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Archive for the ‘garnish bank account’ tag

Timing Your Bankruptcy

July 13th, 2020 at 7:00 am

The timing of your bankruptcy case is important, sometimes extremely important. It can determine if your case is as successful as it can be.

 

Five weeks ago we started a series on why you should get legal advice from a bankruptcy lawyer. We’ve also been making a point of showing why it’s smart to do so early, when you start considering bankruptcy.

It’s super important to get this legal advice so that you can learn:

  1. if bankruptcy is the best option for you, and how to pursue other alternatives
  2. how Chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 work, and whether either are right for you
  3. what actions you should take to position yourself, whether you’re possibly or definitely filing bankruptcy
  4. what you should avoid doing
  5. the best timing for your bankruptcy filing

If you want to look back, we covered #1 and #2 five weeks ago. The next four blog posts got into different aspects of what you should and shouldn’t be doing before filing (#3 and #4). These included keeping assets (4 weeks ago), taking on debt (3 weeks ago), filing income tax returns and paying the taxes (2 weeks ago), and paying child/spousal support (1 week ago).

Today we start on how to best time the filing of your bankruptcy case.

Bankruptcy Timing

Frankly, this is a huge topic. That’s because so much our financial lives are tied to time. One day you don’t owe a debt. The next day you go to a medical appointment and immediately owe a debt to the doctor’s office. You get the bill with a due date (after insurance pays a portion, if you’re fortunate enough to have insurance). If you can’t pay it by the due date, the debt goes into collections at some point in time. Then at some point you get sued, which turns—a certain amount of time later—into a judgment against you. After a short period of time (usually), that turns into a garnishment of your paycheck. All of these steps involve timing, with deadlines and time-based events.

Similarly, bankruptcy involves many issues of timing. Using the example above, filing bankruptcy stops the debt collection process wherever it is at the time.  If a lawsuit has been filed by the collector but no judgment yet entered, bankruptcy stops the entry of a judgment. If a judgment has been entered but no garnishment yet ordered, bankruptcy filing at that time prevents the garnishment. If your wages are the midst of being garnished, bankruptcy stops the garnishment. Whether it stops your current paycheck from being garnished or the next one, it all depends on timing.

Important Examples of Good (and Bad) Timing

The timing of your bankruptcy filing can affect all of the following. Whether:

  1. the bankruptcy case includes recent or ongoing debts or not
  2. you have to pay an income tax in full, in part, or not at all
  3. you must pay interest on an income tax because of a tax lien
  4. you can discharge (legally write off) a credit card debt, or a portion of it
  5. you can discharge a student loan debt
  6. you qualify for a vehicle loan cramdown—reducing monthly payments, interest rate, and total debt—and still keep the vehicle
  7. you qualify for a personal property collateral cramdown—paying less—and still keep the collateral
  8. you stop the repossession of your vehicle in time, or lose it to the vehicle loan creditor
  9. you prevent the foreclosure of your home in time, enabling you to catch up over time
  10. you get more time to sell your home, including years from now
  11. you qualify for a Chapter 7 case under the “means test,” or must instead file under Chapter 13
  12. you qualify for a 3-year Chapter 13 payment plan or instead must pay for 5 years
  13. your sale or gifting an asset is a “fraudulent transfer
  14. your payment to a friendly creditor is a “preference
  15. you can keep all of your assets if you’ve moved from one state to another in the past several years

Conclusion

Just looking down this list gives you a better idea how important the timing of your bankruptcy can be. We’ll be covering these timing issues one-by-one in our next blog posts. There’s a good chance that one, or even a number of them, apply to you. If any do, and you need to know more about it, please call us. We would appreciate being your bankruptcy lawyers, helping you fully  benefit from the law.

 

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.

 

Protecting Your Pandemic Relief Payment from Creditors

April 27th, 2020 at 7:00 am

Your $1,200 or so coronavirus relief payment is subject to seizure by your creditors, if they have a garnishment order on your bank account.  

 

Our blog post four weeks ago was about the $1,200 pandemic relief payments going out to most U.S. adults. The CARES Act explicitly protected these payments from seizure for certain governmental debts. Generally, the payments can’t be reduced or taken to pay past-due federal taxes and student loans. They can be for past-due child support obligations.

But the CARES Act made no mention of protection from debts owed to non-governmental creditors. So the relief payments are generally subject to possible seizure by your creditors. Today we address this concern about private creditors’ access to these payments.

There are two classes of creditors at play:

1)      Setoffs by your own bank or credit union for a debt you owe to it

2)      Garnishment by other creditors which have a judgment against you

Next week we address setoffs by for fees or other debts owed to your own financial institution. Today is about protecting your relief payment from other creditors.

Judgments and Garnishment Orders

Generally a non-governmental creditor can’t take money from your bank account without a court’s garnishment order. And to get a garnishment order a creditor virtually always must first sue you and get a judgment. (This assumes that the creditor isn’t a governmental agency or the bank/credit union itself.) If a creditor has an active garnishment order on your bank/credit union account, your relief payment would arrive there and go to pay the debt instead of giving you the financial relief you need.

Do You have a Garnishment Order on Your Bank/Credit Union Account?

This question is not necessarily so easy to answer, for a number of reasons.

First, although most of the time you’d know that you received lawsuit papers, not necessarily. You may have not noticed it in the mail.  It may not have looked much different from other collections paperwork. If you’ve moved a lot, it’s possible you didn’t even get the lawsuit papers.

Second, you may not know that the lawsuit resulted in a judgment. If you didn’t respond within a very short time to the lawsuit papers, you probably lost the lawsuit by default. That almost always immediately turns into a judgment—a court decision that you owe the debt. The judgment gives the creditor power to—among other things—garnish your bank account.  

Third, you may not know about the garnishment order, or the pertinent details about it. For example, you may think it only applies to your paycheck, not your bank account. Or the bank garnishment order may have happened a while ago and you don’t realize that it’s still active.   

Fourth, the laws about lawsuits, judgments, and garnishments are detailed, complicated, and different in every state. And they change (sometimes in a good way, as we show below.)  So what you may have heard in one situation may not apply at all to you regarding these relief payments.

Finding Out If You Have a Bank Garnishment Order

Some common sense questions you should ask yourself. Have you:

  • ever received lawsuit papers and then did not fully resolve the debt?
  • had any kind of creditor garnishment or seizure, even if unrelated to your bank/credit union account?
  • had anything repossessed, especially a vehicle, where you may still owe a balance?
  • gone through a real estate foreclosure in which you may still owe a money to junior mortgage or other lienholder?
  • moved from another state and thought you left unresolved debts behind?

In these and similar situations you may have a judgment against you and a garnishment on your bank/credit union account. So your relief money would likely go to pay the judgment before you’d get any of it.

Is there any more direct way of finding out if there’s a garnishment order? Yes, you could contact your bank/credit union and ask. The problem is that in the midst of the pandemic you may well have trouble getting anyone to answer. More to the point, you’d likely have trouble getting through to somebody who could accurately and reliably answer this question.

A debtors’ rights or bankruptcy lawyer could help. He or she likely knows the right people to call at your financial institution, including that institution’s lawyers.

 What To Do If You Do Have a Garnishment Order

First, every state has exemptions that you may be able to claim to protect the relief money from garnishment. Each state has different procedures for claiming those exemptions. An extra challenge during the pandemic is getting access the courts to assert your exemption rights. Many courts are physically closed, you may be subject to a stay-at-home order, and contacting a lawyer may be harder. But if you don’t want to lose your relief money, you’ll likely need to assert your exemption protections.

Second, you may want to consider some other tactical steps:

  • If a garnishment order has expired and the creditor needs to renew it, you may have time to take the money out of the account immediately after it arrives.
  • Has the IRS has not yet direct-deposited your payment? Then you may be able to redirect it to an account at a different (non-garnished) financial institution. Go to the Get My Payment webpage to provide new bank account routing information (if it’s not too late).
  • Are you currently waiting to receive the relief payment in paper checks? Consider NOT providing the IRS direct deposit information even though that may delay the payment. (Here’s an article with the dates that the IRS is mailing out paper checks, based on income.)

Third, a number of states are issuing orders to prevent garnishments of bank accounts:

California Governor’s Executive Order N-57-20District of Columbia Act 23-286

Illinois Governor’s Executive Order 2020-25

• Indiana Supreme Court Order in case nos. 20S-MS-258 and 20S-CB-123

Massachusetts emergency regulation 940 C.M.R. 35.00

Nebraska Attorney General Warning

• New York Attorney General Guidance on CARES Act Payments

• Oregon Governor’s Executive Order 20-18

• Texas Supreme Court Tenth Emergency Order Regarding the Covid-19 State of Disaster

Virginia Supreme Court Order Extending Declaration of Judicial Emergency

• Washington State Governor’s Proclamation 20-49 Garnishments and Accrual of Interest

This list is expanding all the time. So if your state isn’t listed here it may have acted after this writing (4/27/20).

This IS Complicated

Garnishment law is detailed and not at all straightforward. And that was before all the legal and serious practical complications caused by the pandemic. So if at all possible, get through to a debtor’s rights or bankruptcy lawyer. We have spent our professional lives helping people deal with garnishments and protect their assets from creditors. This is just another twist on what we do all day every day.

 

Call today for a FREE Consultation

210-342-3400

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