Children’s Bank Accounts At Risk in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Kid's savings accounts

By Dave Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

Recently a potential client made a hasty exit from my office after I explained that the accounts that had been set up for the children could be at risk in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. What kind of account you set up for your children, how much you put in it and when can all make a big difference. I feel a blog post on this subject coming on. At least one post, maybe two. If you have bank accounts for your children, be sure you tell your lawyer about them.

Please note that in this article I am talking only about Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a whole other topic. Some of the problems described here could be more easily resolved in a Chapter 13.

529 College Savings Accounts

A 529 savings account may be the safest way to save money for your children’s college. Much like a 401K, the money you put in should be tax deductible. Such accounts are not always protected when you file bankruptcy. You have to look at how much you deposited and how long ago that was.

Any amount deposited more than two years before filing the bankruptcy should be protected. Funds that were deposited between two years and one year before the filing date are protected up to $6,425. Any more than that belongs to the bankruptcy estate and probably will be claimed by the bankruptcy trustee. AND any amount deposited within one year before filing the bankruptcy is not protected at all. Again, that amount will be claimed by the bankruptcy trustee.

Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) Accounts

These are accounts set up under state law. The account is in the child’s name and is held under the child’s social security number. In your bankruptcy papers it would typically be listed under property held for another. The law requires, however, that an adult be named as the custodian of the account. The adult will manage the account until the child turns 18, then the money can be claimed by the child. How safe or unsafe the money in one of these accounts is depends on when the money was put in and by whom.

As a general rule, if the money in the account came from Grandma or some other third party, it should be safe. Because it never was your money. It would be best if you had records that can prove it never was your money. If you put the money in and now you want to file a bankruptcy, there could be a problem. Minnesota has a fraudulent conveyance statute that has a six year look back period. If that was money that you could have used to pay your debts but you put it in the child’s account instead, the bankruptcy trustee might be able to claw it back out of that account.

Joint Savings Account with Your Child

Of the accounts I am talking about here, this could be the most difficult kind. Your name is on the account along with the child, so how do your prove it’s not yours. For one thing it has to be listed in the bankruptcy petition along with all the other accounts your name is on. If the money did come from you, there is the same “fraudulent conveyance” problem I mentioned above. If the money came from a third party, however, like Grandma, I hope you have good records to prove that. Minnesota does have a statute that says money in a joint account belongs to the person who deposited it. If the money never was yours and you can prove it, the account is probably safe. It would help if the amount is relatively small. The larger the balance, the more likely it is that the trustee would try to make an attempt to grab it.

What if the Money in the Account is from Social Security?

Some children receive a Social Security benefit because their parent has died or or disabled. This money, however, is supposed to be available to the child’s custodian to pay for the child’s living expenses. Social Security money is generally exempt and can’t be touched. But it better be in an account where you can prove that’s what it is. Assuming you are the child’s custodian, it would be best if you were using at least some of it for the child’s expenses. If you just bank the whole thing and never touch any of it, you could appear to not be making your best efforts to avoid bankruptcy. The trustee might not be able to touch the money, but I fear the trustee could object that the case is not being filed in good faith. No such objection has ever happened in any case of mine, but I can’t promise it would never happen if the facts were lined up as I just described.

Conclusion

I have had many cases involving children’s savings accounts fly through with no problem. But as you can see, there are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes concerning these accounts. Don’t assume you know what to do or how to handle these. You need to have the accounts reviewed by an experienced lawyer well in advance of any bankruptcy filing.

Better call Dave. 952-544-6356.

Welcome to My Youtube Channel

welcome to Dave's bankruptcy Youtube channel

By Dave Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

Youtube recommends that every channel should have a welcome video. The video designated as the welcome video will be the first thing a person sees when they go to a particular channel. The video should be a short statement of what the channel is about and what information can be found there. My channel has videos going back to 2007; but until now there was no welcome video. I just uploaded it a few days ago, and here it is:

Information you can find on my Youtube channel includes but is not limited to the following:

Going to jail for debt
Bank accounts – which ones should be closed
Questions to expect at the hearing
Documents you will be required to produce
What about rental properties in bankruptcy
Property that is exempt
What does bankruptcy cost
Debt settlement programs
7 things to not do before bankruptcy
7 things you should consider doing before bankruptcy

You will also find a lot of information about how to qualify for bankruptcy and what kind of bankruptcy you might qualify for.

It looks like my videos are attracting quite a bit of traffic. Youtube is peppering my videos with all sorts of commercials over which I have no control and from which I don’t get a cent. In order to get paid anything at all from the advertising revenue, they require a lot more subscribers than I currently have. So please do me a favor. If you find my channel helpful at all, PLEASE SUBSCRIBE.

Top 7 TO DO’s Before Bankruptcy: Item 7 – Avoid High Bank Balances if Expecting Garnishment

Notice of Levy

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is the final post in my series on the top seven things you should probably be doing if you are considering a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. I don’t intend to help you with a do it yourself bankruptcy. My purpose is to introduce topics for you to discuss with your lawyer. Don’t try this by yourself.

Bank Accounts Can be Frozen Without Advance Notice

Let’s say you have been sued by a creditor. The judgment has been entered and now the creditor is looking for assets to seize. To garnish your wages the creditor has to give you a ten day notice – or at least is supposed to. But in Minnesota no advance notice is required before a garnishment of a checking or savings account. If the creditor garnishes your bank account, the first you may hear about it is when your bank or credit union notifies you that the account is frozen. Before you even get notified by your bank or credit union, you may notice that your checks are bouncing, your payments are not going through, and the pay check that was recently deposited is now beyond your reach.

You Must Claim All or Part of the Account as Exempt to Get Access to Your Account Again

More than likely all or a good part of the money in your account is exempt and cannot be taken by the creditor. After the account is frozen, you will be (or are supposed to be) given an Exemption Form that you can use to claim your exemptions. You might not receive this for a few days after the account is frozen. Then you have to fill it out and send it back to the creditor’s lawyer. Once the lawyer receives it, he or she is supposed to release to you that part of the money in the account which is exempt. Days can pass, even a couple of weeks, before this process is completed. Then you can use your account again, minus whatever amount the creditor took out of it. More accurately stated, you can use your account again until the next time the creditor garnishes it.

Avoiding or Minimizing the Freezing of Your Bank Account

Maybe this can’t be avoided, but the problem can be minimized. One thing you can do is what I suggested in Item 3 of this series: Move your money to a bank that will be harder to find. Creditor’s attorneys often send out a shotgun blast of garnishment notices to all the major banks. They don’t know where you bank, but chances are that if you are using one of the larger banks your account will get caught in the net. People have been surprised and asked me how the creditor knew where they banked. The answer is that the creditor didn’t know, they just got lucky. I love the little banks that nobody has heard of. Any bank whose name starts with “State Bank of ….” is probably a good bet.

Another thing you can do is just keep the bank balance as low as possible. The creditor can only freeze what is in the account. This might involve making cash withdrawals and cash deposits as needed to cover the things that must be paid out of the checking account. The back and forth movement of cash may look suspicious to a bankruptcy trustee. The trustees are always looking for evidence that money is being hidden. You and your lawyer might have to explain why this is being done. But once the trustee understands that this is merely an effort to avoid or minimize garnishment, it should be OK. We will have to be careful to accurately disclose the cash on hand in your bankruptcy forms. All assets have to be disclosed.

No One Size Fits All Solutions

This topic is something you are going to have to discuss with your lawyer. Cash can be harder to claim as exempt than money in the bank, at least in a state exemption case. If you are using the state exemptions and not the federal exemptions, having large amounts of cash might be a really bad idea. You might be setting yourself up to have the bankruptcy trustee take your money, which is just as bad as having it garnished. There are no one size fits all solutions. Don’t do any of what I discuss here without being advised by your attorney.

Call Dave at 952-544-6356.

Top Seven TO DO’s Before Bankruptcy: Item 1 – Gather Your Financial Records

Taking Covid safety measures

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is the first in a series of seven posts about my top seven things that you should do if you are considering bankruptcy or preparing to file – either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Item 1 on my list is that you should gather the financial records that your attorney will need to process your case. These will include payroll check stubs, bank statements, mortgage records, and tax returns. You should also be gathering together your monthly statements for all your debts. Include any nasty letters you may be receiving from lawyers or collection agencies. Don’t just gather the records you have, but also start keeping records of all your financial transactions. Keep track of your expenses. Keep all your receipts. If there is legal action against you, keep all the paperwork from that. There is a human tendency to want to throw away paperwork that contains bad news. Don’t do it. Keep it and give it to your lawyer.

Income Information

Your attorney will want to see at least six months of income information. Typically this would be pay stubs from any employment you have had during the most recent six months. He or she will also need to know about unemployment benefits, disability benefits, social security benefits, retirement income and any other income source for that six months. If you are self employed or operating a small business, create a cash in – cash out statement. This is a listing of funds received and business expenses paid over that the most recent six months. I prefer to it broken down by month. For a self employed person, “income” usually will be the difference between the cash in and the cash out.

Bank Statements

The trustee in your bankruptcy case will always ask to see at least 30 days of bank statements. Maybe they will ask to see as many as six months of bank statements. This would be a printout or statements for any bank accounts you may have. It always has to include the balance on the day the case is filed. If there are red flags in your bank statements, you want your lawyer to see them before somebody else does. Most of the time I start by asking to see my client’s most recent bank statement. Then I may ask for more depending on what I see.

Keep Your Receipts

If you do a lot of your financial business with cash, it is best to keep very careful records of what you are doing with the cash. Keep your receipts. Keep records for everything you do. You might or might not be asked to produce the receipts, but you should have them ready in case the trustee wants to see them.

Tax Returns

The bankruptcy trustee will require that you produce your most recent state and federal tax returns. I will want to see at least the last two years of your tax returns. There are income questions on the bankruptcy petition that go back two years. The best place for me to get your income information is from the tax returns. If you have unfiled tax returns, I will ask that you get your tax filing up to date before we file the bankruptcy. We have to list all your assets and all your debts. If you owe taxes that’s obviously a debt, and if you have a refund coming that’s an asset. Either way I need to know what that is.

Bills, Nasty Letters and Legal Actions

Even if we eventually get a credit report, there are many things that do not show on those reports. Or the reports might be wrong. So I want to see the statements and letters you have been receiving from your creditors. If there is a lawsuit or a threat of one, I want to see all the paperwork you have about that as well.

Documentation of Assets

If you own your home, find your deed from when you bought the place. Best too if you find a copy of the mortgage you signed at that time. If you have refinanced, find the papers about that too. Usually you get a big folder of stuff when you buy a house or refinance. Just bring that folder to your lawyer and he or she will pick out the needed documents. If you own a car, trailer, camper, or motorcycle, find the title certificates. If you have a boat or an ATV that is registered with the state, find your registration card or papers – your lawyer will need them.

Maintain ongoing records

Finally keep in mind that preparing a bankruptcy is an ongoing process. You are never realy done gathering records. As your attorney works with you to prepare the case, which could take several weeks, continue to keep records. When anything new turns up, be sure you give it to your lawyer.

Disclaimer

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

Call Dave – It’s Free

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

Recent Increases for the Minnesota State Exemptions

Protecting your home and your stuff

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

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:

 

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.

Minnesota State Exemptions Still Leaking Assets Like a Sieve

At least this old radio is exempt

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

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.

Hard to Pay Those Troubling Holiday Shopping Bills?

Are holiday debts catching up wit you?

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

Around this past Thanksgiving CNBC published a report about how an alarming number of shoppers are still paying off debt from Christmas of 2016.  A lot of the data in the report came from a source called NerdWallet. It seems that holiday-induced  spending and debt is a growing problem.   24% admitted to overspending for the holidays of 2016.  Among baby boomers, 64% went in debt to pay for Christmas.  For Gen-X it was 58% and for millennials it was 40%.

When it comes to not yet having paid off the 2016 debt, the millennials led with 24%. Gen-X came in at 16% and the boomers were at 8%.

The advice offered by CNBC to help avoid going into debt over the holidays again is threefold:

  1. Make a good budget and stick to it.
  2. Keep an eye out for sales; and
  3. Pay debt back.

My reaction to this advice is to say to myself “well that’s easy for them to say.”  Credit card debt has a way of sneaking up on a person. Not everyone is capable of paying their debt back.  Many are overwhelmed and the bills that come in after Christmas can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

If you are looking at your holiday bills and other debts in shock, perhaps it is time to consider another alternative.  Once unsecured debt totals more than half of your annual income, it is usually impossible to get it paid back.  For you a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy might be a good idea.

US Households Owe Record Amount – More Than During Recession

Credit Card Debt

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.

 

Nothing is More Expensive Than A Cheap Bankruptcy Lawyer

Cheap isn't worth it.

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer since 1976

Recently I had a bankruptcy case where a seemingly small and innocent circumstance turned up after the case was filed. It seemed normal to my client at the time and certainly not dishonest in any way.  It wasn’t illegal, immoral or fattening.  It just happened, however, to be one of those things which can run afoul of some of the more nonsensical provisions of the bankruptcy code.

I could have just said well that’s too bad and let things land wherever.  Fixing the situation was probably beyond the scope of what I had signed on for in my retainer agreement.  Many of the larger law firms, particularly the mills that crank out large volumes of cases for cheap, would have just let it go.  Lawyers don’t promise that everything will be perfect; we don’t promise that nothing will go wrong.  Sometimes it’s just too bad, isn’t it?

But that kind of approach is just not how I do things.  I really care about the outcome of my work and I really care about my clients. I just could not let it go.  It would, and actually did, keep me awake at night. I started asking my client more questions, started asking for more documentation, more history.  I explained that there was a problem, but I was aware of two or three exceptions, loopholes if you like, and I was determined to find one that fit.

I found what I was looking for and put it together for presentation to the bankruptcy trustee.  When I was finished, the trustee agreed with me that the issue was settled in my client’s favor and the case should proceed in the usual boring way.

On a forum at AVVO.com, Las Vegas bankruptcy attorney Dorothy Bunce said it best in answer to a question about how to find a cheap bankruptcy lawyer:

“If you have $70,000 in debt, why do you care ‘how much does it cost?’ Talk about being penny wise and pound foolish. Whatever the bankruptcy attorney charges, if the attorney takes care of you and eliminates as many of your debts as legally possible, protects your assets, and answers your questions, price is immaterial. When “how much” is someone’s first question to me, I get rid of them as soon as I can because they are telling me they don’t value what I do and will have to learn the hard way that NOTHING IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN A CHEAP LAWYER.” Quoted with Ms. Bunce’s permission.

That sure as heck says it all.

This response is for general 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.

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