Creditors’s Responsibilities After Bankruptcy Filing

Posted on April 6th, 2014 in automatic stay, Bankruptcy Basics, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Procedure | No Comments »

On the bankruptcy petition is filed, the bankruptcy automatic stay is in effect in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, and virtually every type of collection activity is called to a halt. The bankruptcy court enters an order under 11 U.S.C §362, which prohibits nearly all creditors from taking any type of collection action.

What happens if the bankruptcy automatic stay is violated? If a creditor violates the automatic stay by accident, it must return the money or stop the collection action as soon as it learns about the bankruptcy. However, if the stay violation is done by the creditor on purpose, and if it is considered a “willful” violation, and substantial penalties can apply. In the event of an intentional violation of the bankruptcy stay, the Bankruptcy Code provides strong remedies for the debtor. After a willful stay violation, the debtor can recover not only the money or property that was wrongfully taken, but may also be entitled to attorney fees and even punitive damages.

Since automatic stay applies to all collection activities, with some very limited exceptions, even collections related to unpaid taxes must stop. A recent case of In re Voll, Case No. 13-31058 (N.D.N.Y. 2013), the bankruptcy court held that the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance committed a willful violation of the automatic stay after it had failed to vacate an income execution on debtor’s employer.

The following facts were undisputed. Prior to commencement of the case, the Department of Taxation served an income execution on debtor’s employer, which resulted in the weekly garnishment of debtor’s wages to satisfy a 2012 tax warrant. Subsequently, on June 7, 2013, debtors tiled Chapter 13 bankruptcy. On that same day, debtors’ counsel sent a letter to the Department of Taxation notifying it of the bankruptcy filing and requesting that the referenced income execution be lifted. Debtors scheduled the Department of Taxation as a creditor in their bankruptcy schedules and referenced the outstanding tax warrant.  The Department of Taxation was properly listed at the address designated by the Department for receipt of all bankruptcy notices. On June 9, 2013, the Bankruptcy Noticing Center sent the Department of Taxation an official notice of commencement of the case, which the Department admits receiving on June 12, 2013.

Six days later, on June 18, 2013, the Department of Taxation mailed its release of the income execution to the debtor at her residence and to her employer at a post office box in Evansville, Indiana. The mailed release was the first and only document provided by the Department to debtor’s employer to cease the garnishment of Debtor’s wages. After mailing the release, the Department of Taxation took no additional actions.

Notwithstanding the Department being on notice of debtors’ June 7 filing and its issuance of the release; the garnishment of debtor’s wages continued from paychecks issued on June 14, June 21, June 28 and July 5, 2013. The Department was not aware of the continuing post-petition garnishment of debtor’s wages on its behalf until debtors tiled their motion seeking to find the Department in willful violation of automatic stay. Upon receipt of the motion, the Department promptly returned the funds improperly deducted from debtor’s post-petition wages.

The bankruptcy court found that the Department’s acts and omissions constituted a willful violation of the automatic stay. The court stated that it is creditor’s duty to ensure that the garnishment ceases, and that the Department, by waiting for six days before mailing the release to debtor’s employer and failing to make sure that the release was received and followed, had violated automatic stay.

The lesson from Voll is that creditors have their responsibilities once the debtors file for bankruptcy.  They have to take affirmative actions to ensure that the automatic stay is not violated and they cannot passively thwart a federal injunction of which one has knowledge by sitting back and allowing acts that are enjoined to continue. When a debtor’s wages are subject to garnishment, the creditor must take immediate action to effectively address its termination.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Debtors and Failure to Turnover Nonexempt Assets

Posted on March 23rd, 2014 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, BAPCPA, Chapter 7, Dischargeability, Exemptions, Procedure | No Comments »

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases where debtors have nonexempt assets, debtors have an obligation to transfer those assets to the bankruptcy trustee. It is very common for such assets to be debtors’ tax refunds. In this situation, at the meeting of the creditors, debtors are asked to sign a stipulation which is usually incorporated into a subsequent court order, agreeing to turn nonexempt tax refunds, or a part of them, to the bankruptcy trustee.  If debtors do not do so, they are subject to serious consequences which may include loss of their discharge, contempt of court or monetary penalties. The loss of discharge is the most serious penalty from the debtor’s point of view, since it will leave the debts nondischargeable in this or any subsequent bankruptcy that the debtor may file.

But what if the debtors are unable to turn over such assets due to financial reasons? What if the tax refunds were used for living expenses since debtors simply had no other choice?

This issue was recently addressed in In Re Swan, Case No. 08-11210 (W.D.N.Y. 2014), where Judge Michael J. Kaplan had to decide what the consequences should be for the debtors who had failed to turn over nonexempt portion of their tax refunds to the bankruptcy trustee.  The Chapter 7 trustee sought denial of discharge, as well as a finding of contempt of court and monetary penalties. Judge Kaplan held that in the absence of dishonesty on the part of the debtors, loss of discharge would be too harsh of a remedy and the court should not automatically deny or vacate discharge. Judge Kaplan held that if failure to turn over the assets is not as a result of dishonest conduct on the part of the debtors, the appropriate remedy is a monetary judgment that the trustee would be free to collect. Further, Judge Kaplan also held that if the debtors are unable to turn over such assets to the trustee, they have an obligation to seek immediate relief from the Court.

This case further confirms that debtors always have to try to follow the court’s orders and, if they are unable to comply with them, they have to seek relief from the court. While the debtors in Swan did not lose their discharge, they were held in contempt of court and were subject to monetary penalties. All of this could have been avoided if they kept their bankruptcy attorney involved in the case and notified him of their financial difficulties.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Co-Debtors and Automatic Stay

Posted on February 2nd, 2014 in automatic stay, Bankruptcy Basics, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Procedure | No Comments »

I am often asked if automatic stay in bankruptcy will protect debtor’s cosigner, otherwise known as co-debtors, from creditors.  The answer to that question depends on a number of factors and the type of bankruptcy filed.

Typically, cosigner liability comes into being after debtor’s friend or relative was asked to cosign a loan, so that debtor could obtain credit. If the debtor is forced to file a bankruptcy sometime thereafter, the following is likely to occur.

In order for the automatic stay provided by 11 U.S.C. §1301 to protect the co-debtor, the debtor must file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  Further, the debt filed on must be a “consumer” debt. To be a consumer debt, the debt must have been for the personal, household or family use of the person you cosigned for. If the loan cosigned for was to obtain money for a business, there is no protection for the cosigner. Further, even if the debtor is paying this bill in their Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, the creditor can still collect from the cosigner.

Further, the law specifically refers to co-debtors who are “individuals,” meaning people. So, if the co-debtor is a business entity, such as a corporation or LLC, the automatic stay does not protect the co-debtor. This can be important where an individual business owner is filing Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, but their business is not filing for bankruptcy protection.

Even if the debtor files a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy,  the plan must adequately protect the creditor. “Adequate protection” in most cases means that, in most cases, that particluar creditor must be paid in full. If the plan does not pay the debt in full, then the creditor can ask the court to lift the automatic stay. Once the stay is lifted, the creditor can pursue the cosigner for the unpaid amount.  The co-debtor is protected during the life of the bankruptcy, but once the bankruptcy is over, the co-debtor remains liable for the unpaid debt. For example, if the bankruptcy payment plan pays 25% of the debt, the co-debtor remains liable for the other 75% of the debt. For this reason, some bankruptcy payment plans provide for payment of joint debts in full in order to protect the co-debtor after the bankruptcy case is over.

A co-debtor stay is only available in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy case. If the debtor files a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the automatic stay will not apply and once the debtor receives a discharge, the cosigner will be liable for the  entire unpaid balance. Further, because of the discharge, cosigner will not be able to receive any money from the debtor. The co-debtor stay lifts at the end of the bankruptcy case, or when the case is dismissed, or when the case is converted to Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. After the stay is lifted, the creditor may pursue the co-debtor for payment of any unpaid portion of the debt.

If a creditor knowingly violates the automatic stay protecting the co-debtor, the Bankruptcy Court may hold the creditor in contempt of court, just as if the creditor had violated the automatic stay protecting the debtor. The Court may fine against the creditor and may award money damages to the injured party. Furthermore, any collections actions taken by a creditor in violation of the co-debtor stay are void and unenforceable.

Thus, it is usually a bad idea to cosign any debts. While the debtor may have every intention to pay the debt at the time it is incurred, this may not be true in the future. Co-signer has no control over repayment and oftern enough does not not know when the debtor defaults.  Further, any late payments or missed payments will be reported on cosigner’s credit.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Fraudulent Conveyances and Bankruptcy

Posted on October 26th, 2013 in Bankruptcy Planning, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Exemptions, Objections, Procedure | No Comments »

One of the issues that represents a significant problems for bankruptcy attorneys is that of fraudulent conveyances.  Generally, a fraudulent conveyance is a transfer of money or property from a debtor to someone or something else when either (1) the debtor intends to defraud creditors, or (2) the debtor received less than a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the transfer, and made it while insolvent. For example, if a husband transfers his house out of his name to the wife so his creditors wouldn’t get it, the transfer is a fraudulent conveyance. Such transfers can create quite a few problems in bankruptcy.

The limitations period for avoidance of fraudulent conveyances has changed over the years, but currently it is two years under the Bankruptcy Code (Section 548) and whatever longer period is available under state law (Section 544). Since I practice in New York, I will use its laws as an example. New York has a six-year statute of limitations for avoidance of fraudulent conveyances.

Earlier this year, in In re Panepinto, Case No. 12-11230 (W.D.N.Y. 2013), Judge Kaplan of the Bankruptcy Court, Western District of New York, found that a transfer of a house to the debtor’s spouse 4 years prior to the bankruptcy filing was a fraudulent conveyance.  In 2008, a judgment creditor was seeking to collect on a debt owed by Mrs. Panepinto, who owned a house with no mortgages or other liens encumbering the property. So, to thwart her judgment creditor, she transferred the house to her husband with no consideration for the transfer.

Last year, Mrs. Panepinto filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and her judgment creditor sought to set aside the transfer as a fraudulent conveyance under New York Debtor and Creditor Law §273.  The Bankruptcy Court sustained the judgment creditor’s challenge to the transfer. The reason the timing of the transfer is significant is because at the time of the transfer New York’s homestead exemption was lower than today, $50,000.00 rather than $75,000.00. Depending on what the value of the property was at the time the bankruptcy was filed, a portion of the value of the house may not be exempt. Since the court did not have this information presented, the court reserved its decision on the amount of the exemption pending proof of its value.

The lesson is that before transferring ownership in property, a debtor should seek advice of an attorney since any improper transfers may change status of assets from exempt to non-exempt or created other problems if subsequent bankruptcy is filed.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Homestead Exemption and Multi-Family Residences in New York

Posted on September 2nd, 2013 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, BAPCPA, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Exemptions, Procedure | No Comments »

Once in a while, I represent debtors who own a multi-family properties. In the past, the local Rochester rule has been to allocate the homestead exemption solely to the portion of the property that is used as the debtor’s residence.

However, in In re McCarthy; W.D.N.Y. Bk #11-31499, Syracuse Bankruptcy Court Judge Margaret Cangilos-Ruiz has ruled that a bankruptcy debtor can claim a homestead exemption in Chapter 7 bankruptcy on an entire parcel or residential property, even if the debtor only resides in part of the property. In McCarthy, the debtor owned property containing a two family house, both units of which were rented out, and a smaller building in the back where the debtor both worked and lived.  The creditor argued that the homestead exemption should only be allocated to that portion of the lot that is used as the debtor’s residence. The court ruled that the debtor could exempt the entire parcel.

McCarthy in part relied upon an earlier decision of Judge Cangilos-Ruiz, In re Ford, 415 B.R. 51 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 2009), aff’d. on appeal, Cmty. Bank, N.A., v. Ford, Civil Case No. 5:09-cv-633 (GLS) (N.D.N.Y Dec. 4, 2009). In Ford, the debtor lived on one parcel, an the septic and well water for the homestead parcel came from an adjoining vacant parcel. The parcel with the residence also included two sheds used by the debtor for both personal and commercial purposes. The court allowed the debtor to apply the homestead exemption to the vacant land parcel as well as the property with the residence.

The McCarthy decision also relied on a decision of Western District of New York Bankruptcy Judge Michael J. Kaplan, In re Rupp, 415 Br.R. 72 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 2008).  In Rupp, Judge Kaplan allowed the owner of a two family residence to exempt the entire parcel as a homestead.

McCarthy decision did not address an unpublished 1992 decision of the Hon. Michael A. Telesca, District Court Judge for the Western District of New York in Randall v. Mastowski, CIV-92-6049T. Mastowski was an appeal of a decision by former Rochester Bankruptcy Judge, Hon. Edward D. Hayes, In re Mastowski, 135 B.R. 1 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 1992). The debtor in that case owned two double houses, and only lived in one of the four units. Judge Telesca held that the debtor could only claim a homestead exemption “on that part of the property . . . that she occupies as her primary residence.”

In Rupp, Judge Kaplan  acknowledged the Mastowski district court decision, but held that “the binding effect of the decision of a district judge of this district upon all bankruptcy judges of this district depends on whether the district judge published the decision.”

Whether the McCarthy decision will be followed in Rochester by Judge Paul R. Warren is not quite clear at this time.  This issue has not been extensively litigated in the recent years perhaps because New York’s homestead exemption was so limited. Since the homestead exemption has been increased to $75,000 in Western New York, and up to $150,000 elsewhere in the state, I anticipate more litigation involving homestead exemption claims for multi-family properties in the foreseeable future.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Changes to the Bankruptcy Means Test as of April 1, 2013

Posted on April 12th, 2013 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, BAPCPA, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Means Test, Procedure | No Comments »

Once again, the means test figures for median income have changed as of April 1, 2013. In New York, it means that the amount of income that the debtor can have before being forced into a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is going to increase.

Through March 31, 2013, a single debtor in New York could have $46,821 in income in income and still be able to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  Starting April 1, 2013, that figure has been increased to $47,790.  Similar increases will take place for all family sizes. The comparison of the existing and new income limits is below.

Old Income Limits

FAMILY SIZE

1 EARNER         2 PEOPLE              3 PEOPLE              4 PEOPLE *

$46,821              $58,106                 $67,652               $81,522

New Income Limits

FAMILY SIZE

1 EARNER         2 PEOPLE                3 PEOPLE             4 PEOPLE *

$47,790               $59,308                    $69,052              $83,209

* Add $7,500 for each individual in excess of 4.

While the increases are not large, they are an improvement on the last set of income limits.  The reason for a slight growth in the median income is the slight growth in the earnings of an average American family. Since the economy is down, employers do not give employees significant wages increases.  As a result, the American median family income has grown only slightly, and means test figures increased only moderately.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Dischargeability of Debt and Objections by Creditors

Posted on March 24th, 2013 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, BAPCPA, Chapter 13, Dischargeability, Objections, Preferences, Procedure | No Comments »

When debtors meet with me and tell me that they want to file for bankruptcy, I ask them questions about their debts, assets, and their financial affairs over the last few years. I also ask is how long ago they last used their credit cards. If they tell me that the credit cards were used within 90 days prior to the filing, I ask them to provide me with their credit card statements and information with regard to what was bought. All of this information helps me to assess whether I am likely to see potential objections from creditors with regard to dischargeability of one or more debts.

According to 11 U.S.C. §523(a)(2), a debt is presumed to be nondischargeable if a Debtor charges more than $600 for luxury goods on a credit card with in 90 days, or takes cash advances of more than $875 within 70 days of filing for bankruptcy. This presumption can be rebutted, but the burden is on the debtor to prove that the purchases did not involve luxury goods or services.

Another reason a creditor may object to the discharge is fraud and misrepresentation of debtors’ assets or income in order to obtain credit. If debtors misrepresent their financial condition in order to obtain a loan or credit line, and the creditor relies upon such misrepresentation when agreeing to extend credit, the creditor can object. For example, if the debtor earned $15,000 a year, but stated on the credit card application that he was earning $50,000 per year in order to get get approved, this would be a material representation likely to result in objections being filed.

Hiding an asset or failing to disclose it in a bankruptcy proceeding are also grounds to challenge a debtor’s discharge. For example, if you own an investment property, especially one with equity, which could not be protected under the Bankruptcy Code, and fail to inform the bankruptcy court of this asset, then a creditor may challenge debtor’s right to a discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §727. Under such circumstances, a debtor may also get charged criminally.

Finally, the transfer of assets to family members or others just before filing bankruptcy can cause a creditor to challenge the bankruptcy case. It is particularly a problem if the asset transferred would not have been fully exempt in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, and the transfer was made with the intent to deprive a creditor of a benefit. If the debtor does this, either the bankruptcy trustee or any creditor who might have received a benefit from the sale of this asset may allege you committed a fraudulent transfer of an asset. The Federal look-back period under 11 U.S.C. §548 and New York’s look-back period is six years.

In view of the above, I always advise my clients to stop using any credit cards at least 90 days prior to filing for bankruptcy, disclose all their assets, and be honest with regard to any financial transactions.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Top Five Things Not To Do Before Filing Bankruptcy

Posted on January 6th, 2013 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Exemptions, Preferences, Procedure | No Comments »

Many people try to engage in financial planning once they make a decision to file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. While such planning can be helpful, there are many potential dangers for the unwary debtors who do not involve a bankruptcy attorney in this process.  Here is a list of top five things not do since they may cause significant problems in your bankruptcy case.

Number 5: Stop  using credit cards once you decide to file.

In bankruptcy, honesty is the best policy. Using credit cards when you have no intention to repay may result in the debt being nondischargeable, especially where credit cards are being used to purchase luxury goods or for vacations, or cash withdrawals are made. The bankruptcy code gives credit card issuers a number of advantages when credit cards are used just prior to filing bankruptcy. If a creditor decides to file objections, the bankruptcy court may determine that the debt is nondischargeable. Before you use a credit card convenience check, transfer a credit card balance, take a cash advance, or go on a spending spree, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 4: Don’t transfer property before filing bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy petition requires that debtors identify all financial transfers made before their bankruptcy filing. Further, during a typical meeting of the creditors, the bankruptcy trustee will usually ask about any transfers, and will ask debtors about transfers of real property made within the last 6 years. The bankruptcy trustee will review any transfers within the last year, and any transfers that violate preference rules can be voided by the trustee. If the transfer is voided, the debtor may lose the right to protect such property, and the recipient of the property will have to return that property to the trustee. Before selling or transferring property, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 3: Don’t repay loans to friends or family.

Because of the preference rules, any transactions such as repayment of loans to relatives or  friends can be voided by the bankruptcy trustee as preference. Once the trustee determines that the transaction is a preference, the trustee then can can recover such funds from your family members or friends, and use them to pay your creditors. Before paying back debts owed to family members or friends, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 2: Don’t pay more than $600 to one creditor.

Like payments to family members or friends, any payments that exceed $600 and made to any one creditor within 90 days of the bankruptcy filing, can be avoided as a preference. While those payments will be recovered by the trustee from the recipients, it may make more sense to simply not make such payments and preserve the money. Before paying making significant payments to their creditors within 90 days prior to their bankruptcy filing, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 1: Don’t cash out retirement plans or 401k plans to pay creditors.

Since retirement plans are fully protected by the Bankruptcy Code, debtors should not withdraw retirement funds to pay creditors. Not only such payments are likely to be voided as preferences, they are also likely to result in taxable consequences to the debtors.  Also, once the money is withdrawn, it may lose its protected status, and it is possible that either the creditors or, eventually, bankruptcy trustee may take it.

The bankruptcy code contains many dangers for the unwary. A bankruptcy attorney can help you avoid these common mistakes. It is always a good idea to engage in bankruptcy planning and discuss your financial situation with a bankruptcy attorney.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Bankruptcy Planning, Debt and 401(k)

Posted on September 3rd, 2012 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, BAPCPA, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Exemptions, Procedure | No Comments »

Once in a while, I hear from debtors who tells me that they expended all or nearly all of their retirement savings trying to avoid bankruptcy.  Unfortunately, if you spend your retirement funds trying to avoid bankruptcy, you cannot get it back.  If, ultimately, the use of those retirement funds was insufficient to avoid bankruptcy, that money was simply wasted if the debtor still needs to file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

As I have written previously, 401(k) and most other retirement plans are exempt in bankruptcy. What that means is that if the debtor engaged in some bankruptcy planning and filed bankruptcy before withdrawing retirement funds, the debtor would be able to keep those retirement funds and discharge his or her debts.

I understand why debtors spend their retirement money on debts that would otherwise be dischargeable in bankruptcy. Usually, they want to repay their debts and they will employ any available means to do so. While most debtors are aware of bankruptcy as an option, most debtors try to avoid it.

Since bankruptcy gives you a chance to discharge your debt and protect the assets such as retirement funds, it may be foolish to spend all of your retirement money, and I advise debtors to explore their options before making these decisions.  The most important question that the debtors should ask and answer is whether their necessary and reasonable living expenses and debt payments exceed their take home income on a regular basis. If so, is this going to change because of increased income or decreased expenses in the foreseeable future?

If the debtor is left with a permanent deficit and does not expect it to change, then it does not make sense to withdraw retirement funds to continue to pay down that deficit until there is no retirement money left. The bankruptcy system, both New York and federal exemptions, protects your retirement funds.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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Chapter 13 Discharge and Child Support Arrears

Posted on April 22nd, 2012 in Bankruptcy Basics, Bankruptcy Planning, Chapter 13, Dischargeability, Procedure | No Comments »

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy cases can take between 3 and 5 years to complete, and, in a current economy, as many as two thirds of all Chapter 13 plans fail.  Thus, any debtor who has completed the plan should be proud of his or her accomplishments.

However, under some circumstances, even if all of the plan payments are made over a five year period, the debtor may not receive his Chapter 13 discharge. Specifically, Bankruptcy Code Section §1328, precludes the judge from issuing a discharge if you do not certify that all domestic support obligations that have come due during the pendency of your case have been paid. Additionally, if the debtor has child support arrears prior to filing of the case, those arrears must be paid in full during the term of the plan.

If domestic support (i.e. child support or alimony) were not paid, and that failure was not excusable, the case will be closed, and the debtor will not receive the discharge. In the case of child support in Chapter 13, the debtor cannot ignore the obligation, even if the custodial parent or child support enforcement is saying and doing nothing. Otherwise, the debtor may end up with a perfect  payment history in Chapter 13, but no order of discharge.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

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