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Archive for the ‘priority debts’ tag

Priority Debt for Intoxicated Driving

March 16th, 2020 at 7:00 am

If you injured someone by unlawfully driving while intoxicated, the resulting personal injury debt would be a priority debt in bankruptcy.   

Priority Debts

For many weeks our blog posts have been considering how bankruptcy deals with “priority” debts. Examples of these special debts that we’ve covered include child/spousal support, income taxes, and wages owed employees. Sections 507(a)(1),(4), and (8) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

There’s one more kind of priority debt. It does not come up often but if it affects you, you need to know about it.

Priority Debts vs. Non-Dischargeable Debts

But first we need to clear up something that could be quite confusing.

Some debts cannot be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy, or can’t in certain circumstances. For example, bankruptcy never discharges child/spousal support debt, and discharges income taxes only under certain conditions. So the issue is whether or not you will owe the debt after the bankruptcy case is over. See Sections 523 and 524 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Whether or not a debt is a priority debt is a different consideration. Those are debts that the law treats with greater priority during the bankruptcy case itself.  For example, in an asset Chapter 7 case—one in which the bankruptcy trustee has assets to distribute to creditors—priority debts receive payment in full before general unsecured debts receive anything. Similarly, in a Chapter 13 case, the debtor must pay priority debts in full during the payment plan. General unsecured debts usually receive payment only to the extent you can afford to pay them after the priority debts.

The confusion comes from the fact that most, but not all, priority debts also cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. But that’s not absolutely always true. The considerations are sometimes different. In any event, priority and dischargeability are different considerations that have different consequences in different situations. You and your bankruptcy lawyer need to consider them separately.

Specifically with debts related to driving while intoxicated, the law makes those debts nondischargeable in many situations. See Bankruptcy Code Section 523(a)(9). But those situations are not exactly the same ones as the ones determining priority. The rules are a bit different. And again, the discharge of drunk driving debts vs. whether they qualify as priority are separate considerations with different consequences. We’re focusing today on the priority question.

Debts from Unlawful Operation of a Vehicle because Intoxicated

The Bankruptcy Code says that a debt is a priority debt if it is

for death or personal injury resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle or vessel if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.

Section 507(a)(10).

Under this language there are three key issues:

  1. It covers debts related to death or personal injury. The statutory language doesn’t cover property damage. Those would not be priority debts. However, in most accidents the personal injury side of the accident debts is much larger than the property damage side.
  2. The debt must come from your unlawful operation of a vehicle. So, the issue is whether you met your state’s standards of unlawful intoxication.
  3. Debts arising from other forms of unlawful operation of vehicle not involving intoxication are not priority debts. For example injuries resulting from speeding or reckless driving would not qualify as a priority debt.

The Consequences of Being Priority Debt

The consequences of having a personal injury debt being priority are different under Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

Under a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case it only matters if it’s an asset case. As mentioned above, those are ones in which your trustee has assets with which to pay some of your debts. In that case he or she would pay your priority debts before paying other debts. So if you had a priority personal injury debt, it would receive payment before all non-priority debts. There’s a good chance the assets the trustee is distributing would not be enough to pay off the personal injury debt. Then you may or may not owe the balance depending on the discharge considerations mentioned above.

Most Chapter 7 cases are no-asset ones. All of your assets are “exempt,” protected from bankruptcy trustee liquidation. So the trustee has no assets to pay any creditors, including the priority personal injury debt. So there’s no practical effect from that debt being a priority debt. Again, whether or not you continue to owe the debt after the case is over turns on the separate discharge issue.

Under a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case, your court-approved payment plan must “provide for the full payment” of all debts “entitled to priority.”  Bankruptcy Code Section 1322(a)(2).  Therefore you must budget enough to pay off a priority personal injury debt during the payment plan. You’d have 3 to 5 years to do so. You’d pay that in full before paying anything on non-priority unsecured debts. However, if that priority debt is huge, you may not have enough money to pay it off within that time. If so, a Chapter 13 case would likely not be a feasible solution. Therefore, determining whether the personal injury debt is or is not a priority debt would likely be very important.

 

Paying Employee Debt in Chapter 13

March 2nd, 2020 at 8:00 am

If you prefer to pay back wages to a present or prior employee, you can do so in Chapter 13 especially well if that debt is a priority one.

 

Our last three blog posts have been about debts you owe to your employees or independent contractors. Specifically, we discussed the conditions under which past wages, commissions, or benefits qualify as a“priority” debt. These posts covered:

  • the conditions that apply to both employees and independent contractors (3 weeks ago)
  • the special additional condition applicable only to independent contractors (2 weeks ago)
  • an example of paying an employee’s wages as a priority debt in an “asset” Chapter 7 case (last week)

Today, we’ll show how you could pay an employee/independent contractor in full in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case.

Why Priority Matters under Chapter 13

Assume you’d really like your former (or ongoing) employee/independent contractor to receive payment on what you owe. Whether that debt qualifies for priority status often determines whether you’ll pay that debt or not. Or it may determine whether it’s paid in full, in large part, very little, or nothing at all.

Focusing on Chapter 13, whether or not a debt qualifies as a priority one is usually crucial. That’s because you are legally obligated to pay all priority debts in full. Debts that don’t qualify as priority usually receive much less, and sometime receive nothing.

Your Chapter 13 payment plan must show how you will pay all priority debts. The bankruptcy judge will otherwise not approve the payment plan. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code is straightforward:

(a) The plan—

(2) shall provide for the full payment, in deferred cash payments, of all claims entitled to priority under section 507

Section 1322 of the Bankruptcy Code.

(There’s an exception if the employee/independent contractor agreed not to receive “full payment.” But assume here that—as is almost always true—he or she does want to get fully paid and won’t agree not to be.)

So what happens under Chapter 13 if that wage/commission debt does not meet the conditions to be priority debt? That wage/commission is lumped in with all the other ordinary “general unsecured” debts. Very seldom do Chapter 13 plans pay general unsecured debts in full. (A so-called 100% plan.) Most often they receive significantly less than 100%. (Say, a 30% or 40% plan.) Quite often they receive payment of only pennies on the dollar. (For example, a 3% plan.) Finally, it’s not unusual that general unsecured debts—including a non-priority wage/commission debt—would receive absolutely nothing. (A so-called 0% plan.)

In summary, your plan must pay a priority debt in full. But the plan will very likely pay your general unsecured debts a fraction, or possibly even nothing.

Our Chapter 13 Case Example

Assume you owe a prior employee $5,000 for wages earned over a period of four months. This period was from 150 to 30 days ago, at which point you had to lay him off.

Your sole proprietorship business is still operating. You intend to close it and file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy soon. You have a decent job waiting for you as soon as you do, and have some flexibility when to start.

You owe $125,000 on all of the rest of your debts, which are all general unsecured. None are priority debts except potentially the $5.000 you owe to your prior employee.

Reminder about the Priority Conditions

As discussed in our last 3 blog posts, a wage is a priority debt if it meets two conditions:

  1. it was “earned within 180 days before the date of the filing of the [bankruptcy] petition or the date of the cessation of the debtor’s business, whichever occurs first …”. Section 507(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code.
  2. the amount is no more than $13,650. Section 507(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code, plus a cost-of-living adjustment of the $10,000 stated there.

With the amount of the wage owed in our example being $5,000, this debt meets the second, dollar-limit condition. So we focus the rest of this blog post on the first, timing condition.

Timing the Filing of Your Chapter 13 Case

As you can see from the timing language in the statute above, a wage’s priority status turns on when the employee earned it.  The wage (or commission or benefits) must have been earned within a 180-day period. That period must be immediately before either the closing of your business or your filing Chapter 13, whichever of those happens first.

Back to the Example

To pay the $5,000 wage debt in full, you need to have it meet the conditions of priority status. Your business is still operating at the moment. You have control over when to cease operating, and when to file the Chapter 13 case.

In the real world you actually likely have limited control over these two events. You likely have various constraints on both. Timing when to shut down even a small business usually involves a variety of practical, and sometime tough, choices. Timing a Chapter 13 filing likely turns on the creditor collection pressures and there are often other legal timing considerations.

But let’s assume you have at least some flexibility. Under our facts, if you want this employee’s wage debt to be a priority debt you need to do one of two things within the next 30 days. You need to either close down your business or file your Chapter 13 case within that time.  After that some of this employee’s wages will start turning into general unsecured debt. (Recall it was all earned 150 to 30 days ago.) So after 30 days the oldest of the wages will be start being more than 180 days old. Then 210 days from now the last of the wages would turn into general unsecured debt.

If you can’t file your Chapter 13 within 30 days for practical or legal reasons, it’s enough to just shut down your business. As you see from the statute’s language, that triggers the 180-day period, even if you don’t file the Chapter 13 case until later.

What Happens in the Chapter 13 Case

Assume you either shut down your business or file your Chapter 13 case within the next 30 days. Then the $5,000 wage debt would be a priority debt. Simply put, Chapter 13 law requires the payment plan you and your bankruptcy lawyer put together to include enough money to pay that $5,000. The bankruptcy court would otherwise not approve the plan. Furthermore, you could not complete the case without actually paying off that $5,000.

Now assume instead that you don’t shut down your business and don’t file Chapter 13 until after 210 days from now. Then, as just discussed, none of the wage debt would qualify as priority. It would all be general unsecured debt. Assume that in the next 3 years you would afford to pay $200 per month on all of your debts. That’s a total of $7,200. Assume that you paid all your attorney fees when you filed your case (leaving none to pay in the plan). In your jurisdiction assume the Chapter 13 trustee gets 5% of everything that flows through the plan—$360. That leaves the rest—$6,840—to go to all of the creditors. The general unsecured debts total $130,000—$125,000 plus the $5,000 wage debt. The $6,840 would be divided among this $130,000, meaning that these debts would receive about 5% of the amounts owed. Your former employee would receive only about $250 on the $5,000 wage debt.

So, if the $5,000 wage debt would qualify as priority, your former employer would receive payment in full. If none of it would so qualify, your employee would receive only about $250

.

Paying Employee Debt in Bankruptcy

February 24th, 2020 at 8:00 am

If you prefer to pay back wages to a present or prior employee, bankruptcy can help you do so if you use the law in that employee’s favor.  

 

Our last two blog posts were about debts owed to your employees or independent contractors. Specifically we discussed the conditions in which past wages, commissions, or benefits qualify as “priority” debt. Two weeks ago we got into the conditions that apply to both employees and independent contractors. Last week the focus was on a special additional condition that only independent contractors must meet.

Whether a debt qualifies for priority status is often crucial. That’s because this can determine whether or not you pay that debt in the bankruptcy case.   In a no-asset Chapter 7 case none of the debts receive any payment within the case. So whether an unpaid wage or commission qualifies as priority or not doesn’t matter in this situation. But in an asset Chapter 7 case it makes all the difference. It’s common that priority debts receive payment in part or in full, while the rest of the debts receive little or nothing. There’s a similar result in a Chapter 11 business reorganization or 13 adjustment of debts case. Priority debts generally receive payment in full while other debts receive little or nothing.

Assume that you’d prefer that your past or present employee/independent contractor receive payment for what you owe him or her at the time of your bankruptcy filing. If so, you need to know the conditions for making that debt a priority debt, and how to apply them. Today we’ll review the conditions and then apply them an asset Chapter 7 example. Next week blog post will demonstrate an example in a Chapter 13 case.

The Conditions

We covered the conditions that an unpaid wage or commission is a priority debt the last two blog posts. We’ll review them very briefly here.

For a debt you owe either an employee or independent contractor:

If you owe the debt to an independent contractor, he or she needs to meet an additional condition. The debt is a priority debt ONLY if

during the 12 months preceding that date [of bankruptcy filing or cessation of business], at least 75 percent of the amount that the individual or corporation earned by acting as an independent contractor in the sale of goods or services was earned from the debtor.

Section 507(a)(4)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code (bold added).

Our Chapter 7 Asset Case Example

Assume you owe a prior employee $7,500 for wages and benefits. Your employee earned these wages and benefits over a period of four months, from 150 to 30 days ago, when you had to lay her off.

Your sole proprietorship business is still operating. You intend to close it and file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon.

Your bankruptcy lawyer has advised you that your business equipment is not exempt. This mean it’s not protected from collection and liquidation by the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee. He or she will take it from you, sell it, and use the proceeds to pay your creditors.

This equipment has a liquidation value of about $10,000. You don’t need the equipment after closing the business because you don’t intend to be in this kind of business ever again. But you do wish you could put it’s value to some good use.

You owe $150,000 on all of the rest of your debts. These consist of unsecured trade debt, business and personal unsecured credit cards, and medical bills. These are all considered “general unsecured” debts. None are priority debts except potentially the $7,500 you owe to your prior employee. You have a home mortgage but you’ve managed to keep current on it. Your home has a bit of equity but it’s protected by the homestead exemption.

Timing the Filing of Your Chapter 7 Case

You may have reasons to delay filing your case. You may have new employment lined up but it doesn’t start for several months. You may have business customer paying you soon and you’ll need the money for your home mortgage in the meantime. There can be countless legal and/or practical reasons for filing your case later.

However, your prior employee would likely really benefit from you filing your case within about a month. Then, because of the 180-day condition cited above, there’s a good chance she’d receive all or most of her $7,500.

How? The Chapter 7 trustee would liquidate your business equipment. The trustee would receive a fee—likely about $1,750. (By law, no more than 25% of the first $5,000 liquidated and 10% on the second $5,000. Section 326(a) of the Bankruptcy Code.) $10,000 minus $1,750 leaves $8,250. (25% for the first $5,000 is $1,250, plus 10% for the second $5,000 is $500, totaling the trustee’s $1,750 fee.) The remaining $8,250 would go to pay priority debts first, before paying anything to the general unsecured debts.

The $7,500 debt to your prior employee would all be priority debt. That’s because in our scenario it was all earned within the 180-day period before your simultaneous business closure and bankruptcy filing. Plus the $7,500 amount is less than the $13,650 limit referenced above.

So in this example your prior employee would receive her $7,500 in full.

Of course if the business equipment sold for less, your employee would receive only partial payment. Assume it sold not for $10,000 but rather only $7,000. $7,000 minus the trustee’s $1,450 would leave $5,550 for the trustee to distribute. Likely all of this would go to your employee. So she’d receive at least a significant portion of her debt.

If You Delayed Filing Bankruptcy

Assume instead that you closed your business and filed your Chapter 7 case five months from now. At that point all of her wages and benefits would have been earned more than 180 days earlier. So, none of the $7,500 would qualify as priority. The debt would be a general unsecured one, lumped in with other $150,000 of such debt.

Then, your employee would receive very little. Assume again that the bankruptcy trustee sells your business equipment for $10,000, leaving $8,250 for payment of the debts. This would be distributed pro rata to the $157,500 in general unsecured debt (her $7,500 plus the other $150,000). $8,250 divided by $157,500 amounts to all debts receiving only about 5 cents on the dollar. So your prior employee would receive only about $375 on her $7,500 debt.

Conclusion

There are many factors that come into play for determining what day you file your bankruptcy case. Some of those factors may well be much more important than helping your employee/independent contractor receive payment. But sometimes a business owner has some flexibility on timing. And getting an employee/independent contractor some money may be a high priority for various personal or business reasons. This would be especially true if that money would otherwise go to a debt you don’t care about getting paid. In such situations you and your bankruptcy lawyer may well be able to put these priority laws to good use, as we showed in today’s blog post.

 

Commissions Owed to Independent Contractor

February 17th, 2020 at 8:00 am

If you owe sales commissions to an independent contractor when you file bankruptcy, it may be a priority debt. Here’s what determines this

 

Our last blog post was about conditions in which wages, commissions, or benefits owed to an employee are “priority” debt.

But what if your debt was not to an employee but an independent contractor? Especially in today’s “gig economy,” small businesses (and large ones, too) often have independent contractors instead of employees.

Why “Priority” Matters

As discussed last week, whether a debt qualifies as a priority debt can make a huge difference.

This most often matters in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. You have to pay all priority debts in full during the 3-to-5-year court-approved payment plan. In huge contrast, usually you only pay the non-priority “general unsecured” debts to the extent you can afford to pay. The common result is that you pay priority debts 100%, while those that don’t qualify as priority little or nothing.

The distinction between priority and general unsecured also matters in an “asset” Chapter 7 case. That’s the relatively uncommon situation in which a debtor needs to surrender an unprotected asset to the Chapter 7 trustee. In that situation the trustee liquidates the asset and pays priority debts in full before paying any general unsecured debts. The result: priority debts often get paid in full or in part, while there’s nothing for any general unsecured debts.

The distinction between priority and general unsecured does not directly matter in a simple, “no-asset” Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. That’s the common situation when everything you own is “exempt”—protected from the Chapter 7 trustee. Many Chapter 7 cases are “no-asset” ones. (However, note that most priority debts can’t be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. So while such debts won’t receive anything from the trustee, you’ll likely still have to pay the debt afterwards yourself.)

The Basic Amount/Timing Rule

Whether you owe an employee or an independent contractor, some of the conditions to make the debt priority are the same.

First is the maximum dollar amount. The maximum amount of a debt that would qualify as priority is $13,650. See the discussion in our last blog post about this amount. (Also see the original statute’s $10,000 amount in Section 507(a)(4) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the cost-of-living provision in Section 104 of the Bankruptcy Code, and the current $13,650 amount since April 1, 2019 in this notice in the Federal Register.)

The second condition is the timing. The debt owed must be

earned within 180 days before the date of the filing of the [bankruptcy] petition or the date of the cessation of the debtor’s business, whichever occurs first

Section 507(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code.

So, any amount owed to an employee/contractor beyond $13,650 would be a general unsecured debt, not a priority one. Same with any amounts earned outside the specified 180-day period.

The Special Independent Contractor Rule

Beyond the above amount/timing conditions, there’s another significant condition especially for independent contractors. The debt is a priority debt ONLY if

during the 12 months preceding that date [of bankruptcy filing or cessation of business], at least 75 percent of the amount that the individual or corporation earned by acting as an independent contractor in the sale of goods or services was earned from the debtor.

Section 507(a)(4)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code.

So if your independent contractor earned less than 75% of its overall income during that one-year period from you, then none of what you owe it is priority.

Presumably the purpose of this condition is so that it applies only to independent contractors who are more like employees. It includes only those independent contractors who work mostly for you. It is not meant to apply to debts owed to suppliers of goods and services that serve many customers. Those are more like conventional payables, which are general unsecured debts, not entitled to priority.

 

Wages Owed to an Employee

February 10th, 2020 at 8:00 am

If you owe wages to an employee when you file bankruptcy, that may or not be a priority debt. Here’s what determines this and why it matters.  

 

Our last dozen blog posts have been about “priority” debts. These are special unsecured debts that bankruptcy law treats better than the rest, called “general unsecured” debts.

(Secured debts are a third main category of debts, distinctive because they are attached to your assets as security. We’ve covered those before and will again later. But now we’re addressing priority debts, which are not secured by any of your assets.)

The most common priority debts in consumer bankruptcy cases are income taxes and child/spousal support. So our recent blog posts have focused on these two. But if you have been operating a business with employees or independent contractors there are other important potential priority debts. These involve unpaid wages, salaries, commissions and benefits owed at the time of bankruptcy filing. Our next few blog posts will focus on these.

The Conditions of Priority

If you owe a wage, salary, commission, or employee benefit when filing bankruptcy, that may or not be a priority debt. It depends on timing and the amount owed. The pertinent statute says that priority debts include those:

only to the extent of $13,650 for each individual or corporation, as the case may be, earned within 180 days before the date of the filing of the petition or the date of the cessation of the debtor’s business, whichever occurs first, for… wages, salaries, or commissions, including vacation, severance, and sick leave pay earned by an individual

Section 507(a)(4) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The $13,650 Dollar Limit

This dollar limit is mostly self-explanatory. Any amount owed to an employee up to $13,650 is a priority debt. Any amount beyond that is just a general unsecured debt.

This amount may seem odd. That’s because it’s been adjusted for inflation every 3 years as mandated by law. Section 104 of the Bankruptcy Code. It was originally $10,000. It’s been $13,650 for bankruptcy cases filed since April 1, 2019 (and will likely increase on April 1, 2022). See this notice in the Federal Register of February 12, 2019.

Timing

The wage, commission, etc. must have been earned within a very strict time period of 180 days. This is 180 days before your bankruptcy filing date or before you stopped operating your business, whichever happens first. So for example if you stop operating your business on January 1 and then file bankruptcy on the following March 1, the pertinent period would be the 180 day period before January 1. Wages, etc. earned during that period would count as priority. Earnings outside that period would be general unsecured debt.

Why Priority Matters

Whether a debt is a priority or general unsecured one sometimes doesn’t matter. But often it matters a lot.

This distinction of itself does not matter in a simple, “no-asset” Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. That’s one in which everything you own is “exempt”—protected from collection by the Chapter 7 trustee. Most straightforward consumer Chapter 7 cases are “no-asset.” If you operated a business you may also have a “no-asset” Chapter 7 case although that’s less likely.

The priority-general unsecured distinction matters a lot in an “asset” Chapter 7 case. That’s because the trustee pays debts out of the collected and liquidated non-exempt assets. The trustee pays priority debts in full before paying anything to general unsecured debts. Often that means that priority debts are the only ones that receive any funds from the trustee. Or priority debts may be paid in full while general unsecured debts only receive a few pennies on the dollar.

The priority-general unsecured distinction also matters a lot in all Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” cases. A 3-to-5-year court-approved Chapter 13 payment plan must pay all priority debts in full. In contrast, the plan usually pays general unsecured debts only if and only to the extent there’s any money left over after paying all priority (and often secured) debts first. The result is that priority debts stand a much better chance of getting paid. In contrast, general unsecured debts often receive only a small portion of the amount owed, and sometimes absolutely nothing. (This also largely applies to Chapter 11 business reorganizations and Chapter 12 farm reorganizations.)

So under “asset” Chapter 7s and all Chapter 13s, whether a wage, etc. meets the priority conditions or not usually makes a tremendous difference about whether and the extent to which it is paid.

Order of Priority

There’s one more important consideration in whether a wage, etc. gets paid and to what extent. The law doesn’t just make a distinction between priority and general unsecured debts. Some priority debts have higher priority than others. The higher priority debts receive payment in full before the lower priority ones receive anything.

This doesn’t matter so much under Chapter 13 in which you must pay all priority debts in full. Nor does it matter in an asset Chapter 7 case in which there’s plenty of money to pay all priority debts. But it does matter in an asset Chapter 7 case in which there are more than one type of priority debts and there’s only enough money to pay some of them.

The order of priority for wages and such is fourth out of the ten listed priority debts. Some of these ten are obscure ones that seldom apply. Focusing on the most common ones, the wage priority is lower than child and spousal support debts but higher than income taxes.

 

Priority Debts in an Asset Chapter 7 Case

December 2nd, 2019 at 8:00 am

Your Chapter 7 trustee may pay your priority debts—in full or in part—through the proceeds of the sale of your unprotected, not exempt assets.  


Our last blog post was about what happens to priority debts in a no-asset Chapter 7 case. Most consumer “straight bankruptcy” Chapter 7 cases are no-asset ones. This means that the bankruptcy trustee does not take anything from the debtor because everything is protected, “exempt.” The trustee does not take and liquidate any assets, and has nothing—no assets—to distribute to the debtor’s creditors. That’s a no-asset Chapter 7 case.

No-Asset Case Even If Some Assets May Not Be Exempt

To understand how this actually works, sometimes a Chapter 7 case is a no-asset one even when not all assets are exempt. That’s because the bankruptcy trustee has some discretion about whether to collect and liquidate an otherwise unprotected asset. Here are three reasons why he or she may not pursue an asset:

  • The value of the asset, or the amount beyond the exemption, is too small to justify the trustee’s collection efforts. Example: A vehicle worth only a couple hundred dollars more than the vehicle exemption.
  • Finding and/or selling the asset may be too expensive compared to its anticipated value. Example: A debt owed to the debtor by somebody who can’t be located and likely has no reliable income.
  • The asset could be more of a detriment than a benefit to the trustee. Example: real estate with hazardous waste contamination.

Usually your bankruptcy lawyer will be able to reliably predict whether your Chapter 7 case will be an asset or no-asset case. But not always. The trustees have wide discretion about this. Plus before filing your lawyer doesn’t know which trustee will be assigned to your case. So you can’t always know whether a trustee will pursue an asset or not.

Paying Priority Debt through a Chapter 7 Asset Case

If you know that you will have an asset case, you can pay a priory debt through your case.

In our last blog post our main point was that in a no-asset Chapter 7 case you have to pay any priority debts yourself directly to your creditors after completing the case. But in an asset case, the trustee would pay any of your priority debts before any other debts. The trustee collects and liquidates your assets (any not protected by exemptions). From the proceeds he or she then pays your debts, only to the extent there’s money available.

So in the right case you can pay all or part of your priority debt(s) in this way. Often, there only enough money to pay towards the priority debt(s), along with the trustee’s fee. If so, then there’s no money to pay anything to your other, general unsecured debts. This way, the trustee would pay those (priority) debts that you’d have to pay anyway, and nothing to those (general unsecured debts) that bankruptcy would discharge and you’d not have to pay.

For Example

Assume you owe $4,000 to the IRS for last year’s income tax. You also owe $75,000 in medical bills and unsecured credit cards. If you filed a Chapter 7 case in which everything you owned was protected, that would be a no-asset case. The IRS debt is a priority debt that you can’t discharge (legally write off). So you would have to make arrangements to pay it after your Chapter 7 case was over. Most likely the case would discharge the $75,000 in other debts.

But now assume that you have a boat that you no longer want because it costs too much to maintain.  There’s usually no exemption for a boat. So the Chapter 7 trustee takes and sells your boat. Let’s say the boat sells for $5,000. The proceeds of that sale would go to pay your tax debt before your other creditors would receive anything.

Usually a Chapter 7 trustee receives a fee of 25% on the first $5,000 of assets liquidated and distributed. U.S. Bankruptcy Code Section 326(a). That’s $1,250 on the $5,000 boat sale proceeds, leaving $3,750 left over. All of that would go towards the $4,000 IRS debt, leaving a $250 balance owed. The trustee would have no money left over to pay towards your $75,000 in other debts. You would not have to pay any of that yourself because your Chapter 7 case would very likely discharge it. You would only have to pay the not-discharged remaining balance of $250 on the tax debt.

Conclusion

In some circumstances paying a priority debt in a Chapter 7 case is not a bad deal. This is especially true if you have an asset not protected by an exemption that you don’t mind surrendering. Usually you would be personally on the hook to pay a priority debt after your Chapter 7 is finished. So if you surrender a non-exempt asset to the trustee and most of its proceeds go to pay towards your priority debt, that’s a good result.

These situations don’t necessarily fall together as neatly as in the above example. But this option is worth looking at with your bankruptcy lawyer whenever you have a the combination of a non-exempt asset and priority debt(s).

 

Priority Debts in a No-Asset Chapter 7 Case

November 25th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Priority debts are largely unaffected by a Chapter 7 case—it does not discharge them, so you need to pay them after finishing your case.

 

Most Chapter 7 Cases Are No-Asset Cases

Chapter 7—“straight bankruptcy”—is the most common type of consumer bankruptcy case. They are generally the most straightforward, lasting about 4 months start to finish. Usually everything you own is protected by property exemptions. You discharge, or legally write off all or most of your debts. Secured debts like a home mortgage or vehicle loan are either retained or discharged. You either keep the collateral and pay for it, or surrender it and discharge any remaining debt. Bankruptcy does not discharge certain special debts like child/spousal support and recent income taxes.

A “no-asset” Chapter 7 case is one, as described above, in which everything you own is covered by property exemptions. So you keep everything you own (with the exception of collateral you decide to surrender). It’s called a no-asset case because your Chapter 7 trustee does not get any assets to liquidate and distribute to any of your creditors. The trustee just verifies that you have no unprotected assets. He or she does this mostly by reviewing your bankruptcy documents and asking you some simple questions at your hearing. A large majority of Chapter 7 cases are no-asset ones. Your bankruptcy lawyer will tell you if yours is expected to be.

Although Chapter 7 is theoretically a liquidation form of bankruptcy, in a no-asset case there is nothing to liquidate. You lose no assets, and you lose all or most of your debts.

What Happens to Your Special, Priority Debts in a No-Asset Chapter 7 Case?

Yes, what about debts that do not qualify for discharge? There are various types of such debts, although most cases have either only one or two not-discharged debts, or none at all.

Most debts that Chapter 7 does not discharge are what are called priority debts. These are simply categories of debts that Congress has decided should be treated with higher priority than other debts. In consumer cases the most common priority debts are child/spousal support and recent income taxes. See the U.S. Bankruptcy Code subsections 507(a)(1) and (8). (Not to go into the rules here, but many older income taxes are not a priority debt and can be discharged.)

Priority debts generally get paid ahead of other debts in bankruptcy. This is true in an asset Chapter 7 case—where the trustee is liquidating a debtor’s assets.  In fact the trustee must pay a priority debt in full before paying regular (“general unsecured”) debts a penny!

But in a no-asset Chapter 7 case the trustee has no assets to liquidate. So he or she cannot pay any creditors anything, including any priority debts. So, essentially nothing happens to a not-dischargeable priority debt in a no-asset Chapter 7 case.

Dealing with Priority Debts During and After a Chapter 7 Case

However, one benefit you receive with some priority debts is the “automatic stay.” This stops (“stays”) the collection of debts immediately when you file a bankruptcy case. This “stay” generally lasts the approximately 4 months that a no-asset case is usually open. This no-collection period gives you time to make arrangements to pay a debt that is not going to get discharged. So you can start making payments either towards the end of your case or as soon as it’s closed. The hope is that you’ve discharged all or most of your other debts so that you can now afford to pay the not-discharged one(s).

The automatic stay applies to most debts, but there are exceptions. Child/spousal support is a major exception. Filing a Chapter 7 case does not stop the collection of support, either unpaid prior support or monthly ongoing support. (Note that Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” can stop the collection of unpaid prior support under most circumstances.)

So, with nondischargeable priority debts that the automatic stay applies to, during your case you and/or your bankruptcy lawyer make arrangements to begin paying the debt. With ones that the automatic stay does not apply to, you need to be prepared to deal with immediately.

If neither of these make sense in your situation, consider filing a Chapter 13 case instead. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Chapter 13 takes a lot longer—from 3 to 5 years usually. But if you have a lot of priority debt (or secured or any other nondischarged debts), it can really help.

 

Priority Debts

November 18th, 2019 at 8:00 am

One of the most important aspects of bankruptcy is that all debts are not equal.  “Priority” debts are treated special in a number of ways.

Debts Are Different So the Law Recognizes Some Differences

The law does not treat all debts the same. That’s because you have different kinds of creditors that you owe for very different reasons. The law tries to be practical and so to some extent it respects these differences.

Your debts all fall into three categories:

  • Secured
  • General unsecured
  • Priority

Today we start a series of blog posts covering priority debts.

Priority Debts

Priority debts are specific categories of debts that the law has decided should be treated as more important. Bankruptcy gives them higher priority, especially over “general unsecured” debts. Priority debts have power over you and over other debts in various ways.

Secured debts that are debts with liens on something you own.  Secured debts are special in that the creditor usually has a stronger position because of its lien. The lien gives the creditor power over you if you want to keep whatever secures the debt.  

Most priority debts are unsecured, but some may have a lien and so are secured. Secured priority debts have that much more power over you and over other creditors.  

Reasons for Priority

Each of the priority debt categories have their own different reason to be treated as special.

For example, the two most common categories of priority debts in consumer bankruptcy cases are:

  • Child and spousal support—the support you would owe when filing your bankruptcy case. See Section 507(a)(1) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
  • Income taxes—certain income taxes that meet certain conditions. See Section 507(a)(8).

Support payments are special essentially because society very strongly believes that children and ex-spouses should receive the financial support ordered by divorce courts. Federal bankruptcy law incorporates this social attitude. So support debt has the highest priority in the list of priority debts.

Income tax debts are special because taxes are a debt to the public at large. It’s not a debt to a private person or business. In effect it’s a debt to us all. So it deserves a higher priority than regular private debt. However, unlike support debt which is always a priority debt, an income tax is a priority debt only if it meets certain conditions. Those conditions mostly relate to how old the taxes are. The newer the tax is the more likely it is to be priority. Income taxes that do not meet the required legal conditions are mere general unsecured debts.

Priority Debts in Bankruptcy

In most bankruptcy cases there isn’t enough money to pay all debts. So the laws that determine the order that creditors get paid often determine which debts receive full or partial payment and which receive nothing. Priority debts often receive full payment while general unsecured debts receive less or, often, nothing.

This works very differently under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” vs. Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Our next blog posts will show how.

 

Debts You Don’t List in Your Bankruptcy Case

April 1st, 2019 at 7:00 am

If you don’t list a debt in your bankruptcy case, and don’t add it in on time, it may not be written off.  So carefully include all debts. 

 

Supposed to List All Creditors 

You can’t pick and choose which debts to include in your bankruptcy case. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code says that the first duty of a bankruptcy debtor is to provide “a list of creditors.” Section 521(a)(1) of Bankruptcy Code. That list includes secured, priority, and unsecured debts, which you put on Schedules D, E and F, respectively. As these Official Forms state clearly, you must

  • “List All Secured Claims”
  • “List All of Your Priority Unsecured Claims”
  • “List All of Your Nonpriority Unsecured Claims”

In the Declarations page you declare “Under penalty of perjury” that the “schedules filed with this declaration… are true and correct.” That page includes the very stern warning that “Making a false statement … can result in fines up to $250,000, in imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both.”

Truthfully, that is an overly stern warning because penalties like that simply don’t happen in the consumer bankruptcy context. Not for not including a debt!

The point is that it’s a federal crime to intentionally lie on your bankruptcy documents. So you need to list all your debts. Talk with you bankruptcy lawyer if you believe you have a reason for not listing a debt. There’s usually a practical solution to your concerns.

Unlisted Debts Not Written Off

Today’s blog post is not so much about intentionally not listing a debt but doing so inadvertently. If somehow you don’t include a debt in your bankruptcy schedules you risk owing that debt after your case is over.

In the last 5 weeks we’ve covered the following categories of debts not written off in bankruptcy:

  • Criminal fines and restitution
  • Income taxes
  • Child and spousal support
  • Student loans
  • Damages arising from driving intoxicated

Debts “neither listed nor scheduled” in a debtor’s bankruptcy documents are another category of debts not written off. Section 523(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code.

If You Forgot a Debt

If you didn’t include a debt in the schedules filed by your bankruptcy lawyer, you can often add it later. But you may need to act quickly.

Figuring out your deadline to add a missing creditor is somewhat tricky. It depends on the nature of the debt and the nature of your case.

The Deadline(s) to Add a Debt

First, if the debt is of the kind that the creditor could object to the writing off of the debt based on certain bad actions by you (for example, lying about your financial situation to acquire the debt), then there is a short, strict deadline. You have to add the debt to the case in time for the creditor to have time to object.  The objection deadline is usually about 3 months after you file your case. So you’d have to add the debt a bit before that. Section 523(a)(3)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Second, if your case gives the creditors the opportunity to get paid something through your bankruptcy case, you have a different deadline to add a debt. Most Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” cases don’t give most creditors the right to receive anything from the case. There are no assets to distribute to creditors (when all a debtor’s assets are “exempt,” or protected). If there ARE assets to distribute (because some asset(s) are not exempt), the bankruptcy clerk sends out a notice providing a deadline for creditors to ask for a share of the assets. Creditors do so by filing a “proof of claim” documenting their debt. So in this situation you have to add a debt a bit before that deadline. Section 523(a)(3)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code.

In Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” cases usually the debtor pays some portion of most or debts. Within a couple of weeks after you file a Chapter 13 case the clerk sends out a notice giving creditors a deadline to file proofs of claim. You have to add a debt a bit before that deadline.

Other Scenarios

What if you may owe a debt but don’t know that you may? For example, someone thinks you’ve caused them some injury or damages but hasn’t told you yet.

Or what if you’ve lost track of a debt or debts because you’ve moved and lost your records? If the debt is not on your credit report, you may have no way to recall and list the debt. Can you write off this debt?

Also, does it matter if a creditor has somehow found out about your case even though you neglected to list the debt?

Finally, what if the debt has been sold from one debt collector to another without your knowledge? How can you list a debt in order to successfully write if off if you don’t know who you owe?

We’ll cover these other scenarios next week.

 

Types of Debt in Chapter 13 Bankruptcies

February 8th, 2019 at 11:01 pm

TX bankruptcy lawyerThere is more than one type of bankruptcy, although Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies are the most common. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, your attorney and a team of other professionals are able to help you develop a repayment plan to pay back your debts. The repayment plan lasts for three to five years, depending on a variety of circumstances. Chapter 13 bankruptcies can be beneficial to individuals because it allows you to keep certain assets, such as your vehicle or your home. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, certain debts must be repaid before other debts.

Priority Debts

Priority debts are exactly what they sound like — priority over other debts. These debts must be included in any repayment plan you enter and the plan must make sure that your priority debts are paid off first and in full. Typically priority debts include:

  • Past-due child support;
  • Past-due spousal support;
  • Unpaid taxes; or
  • Unpaid wages that you owe employees within the past six months.

Secured Debts

Debts that can be secured by certain property are called secured debts. These types of debts are called secured debts because they can be attached to specific property. If you fail to repay the debts as agreed, the creditor can take back the property. The most common examples of secured debts include:

  • Home loans or mortgages; or
  • Car loans.

Unsecured Debts

Unsecured debts are basically all other debts that you may have. Unsecured debt has no property that can be attached to it, so there is nothing that the creditor can repossess if you do not pay. Common examples of unsecured debt include:

  • Medical bills;
  • Credit card debt;
  • Personal loans;
  • Utility bills; and
  • Business loans.

A Texas Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help

United States bankruptcy law is extremely complex and is best handled by a professional. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we have dealt with over 20 years worth of bankruptcy cases and we know the ins and outs of the bankruptcy process. Our skilled New Braunfels Chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyer can help you sort out your finances and come up with a repayment plan that works for you. To get started reviewing your case, call our office at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Source:

https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/chapter-13-bankruptcy-basics

 

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