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How Has the Coronavirus Pandemic Affected Bankruptcy Cases?

May 15th, 2020 at 11:54 am

TX bankrutpcy lawyer, Texas bankruptcy laws, Nobody wants to file for bankruptcy. Even though you can discharge your debts so that you are no longer legally liable for them, there are a few negative consequences that come from filing for bankruptcy, including a hit to your credit score. However, if you are one of the millions of Americans who are struggling financially, bankruptcy may be the solution. The current coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. economy hard, causing unemployment to soar to levels unseen since the Great Depression. The coronavirus has affected many things, including making temporary changes to the bankruptcy code.

The CARES Act

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in response to the economic crisis emerging from the pandemic. Valued at more than $2 trillion, the CARES Act was monumental for the U.S. as it is the largest stimulus package to become enacted in the history of the country. One of the most popular benefits the Act provides is the economic impact payments that are given to most households and individuals. Single tax filers will receive $1,200, while married couples who file jointly will receive $2,400. Each child that an individual or married couple has that is under 17 will receive an additional $500.

The economic impact payments have greatly helped those who have lost their jobs or have had their hours reduced because of the pandemic. However, for many households, the economic impact payments may not be enough to make the monthly obligations for all of their debts. To file for bankruptcy, you have to meet certain income requirements, which has led some to worry about how the economic impact payments will affect their status.

Temporary Changes to the Bankruptcy Code

When an individual files for bankruptcy, their income and assets are examined to determine if they are eligible for bankruptcy. To ensure all bankruptcy trustees are on the same page, the U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) issued a notice to address these issues that may arise because of the pandemic.

The notice stated that the economic impact payments are not to be included as “current monthly income” or “disposable income.” More specifically, the economic impact payments should not be used in any calculations to figure a person’s income and should not be included as a factor in determining whether or not a person can repay his or her debt in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The notice also states that any trustee that attempts to recover the economic impact payments to become a part of the bankruptcy estate must notify the USTP before doing so.

Our San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Is Here For You

The idea of getting a bankruptcy can be daunting to some, but sometimes it is the best option. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we understand that you may be concerned about your eligibility for bankruptcy with all of the changes that have taken place. Our skilled New Braunfels, TX bankruptcy lawyer can answer any questions that you might have about your eligibility or even just about bankruptcy in general. To speak with an attorney about your case, call our office today at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

https://www.justice.gov/ust/file/cares_act_recovery_rebate_notice.pdf/download?fbclid=IwAR1FVLAkidW9nd5F8lAzAJ4EzJLrgj8_Ok-eIXKxvVxJQGH5GBou1d-kui0

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3548/text?q=product+actualizaci%C3%B3n

 

 

Protecting Your Pandemic Relief Payment from Your Bank

May 4th, 2020 at 7:00 am

If you owe money to the bank or credit union where your $1,200 relief payment is being deposited, can it take that money to pay itself first?

 

Our last blog post was about whether your creditors can seize the $1,200 (or so) pandemic relief payments. Today’s is about one specific class of creditors: your own bank or credit union. What if you have a debt to the financial institution where your relief money is being direct-deposited? Can it pay itself to cover your debt instead of paying you? Would you only get whatever’s left, if any?

The Banker’s Powerful Right of Setoff

To force payment from your bank account, most creditors must sue and get a judgment against you first. So the big focus in last week’s blog post was on determining whether you had a judgment against you, and a resulting garnishment order on the bank account where your coronavirus relief payment was arriving. If no judgment, than no garnishment, and the relief payment is safe from creditors.

But the bank where you have your account is different. (All references to banks in this blog post also include credit unions and other financial institutions.) Banks have a right of setoff.

The basic idea is that money you have in a checking or savings account is money the bank owes you. It can set off its debt to you against your debt to it. It zeros out its debt to you (by taking the money in your account) and lowers your debt to it by the same amount. The practical effect is that money comes out of your checking/savings account to pay off or pay towards your debt.

This right is put into likely every contract you enter into with your bank governing your deposit accounts. For example, here’s the pertinent language from a recent 64-page Wells Fargo Bank Deposit Account Agreement:

[W]e have the right to apply funds in your accounts to any debt you owe us. This is known as setoff. When we setoff a debt you owe us, we reduce the funds in your accounts by the amount of the debt. We are not required to give you any prior notice to exercise our right of setoff.

A debt includes any amount you owe individually or together with someone else both now or in the future. It includes any overdrafts and our fees. We may setoff for any debt you owe us that is due or past due as allowed by the laws governing your account. If your account is a joint account, we may setoff funds in it to pay the debt of any joint owner.

So, in general a bank can take the relief money as it arrives into your account. It uses the money to pay any debt you owe the bank. That debt may be on the account itself—such as an overdraft fee—or any other debt you owe it.

Special Credit Card Law

This right of setoff usually does not apply to unsecured consumer credit card debts. Under Federal law

A card issuer may not take any action to offset a cardholder’s indebtedness arising in connection with a consumer credit transaction under the relevant credit card plan against funds of the cardholder held on deposit with the card issuer…   .

15 U.S.C. Section 1666h(a). For more details see the related regulations at 12 C.F.R. § 1026.12(d).

So, if you owe your bank on a credit card, it can’t take your relief payment to pay that debt. (This assumes the bank hasn’t sued you and gotten a judgment and garnishment on that account.)

Special Closed Account Rule

What if you had an account at a bank but either you’ve closed it or the bank has done so? In particular, what if the relief payment is slated to come to that closed account? That’s what would happen if you had the IRS send last year’s tax refund to that account (while still open).

In this situation the bank can’t take your relief payment to pay a debt you owe to the bank. Its right to setoff is cut off when either you or the bank close the account. 31 C.F.R. § 210.4(c)(3).

This means that the bank has to return the payment to the IRS (actually the U.S. Treasury). Then you should receive the payment by paper check through the mail. How long before you’d receive that check? The lower your income the quicker the IRS is mailing the paper checks. Here’s a recent article listing the mailing dates based on your adjusted gross income.

Therefore, in some circumstances it may make sense to close your account to prevent a setoff. The delay in receiving the payment may be worth avoiding losing some or all of it through a setoff. Then of course when you receive the check, cash or deposit it at a different financial institution.

If this is your situation you’d likely benefit from talking with a bankruptcy lawyer about this, and about your overall financial options.

Important Exception to the Closed Account Rule

Be careful about one important twist. If you believe your bank closed your account because of unpaid fees, it may not actually be closed. The bank may have charged off the account with a negative balance but not legally closed that account. Then this closed-account exception would not apply. The bank could pay the unpaid fees with your relief payment when it hits your account. It could also set off any other debts you may owe to the bank (other than credit cards). Again, this is a situation to discuss with a lawyer.

Local Pandemic Collection Protections May Apply

Last week we gave a list of state emergency orders preventing seizure of the relief payments to pay ordinary creditors. Most of these addressed creditor garnishment of bank accounts. Most did not directly address the separate question of setoffs by the banks themselves. However, some of those orders did so, including:

 This situation is constantly changing so it’s worth seeing whether your state has created similar setoff protections.

Some Banks’ Voluntary Policies

Some individual banks have announced that they’re not exercising their setoff rights specifically regarding relief payments. These include JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, USAA, and Wells Fargo, and likely others.

Because these are voluntary, and temporary, the exact details will vary at each bank, and may change. They may even vary customer by customer. So be careful, and find out whatever details you can before relying on these voluntary policies.

 

$1,200 Coming Soon to Most U.S. Adults

March 30th, 2020 at 7:00 am

The huge emergency coronavirus law will provide, “as rapidly as possible,” over 80 percent of American adults with money, many getting $1,200.   


On Friday (March 27) Congress passed and the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Also known as the CARES Act, better known as the massive $2.2 trillion pandemic relief law. The stated purpose of this 880-page law:

Providing  emergency  assistance  and  health  care  response  for  individuals,  families  and  businesses  affected  by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

One of its major provisions is to provide most American adults a payment directly from the U.S. government. This is estimated to cost $290 billion, or about 13% of the $2.2 trillion total. This blog post discusses how much each person will receive, who will and will not, and other urgent details.

How Much Money?

This is probably the most straightforward part of this law, but it has some important twists and turns.

Every “eligible individual” will receive $1,200, if his or her adjusted gross income is no more than $75,000. If the adjusted gross income is more than $75,000, the $1,200 is reduced by 5 percent for any amount over $75,000. This means that individuals with adjusted gross income of $99,000 or more will receive nothing.

If you file a joint tax return, the joint payment will be twice as high, $2,400. And your joint adjusted gross income can be twice as high, $150,000, for the two of you to receive the full $2,400. Income beyond that would reduce the amount paid by 5 percent of the amount over $150,000.

If you file your federal tax return as a “head of household,” the adjusted gross income trigger amount is instead $112,500.  (This tax filing status is usually for single parents with children.) 

In addition to the $1,200 (or less) per adult, you receive $500 for each “qualifying child.” (See the IRS’ Qualifying Child Rules.)  In general, a qualifying child is any dependent of a taxpayer under the age of 17.  So dependents aged 17 or older do not qualify for the $500 payments.

An example: a family of two spouses filing jointly, with two under-17 children, would receive $3,400: $2,400 + $500 + $500.)

Technically, the IRS is treating this money as an advance tax credit. It will not be considered taxable income on your 2020 tax return.

Which Year’s Income Counts?

Practically speaking, look to the adjusted gross income on either your 2018 or 2019 federal tax return. The 2019 amount will count if you’ve already submitted it, or likely will if you submit it very soon. Otherwise look to your 2018 adjusted gross income.

Note: the IRS has postponed the usual April 15, 2020 deadline for submitting 2019 tax returns until July 15, 2020. (See our last week’s blog post about this.) So if it’s to your advantage to use your 2018 income, consider waiting to submit 2019 until after receiving this relief payment. On the other hand, consider filing your 2019 tax return quickly if your income went down, qualifying you for more money.

Under the language of the law it’s your 2020 income that actually counts because it’s a credit for this year. But of course nobody knows for sure how much your 2020 income will be. So the law has the IRS use your 2019 or 2018 income amount.

So what happens if you get the relief payment but your 2020 income is higher and would have reduced the payment? Regardless, you don’t have to pay back any of  the payment.

Who Is an “Eligible Individual”?

The main people who don’t qualify are “nonresident aliens” and “dependents” who can be claimed on someone else’s tax return.

Individuals on Social Security who have no other income and may not file a tax return are eligible. Individuals who have little or no income, or who receive federal benefits, are all eligible. There’s no minimum income requirement. The person just can’t qualify as a dependent for someone else, and must have a Social Security number.

What If You Owe the IRS, a Federal Student Loan, or Child/Spousal Support?

With tax or student loan debt, it doesn’t matter. The IRS can’t set off the relief check against federal taxes or student loans you owe. This is according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

“The only administrative offset that will be enforced applies to those who have past due child support payments that the states have reported to the Treasury Department,” he said.

What If I Have Other Questions?

The law leaves lots of details to be worked out by the IRS. It has a special webpage called “Coronavirus Tax Relief” where it will have updated information. As of our writing of this blog post, it says the following:

Stimulus payment checks: No information available yet, No sign-up needed

Instead of calling, please check back for updates.

Please also check back with us here on our website about the timing and other practicalities of these relief payments. The statute simply says that the Department of Treasury shall pay them “as rapidly as possible.” It will take at least three or four weeks, and maybe more. We’ll dig into these important details and tell you when we know more.

In the meantime, you can also call us, your bankruptcy lawyers. We are following this closely.

 

Call today for a FREE Consultation

210-342-3400

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