Motorcycles, Boats or Horses Can be Toxic to your Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Minnesota Bankruptcy

I recently posted on Google Plus about how certain things tend to be toxic to a possible bankruptcy. The most common one I see is a Harley Davidson. Other items in this category would include boats and horses, especially if they are fancy and not paid for. This statement resulted in questions being asked about exactly what I meant.  If the problem is that a Harley, a boat or a horse are assets which would be lost in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, then wouldn’t it be better for them to not be paid for.  If they weren’t paid for, after all, they wouldn’t be much of an asset.

My answer was that such items make a bankruptcy difficult whether paid for or not. If they are paid for, they are assets that very likely would be lost in a Chapter 7 or would increase the required payments in a Chapter 13.

If they are not paid for, you have a situation where the Debtor will want to tell the bankruptcy trustee that he or she can’t afford to pay debts, except that somehow they CAN afford to keep paying for the Harley, the boat or the horses. This does not play well. The only thing to do if they really need the bankruptcy is to sell or surrender before filing, or state in the bankruptcy petition an intention to surrender the items after the case is filed.

Many have been the times when I have had a potential client disappear never to be heard from again when I said that the Harley has to go. There’s a whole subculture where any kind of misery is preferable to giving up the Harley. Boats are usually a bit easier to let go, but horses are also very hard to give up.

One exception might be a case with a 100% Chapter 13 plan. That would be a plan where 100% or the unsecured debts are to be paid. Since the bankruptcy trustee can’t ask for more than 100%, the Debtor would have more wiggle room when it came to something like keeping a motorcycle. Even then the trustee would not like it, but more than likely the trustee could not prevent it. I see very few cases where the payout is 100%. Most people who can afford to do that don’t need a bankruptcy.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a Debt Relief Agency.  I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

Will Bankruptcy Stop the Creditor Harassment?

Debt CollectorFacing financial difficulty is stressful enough. Dealing with credit collections can be miserable. Many collections agents are reasonable and will work with you. It always pays to be honest. Explain your situation and some may offer to renegotiate your terms, reduce your payments or offer some other type of assistance. You won’t know unless you talk to them.

Other collections agents are not so agreeable. While there are laws that govern the allowable behavior a collector can reasonably use, many will still attempt to coerce payment from you with threats and intimidation tactics. If you have tried to explain your situation to them and work something out but the harassment continues, your life can become increasingly stressful and depressing, affecting both your personal and professional life.

In this situation, you may need to talk to a bankruptcy attorney. Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy forces strict collection and contact laws to go into effect. It effectively prevents the creditors from contacting you. Their dealings must all be with your attorney or the court. If they continue to contact you or in any way attempt to collect on the debt you owe once the Chapter 7 bankruptcy has been filed, they can be sanctioned. If their violations are serious enough, usually involving multiple debtors, they can even lose their business license.

When a bankruptcy case is filed, a court order called the automatic stay goes into effect.  This order requires all the creditors to leave the debtor alone.  This stay remains in effect until the debts are discharged, at which point the creditors are required to not try to collect because the debtor no longer owes the debt.  After the automatic stay expires, however, a creditor with security can foreclose or repossess the security if the payments on the debt are not up to date.  So debtors who wish to keep a home, for example, would ordinarily have to keep making the payments on the mortgage.

Harassment is against the law and your bankruptcy attorney can help you put an end to the misery that accompanies financial hardship and collections actions. If you are being hounded at home and at work and are unable to find a reasonable solution on your own, a bankruptcy attorney may be the answer you are looking for. Don’t let the creditors to rob you of the chance to live in peace when help may be just a phone call away.

Chapter 7 and Credit Card Debt

Credit Card DebtOne of the main reasons consumers seek bankruptcy relief is overwhelming credit card debt. If you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you could discharge most if not all of your unsecured credit card debt but there are circumstances where your credit card debt may not be dischargeable.

A bankruptcy places your creditors in order of priority. If your bankrupt estate has assets that are not exempt, the trustee could seize those assets and sell them off to repay your creditors in order of priority. Creditors who are unsecured or lack collateral for their loans are lowest in priority.

In most Chapter 7 bankruptcies, however, there are few if any unprotected assets available for distribution. In a no-assets case, unsecured creditors like credit card issuers are unable to collect anything for the unpaid balances on their cards and the debt is discharged.

Challenging the Discharge

There are situations, however, where the card issuer or company may successfully challenge the discharge. These include the following:

  • You obtained the credit card by falsifying information on the application
  • You never intended to repay the credit card company
  • The creditor has a purchase money security interest in the item

If you bought an expensive item with credit, you may have signed a purchase money security agreement even though you may have paid for the item with your credit card like a Sears card. In a bankruptcy, the creditor can claim that you either must return the item, pay its market value, or continue making installment payments for this item.

The more common issue that arises in a bankruptcy is your lack of intent to repay the creditor. Your payment history is vital in this instance as is your conduct in using the card.  A sudden change in the card’s use before filing is suspect. Here are some common mistakes that debtors make with their credit cards before filing for bankruptcy:

  • You made a number of large or expensive purchases with your card in the months leading to the bankruptcy filing.
  • You took out one or more cash advances.
  • You took an expensive vacation or traveled shortly before filing.
  • You maxed out the card.
  • You recently were issued the card and made a number of expensive purchases.
  • You made no payments on the new card.
  • You made no payments or only a few minimum payments after making large purchases or using it extensively just before filing.
  • You were unemployed while making these purchases.

Avoiding or Resolving Challenges to Discharge

If you are likely to have a challenge or objection to your bankruptcy discharge, you might want to consider one of the following strategies for either avoiding or resolving the potential challenge:

  • Wait at least 4-6 months before filing and make more than the minimum payments for each month. The longer you wait and make payments, the less likely the creditor can show that you lacked the intent to repay it.
  • Be prepared to settle with the creditor if or when the creditor makes an objection to dischargeability.
  • Consult with your bankruptcy attorney to see if a trial on this issue is advisable. If you win, you might be able collect attorney’s fees if the court finds that the claim was not “substantially justified.”
  • Consult with an attorney to see if a debt management program is more amenable.

Being prepared and having the advice of a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney before you file will help you to avoid embarrassing, costly and potentially criminal acts.

The type of objection involved in most of the above situations is made when the creditor files what is called an adversarial proceeding in the bankruptcy court.  This proceeding is considered to be an action separate from the bankruptcy itself and has it’s own court file and it’s own set of documents.  Typically when you hire a lawyer to do a bankruptcy, the attorney fee will not include representation in adversarial proceedings.  The retainer agreement with your lawyer will probably actually EXCLUDE adversarial proceedings.  Defending  those is a practice area all by itself that many ordinary bankruptcy lawyers stay away from.

A good bankruptcy lawyer will screen your case in an effort to be sure that adversarial proceedings are unlikely.  If there is such a proceeding on the horizon, the creditor will tend to threaten an objection before actually filing one with the court.  Your regular bankruptcy lawyer may either try to talk the creditor out of it or try to settle the claim before the creditor files; but if the creditor actually gets to the point of filing the objection, you can expect an additional attorney fee and perhaps a referral to another attorney.

This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.  Kelly Law Office is a Debt Relief Agency helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

The Downside to Debt Consolidation

debt consolidationDebt consolidation is typically tried in an effort to avoid filing bankruptcy. Often it’s a big mistake. In this process, a consolidator will attempt to compile a person’s debt into one loan that offers a low interest rate and monthly payment. The goal is to allow the person to pay off his or her debt gradually without having to rely on bankruptcy to do the work. This is certainly an option to look into, but it is not as perfect as society makes it out to be. In fact, it may actually be worse than filing for bankruptcy in a lot of cases.

Before you commit to debt consolidation, consider the following disadvantages:

  • You are turning old debt into new debt. Old debt washes in bankruptcy much better than new debt. When debt is new you are more open to the claim that you intended to never pay but had planned all along to file bankruptcy. This is grounds to object to your bankruptcy discharge. When you rob Peter to pay Paul, Peter might get really mad and file an objection in your bankruptcy case. Paul doesn’t mind, but watch out for Peter.
  • Debt consolidation can still damage your credit. If it takes you five years to pay off your outstanding loans, you are going to have at least five years of bad credit. With a bankruptcy, you can at least start rebuilding your credit shortly after you complete the process.
  • Debt consolidation requires a long-term commitment. You have to be able to pay off a loan for a long time, probably longer than any other loan you have had in the past. It is up to you to determine if you can do that with your income.
  • Debt consolidation will not work for all forms of debt. You may still have some loans to pay off independently, thereby defeating the purpose of the “one-stop debt.”
  • Debt consolidation may not save you any money in the long run. Even if you secure a low interest rate, you will probably have to pay off your loan for an extensive period of time. That is going to add up to a lot of extra money that you may not have to spare.

Bankruptcy may not be the solution for every debtor, but neither is debt consolidation. You have to weigh out the consolidation and bankruptcy facts to determine which process is best suited for your debt. Then you can start looking for a debt relief attorney to help you get your finances back on the proper financial track.

Student loan horror stories

Two student loan horror stories:

Story No. 1. I’ve heard back from one of my former clients that student loans are now harder to get than they were before filing. In fact, that particular person seems to have been cut off entirely from student loans. It means for that client, who happens to have been employed as well as in school, that money will have to be set aside in advance before going back to school. So there is an unexpected delay in educational plans. It may be significant that this was a person who was relying on private student loans, not government student loans.

There’s what appears to be good article on the subject of bankruptcy and student loan eligibility at finaid.org. They say that bankruptcy should not effect eligibility for government student loans, but that it is common for there to be a problem with private student loans. This might explain why I haven’t been hearing from most of my clients or former clients about any such difficulties. I believe that most of my clients, if they do have an ongoing financial aid program at a college or school, are using government lenders not private lenders.

Story No. 2. Again, it’s a problem with a private lender. Client is no longer in school, but has a student loan and wants to keep paying. However, for several months now the client has not been able to find anybody who will accept the payment. There seems to be a musical lender shell game in progress. After the bankruptcy filing, the original lender seems to have transferred the loan to another institution. The new lender seems to have transferred it again, but the client can’t seem to find out where. I’ve made some calls about it, but it seems impossible to get a real person. When one does get a real person, they just say you’ll hear from someone soon. But so far that’s not happening. Frankly I wonder if someone has lost the file. The problem is of course that student loans don’t ever really go away, and sooner or later this thing is going to pop up with somebody demanding payment. And I’m sure whoever it is won’t be forgiving any of the interest that has been accumulating during this time that the loan seems to have disappeared.

I’ve been telling my clients that if they will be needing more student loans after we file, then they better check with the lender and their financial aid office at school to try and get a preview in advance as to what the effect of the bankruptcy might be.

Beware of Undead Debt – Don’t let them reboot the Statute of Limitations

Over the New Year weekend I saw a Wall Street Journal article. It was about certain banks and credit card companies trying to trick people into paying expired debts. Those would be debts so old that they are now barred by the statute of limitations.

In Minnesota the statute of limitations on most obligations is six years. That means anything you haven’t paid on for six years is probably not a debt that can be legally collected. The Wall Street Jounal article describes a plan where people with such expired debt are offered new credit cards, but in exchange for getting the card they are required to pay off some of their old expired debt. The marketing for these new credit cards can be very misleading. A lot of people are signing up for these deals without understanding that the debt they are being asked to pay as a condition of getting the new card is rally old and now bogus.

I see that Yahoo Finance has republished the article or part of it, which you can find here.

Tip if you are sued for expired debt: Last time I checked, in Minnesota a bill collector can still sue you and still get a default judgment for debt which is past the statute of limitations. That’s because the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that must be raised in a response to the lawsuit. So if you are sued for debt that you think is probably expired, you need a lawyer to help you raise that defense. Properly raised, the statute of limitations is a defense that makes the debt go away – but ONLY if it is properly raised as a defense. I would discourage you from trying to raise the defense yourself. You can try, but it’s complicated and would be easy to mess up.

Minnesota Bankruptcy: The Income Limits

Since the passage of the “new law” in October of 2005, there have been rules based on level of income about who can file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Unless you are at or below the median income for the State of Minnesota based upon your family size, you can only file a Chapter 7 if you pass the so-called means test. The means test is a whole other topic, which I will have to deal with some other time. For now, however, here’s a video I posted recently on Youtube where I discuss the median income levels for Minnesota by household size.

The numbers are subject to change every few months, but I have them posted on my site on my Chapter 7 page under the subheading of “Qualifying for Chapter 7 in Minnesota.”

David J. Kelly, Attorney
Kelly Law Office
1013 Ford Rd.
Minnetonka, MN 55305
952-544-6356
http://www.mn-bankruptcy.com/
http://www.mn-dwi.com/
http://www.kelly-law.com/

Youtube Video Bankruptcy Update Part IV

Rambling in front of the video camera the other day, it was not long before I got on the subject of how unethical, illegal, fraudulent and criminal it is to attempt charging attorney fees for a bankruptcy on a credit card – with the intent of getting rid of the credit card debt in that bankruptcy. If you run up a debt intending to list it in a bankruptcy, that is fraud. It can be grounds to have a particular debt not discharged in your case; or it could be grounds to have the entire bankruptcy thrown out. Worse yet, it’s fraud and could be prosecuted as a felony. Here’s what I said about it on Youtube:

Youtube video Bankruptcy Update Part I

Yesterday, before that walk at the nature center, I spent a few hours in the office. I had brought a shirt, tie and jacket, as well as my Flip Video camera. I have been posting to a Youtube channel for almost a year, and I felt yesterday that I might be motivated to record a few new comments on video. Once I got started, I surprised myself about how much I had to say. I grabbed a few I items that were loose on my desk, and found that these made a more than full agenda of things to talk about.

I set up the Flip Video, punched record and walked around to sit in front of it. When I reviewed what I had when I was done, it was almost half an hour of stuff. This time it was all on the subject of bankruptcy. My idea was to supplement and update what I’ve already said on earlier videos. Now what I recorded is so long that I will have to edit it down into manageable pieces. By the time I’m done editing it will be a whole series of clips. The first of them is embedded here:

Executive Office of U.S. Trustee Suspends Debtor Audits

About a week ago BankruptcyLawNetwork.com reported that the Executive Office of the U.S. Trustee has suspended auditing of debtors filing for bankruptcy because Congress did not fund the audits in the 2008 appropiration. This is good news. Under the 2005 changes to the bankruptcy law, the U.S. Trustee could engage the services of outside accounting firms to audit the records of bankrupt debtors. At least until they find some funding somewhere, and they are looking for alternative sources, this auditing activity will come to a stop.

This does not mean that the Trustees themselves cannot continue requesting detailed information, documents and records from bankrupt debtors; and going over it with a fine tooth comb. It just means that they can’t hire outside accounting help to do it. When these audits were in progress, they only involved a very small percentage of the bankruptcy cases being filed. A much higher percentage of cases were investigated directly by U. S. Trustee personnel without outside help.

It is my hope that the failure to appropriate funds represents the beginning of a backlash against the so-called Bankruptcy Reform Act.

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