Top Seven TO DO’s Before Bankruptcy: Item 2 – Get Your Credit Reports

Credit report obtained by lawyer

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is the second in a series of seven blog posts about my top seven things that you should do if you are preparing to file a bankruptcy. This also applies even if you are just considering filing a bankruptcy – either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. What I want to talk about it getting your credit reports. I wouldn’t dare want to file somebody’s bankruptcy without reviewing at least one credit report. There are three major reporting agencies which each produce their own reports – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Usually all three reports are about the same, but not always.

Easiest way: Authorize Your Lawyer Get Your Credit Reports

While you can get your reports on your own, your best choice is to have your lawyer get them for you. For $37 per person I can get a report that pulls information from all three credit reporting bureaus. We will have to provide your email address and social security number. After that we will have to answer three questions to which only you would have the answers. Then I can download your comprehensive credit report info directly into my bankruptcy software. And I will print a copy of the report for you. As a bonus it provides your credit score along with a prediction of what filing bankruptcy will do to your credit score. Somewhat surprisingly, the prediction is usually for an improvement in the score.

The Hard Way: Get the Reports Yourself

If you want to get the reports on your own, the best place to go and the only place I recommend is https://annualcreditreport.com​. There is a federal law that requires the three major reporting agencies to make a report available to each individual once a year. This site was created by the agencies to satisfy this requirement. Unlike the other resources I am aware of, this web site is really free. All the other sites will want you to subscribe or sign up for something. The one exception at annualcreditreport.com is if you ask for your credit score. Don’t do that. It looks like they want to get something in exchange for that, and I don’t need the credit score. I just want to know who the creditors are.

It helps me if you can download each report as a pdf document and then print it on paper as well. If you don’t have a printer, send me the pdf and I’ll print it. There is often a problem in printing these reports where the printer cuts off the top, bottom or side of the pages. If that happens the report is often missing so much that it is not useable. Problems like this can be avoided of course if you just have me get the reports instead.

The Bankruptcy Must List All Your Debts

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we list all your debts. Failure to list a debt could result in that debt not being discharged. Unlisted debts aren’t discharged in Chapter 7 cases where there are assets for the creditors. Unlisted debts are also not discharged in Chapter 13 cases. In those situations the creditor could have filed a claim and gotten their share of the payments or assets. But they can’t file a claim if they are never notified. So the discharge doesn’t apply to them.

Creditors can be added for a while after the case is filed, but it is obviously much better to get them all listed to begin with.

Sometimes certain debts don’t show on your credit reports. An example of this is medical bills. The medical people have a confidentiality requirement and don’t want to just tell the world that you owe them money. Typically medical bills don’t show up on credit reports unless they have been sent to a collection agency. In order to report to a credit bureau, the creditor has to have a membership in that bureau. Many small businesses do not have or can’t afford to have that, and debts owing to those businesses won’t be on the reports either. Please keep in mind that even if the debt doesn’t show on the reports, it is still your responsibility to make sure all your debts are listed in the case. You have to give this info to your lawyer. Your lawyer isn’t a psychic.

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.

Call Dave – It’s Free

Call Dave for a free telephone consultation. 962-544-6356.

Bankruptcy & Social Security Overpayment

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

I want to say a few words about whether a debt owing to the Social Security Administration for overpayment of benefits can be discharged in a bankruptcy.  Often it can be.

If you have received Social Security you know that several factors, many of them beyond your control, can affect whether you are eligible and for how much.  This is especially true of disability benefits.  A change in status can end your eligibility or reduce the amount. It’s all very complicated and hard to understand – especially if you are ill.

The Social Security Administration is a big and cumbersome organization that makes lots of mistakes.  Lots of times they pay benefits when they are not supposed to.  Often this happens because they can be very slow in processing information they receive from beneficiaries.  The impression I have is that most beneficiaries are very careful about complying with requirements that they report any change in their circumstances.  If you report the change and the benefits keep coming, most people would assume that the change didn’t make a difference.  Later, however, you may be shocked to receive a nasty letter from the Social Security Administration.  The letter claims that you have been overpaid and demands repayment.

Suddenly you have a very large debt to a federal government agency.  Nobody is more powerful. They might start withholding from the benefits you are still eligible for; they might seize your tax refunds; or they might even start garnishing your wages.  Most people assume that like the usual student loans and taxes, there is no way to make this go away.  This is what I assumed too the first time someone came to my office with one of these letters.

I was surprised to learn when I did a little research that many if not most of these Social Security overpayment claims can be discharged in bankruptcy.  When a debt like this is listed in a bankruptcy, it is going to be discharged unless the Social Security Administration successfully objects.  In order to figure out whether to expect an objection, it is helpful to check Social Security policies as published in their on line Program Operations Manual.  The guidelines as to when such an objection should be filed are in GN 02215.196 of  the manual.  They will object if they believe they can prove that the overpayment was a result of fraud or misrepresentation.

They use a three part test to define what they mean by misrepresentation.  There must have been 1) an overpayment caused by false representation, 2) made with the intent to deceive and 3) upon which the Social Security Administration relied to it’s detriment.

The typical person I see in my office who with one of these overpayment letters isn’t anywhere close to satisfying the above test.  This person hasn’t told any lies and certainly wan’t trying to deceive anybody.  There was no intent to cheat the government out of anything.  It was more a matter of just stumbling into the situation.  If this is where you find yourself, you might want to give me a call.  The chances that a bankruptcy can make the whole problem just go away are very good.

Bankruptcy by the Gallon: Time to Let Go of Old Closed Bankruptcy Files

dave-filesiiifilesvI’m not a paperless kind of guy.  Hard copies of everything in a file folder. That’s how I like to do things.  This of course means that I generate a lot of paper, and every few years I run out of storage space.  After a Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 case is completed, the discharge has been granted and the clerk’s office has closed the case, I move the file to a storage room in the back of my garage.  To me those files represent a lot of work, care, concern, blood and sweat.  Gosh I hate to get rid of them.  But a time comes when one has to let go.  One has to admit that those people really did get a fresh start, they don’t need me any more, and it’s really time to move on and let go – physically let go of the file.

proshred-truckSo it was with mixed feelings recently that I called Proshred, a locally owned shredding company near me.  Prior to their arrival on the appointed day, I spent probably at least 20 hours going through all my old files deciding what it was safe to shred and what I had better still keep.  I don’t remember for sure when I did this last, but I noticed right away that for the most part the oldest files I had dated from about 2006.  What I finally wound up with was a big pile of bankruptcy files ranging from about 2006 to about 2012 in the middle of my garage floor. There was no left room to park.

When the truck arrived as one would expect, the driver who was supposed to do all the loading work had just had back surgery.  He showed me the scar.  I was planning on helping him anyway, but it turned out to be more like he was helping me.  The files were moved from my garage to the truck using a full sized 64 gallon garbage can on wheels.  It took about eight trips.  I suppose that means I had about 512 gallons of files.  Never thought of measuring my work by the gallon before.

I could hear the shredding blades doing their work right there at the end of my driveway.  Kind of a strange or odd end to all that concern and pain I thought.  It was comforting to hear from the driver that the remains of the files were going to be recycled and would eventually be used to make new paper at a mill somewhere near Duluth.  As the truck pulled away I felt a bit of sadness, followed by a feeling of lightness and relief.

“Thank you” Recently Received from Client after Bankruptcy Discharge

During the holidays several of my clients received their bankruptcy discharge.  The discharge is a court order which states that the Debtor is no longer legally obligated to repay most if not all of  his or her debts.  In most cases the only debts that are not discharged are student loans and taxes.  Sometimes even taxes can be discharged, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

When that discharge comes out,  many of my clients thank me profusely.  For some reason I often have a hard time accepting thanks.  When I was growing up I think it was part of the culture to assume that when somebody was just doing their job, there was no need to thank  them.  And if somebody thanked me I tended to say “no need to thank me” or “it was nothing” or other similar words which more or less blew it off.  Later in life I learned that such responses diminish the importance of the gratitude being expressed and the person expressing it, and a simple “you’re welcome” is a much better way to respond.

Gratitude is one of the most noble of feelings and it should always be acknowledged – still it remains hard for me to do.  Even so, with the client’s permission I’d like to share with you the following somewhat poetic excerpt from an email I received from one of the clients who recently got that discharge:

“This is the best holiday present ever!
That difficult experience of the past few years can now finally be a ghost….So many sleepless nights.
Thank you David for helping us to straighten out our lives..
We still have a hard road a head to try to prepare for being too old to be employed…
It would have been impossible with the mess we were in and it is still a long shot but we do have better odds now.
You were our guiding light and we will always be grateful.
Many many thanks to you David, …….”

I tend to get a little emotional around the holidays anyway, but this email really touched me.