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Schedule C: Property Exemptions

Keeping Assets in a Chapter 7: Understanding Bankruptcy Exemptions

Bankruptcy Exemptions are the laws that allow you to keep assets in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

The most common type of bankruptcy is a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, aka a liquidation bankruptcy.  The process usually takes approximately three to four months for a standard case. During this process you file a petition that provides information about your life. This information includes your income, expenses, debts, assets, and personal information. The bankruptcy process allows you to keep certain items. If you have more then the minimal items the bankruptcy trustee sells the debtor’s nonexempt assets and uses the proceeds of such assets to pay creditors. Understanding bankruptcy exemptions can help you determine the right debt management option for you.

Who can file

Chapter 7 is an option for individuals or businesses. An individual gains fresh financial start after filing a Chapter 7 — only select debts remain after discharge. A business uses a Chapter 7 to close the business after it is no longer profitable.

 

How to qualify

When a debtor files Chapter 7, the court looks at the household income. If the household income is below the median for your state, you can qualify for Chapter 7. If your household income is above the median income for your state, you may still qualify. The court analyzes all income under the “Means Test.” This test is basically used by the court to determine if you have any disposable income at the end of every month to pay over to your creditors. The court determines the disposable income by deducting specific monthly expenses from your “current monthly income” (your average income over the six calendar months before you file for bankruptcy). Some of these expenses are actual expenses, such as car payments, mortgage payments, taxes, etc. Other expenses are based on the Internal Revenue Service standards for your county, such as utilities, food, etc.

 

Exemptions

When filing a Chapter 7, most people are most concerned about what assets you can keep. There are certain bankruptcy exemptions (or protections) that apply to anyone filing for bankruptcy. Your exemptions vary under state and federal laws. The exemptions you can use depend on state law and where you have resided for the past two years.
In Virginia, there are various exemptions that apply for residents. Some of the most common exemptions include:
Clothing: up to $1,000 of the value of clothing. Used clothing have a very low resale value; we use thrift store prices to value clothes. The only issue that ever arise are if there are a significant amount of newer designer clothes.
Vehicles: each debtor may keep up to $6,000.00 in equity in a car. If a car is jointly owned, this means a couple can have up to $12,000.00 worth of equity in the car. This means that if you have a car worth $20,000.00, but there is a $18,000.00 loan on the vehicle, there is only $2,000.00 worth of equity.
Household good and furnishings: each debtor can keep up to $5,000.00 on household goods. Generally, there is no issue with these items unless you have valuable antiques or collectibles.
Wedding and engagement rings: debtors are allowed an unlimited exemption for wedding and engagement rings. This means there is no limit on the value you can have for an engagement and/or wedding ring.
Tenants by the Entirety: there is an unlimited exemption for property titled Tenants by the Entirety (TBE) when there is no joint debt between the spouses. In Virginia, the law allows property (usually a marital home) to be titled in a specific manner between a married couple, but also requires that no joint debts exist between the parties. If you think this may apply to you, then I recommend speaking to an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Steps have to be taken to ensure there is no joint debt and that needs to be proven to the trustee in your case.
Federally-qualified retirement plans: traditional retirement plans, such as your 401(k), IRS, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), etc. are all 100% exemption.
Tools of the trade: there is a $5,000.00 exemption for assets that are directly related to your primary profession.
Wildcard: Virginia bankruptcy exemptions are generous for everything exception a potential wildcard. A wildcard applies to any asset that has no other exemptions available, including cash in the bank and equity in a house. A debtor may also use this exemption to supplement any other exemption if more protections are needed.

Virginia’s wildcard is also called a Homestead Deed; it has this name because a document must be filed in the land records in the county in which you reside. This exemption is a $5,000.00 lifetime exemption. Debtors receive additional $500.00 exemption for any dependents.The exemption increases to $10,000.00 at the age of 65. However, since this is a lifetime exemption, if you file bankruptcy and use $1,500.00, you only have $3,500.00 remaining for any future bankruptcies filed in Virginia (until you turn 65).

 

NOTE: The above list of Virginia bankruptcy exemptions is NOT complete or exhaustive list. It includes only the most common exemptions. Additionally, these exemptions may change. 

 

Warnings about assets, exemptions and transfers 

It is also important to note that transferring assets to avoid including them in your bankruptcy is a bad plan. All transfers of property within two years of filing bankruptcy must be disclosed. The case trustee can reverse transactions. If the court determines you did the transfer with the intend to avoid a bankruptcy or to hide assets from creditors, the court may also deny you a discharge of your debts.

 

The court may review all debts that a debtor paid back within the last year. If you have paid back family, friends, or business partners, the court can actually sue those individuals for return of the funds. The court believes that a debtor must treat all creditors the same; as a result, you must treat American Express the same as Uncle Joe. Paying one creditor more money than another is considered a preference because you are giving preferred treatment to one creditor over another.
Once a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed, you cannot voluntarily dismiss the case.  A judge must review any request to end a debtor’s case. A judge will not dismiss your case just because a debtor is losing property or a trustee sues a debtor’s  family member.

 

An experienced Virginia bankruptcy attorney will be able to review your situation and help prevent potential problems in your case. Having an lawyer handle your case properly from the start can prevent problems later on.

 

Alternative options

If Chapter 7 is not right for your situation, there can be other options. Many people who qualify for Chapter 7 due to their income, choose to file a Chapter 13 because there are not adequate bankruptcy exemptions to protect all of their assets. If you have nonexempt assets, a Chapter 13 is another option to consider. In a Chapter 13, you are allowed to keep all nonexempt assets because debtors are required to pay out the value of these unprotected assets over the course of three to five years. Additionally, sometimes debt negotiation is a better option. If you have limited amounts of debt or cannot qualify for a Chapter 7, sometimes having an attorney help you settle a debt, is a better option.

 

 

 

Most individuals want to keep as many assets when possible, if you are filing bankruptcy.  Having an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help ensure your case goes smoothly and can help protect as many assets as possible. Attorney Ashley Morgan has experience dealing with all the above issues.
Sign for United States Bankruptcy Court

Top 17 Dos and Don’ts for Bankruptcy

Having financial problems? Think bankruptcy may be an option for you? To help ensure you keep your options open and available, understand there are things you should or shouldn’t do. In many cases, if you take certain action, such as transferring a house into the name of a family member before filing bankruptcy, you may either limit your options available or put your asset at risk.  There are even some actions that could completely jeopardize your ability to get a bankruptcy discharge. Here is a list of dos and don’ts for bankruptcy.

Here are the Top 17 Dos and Don’ts for bankruptcy:

  1. Do talk to a bankruptcy attorney immediately. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations, so you should take advantage of that. Talking to an attorney doesn’t mean you will definitely be filing bankruptcy. It allows you to understand how bankruptcy would apply to your situation. There are many different types of bankruptcy and it is important to understand how each option could apply to your situation; individuals primarily file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Additionally, you want to find a bankruptcy attorney that makes you feel comfortable. You will only be completely honest with someone if you trust him or her.
  2. Don’t transfer property or money. It is important for you to be aware that transferring title to property before declaring bankruptcy is not an option. Do not sell or transfer assets to your friends or relatives to hide them from creditors or the bankruptcy court. The trustee will ask you about such transfers at the first meeting of creditors, and has the power to recover those assets. The trustee can basically undo any transaction you have done within a certain time frame. In Virginia, it is two years. Also, don’t transfer money into your kids’ bank accounts. They have you as a co-signor or guardian and are subject to the same review as your accounts. Hiding assets can be a reason for the court to deny you a discharge, and you can be subject to criminal prosecution.
  3. Do tell your lawyer everything. Even if it is embarrassing it is better if your attorney knows everything about your situation. If you have made major purchases recently, then it may be important to wait to file. Or if you have an existing medical condition, it may be important factor to consider in the timing of your bankruptcy. Additionally, it is important to list all assets and debts. Anything that isn’t listed in your petition may not be discharged. Additionally, failure to list all your assets and your debts may result in not getting a discharge.
  4. Don’t leave out income. People think that a second, part-time job does not count as income. All household income must be included. The court will look back at least six months to see what your household income has looked like. Similarly, even if your spouse is not filing, you must list his/her income unless you are legally separated. The court needs a picture of your household. The court cannot require a spouse to pay a debtor’s debts, but they can require a spouse contribute to the household. If you want to claim somebody as a dependent in your bankruptcy, you must include their income. Additionally, social security does not count in qualifying you for bankruptcy, but it still must be listed.
  5. Do keep track of expenses. Part of a bankruptcy filing is disclosing expenses. Many individuals do not always realize where their money is going. But we want to be as accurate as possible with our accounting. If you are sending your mom, $300 per month, we want to make sure we account for that. Some expenses may be questioned or deemed unreasonable. If you are spending $1,000.00 per month on food for a household of one, the court may not allow the full amount unless there is a good justification. Other expenses may be allowed, but could be questioned if higher than average. For example, if you are paying $700.00 per month for medical expenses, it is important to keep documentation in case you need to prove it later on.
  6. Don’t pay back preferred creditors or family/friends. Many consumers want to pay certain creditors in full before filing for bankruptcy. The court doesn’t want you to play favorites and pay money to some creditors and not pay the rest. The court believes all creditors should be treated the same; however, there are exceptions for secured creditors, like your mortgage or car loan. The Trustee can reach back ninety days to recover money paid to general creditors and spread it out more evenly to all of your creditors. The Trustee can take back funds paid to your family and friends, if you have paid them back within a year.
  7. Do make sure to list all debts. Bankruptcy does not allow you to pick and choose which debts to list or not list. You must list all debts, from the credit card with American Express to the personal loan from Aunt Sally.
  8. Don’t incur any new debt without first asking your attorney. It might be a good idea to get a secured car loan before the bankruptcy filing hits your credit profile, but it is a bad idea to buy non essential assets like laptop, plane tickets, TVs, etc. It is important to talk about the pros and cons to opening a new account before filing. Additionally, any new accounts may delay your filing or complicate your case.
  9. Do keep current on payments for non-dischargable debts. Bankruptcy usually cannot discharge student loans, taxes, child support, etc. This means these debts will be around even after your discharge. Talk to your bankruptcy attorney about your specific situation, but generally, you want to keep paying these debts
  10. Don’t make any last minute charges or purchases. When the creditor gets the notice that you filed, it takes a look at your account history. If it sees a bunch of charges right before filing, it will get suspicious. Additionally, creditors can object to any major purchases within approximately three months of filing bankruptcy. The creditor can basically file a separate lawsuit with the bankruptcy court and ask it to not discharge that part of your debts.
  11. Do keep track of deposits and withdrawals. The trustee in your bankruptcy will review your bank statements. He or she may have questions about large cash withdrawals or deposits. It is important to remember what the money was from/for. For example, if you pay your rent in cash every month, try to make sure you get a receipt and keep it.
  12. Don’t take any cash advances. Do not make any major cash advances off of credit cards prior to filing for bankruptcy. A creditor can object to the discharge of debts incurred as cash advances before filing.
  13. Do disclose all assets. Anything that you own needs to be listed in your petition; this includes your 15-year-old furniture and the bank account with 25 cents. Additionally, even if you are on title of an asset, like a house or a bank account, it still means you have an ownership interest. Many families add parents or children to bank accounts to make transferring assets easier, this still means under the law it is yours. It is important to disclose this to your attorney up front to prevent any problems.
  14. Don’t borrow or withdraw from your retirement. Federal and Virginia law protects your tax retirement accounts from creditors. But funds in these accounts lose this protection the moment you withdraw them. You could also be liable for taxes and penalties for an early withdrawal. These taxes and penalties may not be dischargeable in bankruptcy and could cause a hardship down the road.
  15. Do separate money. If you have money that may be protected, for example, social security, settlement from a personal injury lawsuit, etc., you want it to be clear where the money came from. Put all the funds in a separate account that you own with the same type of funds, for example, have an only social security account where money is deposited in and no other funds go in. This will make it easier for an attorney to advise you if there is a way to protect the money during a bankruptcy.
  16. Don’t file until your medical conditions are stable. If you are considering filing bankruptcy due to medical debt or expect to have major medicinal procedures in the near future, you usually do not want to file bankruptcy until those are taken care of. Unexpected complications can occur that can cost significant amounts of money. You may limit expenses, if you have insurance coverage; but, insurance does not always cover all treatments and procedures and there is often a deductible and out of pocket to consider. Filing bankruptcy to just have more medical debt occur soon after is not a good outcome.
  17. Do file your taxes. It is important to make sure you are current with your tax filings before filing bankruptcy.  When filing a Chapter 7, the court will require you to provide your most recent tax filings; the court may hold your case open until the tax return is filed and you have received any refund. If you file a Chapter 13, court will require you to file the last four years of returns in order to be compliant with bankruptcy laws.

The bankruptcy court review’s a debtor’s financial situation. This list of dos and don’ts for bankruptcy should help you understand that making financial decisions before filing can impact your case. Most bankruptcy courts can look back at least two years to review transactions completed by the debtor; the trustee in your case can also undo certain transactions. It is important to not take any actions that could jeopardize your assets or even your discharge. Talking to an attorney as soon as you are facing financial difficulties can help. Just talking to a bankruptcy attorney does not mean you are agreeing to file bankruptcy, but can help you understand the option if you need to in the future.

 

 

It is important to preserve your rights in a bankruptcy.  Having an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help ensure your case goes smoothly and you come out with a fresh start. Ashley F. Morgan Law, PC helps many individuals manage their debts every month. Attorney Ashley Morgan has experience dealing with all the above issues.