What NOT to do while going Over the Fiscal Cliff

 

Cliff near Pike's Peak

Watch out for the temptation to under withhold .

Most people I talk to have not heard of the “fiscal cliff.”  Those who have believe it will not affect them.  This includes a husband and wife I met with yesterday.  But when I ran the numbers for them, based on a November 1st article in Forbes, I found that between the two of them their paycheck withholding should go up by about $438 per month.  That is, the net take home pay for the two of them together will be $438 less per month starting January 2, 2012.  That is just a few days from now.  When I tried to warn them and suggested that they should be thinking about how they would deal with this, they blew me off.  They are absolutely in denial about the prospect that this could ever happen.  If we go over the fiscal cliff as scheduled,  this should come as a heck of a shock.

My calculations assume, of course, that no steps will be taken to reduce the impact of the fiscal cliff.

From where I sit it looks like a majority of people are living right on the edge.  For them a drop in take home pay like this will mean they no longer have the funds to pay their credit card debt.  Often when people are in such a situation, they go to their employer and increase the number of exemptions they are claiming for withholding purposes on their paychecks.  They claim more withholding exemptions than they should.  Some increase the number of exemptions to the point that no taxes are being withheld at all, and for them all that is withheld is social security and medicare.  This increases their take home pay, but it is at the cost of not having enough taken out to cover state and federal tax liability.  The income which should have been withheld for taxes is then used to make payments on credit card debt.  Often this is still not enough to get that credit card debt under control.

When it comes time to file their tax return, they find that they owe a tax debt which is too large for them to pay.   Now on top of the credit card debt there is a substantial tax debt.  Eventually they wind up in my office.  I can help get rid of the credit card debt.  But as long as the tax debt is less than three years old, there’s nothing I can do to help with the tax debt.

The worst creditors you can have are the IRS and the Minnesota Department of Revenue.  In almost all circumstances, it is better to stop paying other debts before you stop or reduce the withholding of taxes from your pay check.  Don’t fall for the temptation to unreasonably increase the exemptions you claim for withholding from your paycheck.  That will work for a short time, and then you’ll really wish you hadn’t done that.

This post is for general information purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.  You should consult the attorney of your choice concerning the details of our case.  Reading or responding to this post does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency helping people to file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

 

The Fiscal Cliff

I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts about whether we are going over the “fiscal cliff.”  Are they going to put some pillows down in the canyon for us to land on, or are we just going to go SPLAT?

Cliff near Pike's Peak

I don’t think I’d want to go over this one.

New Median Incomes for Minnesota Bankruptcy – Again

Minneapolis Federal Courthouse, where Hennpin County Bankruptcy cases are filed

Minneapolis Federal Courthouse . If you live in Minneapolis or the Western Suburbs, this is where your bankruptcy hearing will be.

Whether you qualify for a bankruptcy and what type of bankruptcy you qualify for is largely a matter of what your household income is – gross annual income based upon and calculated from what happened over the past six calendar months.  It seems to me that I just finished posting an update on these numbers, but that was in May and already new numbers have come out – effective November 1, 2012.A table showing the new numbers for Minnesota can be found on my Chapter 7 page.  They are bad news for anyone who lives alone or in a two person household, since the median incomes for one and  two person households have gone down this time.  The median annual income for a family of one dropped by $496 per year and the median annual income for a family of  two dropped by $738.  For everyone else, those in households of more than two persons, the news is good.  The annual median income for a family of three actually increased by $1,300.  For a household of four it went up $409, and for household sizes above four it went up $409.  These increases are of course per year increases, so even the largest – the one for a household of three – is only a bit above $100 per month.

I can’t explain why these numbers changed, or why there is such a difference from one size of household to another.  I can only report that the change did take place.  I have been watching these changes, which usually take place very six months, for several years now.  It seems to me that they usually go up across the board.  The fact that some have gone down this time and that the rest have not gone up by much – to me this seems to indicate serious weakness in the economy.

Whenever I am meeting with a client to go over bankruptcy possibilities, I have to explain that these median income tables are subject to change.  If somebody qualifies now but is close to the edge, haste in getting the case filed might be advisable.   If a person or couple is above the applicable median income, they may try doing the means test.  Usually someone who is just a little bit above the median income can pass the means test and still file a Chapter 7.  I have to caution, however, that above median Chapter 7 debtors are subject to much closer scrutiny by the US Trustee’s office than are those who are below the median.

Lots more can go wrong in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy when the income is above median, even if the Debtors do appear on paper to have passed the means test.  Often it is safer for folks in these circumstances to file a Chapter 13.

Garnishment Money Refunded by Bill Collecting Lawyer after Bankruptcy Filing

I just love when this happens.  I came in to the office this morning, checked the mail box, and here’s letter from one of the big bill collecting law firms.  Often those letters can be some kind of bad news, but today the letter contained a check for over $1000 for one of my clients.  This was a refund of the money that they garnished from my client’s pay check in the 90 days before we filed the bankruptcy.

So you might wonder how this can be.  After all, once a bill collector takes your money isn’t is just gone?  Most of the time it really is just gone, forever.  An exception to the rule, however, can be money that was garnished or seized within 90 days before the filing either of a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  The window for getting the money back is a pretty small one.  It’s necessary to have all the following before any of the money can come back:

  • It must be a case where the amount seized in the 90 days is over $600.  If it’s over that amount, it counts as what is called a “preference.”  If it’s less than that, it doesn’t count at all.
  • It has to be a bankruptcy case where the debtor is using the federal exemptions.
  • The debtor has to have claimed the preference amount as exempt using the wild card exemption under the federal exemptions.
  • The bankruptcy trustee has to have not objected to the claim of exemption for the preference.  The trustee has 30 days from the date of the meeting of creditors – what I call the hearing – to object to exemptions.  So this means that the 30 day time period has to have expired.
  • You have to actually contact the creditor or the creditor’s lawyer and ask for the money back.  If they won’t give it back, which is often the case, legal action can be taken to get it back.  I tell my clients to not bother with the legal action, however,  because the attorney fees would probably cost more than you would ever get back.

So what I tell my clients when we have this situation is that I will set up the bankruptcy petition so that the money is listed as a preference under assets and them claimed as exempt.  When the 30 day exemption period expires, I will write a letter and demand the money.  Then we wait and see if the money turns up.  It only does in about half or less of the  cases.

Many of the creditors are so nasty that they don’t care if the law requires them to give the money back.  They know that nobody can afford to pursue them  if they don’t.  But I am always joyful to see that check come in the cases where they do.

This post is for general information purposes only and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  It is not legal advice.  Please consult the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case.  I am a debt relief agency helping people to file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

Paying Off Your Chapter 13 Plan Early

Nothing is better than being debt free.

Stick with your Chapter 13 Plan

From time to time I am asked the following question by a potential Chapter 13 client:  If somehow I could come up with the money, could I pay my Chapter 13 plan off early?  If you  have ever seen a Chapter 13 plan, it is easy to understand how this question would arise.  The plan document provides for monthly payments in a certain amount, and then it shows what the total of the payments over the life of the plan will be.  It shows how all the money is  to be applied – so much to unsecured creditors, so much to attorney fees, so much for the trustee’s fees, and certain amounts to taxes or other priority debts.  Usually it will even state in terms of a percentage exactly what fraction of the unsecured debts are being paid.

It seems obvious that once the plan is approved, if the Debtor could come up somehow with the total due under the plan, he or she should be able to  wrap it up early and get their discharge early.

Well, guess what.  That’s not how it works.  Or at least it usually is not how it works.  Simply stated the rule is this:  the only kind of Chapter 13 Plan that can be paid off early is a 100% plan.  Chapter 13 plans fall into two categories:  100% plans and  less than 100% plans.  In a 100% plan, all the unsecured debt is to be paid under the plan.  In a less than 100% plan, only a portion of the unsecured debt is to be paid.  The vast majority of Chapter 13 plans are of the less than 100% variety.

So in most plans, where less than all of the unsecured debt is scheduled to be paid, the trustee will welcome extra payments from folks who have come into extra money that was not expected, such as an inheritance or big bonus at work.  In fact the trustee might REQUIRE that such funds be paid into the plan.  But after that extra payment is made, unless the plan is of the 100% variety,  the regular plan payment is due again the next month – and that continues until the end of the plan or until 100% of the unsecured debts are paid, whichever comes first.

The result of all this is that in most Chapter 13 cases, it is self defeating to take draconian measures for the purpose of raising extra money to pay into the plan.  Unless you can raise enough to pay off 100% of the unsecured creditors who have filed their claims with the bankruptcy court, there’s no reason to make an extra effort.  In fact you might be more or less punished for any such extra efforts.

If you are in Chapter 13 and receive extra money from somewhere, consult your attorney about it right away.  If the  amount is significant enough you probably have an obligation to report it to the bankruptcy trustee.  Sometimes your lawyer can negotiate a deal which allows you to keep some of the funds and pay in only part of it.

This post is for general information purposes only and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  It is not legal advice.  Seek the advice of your own attorney concerning the details of your case.

David Kelly Law Office is a debt relief agency helping people to file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

At the Bankruptcy Institute Today and Tomorrow

It’s that time of year again.  Every October the bankruptcy section of the Minnesota State Bar Association puts on a two day continuing legal education program for the bankruptcy attorneys of the state.  Unlike the meetings of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, to which I also belong, these sessions include lawyers for the creditors as well as lawyers for the debtors.

There were multiple classees to choose from, and nobody could attend them all without the ability to be in more than one place at the same time.  First I attended a really boring session about amendments to the bankruptcy rules of procedure.  Boring but important.  I hate it but I need to know that stuff.  There was then a sessioabout law office technology, where they had a geek who frankly I had trouble following.  I think his presentation was aimed at law offices larger than what I operate.

The big excitement for the day, however, was the session on lien stripping.  As we filed in and found a place to sit, they were playing an old hit, “The Stripper,” over the sound system.  That lightened things up a bit.  Following the disappointment with the decision in the Fisette case, to which I have devoted an earlier post, the big question is where does lien stripping go from here.  It seems that the rules committee has finished work on a new local rule of procedure which outlines a proposed procedure for doing lien stripping in the District of Minnesota.  The rule has now been presented to the judges for consideration.  As they consider the rule, I expect they will ask for comments.  The new rule seems to assume that lien stripping will be legal in Minnesota, which of course is still undecided – at least not decided permanently and for good.  In my opinion the procedure will eventually become legal and common, but right now I’m still not sure what to make of it.

The proposed lien strip rule will require a motion prior to the confirmation of the Chapter 13 plan asking the court to issue an order establising the value of the home as compared to the amounts owing on  the mortgage liens.  This motion requirement appears to be an invitation to a fight with the lender and the lenders’ lawyers.  I’m not absolutely sure, but the impression I have is that the bankers’ and lenders’ lawyers on the committee outnumber the consumer bankruptcy lawyers on the committee, so that the proposed rule is coming out leaning way in the direction of the bankers.  If this rule is approved, it appears to me that it would make the procedure more risky and more expensive than what most of us were anticipating.

After the lien strip session I attended a session on how to prepare one’s law practice for a disaster, and another sessin about reaffirmation agreements.

So that’s what I learned in school today.

Minnesota Bill Collectors Going Out of Business?

Collection Agencies Going Out of Business?

Collection Agencies Closing Offices? Economy Worse then Expected?

Is the economy getting so bad that the bill collectors are going out of business?  From where I sit it appears that at least two of the old tried and true bill collectors have moved out of Minnesota.  When a bankruptcy case is filed, it is very important to be sure that all the creditors are being notified.  The notices are sent out to the creditors by US Mail by a central noticing center which is operated by the court.  When an address is bad or when a notice comes back in the mail in connection with one of my cases, I get notified of that right away by email from the clerk of court’s office. In cases where a collection agency has taken over an account, I always try to list both the original creditor and the agency in the bankruptcy papers.  If the debt has also been referred to a lawyer, I list the law firm on the list of creditors too.

For as long as I can remember, Allied Interstate has been one of the big collection agencies in these parts.  In recent times their office was within a few blocks of mine.  They were located in that big, white office building on the northwest corner of the intersection of I-394 and Highway 169 known as the Interchange Tower.  There was more than one occasion when I was about ready to go over there in person and yell at them.  To me they were an institution, kind of like the federal government.  It never occurred to me that they would not always just be there.  In bad economic times, I would have assumed that their business would have just gotten all the better.

You might imagine how shocked I was to receive a notice, and then another notice, telling me that the address I was using for Allied Interstate was bad.  Well, they had apparently been assigned a number of debts of a couple of my clients – so I had to find a new address for them.  At first I assumed that they had just moved to a new location in their old neighborhood.  As I almost always do when I have such a problem, I went to Google looking for a new address.  There were no results for Minnesota except what I already had.  I went to Bing.  Same result.  Next I tried to call all the phone numbers I could find for Minnesota locations of Allied Interstate.  More shock – they were disconnected.  Finally I stared trying locations outside of Minnesota.  They had been a nation-wide operation.  The first few numbers I tried were not being answered.  Finally someone answered at an Allied Interstate office in Ohio.  He said to use the following address:

Allied Interstate, PO Box 4000, Warrenton, VA 60197-6123

So I added that address to the list of creditors at the court web site for both of my cases, and it seems so far to have been a good address.  Meanwhile a notice that I had sent to an Illinois office of Allied Interstate came back in the mail as well.  One has the impression that this outfit is not doing so well.

Not long after this business with Allied Interstate, I received notice that an address I had been using for one of the bill collecting law firms was bad.  They were it seemed to me a lot like Allied Interstate in that they had been around forever.  To me they seemed to be one of the top law firms that over the years had driven many of my clients to my door.  Their office had always been in St. Paul, but they sued people from all over the Twin Cities.  Again I went to Google and several other sources.  What I found or seem to have found is that they closed their St. Paul office and are now doing business from their home office in another state.

From day to day I see little indicators – including the above – that the economy is worse than anybody in the media outlets wants to admit.

This is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

How Much it Costs to NOT File Bankruptcy

Promptly filing bankruptcy can minimize your losses

How Much Will You Lose if You Don’t File Bankruptcy?

Nearly every day I am asked how much it costs to file bankruptcy. Here I turn the question around and ask – assuming that you already know that you qualify for bankruptcy – how much is it costing you to not file.

So often when someone comes to my office, the story I hear involves the loss of things we could have saved if the bankruptcy had been done sooner. In the past few months I have seen all the situations I am about to list here:Large tax refund used to try and get caught up on debts, but it wasn’t enough.

Use of home equity line of credit to pay unsecured debts. What this does is take perfectly good equity in the home, which in bankruptcy would have been exempt, and squander it on unsecured credit card debt. Even after maxing out the home equity line of credit, the credit card debt is still to high to manage. Had a bankruptcy been filed sooner, the debts could have been eliminated and the equity in the house saved.

Mortgage payments stopped so credit card payments, or medical bill payments, can be made. The bill collectors for the credit cards – and lately those for the medical providers too – will often be a lot more agressive than those for the mortgage company. In this scenario, people allow themselves to be pressured into paying credit card or medical bill payments before they make their mortgage payment. The mortgage falls so far behind that foreclosure is started. The mortgage is now too far behind to ever be brought up to date, and the house will be lost. A bankruptcy before things got this far would have eliminated the medical bills and credit card debt and saved the house.

Large loans from relatives for payment of credit card debt. When a job is lost or a medical problem arises, many of us have wonderful relatives who are willing to help – financially. Often this kind of help will come from a parent. It’s not unusual for loans from relatives to exceed $20,000 – accumulated a little at at time. This will sometimes continue until the relative is tapped out and can’t lend anymore. The money from the relative was not enough to bring the debts under control. A bankruptcy filed sooner could have saved Mom’s or another relative’s savings account.

Bankruptcy not considered until wage garnishment actually begins. Filing bankruptcy is not like buying a can of beans at the grocery store. It’s not even like going to your accountant or to H&R Block to file your taxes. It’s not just a matter of one session in the lawyer’s office. Typically it takes me six to eight weeks to have a case prepared for filing. If I rush it, maybe I can shorten that to three or four weeks – or not. Until the case is filed, the wage garnishment continues. There goes one or two months of take home pay.

My office is the right place to deal with these and similar problems, but there are many, many times I wish my client would have come in sooner.

This is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not create and attoney-client relationship. My office is a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

Fisette is a Fizzle – Minnesota Chapter 13 Lien Strip Decision Inconclusive

Can the Second Mortgage be removed in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Can the Second Mortgage be removed in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

What I am about to say here applies only to Minnesota and the other states in the swath of territory here in the middle of the US which is served by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.  It is only my opinion.  You may find other attorneys who would disagree.

We have been waiting for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to make a final decision on lien stripping.  I’ve been telling people for months that I would really like to see what the appeal court has to say before I get seriously into lien strip work.

In a bankruptcy context, when  you see talk about “lien stripping,” it is about a process in Chapter 13 cases where a second mortgage can be treated as if it was unsecured.  This can be done, if it is permissible at all, in Chapter 13 cases where the value of the house is lower than the balance on the first mortgage, so that there literally is no security to support the second mortgage.  The second mortgage becomes no longer a mortgage on the house, no longer a lien that must be paid if you want to keep the house.  It is to be treated like any other unsecured debt.  Usually in Chapter 13 the unsecured creditors get paid very little, only a fraction of the full amount of the debt.

A lower court – the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (or BAP) – ruled about two years ago in the Fisette case that the procedure is permissible.  The decision was promptly appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and we have been waiting for a decision ever since.  Finally the big decision was released yesterday.  I practially held my breath as I tried to figure out what the decision said. I printed a hard copy for myself to I could go over it more carefully.   It started out reading in a fairly positive way. As I flipped through the pages, at first I thought I was seeing a decision in favor of lien stripping.  A footnote on page 3 of the decision listed a string of cases from other courts which say that lien stripping is an acceptable procedure.  The opinion, however, comes to an abrupt end with the words, “The appeal is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.”

Only “final” orders can be appealed.  The court said they didn’t think the order being appealed was final.  They sent it back to the lower court for “further judicial activity,” whatever that means.  They don’t seem to have decided a thing, and it’s very disappointing.

It is true that they did not overturn the BAP decision.  That means that the BAP decision, which said that lien stripping is OK, is the current law of the 8th Circuit.  However, the lower court judge this is apparently being sent back to is reputed to be very much against the lien stipping idea.  There is likely to be another lower court decision which again will be appealed.  It’s hard to tell, but the process could take years before we have the clarity I was hoping for.

It will take a while before the legal community in these parts has this decision fully digested.  It is very early to say what the meaning of it really is.  I’ll try to keep you posted.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Please consult the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case.  I am a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankr

Will Filing Bankruptcy Reduce my Monthly Payments?

Very often, the impetus for filing bankruptcy is mounting debt and unmanageable monthly payments. Refinancing can help to some degree but if the monthly payments are more than you can handle on your present income, something else has to be done. You may wonder if filing bankruptcy will reduce the amount you have to pay out each month to your creditors.

Under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your unsecured debt is usually completely removed by the bankruptcy discharge. There are certain exceptions such as some taxes, child support and student loans.  If you want to keep your car as part of your Chapter 7, you will have to keep paying your car loan even though the debt is discharged.  Similarly, if you want to keep your house in Chapter 7, paying the mortgage or mortgages is still required.  Many of our Chapter 7 clients wind up not owing any of their creditors anything. Many others don’t actually owe anything because the debts are discharged, but still voluntarily pay a car loan or a house payment so they can keep their house or car.  Some get rid of all their debt except for their student loans.  Others get rid of all their debt except for their taxes.  In cases where the taxes are old enough, usually over three years since the return was filed, some even do manage to get rid of their tax debt.  This allows you to get a fresh start in life. You can rebuild your credit and get a better handle on your financial life.

With a Chapter 13 debt reorganization plan, your income is first evaluated. All sorts of income can be used including your earned wages, child support, commissions, social security, spousal support, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, workman’s compensation and retirement incomes – as long as the income is received on a regular basis.  Gifts might also be included if they are recieved with regularity.

The next step in Chapter 13 is to determine your normal living expenses. This amount is set aside. Whatever is left after your living expenses is available for debt repayment. If you are unable to repay all of your debts within three to five years, a plan that allows you partially pay down your debt over that time frame is established, sometimes called a “best efforts” plan. The purpose of the partial repayment plan is to pay back as much of what you owe as possible. When you reach the end of the specified time, any amount remaining is discharged. In the majority of Chapter 13 cases, the amount of the monthly payments is set at a relatively low amount that the Debtor can afford. Also, in most Chapter 13 cases, only a small percentage of the overall debt is repaid.

With Chapter 7 you can end up with no monthly payments on unsecured credit related debt. With Chapter 13 you will more than likely have reduced monthly payments. It is best to discuss this with your bankruptcy lawyer to determine the best course of action for your situation.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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