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.

Don’t be Tricked by Misleading Bankruptcy Attorney Fee Advertising

A lot of the advertising about attorney fees for bankruptcy is misleading – even tricky. Today I checked on a Google ad and the web page it leads to which says a certain law firm will file a bankruptcy after a payment toward the attorney fee of only $99.  I found this to be not exactly accurate.

The web page says that $99 toward the attorney fee, along with the court filing fee and counseling program fees, would be all one would have to pay prior to filing.  It was a slick web page, obviously done at considerable expense, where I found the following statement:

“You only have to pay the court filing fee of $335 and the credit report / credit course fees of $65 and an attorney fee of $99 to file.”  It also said:  “Only $99 Down, No Co-Signer Needed, File Now/Pay over Time, Affordable Payment Plans” in big blue letters.

I wondered how can these people can be doing this. I could never cover my office rent, malpractice insurance, phone and internet bills and office supplies if I didn’t charge a lot more than that.   So I went to the bankruptcy court web site and ran a search for actual cases they had filed.  This is not free, so I didn’t look very far.  All I did was check the last two cases this law firm filed to see what the attorney fee had been.  Attorney fees have to be disclosed on the bankruptcy petition.  What I found was that for the last two cases they filed, both Chapter 7s, their fee was $990. And the court filings also said they had received all of the $990 before filing the case.   That’s lower than what I would usually charge, but it’s a lot more than $99.

Now one thing you should understand about attorney fees in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is this. If the attorney does not collect his or her fee prior to filing, any part of the fee that is still owing is just another debt in the bankruptcy case. The attorney is just another creditor.  The attorney, like all the other creditors, is under an immediate court order requiring that he or she do nothing to try to collect.  It is illegal and unethical for the attorney to collect anything from the client once the case is filed.  That’s why you may see references to a co-signer in some advertising.  The lawyer can still try to collect the fee from a co-signer as long as the co-signer is not his bankruptcy client.  This of course puts the bankruptcy lawyer in the position of being a bill collector. I don’t EVER want to be a bill collector.

I went back to the web page thinking it must be referring to Chapter 13 bankruptcy only. When it comes to paying attorney fees after the case is filed, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a very different animal from a Chapter 7. If you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy it is possible to pay part of the attorney fee through the Chapter 13 payment plan.  I hit Control F to search the page and typed “13” into the search box.  No mention of “13” or “Chapter 13” appears anywhere on the page.  The page seems to be talking about Chapter 7.  The only filing fee the page mentions is $335, which is the Chapter 7  court filing fee. The court filing fee for a Chapter 13 is slightly lower.

When I look at their web page I can see that it is very slick, and at the bottom is the name of a web development company that designed the page.  I can remember a few years back when I hired a person to redesign my page.  The person I hired started adding all sorts of new key words and content, which was submitted to me for review.  There was a whole lot of it, and it was hard to keep up with what the designer was doing.  Is it possible that the web designer wrote up this stuff while the law firm was not paying attention?  It could happen.  I’m now back to doing all my own web design work. I found that having my web page in the hands of a professional design and marketing person was scary.

So maybe they just have a busy marketing person who they can’t keep up with.   Maybe it’s not entirely the law firm’s fault.  But I do want to suggest to you that you should be very wary when you see something like this and don’t be taken in by it. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

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

Dave Kelly, Kelly Law Office, Minnetonka, MN 952-544-6356

Avoid Having your Bank Accounts Seized when you File Bankruptcy in MN

I don’t know what banks and credit unions are doing in other parts of the country.  I speak here only of what I have seen and heard about here locally in Minnesota, and specifically just the Twin Cities area. Here in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities area, there is a substantial danger that your savings and checking accounts will be seized or frozen by your bank or credit union when you file a personal bankruptcy.  I have always believed it to be a despicable thing to do.  Some banks and credit unions are worse than others at doing this.  When you choose a lawyer to handle your bankruptcy case, you might want to make sure that he or she is a person with enough experience to be aware of this problem and how to head it off before it happens.

The problem is this.  If the bank or credit union is one or your creditors, you can expect that institution to seize your accounts as soon as they are notified of the bankruptcy.  If this is not planned for it can result in quite a surprise – checks bouncing, a debit card that has stopped working, and the evaporation of money you thought you had.  There are some banks that are worse than others  when it comes to this problem.  They might freeze your account even if they are not a creditor, especially if your account has a fairly large sum of money – something in excess of $3,000.  I don’t want to mention them bank by name here, but I believe I did mention one in this video.

You should expect your bankruptcy attorney to coach and advise you as to how this is to be avoided. What I tell my clients is that if they have an account with a bank or credit union which they owe money to, that account should be closed well in advance of the filing of the bankruptcy case – whether it’s a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you don’t close that account, the bank or credit union will claim a right of setoff against your money in the account, which is a fancy way of saying that they will seize the money.  There are certain banks where all accounts should be closed if at all possible, whether you owe them money or not. Once they seize the money you won’t get it back – or at least usually won’t.

So the thing to do is to close all such accounts before you file your bankruptcy case.  It takes planning of course. I’m not saying you should try to live without a checking account.  What you need to do is open an account at a bank which is NOT one of your creditors, and get all your automatic deposits and automatic withdrawals up and running with the new account before we file your bankruptcy case.  I believe that the best banks to use for this purpose are the small neighborhood banks – for example a bank with a name that starts with “State Bank of …” or “Citizens Bank of …” The process of getting the new account set up and getting the auto deposits and auto payments moved over to and set up at the new bank may take a few weeks, but I consider this to be part of the normal planning and preparation that goes into making your case as painless as possible.

A few tips about Tax Refunds in Chapter 13 Plans

It’s tax time – again.  For many, including myself, it can be a time of fear and loathing.  Given a choice between having a colonoscopy or going to see my accountant to prepare my annual taxes, I would probably choose the former.  I’m relieved to be able to say that mine are done and filed.  So glad to have that over with.  Since I’m self employed, I almost always have to pay in.

For my Chapter 13 clients tax time has another layer of complexity, trickiness might be a better word.  Most Chapter 13 plans in Minnesota are required to have a provision that says the Debtors are to provide copies of all annual state and federal income tax returns to the Trustee’s office as soon as the returns are filed.  If they are to receive a refund, the provision usually allows married debtors filing jointly to keep the first $2,000 of the refunds, and allows individual filers to keep the first $1,200 of the refunds.  After those allowances, the balance of the refunds is to be paid into the Chapter 13 Plan as an additional contribution.  This contribution benefits the creditors, but usually has no particular effect on the monthly payment plan for the Debtors.  After making this extra contribution, in most cases the monthly payments under the Plan continue unchanged and on the same schedule.

The preferred method of sending the tax returns to the Trustee is now to make the return into a PDF and email it to an email address that the Trustee’s office has designated for that purpose.  After that the Debtors should wait for a letter from the Trustee’s office which will tell them how much of the refund should be mailed in.  The letter is usually sent promptly, although it comes by snail mail.  Since I tend to be copied with both the emails and the snail mail, I have had quite of bit of this correspondence arriving on my desk over the past few days.  So far this year there has been only one case where I disagreed with the way the Trustee’s office was calculating how much my clients were to send in.  When that happens, I have always been able to straighten things out with a of series of email exchanges with the staff person who did the calculations.

Here’s a few important things to know about how they calculate exactly how much the extra contribution from the tax refunds is supposed to be.  First of all, if you get a refund from one level of government – for example the feds – and have to pay in to the other level of government – for example the state, usually you can expect the amount you had to pay in to be deducted from the amount of the refund.  If you paid to have an accountant or other preparer to do your returns, be sure to send the bill for the tax preparation in to the Trustee’s office along with the tax returns.  At least this year I have been seeing the Trustee’s office allow a credit for the cost of tax preparation.  In one letter that just arrived on my desk, they allowed a credit for a $96 processing fee from TurboTax.  

If you find your refund to be a whole lot more than the part you are allowed to keep, I’ve never seen anybody get in trouble for adjusting their wage withholding so that next time the refund won’t be so large.  Such adjustments can involve a lot of trial and error, however, and you might find it pretty hard to get it just right.  It’s easy to overshoot the goal and wind up having to pay in to the IRS and Department of Revenue.  Like Garrison Keillor says, be careful.

Keep in mind that everything I say here only applies to Minnesota cases.  I would expect that practices vary quite a bit around the country concerning this topic.  And as I always say, this post is for general information purposes only.  It 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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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