Don’t Delay Filing Your Tax Returns

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

I have not been keeping track but it seems to me that somewhere around 20% of the people who call me are behind in filing their tax returns.  I’m not talking about filing for an extension first and then filing the return by the extended deadline.  I’m talking about not filing anything at all. The usual reason for not filing a required return is that the tax return showed that they owed taxes and they lacked the money to pay the taxes.  I do not claim to be a tax expert, but I can tell you that it is almost always better to file your tax returns on time even if you don’t have the money to pay the tax. If you don’t file the return, you still owe the tax.  Not filing doesn’t make the tax debt go away.  It just delays the inevitable and possibly gets you in trouble. There can be late filing penalties as well as late payment penalties.  Filing on time at least avoids the late filing penalties.

I have learned that it is a really bad idea to file any kind of a bankruptcy if my client’s tax filings are not up to date first.  In a bankruptcy petition we are required to provide a summary of income for three calendar years. I usually just take that information off my client’s tax returns.  We are required to list all your debts and all your assets.  If you have a refund coming, that’s an asset.  If you owe taxes, that’s a debt.  It is nearly impossible to properly list your debts and assets without having all required tax returns completed and filed first.  Without the tax returns the basic information required about assets and debts is incomplete.

It is usually fairly easy to set up payment plans for back taxes owed with the IRS and the Minnesota Department of Revenue.  Just pick up the phone and call them.  You will probably find them very easy to work with.  And if we are having trouble showing that you are broke enough to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the payment plans with the IRS and the Department of Revenue make very handy items to add to your monthly budget.  To qualify for Chapter 7 it is best if your money is all gone by the end of the month.  If you have a little left over at the end of the month, you probably  won’t after you set up your payment plans.    

Minnesota Bankruptcy Court Still Open at least Until January 25th

Minnesota Bankruptcy Court

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer

Yesterday I received an email from the Minnesota Bankruptcy Court stating in part as follows:

If there is a lapse in appropriations after January 25, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota will likely be operating with reduced staff focused on processing filings that directly affect the protection of human life and property, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act. The court is still in the process of determining which activities can and cannot be performed during a shutdown, and will provide ongoing guidance as these determinations are made.  

We anticipate that, during any shutdown:

CM/ECF will remain operational;

The BNC will continue to process and send notices in the ordinary course; and

PACER will remain operational and the PACER Service Center will provide ongoing support services.

In the coming days, we plan to set up an email box to which you can direct questions, concerns or comments about the shutdown.  We will send out the email address with any additional updates as these become available. 


I take this as meaning that for now I can continue with business as usual but that I better keep a close eye on things.

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.

Losing Ground on Payday Loans? Perhaps Bankruptcy is the Answer

Payday loan worries

If you’ve been reading my stuff, you know I’ve said this before.  My clients are good people.  Prior to giving up and deciding to come see me, they have tried just about everything and anything to avoid bankruptcy.  Among the various desperate measures many have tried is the payday loan.  What is a payday loan?  It’s one of the worst, most despicable, predatory schemes ever devised by the greedy and clever.

How does a payday loan work?  Well, it’s aimed of course at people who are employed and who as a result have a regularly scheduled payday.  It can be done at a storefront or on a web site.  These days most of the payday loans I see have been done on line.  One starts by providing bank account information along with employment information.  This includes the amount of a  typical paycheck and when it is ordinarily received. One site I just looked at claims to be able to approve the loan within two minutes.  Typically the amount will be about $500, but sometimes it can be more.  The money will be deposited into the borrower’s checking account within a day or less.

The borrower doesn’t have to repay the loan until after his or her next paycheck is deposited into the checking account.  What can be the harm?  At about the time the pay check from the borrower’s job is deposited into his or her account, the whole loan is automatically repaid by an automatic withdrawal, with interest – lots of interest.  One site I just reviewed states that the annual interest rate will run somewhere between 261% and 1304%.  At first it doesn’t seem that bad.  For example, at an annual rate of 300% the interest on a $500 loan over two weeks is “only” about $58.

The trouble is that once a person starts doing this, it can become very addictive.  As soon as it’s been done it once, when payday comes there’s a big hole missing from the paycheck as soon as the automatic payment of the loan is made.  So what’s the obvious temptation?  Do another one, of course, to make up for the missing money.  Pretty soon it’s not hard to start taking multiple payday loans from the multiple web sites that are available for this purpose.  Then the extremely high interest, rate which didn’t look so bad at first, can really becoming quite a burden.  It can become a treadmill of dependency on these loans.  It can interfere with one’s ability to eat, pay rent or buy gasoline.  Much like the psychology involved in the slot machines at a casino, somebody has figured out just exactly what is required to keep people coming back and paying in. Usually if I see one payday loan it means my client has been at it for a long time.  It may only be one loan, one loan at a time that is.  Sometimes it’s two or three or four at a time, enough to entirely consume each paycheck.

Even after my client has hired me to do a bankruptcy, and after I have advised the client that this is the point at which they should stop paying many of their debts, there is a tendency to assume that this advice somehow does not apply to the payday loan.  It can be a surprise when I say, “it’s your account and it’s your bank and you can stop that automatic withdrawal any time you want”  I have had a few clients leave my office in a rush to try to make it to the bank in time to stop the next withdrawal.

The StarTribune recently published a feature article about payday loans and one of the big businesses in Minnesota that makes them.  According to the article the average interest rate customers in Minnesota pay for a payday loan is 277%.  Sounds like theft to me, but Minnesota is among 36 states which allow it.  If you find yourself going nowhere and losing ground on this payday loan treadmill, it’s probably time to call me for a free over the phone screening as to whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Nothing on this site is intended to be a substitute for retaining a competent attorney.  I am a debt relief agency.  I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.

 

Hope you like the New Look of my Web Site

Well, it took about three weeks to complete, but I think I now have all the pages on my web site converted to the new design.  I have tried to make the pages look brighter and more optimistic in color scheme and tone, and easier to read.  In particular, I’ve tried to make the pages more friendly to mobile devices. A little over two years since I hired a gentleman to redesign my entire site.  I must have liked the design he chose, because I said yes to it.  But it certainly did not grow on me over time.  The longer I looked at it the less I liked it.  I started to feel that it was too dark and foreboding, almost Gothic, with it’s almost black background image and dark brown graphics.  It seems to me that people with financial problems are probably already depressed enough without looking at something that gloomy.  The other thing was that I was having trouble making changes and updating content.

There were many things about my own site that I could not figure out when it came to editing. I went back to the website creation software I had been using before I hired the expert – Microsoft Expression Web.  I checked for updates and found that there were none.  In fact Microsoft has discontinued the program and is now giving it away for free.  I found a template that looked as if it could accommodate what I had in mind, and then went to work rebuilding the entire site one page at a time.  It can be very tedious, but I started to enjoy it after while.

As I went along I updated all the content that needed updating, and added a bit more content here and there.  I found errors in the HTML code that needed to be corrected, and did that. Then I tested the pages in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  For reasons I can’t understand things would look straight in one browser, and be not lined up right in another.  I also tested the pages on my Samsung Galaxy and my Kindle Fire.  Finally I started to launch the pages and the new images one item at a time.

Looks to me as if I have it all now. But if you see something that  looks goofy, I wish you would let me know.

Seizure of Payments from a Reverse Mortgage

Protecting your home and your stuff

House-Piggy-Bank-and-MoneyI’ve always been reluctant to accept a bankruptcy case where the Debtors have a reverse mortgage.  When I review the paperwork involved with the reverse mortgage, it looks to me as if the homeowners are transferring a bit of the ownership of their home to the mortgage company every month.  I have always wondered if that would be considered a fraudulent transfer by a bankruptcy trustee.

Now today I’ve learned, perhaps a bit late, that a New Jersey court is saying that the payments from a reverse mortgage can be garnished by creditors.  That’s an idea I never thought of, but I am concerned that it might catch on.  In a bankruptcy context this could mean that if a person with a reverse mortgage was to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee would be able to seize all the remaining payments on the reverse mortgage.  The trustee could keep the file open and collect the money from the reverse mortage until all the unsecured debts and all the administrative expenses were paid.  This is a frightening prospect.

When I see those TV commercials for reverse mortgages I cringe.  Seems to me that the advertising is misleading.  The folks I’ve met who have reverse mortgages don’t seem to have much of an understanding of what they got themselves into.

Can I Keep My House If I File Bankruptcy?

Can the lien of the second mortgage be removed from my house? - Bankruptcy

Can I keip my house - BankruptcyOne of the most common questions we hear from our customers who are considering filing for bankruptcy is;

 If I file for bankruptcy can I keep my house?

Unfortunately, it isn’t a simple yes or no. The short answer is sometimes.

Here we will look at the factors that determine whether or not your house can and should be saved.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy:

When filing Chapter 7, the debtor may or may not be able to keep their house. This liquidates all of your assets to pay your creditors. Your home is included by federal law.

The catch is that most states have their own form of “homestead law” that protects a portion of the equity of a debtor’s home from the bankruptcy process.

If a debtor has less equity than is protected by his state law, they should be able to keep their home as long as they keep making payments. Your home’s equity exemption is determined by the homestead laws of which state you reside.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy:

When filing Chapter 13, the debtor can generally keep their house as long as they continue to make the mortgage payment.  If your equity in your home exceeds the amount protected by your local homestead laws, then Chapter 13 may be for you.

You might be able to stretch every dollar to make that mortgage payment, but should you? For instance, if you owe creditor’s more than your home is currently worth, your bankruptcy filing might be a good time to cut your losses and walk away.

Do I Want To Keep My House When I File for Bankruptcy?

There are other considerations which also determine your practical ability to keep your home. Are you caught up on payments? How much non-exempt equity do you actually have?  When making the decision whether to try and keep your home or let it go you will want to speak to an attorney in your area who is knowledgeable about local bankruptcy laws.

At the end of the day, it is all a question of whether your house represents an asset or a financial hardship.