Should You Hire a Bankruptcy Lawyer?

Some of the major reasons why people who know they need to file for bankruptcy, but postpone doing so, is fears about filing either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, and concern about paying the legal fees.

Some debtors consider filing bankruptcy on their own.  However, this can be a major mistake and can create additional problems.  As I have written about previously, bankruptcy involves a number of procedural and substantive steps and tests that have to be satisfied before the bankruptcy court can grant a discharge.

In both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, the debtor must appear before a court-appointed trustee for a 341 hearing.  The bankruptcy trustee who conducts the hearing is not someone who is there to help the debtor.  His role is just the opposite. The trustee is charged with investigating the debtor and his financial circumstances to determine if there are any assets available for thee benefit of creditors.  Meeting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney will enable the debtor to have his or her financial situation reviewed and assets protected in advance to the extent possible.

What debtors may not realize is that certain types of financial transactions that may have taken place years before filing can have a major impact on the debtor’s bankruptcy.  For example, if any significant assets were given away or if real estate was transferred, this may amount to what is known as a fraudulent conveyance or a preference, and may result in significant litigation in the bankruptcy case.  Usually, a bankruptcy lawyer will review these issues before a bankruptcy petition is filed in order to mitigate the risk.

While the bankruptcy petition is written in plain English, it is a difficult document to prepare for someone who is not familiar with the Bankruptcy Code. A complete petition in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in New York, including all of the various forms and schedules runs in excess of 40 pages.  The petition requires preparing numerous schedules and budgets.  The debtor must list appropriate information about his debts, assets, income and expenses.

The Statement of Financial Affairs includes numerous questions that must be answered. All of the debtor’s creditors must be listed not only in a schedule of debts (segregated in three separate categories) but also in a special format called a Matrix. Such listing must include creditors’ names, addresses, account numbers, dates when any debts were incurred and their purpose.

When Congress passed BAPCPA in 2005, it imposed many new requirements.  The most significant of those requirements is a complex and complicated means test, as well as the requirement for mandatory credit counseling.  The Chapter 7 trustee as well as the Office of the U.S. Trustee reviews each and every petition to make sure all of the requirements under the new law are properly met. The means test is complicated, and the debtor’s failure to properly prepare the bankruptcy means test can create significant problems as the United States Trustee can seek to have the bankruptcy case dismissed.

The debtor must also choose which Chapter of bankruptcy to file.  If a debtor is seeking to stop foreclosure and cure mortgage arrears, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing won’t be helpful. At the same time, a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy filing is likely to result in a 3-5 years payment plan.

There are self-help books that explain how a debtor can prepare and file his petition and complete the process.  However, there are many traps for the unwary that even attorneys who do not regularly practice bankruptcy often create problems for their clients.

Every bankruptcy trustee I know in Rochester, New York, has expressed concern about those debtors who file bankruptcy without an attorney because these debtors often make serious procedural and substantive mistakes. Self-representation by pro-se debtors in bankruptcy matters can end up being a mistake, and result in further financial problems for the debtor.

If you 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.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy and Projected Disposable Income

In order to confirm a plan in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, unless creditors are paid in full, the debtor must pay to unsecured creditors his or her “projected disposable income” expected to be received in an “applicable commitment period”, either 36 or 60 months depending on the Chapter 13 plan.  Since the enactment of 2005 BAPCPA, there has been a dispute over what “projected disposable income” meant.  A recent decision of the United States Supreme Court has resolved that issue, at least partially.

In Hamilton v. Lanning, decided on June 7, 2010, the Supreme Court held that “when a bankruptcy court calculates a debtor’s projected disposable income, the court may account for changes in the debtor’s income or expenses that are known or virtually certain at the time of confirmation.”  In other words, rather than simply applying the calculation of “current monthly income,” which looks at the debtor’s income for the 6 calendar months before the filing of the petition, the court may consider changes in income that have occurred, or are expected to occur, or virtually certain to occur at the time of confirmation.

In Lanning, the debtor had received a termination buyout from her former employer which, when included in “current monthly income,” dramatically increased her income over what she was really making, and the mechanical application of current monthly income approach would have resulted in her having to pay more into the plan than she possibly could afford.  Because after the buyout she was making wages well below the state median income, the Supreme Court held that this change in income could be considered in calculating her “projected disposable income.”

While being practical and understandable, this “forward looking” approach should not give the bankruptcy court or the bankruptcy trustee, or the debtor, an opportunity to make unsubstantiated claims. The Supreme Court stated that “a court taking the forward-looking approach should begin by calculating disposable income, and in most cases, nothing more is required. It is only in unusual cases that a court may go further and take into account other known or virtually certain information about the debtor’s future income or expenses.”

While the debtor’s expenses as included in the “projected disposable income” were not specifically before the Court, the opinion stated that the court may consider changes in income or expenses when calculating projected disposable income.  In Lanning, the Supreme Court stated that what is required is a “change” in income or expenses, not a discrepancy between the expenses allowed on the “means test” and the debtor’s actual expenses.   As I previously discussed, debtors whose “current monthly income” is above the state median, many expenses are determined based on fixed allowances, not on what the debtor’s actual expenses are.   For example, the food and related items allowance (set by the IRS) is $1,000 for the debtor’s household size, but the debtor only spends $500 on these items, he or she can claim the full allowance in calculating “projected disposable income.” Under the statute, the bankruptcy trustee is not be allowed to recapture that difference, and require that it be paid to creditors.  Conversely, if the debtor spends $2,000, he can still only claim the allowance. As a result, for many debtors, the fixed “means test” numbers result in a more favorable result than their real expenses as stated on Schedules I and J. Because the difference between the means test expenses and expenses reported on Schedule J, Lanning does not change the existing differences between them.

At the same time, under Lanning, the debtor may be disadvantages if the debtor is disallowed a deduction for secured debt payments where property is being surrendered or perhaps where liens are being stripped down or off. Under Lanning, such change in the debt payments may be seen as “change” in expenses.  However, unless there is a “change” in those secured debt expenses that are allowed as real figures on the means test, the means test expenses will remain the same.

If you 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.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Stripping of Unsecured Second Mortgage

One question that I am often asked is whether the unsecured second or third mortgage on the property owned by the debtor can be stripped in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  In Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, the unsecured second mortgage can be stripped by bringing a Ponds motion.

Unfortunately, in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the unsecured second or third mortgage cannot be stripped.  In a recent decision which also applies to the bankruptcy cases in Rochester, New York,  In re Grano, the Buffalo Bankruptcy Judge Bucki held that in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy cases, the debtors cannot avoid wholly unsecured second or third mortgages.

Joseph and Ann Grano owned a residence in the Town of Amherst, New York.  After filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy petition, they commenced the adversary proceeding against Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., to avoid a second mortgage.  In their complaint, they alleged that their real estate has a current fair market value of $445,000 and that it is encumbered by two mortgages: a first lien with an outstanding principal balance of $511,000, and the second mortgage of Wells Fargo with a balance of $95,837.60.

Granos asserted that they can avoid the second mortgage pursuant to the authority of 11 U.S.C. § 506(a) and (d).  In lieu of an answer, Wells Fargo moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action.  In relevant part, section 506(a)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code states that “[a]n allowed claim of a creditor secured by a lien on property in which the estate has an interest . . . is a secured claim to the extent of the value of such creditor’s interest in the estate’s interest in such property . . . and is an unsecured claim to the extent that the value of such creditor’s interest . . . is less than the amount of such allowed claim.” Asserting that the first mortgage secures a debt greater than the value of the property, the debtors argue that in its status as a second mortgagee, Wells Fargo retains only an unsecured claim.  Subject to exceptions not here present, 11 U.S.C. § 506(d) states that “[t]o the extent that a lien secures a claim against the debtor that is not an allowed secured claim, such lien is void.” In reliance upon this later subdivision, the debtors commenced their  adversary proceeding to avoid the second mortgage of Wells Fargo.

In Dewsnup, the Supreme Court accepted the position of the secured creditor, that “the words ‘allowed secured claim’ in §506(d) need not be read as an indivisible term of art defined by reference to § 506(a).”  Instead, the language of section 506(d) “should be read term-by-term to refer to any claim that is, first, allowed, and, second, secured.  Because there is no question that the claim at issue here has been ‘allowed’ pursuant to §502 of the Code and is secured by a lien with recourse to the underlying collateral, it does not come within the scope of §506(d), which voids only liens  corresponding to claims that have not been allowed and secured.” 502 U.S.at 415.  Effectively, therefore, the Supreme Court refused to recognize section 506(d) as a grant of authority to a debtor in Chapter 7 to “strip-down” or cancel the lien of an undersecured mortgage.

In contrast to Chapter 7, debtors in Chapter 13 may assert rights under special statutory provisions for the treatment of secured claims.  Specifically, 11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(2) provides that a Chapter 13 plan may “modify the rights of holders of secured claims, other than a claim secured only by a security interest in real property that is the debtor’s principal residence, or of holders of unsecured claims, or leave unaffected the rights of holders of any class of claims.” InNobelman v. American Savings Bank, 508 U.S. 324 (1993), the Supreme Court held that the language of section 1322(b)(2) precluded the bifurcation of an undersecured homestead mortgage into secured and unsecured claims. Consequently, to the extent that a homestead has value to collateralize any portion of a mortgage, a chapter 13 plan must treat that lien as fully secured.  However, in In re Pond, 252 F.3d 122 (2001), the Second Circuit distinguished those circumstances where the homestead lacks equity to collateralize any portion of an inferior lien. In this special circumstance, because the lien is wholly unsecured, the debtors “are not ‘holders of . . . a claim secured only by a security interest in . . . the debtor’s principal residence,’ 11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(2), and their rights in the lien are not protected under the antimodification exception of Section 1322(b)(2).” 252 F.3d at 127.

In the present instance, Mr. and Mrs. Grano contended that this court should adopt for Chapter 7 the same exception that the Second Circuit has recognized for cases in Chapter 13, to the effect of permitting the avoidance of secondary liens that are totally undercollateralized. Unfortunately, this argument overlooks the unique statutory predicate of Chapter 13.  In allowing a debtor in Chapter 13 to avoid a fully unsecured homestead mortgage, the decision in In re Pond utilized the authority of 11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(2). No parallel provision applies in Chapter 7.  The court concluded that notwithstanding the absence of equity beyond superior liens, the debtors may not avoid the second mortgage of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

This decision forces the debtors and their bankruptcy lawyer to engage in a cost benefit analysis in a situation where there is a wholly unsecured second or mortgage.  Assuming the debtors can file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, the benefit of filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and discharging all unsecured debt, should be compared to the benefit of a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy plan payments over 5 years, and a likely discharge of the unsecured second or third mortgage.  Assuming the debtors wish to retain their residence, the comparison of two figures should point them in the right direction.

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.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Recent Move by the Debtor and Applicable State Exemptions

Periodically, I see debtors who have moved recently to Rochester, New York, or nearby, from another state who wish to file either Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The critical issue in those situations is to determine what state’s bankruptcy exemption laws, if any, will apply.

Under BAPCPA, which passed in 2005, the initial question is how long the debtor has resided in the present state of residence. If the debtor has lived in the same state for the two years prior to filing, then New York’s exemptions will apply. However, if the debtor has moved to New York from another state during the prior two years, then the following rules will apply.

If the debtor resided in the same state for at least 730 calendar days continuously (two years) prior to the filing of the bankruptcy petition, then the debtor can use that state’s exemptions. If the debtor did not live in the current state continuously for at least 730 days, then the debtor must pick the state in which he lived most of the time during the 180 days prior to the 730 days. In other words, the state that must be selected is where the debtor lived most of the time between 2 and 2 ½ years before filing.

If no state qualifies using the above rules (i.e., the debtor has lived in abroad) or if the 180-day state requires current residency or being a domiciliary to use its exemptions, then the debtor must use the federal exemptions. The default rule will only apply if the debtor did not live in any state during the 180 day period that began 730 days before filing, or if the state requires current residency or domiciliary. Under some circumstances, it is advantageous to the debtor to use the federal exemptions since they are typically more generous than New York’s exemptions.

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, New York, bankruptcy lawyer.

Should You Use Credit Cards Once You Decided to File Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you should stop using your credit cards.  Once you’ve decided to file for bankruptcy, any credit card use after that point will be highly scrutinized by both the credit card issuer and the bankruptcy trustee, and is likely to be viewed with a great deal of suspicion.  The reasons for this are obvious.  If the debtor decides that he is seeking to eliminate his credit card debt through Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or pay a lesser amount though a Chapter 13 filing, then incurring additional credit card debt can be considered fraudulent.  Specifically, the credit card issuer will make an argument that the additional debt was incurred without intention to repay, then the discharge can be objected to. Also, the issuer will also look at all of the transactions to verify that the money was not spent on such things as vacation trips, or that other unnecessary spending didn’t take place.  If a credit card issuer learns that a debtor used a card without any intention of making full payment, then the credit card company has the right to object to the debtor’s discharge of that particular debt.

Also, if the bankruptcy trustee, or United States Trustee, learn that the debtor intentionally ran up his credit cards before filing, then either trustee can seek to have the debtor’s discharge denied or move to have the case dismissed.  There is also the possibility that the debtor can be found to have engaged in bankruptcy fraud, which is a criminal offense.

While consumer Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows the debtor to eliminate all credit card debts and get a fresh new financial start, the debtor should not jeopardize his ability to seek bankruptcy protection by engaging in self-serving or foolish behavior.  There is simply no reason to create problems for the upcoming bankruptcy filing.  Therefore, don’t use your credit cards once you’ve decided to file bankruptcy.

If you 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 New York bankruptcy lawyer.

Mistakes to Avoid When Filing For Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in New York

While bankruptcy appears to be a straight forward process, there are many pitfalls for the unwary.  Some actions taken by the debtor before filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in New York, may result in serious consequences.  Here are some areas where mistakes are commonly made

1. Debts owed to family and friends.  I would strongly recommend that you don’t try to pay back the debts owed to family and friends in anticipation of your bankruptcy filing.  A trustee in a bankruptcy case can reach back and undo any such transactions that took place within one year prior to your bankruptcy filing.   The concept is known as preference.  It is intended to prevent debtors from favoring some creditors over other creditors by transferring assets to a third party and then claiming they have nothing left.  While you may not be aware of preference, and your actions are responsible and just, they are likely to be undone by the bankruptcy trustee.

2. Disclose your financial affairs to your bankruptcy lawyer.  Always be honest with your lawyer about your assets and your financial transactions.  I am on your side and am able to help you, but I need to know everything that has taken place in order to take full benefit of the bankruptcy law.  I can’t do that unless I have all the information available.  Also, if I am not aware of certain facts, and if they come to light during the case or even after your discharge that you’ve withheld information or hid assets, you’ll not only lose the assets that were hidden, but the entire discharge can be undone.  This means all of the bankruptcy protection created by your bankruptcy is lost and creditors can once again pursue you.

3. Don’t withdraw your retirement money.  Sometimes, this is the easy route out of financial difficulties since the debtor may think that he or she may need more cash on hand if you’re getting ready to file for bankruptcy.  However, since retirement plans such as IRAs and your 401(k) are actually protected from creditors by bankruptcy exemptions in New York.  If you take the cash out and try to keep it, it will become part of the debtor’s estate.  Additionally, you’ll owe pay taxes on the money you withdraw.

4.  Don’t disregard pending lawsuits against you.  While the automatic stay will protect you from any pending actions, once the bankruptcy is filed, any lawsuits pending prior to the filing should not be allowed to go into default.  Lawsuits, if permitted to go into default have consequences and may result in adverse finding that may be difficult to undo during the bankruptcy.  Do not treat law suits the same way as creditors.  While the creditors will primarily call you and send you letters, lawsuits can have serious consequences that can be implemented before you file.  Therefore, make sure that you, or your attorney, respond to any pending actions.

Of course, the most important step in all of this is to make sure you’re working with a knowledgeable, experienced and trustworthy bankruptcy lawyer.  A good bankruptcy lawyer will help you successfully navigate the bankruptcy process and help ensure that you avoid all of the potential problems.

If you 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 New York bankruptcy lawyer.

Reviewing Your Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Petition – A Critical Part of Your Bankruptcy Process

I spend a fair amount of time in 341 hearings.  While waiting for my bankruptcy cases to be called, I listen to the trustee asking debtors and their lawyers questions about bankruptcy petitions.  In my experience, one thing that always that gets bankruptcy trustee worked up, are incomplete or inaccurate bankruptcy petitions.  Because the bankruptcy petition is signed by the debtors who, by signing it, certify its accuracy, debtors’ failure to read their bankruptcy petitions and lack of awareness of factual errors or omissions that they contain may cause significant problems.

While a completed bankruptcy petition usually runs between 30 and 40 pages, it is not an exciting read, and contains plenty of legalese, as well as recitals of the debtors’ financial assets, income, expenses,a a list of all the creditors.  However, by signing it, the debtor certifies that he/she not only read it, but that all information contained in the petition is true and correct, just as if the debtor testified to that information under oath.  At the beginning of every 341 hearing, the trustee asking the debtor if he/she read the bankruptcy petition before having signed it, reviewed it with his/her bankruptcy attorney, and if everything in the petition is true and correct.

Trustees get very upset at debtors because their petitions weren’t accurate or complete.   A typical debtor would tell the trustee, “I didn’t notice a mistake or omission and it needs to be corrected,”  but later admit they did not read the petition carefully.  When the bankruptcy petition is missing important information and that information could have been easily corrected by the debtor, the debtor’s credibility is greatly reduced.  If the petition is completely inaccurate, the trustee can allege that the debtor was engaging in fraudulent and deceptive conduct.

In my practice, I insist that my clients read every page of their petition and review it with me before they sign it.  Even if the client want to rely on my work, the petition has to be read by every client who must understand its contents.

If you 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 bankruptcy lawyer.

Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability and Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

If you are in debt, does it always make sense to file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy?  If your only source of  income is Social Security or Social Security Disability, you can file for bankruptcy, but it may not be necessary.  Because of the exemptions under both federal and New York State law, if your sole source of income is either Social Security Retirement or Social Security Disability, you are generally considered to be judgment proof and your income is exempt from garnishment or other collections actions by the creditors.  While your creditors still have the right to sue you and obtain judgments, they are not likely to be able to enforce them against your income or any bank accounts that contain solely the money from either Social Security Disability or Social Security Retirement.  At the same time, the debtor may still have other assets, either personal or real property, that a creditor may reach once it obtains a  judgment.

Even if you are judgment proof, you may still need to file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  If you have secured debt, such as a mortgage or car payment, and you are behind on your payments, Chapter 13 may give you the ability to bring these secured debts current, while still discharging most or all of your revolving credit debt, personal loans or medical debt.  Another benefit of filing for bankruptcy is that either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stop harassment by the creditors.

If you 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 bankruptcy lawyer.

Chapter 7 Means Test

Under the current version of the bankruptcy law, in order to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor must pass a “means test” which will determine whether debtor, or his family, is eligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The purpose of the means test is to keep debtors from abusing the bankruptcy system by filing when they don’t have to do so.  The presumption is that if the debtor fails the means test, he/she is trying to abuse the system.

If the debtor’s income is below the median income for families in New York, based on Census Bureau statistics, the debtor will be eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The current means test figures for New York are listed here.

The means test uses the income of the debtor for the six months leading up to the filing of the bankruptcy.  The monthly income figure for that time is referred to as the debtor’s “current monthly income”.

Even if the debtor’s income has recently decreased, the use of the six months before the filing date may make the debtor’s income for bankruptcy purposes higher than it will actually be and place him/her into an income situation where he/she may be required to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

If you make more than the median income for families in New York, your income over the past six months is considered, along with mortgage and car payments, back taxes and child support obligations, and school expenses up to $1,500 per year. You won’t be eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if, after deducting these amounts, and the living expenses provided in the Internal Revenue Service’s national collection standards, you have a monthly disposable income of more than $100.00 per month.

If your monthly disposable income is more than $166.66, you have failed the means test, and cannot qualify for Chapter 7.

If your monthly disposable income is between $100.00 and $166.66, and that is enough to pay more than 25% of your unsecured, nonpriority debts (credit card bills, student loans, medical bills, and so on) over a five-year period, then you fail the means test, and Chapter 7 won’t be available to you.  If it is not enough to pay more than 25% of your unsecured, nonpriority debts over a five-year period, then you pass the means test, and Chapter 7 remains an option.

If you don’t qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your only option would be a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

If you are dealing with debt problems in 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.

Debt Settlement – Does It Work?

Recently, I read a New York Times article, “Debt Settlers Offer Promises But Little Help“, that confirmed something that I already knew – debt settlement, in most cases, does not work and usually costs a lot more than a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  Also, most people working with debt settlement companies are likely to find themselves in the worse financial situation after entering debt settlement.  One quote summarizes how debt settlement industry does business:

Consumers who turn to these companies sometimes get help from them, personal finance experts say, but that is not the typical experience. More often, they say, a settlement company collects a large fee, often 15 percent of the total debt, and accomplishes little or nothing on the consumer’s behalf.

While I appreciate the fact that most debtors want to avoid filing bankruptcy, in my opinion, bankruptcy represents an opportunity for a fresh start for most people.  The critical difference between a bankruptcy and a debt settlement, despite what a debt settlement company may claim, is that the creditor does not have to agree to a debt settlement arrangement.  In a bankruptcy, under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, the creditor is obligated to follow the Chapter 13 repayment plan or accept results of the Chapter 7 discharge.

At the same time, if a debtor has a only a few debts, may have other alternatives to either filing a bankruptcy or working with a debt settlement company.

I have experience with “workouts” which is a term used to describe a non-bankruptcy negotiated modification of debt.  A workout is an out-of-court agreement between a debtor and his or her creditors for repayment of the debts between them, which is negotiated without all the procedural complications — and perhaps the stigma — of the bankruptcy process.  A typical workout takes form of either “composition”, which is a contract between the debtor and two or more creditors in which the creditors agree to take a partial payment in full satisfaction of their claims. Another option is an “extension”, which  is a contract between the debtor and two or more creditors in which the creditors agree to extend the time for payment of their claims. An agreement may be both a composition and an extension, i.e., an agreement to accept less money over a longer period of time.

There is no requirement that all of the debtor’s creditors agree to a composition or extension, but most of them must voluntarily support it for it to work. Creditors that do not agree to the workout are not affected by it and remain entitled to pursue other remedies to collect the debts owed to them. My role in this process is to negotiate such agreements on behalf of the debtor.

If you are dealing with debt problems in 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.