Determining Chapter 13 Repayment Plan Payment

If debtor does not qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that debtor is likely to qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The most important issue for anyone filing Chapter 13 is to know is how much their Chapter 13 Plan payment will be. In my opinion, given the typical 5 year duration of Chapter 13, properly set plan payment is the most important factor in whether the case will be a success.

Determining the amount of the payment can be challenging at the very beginning of the case. Early estimates of plan payment can change significantly as more information becomes available.

Generally, there are four tests applicable to determining the amount of the Chapter 13 Plan payment:

The Chapter 13 Means Test (officially, the “Chapter 13 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period and Calculation of Your Disposable Income”);
The Disposable Income Test;
The Chapter 7 Liquidation Analysis Test; and
The Required Payments Test

The Chapter 13 Means Test was imposed when BAPCPA became law in 2005. The Means Test’s purpose is to determine whether debtor’s Plan would be 3 years or 5 years long, and to have an objective way to determine the amount of the payment. This calculation uses one of the established four methods of determining your Chapter 13 Plan payment.

The Disposable Income Test is the only one of the four tests that is strictly based on debtor’s ability to pay. Initially, debtor’s net household income is calculated and from that figure, debtor’s actual reasonable monthly expenses are subtracted. The resulting number–disposable income–is Chapter 13 Plan payment. That calculation does not include a deduction for the debts that will be paid through the Chapter 13 case, such as mortgage arrears, car loan payments, student loan payments, tax payments, and credit card bills.

In the Chapter 7 Liquidation Analysis Test, bankruptcy attorney looks at how much debtor’s general unsecured creditors (typically credit cards, medical bills and personal loans) would receive in a hypothetical Chapter 7 case. In many cases, they would receive zero, because there are no non-exempt assets with equity, and creditors would get nothing in a Chapter 7 case. The total amount of payments under Chapter 13 plan can’t be less than the amount determined under the Liquidation Analysis Test.

The last test is the Required Payments Test. Usually, priority debt, such as recent taxes and domestic support obligations, must be paid in full during the course of the Chapter 13 case. Mortgage and other secured debt arrears must also be paid in full, along with unpaid attorney fees, trustee commissions and (in most cases) at least a nominal amount to the general unsecured creditors. Add these payments up, and you reach the Required Payments.

After all of the numbers under each test have been calculated, debtor is required pick the highest amount, which becomes the plan payment. At the same time, that figure may change during the case as creditors submit their proofs of claim, as debtor’s income, expenses and assets change. This figure may also change depending on trustee’s view of the debtor’s financial circumstances.

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, Henrietta, 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.

Stripping Second Mortgages in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Handing banks a significant victory, in Bank of America v. Caulkett, the Supreme Court ruled that homeowners who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy may not expect to have their second mortgage loans canceled, even if they owe more on their homes than the properties are worth.  In a unanimous decision, the court held that second mortgages may not be “stripped off,” or voided, if the property is underwater, or worth less than the mortgage debt. Caulkett decision protects mortgage lenders, which extended second mortgages during the housing boom on homes that are now worth much less than their values when they were purchased.

The ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, came from Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases filed in 2013 by homeowners who sought to strip off their second mortgages. The named plaintiff, David B. Caulkett, owed a first mortgage totaling $183,264 at the time of his bankruptcy filing, but his home was valued at $98,000.

The lender for Mr. Caulkett’s first mortgage could have expected to recover part of the loan by selling the home, since the house was considered collateral for the loan. But his lawyer argued that his home was so far underwater that the $47,855 second mortgage he took out from Bank or America was essentially unsecured, and thus should be stripped off as part of his bankruptcy filing.

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, debtors are typically permitted to cancel unsecured debts like credit cards and personal loans. The question before the Supreme Court was whether a second mortgage could be considered such an unsecured debt because the “security” backing the loan had been wiped out by falling home values. The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit sided with Mr. Caulkett, and Bank of America appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the second mortgage could not be stripped off simply because the home, the security underlying the debt, was worth less than the mortgage. The Supreme Court ruling will now prevent underwater homeowners from easily discharging home equity loans and other types of second mortgages in Chapter 7 bankruptcies.

The Supreme Court ruling does not completely prevent homeowners from voiding their second mortgages. Homeowner may still seek to strip off second mortgages after filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy case.  In order to do so, the debtor must file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case and what is known as a “Pond” motion.  The motion is named after a decision, In re Pond, 252 F.3d 122 (2nd Cir. 2001). Here is a detailed discussion of Pond motion and the process of stripping a second mortgage.

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 benefits 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.

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.