Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 7 – Recent Debt Run-up

Debt runup before bankruptcy

By Dave Kelly, Minnesota bankruptcy attorney

This is the last in my series of articles about the top seven things that in my opinion you should avoid doing prior to filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. My list is not exclusive. There are lots of other things to be avoided. On one web page I saw a list of 33 things to avoid. All I am saying is that this list is my top seven. Others may disagree on my ranking of these.

Why is Debt Run-up Before Bankruptcy a Problem?

The reason you should avoid running up debt right before filing a bankruptcy is that doing so may result in an objection to your discharge from one of the creditors. Typically this would not be an objection to your entire bankruptcy case, but just an objection to the one particular debt owing to that particular creditor. The larger the debt and the closer to the filing date of the bankruptcy it was incurred, the greater the risk.

The creditor will review the account and use the history of the account to try and prove that you had no intent of paying the debt at the time you ran it up. If you had no intent to pay when you incurred the debt, the creditor can object on the grounds of false pretenses and fraud. The evidence that the creditor will use will usually be entirely circumstantial . Basically they put together their case and ask the judge “what’s this look like to you?” Often it can be pretty obvious, other times not.

Worse if for Luxury Good or Services

The creditor’s case is always stronger if the debt is for luxury goods and services, especially if the purchases spike right before the bankruptcy is filed. When somebody who hardly ever goes farther then Duluth suddenly decides they need a trip to Europe, it looks suspicious. Expensive restaurants, large purchases of alcohol, spas and pedicures don’t look so good either. On the opposite end of the spectrum is medical expense. People usually don’t have control of medical costs, and the medical providers almost never object.

What the Law Presumes

Ordinarily the creditor has the burden of proof when they file an objection to discharge. This means that the creditor has to prove their case and the debtor does not have to necessarily prove anything. The bankruptcy statute has two situations, however, where certain presumptions shift the burden of proof to the debtor. Here they are:

1.  Any consumer debt for goods and services owed to a single creditor in excess of $725 incurred within 90 days of filing is presumed to be for luxury items. With the proper evidence in your favor, the presumption can be rebutted; but it’s best just to wait so you don’t have to go through a potential objection from the creditor.

2.  Cash advances in excess of $1,000 made within 70 days of filing are presumed non-dischargeable. Again, if this has happened it may be best to wait until the time period has passed before filing.

What this Really Means

As a practical matter what does all this mean? In my opinion it means that you might not want to file a bankruptcy if you have run up a debt on any one account in an amount of more than 4 or5 thousand dollars in the past six months. If it’s much less than that, the creditor probably can’t afford to do an objection. If it’s much older than that, it’s might be too hard for the creditor to prove. This kind of recent debt runup doesn’t necessarily mean you should not file a bankruptcy. But it could be a good reason to delay the filing for a while.

Disclaimer

This post is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship. Consult the attorney or your choice about the details of your case.

 

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 6 – Paying Ahead on your Mortgage or Car Loan

Sixth in a Series of Bankruptcy Don'ts

By Dave Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the top seven things I recommend you avoid if you are considering a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Paying extra on your mortgage or car loan might ordinarily be a prudent thing to do. You might even have been advised to do so by a financial adviser or guru. But if you are thinking about a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or even a Chapter 13, this is probably a bad idea. You are not sure to have trouble with your case if you have been making some extra payments, but the risk that something might go wrong is probably higher because of this. In the old and clanking gears of my legal mind, I can see three ways you could have a problem with this.

The assumption that I am making in this discussion is that you have a car or a homestead which is going to be exempt in your bankruptcy case, and there has been some action by you which increases the amount of the equity in the exempt car or exempt home.

Intent to Defraud, Hinder or Delay a Creditor

I’m talking here about the provisions of 522(o) of the bankruptcy code. It has an intent element. It only applies to your homestead, not your car; and it only applies if you have put extra money into your homestead with the intent to hinder, delay or defraud a creditor. If you are only making a few small extra payments on your mortgage, I would expect it would be very difficult to prove this intent element. But if you are putting a relatively large amount into the house, either by paying the mortgage or by doing a home improvement, you need to have your lawyer screen for a possible problem with this.

To the extent that your trustee can prove that 522(o) applies to a portion of your homestead, that portion is not exempt. That portion will be an asset that the trustee in a Chapter 7 can claim for the creditors. If you can’t figure out any other way, a sale of your home might be required to make this equity available.

Examples I see in the case law include using money from the sale of stock and using money form a large tax refund. Of the various reasons I can see that you might run into trouble for making an extra payment on your mortgage, this is the least likely one on the list. Still I am concerned about the possibility – it’s my job to be concerned.

Fraudulent Transfer – Effort to Hide Assets from Creditors

This is a more likely source of trouble. If you have money or another asset which you take and use to make an extra payment on your mortgage or car loan, a bankruptcy trustee might claim that this is the same as if you gave it to your brother to hold for you so that creditors would not get it. It can be considered hiding money from your creditors. The legal term for this is “fraudulent transfer.”

I have a whole list of questions which I ask potential clients to try and screen for fraudulent transfer problems. There’s a lot more ways this can come up than just extra payments on mortgages or car loans. In Minnesota we have two distinct fraudulent transfer statutes that we have to be concerned about. One provision is in the bankruptcy code itself – this one seems to have no intent element, and the lookback is two years. The other provision is the state fraudulent transfer statute – which looks back six years but at least has an intent element: intent to hinder or delay or defraud creditors.

You are most likely to have a fraudulent transfer problem involving something that happened shortly before the bankruptcy case was filed. Events from more than two years back might not be as much of a problem.

With Homes or Cars that are Upside Down, your Payment could be a “Preference.”

You might want to take a look back at my blog post about item 3 on my list of things to avoid – large payments to unsecured creditors. The bankruptcy code makes some attempt to treat all the unsecured creditors equally, and this involves clawing back large payments which favor one unsecured creditor over another.

So what’s this got to do with a mortgage or car loan? Those are secured, not unsecured. Well if you are upside down on your loan, meaning that you owe more than the security is worth, the loan might be considered unsecured or partially unsecured. In this event the trustee might try to claw back from the creditor ALL the payments made in the 90 days before the bankruptcy is filed. If you’ve been paying extra, it just makes it that much more tempting.

Once the trustee has taken the payments back from the creditor, the creditor will very likely add that amount back in to what you owe. And if you want to keep the car or keep the house, you will eventually probably have to pay it. If this problem arises, you might want to try making a deal with the trustee where you pay in the money so he or she doesn’t go after the creditor.

Conclusion

These are problems that I am always trying to find in advance before filing a case. In many cases I see something that could be a problem, but probably won’t be. Other times it looks pretty serious. If you have been paying extra on your car or home, make sure you give all the details to your lawyer. Your lawyer should be able to advise you how much of a problem it might be.

Disclaimer

This post is for general information purposes and is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship. Small details in your case can make a big difference. Consult the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case. I practice in Minnesota. Laws and practices may be a lot different in your state.

Filing Chapter 7 Easier After November 1st: MN Median Incomes Rise Despite Covid-19

Higher Median Income for MN

By David Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

Why Your Median Income is Important if you are Thinking of Bankruptcy

If your income is below the median for your household size in your state, you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy without having to take and pass the means test. I expected that with the Covid epidemic in progress the income numbers would be dropping substantially. At least for the state of Minnesota, this is not what has just happened. They actually went up. Quite a bit up in fact, as of November 1st 2020. This means that many people who may not have been able to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier will be able to do so now.

Twice a year the Department of Justice updates it’s official median income tables. Numbers are assigned on a state by state and a household size basis, supposedly based on figures from the Census Bureau. A new set of numbers is out for November 1, 2020. The numbers went up at a rate higher than usual. This is a happy surprise.

Are These Numbers For Real?

I can’t help but wonder if somebody is messing with the numbers. Frankly, they don’t look right to me based on what I have been seeing. But I should not be looking a gift horse in the mouth. This helps my clients. It will be a lot easier to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Minnesota after November 1, 2020 than it was before. Another benefit is that if for some reason you need to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, having an income below median means that your payment plan can run only three years instead of the usual five years.

Here are the Minnesota median income numbers effective November 1, 2020:

One person:$  61,811 – an increase of $3,761 since April 2020
Two people:$ 81,478 – an increase of $3,776 since April 2020
Three people:$100,430 – an increase of $2,773 since April of 2020
Four people:$118,646 – an increase of $4,320 since April of 2020
Five people$127,646 – an increase of $4,320 since April of 2020
Six people: $136,646 – an increase of $4,320 since April of 2020
Add $9,000 for each individual in excess of 6

Call 952-544-6356 to Find Out How This Helps You

When it comes to eligibility for filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or for Chapter 13 if that’s what you need, things are looking up. Now is a good time to contact me for a free telephone consultation to discuss how this helps you.

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


Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 5 – Getting Married

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 5

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

Eligibility for bankruptcy is based primarily on household income. How that is calculated might surprise you.

If you are contemplating bankruptcy and marriage, in most situations it would be best to do the bankruptcy first. Get things cleaned up before you start your new life. If you wait until after you are married, almost all your spouse’s income will be added to yours for purposes of determining eligibility for bankruptcy.  This will happen even if your spouse does not file bankruptcy jointly with you.

If you file your bankruptcy while you are still single, however, the only income that will count is yours. For bankruptcy purposes what is thought of as your income might be more than you would expect. Included in your income will be any contributions to your living expenses you regularly receive from others.

What others you might ask? Well, a good example would be a roommate or roommates with whom you share expenses. If your roommate is paying half the rent where you live, that half of the rent will be or will probably be considered additional income of yours. But then you get to claim a larger household size and the expenses of a larger household, which means it tends to all balance out. You will not have all your roommate’s income added to yours, but only your roommate’s contribution to your living expenses.

Contributions to your living expenses can come from all sorts of different sources: your adult children, your parent, your significant other, or some friend or relative. If the person making the contribution lives with you, as I mentioned above, you could typically include that person in your household size.

BUT if you have a spouse in your home, almost all that person’s income will be treated as yours – even if you file your bankruptcy individually. In many cases this can put a serious damper on your eligibility.

Every case is different and there are certainly exceptions to what I am saying here. If both you and your partner are in need of a bankruptcy, there is a possibility that you would be better off getting married and then doing one joint bankruptcy instead of two individual bankruptcy cases while you are single. This can be very tricky. If you and your partner both need to file bankruptcy, before getting married have your lawyer run the numbers both ways and follow the advice you receive.  

One more word. Getting married or getting divorced solely for the purpose of getting a better deal from the bankruptcy court could be considered bankruptcy fraud, and that could be a felony. Don’t even think about it. The bankruptcy statute contains a good faith requirement. Don’t be getting married or divorced unless that is something that you needed to do for non-bankruptcy purposes.

I am a debt relief agency. I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code. This is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship. Seek the advice of the attorney of your choice concerning the details of your case. I practice in Minnesota. Rules, laws and practices may be different in your state.

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 4 – Drawing Down Your 401K

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy Item 4

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

As I’ve been saying, I have a list of what I consider the top seven things you should avoid before filing a bankruptcy, either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. This is the fourth in a series and is about item four on my list – drawing down your 401K. Items One, Two and Three on my list are discussed in previous blog posts.

In general, money in a 401K is safe from your creditors and safe from the bankruptcy trustee. This is ordinarily also true for IRA accounts as well. Some exceptions have developed recently for accounts that are being transferred as part of a divorce and for accounts that have been inherited – but these are fairly rare problems. Usually a 401K or an IRA is the safest place your money can be. I am very sad when right before coming to see me, somebody cleans out their retirement account.

Most often I see they money used in an attempt to pay down debts. It is almost never enough. Soon the money is gone, and because of finance charges and high interest rates, not much of a dent has been made in the debt load. Other times people withdraw the money because they are afraid creditors will get it – which is sad because with the possible exception of the IRS or the child support people, creditors can’t touch it.

As a general rule, if you are deeply in debt, you should talk with a lawyer before making any serious financial changes.

I am a debt relief agency. I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code. This video does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not legal advice. It is for general information purposes only. The details of your case can make a big difference as to whether or how the contents of this video apply to you.

Dave Kelly

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 3 – Large Payments to Unsecured Creditors

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

If you’ve been reading my stuff, you know that I have a list of what I consider the top seven things you should avoid before filing a bankruptcy, either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. This is the third in a series and is about item three on my list – making large payments to unsecured creditors.

The bankruptcy code follows the general principal that all your creditors are supposed to be treated equally – damaged equally in proportion to the amount of each debt.  To try and level the playing field among the unsecured creditors, a limit is set on how much you can pay each one within the 90 days before the filing of your case. If you have paid a total of over $600 to any one unsecured creditor in the 90 days prior to filing the case, this is considered what they call a “preference.”  Having a preference can slow down the administration of your case, not to mention that making those payments is a waste of your money.  Save the money to pay your attorney fee and court filing fee.

A preference is considered to be one of your assets, but it’s not one you can claim as exempt. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case having a preference means that the trustee can claw the money back from the one creditor and distribute it equally to all the creditors. While this process is going on, your court file remains open and you are not able to start rebuilding your credit. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy it means you may have to pay extra in your payment plan to make up for what the creditors would have received had it been a Chapter 7. In Chapter 13 they call that the best interests of the creditor rule. You can’t give the unsecured creditors less in a Chapter 13 than they would have received in a Chapter 7. Either way, whether it’s Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, the result is undesirable.

Once a case is filed, my goal is always to get out of the case as quickly as possible. So a preference is usually something I want to avoid. They way to avoid the issue to quit paying the unsecured creditors and wait until you have a 90 day period free of preferences. There are always exceptions. The preference might not be the worst thing in the world. For example, if there is a wage garnishment in progress I might say let’s get the case filed ASAP anyway.

When asked my clients almost always say that they have not paid over $600 to any unsecured creditor in the last 90 days. But then I point out that all you have to be doing is paying over $200 per month, and that will always add up to over $600 in 90 days. At that point a light bulb seems to come on and I learn that there is a preference hiding there somewhere.

Keep an eye out for the next episode – Item Four – Drawing Down your 401K.

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 2 – Transferring Assets to a Close Friend or Relative

Things to avoid before bankruptcy

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is the second in my series on things to avoid doing before filing a bankruptcy, either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Outright transfers of assets and large gifts are things to be avoided prior to filing any kind of bankruptcy.  An example might be transferring a car or a motorcycle to one of your children, or giving someone a large amount of money or a very expensive gift for their wedding.  Putting relatively large sums of money in a bank account for a child could be another example.  The bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 case may look at transfers like this as an effort to hide assets.  It can be considered bankruptcy fraud and be very detrimental to the case.  The look back on this under the bankruptcy code is two years, but under Minnesota state law it can go back as far as six years.

529 plans have their own special rules about how much a bankruptcy trustee can claw back. 529 plans are educational savings plans that people set up for their child. They have tax advantages similar to a 401K or IRA. But the bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 can claim anything deposited within a year before the case is filed, and there are limits on how much can be protected for the amounts deposited in the two years before that.

A transfer that can be clawed back in a Chapter 7 case will not be clawed back in a Chapter 13, but the Chapter 13 plan payments will have to be high enough so that the unsecured creditors get at least as much as they would have received had it been a Chapter 7. In other words, your plan payment will probably have to be increased to make up for the fact that the asset is there.

One thing I see people often doing is having their pay check deposited into somebody else’s bank account. Perhaps this is to avoid a creditor who has already cleaned out the debtor’s own bank account. You might or might not have a serious problem with your bankruptcy case if this has been going on, depending on all the circumstances. Best policy is to just to not do it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “well I’ll just sell that (boat or motorcycle or whatever) to my brother for a dollar.” That won’t work. Rest assured that this loophole was plugged a very long time ago. That’s not exactly an original idea. When you sell something to someone right before filing a bankruptcy, who you sold it to and for how much has to be disclosed. Your relationship if any with the purchaser also has to be disclosed.

There are various exceptions – loopholes if you prefer – to most of the items I have been talking about here. You need to talk with your lawyer about whether what you did in your circumstances is going to be a problem or not. If you are contemplating bankruptcy, talk with your lawyer before making any significant financial movers. I hate having to say “gosh I wish you had talked with me before doing that.”

Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 1 – Repaying a Debt to a Close Friend or Relative

Protect your friends and relatives

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

It has always seemed to me that most of the things you SHOULD NOT do before filing bankruptcy are things that in ordinary circumstances your mother would say that you SHOULD do. If you are thinking of filing a bankruptcy, it’s time to consult your lawyer and not your mother or friends or relatives.  The sooner you consult a lawyer the better.  The bankruptcy code is full of hidden traps and gotchas. 

This is the first in a series of seven blog posts about things to NOT do if you are considering filing a bankruptcy in Minnesota. This post discusses payment of a debt to an insider – usually that means a close friend or relative. It can also include a business partner or associate.

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy amounts repaid within a year before the bankruptcy is filed on debt owing to an insider can be clawed back by the trustee. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy you have to pay extra money into your plan to cover what the trustee could have clawed back had it been a Chapter 7. Either way, this is something you want to avoid. There is a fix for the problem, but you might not like it: obtaining another loan from the person you repaid in an amount in excess of the amount you paid.

The last thing you want after your bankruptcy case is filed is for your mother or brother to receive a letter from the trustee demanding return of money you paid them.  You get the same result if you pay a debt owing to an insider by giving the insider a benefit indirectly.  Here’s a common example of how this can happen.  Let’s say you need to buy a car but you can’t get a loan to do so.  Your brother does a cash advance on his credit card and loans you the money to buy the car. Every month you make a payment on the credit card that is in your brother’s name.  In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy the trustee can go after your  brother to recover all the payments you made on that credit card within the year before filing.  In a Chapter 13 you may have to pay larger payments to cover for the amount you repaid in your brother’s name.

I always hate it when I learn that my client or potential client has just done something that is really going to make the case difficult.  The rule seems to be that they always do it just a few days before coming in to see me.  If only they had talked with me before doing that!

If this sounds complicated it is. If you are thinking of bankruptcy it is best if you consult a lawyer before you make any financial moves. I would be glad to discuss the details of your case. Call me at 952-544-6356.

The Spinnaker Award

Spinnakeer Award

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is off topic for a blog that focuses on bankruptcy, but it’s something I would like to share anyway. A spinnaker is an extra sail that is hung off the front of a sailing vessel to give it an extra boost, extra speed. It’s easy to understand why the Minnetonka School District has used that as the name for their award for outstanding volunteers.

I was surprised a couple of months ago when I received a notice by email that I was about to receive an award – complete with an actual trophy – for doing volunteer work for the Minnetonka School District. I almost deleted the email, thinking that it was just another scam. I get lots of spam email telling me that I have won an award or some kind of certification, but they almost always want me to pay a few hundred dollars for the honor.

Once it dawned on me that the email was real, I couldn’t think of what volunteer work they were talking about. Up until then, I wasn’t thinking of anything I do as being volunteer work for a school district. My daughter is a music teacher at one of the elementary schools in Minnetonka. About 15 years ago she asked if I would bring my video camera and record one of her school programs. After that I started, at her request, showing up and recording all of them for her. After she became director of one of the school district choirs, I started recording the choir programs too. The kids love to watch a video of themselves. It’s also a teaching tool.

Here’s a short clip of the virtual award ceremony:

I have always had a fairly nice video camera. Fiddling with video has been a hobby of mine. For one thing I needed a decent video camera to make clips for my Youtube channel. I never thought of videoing the school programs and concerts as volunteer work. It was just something I enjoyed doing and something that helped my daughter. She had started off by trying to obtain video which had been taken by some of the parents, but those turned out always to be overly focused on their own child. My daughter knew that I was capable of taking a fairly good video, because when she was a kid I was always there with a camera for her gymnastics events. Taking videos of the school events now that she was a teacher just seemed like a continuation of what I had always done.

My advice for anybody who wants to take a good video of a children’s event: get lots of close up shots of the faces. The kids always love to see themselves. Find a camera that has a good zoom lens and make plenty use of it.

Bankruptcy Attorneys Provide an Essential Service

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer


Bankruptcy attorneys are considered to be an essential service. While I have been taking plenty of precautions, such as asking everyone to wear a mask, I am still here and ready to serve. It usually takes several meetings between myself and my clients to properly prepare a case for filing – but many of those meetings can be done by Zoom or telephone or one of the other remote communication platforms. You don’t have to wait. I would be glad to start working with you now. To begin, call me for a free telephone consultation. 952-544-6356.