Within the past month there has been good news and bad news for folks thinking of filing a bankruptcy. The good news is that the federal exemptions have gone up as of April 1, 2010. The bad news is that the median income thresholds – which have a lot to do with who qualifies to file a Chapter 7 – have gone down slightly as of March 15th.
The theory of Chapter 7 is that the court appoints a trustee who is given ownership of all your assets, right down to your socks. To get the assets back, you have to be able to claim them as exempt. This means that the list of things you can claim as exempt is very important. Here in Minnesota we get to choose between two very different lists – a list provided by federal law and another list provided by state law. The two lists are quite different, so it can make a big difference which one you choose. In general, the federal list is better unless you have substantial equity in your home. If there’s quite a bit of equity, then you better use the state list.
Trouble is that except for the fact that it is good for protecting one’s home, the state list has lots of gaps. Lots of things fall through the cracks and will go to the trustee. For this reason I pretty much hate the state list, but sometimes I have to use it anyway.
Since October of 2005 anybody who wants to file a Chapter 7 – except for a person who’s debts are “primarily business” – has to either be under the median income or pass a difficult means test. Thus, what those median income numbers are also becomes very important.