Making a Choice Between Bankruptcy and Short Sale

Homeowners who are underwater on their home mortgages (underwater mortgage means that the homeowner owes more than his/her house is worth) often attempt to do a short sale. A short sale occurs when the homeowner sells the home to a third party for less than what is owed on the note, and the mortgage lender accepts the proceeds of the sale in full satisfaction of the note. The mortgage lender must approve the short sale before it can go through. A short sale can be a good option for homeowners who do not want to keep their homes, and are willing to move out almost right away.

However, before going through with a short sale, a homeowner should see if Chapter 7 Bankruptcy would be a better option. In a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the homeowner’s liability on the note is discharged and the home does not have to be surrendered right away and the homeowner does not have to immediately move out of the house. The homeowner can continue to live in the house without making any payments while the lender goes through the lengthy process of foreclosure. In New York, foreclosures can take years before the mortgage lender can hold a foreclosure sale. Even after the house is sold at foreclosure sale, the new buyer (which is often the mortgage lender itself) has to start eviction proceedings to evict the homeowner from the home. This may give the homeowner time to save up money for a move or a new home. Any shortfall that may result from the sale of the house is eliminated in the bankruptcy, meaning the homeowner owes the mortgage lender nothing when they move.

A final, and highly significant, difference between Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and short sale is tax advantages of a bankruptcy filing. When a mortgage lender accepts a short sale, the homeowner will have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven by the lender. Under the tax code, debt forgiveness is considered income and the mortgage lender will generally send the homeowner IRS Form 1009-C form for it. The homeowner will have to report it as income on his/her tax return. As a result, the amount of forgiven debt will be added to the homeowner’s income as miscellaneous income, and while not subject to self-employment or social security tax, it will be subject to income taxes. If the amount of the forgiven debt is significant, the debtor may face an unexpected tax liability amounting to thousands of dollars. In a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, there is no tax liability for the debt that is eliminated as a result of the filing.

Deed in lieu of foreclosure is similar to a short sale. The main difference is that unlike short sale where the property is transferred to a third party, in deed in lieu of foreclosure, the property is transferred directly to the lender. It has tax consequences identical to those of a short sale.

Short sales and Chapter 7 Bankruptcies are both good options for homeowners who want to walk away for their homes and their mortgages. When your home is underwater and you are considering a short sale, it is important to talk to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer first. That way you can review your options and make an informed decision.

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.

Can Debtor Keep a Credit Card After Filing Bankruptcy

I am often asked if debtor can keep a credit card after the bankruptcy is filed, especially if the credit card does not have a balance. Generally, debtors are always interested in trying to keep a credit card after the bankruptcy is filed whether as a means of having credit for emergencies or renting a car or hotel room.

My answer to these questions as follows.  Initially, the debtor is required to disclose to the bankruptcy court everyone the debtor owes money to. So, if there is money owed to a credit card issuer, this debt would have to be disclosed and listed in the petition, and, ultimately, discharged.

If the card does not have a balance, it does not need to be listed.  However, that card is still going to be closed by the issuer after the bankruptcy is filed, both for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases. Essentially all credit card issuers subscribe to an automatic monitoring service such as AACER or one of AACER’s competitor. Those services will notify the bank even if a particular credit card is not listed in the petition.

In my experience, in nearly every case, all credit cards will be cancelled within days of the bankruptcy filing. Thus, it makes no difference if the card with zero balance is listed, but I usually list it anyway.

Once the debtor completes his or her Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor is likely to be able to obtain new credit cards within 1 to 2 years after receiving the discharge.  At the same time, my advice to the debtors is not to open new credit cards or if a credit card is necessary, to open one with a low credit limit or a secured credit card. There is always a risk that debtor will become overextended once again, and it is prudent to avoid it.

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.

Timeline of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case

Typical debtor(s)’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case begins once a Petition is filed with the Bankruptcy Court. If the debtors are married, they may file a joint Petition. Debtor’s petition includes schedules listing assets, creditors, income, expenses, executory contracts, leases, and co-debtors. The Schedules are customarily filed along with the Petition. The Declaration Regarding Payment Advices and Credit Counseling Certificate are also usually filed along with the Petition. The filing fee is paid at the time of filing.

After filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the following events take place.

Immediately:

Automatic Stay Order will be issued which prohibits  creditors from sending you letters, calling you, or taking any additional collection and/or legal action against debtor(s). Garnishments on bank accounts and paychecks must stop.

Bankruptcy Trustee will be assigned to your bankruptcy case and Meeting of Creditors will be scheduled.

The date to complete Financial Management Course is scheduled.

Approximately 15 days after bankruptcy case filing:

The Bankruptcy Clerk will mail debtor(s) and creditors the Notice of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case, Meeting of Creditors, & Deadlines, which provides the date set for your meeting of creditors and other important deadlines.

Within 30 days of bankruptcy case filing:

Statement of Intention must be filed, informing the court if debtor(s) plan to keep any collateral property or if you intend to submit it to your creditors. The Statement of Intention is usually filed along with the Petition, but debtor(s) can change his/her position on these issues.

14 days before 341 Meeting:

Debtor(s) most recent tax returns, paystubs, real estate documents, vehicle related documents, and other financial information are due to the Trustee 14 days before the date first set for the 341 meeting.

Approximately 4 weeks after bankruptcy case filing:

Meeting of Creditors, often referred to at a 341 meeting, will be held.

30 days after your 341 Meeting:

Deadline for the Bankruptcy Trustee or your creditors to object to your exemption claims.

Debtor(s) must perform his/her intentions as stated in the Statement of Intentions. Debtor(s) will need to surrender the property, reaffirm the debt, or redeem property for the allowed secured claim.

45 days after 341 Meeting:

Debtor(s) must have completed his/her Financial Management Education Course and filed a certificate of completion within 45 days of the first date set for the 341 meeting.

60 days after 341 Meeting:

Creditors must object to discharge of debts that were obtained by false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud; debt from fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, embezzlement or larceny; and debt for willful and malicious injury. This deadline applies to objections to discharge of: consumer debts owed to a single creditor of more than $500 for luxury goods or services obtained within 90 days before a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Creditors must also object within 60 days of the original 341 date for debts involving misconduct including transfer, destruction or concealment of property; concealment, destruction, falsification or failure to keep financial records; making false statements; withholding information; failing to explain losses; failure to respond to material questions; having received a discharge in a prior bankruptcy case filed within the last 6 years.

Trustee must determine if debtor(s) bankruptcy case should be dismissed due to abuse or debts discharged.

Reaffirmation agreements, if relevant, must be filed with the court.

More than 60 days after 341 Meeting:

Debtor(s)’s discharge will be filed by the Bankruptcy Clerk. However, at this point in time, the discharge is not absolute or final. The trustee can ask that the discharge be set aside if the debtor does not turn over non-exempt property, if the debtor fails to perform other duties, or if there were other matters pending which would result in the denial of the discharge.

90 days after 341 meeting:

All creditors (except for government entities) must file their proofs of claim if they wish to share in the payments from debtor(s)’s bankruptcy case if any assets are available for liquidation.

180 days after bankruptcy case was filed:

Government agencies or units must file a proof of claim within 180 days of the bankruptcy case filing.

Debtor(s) no longer risk losing property acquired or become entitled to after the bankruptcy case is filed as a result of inheritance, bequest, devise, property settlements involving divorce, or beneficiary on life insurance. Any inheritance that debtor(s) become entitled to after the bankruptcy case is filed is at risk of being liquidated by the Trustee if debtor(s) become entitled to it within 180 days of filing.

Final Decree will be entered by the Court officially closing the bankruptcy case. The Final Decree is often received near the time of the Discharge if your bankruptcy case is a no-asset bankruptcy case. If the Trustee is liquidating non-exempt assets, the bankruptcy case will remain open to allow the Trustee to distribute the funds to creditors and file a final report.

The above represents a typical timeline for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case.

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.

Changes to the Bankruptcy Means Test as of May 15, 2015

Once again, the means test figures for median income are being changed as of May 15, 2015. 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 May 14, 2015, a single debtor in New York could have $48,840 in income in income and still be able to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  Starting May 15, 2015, that figure has been increased to $49,632.  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 *

$48,840              $60,743                 $71,706               $88,156

New Income Limits

FAMILY SIZE

1 EARNER         2 PEOPLE                3 PEOPLE             4 PEOPLE *

$49,632               $61,728                    $72,869                $89,586

* Add $8,100 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 struggling to recover,employees wages having been increasing slowly.  As a result, the American median family income has grown only slightly, and means test figures increased only moderately.

It should be noted that even if the debtor’s income exceeds the means test figures, debtor may still qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after all allowable expenses are taken into account.

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.

Reinstatement of Dismissed Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

In a recent decision, In re Trine, Bk. 13-21520 (W.D.N.Y. 2015), the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York held that once dismissed, a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy case cannot be reopened absent “extraordinary circumstances”. The failure of the debtor and her attorney to respond to the letters from the court and motions does not meet “extraordinary circumstances” standard.

In Trine, the debtor made a motion to reopen a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Case that had been dismissed two months earlier. The reason for the motion was debtor’s failure to make payments pursuant to the terms of the plan.

In  most Rochester Chapter 13 Bankruptcy cases, plan payments are deducted from the debtor’s wages pursuant to the order of the bankruptcy court. A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy debtor is obligated to start plan payments within 30 days of filing the plan whether or not the employer has started to deduct payments from wages. In Rochester, the debtors are typically informed by their attorneys as well as Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee when plan payments must start, and are given specific instructions as to how to make these payment, in what amounts, and where to send them.

For reasons that are unclear, the debtor in Trine did not make any plan payments during the first three months of the case.  Subsequently, the Chapter 13 Trustee sent the debtor and her attorney a letter stating that the plan payments were in default, and requesting that the debtor or attorney respond withing 10 days, that if they failed to respond a motion to dismiss the case would follow, and that if the case was dismissed the creditors would be immediately notified of the dismissal.  The trustee stated he would be willing to accept an arrangement where  the default could be cured over a period of time.

Neither debtor nor her attorney responded to the letter.  Subsequently, the Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee brought a motion to dismiss. After several court appearances, the court gave to the debtor an additional three months to bring the plan current. When that time expired and the plan was still in arrears, the Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee filed a report that the payments had not been brought current and the court entered an order dismissing the case.

Once the case was dismissed, one of the creditor’s repossessed the debtor’s car. Only after the car was repossessed, the debtor’s attorney made a motion, asking for the dismissal to be vacated and the case reinstated so that the car could be returned to the debtor. The Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee opposed the motion, and the court denied it.

The debtor in this case relied on the ‘catch-all’ grounds of Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows relief from a judgment or order for “any other reason that justifies relief.” Case law interpreting Rule 60(b) states that relief will only be granted by the existence of “extraordinary circumstances”. Judge Warren stated in his decision that this provision “does not provide the easy procedural do-over frequently envisioned by litigants appearing before this court”. The court found that since neither the debtor nor the attorney responded to the default letter or the motion to dismiss, and did not appear at the hearings, the debtor did not present any extraordinary circumstances that would justify the reopening of the case.

Once the debtor received the first letter from the Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee, she should have immediately contacted her attorney as well as Trustee to find out why the payments were not being made.  Further, if the debtor receives a notice of hearing from the Bankruptcy Court, that notice should not be ignored.

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.

Bankruptcy Fraud and Revocation of Discharge

Once the discharge is granted, can it be revoked? This  question was addressed by the court had to address in In Re Galan, (W.D.N.Y. 2014).

Section 727(d)(2) provides that a bankruptcy judge should revoke the discharge if, the debtor acquired property that is property of the estate, or became entitled to acquire property that would be property of the estate, and knowingly and fraudulently failed to report the acquisition of or entitlement to such property, or to deliver or surrender such property to the trustee.

In Galan, the debtor had failed to report his interest in real property and also had failed to disclose that he was in receipt of insurance proceeds related to the property. Once debtor’s failure to disclose these facts to the bankruptcy court was discovered, both the bankruptcy and the U.S. Trustee moved to revoke his discharge.

The court held that revocation of a debtor’s discharge is permitted pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 727(d)(2), where a debtor “acquired property of the estate, or became entitled to acquire property that would be property of the estate, and knowingly and fraudulently failed to report the acquisition of or entitlement to such property, or to deliver or surrender such property to the trustee.” The provision is triggered when the debtor is in receipt of or becomes entitled to estate property, either before or after discharge. Since the court found that debtor submitted false testimony with regard to his prior dealings with bankruptcy court, the court disregarded his entire testimony as not credible and disregarded his explanations of his actions. After discussing the facts in detail, the court determined that revocation of discharge was warranted.

Galan demonstrates that it is always a bad idea to mislead the bankruptcy court. Also, debtor’s conduct could subject him to criminal prosecution.

Similarly to the above, a material fraud, which would have resulted in the denial of a debtor’s Chapter 7 discharge had it been known at the time of such discharge, can justify subsequent revocation of that discharge under Bankruptcy Code Section 727(d)(1).

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.

Homestead Exemption and Married Spouses

It is not uncommon for one spouse to seek bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code in a situation where title to the real property is held in both parties’ names. Generally, under such circumstances, the debtor typically claims a half interest in the property. Thus, the homestead exemption, under either New York law or federal bankruptcy exemptions, would be used to protect that interest. This creates an interesting legal issue  since under New York’s Real Property Law both spouses hold an undivided interest in the entirety of the property. If so, does the homestead exemption have to protect all of the equity in the property? 

In In re Naples, W.D.N.Y. Bk #14-10264, the bankruptcy trustee made precisely that argument. The trustee argued that since only one of the spouses had filed bankruptcy, and since the property was held by the parties as tenants by the entirety, creating undivided interest in each spouse, the debtor did not have sufficient homestead exemption to protect his equity in the property. The bankruptcy court disagreed. It held that under those circumstances, for purposes of valuing the debtor’s interest in the property, only one half interest needs to be valued and homestead exemption would be applied only to that half interest. The court reasoned that since the way the title is held creates limitations on each spouses to transfer title without consent of the other spouse, for the bankruptcy court’s valuation, only one half interest needs to be valued.

I think that this is a well thought-out result. If both spouses were filing for bankruptcy, each spouse would be able to apply their own exemption to any equity in the property, so if only one spouse files, that spouse should only need to protect that spouse’s half interest.

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.

Bankruptcy and Judgments

One of the issues that periodically concerns my clients is the one of removing filed judgments after receiving bankruptcy discharge. Initially, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy won’t remove a judgment that has been already filed. Whether or not the debtor will need to remove it after receiving a discharge in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy depends on each individual situation.

When a debtor files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that debtor is trying to remove his or her personal liability for repayment of certain debts. If a creditor sued the debtor and obtained a judgment before the bankruptcy case was filed, then the bankruptcy filing will eliminate that liability, but the judgment is a separate matter. It is a record of an official result of a lawsuit and remains filed with the court or local county clerk’s office. Even when the bankruptcy discharged liability for the debt, the record of the judgment remains in place.

In those situations, debtors have two different options.  Option one is to do nothing. Assuming the underlying debt is has been discharged in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the judgment remains nothing more than a piece of paper.
The creditor cannot freeze debtor’s bank account, seize wages, or take any further collection action. However, the judgment may remain on record as a valid lien against any property you owned at the time your Chapter 7 bankruptcy was filed. In New York, the judgment is automatically a lien against real property. The creditor can’t do anything with the lien, but it will need to be paid off in the event that you try to sell the property while the judgment is in place, or removed via a motion under Section 522(f) of the Bankruptcy Code. A judgment does not last forever. Judgments expire in 10 years under  New York laws, but may be extended of an additional 10 year period.

Some debtors prefer to have discharged judgments removed. That brings us to option two. Under New York Debtor and Creditor Law Section 150, once a year has passed since the debtor’s discharge in bankruptcy, the debtor may apply for an order, directing that a discharge or a qualified discharge of record be marked upon the docket of the judgment.  If the debtor fails to take this action, the judgment will remain on record with the New York Supreme Court or New York Civil Court and will remain enforceable.

Given the above, the debtors have options in dealing with any discharged judgments. Each debtor’s financial circumstances and other factors will factor into the decision whether to have any outstanding judgments removed. In my experience, unless the judgment is impairing the debtor’s interest in real property, vast majority of debtors will not seek to remove discharged judgments.

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.