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Nondischargeable Co-Signed Debts

November 11th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Co-signed debts get tougher if your co-signer challenges the discharge of your obligation to him or her, or if the debt isn’t dischargeable. 

 

Last week we discussed obligations on co-signed debts, both to the joint creditor and to your co-signer. In that discussion we assumed that both those obligations could be discharged (written off) in bankruptcy. But what if the co-signer challenges your ability to discharge the debt? And what if the underlying debt can’t be discharged, such as a recent income tax? We address these two situations today.

Co-Signer Challenging Discharge

If you file bankruptcy any creditor can challenge your ability to discharge a debt. But creditors’ grounds for successfully doing so are narrow, so such challenges are rather rare. The creditor essentially has to prove that you committed fraud in incurring the debt. You must have misrepresented your intentions at the time the obligation was created.

How would this happen with a co-signer? Assume that you needed a co-signer to incur a debt. As that time you intended to pay the debt so that the co-signer would not need to pay it. But because of unforeseen circumstances—for example, you lost a job or got sick—you couldn’t pay it. Your co-signer is upset that he or she has to pay it. He or she is unhappy that you are discharging your obligation to pay the debt through bankruptcy. He or she is even more unhappy that you are discharging your obligation to pay back him or her for paying off the debt. So he or she files an objection to this discharge of your obligation to him or her.

Would the Challenge Be Successful?

That objection by your co-signer to the discharge of your obligation to him or her would not likely get anywhere. In fact, your co-signer would likely by advised by a lawyer not to waste money on such a groundless objection. That’s because at the time you incurred the obligation you committed no fraud or misrepresentation. You intended to pay the underlying debt so that your co-signer would not need to.

Your co-signer would only have grounds for a successful objection to discharge if the facts were different. Assume that you lied to your co-signer at the time you persuaded him or her to co-sign the debt. You said you had no other debts when you had many debts. Or you said your income was very reliable when you knew that it was not. Under these circumstances your co-signer could allege that you misrepresented the facts to induce him or her to co-sign the debt. If the bankruptcy judge is persuaded that this is what happened, your obligation to your co-signer would not get discharged and you’d have to pay him or her whatever amount he or she paid on the underlying debt.

Nondischargeable Co-Signed Debts

Now on to the other scenario, in which the underlying debt itself can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Recall the example of a recent income tax debt. Assume that you filed joint income tax returns with your spouse last year and you jointly owe the IRS $3,000. Now you’re getting divorced. This $3,000 joint debt is too recent to be able to discharge in bankruptcy. So you are both fully liable on that tax. In fact, even if the divorce court decrees that one spouse must pay that tax, the IRS still considers both fully liable.  

Assume the divorce decree obligates you to pay this tax but you can’t afford to do so. You can’t discharge the tax obligation in bankruptcy. If you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case you also can’t discharge your separate obligation to your spouse created by the divorce decree for you to pay that tax instead of your spouse. So you need to make arrangements with the IRS to pay the tax. This would likely be in monthly installments, after discharging your other debts in your Chapter 7 case. You’d pay off the tax, and any additional interest and penalties.

This would be slightly different in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. Again you can’t discharge the tax debt because it is too recent. However, under Chapter 13 you would be able to discharge your separate obligation to your spouse created by the divorce decree to pay all of the tax yourself. The practical difference? Under Chapter 13 you generally don’t have to pay ongoing interest and penalties. However, those would continue to accrue for your spouse, and he or she would likely be required to pay them. This would happen in spite of the divorce decree because bankruptcy law is stronger.

Possibly Nondischargeable Co-Signed Debts

The last scenario is a co-signed debt that could possibly be challenged as nondischargeable.

Assume you owe a business loan to a bank that you and a business partner co-signed. The business failed and you’re filing bankruptcy. Your now-former business partner has much more assets than you and is hoping to avoid filing. The bank is challenging your bankruptcy discharge of the business loan on the basis of some alleged misrepresentation. Assume also that your former partner has no grounds to challenge your separate obligation to him.

If you succeed in persuading the bankruptcy court that you made no misrepresentation in incurring the business loan, your obligation to the bank will be discharged, as will your separate obligation to your former partner. You will owe nothing to either the bank or your ex-partner.

If you do not succeed, the loan debt will not be discharged. You will continue owing the bank. If your former partner does not file bankruptcy or otherwise discharge the debt, you will both owe it. But assume also that you succeed in discharging your obligation to your former partner, since there made no misrepresentations to him or her. So your former partner cannot pursue you to pay the underlying debt. So if the bank forces him or her to pay the debt first, you won’t have to pay anything to the bank.

Conclusion

As you can see from these examples, protecting yourself when you owe co-signed debts can get complicated. Be sure to tell your bankruptcy lawyer about any possible joint obligations at your first meeting. It’s crucial to know what legal obligations you owe or do not owe to your co-signer(s). Then your bankruptcy lawyer can advise you how to best deal with them, together with your whole financial situation.

 

Concerns about Co-Signed Debts

November 4th, 2019 at 8:00 am

If you have a co-signed debt, you have two separate sets of concerns. Those having to do with your common creditor, and those with co-debtor. 


If you have a co-signed debt you tend to be more concerned about one of two sets of problems. You’re either mostly worried about the other co-signer, or about the creditor you’re both owe on the debt. It’s likely smart to be aware of both. Let’s start with concerns about the creditor.

Concerns about Your Joint Creditor

There’s a good chance you’re worried about the creditor you both owe because you’re having trouble paying the debt. This assumes that you are the one who is supposed to be paying the debt. The point of having a co-signer was to give you more incentive to pay the debt. The creditor has the right to make your co-signer pay the debt if you don’t. We’ll get into your options shortly.

What if you are not the one supposed to pay the debt? What the other co-signer is supposed to but is not doing so? You are obligated to pay a debt that you didn’t expect to pay. Especially if you were already financially challenged, this could push you over the edge. What can you do?

Protecting Yourself from Your Joint Creditor

Assume that the debt you owe is not legally secured by anything. The creditor does not have a right to take any personal property or real estate if you don’t pay the debt.

Assume also that it is not a special debt like income taxes, a student loan, a criminal debt or anything else that bankruptcy does not write off (“discharge”).

The first step in dealing with a co-signed debt is to find out your actual legal obligations on the debt. You may think you are completely liable on the debt when you really aren’t. Bring your bankruptcy lawyer any documents you may have on the debt (if any).

Even if you signed something related to the debt, your obligations may be different than you thought. For example, you might have signed something between you and the co-signer that didn’t in fact make you liable directly to the creditor itself.  The two of you may have assumed that there was joint liability when there actually isn’t. Or your liability may kick in only under certain circumstances. You don’t want to act without knowing these crucial details.

If you find out that you definitely owe the debt one option is to discharge that debt in bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” you would likely not have to pay the debt at all. In a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” you would pay only as much as you could afford over usually a 3-year period of time. Often that would be only after paying other more important debts first. Either way, in the end you would likely no longer owe anything on the co-signed debt.

Concerns about Your Co-Signer

Concerns about your co-signer can get complicated.

Assume you learn that you are both fully legally liable on the debt. Again, is this a debt that you are supposed to pay or is your co-signer supposed to?

If your co-signer was supposed to pay it, do you have any way of enforcing this? In other words is there any documentation to back this up? Will he or she at least admit that it is his or her obligation? Assume you do have written and/or oral evidence that the co-signer was supposed to pay the debt. It’s still very difficult to enforce this obligation.

You need to discuss these facts with your bankruptcy lawyer to find out your legal AND practical options.

If instead you understand you were the one supposed to pay the debt, again you need to find out whether that’s legally true. Assuming it’s true, then you have two separate legal liabilities on the debt. The first is to the joint creditor. It can sue you to make you pay. We discussed how to deal with that above.

But you have a second separate legal obligation to your co-signer. He or she can also sue you if you do not pay the co-signed debt. How do you deal with him or her?

Protecting Yourself from Your Co-Signer

Assume again that the debt is neither legally secured by anything nor is it one bankruptcy does not discharge.

If you’re both liable on the debt the creditor is likely going to pursue both of you.  Your co-signer will likely demand that you pay. Then especially if your co-signer pays anything on the debt—voluntarily or not—he or she could sue you to repay him or her. To protect yourself from this separate liability to your co-signer, it may be worthwhile to discharge this separate legal obligation in bankruptcy. Chapter 7 and 13 would resolve with the debt as discussed above (about the debt to the joint creditor itself).

There’s a very important practical point about discharging your obligation to your co-signer. List both the creditor and your co-signer on your schedule of creditors in your bankruptcy case. Otherwise you could remain liable to your co-signer once your bankruptcy case is completed. That could happen even if you discharge the underlying joint debt. That does not erase your co-signer’s separate obligation to pay the debt to the creditor. So if you don’t list the co-signer and discharge your obligation to him or her, you could discharge the debt to the creditor and still be forced to pay the debt in full to your co-signer.

 

Bankruptcy Helps Delay Your Home Sale

October 7th, 2019 at 7:00 am

When you need a rather quick solution, Chapter 7 can deal with your creditors and buy you time to sell your home, in the right circumstances. 


Our last several blog posts have been about using bankruptcy to either prevent various kinds of liens hitting your home or deal with those liens if they happen. For example, in the last few weeks we’ve addressed, in reverse order:

  • Protecting your  home from homeowners’ association dues and assessment liens
  • Addressing child  and spousal support liens
  • Preventing income tax liens through Chapter 7 and Chapter 13
  • Dealing with already-recorded income tax liens
  • Preventing judgment liens, and removing them if they’ve already attached to your home

So clearly bankruptcy gives you a multitude of tools to help you preserve your home and its equity.

It can do even more. In the midst of dealing with all your debts, bankruptcy can buy you time to sell your home. Let’s show you how, starting with Chapter 7 today, and Chapter 13 next week.

Chapter 7 Advantage—It’s Quick

Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is quick.

Its quickness helps a number of ways. Chapter 7s are less complicated to prepare and almost always cost you less. So, practically speaking, you can usually go from your initial meeting with your bankruptcy lawyer to filing bankruptcy, faster.

This can be crucial in at least two sets of circumstances.

First, you’re up against some kind of debt-collection or possession-losing event that bankruptcy needs to stop. This can be related to your home, such as the start or the beginning of a mortgage foreclosure. Or it can be unrelated, such as a collection lawsuit against you, a paycheck garnishment, or vehicle repossession. You need to quickly file bankruptcy to stop a creditor from hurting you.

Second, you need to prevent some kind of lien from hitting your home. Preventing an income tax lien or judgment lien, for example, can, under some circumstances, mean the difference between not paying the underlying debt at all and paying it in part or in full.

Chapter 7 Advantage—It Focuses on the Present

The other big Chapter 7 advantage is that it focuses on your situation at the moment of filing. This is important as it applies to your assets and income.

Regarding your assets, Chapter 7 fixates—for most purposes—on your assets and their value at the moment of filing. It generally does not care about future assets (again, with rare exceptions).

This can be crucial when dealing a home that’s increasing in value. You may be getting close to having the maximum allowed equity for your applicable homestead exemption. Assume, for example, that your home is worth $250,000, you owe $230,000, and your state has a $25,000 homestead exemption. So you’d currently have $20,000 in equity ($250,000 minus $230,000). That equity amount can go up quickly if your property’s value is increasing, plus you’re paying down your mortgage (and maybe other liens against the home). Next year you may have too much equity to file a Chapter 7 case. Filing now lets you protect your equity now, and then it can grow freely after you’ve gotten your fresh start.

Regarding your income, Chapter 7 fixates—again for most purposes—on your income at the time of your filing. Future income, including increases in income, is generally outside of the reach of your creditors and the Chapter 7 trustee.

Buying Time to Sell Your Home

With all this in mind, how does Chapter 7 buy you time in selling your home?

Consider two scenarios. One, you’re current on your mortgage, and second, you’re far behind.

Buying Time When Current on Your Mortgage

First, assume you are current or close to current on your home’s mortgage. The amount of your equity is less than your homestead exemption amount. You are being battered by creditors, and if you don’t act quickly bad stuff will happen. So you’re tempted to sell your home to reduce your cost of living or to get at its equity. But you either don’t want to sell, or for personal or family reasons you’d rather wait to do so.

A Chapter 7 filing would prevent or stop virtually all lawsuits and garnishments. It could prevent judgment liens and income tax liens and support liens against your home. Judgment liens that are already on your home likely could be removed. Previously recorded income and support liens could be better resolved with your greater cash flow. You’d likely be better able to afford your mortgage and other home-related costs. All that would happen either immediately or within about 4 months after your bankruptcy lawyer filed your Chapter 7 case.

Buying Time When Behind on Your Mortgage

Second, assume instead that you are not current on your mortgage but rather you’re far behind and facing foreclosure. You definitely want to sell your home but you’ve run out of time. You’re about to lose your home to foreclosure.

Chapter 7 buys you some time. Instead of losing your home—and any equity you may have in it—to foreclosure, you stop the foreclosure. You gain a few precious months to either close a pending sale or to make a sale.

Or if you are not that close to foreclosure, filing bankruptcy may improve your monthly cash flow enough so that you and your lawyer can negotiate a “forbearance agreement” with your mortgage lender. This is a payment plan for catching up on the mortgage arrearage (and maybe any late property taxes). Then, anytime either during that payment plan or afterwards, you could sell your home.

You may even be able to work that into the forbearance agreement. You could agree to relatively smaller monthly catch-up payments, and then pay off of the remaining arrearage and the entire mortgage balance from proceeds of the house sale.

 

What Not to Do Before Filing for a Texas Bankruptcy

April 26th, 2019 at 2:38 pm

Texas bankruptcy attorneyFor many people who have quite a bit of debt, bankruptcy is the best option. There are two types of bankruptcies that individuals can file for in the United States — Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is one that discharges most of your debt and leaves you with a blank slate so you can rebuild your finances. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is basically a reorganization of your debts — you work with your debtors to come up with a repayment plan that works for you. In either of these scenarios, there are certain things that are big no-no’s. It is important that you avoid these common mistakes when filing for a Texas bankruptcy:

Lying or Withholding Information from Your Attorney

Though it may seem beneficial to lie or hide certain assets from your attorney, it is quite the opposite. It is against the law to attempt to hide assets or omit them from your list of assets that you submit to the bankruptcy court. Not only could your bankruptcy case be rejected, but you can also face criminal charges related to bankruptcy fraud.

Acquiring New Debt After You Have Started the Process

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, most if not all of your debts are discharged. It may be tempting to take your credit card and go on a shopping spree before you file for bankruptcy, but that is the last thing you should do. Incurring new debt within 90 days of filing for bankruptcy is highly frowned upon and will most likely not be dischargeable in your bankruptcy, meaning you will be responsible for repaying that debt.

Giving Money or Property to Your Friends or Family

Similar to lying about your assets, it is also not a good idea to try to give money or other property to your friends or family before you file for bankruptcy. This is also illegal and can put your bankruptcy case in jeopardy, along with possible criminal charges and repercussions.

Not Hiring a Skilled New Braunfels, TX Bankruptcy Lawyer

The bankruptcy process can be overwhelming for many people — there is a lot of paperwork that must be filed and there are many legalities that must be followed. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we take the confusion out of bankruptcy and help you avoid making these costly mistakes. Let our knowledgeable Kerrville, TX bankruptcy attorneys guide you throughout the bankruptcy process and lead you on a path to financial wellbeing. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to set up a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.allbusiness.com/13-mistakes-avoid-filing-chapter-13-bankruptcy-12340-1.html

https://www.myhorizontoday.com/bankruptcy101/five-common-mistakes-debtors-make-when-filing-bankruptcy/

https://www.debt.org/blog/what-not-to-do-before-filing-bankruptcy/

Does Hiring a Bankruptcy Lawyer Stop Collection Actions?

January 24th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Hiring a bankruptcy lawyer can stop creditor phone calls and some other potentially very important collection actions against you.


What relief can you get when you get a bankruptcy lawyer?

Relief After vs. Before Filing Bankruptcy

The moment you file a bankruptcy case, all or most of your creditors must legally stop collecting their debts. The law that accomplishes this is called the “automatic stay.” This is what prevents a home foreclosure or vehicle repossession from going through. It also stops a lawsuit from turning into a wage garnishment, and ends an ongoing garnishment. See Section 362 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

However, if you are just now looking into bankruptcy as an option you may be several weeks, or more, from actually filing your case. In very urgent situations you may be able to file a bankruptcy case quite quickly. But to be practical, it can take some time for you to understand and choose among your options. You may need some time to gather information or documents. It’s sometimes much better tactically to delay filing for a few days or weeks. In all these situations it can be really helpful if you could get some relief sooner than the bankruptcy filing itself.

The Immediate Benefits of Being Represented by a Lawyer

You can often get some immediate relief right after (or sometimes even during) your first meeting with your lawyer. That’s because the lawyer can stop certain things from happening before you actually file your bankruptcy case.

When you become represented by a lawyer and your creditors are informed of this:

  • Creditors and debt collectors can usually no longer call you.
  • Their collection letters have to be sent to your lawyer.
  • They are not legally prevented from starting a lawsuit against you. But they often don’t do so (for at least a certain amount of time). Why not? Because:
    • When creditors sue, they are hoping to get a “default judgment” against you. That’s a quick judgment that happens when you don’t respond to a lawsuit on time. Creditors know that getting an easy judgment is much less likely if you have a lawyer.
    • When a creditor has good reason to think that you are about to file a bankruptcy case, they will be less willing to pay the court filing fee and other costs of suing you.
  • If a creditor has already sued you, your lawyer can likely buy some time before a judgment is entered. That gives you more time to file your bankruptcy case and stop that judgment from being entered.

Why This Kind of Immediate Lawyer Help Can Be Very Important

When we talk about immediate relief, partly we’re talking about emotional relief. In our experience THAT kind of relief almost always happens even at your first meeting with your lawyer. You find out that there ARE practical solutions, that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.

But we’re also talking about even more tangible relief. Getting a lawyer on your side can make an immediate and huge difference in the outcome. Here’s an example.

Example: Preventing a Judgment Lien from Creating a Non-dischargeable Debt

A creditor’s judgment usually turns into a judgment lien against your home. Sometimes a judgment lien can be “voided”—undone—in your bankruptcy case. But depending on factors such as the value of your home, the amount of debt(s) against it, and the amount of your homestead exemption, that judgment lien may NOT be voidable.  That could turn a debt that would have been able to discharge (legally write off) into one that you would have to pay in full. That could cost you thousands of dollars.

Had you instead met with and retained a lawyer before that judgment was entered, the judgment could likely have been prevented.

Conclusion

See a lawyer as soon as possible. Your situation may or may not be that urgent. But the lawyer will be able to tell you what bad events he or she may be able to stop from happening. From that you can decide whether it’s worthwhile retain the lawyer quickly. If so, then you’ll avoid having bad things happen to you that could have been prevented. 

 

Get a New Financial Start with this New Year

January 1st, 2018 at 8:00 am

Get a new financial start for 2018. Stop creditor pressures immediately, write off all or most debts, and responsibly deal with the rest.

 

An Overall New Financial Start

Get a new start by discharging (permanently, legally writing off) all or most of your debts. If you have mostly consumer or small business debts you have two main choices about how to make this happen.

A New Start with Chapter 7

With Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” you get a new start very fast. As soon as your case is filed most of your creditors can’t collect their debts against you. They can’t go after your money or your property. Then usually about 3-4 months later the bankruptcy court enters an order discharging your debts. As quick as that you become debt-free. The only exceptions would possibly be debts you want to keep and special debts you can’t discharge. Debts you might want to keep could include a vehicle loan or home mortgage. Debts you can’t discharge include recent income taxes, unpaid child and spousal support, and criminal fines.

Imagine if you filed a Chapter 7 case this month. Immediately your creditors could no longer chase you or anything of yours. All or most of your debts would forever be gone by April or May. The remaining critical debt or two you’d be able to handle sensibly. That quickly you’d have a new financial start.

A New Start with Chapter 13

With Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” the new start is more nuanced, but sometimes much better.

Just as with Chapter 7 your creditors can’t take any action to collect their debts as of the moment you file your case. But under Chapter 13 that protection from creditors lasts not just a few months but for years. The final discharge of debts happens much later but in the meantime you can get many benefits unavailable under Chapter 7. You can deal in creative ways with special debts. You often have much more flexibility with secured debts like home mortgages and car loans. Same thing with income taxes and child support arrearages, among others, that can’t be discharged. Plus you get protection from collection actions against any co-signers that you don’t get under Chapter 7.

You finish your Chapter 13 payment plan in usually 3 to 5 years. Whatever debts you have not paid off get discharged. You are debt-free with limited exceptions like a home mortgage you want to still pay.

Under Chapter 13 you get immediate relief and a new start through a reasonable payment plan based on your budget. Then when that plan is done it’s followed by a full new start with (virtually) no remaining debts.

So, if you filed a Chapter 13 case this month, immediately your creditors could not chase you or any co-signers. You’d enter into a doable payment plan to handle your special debts in ways much better than Chapter 7. And when that plan is paid off you’ll have a full new financial start.

 

Unsecured Debts in Bankruptcy

December 8th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Your debts are either secured by something you own, or they are unsecured. Unsecured debts are either “priority” or “general unsecured.”  


Unsecured Debts

Debts that are unsecured are those which are not legally tied to anything you own. The creditor has no “security” attached to the debt, no “security interest” in anything. It has no right to repossess or seize anything of yours if you don’t pay the debt.  It can only pursue the debt itself.

It’s usually easier to deal with unsecured debts than secured ones in bankruptcy. Most unsecured debts can be discharged—legally written off—through either Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” or Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”

An Unsecured Debt Can Sometimes Turn into a Secured One

Under some circumstances an unsecured debts can become secured if you don’t pay it.

For example, you could be sued by the creditor on a debt, resulting in a judgment against you. The creditor may be able to turn that judgment into a lien against your home and other possessions. The debt would then be secured by your home and/or other possessions. (The details of this depend on your state’s laws.)

Another example: if you get behind on income taxes the IRS can record a tax lien against your real estate and personal property. It does not need to sue you.

Filing bankruptcy can stop a lawsuit from turning into a judgment lien. It can often stop the recording of an IRS tax lien. In these and similar situations it’s much better to file bankruptcy before creditors can turn unsecured debts into secured ones.

Also, Sometimes a Secured Debts Can Turn into an Unsecured One

After a secured creditor repossesses or seizes its “security,” and sells it, any remaining debt would then be unsecured.

 A secured debt could become unsecured in various other ways. The “security” could be lost or destroyed, leaving the creditor with nothing to seize. Another secured creditor with prior rights could seize the “security,” leaving the creditor with the “junior” position no longer secured. There are various tools in bankruptcy for turning secured debts into unsecured ones.

Seemingly Secured Debts May Actually Be Unsecured

Creating a “security interest”—a creditor’s rights over its “security—takes specific legal steps. If the creditor fails to take those steps appropriately, a debt that seemed to be secured actually isn’t. Your bankruptcy lawyer may ask you (or the creditor) for documentation to find out if a certain debt is really secured.                                   

Two Kinds of Unsecured Debts

There are two kinds of unsecured debts: “priority” and “general unsecured.”

“Priority” debts are those that the law treats as special for various reasons. Past-due child support and unpaid recent income taxes are “priority” debts. The law treats them as special, mostly by putting them ahead of other unsecured debts. Generally, “priority” debts have to be paid in full in bankruptcy before other unsecured debts receive anything.

“General unsecured” debts are simply the rest of the unsecured debts, those that aren’t “priority.”  “General unsecured” debts include most unsecured ones. Examples are almost all medical and credit card debts, retail accounts, personal loans, many payday and internet loans, unpaid utilities and other similar bills, claims against you arising out accidents or other bodily injuries, damages arising from contracts and business disputes, overdrawn checking accounts, bounced checks, the remaining debt after a vehicle repossession or real estate foreclosure, and countless other kinds. If the debt is not secured, and isn’t “priority,” then its “general unsecured.”

Unsecured Debts in Bankruptcy

In the next blog posts we’ll look at how Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 treat “priority” and “general unsecured” debts. Depending on which kinds of debts you have, these will help you understand and choose between these two options.

 

Chapter 7 with a Judgment Lien, HOA Debt, or Support Obligations

December 1st, 2017 at 8:00 am

Here are 3 more scenarios for when you are current on your mortgage, where Chapter 7 works well in dealing with other home-related debts.


Our last blog post was about situations in which Chapter 7 works well enough in the following 3 debt situations:

  1. Second or third mortgages
  2. Property taxes
  3. Income tax with a lien recorded on your home

In general, if you are current on your first mortgage but have any of these 3 debts, sometimes Chapter 13 helps much more than Chapter 7. But last time we showed scenarios when you don’t need the extra time and expense of Chapter 13.

We do the same today with the following 3 other home-related types of debts:

1. Judgment with a lien attached to your home

2. Homeowner association debt with a lien

3. Child/spousal support unpaid with a lien

Judgment Liens

In bankruptcy you can often remove a lien on your home arising from a creditor’s judgment against you. That’s important because otherwise the lien would continue on your home’s title even after you discharge (legally write off) the underlying debt.

Whether you can remove, or “avoid,” the judgment lien depends on the value of your home, the amount of its equity, and amount of your applicable homestead exemption. If all of the judgment lien “impairs,” or cuts into, your homestead exemption, you can remove that lien.

For example, assume your home is worth $200,000, you owe $175,000 on the mortgage, so you have $25,000 in equity. Your state’s homestead exemption is $30,000, covering all of your equity and more. You have a judgment lien on your home’s title in the amount of $10,000. All of that $10,000 cuts into the equity that’s protected by your $30,000 homestead exemption. So you can “avoid,” or remove the entire judgment lien in bankruptcy.

There are some tools affecting liens that are available only in Chapter 13, not in Chapter 7. This is not one of them. You can “avoid” a judgment lien under the same rules in either Chapter 7 or 13. So this is not a deciding factor between these two bankruptcy options.

Homeowner Association Lien

State laws differ on homeowner association liens. But in general not being current on your HOA dues and/or assessments can be a significant problem. It can catch you by surprise. So be sure to tell your bankruptcy lawyer if you are paying HOA dues or assessments. Of course be sure to tell if you are not current on them.

One of the reasons these liens are dangerous is that under some circumstances they are superior to your mortgage on your title. Falling behind is likely an independent basis for foreclosure by your mortgage lender—even if you’re current on the mortgage itself. Also, the timetable for action by your HOA may be quick compared to a home lender’s foreclosure.

If you have monthly HOA dues and you’re current on them, and intend to stay in the home, filing a Chapter 7 case should be fine.

But if you’re at all behind with your HOA and don’t have an agreed payment plan to catch up, talk with your lawyer about your options, including Chapter 13. You’d very likely have more time and flexibility in catching up and keeping your home protected while doing so.

Child/Spousal Support

Often, being behind on support creates a lien against your home. That may even happen when you’re current (through the judgment arising out of your divorce decree).

Filling a Chapter 7 case should be fine if you are current on all support obligations at time of filing. If you are not current but expect to be very shortly thereafter, be aware that filing a Chapter 7 case does NOT freeze the collection actions of any support obligations—neither ongoing monthly ones nor those in arrears.

However, Chapter 13 CAN stop the collection of support obligations that are in arrears. Those collections can be unusually aggressive—sometimes resulting in even the loss of your driver’s license, or possibly your occupational or professional license. So knowing that Chapter 13 can freeze collections and buy you time to catch up is important. If this debt is causing you serious problems this may be reason enough to choose Chapter 13.

 

Chapter 7 Prevents Judgment Liens on Your Home

November 13th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 case stops foreclosure of your home temporarily, helping you gather funds for your transition to your next housing. 


Recently we went through a list of ways Chapter 7 buys you time when dealing with debts affecting your home. Included was that filing a Chapter 7 case can “stop a lawsuit from turning into a judgment lien.” That judgment lien could turn a debt that you wouldn’t have to pay after bankruptcy into one you would. That’s certainly a result you want to avoid.

Some judgment liens against your home can be “avoided”—or undone– in bankruptcy. Then maybe you wouldn’t have to pay the underlying debt. But some judgment liens can’t be “avoided.” The debt behind such a lien would therefore have to be paid, even after filing bankruptcy. Again, that’s a result you really want to avoid.

In those situations filing a Chapter 7 case before there’s a judgment usually prevents that bad result. Let’s dig into this more to better understand it.

Lawsuits by Conventional Creditors

If you’re thinking about bankruptcy the judgments you mostly likely need to be worrying about are those by creditors. By “creditors” we mean conventional ones like those you might owe for credit cards, medical bills, a repossessed vehicle, personal loans, and such.

Lawsuits by such creditors often don’t leave you with much defense. You concede owing the money you’ve contracted to pay, haven’t paid, so usually (but not always) you have no defense. The creditor will get a judgment by default against you if you don’t respond to the lawsuit in time.

Less Conventional Creditors

But you might also be involved in other kinds of legal disputes potentially resulting in a judgment against you. That could arise from just about anything. A few examples would be:

  • a vehicle accident with a dispute about fault, damages, or insurance coverage
  • an injury to someone on your property that for some reason isn’t covered by your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
  • a disagreement with a contractor or other service provider on repairs to your home
  • a dispute with family members about the proceeds of a deceased relative’s estate
  • a disagreement with your business’ investor, co-founder, employee, supplier, or its commercial landlord

It’s not unusual for people involved in such disputes to file bankruptcy if such litigation is not going well. They have much financially riding on wining the lawsuit. Then when it becomes clear that’s not happening they desparately need to cut their losses.

Filing Bankruptcy Prevents a Judgment against You

Whether with conventional creditor lawsuits or these other kinds of disputes, the timing of your bankruptcy filing is crucial. It has to be filed in time to prevent the lawsuit from turning into a judgment, and then into a judgment lien against your home.

So when dealing with a conventional creditor lawsuit, your bankruptcy lawyer generally needs to file your Chapter 7 case in bankruptcy court before your deadline to file the formal answer to the creditor’s complaint in the state court. (There are also likely other more expensive ways to prevent a default judgment from being entered against you.)

When dealing with ongoing litigation, talk with your lawyer about when you’d have to file bankruptcy to prevent entry of a judgment.

Judgments and Judgment Liens

State laws differ about what it takes for a creditor who gets a judgment against you to turn that into a judgment lien against your home. This may take an extra procedure. Or it may happen simultaneously with the court’s entry of the judgment. Again, talk with your lawyer. But in most situations, the judgment lien can happen very fast after the judgment, if not at the same time. So, for practical purposes, you’re going to want to file bankruptcy before the entry of the judgment.

Next: Avoidable vs. Unavoidable Judgment Liens

If you already have a judgment lien against your home, don’t despair. As we said in the first couple paragraphs, bankruptcy allows you to “avoid” some judgment liens against your home. In our next blog post we’ll distinguish between judgments that can and can’t be “avoided”—or undone—in bankruptcy.

 

Two Examples of Bankruptcy Timing with Medical Debts

September 20th, 2017 at 7:00 am

How to know whether to delay filing bankruptcy when you’re expecting new medical services and their medical debts?  Here are two examples.   


Our last blog post was about the importance of timing your bankruptcy filing to include more of your debts.

One example we used was of a person with unresolved medical issues requiring ongoing medical care. That person could be overwhelmed by medical and other debts already owed. But he or she may wonder whether it would be wise to hold off on filing bankruptcy until the anticipated medical debts were incurred and so could be included.

We’ll now present two examples of this situation, each with different facts. We’ll show how these different facts resulted in these two people getting quite different legal advice.

Jeremy’s Facts

Jeremy is 30 years old, and single. He was in a car accident a year ago, resulting in serious injuries and huge medical bills. He’s not yet medically stable. He was underinsured, so that a big chunk of his medical expenses were covered but a lot were not. Because he’s maxed out his vehicle insurance coverage he’ll be liable for most of his future medical expenses.

Jeremy currently owes $50,000 in medical debts, plus another $60,000 in credit cards and various other unsecured debts. In the next year or so he expects to add on another $30,000 to $40,000 in medical bills.

Jeremy does not have much in assets. His current income is low, as are his immediate prospects. That’s largely because he’s working a limited schedule as a result of his injuries, medical appointments and surgeries. He was in the military and so didn’t finish college until a couple of years ago. His future income prospects are quite good.

Should Jeremy File Bankruptcy Now or Wait?

If Jeremy would file bankruptcy now, it wouldn’t write off (“discharge”) his upcoming $30-40,000 in medical bills. A year from now he’ll be back in the hole that much.

He could then try to negotiate his way to paying reduced amounts. And if his income increases he may end up being able to pay off his debts, eventually. But that is not a satisfactory solution.

His bankruptcy lawyer instead advises that he wait to file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” until he became medically stable and had incurred most or all of his medical debts.

Jeremy has limited exposure to harm by his creditors in the meantime. All of his assets are “exempt”—worth little enough to be fully protected from his creditors, even outside bankruptcy. His income is sporadic and low enough that he’d lose little if his wages were garnished. Jeremy hasn’t been sued yet. That may be in part because his creditors don’t see him as a good prospect for forced collection.

So Jeremy does wait, finishes his surgeries and other medical procedures, racking up another $35,000 in medical bills, and then files a Chapter 7 case to discharge all of his debts.

Mary’s Facts

Mary is 65 years old, also single. She had a heart attack two years ago. Like Jeremy she owes $50,000 in medical debts, plus another $60,000 in credit cards and various other unsecured debts. Her heart ailment is a chronic condition which will definitely require medical attention the rest of Mary’s life.

She works full time in the same job she’s had for a decade. Her income is modest but high enough so that if her wages were garnished she would lose a significant amount.

Indeed she just got served with a lawsuit by her largest medical creditor for $10,000. This creditor likely sued knowing that it could likely get paid through wage garnishments.

Should Mary File Bankruptcy Now or Wait?

Because Mary just turned 65 years old she now qualifies for Medicare. She expects to have both Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). She understands that these will pay for most of her anticipated medical costs.

So with her future medical expenses largely taken care of, there is no reason for Mary to wait to file bankruptcy. The just-filed lawsuit for $10,000 is good reason not to wait. If she files a Chapter 7 case through her bankruptcy lawyer before her deadline to respond to the lawsuit, she will prevent it from turning into a judgment and then a garnishment.

So Mary does just that. She files the Chapter 7 case, stops the lawsuit in its tracks, and within about 100 days discharges that $10,000 and all the rest of her debts. She gets a fresh financial start heading into her retirement years.

A Moral and Legal Note

Note that incurring a debt, medical or otherwise, when you intend not to pay it is questionable, legally and morally.

The moral question is a personal one. If it’s a matter of your life and death, or even just of your health more broadly, it’s likely defensible to have a surgery or other medical procedure done even if you knew you couldn’t pay for it and intended to discharge the resulting debt in bankruptcy.

The legal question is clearer but still murky. The law does not approve of incurring a debt when you don’t intend to pay it. That can be considered fraud on the creditor. It may turn on the facts of the case. If you’re in the midst of a medical emergency you may not be conscious and able to give your consent for medical services.  Also, most medical creditors don’t raise objections base on issues of fraud in bankruptcy. And when they don’t raise this issue by a quick deadline, they lose the opportunity to do so in the future. So this legal problem usually resolves itself in this practical way.

Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about these moral and legal issues if you are considering delaying your bankruptcy filing in order to include future debts.

 

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