Debtor and Bank’s Right of Setoff

One of the common issues that may arise in a bankruptcy, is that the debtor may have one or more accounts at a bank to which the debtor owes money.  In those situations, the bank may assert its right of setoff.

The right of setoff in New York is available to a lending institution pursuant to Section 9-g of the Banking Law. Under that section, banking institutions have a long established right of setoff where a borrower is indebted to the institution and also has money on deposit with the institution. This right of setoff is preserved in bankruptcy by Section 553(a), which provides that,

“Except as otherwise provided in this section and in sections 362 and 363 of this title, this title does not affect any right of a creditor to offset a mutual debt owing by such creditor to the debtor that arose before the commencement of the case under this title against a claim of such creditor against the debtor that arose before the commencement of the case[.]”

At  a first glance, the setoff appears to require a motion to lift the automatic stay since Section 362(a)(7) specifically covers “the setoff of any debt owing to the debtor that arose before the commencement of the case under this title against any claim against the debtor[.]”.  Thus, under the statute, in order to exercise that right, the bank must make a motion to lift automatic stay.  However, here in Rochester, in In re Catalano, Judge Ninfo has ruled that under some circumstances, the bankruptcy court will not require the motion to lift stay and set the following policy.

If a banking institution has a clear right of setoff under New York law and the debtor has funds on deposit with it in the amount of $750.00 or less, and also owes the institution a debt in excess of the funds on deposit, the institution may setoff the amount on deposit without obtaining formal relief from the automatic stay, provided that it gives the written notice described herein, and the trustee or debtor does not demand a hearing because there is a genuine dispute as to the asserted right of setoff.

As stated in the decision, the banking institution shall give written notice to the trustee, debtor and debtor’s attorney, if there is one, that: (1) asserts its right of setoff; (2) is accompanied by copies of the debtor’s schedules or other documentation that demonstrates the right of setoff; (3) sets forth a “contact person” at the institution, along with that individual’s address, direct telephone number and a fax number; and (4) advises that unless the trustee or debtor has a genuine dispute as to the validity of the asserted right of setoff, it will be effected ten (10) days after the date of the mailing of the notice. In the event that the trustee or debtor notifies the contact person of a genuine dispute as to the asserted right of setoff, the banking institution shall be required to bring a formal motion to terminate the automatic stay under Section 362(d).

This policy makes it extremely important that the debtor fully discloses his/her financial situation to the bankruptcy lawyer and also allow the bankruptcy attorney to engage in prefiling planning to protect the debtor’s assets from the potential right of setoff.

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 attorney.