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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

What Life Is Really Like After a Texas Bankruptcy

December 21st, 2018 at 6:36 pm

TX bankruptcy lawyer, TX chapter 7 attorney, Coming to the decision that a bankruptcy is your best option was probably not an easy journey. Bankruptcies still tend to have a negative stigma in today’s world, but for some people, it’s the best thing they could have done for themselves. Most people know what goes on when you are filing for bankruptcy and what that means, but what happens after a bankruptcy is often lost in the shuffle. Many people have their ideas of what life after bankruptcy is like, but those ideas are often muddled with unrealistic expectations. What really happens after a bankruptcy can change depending on your situation, but ultimately, your actions have a lot to do with it.

You Might Have to Change Your Lifestyle

The type of bankruptcy that you file for will have a lot of bearing on your lifestyle after you have completed your bankruptcy. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will be required to pay some or all of your debts with a repayment plan over three or five years. This means that you will have less expendable income and will have to devote more of your money to pay off debt. If you filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the majority of your debts will be forgiven, but that does not mean you can take up a frivolous lifestyle. You should be wary of spending too much money on unneeded items at your bankruptcy, no matter the kind.

You Will Probably Have a Hard Time Getting Credit or Loans

To lenders, a bankruptcy signals that they might not get their money back if they lend it to you. After you have gone through a bankruptcy, you will most likely be seen as a high-risk borrower, meaning that many banks and lenders will not even consider loaning money to you. The lenders who do consider allowing you to borrow money will often charge you very high-interest rates in order to make up for the high-risk factor.

You Should Start to Build a Savings Account

Opening and maintaining a savings account is an easy way to begin making your financial picture a healthier one. Even just putting away $5 or $10 a week can make a difference, especially if you have not had a savings account before. Having a little bit of money set aside for emergencies is always a good idea.

Our Boerne Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help Set You Up for Success

Many people come into bankruptcy expecting things to be a certain way after everything is said and done. Like many things, life after bankruptcy is not always what it seems. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we can help guide you throughout your bankruptcy process. Our experienced New Braunfels bankruptcy lawyers will make sure the decisions you are making are in your best interest and beneficial fpr you. To schedule a free consultation, call our office today at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

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

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

An Example Why Passing the Means Test May Be Easier in 2018

November 19th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Filing bankruptcy before the end of December may help you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Here’s an example showing how this could work.  

 

The month of December is the month that people receive more income than any other month of the year. According to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce), for at least the past 9 years (2009 through 2017) U.S. personal income was the highest in December than in any other calendar month.

This may well be true for you personally. You may work a part-time seasonal job this time of year to help make ends meet. You may be getting a few larger paychecks because of more work hours or overtime. Or you may be fortunate enough to get a holiday or year-end bonus.

Last week’s blog post explained how filing bankruptcy during December can be smart if you receive extra income that month. It can help you qualify for Chapter 7, and avoid being forced into a 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 case. Today we lay out an example to show how this would work.

The Example

Let’s assume that the median income amount for your family size in your state is $64,577.

(That’s the current amount for a family of 3 in Kentucky. You can find the median income amount applicable to you on this chart. It’s from the means testing webpage of the U.S. Trustee Program. The chart is current for bankruptcies filed starting November 1, 2018, and is updated about three times a year.)

Assume that your regular family monthly gross income is $5,000, which would give you an annual income of $60,000. That’s less the median income amount of $64,577 provided above. So you’d think that you’d easily pass the means test.

But let’s also assume that you and/or your spouse were to receive an extra $2,500 during December. This money could be from a seasonal job, overtime, a bonus, or just about any other source.

Filing Bankruptcy During December

What would happen here if you filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case during December? The income that would count for the means test would be what you received during the six full calendar months before the date of filing. You don’t count anything received in December; only income during June through November counts.  That would be 6 months of $5,000, or $30,000; multiply that by two for an annual income of $60,000.  

Since $60,000 is less than the $64,577 applicable median family income amount, you’d handily pass the means test. You’d qualify to file a Chapter 7 case.

Waiting to File Bankruptcy After December

If instead you tried to file a Chapter 7 case in January, your income under the means test would be higher. The pertinent 6-month full calendar month period would now be from last July through December.  On top of the usual $5,000 income for 6 months—$30,000—you’d add the extra $2,500 money received in December. So the 6-month total would be $32,500. Multiply that by two for an annual income of $65,000.

Since $65,000 is more than the $64,577 applicable median family income amount you’d not immediately pass the means test. You may not qualify for filing a Chapter 7 case. Instead of likely being able to discharge (legally write off) many or possibly all of your debts within about 4 months you may be forced to pay on them for 3 to 5 years in a Chapter 13 case.

Having Income More Than Median Family Income

Even in this scenario of too much income, there’s a chance you could still pass the means test and qualify for Chapter 7. You’d complete the very complicated 9-page Chapter 7 Means Test Calculation form. Then if your “allowed expense deductions” leave you with too low of “monthly disposable income” you’d still pass the means test. (Whether your “monthly disposable income” is low enough turns on a formula comparing that amount to the amount of your “total nonpriority unsecured debt.”) Or you might also qualify for Chapter 7 by having expenses that qualify under “special circumstances.”

But these alternative ways of trying to qualify for Chapter 7 are much riskier than simply having less income than your applicable median family income amount. Our example above shows how to accomplish this with smart timing. You may be able to do the same by simply filing your case in December, or in whatever month would be most favorable for you.

 

What Is a “Means Test” and How Does It Affect Bankruptcy?

November 15th, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Texas bankrutpcy lawyerThere are not very many requirements when it comes to filing for bankruptcy in the United States. The requirements differ depending on what kind of bankruptcy you are filing for: Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Both types of bankruptcies will affect your finances, but a Chapter 7 bankruptcy forgives all of your debt, while a Chapter 13 bankruptcy creates a repayment plan for three or five years. Because of this, it can be harder to obtain a Chapter 7 bankruptcy because the requirements are a bit more strict. One of the ways it is determined if you are eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is by using a “means test,” which basically determines whether or not you can afford to pay back your debts.

Part One: Calculating Your Income

This part of the means test is basically looking at your income to determine whether or not your household’s income is below your state’s median level. This is accomplished by filling out all of the required forms. The court will look at your total household income and compare it to the median household income for the size of your family. For bankruptcy cases filed in Texas after November 1, 2018, the median income for a family of four people is $81,958. The means test is based on the past six months, but it also takes into consideration recent or upcoming changes, like a job loss.

Part Two: Calculating Your Debt

Next, you will be required to disclose your allowable expenses, which can be things such as rent, groceries, clothing, medical costs, car payments, and other things. The court will look at your income versus your allowable expenses and determine whether or not there is anything left over at the end of the month that could be put toward paying off your debt. You must disclose all of your expenses and the amounts for them, or your case could be dismissed.

What Now?

If you pass the means test, you qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you fail the means test, you still may be allowed to proceed with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but your best option might be a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which helps you develop a repayment plan to pay back your debts over three to five years.. If you still want to proceed with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can wait another six months to see if your financial situation will pass the test.

Get in Touch With a New Braunfels Bankruptcy Attorney

Though DIY is all the rage these days, a bankruptcy is not something that you want to attempt to do yourself. If you are thinking of filing for bankruptcy, you need to contact a skilled Kerrville bankruptcy lawyer. Bankruptcy can be confusing, but the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee is here to help. Contact us to get help with your entire bankruptcy process. Do not go it alone – call the office today at 210-342-3400 to set up a consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/bankruptcy-means-test/

https://www.thebalance.com/the-means-test-overcoming-the-presumption-of-abuse-316358

Which Bankruptcy Option Eliminates All Debt?

September 30th, 2018 at 5:39 pm

debtOne enticing benefit to filing for bankruptcy is the ability to discharge debts, enabling a fresh financial start. The United States bankruptcy code was created to allow honest debtors to free themselves from insurmountable debt; however there are various limitations. Unfortunately, these limitations restrict which debts become eliminated, reduced, or remain the same. Therefore, regardless of whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, some outstanding debts are untouchable.

Which Debts Are Eliminated?

Which debts discharge relies heavily on the type of bankruptcy filed by the consumer. Chapter 13 bankruptcy does not eliminate any debt initially, yet restructures the current sums into an affordable repayment plan. This repayment plan typically lasts three to five years, at the end of which any eligible debts are discharged. When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, any unsecured loans become eliminated immediately. In some instances, unsecured debts make up all of the financial burdens. These debts include:

  • Credit card debt;
  • Personal loans;
  • Medical bills;
  • Payday loans;
  • Older tax debts;
  • Utility bills; and
  • Second mortgages.

Secured Debts Are Non-dischargeable

Chapter 7 bankruptcy does provide significant relief regarding secured, non-dischargeable debts, aside from freeing up a portion of the budget to make regular payments. Alternatively, Chapter 13 includes all financial liabilities in the repayment plan, including secured loans. Non-dischargeable debts include:

  • Taxes within the last three years;
  • Child support payments;
  • Alimony or spousal support obligations;
  • Student loans;
  • Traffic ticket fines;
  • Criminal restitution; and
  • Secured debt on a home or car you plan to keep.

Contact an Attorney

These guidelines are general statements intended to help you determine if bankruptcy may help your situation. Each consumer bankruptcy case depends on a variety of individual factors. Therefore, if you think bankruptcy is right for you, you should discuss your unique circumstances with a proven Boerne bankruptcy attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee for a free case review today by calling 210-342-3400. Our experienced team will assess the details of your case and provide honest feedback about the best course of action for your financial future.

 

Sources:

http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy

http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics

 

The Surprising Benefits: Saving Your Vehicle through Bankruptcy

September 17th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can get you out of the dilemma that a vehicle loan can put you in. Chapter 7 works if you can afford the loan payments afterwards.  


Here’s the Problem

You’re paying on a car or truck. You absolutely need this vehicle for getting to work, and to keep your life going. You can’t do without it.

But you’re having trouble keeping up on the loan payments. You owe lots of other debts, so keeping current on the vehicle loan is a big challenge. It’s a big stressor every month.

On top of that there’s a good chance that you owe more on your vehicle than it is worth. You know that if you somehow found other reliable transportation and surrendered your present vehicle—or if it was repossessed—you could easily still owe thousands of dollars of “deficiency balance.” That’s the amount you would owe on the loan after the surrender or repossession.

The amount you’d owe would very likely be much more than you expect. That’s because repossessed vehicles are usually sold at auto auctions, resulting in less credit to your account than you’d expect. Plus the costs of repossession/surrender and sale, and late charges and such would all be added to the balance. So giving up the vehicle doesn’t seem to make any sense.

As a result you feel stuck. You really need the vehicle but you can’t afford pay for it. And even if you could somehow do without it, you’d likely still owe thousands of dollars from letting it go.

Chapter 7 Regular Bankruptcy Gives Limited Help

Chapter 7 bankruptcy accomplishes two things regarding your vehicle loan. First, if you want to keep the vehicle, Chapter 7 would likely get rid of most of your other debts. Maybe then you could afford the vehicle payments. Or second, if you surrendered the vehicle, Chapter 7 would likely discharge (legally write off) the deficiency balance. If you had a way to get another reliable vehicle, or could do without, this might solve your problem.

What Chapter 7 doesn’t do is give you the power to change the terms of your vehicle loan. It’s “take it or leave it.” If you want to keep your vehicle, you’re virtually always stuck with the contract terms. That includes the monthly payment amount, the interest rate, etc.

Plus, you’re almost always required to “reaffirm” the debt. This legally excludes the vehicle loan from the discharge of your debts. You continue to owe it in full in exchange for keeping the vehicle.

This is economically risky. You’re paying for something that isn’t worth what you’re paying. And if you later surrender the vehicle or it’s repossessed, you would owe a deficiency balance. You’d owe it in spite of your prior Chapter 7 case because you reaffirmed the debt.

If You’re Behind on Your Vehicle Loan, or on Insurance

It’s worse if you aren’t current on your loan payments at the time of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Almost always your vehicle lender would require you to quickly catch up—within a month or two of filing. This would be on top of keeping current on the ongoing monthly payments. Or else you’d lose the vehicle in spite of filing bankruptcy.

If you’ve also let your insurance lapse, it’s even more problematic.  Your lender knows how dangerous lack of insurance is for itself, so it would “force-place” insurance on your vehicle. Your contract almost certainly allows it to do this. Force-placed insurance tends to be very expensive while at the same time provides you very little coverage. Under Chapter 7 you would likely have to pay for any such insurance, plus reinstate your own insurance. And you’d likely have to do this very quickly, not long after filing your Chapter 7 case.  

Chapter 13 Can Solve These Problems

Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” can solve these problems that Chapter 7 can’t.

First, Chapter 13 can buy you much more time. A Chapter 13 payment plan would likely give you much more time to catch up on any missed loan payments. It would also likely give you lots more time to pay for any force-placed insurance.

Second, if you qualify for “cramdown” you would likely pay less on the vehicle loan—possibly much less. Cramdown is an informal term for the Chapter 13 procedure for legally re-writing the loan in situations in which the vehicle is worth less than you owe. With cramdown you could both pay less monthly and pay less overall before the vehicle became yours free and clear. And if you’re behind on loan payments, you would not need to catch up at all on any of those missed payments.

Next week we’ll tell you how Chapter 13 could both buy you time and save you money on your vehicle loan(s).

 

Lawsuit Highlights the Issues with Debt Settlement Services

August 27th, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Texas bankruptcy lawyerRecently, the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau (CFPB) initiated a lawsuit against the nation’s largest debt settlement services provider, Freedom Debt Relief. According to the claims, this formerly well-regarded company was not telling the truth as far as their fees and the reach of their capabilities. Unfortunately, this is not the first, nor the last debt settlement company openly deceiving clients to earn their trust and boost their profits. These are a few of the top complains that surfacing from the litigation.

Debt Settlement Promises Are Misleading

Clients complain that Freedom Debt Relief led them to believe that all of their debts were negotiable and would settle within months. Unfortunately, debt settlement services do not have the capabilities of stopping collection attempts. Therefore, many clients continued experiencing harassing phone calls, emails, and postal collection attempts, many of which went further into collections or resulted in judgments. Filing for bankruptcy is the only method that places an automatic stay on all collection attempts; meaning, foreclosure, repossession, and harassment all must come to an abrupt stop.

Clients Experienced Deceptive Practices

Many customers claim Freedom Debt Relief verbally agreed that they would negotiate all of their debts; yet, sources show the company had prior knowledge that several companies already refused to consult with their company, regardless of the client. In the debt settlement options, creditors examine each offer on a case-by-case basis and choose whether or not to negotiate. Bankruptcy does not give any creditor the authority to refuse, except on disallowable debts. If your debt is not allowed in the bankruptcy, your attorney will let you know before beginning the filing process.

Freedom Debt Relief Lied About Fees

All debt settlement companies receive payment based on the portion of any amount they convince a creditor to forgive or reduce. One of the significant complaints emerging from the lawsuit was customers realized the company assessed additional fees, including when a creditor voluntarily gave up collection attempts without Freedom’s involvement. Debt settlement services nickel and dime their payments, making it impossible for clients to know how much they should expect to pay the company. Attorney Chance M. McGhee lets each of his clients know how much they can expect to spend, leaving little room for surprises.

Get the Reliable Results You Need

A significant number of bankruptcy filers began by trying debt settlement first. Unfortunately, the complaints are consistent, regardless of their chosen company: the process takes too long and ultimately costs too much. If you decide to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will see results in months, not years. A Schertz, TX bankruptcy attorney will give you honest representation with no hidden surprises. Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee has decades of experience assisting clients through the bankruptcy process and earning them the financial freedom their families needed. Let us earn your trust today. Call us at 210-342-3400 to find out how bankruptcy can benefit your family in a free no-obligation consultation.

Source:

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-sues-freedom-debt-relief-misleading-consumers-about-its-debt-settlement-services/

Reversing Real Estate Judgment Liens with Bankruptcy

April 26th, 2018 at 11:40 pm

Texas bankruptcy attorneyCreditors know how to work the system to get the money owed to them. In some cases, creditors have the courts put a lien on debtor’s possessions without the owner’s consent or knowledge, granting the creditor a legal claim over the property. By placing a lien on real estate, a vehicle, or personal property, a creditor secures payment of the money owed, sooner or later.

Buyers will not purchase items without a clear title, and a lien makes any title unclear. Although a creditor has the option to sell the property, such as in foreclosure, most wait until the debtor chooses to sell the property. At that point, seller pays the debt out-of-pocket or uses part of the purchase price to repay the debt. Fortunately, in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be able to avoid the whole ordeal by getting rid of the judgment lien altogether.

Consensual Versus Non-Consensual Liens

Liens are placed on property both with and without consent. If consent is given, it happens at the origination of the creditor-debtor relationship. For example, either the debtor is asking for money to purchase property, such as a home or a vehicle, where the bank would then own the property, and the purchaser makes payments to the financial institution; or the debtor is asking for a financial loan and offers property they already own as collateral.

Alternatively, if someone wins a judgment against another party in court and money is owed, a judge may grant a judgment lien, which frequently happens with unpaid debt. This is an example of a non-consensual lien.

Lien Avoidance

Through judgment lien avoidance, you can permanently remove a judgment lien. If this occurs during bankruptcy, you will own the property, free-and-clear with no other payments. Lien avoidance is recommended, if possible, even if you do not intend to keep the property long-term, as you can then sell the property to pay for other things. To qualify, the following must be true:

  • The lien is a court-issued money judgment;
  • There is exempt equity in part of the property; and
  • Property loss impairs the exemption.

Reduce Courtroom Surprises

Many filers do not realize they have any liens on their property. Others discover partial claims. Sometimes, debtors do not have equity during the bankruptcy filing, but that changes down the road. In all of these circumstances, a New Braunfels, TX bankruptcy attorney can help. If there is a lien on your property and you have little, no, or even negative equity, the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee will explore all of your options. Call us today for your free, no-obligation consultation at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

https://study.com/academy/lesson/types-of-liens-equitable-possessable-statutory.html

http://www.landlordstation.com/blog/what-is-a-judgment-lien/

The Surprising Benefits: Solving an Uncomfortable “Preference” Problem

April 16th, 2018 at 7:00 am

A preferential payment to a relative or friend can turn very uncomfortable. But there are some good solutions. One should work for you.

 

Last week’s blog post introduced an uncomfortable problem: preference payments to a friendly creditor. (If you haven’t already please read that one before reading further here.)

The Solutions

We ended that blog post by listing and giving short descriptions of 4 likely practical solutions. We explain the first two of them today and the other two next week.

1. Wait to File Until after the 1-Year or 90-Day Preference Look-Back Period:

There’s one very simple way to avoid having money you paid to a favored creditor turn into a problematic preference.  Wait to file your bankruptcy case long enough so that enough time passes since that payment. Then it’s no longer a preferential payment that the trustee can cause you problems with.

The preference period is only 90 days with most creditors, but a full year with “insider” creditors. Without getting unnecessarily technical, there’s a good chance that anybody you’d have a personal reason for paying is an insider. See Section 101(31) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for the statutory definition of insider. But note that this is not a complete list. It says what the term “includes,” but courts have made clear that others not on the list could be insiders. For example, also included could be friends or others who’d you’d have a personal reason to favor over other creditors.

Whether the creditor is an insider or not, the payment you made is not a preference if more than 90 day/1 year has passed when your bankruptcy lawyer files your case. Then your bankruptcy trustee would have no power to require your payee to pay back your payment.

We are well aware that waiting is not a simple solution if you are in a big hurry to file your bankruptcy case.  Waiting even a few days may not be at all easy if your paychecks are being garnished or you’re under other similar collection pressure. Or waiting may even be totally inappropriate if your home would be foreclosed or your vehicle repossessed in the meantime.  

However, there are many situations where you would not be a huge hurry to file your case. Then waiting would be worthwhile. This may especially make sense if you are getting close to 90 day or 1-year mark since your preferential payment. So, at least look into whether you should just wait long enough to avoid the problem altogether.

2. Persuade Trustee Not to Pursue the Preferential Payment:

Just because there was a preferential payment within the look-back period, doesn’t mean it’s worth for the trustee to pursue. There are many circumstances in which you could help convince him or her to let it alone.

First, the simplest situation is if so little money is at issue that it’s not worth the bother. It takes some effort for a trustee to force a preferential payee to pay back the money. There is also a certain amount of paperwork and effort to divvy up the money among your creditors.  If the payment you made is no more than several hundred dollars most likely your trustee will shrug it off. (This is similar to trustees generally not chasing an unprotected (“nonexempt”) asset: if it’s only worth a few hundred dollars it’s usually not worth collecting and distributing.) Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about what that unstated threshold dollar amount would  be in your area.

Caution: IF the trustee is already collecting assets in any form in your case, this threshold amount consideration likely goes out the window. If the trustee already has to liquidate anything and distribute money to creditors, he or she will usually be inclined to add to that amount by chasing down your preferential payee.

Second, there are many circumstances where forcing a preferential payee to repay the money would be difficult for the trustee. Your payee may have very little in assets or income reachable by the trustee, so it would likely take a very long time to collect it. Or the payee may have a valid defense. Especially if the amount at issue is relatively small (although above the above threshold), the trustee may decide such preferential payments are not worth chasing.

Third, there are other circumstances where the trustee simply could not collect from your payee at all. Your payee may have disappeared and can’t be located. Or your payee may be legally “judgment-proof”—have no assets or income reachable by the trustee. Helping the trustee learn the true facts along these lines could induce him or her make a sensible decision to abandon the preferential payment.

 

Surprising Bankruptcy Benefits: Make Creditors Return Your Money

March 26th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy doesn’t just stop garnishments and other collections. Sometimes you can make a creditor return money it recently took from you.

 

Bankruptcy’s “automatic stay” is one of the most immediate and powerful benefits of bankruptcy. It immediately stops almost all creditor collection actions against you, your income, and your assets. See Section 362 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  

But it does not go into effect until the moment you file your bankruptcy case. What if a creditor garnishes or otherwise gets your money right BEFORE you file bankruptcy?

Sometimes the creditor can be forced to give up such recently received money as well.

The Law of Preferences

This happens through the surprising and easily misunderstood law of “preferences.”

This law says that if a creditor takes money (or some other asset) from you within the 90 days before you file your bankruptcy case, the creditor may need to pay it back. It has to do so if keeping that money results in that creditor receiving a greater share of its debt than the rest of your creditors would get out of your bankruptcy case. See Section 547(b) of the Bankruptcy Code.

That second condition would often be met, especially in a consumer Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy case.” So, most money grabbed by an unsecured creditor within 90 days before your bankruptcy filing can be “avoided.” The creditor can be forced to return it.

For example, let’s say an aggressive unsecured medical debt collector garnishes your checking account. You’ve just deposited your paycheck and the creditor grabs $2,000. You owed $5,000 so this creditor just got paid 40% of its debt. Then you file your Chapter 7 case a day after the creditor garnished your money. Assume you owe a total of $75,000 in general unsecured debts. If in that Chapter 7 case—as in most—all your assets were “exempt” (protected), those debts would receive nothing. So, the garnished $2,000 would be a preferential payment that could be reversed. That’s because it happened within 90 days before filing and resulted in the creditor getting 40% instead of nothing.

(There are a number of other conditions and exceptions to a preference, but they often don’t apply to consumer cases. However, preference law can sometimes get quite complicated. You need to talk with your bankruptcy lawyer to find out if you really have an avoidable “preferential payment.”)

The Principles behind Preference Law

Preference law serves two principles important to bankruptcy.

First, bankruptcy law tries to discourage overaggressive creditors. The risk that a creditor would have to return money grabbed just before the debtor files bankruptcy is supposed to be a disincentive for such a money grab.

Second, a lot of bankruptcy law focuses on maintaining fairness among creditors. Similarly situated creditors should be treated the same. No playing favorites unless there is a legally appropriate reason to do so.  (On such reason would be if the debt is secured by collateral).

This fairness means that legally similar creditors need to be treated the same not just during your bankruptcy case but also shortly before the filing of your case. The period of fairness extends a bit before the bankruptcy filing so that overly aggressive creditors aren’t favored. Any available money or assets are spread among all the creditors more evenly and thus more fairly.

A Preference Benefitting You

It’s all well and good to punish a creditor for grabbing money from you shortly before you file bankruptcy. But what good does it do you if that money just goes to your Chapter 7 trustee?  The trustee would just distribute that money among your other creditors, right?

Generally, yes. But in many circumstances this preference money helps you very directly. Next time we’ll show you how.

 

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