Is Your Car Too Expensive? Bankruptcy Can Help

Next to home mortgages, motor vehicle loans are often your largest debt. The average cost of a new car or truck sold in the U.S. during 2019 exceeded $36,000.00. Borrowers are taking vehicle purchase loans for 6 years or longer, and when interest rates are factored in, the loan can cost you thousands of dollars above the purchase price.

Unlike real estate purchases, motor vehicles depreciate, that is, they lose value every year. If you took out a loan to buy your car or truck payable over 4 to 6 years, there is a good chance that you will owe more on your vehicle that it is worth until year 3 or 4 of your contract, commonly known as “being under water”. This means that in the event of a financial crisis such as an illness or job layoff, you won’t be able to eliminate your financial obligations by selling your vehicle, and may wind up owing a substantial amount of money to the lender.

If you “roll over” your loan into a new loan for a less expensive car, you’ll just delay dealing with this issue because you will end up owing far more on the less expensive car than it will ever be worth. Further, your monthly car loan payment is not your only vehicle expense. Insurance costs can increase quickly and unexpectedly in the event of an accident or traffic tickets or DWI conviction. Routine maintenance and repairs also increase your cost of ownership. In sum, an unexpected job loss or change, illness, insurance claims or any number of other factors could turn that your new car into a major financial problem.

Bankruptcy And Car Loans

Personal bankruptcy offers a number of options to address the “too expensive car” problem. The easiest choice would be to use the power of bankruptcy to terminate the loan and surrender your vehicle back to the lender. In a Chapter 7, any deficiency balance will be discharged as an unsecured debt, and in a Chapter 13, any deficiency balance will be paid as an unsecured debt, often at pennies on the dollar – if the lender files a proof of claim.

However, if the debtor wants to retain the vehicle, another option would be to use the cram down provision in the Bankruptcy Code to restructure the car loan as part of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If your loan was taken out more than 910 days (about 2 ½ years) prior to filing, a Chapter 13 cram down allows you to modify the interest rate (usually) and to reduce your outstanding principal balance to equal the fair market value of your vehicle. If you owe substantially more than the value of your vehicle, the cram down can save you thousands of dollars.

Even if you cannot cram down your loan, you can still reduce your monthly payment by including the unpaid balance in your Chapter 13 plan and setting a payment to the vehicle lender that fits your budget. You are not obligated to pay the contract rate of interest to the vehicle lender in a Chapter 13, which is very helpful in situations where someone has bad credit and interest rate is high.

Obviously the decision to file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 should be made in consultation with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer like Alexander Korotkin, Esq., and with full knowledge about how bankruptcy will impact your situation.

However, if you are having or foresee problems with payments due on your vehicle loan, you should certainly learn about and consider your bankruptcy options.

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.

What Happens to My Bankruptcy Case During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

As a result of the COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) pandemic, bankruptcy court implemented significant changes to its procedures in order to protect the health and safety of individuals.

Federal courts, including bankruptcy courts, have continued to operate subject to significant limitations. Here in Western New York, most of the proceedings, primarily motions and conferences, are being handled via telephone and/or video conferencing. Since bankruptcy relies on electronic filing, new Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases can still be filed.

All in-person Chapter 7, 12, and 13 section 341 meetings (meetings of the creditors) scheduled through October 31, 2020, have been continued until a later date to be determined. Section 341 meetings may not proceed during this period except through telephonic or other alternative means not requiring personal appearance by debtors. Appropriate notice will be provided to attorneys and parties in accordance with bankruptcy law and rules for any telephonic meetings scheduled during this period. Confirmation hearings for Chapter 13 cases are also being held telephonically.

I will continue to update this post with new information as it becomes available.

Are Pension or 401k Loans Dischargeable?

A significant percentage of retirement plans, like pensions or 401k plans, allow you to borrow money from individual accounts in case of need. One of the most common situations is debtors borrowing money from their retirement accounts to try to pay back their debts. Unfortunately, if these debtors decide to file bankruptcy, the pension or 401K loans they took out will not be dischargeable in Chapter 7. Further, if a bankruptcy was filed, these retirement accounts could have been protected in their entirety since retirement accounts are fully exempt under either federal or New York exemptions in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy court views loans from retirement accounts differently than a credit card, a car loan or a mortgage. When you borrow from your retirement account, you are essentially borrowing from yourself, and as result, the loan is not considered dischargeable in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, these loans can possibly be included in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan, and any amount not repaid at the completion of the 3-5 year plan will typically be discharged. If you have already taken a loan against a pension or 401k account, then Chapter 13 might be the best option, depending on other factors. For many debtors, a pension or 401k account are their biggest assets that should be protected and a bankruptcy filing prior to borrowing money from those accounts would do that.

While borrowing from retirement funds is often seen as a last resort, it should not be. There could be a good reason to borrow against a retirement account in a healthy financial situation, but as a desperate effort to pay bills, borrowing from a pension or 401K will do more harm than good. Realize that if you are considering taking a loan against a retirement account that you have already reached the last straw. Discussing your bankruptcy options should really be the next step.

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.

Update on Discharge of Student Loans – $221,000 in Student Loans Discharged

One of the more difficult problems associated with bankruptcy has been discharge of student loans. A recent decision by Chief Judge Cecelia Morris of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, In re: Kevin Jared Rosenberg, enabled law grad Kevin Jared Rosenberg to discharge the $221,000 loan debt he acquired as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona and later at the Cardozo School of Law. The win by Rosenberg, who represented himself in the matter, is surprising in view of the common belief that student loan debt is all but impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.

What made this case different is how the bankruptcy judge applied “Brunner test”—which lays out the three criteria student loan borrowers must meet to demonstrate that repaying their loans poses an undue hardship—that has caught the attention of the bankruptcy law world. Morris’ opinion includes a strongly worded rebuke of how judges have traditionally applied the Brunner test, saying they have made it more onerous on borrowers than it was intended to be. “Over the past 32 years, many cases have pinned on Brunner punitive standards that are not contained therein,” Morris wrote. “Those retributive dicta were then applied and reapplied so frequently in the context of Brunner that they have subsumed the actual language of the Brunner test. They have become a quasi-standard of mythic proportions so much so that most people (bankruptcy professionals as well as lay individuals) believe it impossible to discharge student loans.”

Judge Morris’ application of the second two prongs of the test in the Rosenberg case are surprising. Rosenberg claimed in his bankruptcy petition that his annual income as an outdoor guide is $37,000 and that he has a negative monthly outlay of $1,500. But the court did not consider any potential increase in his earnings on the grounds that the entirety of his $221,000 loan balance is due because he went into default. Judges usually take a 10 or 25-year view of earnings based on the length of the repayment plan. What makes this decision particularly interesting is that Judge Morris declined to use Rosenberg’s decision not to pursue a legal career, as evidence that he has not made a good faith effort to repay his loans.  In finding that Rosenberg made a good faith effort to repay his loans, Judge Morris credits him with making about 40% of his required loan payments, even though he was only required to make 26 payments over the course of 13 years due to securing multiple loan deferrals.

But whether Rosenberg’s case will be followed by other bankruptcy courts, including here in Western New York, is uncertain and will largely depend on whether Judge Morris’ decision is upheld on appeal. If the district court for the Southern District of New York, and subsequently U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, uphold it, that would make it more likely that more borrowers will see their loans discharged.

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.

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.

Debtor and Ability to Reopen Bankruptcy

Generally, chapter 7 debtors have the right to reopen their cases for various purposes after their case is closed. Usually, the court will allow the debtor to do so to remove judicial liens for otherwise discharged debt via 11 U.S.C. §522(f) motion, or to add an overlooked creditor, or to file a financial management course certificate, or perhaps for another purpose.  In In re May E. Jones, Case No. 03-21929, debtor moved to reopen the case 13 years after it was closed, to amend the schedule of real property,  disclosing (for the first time) her interest in a parcel of real property and seeking to have the property abandoned to her under 11 U.S.C. §554. If the court were to reopen the case, a substantial real estate asset would likely revert to the debtor.

After reviewing the parties’ submissions and conducting an evidentiary hearing, Judge Warren found that the debtor was aware of her interest in the real property at the time the bankruptcy was filed but did not disclose that interest in her petition.  The court further found that reopening of the case would not be to the benefit to the creditors, and the debtor could not establish that she had acted in good faith at the time her Chapter 7 bankruptcy case was filed.

Concluding his decision, Judge Warren wrote:

The Court will not accept Jones’s invitation to turn a blind eye to the signals pointing toward bad faith, so that she can have the undisclosed assets abandoned back to her. That seems a bit like a parent rewarding a child who was caught hiding her failing report card with a hot fudge sundae.

What is the takeaway from this case?  The cardinal rule of bankruptcy is full and complete disclosure. Here, the debtor did not fully disclose all of her assets and did not act in good faith. Thus, the court denied her motion and debtor could not benefit from her actions. The above situation is unusual both in the length of time from the time of discharge and the relief sought.  However, I believe that it illustrates a simple principal that in bankruptcy a debtor cannot benefit from his wrongful conduct.

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.

 

Student Loans and Possibility of Discharge

I have previously written about dischargeability of student loans in bankruptcy. For most people filing bankruptcy does not result in a discharge of a student loan under the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA”) amendments. The code, as amended, does not provide for the discharge of a student loan in a bankruptcy. In order for the student loan to be discharged, the debtor must brings a lawsuit, known as adversarial proceeding, and ask bankruptcy judge to make a determination that the continued existence of the student loan will create an “undue hardship” on the debtor. Under the applicable prior decisions, “undue hardship” is the most difficult part, that is the debtor must convince the bankruptcy court judge that in this case under the circumstances applicable to this debtor, the debtor will not be able to make any significant payments on the student loans owed. The high burden of proof makes these lawsuits extremely difficult.

However, under appropriate circumstances, it may be possible to determine what position the Department of Education may take on student loan dischargeability. The Department of Education recently issued a guidance letter on whether a student loan dischargeability lawsuit will be litigated or whether the Department of Education will recommend agreeing to the discharge.

The Department of Education seems to be focusing on a number of factors such as debtor’s efforts in trying to repay the loans, physical or mental disability leading to inability to work, likelihood of significant future income and factors beyond debtor’s control that led to the filing of bankruptcy.

Private student loan lenders have no such policy and it will be up to the individual creditor/lender to determine if their attorney will defend such a lawsuit vigorously or agree to settlement before a trial or go to trial.

It is never easy to obtain discharge of student loans in bankruptcy and all potential alternatives should be explored. Another option may be Income-Based Repayment (“IBR”). This program was designed to make sure that graduates who aren’t earning a significant income after graduation aren’t spending all their income on repaying their student loans and may result in a significant payment reduction and potential loan cancellation.

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.

Unpaid College Tuition Can Be Discharged In Bankruptcy

Generally, pursuant to Section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, unless the debtor is facing truly remarkable circumstances. However, unpaid college tuition is not treated the same way and can be discharged in bankruptcy.

In a recent case, D’Youville College v. Girdlestone (AP 14-1018 W.D.N.Y. 2015), Bankruptcy Judge Carl L. Bucki held that unpaid college tuition is treated differently than unpaid  student loans and that the changes in the bankruptcy code in 2005 did not alter the results of the earlier Second Circuit cases. In D’Youville, the debtor attended the college only for a semester and had agreed to pay tuition but did not sign a promissory note.

In Girdlestone, Judge Bucki followed the holding in Cazenovia College v. Renshaw (In re Renshaw), 222 F.3d 82 (2d Cir. 2000), which held that the mere obligation to pay tuition does not constitute a loan that is non-dischargeable under the Bankruptcy Code.

D’Youville College argued that under the amendments to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8) that Congress adopted in 2005, unpaid tuition should be treated the same was as student loans. In 2005 the Bankruptcy Code provisions related to student loans were changed, and even private student loans, not guaranteed by the government or provided by a school receiving government funding, were no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy. Section 523(a)(8)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code now states that the debtor will not receive a discharge of “any other educational loan that is a qualified education loan, as defined in section 221(d)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, incurred by a debtor who is an individual.” According to Internal Revenue Code §221(d)(1), a “qualified education loan” means “any indebtedness” that a taxpayer incurs to pay certain qualified higher education expenses.

Judge Bucki held that “under the Bankruptcy Code, nondischargeability extends not to any such “qualified education loan,” but only to “any other educational loan that is a qualified education loan.” Further, according to Cazenovia College, “to constitute a loan there must be (i) a contract, whereby (ii) one party transfers a defined quantity of money, goods, or services, to another, and (iii) the other party agrees to pay for the sum or items transferred at a later date.” 222 F.3d at 88. When a student unilaterally does not pay tuition, the student may be indebted to the school, but that indebtedness does not make the transaction a loan. Based on the above, Judge Bucki held that because Cazenovia College would deny this status to the claim of D’Youville College, D’Youville’s claim is not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8).

Since it is very difficult to discharge student loans, the above decision represents a rare positive result for the debtor. However, most college graduates do not deal with the same issues because most colleges require payment before students can graduate and a significant number of students take out student loans as opposed to owing money directly to their school.

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.