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Archive for the ‘length of Chapter 13 plan’ tag

Filing Chapter 13 in December (or January!) May Greatly Shorten Your Case

December 17th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Do you need a Chapter 13 case? WHEN you file it can mean the difference between a payment plan that takes 3 years and one that takes 5.  

 

In two blog posts last month (November 12 and 19) we showed how filing bankruptcy by the end of December 31 might allow you to file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case instead of being forced into a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” one. You could have your debts discharged (legally written off) within just 3 or 4 months under Chapter 7. Otherwise you may have to go through a 3-to-5-year payment plan under Chapter 13. Besides likely costing much more, you’d only discharge your remaining debts if you successfully completed your payment plan.

But What If You Need a Chapter 13 Case?

The benefits of Chapter 7 won’t matter much to you if you need a Chapter 13 case in the first place.

Yes, Chapter 13 takes so much longer than Chapter 7.

And Chapter 13 is much riskier. Most Chapter 7 cases—especially one in which the debtor has a bankruptcy lawyer—get completed successfully. Chapter 13 comes with longer odds. A lot can happen in the 3 to 5 years that they usually take. Chapter 13 is a flexible tool, one that you can often adjust to changing circumstances. But the truth is that a significant percentage of them do NOT get completed successfully.

Notwithstanding the extra time and risks, Chapter 13 could still be by far the best tool for you.  That’s simply because it can accomplish many things that Chapter 7 can’t. For example, Chapter 13 can:

  • give you time to catch up on home mortgage and/or property taxes
  • buy you time and save you money if you owe lots of income taxes, especially if you owe on more than one tax year
  • give you time to catch up on child or spousal support while protecting your income, assets, and license(s) from suspension while doing so
  • allow you to keep assets that are otherwise not protected in a Chapter 7 case
  • lower your monthly vehicle payments and reduce the total amount on the loan
  • hold off on student loan payments and collection until you qualify for an “undue hardship”

And these are just some of the ways that Chapter 13 can deal with your creditors more powerfully than Chapter 7.

A Shorter Chapter 13 Payment Plan

So, what if you’ve learned that you really need a Chapter 13 case? What if you also learned that filing your Chapter 13 case in December instead of January would allow you to finish your case in 3 years instead of 5 years? Or what if that was true if you filed your case in January instead of February?

Paying into a Chapter 13 payment plan for 2 years less could save you many thousands of dollars. Plus, that would get you out of bankruptcy 2 years sooner. You’d be that much ahead of the game in rebuilding your credit.  You’d have the emotional relief of finishing and getting on with life sooner

Here could filing a Chapter case a month sooner shorten the case so much? Here’s how.

Your Last-6-Full Months of Income Determines How Long Your Chapter 13 Lasts  

Our blog post of November 12 described an unusual way of calculating your income for the Chapter 7 “means test.” (That’s a test to qualify for filing a Chapter 7 case.)   That way of calculating income also determines whether your Chapter 13 plan lasts a minimum of 3 years or 5.

Income is calculated as follows:

1) Consider almost all sources of money coming to you in just about any form as income…. .  Pretty much the only money excluded are those received under the Social Security Act, including retirement, disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

2) The period of time that counts for the means test is exactly the 6 full calendar months before your bankruptcy filing date. Included as income is ONLY the money you receive during those specific months. This excludes money received before that 6-month block of time. It also excludes any money received during the calendar month that you file your Chapter 7 case.

The 6-month amount is multiplied by 2 for the annual “income” total to be compared to the “median income” for your state and family size.

When you combine the above two considerations, monthly changes in your “income” can make a big difference.  That’s especially true if your money coming in is more than usual in either December or January.  (That would most often be from more overtime, a seasonal job, a monetary gift from family, and/or an employer’s bonus.)

Because of the way “income” is calculated there’s a higher risk that it would be larger than the “median income” for your state and family size. If it is larger, then you must pay your Chapter 13 case for 5 years instead of 3 years.

What’s My Applicable “Median income”?

The “median income” amounts are adjusted regularly and published by the U.S. Trustee Program of the Department of Justice. Here’s a table showing the “median family income” amounts for cases filed on or after November 1, 2018. It shows the amount for each state, by family size. (The amounts are adjusted about three times a year; see this webpage to see if there has been an update.)

(For the actual steps used in this calculation, see the official form, Chapter 13 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period.)

So if your “income” as calculated above is larger than your applicable “median family income” than your Chapter 13 case gets pushed to 5 years.  If it’s smaller, your case can last as short as 3 years. (That 3 or 5 years is the “commitment period” referred to in the official form in the paragraph above.)

If your “income” is larger because of unusual money you received in December and/or January, it may make sense to file your Chapter 13 case in either December or January so that the income of that month would not count. (Remember, that’s because you only count income of the PRIOR 6 FULL calendar months before the filing date.)

In next week’s blog post we’ll put all this into an example to make better sense of it for you.

 

The Chapter 13 Plan

July 24th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 revolves around your payment plan, which you propose based on your budget, and possibly negotiate with creditors and the trustee. 

 

In our last two blog posts we introduced Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” bankruptcy. We explained how to qualify for it and how it can buy you extremely valuable time. Today we get to the heart of this option: the Chapter 13 payment plan.

The Length of the Plan

A Chapter 13 case almost always requires a 3-to-5-year payment plan. That may sound like a long time, but the length itself is often an advantage. That’s because your Chapter 13 plan often has you paying special debts that you want or need to pay, and the more time you have the less you have to pay each month. That makes achieving your plan goals easier and more realistic.

Whether a plan has to be at least 3 years long vs. 5 years depends on two main factors. First, your income plays a major role. Without explaining this in detail here, relatively lower income results in a minimum 3-year plan. Higher income results in a 5-year plan. 

Second, even if your minimum plan length is 3 years, you may want to stretch it out longer. You’d do that to reduce how much you pay each month into the plan. 

Your Chapter 13 Plan

Your plan is a blueprint for how you will deal with your debts for the 3 to 5 years of your Chapter 13 case. It must meet a list of requirements. See Section 1322, “Contents of plan,” of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The core of the plan states how much you will pay to ALL of your creditors each month, and who gets paid from that amount. There are other provisions in the plan that don’t directly involve money. We’ll cover these in more detail in upcoming blog posts.

The Plan Approval Procedure

You and your bankruptcy lawyer prepare and then present your Chapter 13 plan to the bankruptcy court. This is usually done at the same time as your lawyer electronically files your case. But sometimes the plan is filed a week or two later, especially if your case was filed in a hurry.

Your creditors receive a copy of your plan and are allowed limited kinds of objections to it. If your plan follows the legal requirements the creditors usually don’t have much room for objection.

The Chapter 13 trustee also has a role in determining whether the plan meets the appropriate rules. The trustee suggests changes, usually in the form of objections. Usually these are resolved informally between the trustee and your lawyer. They often involve only minor tweaks in the plan terms, so that it’s still meeting your intended goals.

The bankruptcy judge resolves any disagreements about the plan between you and your creditors, or between you and the trustee, as needed. This usually happen quite quickly, although can delay the approval of your plan for several weeks.

The approval of a plan is called its confirmation, and usually takes place at a confirmation hearing. Your lawyer usually attends, but you almost never need to. The confirmation hearing usually happens about two months after your lawyer files your case. But it can be postponed (“adjourned”) once or even more often if there are objections which take time to resolve.

The judge approves your plan by signing a confirmation order. Your confirmed plan plus the confirmation order together largely govern your relationships with your creditors throughout the rest of your Chapter 13 case.

Next…

In our next blog post we’ll cover how a Chapter 13 plan deals with the different categories of your debts.

 

Objecting to a Proof of Claim to Defeat a Creditor

January 2nd, 2017 at 8:00 am

If your liability dispute with your creditor spills into your Chapter 13 case, the bankruptcy court may be a good forum to fight it out.

 

Our last three blog posts were about objecting to a creditor’s proof of claim in a Chapter 13 case. Today we look at situations when this is the most important part of your case.

Bringing a Liability Dispute to the Bankruptcy Court

It’s not unusual that a dispute with a single creditor forces a person into bankruptcy. Often it’s just one otherwise ordinary creditor which is more aggressive than the others, suing you ahead of the others, and then garnishing your paycheck or bank account.

Sometimes it’s not just any extra-pushy creditor, but rather one that you’ve been fighting for quite a while. The fight you are having with that creditor may be the main reason why you filed bankruptcy.

Maybe you were in a serious vehicle accident, and did not have enough insurance coverage. You are being accused of causing the accident but don’t believe you were its primary cause. Because of major injuries to others you potentially owe hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Or you operated a business that looked promising for a while but then failed. You were accused of mismanagement by a partner or investor and were sued. Fighting this lawsuit has drained you financially.

Or perhaps you were accused of unduly influencing a parent or other family member to change his or her will. That turned into a contentious lawsuit against you.

The attorney fees and other costs of fighting the dispute have pushed you over the financial edge.

You’re in a Chapter 13 Case

Assume you either didn’t qualify for Chapter 7, or you needed the special tools of Chapter 13 to deal with special debts like your home mortgage or income taxes. So you’re in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case.

When a Single Creditors’ Proof of Claim Amount Makes All the Difference

As we discussed in recent blog posts, sometimes the amount of debts you have does not change how much you need to pay into a successful Chapter 13 case. But often it does matter. Your main adversary before you filed the Chapter 13 case may still try to make you pay too much to it through your payment plan. Or that adversary may even jeopardize your ability to have a successful case.

For example, your financial circumstances may require you to pay 100% of your debts in a Chapter 13 plan. If so your liability on a large claim could substantially increase how much and/or how long you’d have to pay. Assume you could otherwise finish your plan in 36 months by paying $750 monthly into your plan. An additional $18,000 proof of claim by your adversary could force you to pay that $750 monthly for two additional years. An even larger claim could force you to pay more than you could reasonably pay each month. If that proof of claim resulted in more debt than you could pay in 5 years, Chapter 13 would cease to be an option.

One way to solve these problems is to object to this adversary’s proof of claim.

Failure to File a Proof of Claim on Time

If you believe you don’t owe an adversary anything, you’d still list the disputed claim in your schedule of creditors. Otherwise you lose the opportunity to discharge (write off) that disputed claim.

Your adversary has a limited time to file a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court. If it fails to do so on time, you don’t have to pay it anything in your Chapter 13 case. The claim is then discharged without any payment at the successful completion of your case.

But it’s not likely that your adversary would mess up like this.

Objection to a Proof of Claim

More likely, your adversary would file a timely proof of claim. That claim would stand and you’d have to pay it under the terms of you plan unless somebody—usually you—objects to it.

If you object, and your adversary doesn’t respond, the claim would be paid according how you state in your objection. So if your objection states that you owe nothing at all on the claim, again you would pay nothing.

It’s not unheard of that your adversary would simply not respond to your objection. Just like you, it may be tired of paying attorney fees, likely now also to a bankruptcy specialist. Your bankruptcy documents filed under oath may reveal to your adversary better than ever before that you have no pot of gold and so it’s wasting its time and money chasing you.

Responding to Your Objection

If your adversary does respond to your objection, the bankruptcy court could potentially decide whether you have any liability on the claim, and/or its amount. If a lawsuit on this was already pending in another court when you filed bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court may require the liability dispute to go back to that prior court to determine your liability.

Even so, for the reasons mentioned above there’s usually less incentive for your adversary to keep fighting you as aggressively as before.

Conclusion

If you are in a Chapter 13 case which is affected by how much debt you owe, your main adversary may mess up and fail to file a proof of claim. Or if it does file a proof of claim but you object to it, your adversary may fail to respond. Even if this adversary does jump through all the procedural hoops, its prospect of paying additional costs and a receiving a limited payoff usually forces it to be more pragmatic and settle the dispute.

 

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