Means Test – Inclusions and Exclusions

In a typical Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the most significant hurdle that the debtor has to overcome is the means test.

The 2005 amendments to the bankruptcy code created a new Means Test. The main purpose of this test is to a) determine if an individual is eligible to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and b) to determine the disposable income of a Chapter 13 debtor who is above the median income.

In order to determine eligibility to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the means test is calculated by entering the debtor’s income figures for the prior six months into form B22 of the bankruptcy petition. If the debtor is below median income, no further steps need be taken and the debtor is presumed to be able to file Chapter 7.

If the debtor is above median income, further sections of form B22 must be filled out. The debtor’s estimated monthly income (based on the prior 6 months) is calculated and deductions are made using both IRS standards (for most living expenses) and some of the debtor’s actual expenses (including secured debt payments and health expenses).

If, after these deductions, it is determined that the debtor has minimal or no monthly disposable income, the means test is satisfied and the debtor is presumed eligible to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. If the debtor fails the means test, he or she is presumed ineligible to file Chapter 7, and absent special circumstances warranting an exception, must seek relief under another chapter of the code, typically, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

In order to determine disposable income in a Chapter 13 case, the Means Test is conducted much the same way as in a Chapter 7 case. If the debtor is below median income, the remaining sections if form B22 need not be filled out and the debtor’s disposable income will be based on his or her actual income and expenses at the time the petition is filed. If the debtor is above-median income, the remaining steps of the means test are performed and disposable income is the figure reached through the above-described means test calculation. In many instances the figure yielded by the means test will be close to what the debtor pays every month over the life of the Chapter 13 plan.

What is also critical is what income is included within the definition of income.  Initially, the spouse’s income may be included, even if the spouse is not filing bankruptcy.  If you are receiving support in your household from your spouse, then you’re supposed to have that income available for your creditors even if you don’t earn actually that income.

Another issue which comes up fairly often is income received from sources other than work.  Some sources of “other income” could include: interest, dividends, pension income, bonus payments, child support, alimony or maintenance payments, disability payments under workers compensation or private insurance. Some other sources of income to the family which may or may not be income include: withdrawals from IRA and 401k plan, income tax refunds.

Some sources of revenue are not income for purposes of the means test: social security payments received by the filer or his/her spouse, unemployment benefits, certain types of income received by the members of the National Guard or Armed Forces Reserve.

Social Security income: Means testing does not consider social security as income. Accordingly, someone with $2,000.00 per month social security income will pass the means test even if expenses are only $1,000 and $1,000 is left over to pay creditors on the means test. Social Security Income includes both Social Security Disability (“SSD”) as well as Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments. Social Security income may be received by children in the household as survivor benefits in a situation where one of the parents has died. Despite the fact that those benefits can be substantial, U.S. Trustee’s Office advises that that survivor benefits income is not to be included in the means test, despite the fact that, in most situations, such income is used to pay household expenses.

The National Guard and Reservists Relief Debt Act of 2008 applies to certain members of the National Guard and reserve components of the Armed Forces. If you are a  member of the  National Guard Member or Armed Forces Reserve, then you will be temporarily excluded from the means test for entire time you are on active duty and 540 days thereafter, provided you serve at least 90 days. If your duty is less than 90 days, you do not qualify. If you are active member of the active duty military, you do not qualify.

Another important exception applies to the situations where the debtor has primarily non-consumer debt.  If the debtor’s debt is primarily non-consumer debt, then means test does not apply. Accordingly, someone making $10,000 per month with primarily business debts, still qualifies for Chapter 7 relief and discharge.

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.