Filing Chapter 13

Massachusetts Bankruptcy Lawyers Anthony Bucacci and Robert Simonian (508)673-9500


Chapter 13 – Bankruptcy Basics

This chapter of the Bankruptcy Code provides for adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income. Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually three to five years.

Background

A chapter 13 bankruptcy is also called a wage earner’s plan. It enables individuals with regular income to develop a plan to repay all or part of their debts. Under this chapter, debtors propose a repayment plan to make installments to creditors over three to five years. If the debtor’s current monthly income is less than the applicable state median, the plan will be for three years unless the court approves a longer period “for cause.” (1) If the debtor’s current monthly income is greater than the applicable state median, the plan generally must be for five years. In no case may a plan provide for payments over a period longer than five years. 11 U.S.C. § 1322(d). During this time the law forbids creditors from starting or continuing collection efforts.

This chapter discusses six aspects of a chapter 13 proceeding: the advantages of choosing chapter 13, the chapter 13 eligibility requirements, how a chapter 13 proceeding works, making the plan work, and the special chapter 13 discharge.

Advantages of Chapter 13

Chapter 13 offers individuals a number of advantages over liquidation under chapter 7. Perhaps most significantly, chapter 13 offers individuals an opportunity to save their homes from foreclosure. By filing under this chapter, individuals can stop foreclosure proceedings and may cure delinquent mortgage payments over time. Nevertheless, they must still make all mortgage payments that come due during the chapter 13 plan on time. Another advantage of chapter 13 is that it allows individuals to reschedule secured debts (other than a mortgage for their primary residence) and extend them over the life of the chapter 13 plan. Doing this may lower the payments. Chapter 13 also has a special provision that protects third parties who are liable with the debtor on “consumer debts.” This provision may protect co-signers. Finally, chapter 13 acts like a consolidation loan under which the individual makes the plan payments to a chapter 13 trustee who then distributes payments to creditors. Individuals will have no direct contact with creditors while under chapter 13 protection.

Chapter 13 Eligibility

Any individual, even if self-employed or operating an unincorporated business, is eligible for chapter 13 relief as long as the individual’s unsecured debts are less than $394,725 and secured debts are less than $1,184,200. 11 U.S.C. § 109(e). These amounts are adjusted periodically to reflect changes in the consumer price index. A corporation or partnership may not be a chapter 13 debtor. Id.

An individual cannot file under chapter 13 or any other chapter if, during the preceding 180 days, a prior bankruptcy petition was dismissed due to the debtor’s willful failure to appear before the court or comply with orders of the court or was voluntarily dismissed after creditors sought relief from the bankruptcy court to recover property upon which they hold liens. 11 U.S.C. §§ 109(g), 362(d) and (e). In addition, no individual may be a debtor under chapter 13 or any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code unless he or she has, within 180 days before filing, received credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency either in an individual or group briefing. 11 U.S.C. §§ 109, 111. There are exceptions in emergency situations or where the U.S. trustee (or bankruptcy administrator) has determined that there are insufficient approved agencies to provide the required counseling. If a debt management plan is developed during required credit counseling, it must be filed with the court.

How Chapter 13 Works

A chapter 13 case begins by filing a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the debtor has a domicile or residence. Unless the court orders otherwise, the debtor must also file with the court: (1) schedules of assets and liabilities; (2) a schedule of current income and expenditures; (3) a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases; and (4) a statement of financial affairs. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1007(b). The debtor must also file a certificate of credit counseling and a copy of any debt repayment plan developed through credit counseling; evidence of payment from employers, if any, received 60 days before filing; a statement of monthly net income and any anticipated increase in income or expenses after filing; and a record of any interest the debtor has in federal or state qualified education or tuition accounts. 11 U.S.C. § 521. The debtor must provide the chapter 13 case trustee with a copy of the tax return or transcripts for the most recent tax year as well as tax returns filed during the case (including tax returns for prior years that had not been filed when the case began). Id. A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. 11 U.S.C. § 302(a). (The Official Forms may be purchased at legal stationery stores or downloaded from the Internet at www.uscourts.gov/bkforms/index.html. They are not available from the court.)

The courts must charge a $235 case filing fee and a $75 miscellaneous administrative fee. Normally the fees must be paid to the clerk of the court upon filing. With the court’s permission, however, they may be paid in installments. 28 U.S.C. § 1930(a); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b); Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, Item 8. The number of installments is limited to four, and the debtor must make the final installment no later than 120 days after filing the petition. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1006(b). For cause shown, the court may extend the time of any installment, as long as the last installment is paid no later than 180 days after filing the petition. Id. The debtor may also pay the $75 administrative fee in installments. If a joint petition is filed, only one filing fee and one administrative fee are charged. Debtors should be aware that failure to pay these fees may result in dismissal of the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1307(c)(2).

In order to complete the Official Bankruptcy Forms that make up the petition, statement of financial affairs, and schedules, the debtor must compile the following information:

  1. A list of all creditors and the amounts and nature of their claims;
  2. The source, amount, and frequency of the debtor’s income;
  3. A list of all of the debtor’s property; and
  4. A detailed list of the debtor’s monthly living expenses, i.e., food, clothing, shelter, utilities, taxes, transportation, medicine, etc.

Married individuals must gather this information for their spouse regardless of whether they are filing a joint petition, separate individual petitions, or even if only one spouse is filing. In a situation where only one spouse files, the income and expenses of the non-filing spouse is required so that the court, the trustee and creditors can evaluate the household’s financial position.

When an individual files a chapter 13 petition, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case. 11 U.S.C. § 1302. In some districts, the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator (2) appoints a standing trustee to serve in all chapter 13 cases. 28 U.S.C. § 586(b). The chapter 13 trustee both evaluates the case and serves as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from the debtor and making distributions to creditors. 11 U.S.C. § 1302(b).

Filing the petition under chapter 13 “automatically stays” (stops) most collection actions against the debtor or the debtor’s property. 11 U.S.C. § 362. Filing the petition does not, however, stay certain types of actions listed under 11 U.S.C. § 362(b), and the stay may be effective only for a short time in some situations. The stay arises by operation of law and requires no judicial action. As long as the stay is in effect, creditors generally may not initiate or continue lawsuits, wage garnishments, or even make telephone calls demanding payments. The bankruptcy clerk gives notice of the bankruptcy case to all creditors whose names and addresses are provided by the debtor.

Chapter 13 also contains a special automatic stay provision that protects co-debtors. Unless the bankruptcy court authorizes otherwise, a creditor may not seek to collect a “consumer debt” from any individual who is liable along with the debtor. 11 U.S.C. § 1301(a). Consumer debts are those incurred by an individual primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose. 11 U.S.C. § 101(8).

Individuals may use a chapter 13 proceeding to save their home from foreclosure. The automatic stay stops the foreclosure proceeding as soon as the individual files the chapter 13 petition. The individual may then bring the past-due payments current over a reasonable period of time. Nevertheless, the debtor may still lose the home if the mortgage company completes the foreclosure sale under state law before the debtor files the petition. 11 U.S.C. § 1322(c). The debtor may also lose the home if he or she fails to make the regular mortgage payments that come due after the chapter 13 filing.

Between 21 and 50 days after the debtor files the chapter 13 petition, the chapter 13 trustee will hold a meeting of creditors. If the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator schedules the meeting at a place that does not have regular U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator staffing, the meeting may be held no more than 60 days after the debtor files. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2003(a). During this meeting, the trustee places the debtor under oath, and both the trustee and creditors may ask questions. The debtor must attend the meeting and answer questions regarding his or her financial affairs and the proposed terms of the plan.11 U.S.C. § 343. If a husband and wife file a joint petition, they both must attend the creditors’ meeting and answer questions. In order to preserve their independent judgment, bankruptcy judges are prohibited from attending the creditors’ meeting. 11 U.S.C. § 341(c). The parties typically resolve problems with the plan either during or shortly after the creditors’ meeting. Generally, the debtor can avoid problems by making sure that the petition and plan are complete and accurate, and by consulting with the trustee prior to the meeting.

In a chapter 13 case, to participate in distributions from the bankruptcy estate, unsecured creditors must file their claims with the court within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3002(c). A governmental unit, however, has 180 days from the date the case is filed file a proof of claim.11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(9).

After the meeting of creditors, the debtor, the chapter 13 trustee, and those creditors who wish to attend will come to court for a hearing on the debtor’s chapter 13 repayment plan.

The Chapter 13 Plan and Confirmation Hearing

Unless the court grants an extension, the debtor must file a repayment plan with the petition or within 14 days after the petition is filed. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3015. A plan must be submitted for court approval and must provide for payments of fixed amounts to the trustee on a regular basis, typically biweekly or monthly. The trustee then distributes the funds to creditors according to the terms of the plan, which may offer creditors less than full payment on their claims.

There are three types of claims: priority, secured, and unsecured. Priority claims are those granted special status by the bankruptcy law, such as most taxes and the costs of bankruptcy proceeding. (3) Secured claims are those for which the creditor has the right take back certain property (i.e., the collateral) if the debtor does not pay the underlying debt. In contrast to secured claims, unsecured claims are generally those for which the creditor has no special rights to collect against particular property owned by the debtor.

The plan must pay priority claims in full unless a particular priority creditor agrees to different treatment of the claim or, in the case of a domestic support obligation, unless the debtor contributes all “disposable income” – discussed below – to a five-year plan.11 U.S.C. § 1322(a).

If the debtor wants to keep the collateral securing a particular claim, the plan must provide that the holder of the secured claim receive at least the value of the collateral. If the obligation underlying the secured claim was used to buy the collateral (e.g., a car loan), and the debt was incurred within certain time frames before the bankruptcy filing, the plan must provide for full payment of the debt, not just the value of the collateral (which may be less due to depreciation). Payments to certain secured creditors (i.e., the home mortgage lender), may be made over the original loan repayment schedule (which may be longer than the plan) so long as any arrearage is made up during the plan. The debtor should consult an attorney to determine the proper treatment of secured claims in the plan.

The plan need not pay unsecured claims in full as long it provides that the debtor will pay all projected “disposable income” over an “applicable commitment period,” and as long as unsecured creditors receive at least as much under the plan as they would receive if the debtor’s assets were liquidated under chapter 7. 11 U.S.C. § 1325. In chapter 13, “disposable income” is income (other than child support payments received by the debtor) less amounts reasonably necessary for the maintenance or support of the debtor or dependents and less charitable contributions up to 15% of the debtor’s gross income. If the debtor operates a business, the definition of disposable income excludes those amounts which are necessary for ordinary operating expenses. 11 U.S.C. § 1325(b)(2)(A) and (B). The “applicable commitment period” depends on the debtor’s current monthly income. The applicable commitment period must be three years if current monthly income is less than the state median for a family of the same size – and five years if the current monthly income is greater than a family of the same size. 11 U.S.C. § 1325(d). The plan may be less than the applicable commitment period (three or five years) only if unsecured debt is paid in full over a shorter period.

Within 30 days after filing the bankruptcy case, even if the plan has not yet been approved by the court, the debtor must start making plan payments to the trustee. 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(1). If any secured loan payments or lease payments come due before the debtor’s plan is confirmed (typically home and automobile payments), the debtor must make adequate protection payments directly to the secured lender or lessor – deducting the amount paid from the amount that would otherwise be paid to the trustee. Id.

No later than 45 days after the meeting of creditors, the bankruptcy judge must hold a confirmation hearing and decide whether the plan is feasible and meets the standards for confirmation set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1324, 1325. Creditors will receive 28 days’ notice of the hearing and may object to confirmation. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2002(b). While a variety of objections may be made, the most frequent ones are that payments offered under the plan are less than creditors would receive if the debtor’s assets were liquidated or that the debtor’s plan does not commit all of the debtor’s projected disposable income for the three or five year applicable commitment period.

If the court confirms the plan, the chapter 13 trustee will distribute funds received under the plan “as soon as is practicable.” 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(2). If the court declines to confirm the plan, the debtor may file a modified plan. 11 U.S.C. § 1323. The debtor may also convert the case to a liquidation case under chapter 7. (4) 11 U.S.C. § 1307(a). If the court declines to confirm the plan or the modified plan and instead dismisses the case, the court may authorize the trustee to keep some funds for costs, but the trustee must return all remaining funds to the debtor (other than funds already disbursed or due to creditors). 11 U.S.C. § 1326(a)(2).

Occasionally, a change in circumstances may compromise the debtor’s ability to make plan payments. For example, a creditor may object or threaten to object to a plan, or the debtor may inadvertently have failed to list all creditors. In such instances, the plan may be modified either before or after confirmation. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1323, 1329. Modification after confirmation is not limited to an initiative by the debtor, but may be at the request of the trustee or an unsecured creditor. 11 U.S.C. § 1329(a).

Making the Plan Work

The provisions of a confirmed plan bind the debtor and each creditor. 11 U.S.C. § 1327. Once the court confirms the plan, the debtor must make the plan succeed. The debtor must make regular payments to the trustee either directly or through payroll deduction, which will require adjustment to living on a fixed budget for a prolonged period. Furthermore, while confirmation of the plan entitles the debtor to retain property as long as payments are made, the debtor may not incur new debt without consulting the trustee, because additional debt may compromise the debtor’s ability to complete the plan. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1305(c), 1322(a)(1), 1327.

A debtor may make plan payments through payroll deductions. This practice increases the likelihood that payments will be made on time and that the debtor will complete the plan. In any event, if the debtor fails to make the payments due under the confirmed plan, the court may dismiss the case or convert it to a liquidation case under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. § 1307(c). The court may also dismiss or convert the debtor’s case if the debtor fails to pay any post-filing domestic support obligations (i.e., child support, alimony), or fails to make required tax filings during the case. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1307(c) and (e), 1308, 521.

The Chapter 13 Discharge

The bankruptcy law regarding the scope of the chapter 13 discharge is complex and has recently undergone major changes. Therefore, debtors should consult competent legal counsel prior to filing regarding the scope of the chapter 13 discharge.

A chapter 13 debtor is entitled to a discharge upon completion of all payments under the chapter 13 plan so long as the debtor: (1) certifies (if applicable) that all domestic support obligations that came due prior to making such certification have been paid; (2) has not received a discharge in a prior case filed within a certain time frame (two years for prior chapter 13 cases and four years for prior chapter 7, 11 and 12 cases); and (3) has completed an approved course in financial management (if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator for the debtor’s district has determined that such courses are available to the debtor). 11 U.S.C. § 1328. The court will not enter the discharge, however, until it determines, after notice and a hearing, that there is no reason to believe there is any pending proceeding that might give rise to a limitation on the debtor’s homestead exemption. 11 U.S.C. § 1328(h).

The discharge releases the debtor from all debts provided for by the plan or disallowed (under section 502), with limited exceptions. Creditors provided for in full or in part under the chapter 13 plan may no longer initiate or continue any legal or other action against the debtor to collect the discharged obligations.

As a general rule, the discharge releases the debtor from all debts provided for by the plan or disallowed, with the exception of certain debts referenced in 11 U.S.C. § 1328. Debts not discharged in chapter 13 include certain long term obligations (such as a home mortgage), debts for alimony or child support, certain taxes, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts arising from death or personal injury caused by driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and debts for restitution or a criminal fine included in a sentence on the debtor’s conviction of a crime. To the extent that they are not fully paid under the chapter 13 plan, the debtor will still be responsible for these debts after the bankruptcy case has concluded. Debts for money or property obtained by false pretenses, debts for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, and debts for restitution or damages awarded in a civil case for willful or malicious actions by the debtor that cause personal injury or death to a person will be discharged unless a creditor timely files and prevails in an action to have such debts declared nondischargeable. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1328, 523(c); Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4007(c).

The discharge in a chapter 13 case is somewhat broader than in a chapter 7 case. Debts dischargeable in a chapter 13, but not in chapter 7, include debts for willful and malicious injury to property (as opposed to a person), debts incurred to pay nondischargeable tax obligations, and debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings. 11 U.S.C. § 1328(a).

The Chapter 13 Hardship Discharge

After confirmation of a plan, circumstances may arise that prevent the debtor from completing the plan. In such situations, the debtor may ask the court to grant a “hardship discharge.” 11 U.S.C. § 1328(b). Generally, such a discharge is available only if: (1) the debtor’s failure to complete plan payments is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control and through no fault of the debtor; (2) creditors have received at least as much as they would have received in a chapter 7 liquidation case; and (3) modification of the plan is not possible. Injury or illness that precludes employment sufficient to fund even a modified plan may serve as the basis for a hardship discharge. The hardship discharge is more limited than the discharge described above and does not apply to any debts that are nondischargeable in a chapter 7 case. 11 U.S.C. § 523.

Source :  uscourts.gov


The Facts About Filing Bankruptcy

Based on CBP data, we find that people are living longer in the financial stress sweatbox before filing bankruptcy than they have in the past.

Two-thirds of people who file bankruptcy reported struggling with their debts for two or more years before filing for bankruptcy.

One-third of people reported struggling for more than five years, double the frequency from the CBP’s survey of people who filed bankruptcy in 2007.

For those people who struggle for more than two years before filing — the “long strugglers” — we find that their time in the sweatbox is marked by persistent debt collection calls, the loss of homes and other property, and going without healthcare, food, and utilities just to make minimum payments on only some of their bills.

There is no need to live like this. The longer you wait means the longer your road to recovery. Although long strugglers do not file bankruptcy until long after the benefits outweigh the costs, they still report being ashamed of needing to file.

It is often much better to end the stress and anxiety and not delay repairing your life. The longer you wait the longer your relationships with others suffer and the more unhealthy stress and anxiety builds up.

Bankruptcy is for the most part a confidential process and your friends, family and neighbors will not know unless you tell them that you filed for bankruptcy. You should not feel ashamed to file for bankruptcy and it is not a sign of failure or defeat.

Most people need a fresh start in life at least once in their life. From start to finish, no one you encounter in the bankruptcy process will make you feel guilty or ashamed.

At Bucacci and Simonian we are not judgmental of your situation. We are here to help you.

Every year we have to meet with and file bankruptcies for our friends, family members of friends, colleagues, business associates and people we have know for many years. The best way to look at your situation is that it is no different than going to the doctor when you are too sick to recover on your own and you need professional help.

Call us today for a free confidential bankruptcy consultation.

We are Massachusetts bankruptcy attorneys who have been helping people with their financial problems for well over 25 years. Call Bucacci & Simonian at 508-673-9500 for a free and confidential consultation today.

Your Bankruptcy Discharge

Your bankruptcy discharge is more than a document from the bankruptcy court.  It is a federal court order prohibiting creditors from collecting the discharged debt from you. The important part here is discharged debt. Although you receive a discharge that does not mean all debt was discharged for example student loans and some taxes.

When creditors ignore a federal court order, it can have serious consequences for them.

Discharge applies to most creditors

All creditors who got notice of your bankruptcy are subject to the discharge injunction, with a few exceptions. That’s why it is very important to list everyone who thinks you owe them money in your bankruptcy schedules. It is better to be safe by listing anyone you may owe money to and anyone who may think you owe them money. If the creditor was properly listed and properly notified of the bankruptcy filing they will have little or no excuse as to why they attempted to collect on a discharged debt. You may have a good cause of action against the creditor if they harass you or attempt to collect on a debt after receiving the discharge.

When collector calls after bankruptcy

Whether it’s a debt buyer or the original creditor occasionally you will encounter a collector after your bankruptcy case is over. If that happens, make sure you tell the collector about your bankruptcy discharge, give them your case number and your attorney’s name and phone number.  To have a legal remedy for the violation of the discharge, you will need to prove that the collector knows about the discharge. You should keep notes about who called, the date, time, the person you spoke to, etc. If they call more than once after you informed them of the discharge, case number and attorney’s name it is important to call your bankruptcy lawyer immediately

Suing creditors to enforce the discharge

If a creditor is ignoring the bankruptcy discharge you may be able to sue them in bankruptcy court and recover damages and attorney’s fees. The amount of your recovery will depend on many factors including: the amount of stress and anxiety they caused you, if you were denied credit because of their actions, if you need to seek medical treatment due to the stress, if your credit score drops because of their actions and any other damages you can prove and demonstrate.

You can enforce the discharge against your creditors

If creditors who were discharged in your bankruptcy case continue to harass you, call your bankruptcy lawyer immediately.  Save all the evidence about how the creditor harassed you. You should not ignore attempts to collect a discharged debt. Take careful notes or all contact they have made with you including all phone calls and save all letters, emails and texts that you receive. If you suffer damages it is important to document all damages. This will help your bankruptcy attorney if the matter goes to court.

How to Handle Bankruptcy and Divorce at the Same Time

Divorce and bankruptcy are among the most stressful and emotionally fraught experiences anyone can endure, and dealing with both at the same time can seem overwhelming.

If you’re facing that prospect, it may be hard to take comfort in assurances about new beginnings (however true they are), but maybe it will help to know others have made it through the ordeal, and to learn some proven strategies for making the processes go as smoothly as possible.

Is It Wise to File for Bankruptcy Before Getting Divorced?

Before putting divorce and bankruptcy into motion, you should understand that it’s unlikely the two proceedings can truly take place simultaneously. You can file legal motions at the same time, but in most jurisdictions one case will take precedence over the other. If both cases are pending simultaneously, bankruptcy is typically suspended until the divorce court apportions marital debts and assets to each party.

Juggling the two legal actions will only complicate your situation, so for simplicity’s sake, you may want to consider filing for divorce before tackling bankruptcy. Certain circumstances, however, can make it more desirable to file bankruptcy first, and then address divorce.

Deciding the best order in which to handle divorce and bankruptcy will depend on your financial situation and the laws that apply in the jurisdiction where you live. You should consult legal counsel before starting either process to determine which makes the most sense for you. In a nutshell, here are the advantages to handling divorce before bankruptcy, and vice-versa.

When Does It Make Sense to File for Bankruptcy Before Divorce?

A main advantage to filing bankruptcy before divorce is the potential for cancelling joint marital debts that would otherwise have to be divided up as part of divorce proceedings, and then tackled separately in each spouse’s bankruptcy. A joint bankruptcy filing requires cooperation between the spouses, but it can significantly streamline the divorce process, reducing legal fees and time commitment for both parties.

In many states, a couple filing for bankruptcy can keep a larger portion of their assets than they would when filing for bankruptcy individually, after a divorce.
When Does It Make Sense to File for Divorce Before Bankruptcy?

The main case for filing for divorce before bankruptcy has to do with meeting the qualifications in your state for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In contrast with Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which cancels certain types of debt but requires negotiating with creditors to structure a yearslong repayment plan, Chapter 7 cancels qualifying debts altogether. To meet the qualifications for Chapter 7, your income must fall below than that of the median for your state. In households where one spouse earns most or all of the income, completing a divorce before filing for bankruptcy can enable both parties to qualify for individual Chapter 7 bankruptcies.

What Happens to Your Credit After Divorce?

Whether you pursue divorce or bankruptcy first, it’s important to know going in that it may not be possible for either process to completely disentangle your finances from your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s.

For example, Chapter 13 plans on marital debt may leave both parties legally responsible for repayments. There are also categories of debt that bankruptcy cannot discharge (student loans, for example), and if you or your spouse cosigned on such a loan, you may be equally responsible for seeing to it that those debts are paid, even after divorce and bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy has severe, long-lasting negative consequences for individuals’ credit scores and eligibility for loans or credit cards. While divorce doesn’t directly affect individuals’ credit, the aftermath of divorce can lead to circumstances that bring down credit scores as well. Those situations—and the long road to recovery from the credit impact of bankruptcy—will only be complicated if either party withholds payments or otherwise uses joint debt to spite the other party.

Getting through bankruptcy and divorce is never easy, but with a sound strategy and some good faith on the part of both spouses, it’s possible to move on from them and start regaining a solid financial footing within a few years.

Things to consider about Bankruptcy and Divorce

Should you file before or after divorce? 

This is a question many divorcing couples ask and the answer depends upon what joint assets and debts you have and what assets you intend to keep after the divorce. For most couples, this question is answered by whether or not you own a home, have equity in it, and one of you intends to keep it and who is residing in the home. In most cases, it is advisable to file bankruptcy jointly before the divorce. You should always consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney when you first consider divorcing. Most often it is better to jointly resolve your debt issues before the divorce as it is one major component of divorce that can be quickly resolved and leave one less issue to argue over.

It is always best if both spouses can work together before the divorce is filed. It is important to rationally discuss the financial issues and come to a joint decision when possible. When communication breaks down and the parties cannot discuss matters together it often hurts both parties. An experienced bankruptcy lawyer should be able to discuss this with both spouses and make a recommendation that is in both parties interests.

Bankruptcy, child support and alimony.

Generally speaking, as a matter of public policy, both child support and alimony are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. However, by filing Chapter 13, a spouse obligated to pay support can pay the past due support in their chapter 13 bankruptcy plan and pay them over three or five years. Also, having the other debts discharged in bankruptcy and having one lower monthly payment can often make support payments more manageable.

Should you file bankruptcy jointly or individually?

The answer to this question depends mostly upon the nature of your relationship. For most divorcing couples, it is best to file jointly if at all possible; however, not every couple going through a divorce has the ability to work together on a joint filing.

Filing bankruptcy jointly means doubling your bankruptcy exemptions, increasing the amount of property and assets that can be protected in bankruptcy and from your creditors. If you own a home and one of you intends to retain it after the divorce, you can apply for the homestead exemption and protect the equity from your creditors.

If one of you files bankruptcy prior to divorcing and the other does not, the non-filer will be responsible for all joint debt that is discharged as far as their creditors are concerned. This often causes a problem for the spouse who did not file for bankruptcy and can become an issue in the divorce. The spouse who did not file will be responsible for the formerly joint debt.

Again, there are some instances where filing individually can be beneficial and you should always consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney in the early stages of the divorce. Your divorce attorneys should work together with your bankruptcy attorney to achieve the best result.

The division of assets in a divorce and the effects on bankruptcy.

If you file bankruptcy after your divorce, the division of assets in your divorce property settlement agreement will control what assets you must exempt from your bankruptcy estate. Assets that you are to receive in the future may or may not be exempt. All of your assets provided for in the property settlement agreement must be disclosed in your bankruptcy petition. Also alimony and child support will count as income for the person receiving it and will count as an expense for the person paying it.

12 Reasons For Filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Reasons For Filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy1. There is a lot more flexibility when you file a chapter 13 bankruptcy. You can dismiss the case voluntarily at any time or convert it to chapter 7 bankruptcy at any time. You can modify your plan if your income changes if income changes or you decide to give up a house or a car. You can refinance or sell a house during the plan.

2. A chapter 13 bankruptcy can stop or prevent a foreclosure when you are behind on mortgage payments. You will have to pay the past due payments and continue paying the regular monthly payments going forward.

3. You can strip off and remove a second mortgage, reduce the mortgage balance of an investment or multifamily home and you can reduce the loan balance of an automobile loan.

4. More debts can be discharged in a chapter 13 bankruptcy as opposed to a chapter 7 bankruptcy such as alimony and divorce payments and money owed for malicious and willful acts.

5. Attorney’s fees can be incorporated into the bankruptcy plan. You will not have to come up with a lot of money at first and usually the attorney’s fees only reduce what the creditors receive and do not increase your payment.

6. You do not have to reaffirm an automobile loan in order to keep a car.

7. You can solve a tax problem in a chapter 13 bankruptcy and pay back at a rate that you can afford and stop tax levies.

8. You can solve a child support arrears problem in a chapter 13 bankruptcy and pay the past due amount over time, usually 36 to 60 months.

9. You can protect property that is not exempt in a chapter 7 bankruptcy and keep everything you own.

10. If an automobile loan payment is too high, you can stretch out your loan balance over 36 to 60 months and lower your monthly payment.

11. If you have filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy within the last 8 years and are not eligible to file another one until 8 years have passed you can file a chapter 13 bankruptcy and make a small monthly payment and still receive a discharge from you new debts.

12. You can protect a co-debtor from collection activity while the chapter 13 bankruptcy is pending.

This is not an exhaustive list of reasons where a chapter 13 bankruptcy may be a better choice over a chapter 7 bankruptcy. You should consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney for a full evaluation of your case.

The Three Biggest Bankruptcy Fears

Maybe you’ve been thinking about it. You know that your life might just get better if you do it. But, like most people, you’re downright scared of filing bankruptcy.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bankruptcy doesn’t have to be a last resort, but it is a serious step, and it does carry consequences.

That said, most of the dire predictions people hear (on the Internet and elsewhere) about the “tragedy” of filing bankruptcy, or the inescapable complications they’ll face, just do not materialize. Let’s explore why. . . .

Never Qualifying for a Mortgage (or a Car Loan or a Credit Card) Again

Of course, you will be able to buy a house or a car or get a credit card again, and it will happen much sooner than you would probably think. Most people believe that they can’t get any credit for seven or 10 years, based on the length of time a bankruptcy will appear on their credit bureau report. In reality, you’ll be able to get credit very soon after your case is concluded and your debts are discharged.

How can that be? After all, didn’t you just wipe out a bunch of credit balances? Who would want to take a chance on you? As it turns out, plenty of lenders will. There is no law that would prevent a creditor from extending credit to you. In fact, there are creditors who market to people who recently completed bankruptcy cases. These creditors know that your future bankruptcy options are limited for 4 years, so their chances of losing money on you through bankruptcy are very, very small. Plus, these lenders can use your recent financial circumstances to justify charging you a higher interest rate. Add to that the fact that you’ve just freed up resources by getting rid of debt and suddenly you’re a person they want to extend credit to.

Companies offer secured and unsecured credit cards to recent bankruptcy filers. Many debtors also report that local car dealerships send them letters offering to help them re-establish credit with new and used car deals. In fact, many borrowers can qualify for an FHA or VA loan just one year after a Chapter 13 bankruptcy or two years after a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

No doubt you’ll probably pay more for your credit immediately after a bankruptcy, but within about two years or so, with a clean record and good payment history, your credit score could rise to a very respectable level that will allow you to obtain good, if not excellent credit rates very quickly.

I Will Lose All My Property

In less than 10% of personal bankruptcy cases will individual debtors be required to turn over any property or assets to the bankruptcy trustee. For most filers, their personal property and the equity in their real estate will be exempt and protected. Each state either has its own exemption scheme or makes use of the scheme included in the federal bankruptcy laws. For the most part, these exemptions will be generous enough to cover your property.  In Massachusetts you have a choice of either federal or state exemptions and the exemptions are quite generous.

My Friends, Family or Coworkers Will Find Out I Filed For Bankruptcy!

What our friends and family think of us is a powerful motivator. The fear that our bankruptcy filing will become public knowledge can be paralyzing and overwhelming. For many, the stress of dealing with obnoxious bill collectors pales in comparison to the possibility that someone we know will find out about our bankruptcy case and that you have money troubles.

Bankruptcy cases are public court records, but generally, the information on an individual bankruptcy case is not published unless it is newsworthy. The filer’s creditors are notified by mail, along with certain government agencies, but the days of publishing a bankrupt’s name in a list in the legal notices of the local newspaper are long gone in Massachusetts. The chances of your acquaintances finding out are very low unless you tell them yourself or they go to the Massachusetts Bankruptcy Court’s clerk’s office to research your name.

It may ease your mind a little bit to know that about one in 10 adults will file bankruptcy sometime over the course of their lives. It is a lot more common than you believe. So, next time you’re in church or at a family gathering, think about how there’s a good chance someone sitting near you has or will file bankruptcy. You’re not alone at all.

Facing Foreclosure ???

Facing Foreclosure and Bankruptcy

If you are facing foreclosure and the loss of your property you may want to consider your options in bankruptcy. There are many options available to you. If you are losing your home and the house has not gone to foreclosure sale yet, you can file a chapter 13 bankruptcy. This would allow you to pay the past due mortgage payments over time and save the home.

If you do not want to save the home but are afraid of losing your equity, you can file a chapter 13 bankruptcy with a sales plan. If you home is foreclosed your will most likely lose a lot or all of your equity. Generally, banks do not care if you make a profit from the home sale and are only interested in getting their money back. If you file a chapter 13 bankruptcy with a sales plan you can stop the foreclosure and sell the home for full market value. This way the bank gets their money back and you can keep the equity or use the equity to pay off other debts.

In some situations it can be advantageous to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy and allow the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee to sell the property for you. By doing this you can get full market value and preserve or save your equity and pay off other debts. The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee, and not you, has the power to stop the sale and get the most reasonable price for the home. The property would temporarily belong to the trustee who, generally speaking, has a lot more authority and power over bankruptcy assets. Otherwise, if the house went to foreclosure, you may end up with a deficiency balance and now owe more money or you could end up with little or nothing at all. If there is equity in your home and there is a threat of you losing it bankruptcy may be in your best interest.

Whether you file a chapter 7 bankruptcy or a chapter 13 bankruptcy the Bankruptcy Court will immediately impose the automatic stay which is like a restraining order against all of your creditors. This will allow you time to make a rational decision and sell your property for the full value instead of losing the property to foreclosure sale or having to sell it fast at a greatly reduced price.

All Debts Discharged

Are all of the debts discharged?

Bankruptcy: not all debts discharged. The debts discharged vary under each chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Section 523(a) of the Code specifically excepts various categories of debts from the discharge granted to individual debtors. Therefore, the debtor must still repay those debts after bankruptcy. Congress has determined that these types of debts are not dischargeable.  Public policy reasons do not allow the discharge of certain debts.  Debts incurred for drunk driving injuries to another is one example.

Chapters 7, 11, 12,  lists 19 categories of debt excepted from discharge. A more limited list of exceptions applies to cases under chapter 13.

Generally speaking, the exceptions to discharge apply automatically if the language prescribed by section 523(a) applies. The most common types of nondischargeable debts are certain types of tax claims, debts not set forth by the debtor on the lists and schedules the debtor must file with the court, debts for spousal or child support or alimony, debts for willful and malicious injuries to person or property, debts to governmental units for fines and penalties, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts for personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, debts owed to certain tax-advantaged retirement plans, and debts for certain condominium or cooperative housing fees.

The types of debts described in sections 523(a)(2), (4), and (6).  Obligations obtained by fraud or maliciousness not automatically excepted from discharge. Creditors must ask the court to determine that these debts excepted from discharge. Discharge can apply to the debts listed in sections 523(a)(2), (4), and (6).  Only with the absence of an affirmative request by the creditor and the granting of the request by the court.

A slightly broader discharge of debts is available to a debtor in a chapter 13 case than in a chapter 7 case. Debts dischargeable in a chapter 13, but not in chapter 7.  This includes debts for willful and malicious injury to property, debts incurred to pay non-dischargeable tax obligations.  Also debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings. Although a chapter 13 debtor generally receives a discharge only after completing all payments required by the court.  There are some limited circumstances under which the debtor may request the court to grant a “hardship discharge.”  Even though the debtor has failed to complete plan payments.

Such a discharge is available only to a certain debtors.  Failure to complete plan payments is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control. The scope of a chapter 13 “hardship discharge” is similar to that in a chapter 7 case. With regards to the types of debts that are excepted from the discharge. A hardship discharge also is available in chapter 12.  Failure to complete plan payments.  If due to “circumstances for which the debtor should not justly be held accountable.”

If you have specific questions please call Bucacci And Simonian at 508-673-9500 or visit our website.

Social Media and Filing Bankruptcy in Massachusetts

Social Media And Filing Bankruptcy in Massachusetts

Many people share personal details of their lives on social media.  Social media and bankruptcy in Massachusetts may have consequences.  Post like vacations they take, places they shop, purchases they make, and even what they wear. This kind of sharing can sometimes have legal consequences. One example would be an angry post about a soon to be ex spouse could cause problems in a pending divorce.  Also, posts that exaggerate your financial situation could cause you problems in bankruptcy.  It is never wise to post information that exaggerates your lifestyle before, during or after filing bankruptcy.  Viewers of your post and creditors could misinterpret it and use it against you.  One example shows just how problematic things can be when you are not careful on social media.

Bankruptcy Filing and Social Media Problems

In 2015, the musician 50 Cent filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. During his bankruptcy he posted several photographs with a lot of money. He displayed a stack of money in his freezer.  50 Cent also posted a photograph of himself surrounded by piles of cash on a bed.  He claimed the bills were props, such as those used in music videos.  The creditors and the bankruptcy judge were not impressed and not amused by those pictures.

According to the New York Times, 50 Cent stated that the postings were important to maintaining his image and for promotion of his music. This made it difficult to determine whether he was hiding assets or money.  This made it difficult to see if he was telling the truth.   His creditors now asked to revalue his assets.  The bankruptcy judge asked him to reappear in court.

Fortunately he received a large settlement from a lawsuit and was able to pay off his creditors in a short period of time.  As you can see, it can be dangerous to post on social media if you are going through bankruptcy.

Be Careful What You Post and Share

Creditors do not know anything about you. People who do not know you can easily misinterpret your social media posts. Pictures of a business trip could be seen or interpreted as a vacation when posted on social media.   Visiting a relative out of state for an emergency can look like a vacation.  Eating at a fancy restaurant for a family event could look extravagant.  Be careful of what you post on social media before and after filing bankruptcy.

If you are considering filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts you should consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.  It is not wise to take advice from friends and family.  Also, trying to sort through the information on the internet could get you in trouble.  A lot of the information on the internet about bankruptcy is very general and can easily be misinterpreted.  It is always advisable to consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.  Call us anytime to discuss your options.  You can also visit our website to schedule an appointment.  The consultation is always free.

 

Massachusetts Evictions Unpaid Rent Bankruptcy

How bankruptcy helps with evictions and unpaid rent in Massachusetts.

The eviction moratorium is ending and unpaid rents are due.  How does bankruptcy help?

Generally, in most cases, a person threatened with eviction can move to a new place, list the past due rent in a bankruptcy petition and wipe out the unpaid rent.

Most people qualify for a basic Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, tenants in debt and an evicted person can list their debts, including unpaid rents, and all of those debts are wiped out except for certain priority debts like taxes, criminal restitution, child support, alimony and student loans. Unpaid rents are the kind of debts that are wiped out.

The unpaid rent can also be wiped out in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy can help with evictions in Massachusetts for unpaid rent.  Here are a few different choices:

Eviction filing prepared before bankruptcy filed

Eviction proceeding not filed yet then property owners cannot evict a person for unpaid rent.  The bankruptcy automatic stay protects a renter from eviction for as long as it is in effect. When bankruptcy is filed before the eviction is filed a party  involved in an eviction is protected.  The landlord will need to file a motion to lift the automatic stay.  This would remove the bankruptcy protection and then the property owner can evict a tenant for unpaid rent. A renter would still owe rent for the time a tenant occupied the home after filing bankruptcy until the tenant moves out.

Move to new home then file bankruptcy

Example: rent has not paid due to the pandemic.  Tenant moves to a new home. Past due rent scheduled in the bankruptcy.  Unpaid rent subject to bankruptcy discharge. Fees subject to bankruptcy discharge.  Costs subject to bankruptcy discharge.  The bankruptcy does not affect the new rental agreement and the tenant can keep paying rent at the new home. In Massachusetts, bankruptcy can stop evictions for unpaid rent.

Eviction filed before bankruptcy filed

Eviction not presently allowed by a court.  The bankruptcy court can protect tenants. A tenant must move out immediately if the court awards the landlord an eviction.  This is if the tenant has not filed for bankruptcy protection and included the unpaid rent. This applies to Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  If a renter is facing possible eviction consider filing bankruptcy before the eviction date to get the bankruptcy court protection.  A tenant with unpaid rent will get more time in the home and allow the renter to search for a new rental property.

No eviction yet? File bankruptcy then move

If the renter has not paid rent in a while and the tenant needs to file bankruptcy right away the tenant can file bankruptcy and wipe out those unpaid rent amounts.  However the renter is liable for any fees, costs and expenses.  Rent incurred from the day of the bankruptcy filing until the day property owners force tenants to move out.  Unpaid rent is subject to bankruptcy discharge.  The tenant will be responsible for any rent due after the filing of the bankruptcy.

Call us today to schedule a free consultation or visit our websiteBucacci & Simonian