are “exempt,” or protected). If there ARE assets to distribute (because some asset(s) are not exempt), the bankruptcy clerk sends out a notice providing a deadline for creditors to ask for a share of the assets. Creditors do so by filing a “proof of claim” documenting their debt. So in this situation you have to add a debt a bit before that deadline. Section 523(a)(3)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code.

In Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” cases usually the debtor pays some portion of most or debts. Within a couple of weeks after you file a Chapter 13 case the clerk sends out a notice giving creditors a deadline to file proofs of claim. You have to add a debt a bit before that deadline.

Other Scenarios

What if you may owe a debt but don’t know that you may? For example, someone thinks you’ve caused them some injury or damages but hasn’t told you yet.

Or what if you’ve lost track of a debt or debts because you’ve moved and lost your records? If the debt is not on your credit report, you may have no way to recall and list the debt. Can you write off this debt?

Also, does it matter if a creditor has somehow found out about your case even though you neglected to list the debt?

Finally, what if the debt has been sold from one debt collector to another without your knowledge? How can you list a debt in order to successfully write if off if you don’t know who you owe?

We’ll cover these other scenarios next week.

 

Things You Should Know Before You File for Bankruptcy

March 29th, 2019 at 4:18 pm

bankruptcy-filingMost Americans have some form of debt — mortgages, credit card debt, student loans, auto loans, and personal loans are all part of consumer debt and most Americans have a combination of them. For many people, the debt can be handled through smart budgeting and curbed spending, but some people need to use other measures. Bankruptcy is used when people can no longer pay their debt and offers a way for those in debt to get a fresh start. The decision to file for bankruptcy is a difficult one, especially since bankruptcy laws are so complex. Here are a few things you should know before you file for bankruptcy:

There Is More Than One Kind of Bankruptcy

For individuals, there are two different types of bankruptcies — Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the type that most people associate the word bankruptcy with. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, most of your unsecured debts can be discharged, meaning you will no longer be responsible for paying them back. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you set up a repayment plan that allows you to repay your debts over three to five years. The kind you choose largely depends on your specific circumstances.

Bankruptcy Is Not Free

Though it may seem counterintuitive, filing for bankruptcy is not free. It can actually become quite expensive. Filing for bankruptcy can cost between a couple of hundred to a couple of thousands of dollars, depending on whether or not you hire an attorney and how much the filing fees end up costing.

Your Credit Will Be Affected

 

Once you have filed for bankruptcy and your case is finished, you will have to begin the process of rebuilding your credit. Getting a bankruptcy does make your credit score drop, but it does not really matter whether or not you go into the bankruptcy with a high or a low credit score. Most people end up around the same score range after they are done with bankruptcies.

A Kerrville, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help

It can be difficult to make the decision to file for bankruptcy. Some people feel like bankruptcy is a failure, but in reality, it can be the best decision some people make. If you are thinking that bankruptcy may be right for you, you need to talk to an experienced New Braunfels, TX bankruptcy lawyer. Understanding what you are getting yourself into before you file for bankruptcy is crucial, which is why the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee are here. We can help you figure out which type of bankruptcy is right for you and the most strategic plan to benefit you. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.thesimpledollar.com/what-to-expect-when-filing-for-bankruptcy/

https://www.thebalance.com/top-things-to-know-about-bankruptcy-316198

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/bankruptcy.asp

https://www.forbes.com/sites/larrymyler/2017/10/03/filing-for-bankruptcy-3-most-important-things-you-need-to-know/#611876127fe6

Bankruptcy Writes Off Vehicle Accident Claims, Unless Intoxicated

March 25th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy writes off claims against you from a vehicle accident for personal injuries and property damage, IF you weren’t intoxicated. 

 

Vehicle Accident Claims

If you had a vehicle accident, you could owe many kinds of debts from it.  You could be liable for any injured party’s current and future medical bills, loss of wages, pain and suffering, and other forms of damages. You could owe for property damage to vehicles and also to any building or traffic barriers or signs.

Your insurance may cover all of these obligations. Of course if you have no insurance, it’s all on you. More likely you have insurance but not enough. Especially if you have only the legal minimum coverage, a major accident and/or one with multiple vehicles could easily result in damages more than your insurance limits.  Then you’d be on the hook for everything insurance doesn’t cover. That could amount to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

Bankruptcy would usually write off (“discharge”) whatever you’d owe.

Accident Claims of Unknown Amounts

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how much you’ll owe. Often you don’t until many months or sometimes even years after the accident. As long as you file bankruptcy after the accident, all claims from the accident are covered by your bankruptcy case.  

Bankruptcy law makes that clear.

Bankruptcy discharges most debts. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code defines a “debt” as a “liability on a claim.”  In other words, you have some legal obligation to somebody.

But that legal obligation does not need to be reduced to a fixed dollar amount. A “claim” is defined as a “right to payment, whether or not… liquidated, unliquidated, fixed, contingent, matured, unmatured, disputed, undisputed… 

“Unliquidated” means that the amount of the claim is unknown. For example, medical expenses are still accruing. “Contingent” means that the event that triggers whether or not you are liable has not yet happened. For example, a dispute about whether somebody else’s insurance covers the claim has not yet been resolved. “Disputed” means that a question remains whether the claim against you is legally valid. For example, the cause of the accident is still being litigated.

In all these non-fixed-debt situations, bankruptcy would still usually discharge any debts related to claims arising out of the accident.

The Intoxication Exception

However, bankruptcy does not write off accident claims if you were driving intoxicated.

Specifically, regular Chapter 7 bankruptcy “does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt… for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle… if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.” Section 523(a)(9) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

This applies just as much to Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” because it incorporates the same language. Section 1328(a)(2) of Bankruptcy Code.

3 Practical Twists

1) Only Applies to Unlawful Operation

Notice that this exception only applies if your alleged intoxication made your “operation of a motor vehicle… unlawful.” So this raises some questions if you were arguably intoxicated but weren’t so charged. Your bankruptcy lawyer could argue your operation of your vehicle was not “unlawful.” So the resulting accident claims should be written off in bankruptcy.

On the other hand, there may be circumstances in which a person isn’t charged but was still intoxicated under the law. The accident may have happened in an isolated place and the police didn’t arrive until hours later. Even if you weren’t cited, the injured party could still try to bring evidence that you were driving unlawfully. For example, there could be convincing evidence based on how much you drank and when.

2) Property Damage

The Bankruptcy Code language that creates this exception to discharge refers only to debts “for death or personal injury.” This language does not cover property damage. So can you discharge property damage debts from an intoxicated accident?

Maybe. But there is another exception to discharge that does apply to property damages. Bankruptcy law excludes from discharge any debt “for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity.” Section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code.

But if you have an accident while intoxicated the injuries caused weren’t intentional. So they weren’t willful, right?

It may depend on your specific facts, and especially on how the bankruptcy courts interpret the law locally. Bankruptcy is federal law but on close questions could be applied differently in different regions of the country. If you have any debts from any accident make sure you have a particularly experienced bankruptcy lawyer representing you. He or she will advise you about the law in your bankruptcy court.

3) Boating and Flying Accidents

We’ve been discussing driving while intoxicated but the discharge exception also applies to intoxicated boating and flying.

Bankruptcy does not “discharge an individual debtor from any debt. .. for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a… vessel, or aircraft… if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.”

Boating and flying are covered by completely different laws, so what’s unlawful is completely different. In state boating laws the blood alcohol concentration amounts may be different, as well of the effect of the operator’s age. Under federal aviation law it is illegal to operate an aircraft:

  • “within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage”
  • with “an alcohol concentration of 0.04% or or greater in a blood or breath specimen”
  • “while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety”

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Section 91.17

 

Bankruptcy Can Write Off a Student Loan, IF it Causes Undue Hardship

March 18th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Writing off student loans is not easy. You must convincingly show that paying the loan causes you undue hardship, a tough condition to prove. 

 

 

Criminal fines and restitution and child and spousal support are types of debts that bankruptcy essentially never discharges. Income taxes can be discharged but only after meeting certain conditions. We’ve covered these in our last few blog posts. Today we cover student loans.

Student loans are more like income taxes than criminal or support debts in that they CAN get discharged in bankruptcy. Like an income tax, a student loan just needs to meet certain conditions.

But unlike an income tax debt, the conditions for discharge of a student loan are much vaguer. Most of the income tax conditions are clear. These conditions require a precise understanding of the law and a thorough knowledge of the facts of your case. But if you and your bankruptcy lawyer are careful, you should know before you file your bankruptcy whether you can discharge a tax debt.

Discharging student loans, in contrast, require meeting an ambiguous condition called “undue hardship.” Its ambiguity means that it’s much harder to predict whether or not a student loan will be discharged in bankruptcy.

Furthermore, because of this vague condition it’s possible to get a partial discharge. You may continue to owe some but not all of a particular student loan debt. Or if you have multiple student loans you may discharge some but not all of them.

“Undue Hardship”

Bankruptcy law states that an educational loan or benefit overpayment is not discharged in bankruptcy unless it “would impose an undue hardship on [you or your] dependents.” Section 523(a)(8) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Can you show the bankruptcy court that paying a student loan causes you “undue hardship”? If so bankruptcy can forever discharge that debt.

A More Precise Meaning of “Undue Hardship”

How does your bankruptcy court decide whether or not a student loan causes you a hardship?  

How bad does a hardship need to be to qualify as an undue hardship?

In most parts of the country “undue hardship” requires you to establish all three of the following:

1. You currently cannot maintain even a minimal standard of living (for yourself and any dependents) if you pay the student loan.

2. This present financial situation is realistically anticipated to continue through the loan’s term of repayment.

3. You have acted responsibly in the past regarding the student loan, by making a serious effort to pay it and/or to attempt to qualify for any of the available programs to reduce or manage the loan.  

The Student Loan Survives Unless You Establish “Undue Hardship”

It can be difficult to meet all three of these. If you don’t, you continue to owe the student loan.

Furthermore, the student loan creditor does not have to take any action itself. You and your lawyer have to raise the issue yourself. It’s up to you to start the ball rolling.

Generally you do so by filing an “adversary proceeding” during your bankruptcy case. This is a legal proceeding focusing exclusively on whether you qualify for a “hardship discharge” of the student loan.

If you believe you qualify, you could file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. Then your lawyer would file an adversary proceeding during the 3-4 months a basic Chapter 7 case usually lasts.  The student loan creditor would most likely object. There would then be a trial with evidence on whether you meet the necessary factors to show undue hardship. There’s no jury—the bankruptcy judge decides.

You can do the same thing within a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Because this kind of bankruptcy usually lasts 3 to 5 years, it gives you more timing options. Chapter 13 would usually allow you to avoid making student loan payments at least temporarily. Then once you think you qualify for undue hardship your lawyer would file the adversary proceeding. This could be especially helpful if you have a deteriorating medical condition or an anticipated reduction in income.

Summary

Student loans are dischargeable in bankruptcy, but undue hardship is an ambiguous and often tough condition to prove. The law of undue hardship as interpreted by the courts is constantly adjusting, and can be slightly different in different bankruptcy courts. So it’s crucial to get highly competent legal advice about what’s best for you.

 

Exploring Federal and Texas Bankruptcy Exemptions

March 15th, 2019 at 4:27 pm

TX bankruptcy attorneyFor some people, filing for bankruptcy can be a scary thing. In the beginning, you may not know what the future has in store for you and you may wonder which of your possessions you are allowed to keep and which possessions you must give up. Exemptions are an important part of the bankruptcy process. In a bankruptcy case, exemptions are the possessions that you get to keep after you have liquidated your luxury assets to help pay back a portion of your debts. Each state has its own guidelines for what property is exempt during a bankruptcy. In 17 states, including the state of Texas, you are able to choose between state exemption guidelines or federal guidelines, but you must choose one or the other. It is important to understand bankruptcy exemptions because they do differ.

Federal Exemptions

The exemptions that are listed here are the exemption amounts for each individual bankruptcy filer. That means if both you and your spouse are filing for bankruptcy, you can double the amounts. Here is a list of the current federal exemption amounts for each individual filer:

  • Homestead Exemption: Up to $22,675 in equity for a primary residence;
  • Motor Vehicle: $3,775 for one vehicle per filer;
  • Jewelry: Up to $1,600 in jewelry, not including wedding rings;
  • Household Goods: A total of $12,625, but with no item valued more than $600 can be exempted. Household goods include clothing, furniture, appliances, linens, kitchenware, and personal effects;
  • Tools of the Trade: Up to $2,375 for items you use for work;
  • Domestic Maintenance: An amount reasonably necessary for support
  • Social Security, Unemployment, Veteran’s Benefits, Public Assistance, Disability: Exempt without regard to the value;
  • Personal Injury Awards: Up to $23,675, not including pain and suffering or actual pecuniary damages or loss of future earning capacity;
  • Retirement Accounts: Tax exempt retirement accounts are exempt, but IRAs and Roth IRAs are capped at $1,283,025; and
  • Wildcard Exemption: You may also exempt up to $1,250 of any property, plus $11,850 of any unused homestead exemption.

Texas Exemptions

The state exemptions in Texas are slightly different than the federal exemptions. Here is a list of exemptions you receive if you choose to follow state bankruptcy exemptions, rather than federal exemptions:

  • Homestead Exemption: You are permitted to exempt equity in your primary residence as long as that residence does not span more than 10 acres in a city, town or village, or 100 acres elsewhere;
  • Personal Property: If you are single, you can exempt personal property up to $50,000 in value. If you have a spouse, you are permitted to exempt up to $100,000 in personal property;
  • Motor Vehicle: You are allowed to exempt one motor vehicle per household member who has a driver’s license;
  • Pensions and Retirement Accounts: Most tax-exempt pensions and retirement accounts are exempt under Texas law. These can include government employee pensions and retirement accounts, IRAs and Roth IRAs, teacher’s retirement and pension benefits and law enforcement pension and retirement benefits.

Contact a New Braunfels, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Today

Many people who decide to file for bankruptcy do so because it is their last option for debt relief. While filing for bankruptcy can cause you to have to liquidate some of your non-necessary assets, you will not lose everything. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we understand that filing for bankruptcy can be a hard decision, but we can help you throughout the entire process. Our skilled Boerne bankruptcy lawyers can help you understand the difference between federal and Texas state exemptions and choose the exemptions that would best benefit you. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/11/522

https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/PR/pdf/PR.41.pdf

https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/PR/pdf/PR.42.pdf

Bankruptcy Does Not Write Off Child or Spousal Support Debts

March 11th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Child support and spousal support debts cannot get written off in bankruptcy. But is your specific divorce debt legally considered support? 

 

We’re in a series of blog posts about special kinds of debt which bankruptcy may not discharge—write off.  So far we’ve covered criminal fines and restitution, and income taxes.

Child and spousal support are more like criminal debts than like income taxes. Bankruptcy simply does not discharge a criminal debt, as long as it really is a criminal, not civil, obligation.  Bankruptcy does discharge income tax debts that meet certain conditions. Bankruptcy simply does not discharge child and spousal support, IF it fits bankruptcy’s definition of support.

No Discharge of Support

Bankruptcy law is clear that neither Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” nor Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” discharges support debts.

Section 523 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code lists the “Exceptions to discharge.” It includes that “A discharge under [Chapter 7] does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt—(5) for a domestic support obligation… “ Section 523(a)(5).

Chapter 13 says the same thing by incorporating this Chapter 7 exception to discharge in its own list of exceptions.  Section 1328(a)(2).

What’s Considered Support in Bankruptcy?

So if you owe a “domestic support obligation,” you’re not getting out of it through bankruptcy. But what does that phrase mean? What does it include and what might if not include?

The Bankruptcy Code’s definition of “domestic support obligation” is 221 words long, containing 10 clauses. Section 101(14) of the Bankruptcy Code.  It appears to be a broad definition, covering anything that would sensibly be considered child or spousal support. For example, the debt could be owed not just to your ex-spouse or your child, but also to a current spouse (through a separation agreement) or to the parent, legal guardian, or responsible relative of a child (based on a court order of support, even if not biologically your child). In other circumstances, to be considered support the debt does not necessarily need to be based on a court order. It can be based on a separation agreement or “a determination made in accordance with applicable nonbankruptcy law by a governmental unit.”

Yet there are some limitations. For example, support obligations are often assigned for collection to someone other than the ex-spouse or child. Usually it’s assigned to a state or county support enforcement agency—then it’s still considered support. However, a support obligation that was “assigned to a nongovernmental entity” for collection is no longer considered support in bankruptcy. That is, it isn’t “unless that obligation [was] assigned voluntarily by the spouse, former spouse, child of the debtor, or such child’s parent, legal guardian, or responsible relative for the purpose of collecting the debt.” Section 101(14)(D).

Obligations “In the Nature of” Child or Spousal Support

Sometimes a domestic relations court will call something support that really isn’t.  The bankruptcy court does not have to accept what your divorce court labeled as support.

The definition of a “domestic support obligation” (that is, support) includes the requirement that it really be “in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support” on behalf of the pertinent person. Section 101(14)(B). If it’s not, the debt may be dischargeable.

“Support” That Might Be Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

For example, a debt that’s labeled as support might not really be “in the nature” of support if it’s actually a “property settlement” obligation that’s mislabeled as spousal or child support.

A property settlement obligation involves the resolution of a marital asset or debt. For example, you may owe money to your ex-spouse in return for receiving more than your share of marital assets. Or you may owe in return for your ex-spouse taking on what had been a joint debt. If a divorce judge requires you to pay “support” for what is really a property settlement, it may be discharged in bankruptcy.

The Difference This Can Make

Chapter 7 discharges neither support nor property settlement debts.  But Chapter 13 can discharge property settlement debts.

So if you have obligations called “support” but which are not “in the nature of support,” a Chapter 13 is worth looking into. Chapter 13 may especially be worthwhile if the debt at issue  is large.

Conclusion

If you owe a debt labeled as support by your divorce court, most of the time it will indeed be “in the nature of” support. But not always.

You can see that the interplay between divorce law and bankruptcy can get complicated. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about all of your divorce obligations to get all the relief you’re entitled to.

 

Call today for a FREE Consultation

210-342-3400

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