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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.

Student Loans: Understanding your Options

There have been reports of up to 40% of student loan borrowers are not making their payments. While student loans can often feel overwhelming and overly burdensome, not making payments can create even worse problems. Not making your student loan payments will adversely affect your credit. When you are late making a payment, creditors will report this behavior to the credit bureaus and it will lower your credit score. A lower credit score can result in difficulties in opening new lines of credit and higher interest rates when purchasing a home or car, etc.

If you do not make your payments, the student loan companies have other ways of collection from you. Federal student loan companies have the ability to start garnishing your wages and bank accounts without a judgment. Private student loan companies do have to go to court to obtain a judgment, but they can also start garnishing your wages or bank accounts if you are delinquent. A garnishment allows a creditor to seize all the money in your bank account (up to the amount owed) or take a percentage of every paycheck until the debt is satisfied. This often can put even more of a financial strain on an individual than making the normal payments.

Student loans also usually do not go away with bankruptcy. While bankruptcy can help get rid of your credit cards and medical debt, student loans will not be discharged unless you meet very specific circumstances. A bankruptcy attorney can review whether you might be able to discharge your student loans, but it does require a lot more expense than a traditional bankruptcy and it is often left to the discretion of a judge to determine whether you meet the necessary criteria to discharge. Right now the required criterion for discharging your student loan debt varies depending on where you live and is a very high burden.

If you do find yourself in a difficult situation, and cannot make your normal payments, there are options out there.

Contact your lender and see what options are out there.

If you are in a temporary situation when you cannot make your payments, possibly due to any reason including loss of a job or a health issue, lenders will sometimes work with you. If you contact your lender and explain the situation, they may be able to give you a lower payment for a time period or be able to offer you a deferment or forbearance (where you stop making payments for a certain period of time). Often these options are at the discretion of the lender, but if you need some breathing room, it cannot hurt to ask. The benefit of being in a deferment or forbearance is that even though you are not making payments (or less than a full payment), your lender will still report your loan as current. This ensures your credit will not be negatively impacted by the reporting of a late payment or delinquency. The downside to lower payments or not paying for a time period is that it is usually only for a limited amount of time and your interest will still be accruing. When you get back to making your payments, the payment maybe higher or you might be paying for a longer period of time.

Additionally, if you are disabled and/or receiving Special Security Disability, you may be able to apply for another type of forgiveness. This is an administrative process and is only a viable option if you will not be able to work for the foreseeable future.

There are various repayment options out there.

When your federal loans come due, your loan payments will automatically be based on a standard ten-year repayment plan. However, there are payment options for federal loans that spread out your payments over more years or base your payments on your income. Depending on what your monthly income is and when your federally guaranteed loans were taken out, you could qualify to have your student loan payments capped at 10%, 15% or 20% of your discretionary income. If your income is low enough, your payment could be $0/month. However, you do have to reapply for the income-driven programs every year and submit documentation of your current income so the payment can be recalculated. After payments for 20-25 years (depending on the plan) on an income-driven plan, the remaining balance is forgiven. The downside to these income based programs is that any remaining debt that is forgiven will be taxed as income. Contact your student loan provider for more details. Also note that for most repayment plans, you do have to consolidate your loans and that can take a few months.

While the income-driven plans are only for federal loans, some private lenders do have other options available. Again, if you are having trouble making your payments on your private student loans, your best course of action is contacting your lender and asking about other repayment options.

If you work for a government entity or certain nonprofits, you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Under PSLF, if you work full time for a qualifying employer for ten years AND make 120 on-time monthly payments, the remaining balance of your federal loans will be forgiven. These payments are usually made in conjunction with one of the modified repayment plans offered by the student loan companies because the traditional repayment of student loans occurs over a ten-year period. The benefit for this program is that any remaining balance on your student loans that is forgiven under PSLF is not taxed.

As a last resort, bankruptcy may help buy some time or help with other debt.

While you cannot easily discharge your student loans in bankruptcy, there are options under the bankruptcy code to help find a manageable payment. With income-driven plans, your payment is based on a percentage of your income. These are often the best options available and can really help those with substantial amounts of student loan debt. However, this option is usually not available to those with private student loans. Also, if you have to make substantial payments to other creditors, sometimes even the income-driven payments feel overwhelming. Bankruptcy is an option, but does help everyone.

A Chapter 7 might be an option for those who cannot pay their student loans because of a substantial amount of other debt. A Chapter 7 can help those who qualify wipe away other unsecured debt, such as medical bills and credit cards. A Chapter 7 can also allow you to walk away from a secured debt, such as a car or a house, without having to worry about any deficiency. There are numerous advantages to a Chapter 7, but also some negative affects as well. If you are experiencing substantial hardship due to significant debt and cannot make your student loan payments, then you should consult a bankruptcy attorney. For example, after a major medical procedure, often individuals have trouble handling their payments to the doctors and to the student loan companies. An attorney can help examine your situation and determine whether you could potential benefit from filing. An attorney will also help you determine whether you qualify for this options.

If you have private student loans, and those lenders will not work with you, then you have an option of a Chapter 13. A Chapter 13 is a repayment plan over the course of three to five years. This options does require steady income during the course of the plan, but all creditors are required to participate in this repayment plan or they receive nothing during the course of the plan. Your plan payments are approved by the court, and the amount is based on your income and expenses that the court determines are reasonable. Your plan may pay unsecured creditors anywhere from 0% to 100%, it just depends on what your payments will be. Certain debts, such as tax debt, past due mortgage payments or arrearages on a car, must be paid during your plan. After your plan is complete, any of your unsecured debt (other than student loans and a few other limited exceptions), such as credit card, medical bills, payday loans, etc., will be discharged in accordance with your plan. Your student loans will remain, but the benefit of a Chapter 13 is that it provided you with time to find a better paying job or handle the rest of your debt without the risk of the student loans coming after you. There are various downsides to a Chapter 13. For example, the court will review your income during the course of the bankruptcy to determine if you could potentially pay more to creditors. Similarly, any increases in income or bonuses may be required to go to creditors if you are not paying them in full. For some people, a bankruptcy means the student loan companies are off their backs for a few years and that is enough reason for them. However, you should review all options available before considering bankruptcy to handle your student loans. Talk to a bankruptcy attorney if you believe bankruptcy might help your situation. The attorney will be able to help breakdown whether a bankruptcy might be beneficial in your situation.

There are many options out there for repayment and a lot of information. If you have any questions about what options apply to your situation, your lender is a great place to start. You also need to be carefully of the scams that try to take advantage of vulnerable and desperate debtors. There are many sites that look like legitimate sites or advertise settlements for student loan accounts or debt forgiveness. Often the offers that appear too good to be true are not real. If you are looking for real information about student loan and the repayment option, be sure you on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

 

 

Ashley F. Morgan, Esq. is a Virginia Attorney. She helps individuals and business file bankruptcy in the northern Virginia area. She also understands bankruptcy should be your last option. She wants to help her clients review all potential options to determine what is the best option in each person’s situation.