Articles Posted in Chapter 7

Sacramento Bankruptcy NewsflashAccording to the Eastern District of California that handles all Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy cases in the Sacramento Metropolitan Area, data shows that filings in the region have fallen consistently over the last few years. As we all have probably noticed, the economy has improved significantly since the Great Recession of 2009. The bankruptcy filing statistics are proof that the economy is now stronger than it has been over the last several years. Sacramento saw a record number of filings in 2010 with a whopping 54,365 cases filed that year. Every year subsequent saw fewer cases filed than the previous year. Last year the Eastern district of California saw only 14,328 new cases filed and includes all Chapter 7, Chapter 13, and Chapter 11 bankruptcies. These numbers even predate filings before the Bankruptcy Laws were modified significantly in 2005 under the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCA).

Although the economy has improved substantially and the unemployment rate has dropped from 9% to less than 5% since 2010, there are still a significant number of people who need to consider taking advantage of the bankruptcy laws in order to confront and resolve the economic turbulence they face. Historically, the number one reason people needed to file for bankruptcy were unexpected medical bills. The recent filings during the height of the Great Recession were due to the mortgage and foreclosure situation many people faced with their homes. Fortunately, many people have already made great use of the bankruptcy code to shield themselves from the banks and to reorganize debts into a much more manageable situation and to stop the foreclosure process in its tracks.

The best use of the Bankruptcy laws are to get your debts discharged that enable a person to start over with a “clean slate” financially. The ultimate discharge of all debt is granted by a federal bankruptcy court that issues a stay to prevent a creditor from any further attempt to collect a debt from the individual. While most debts such as credit cards, medical bills, and other unsecured debts can be extinguished in bankruptcy, other types of debts cannot be discharged: these include child and spousal support, tax debts, and sadly most types of student loans.

As a Sacramento Bankruptcy Attorney, my potential clients are often concerned with the ramifications of filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy Petition. It is my job to help people understand and explain some of the myths that surround this process. Some potential filers may be concerned with the effect bankruptcy may have on any security clearance as a condition of his or her employment. My short answer is: Bankruptcy will have little impact on a security clearance.

The major reason that the Bankruptcy has no negative impact on a security clearance is because it makes a person less of a security risk. The United States Department of Defense states: “The purpose of a security clearance is to determine whether a person is willing and able to safeguard classified national security information, based on his or her loyalty, character, trustworthiness, and reliability.” The fact of the matter is that when a person files for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 for a legitimate reason, it shows that this individual is making a responsible choice and confronting whatever economic situations are troubling them.

“All available, reliable information about a person, past and present, favorable and unfavorable, is considered in reaching a clearance determination. When an individual’s life history shows evidence of unreliability or untrustworthiness, questions arise whether the individual can be relied on and trusted to exercise the responsibility necessary for working in a secure environment where protection of classified information is paramount.

Sacramento area residents considering a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy should be aware the Eastern District of California has decided to raise the costs of filing a case effective June 01, 2014. The new Chapter 7 filing fee for the Sacramento jurisdiction is now $335.00. The Chapter 13 filing fee has also been raised to $310.00.

The Judicial Conference of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts approved the increase earlier this year. This fee increase reinforces the Federal Court’s continuing policy of shifting costs from the general population to the people who actually use the courts. In the context of a bankruptcy, this shift can be problematic, however, since the individuals seeking protection of the bankruptcy code have difficulty coming up with the filing fee to begin with, much less, paying the increased fees.

Every time the court Imposes a fee increase, we find less people being able to take advantage of the protection offered by the Bankruptcy Code. Supporters of the fee increase would argue that a debtor who cannot afford to pay the increased fees may apply for a fee waiver or alternatively request to make the fee in installments over the course of several months.

As tax day approaches many of my clients often ask if they can discharge tax debt when filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The short answer to the question is: maybe. It is safe for an individual to presume that his or her tax debts will probably not be dischargeable in bankruptcy as a general rule. However, there are certain situations when the tax debt can be discharged through the bankruptcy process. An individual can eliminate his or her tax debt if and only if that person satisfies all of the following five rules:

(1) The due date for filing the tax specific year must be at least 3 years old.

(2) The return must have been filed at least two years before the filing of the bankruptcy petition.

As tax season approaches, many Sacramento area residents look forward to getting their refund checks over the upcoming weeks. Whether filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, however, local residents must keep in mind that any income received is taken into account when qualifying for bankruptcy.

Few people realize that by receiving a significant tax refund they may no longer qualify for the bankruptcy. In order to qualify for Chapter 7 the individual must pass one of 2 income requirements. The first is the median income test. This means in order to qualify for Chapter 7 a person must earn less than the “average household income” for the same family size in his or her geographic region for the 6 months before the month in which they file the bankruptcy. The tax refund comes into play in this case because the median income test must account for all sources of income in the time period. Thus, if a person receives a significant tax refund they may no longer satisfy the median income test.

The second way to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is under the means test. The means test is a complex equation and comparison of a person’s debt to income ratio. In this test a person who makes more than the average income for his geographic region may still qualify for the bankruptcy provided their debts and monthly expenses rise to a significant portion of their income. Again, the receipt of a significant tax refund could effect the numbers enough so that the individual does not qualify under the means test either.

As a Sacramento Bankruptcy Attorney I must often explain to my clients that domestic support obligations, such as spousal support and child support, are not dischargeable in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This concept frustrates many individuals trying to clean up his or her economic profile. I must also remind these individuals to keep in mind that child and spousal support are not the only domestic support obligations to come out of a family court that could survive the bankruptcy. A recent case stemming from the New Hampshire Supreme Court, In re Mason, demonstrates a perfect example of a non-dischargeable domestic support obligation.

Mrs. Mason filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after having received a divorce from the state of New Hampshire in 2007. The parties’ divorce decree held that both parties would be liable to pay one half of their 2006 tax burden. However, Mrs. Mason listed Mr. Mason as a co-debtor on their tax lien and a creditor in her Chapter 7 petition and attempted to discharge her half of the parties’ 2006 income tax bill. Ms. Mason received her automatic discharge in the Chapter 7. Each party later attempted to assert relief from the 2006 taxes under the “innocent spouse” doctrine. The IRS granted Mrs. Mason’s request and denied the request of Mr. Mason. Mr. Mason moved to hold Ms. Mason in contempt of the family court for not paying her share of the tax bill and for an order directing her to pay one half of the tax bill. The circuit court denied Mr. Mason’s request. They found that since the IRS had granted her petition for relief under the “innocent spouse” doctrine, that it changed the nature of the taxes from a debt to the IRS to a personal debt to Mr. Martin and since Mr. Mason failed to fight the discharge in bankruptcy court that he would lose. They also denied his request for attorney’s fees.

On appeal, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the lower court and held that the modifications of the bankruptcy code in 2005 mean that the domestic support obligations are not discharged automatically. The question turned on whether the taxes were automatically non-dischargeable because they were a part of the divorce decree, such as child support, or whether Mr. Martin would have to fight the discharge in the bankruptcy court. In their decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court compared the modified bankruptcy code with the older version. They found that the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA “) removed the previous ability to pay tests that the law previously required regarding the dischargeability of a debt. This courts interpretation of the law found the BAPCPA directs that any debts falling within particular categories are automatically non-dischargeable. Specifically, they held that a debt created by a divorce decree is one of the automatically non-dischargeable debts. Since the 2007 divorce decree required Mrs. Mason to pay one half of the 2006 tax bill the court found that her debt was automatically non-dischargeable and she lost.

All Sacramento area residents have been hit hard by the economic downturn of the last several years. Unfortunately, this downturn has begun to disproportionately affect senior citizens and people leaving the workforce. In the early 90’s people over 55 accounted for approximately 2 percent of bankruptcy filings. Today, seniors account for roughly 22 percent of all bankruptcy filings.

The main reason seniors have been subject to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 in recent years is due to the rising costs of medical care and their reliance on expensive medications. According to a recent study, 70 percent of seniors who live in poverty have suffered from a major medical condition. Only 50 percent of seniors living above the poverty line have faced these maladies that range from cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc . to name a few.

Seniors therefore face a unique set of challenges when confronting economic turbulence. This is due, in large part, to the fact that elderly people tend to have limited incomes and there exists a lower probability of increasing income or earning additional income from employment opportunities as the individual continues to age. These real limitations have a direct impact on the individual’s decision of whether to file a Chapter 13 or a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

As a Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney in Sacramento I frequently receive calls from people who consider bankruptcy because they have oppressive student loan debt. Student loans are a major issue for many bankruptcy filers. I predict these issues will continue to increase and the laws will ultimately need revision as the problems surmount; students, have been denied the opportunity to discharge their debt even when the amounts are astronomical and the student has little means to make payments.

In what can be considered a victory for individuals with student loans, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in In re Gourlay that Sallie Mae, the student loan organization, could not set a default judgment aside that had been obtained by debtor Kristin Gourlay. Sallie Mae failed to respond to adversary proceeding filed by Gourlay which attempted to find the debt dischargeable. The Sixth Circuit found that the bankruptcy court was within its rights to find that the failure was not excusable neglect, the court said; service was proper and the appropriate person simply failed to respond.

Kristin Gourlay filed for Chapter 7. During the case she filed an adversary proceeding seeking to determine the dischargeability of her student loans owed to Sallie Mae. She owed Sallie Mae approximately $25,500. Her bankruptcy attorney sent Sallie Mae a timely summons by certified mail, and the return card was signed by someone believed to be a part time employee at the company’s Virginia headquarters. The deadline for a response came and went without a response from Sallie Mae. Gourlay filed for a default judgment about a week later. The Bankruptcy Court intitially rejected her motion due to improper service. However, Gourlay served the summons again. When there was still no response, the bankruptcy court granted her second motion for default judgment. Eighteen days after the default judgment became final, Sallie Mae moved to set it aside for excusable neglect. The Bankruptcy Court ultimately rejected this, finding that internal breakdowns are not excusable neglect, and Sallie Mae appealed.

As a Sacramento bankruptcy attorney, I typically take a client’s case before the he or she files the bankruptcy petition. I do this in order to help him or her prepare the petition before the actual filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Preparation for bankruptcy can mean a lot of things, including making strategic decisions regarding which assets are important to an individual. Understanding the bankruptcy process and knowing the complex rules become an important aspect of any Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 filing in order to eliminate or minimize a person’s exposure to his or her creditors.

Unfortunately, unrepresented litigants often fail to understand the complexities involved in a case and that seems to be what happened with a debtor in In re Ruiz, a case from the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In this case, Jose and Carrie Ruiz wrote checks for business purchases, a charitable donation and their monthly mortgage payment just before petitioning for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The checks had not yet cleared on the day of the petition, so their trustee argued that they technically still had the money and should be required to turn it over to the estate. A bankruptcy court in Utah disagreed, but the BAP reversed it, requiring them to turn over about $3,700.

The Ruiz’s checks were written between March 29 and April 23 of 2010; they filed their bankruptcy petition electronically on April 24. On their schedules, the Ruiz’s listed a checking account with $10.02. This was the number that would be true once the checks cleared; however, the account actually contained $3,764.99. The last of the four cleared on April 28, 2010. During the section 341 hearing, the Ruiz’s trustee discovered the discrepancy and moved to require them to turn over the rest of the money. The bankruptcy court denied the Trustee’s motion and found that the disputed money was not debtor property. Rather, it found that the checking account was a debt owed by the bank to the Ruiz’s, and that debt was the estate’s property; the bank had actual control and possession of the money. The court further held that the trustee, not the Ruiz’s, had the obligation to collect that debt on behalf of the bankruptcy estate. The trustee appealed.

Economists and legal experts believe that 2011 could see a slowdown in personal bankruptcy filings. As indicators point to an improving economy and consumers borrow less money, “there is less reason for people to take the step of filing for bankruptcy” according to University of Illinois Professor, Robert Lawless.

American consumers filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 topped 1.5 Million in 2010. This number represents an increase of 9% from 2009. The Southwestern and Southeastern States accounted for a majority of the increased filings last year. It appears that conditions in the Southeast have improved to some degree with decreased filings in states like Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama. However, communities in the Southwest remain mired in the economic turmoil experienced by numerous households across the country. Both California and Arizona saw an approximate 25% increase in bankruptcies from 2009. The economic crisis has forced individuals to make difficult choices or uncomfortable compromises with regard to managing their monthly budget. Numerous households have been forced to make these decisions with regard to their houses or mortgages.

Here in the Sacramento metropolitan area I have met many people who continue to hold onto mortgages they cannot afford because they are unable to get a loan modification or, until real estate values rebound, refinance their property. The fact remains, however, that personal bankruptcy is available to individuals who have extreme amounts of debt and are unable to pay their financial obligations. Eliminating staggering debt, or creating a plan to repay it, can help individuals use their financial resources more efficiently to meet other financial obligations.