Recent Increases for the Minnesota State Exemptions

If you’ve been reading any of my musings, you know that when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, ownership of all your stuff is temporarily and theoretically transferred to a trustee appointed by the court.  I say “theoretically” because normally the trustee doesn’t get to keep any of it, or at least gets to keep very little.  The reason why the trustee can’t keep your assets is that – with the help of somebody like me – you are going to claim all or most of your stuff as exempt.  There are two sets of exemptions in Minnesota to choose from:  the federal exemptions and the Minnesota state exemptions.  The federal exemptions tend to be much better than the Minnesota state exemptions, except in one area:  equity in a homestead.  If you own your home and you have more than just a little equity in your home, the Minnesota state exemptions are for you.

Several of the Minnesota exemptions are indexed for inflation.  The resulting increases are only applied every few years.  2018 was one of those years.  The new indexed numbers went into effect on July 1st.  For example:  the household goods exemption increased from $10,300 to $10,800;  for wedding rings the exemption increased from $2,817.50 to $2,940 in value; for life insurance proceeds it increased from $46,000 to $48,000;  and the tools of the trade exemption went from $11,500 to $12,000.  The most significant increase in my opinion was the homestead exemption which went from $390,000 of equity to $420,000 of equity.

For more info about exempting your property so the bankruptcy trustee can’t have it, look at my exemption page.  For a rant about what’s wrong with the Minnesota state exemptions, please take a look at my post Minnesota State Exemptions Still Leaking Like a Sieve.  You might also want to take a look at this video:

Minnesota State Exemptions Still Leaking Assets Like a Sieve

When you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, ownership of all your assets all the way down to your socks passes to a trustee appointed by the court.  The only way to avoid losing your shirt and most everything else you own is to claim the assets as exempt.  If you qualify to use the federal exemptions, it is very likely that everything you own will be exempt and you will keep all your assets.  That’s the result I always want to see – my client gets rid of his or her debts but keeps all his or her stuff.

The only problem with the federal exemption list is that it has a low number for the amount of homestead equity which can be exempted.  If  someone has more equity than can be protected by the federal exemptions, the only other choice is to use the state exemptions.  The Minnesota state exemptions will protect up to $$390,000 of equity in a homestead, but other than that those exemptions leave a lot to be desired.  They are hopelessly out of date in many respects.

For example, the only electronics clearly allowed as being exempt are a radio, a phonograph and television receivers.  Notoriously, computers are not exempt.  Neither are cell phones, tablets, game machines, printers, monitors or any other device that isn’t a TV, radio or phonograph.

There’s no exemption for jewelry, unless it’s a wedding ring that was actually present at the wedding ceremony.  There’s no exemption for guns, sporting goods such as bicycles or exercise equipment, or collectibles of any kind.  Household furnishings, clothing and appliances are exempt, but a riding lawn mower is not considered to be an appliance.  Money in your checking account or savings account is not exempt unless it can be traced to a pay check from employment which was deposited within the last 20 days.  There’s no exemption for any kind of a tax refund which may be owing or which may have accumulated as of the date of filing the bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy trustees routinely present my clients with a form which signs over their tax refunds.

Several weeks ago two bills were introduced at the state legislature in St. Paul to try and correct some of this.  One of them added exemptions for the following, all of which currently are absent from the exemption list:

  • Computers, tablets, printers and cell phones as part of the household goods exemption
  • Jewelry up to a value of $2,817.50 – replacing the existing wedding ring exemption
  • A new section exempting $3,000 of tools, snow removal equipment and lawnmowers
  • A wild card exemption which could be used for up to a $1,250 value of property not fitting into any other exemption; and
  • Health savings accounts (HSA) and medial savings accounts up to a value of $6,500.

When I heard last week that the legislature had passed an amendment to the exemption statute, I got quite excited.  I thought it must be the bill I just described above.  I was quite disappointed to learn that it was another bill which only added one provision: an exemption for health savings accounts and medical savings accounts up to a value of $25,000.  It’s nice that the amount of the exemption is so high, but I almost never see anyone with an HSA which has any more than a few hundred dollars in it.

So except for the new exemption for the HSAs, we are still stuck with all the same old problems with the Minnesota state exemptions.  Oh well, at least the antique radio in my office is exempt.

 

US Households Owe Record Amount – More Than During Recession

The New York Times and the Associated Press have been reporting new statistics just released by the “New York Fed.” I’m sorry, but I talk Minnesotan and “New York Fed” is not something in my vocabulary.  So I looked that up and find that it’s the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  If you can’t believe them, then who can you believe.

The New York Fed says that consumer debt in the US now exceeds the level it was at before the recession.  I will admit that I’ve been wondering a bit, because over the past couple months my phone has been ringing a lot more than it did in 2015 and 2016.  I think the ringing of my phone might be a better barometer of what’s going on than the financial reports in the media.  I remember in 2008 when it started ringing like never before, they were still saying on the financial news networks that there was no sign of a recession.   The media in general wants to downplay economic problems.  So I figure if they are actually reporting a story like this, things are probably worse than they are admitting.

The New York Fed goes on to say, however, not to worry.  The new debt is proportionately more auto loans and student loans than it was in 2008, and besides the people with the debt are more credit worthy now.  In addition, home ownership is down and a higher percentage of mortgage debt is held by people over 65, as if that somehow was good news.  They admit that the student loan debt is getting up there and could be a bit high.  Also it might be that defaults on those auto loans are on the rise.  But a lot of the language in these stories is very soothing, so not to worry.

My opinion, based more on what I see with my own eyes, is this.  I think it is time to worry.  People may be back to work, but their earnings are down.  They still need to drive and the old car can only go so far, so they are getting car loans that they can’t really afford.  If they are not back to work they are back to school, getting student loans that they can’t afford.  Getting credit might be a bit more work than it used to be, but with the help of Credit Karma and other similar sites the lenders can still be manipulated into granting credit to people who really can’t afford it.  Maybe on paper they look more credit worthy, but that could be as much a fiction now as it was in 2008.  In other words, I believe individuals in this country are getting overextended again.  For many, another bubble may be about to burst.

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

 

What’s the Difference between a Debt and a Lien in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

I recently had a conversation with a person who had just received a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  He had also received what he thought was a very weird item from his mortgage company. The mortgage company had sent him a form for his signature which would give them permission to start sending monthly statements again even though the mortgage debt had been discharged. In the fine print on the back of the discharge there is a court order requiring all creditors – including the mortgage company – to make no attempt of any kind to collect the debt.   This includes mortgages, even if the homeowners want to keep the house.   But most homeowners who have mortgages want to continue paying the mortgage so they can keep their home.  Having a monthly mortgage statement helps a lot in keeping  track of that, but without permission to start sending statements again, the mortgage companies tend to be afraid to do so.

The permission to restart monthly statements form DOES look a little weird.  It usually will start off by saying something like: “Well, we know you’ve been discharged in a bankruptcy and you don’t owe this personally anymore, so don’t take this as attempt to collect a debt.  We were just wondering if maybe, not that you actually owe this anymore, you might still like updates on the status of the mortgage, for information purposes only, in case you might still want to make some payments on a strictly voluntary basis – not that we would really want the money or anything like that.”

This odd language is the result of there being two seemingly contradictory facts for a homeowner with a mortgage following a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge.  The first fact is that the personal obligation to pay the debt no longer exists.  The second fact is that the lender still has a mortgage lien on the house, and if you don’t pay the mortgage that lender will foreclose.

In the phone conversation I felt a bit put on the spot.  I was asked repeatedly to explain if the debt has been discharged, how can there still be a lien on the house that carries with it a right to foreclose.  I tired to explain that a mortgage lien is actually a property right  – a form of partial ownership – which the lender has.  The bankruptcy discharge takes away the personal obligation to pay the debt, but it does nothing to the ownership interest.  The discharge only affects personal obligations, not property interests.

So the bottom line is that when it comes to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, if you want to keep your house you better keep paying your mortgage or mortgages.

This was confirmed within the past few days by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court issued on June 1, 2015.  In the case of Bank of America v. Caulkett, the court ruled that mortgage liens cannot be stripped off in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  Under certain limited circumstances, the situation can be different in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  More about that in my page about keeping your house.

This post is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice.  Interactions here do not create an attorney-client relationship.  Consult your own attorney concerning the details of your case.  I am a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

What if You Have a Rental Property and Need to File Bankruptcy?

Here’s a video I posted at YouTube where I comment about how rental properties should be dealt with in a personal bankruptcy.  I talk primarily about Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy, but I also get into Chapter 13 bankruptcy to some extent.  Unless it is properly handled, the filing of a bankruptcy may result in the property being taken away from you. It’s complicated and you would be well advised to find and consult a good lawyer about the exact situation you have with your rental property.   The video is only three and a half minutes long, and only scratches the surface if it even does that.

These days it has become common for families to have a former home that they could not sell. Maybe they outgrew the old house, or maybe they had to move because of their employment. Not being able to sell the old place, the best they could do was to rent it out. It seems as if most of the time these places have a negative cash flow, although not always.

When the time comes to look into filing a personal Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the rental property can become quite a problem. Typically the trustee will not find it acceptable to say on your budget sheet that you intend to continue to pay the expenses of a property that is losing money.

Even if the place has a positive cash flow, trying to keep it in a bankruptcy situation tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. The extra income might be just enough to disqualify you from filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, especially if you have stopped paying the mortgage on the property.

The best way to hang on to a rental property, if that is something that you really want to do, may be to do a Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead of a Chapter 7. For that to work you would need to have the equity in the property not amount to much and to have it producing a positive cash flow.

Unless it is properly handled, the filing of a bankruptcy may result in the property being taken away from you. It’s complicated and you would be well advised to find and consult a good lawyer about the exact situation you have with your rental property.

This is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. Neither the video nor these comments create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case.  I am a debt relief agency. I help people 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.

Can I Keep My House If I File Bankruptcy?

Can I keip my house - BankruptcyOne of the most common questions we hear from our customers who are considering filing for bankruptcy is;

 If I file for bankruptcy can I keep my house?

Unfortunately, it isn’t a simple yes or no. The short answer is sometimes.

Here we will look at the factors that determine whether or not your house can and should be saved.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy:

When filing Chapter 7, the debtor may or may not be able to keep their house. This liquidates all of your assets to pay your creditors. Your home is included by federal law.

The catch is that most states have their own form of “homestead law” that protects a portion of the equity of a debtor’s home from the bankruptcy process.

If a debtor has less equity than is protected by his state law, they should be able to keep their home as long as they keep making payments. Your home’s equity exemption is determined by the homestead laws of which state you reside.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy:

When filing Chapter 13, the debtor can generally keep their house as long as they continue to make the mortgage payment.  If your equity in your home exceeds the amount protected by your local homestead laws, then Chapter 13 may be for you.

You might be able to stretch every dollar to make that mortgage payment, but should you? For instance, if you owe creditor’s more than your home is currently worth, your bankruptcy filing might be a good time to cut your losses and walk away.

Do I Want To Keep My House When I File for Bankruptcy?

There are other considerations which also determine your practical ability to keep your home. Are you caught up on payments? How much non-exempt equity do you actually have?  When making the decision whether to try and keep your home or let it go you will want to speak to an attorney in your area who is knowledgeable about local bankruptcy laws.

At the end of the day, it is all a question of whether your house represents an asset or a financial hardship.

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