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Starting 2019 Off Right: Planning for 2019 Taxes

It is important at the end of the year to start thinking about next year’s tax situation.  While it is likely too late in the year to fix any issues you had in 2018 with your withholding or estimated tax payments; but it is never too early to get your situation fixed going into 2019. 

Analyze Your Situation 

If you are expecting similar income in 2019 compared to what you have earned in 2018 then you have a good starting point in determining what you need to do with your 2019 tax payments. Going online to a withholding calculator, like the one the Internal Revenue Service offers, right now can show you what type of refund or balance you can expect for your 2018 tax return. Usually, it is not as in depth as going to accountant to get your taxes prepared; but, it can give you a good estimate as to what you are looking for. 

Dealing With Refunds

If you are showing a major refund that is good news.  There are two ways to go with this information for 2019.  You can either keep things as they are and likely get another refund in 2020 for your 2019 tax year.  You could also change your withholding to lower what your refund would be; but, you would see the money in your paycheck every pay period. Just make sure to be careful you are not expecting a change to your 2019 taxes, such as no longer being able to claim a child or decrease in mortgage interest from selling a home (and not purchasing a new one).

A lot of people love getting all that money back in the spring time.  Some use it as a vacation fund that they cannot touch (because the money stays with the government until you file your return).  Others use their refund to pay off those holiday season credit card bills.  Still others use their refunds as a way to get that big-ticket purchase that they have been putting off. 

Others will look at getting a huge refund and think, why should the government get to hold my money during the year?  They can use a withholding calculator to determine the minimum that they would have to pay in during the year to maximize how much they take home every pay period.   Most calculators will advise you to withhold at a level that keeps your withholding at the point where you either get a $100.00 refund or will owe $100.00. 

People can use that extra money each pay period to catch upon bills throughout the year, start saving for a vacation, or starting a retirement account.  One reason why putting the money into a long term investment is a good idea is that it can help with lower your total taxable liability for that year.  It can also get rid of the temptation to dive into that fund for random things through the year.  This goes back to people who don’t mind having the government hold onto the over withholding, it serves has a no interest savings account that they cannot access.  In order to get that savings account back you must file your return.  You are only entitled to the three most recent years of refunds, if you do not file on time. 

Handling Tax Liabilities

On the other side, are those who have not been withholding enough taxes throughout the year.  Those individuals need to make the proper corrections so that they do not continue to owe taxes year after year.  The biggest issue most people have once they owe for one year is that they do not take the necessary steps to correct the underlining issue and the taxes owed for previous years can snowball on them to the point they do not know what to do. 

If you are expecting to owe for 2018, first thing to do is to figure out the issue that is causing you to owe. One common problem is under-withholding from your wages is causing the problem. If this is the issue, then provide an updated W4 form to your employer as soon as possible so that your withholding can be in the proper place at the start of the new year. Another one of the most common problems we see are self-employed individuals that did not make enough estimated tax payments for 2018. If this applies to you, then you need to start preparing for 2019 taxes now. 

Self-Employed Individuals or Business Owners

The first step would be to develop a business budget tracker.  Most self-employed individuals just do not keep good records of what is a business expense and what is a personal expense.  Keep these records can help determine what your actual net income is. Your net income is the key factor in determining what your tax liability is. If you keep a solid spreadsheet of your gross income minus business expenses you can then figure out how much of your net income should be set aside to make quarterly estimated tax payments. 

The IRS requires that if you owe more than $1,000.00 in self-employment tax for one year, the next year you are required to make estimated tax payments.  If you do not make those payments during the year, when you go file your return, and there is another balance, you may have additional penalties for not pre-paying your tax. 

We try to advise self-employed clients to look very closely at their business and personal budgets to figure out where they can make up the difference to pay their taxes going forward. For many, it’s a lot of tough decisions on their personal side. You often have to make the conscientious effort to set aside the potential tax payment every month or quarter.  For others, they realize that being self-employed is too much of a hassle and go find work as a wage earner.  It is possible to be self-employed, make good money, and be responsible with your tax obligation.  It isn’t the easiest thing, but it can be done.

Arthur Rosatti, Esq. is a licensed attorney authorized to represent clients with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Tax Court. He has experience negotiating with various taxing agencies on behalf of individuals and companies.  If you have concerns about your tax liabilities, making estimated tax payments, or correcting your withholding, schedule an appointment with our office.

Small Business Video #1 – Choosing the Right Name and Business Structure

 

Take a look at the first video in our video series about setting up your new business. It is important to set up your business properly; your business structure will dictate what protections you do or do not have. There can be legal and tax consequences to the way you start your business. It is important to understand all your options.

The most common forms of business are the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and S corporation. A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a business structure allowed by state statute. If you choose an LLC, you must also inform the Internal Revenue Service on how you want to be taxed. If you are a sole owner, you have two options: as a sole proprietorship (listed on a Schedule C) or S-Corp. If you have multiple owners, your only option is usually as an S-Corp. There are pros and cons to each type of taxation; you should talk to a tax and legal professionals before deciding on how to set up your business.

Additionally, most individuals set up a business structure to ensure protection for personal liability. In order to get these protections, you must make sure you are following corporate formalities, such as separate bank accounts, accounting, operating agreement. Even if you are a sole owner, you must have an operating agreement that dictates how decisions for the company must be made. Legal protections only continue to exist when formalities exist; otherwise, the courts will see the business as just an extension of the owner(s) and not a separate entity.

Court ruling of a divorce can lead you to bankruptcy.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: A Guide on Bankruptcy and Divorce

Bankruptcy and Divorce

We get many people in our office post-divorce. Going from a two-income household to a one-income household is never easy; one person now pays bills previously split between two individuals. Sometimes, you may have been a house supported by one income, but now that same income is supporting two households due to support payments. Tack on attorneys fees, moving expenses, and related costs, many people are swimming in debt after a divorce. These issues are hard enough to deal with alone, but combine bankruptcy and divorce and the equation gets even more complicated.

It is no wonder why people consider bankruptcy when facing a difficult financial situation post-divorce. The good news is that bankruptcy can help many individuals with debts after divorce, but not all. When dealing with child support or alimony, the obligation will never go away with bankruptcy. That is considering a type of support and an obligation that has been determined important to ensure that your child or ex-spouse can survive. But obligations that are not considered “in the nature of support” can be discharged in a Chapter 13 case, although not in a Chapter 7 one. Non-support divorce debts are usually obligations related to the division of property and the division of debts. This is sometimes the reason we consider that clients should file a Chapter 13 case instead of a Chapter 7 one (even if they can qualify for a Chapter 7).

Chapter 7

We often talk about a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for individuals who are having trouble post-divorce. Debtors file a Chapter 7, which is also called a liquidation bankruptcy, to receive a discharge that cancels unsecured debts. However, it a Chapter 7 doesn’t discharge any divorce-based debts. For example, if you credit card debt owed after your divorce or your own attorney’s fees, a Chapter 7 will usually help to cancel out these debts. However, if you owe your ex-spouse’s attorney’s fees or owe a debt because the divorce decree says you will pay the debt, then a Chapter 7 will not help.

A common scenario is when a joint credit card owed by both spouses prior to the divorce. The divorce decree says that wife will pay the card balance and indemnify the husband going forward. However, the divorce court cannot dictate that a credit card company cannot go after either liable party. As a result, if wife files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it would likely discharge the credit card company’s right to seek payment. However, wife’s obligation to indemnify husband in the future would not be discharge. Wife would still have to pay on the debt. This type of situation also occurs regularly with joint tax debt.

Chapter 13

Chapter 13 has a key advantage over Chapter 7. It has what is called a “Super Discharge.” This means certain additional things can be discharged after completion of a Chapter 13 plan. The major benefit to a Chapter 13 is that you can discharge some obligations arising out of a divorce decree.  You can discharge debts dealing with the division of property and the division of debt, often called equitable distribution. You can never discharge child or spousal support — under either Chapter 7 or 13. This means,  if a debtor owe non-support divorce debt, the debt would be discharged at the end of your Chapter 13 case. But, all support debt would need to be paid as normal during the bankruptcy plan. If you are behind on your support, Chapter 13 can be a useful tactic to catch up on the payments.

Attorney Fees

Many times in a divorce case, attorney’s fees are very high. Like previously stated, your own attorney’s fees are usually just considered an unsecured debt that can be discharged in a Chapter 7. However, attorney’s fees owed from your ex-spouse that get awarded can be tricky. The bankruptcy court reviews why the divorce court awarded the fees. If the divorce court awarded fees for work on obtaining support, the bankruptcy court will usually follow the rule of those fees being non-dischargable under all circumstances. If the divorce court awarded fees for work done on an equitable distribution issue, then the bankruptcy court usually allows the fees to be discharged in a Chapter 13. This can be a contentious question, and sometimes requires a hearing in bankruptcy court to determine the proper classification if there is a dispute.

Support Arrearages

If you are behind on your child support or alimony, Chapter 13 does allow you to catch up on that obligation over a period of three to five years. The court requires debtors make all support payments going forward; however, the you could spread catch-up payments out over months or years.

Filing Bankruptcy Before Divorcing

If you are just considering divorcing, sometimes couples can avoid some of the above problems by filing bankruptcy together. Some divorcing couples  file together before the divorce because it can be more efficient. For example, filing a joint bankruptcy will discharge most debt of both spouses. It also usually costs less to file bankruptcy together as a couple as opposed to apart.

Regardless of your situation, you should consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Any Chapter of bankruptcy comes with benefits and risks. Sometimes the difference of support and equitable distribution is unclear. Depending on the factors, there could be arguments supporting varying arguments. Attempting to discharge non-support divorce debts through Chapter 13 can get complicate and require a hearing or trial. Additionally, the bankruptcy codes includes many complicated requirements for Chapter 13 plans; debtors must meet these requirements in order to get a plan confirmed and eventually a discharge.

 

 

Attorney Ashley Morgan is an experienced bankruptcy attorney in northern Virginia.  Ashley has helped many individuals handle debts through bankruptcy and divorce. Reach out to Ashley F. Morgan Law, PC if live in northern Virginia and you are struggling managing your debts for a free bankruptcy consultation.

Car on the back of a tow truck

Can I Keep My Car in Bankruptcy?

Can I keep my car in bankruptcy?

One of the most common questions potential clients ask us is if they can keep a car in bankruptcy. During a Chapter 13, there is rarely an issue with a car. The question really comes up in a Chapter 7, since the court is looking at all your assets; a trustee will sell any non-exempt assets. But, the good news is that most of the time cars are not an issue in a Chapter 7.

The exemption, or protections under the law, in Virginia is fairly high; Virginia residents are allowed a $6,000.00 exemption for vehicles. If the car is owned by two individuals, the exemption is allowed for each person. Additionally, if your car has a high value, you can apply your $5,000.00 wildcard/homestead deed to help protect the car. The exemption only applies to equity in your car; so if you have a car worth $20,000.00 but you owe $16,000.00, you only need $4,000.00 in exemptions to protect the car.

A lot of debtors also say they want to keep their car out of bankruptcy. In bankruptcy you are required to list all assets and all debts. The bankruptcy will discharge the debt on the car, but the lien on the car remains. This means that the contract between you and the bank is gone, but the lender can still repossess the vehicle if payments are not made. So there is no free car, but the car company cannot make you pay for the balance of the loan if you do not want. For most of our clients, if they agree to keep paying on the debt, they can keep the car and will get the title at the end of the payments. But it also allows you the option to give up an underwater car without potential issues.

Reaffirmations

A reaffirmation is basically signing the same contract over again after filing bankruptcy. The creditor will report new payment history to the creditor reporting agencies. However, it also re-obligates you on the entire debt; so, if you fail to pay the entire loan and the car is repossessed, then the creditor can come after you for the deficiency. Additionally, a judge must sign off on the agreement; the court will likely require a hearing to prove that you can pay the debt going forward.

We rarely ever recommend the debtor sign a reaffirmation; on rare occasions there are reasons to sign them. Some creditors require a reaffirmation because they will repossess, even if you are current on your payments. Currently, the only creditor that takes this action is Ford. However, this could change at any moment. It is important to be sure you attorney is up to date about changing policies with varying lenders.

Should you keep your car?

For some of my clients, there is the question of whether you should keep the car. Chapter 7 allows a debtor to surrender the car in bankruptcy without issue of a deficiency or a repossession being reported on your credit report. For many people who have only made one or two years worth of payments on a car purchased new, you likely have negative equity in the car. Additionally, if your car was in an accident or two, there is likely a significant depreciation in value from that damage. Other individuals who find negative equity in a car are those who traded in a car with a large loss on a new car purchase.

Many people love their cars; but, we want to remind them that cars are a depreciating asset and it really is a financial decision that you are making. If you owe $25,000.00 on a car only worth $15,000.00, it is not likely to be a good financial decision to keep that vehicle. Continuing to pay on the car means you will be paying more for the vehicle than it is worth. After bankruptcy, most people’s credit increase. Additionally, many car lenders are willing to give you a car loan since you must wait at least 8 years between bankruptcy court filings (and most car loans are less than 8 years). Now if you owe $10,000.00 on a car worth $16,000.00, it is a lot easier of a decision to keep the car. You can keep that car, trade it in or sell it after the bankruptcy is over.

Cross Collateralization

One issue that most debtors do not know about is cross collateralization. This is a right that only credit unions have. Basically, if the credit union gives you a loan for a car, that lender has a lien against the car to secure the payment. The lien allows the creditor to repossess the car if the borrower does not make all of the payments. The cross-collateralization agreement allows the lien against the car (or any other collateral) to secure additional debts other than the car loan. This means that if you don’t pay a credit card, then the creditor can repossess your car.

Cross collateralization is something very few people know about. Most people understand that when finances get tight, you make sure you pay your car payment, even if you cannot pay your credit cards. But, if you aren’t paying on a credit card or personal loan, the credit union can repossess your car even if you are current on your car payments. This is important to understand when taking out car loans or opening new unsecured credit accounts.

When you file bankruptcy, your obligation to pay on all the debts is discharged, but car loan and cross-collateralized debts all remain with the car lien. This means that you may owe more on your car than you believe. Some lenders may allow you to only pay the car loan amount if you reaffirm the debt, but this policy varies from creditor to creditor. Experienced bankruptcy attorneys will usually have an idea how major lenders deal with your car in bankruptcy.

Other Options

Bankruptcy provides a debtor with various options he/she do not have outside of bankruptcy.

Redemption

One option debtors can do during you Chapter 7 is to “redeem” the car. This means during your case, you purchase the car back from the lender for the value of the car, not the total debt.

Under Section 722 of the bankruptcy code, a debtor in Chapter 7 has the right to force the lender to release its lien in exchange for a onetime payment in the value of the collateral. This can be a great way to keep your car and save money. The most difficult part of this option is coming up with the funds. There are certain lenders and programs that work with debtors on financing this payment.  When making a decision about a redemption, you should consider the total amount that would be paid (principal and interest). Additionally, there sometimes is the option of talking directly to your credit union or bank for a new car loan; this option works best if you have high income or a cosigner. But, if you want to redeem your vehicle, you should consider all possible options; some debtors are able to find the funds from family or friends, selling exempt that you kept during your bankruptcy.

Decide later

The decision about keeping the car does not have to happen immediately in the bankruptcy, unless a reaffirmation or a redemption is needed. Sometimes you want to take more time to make the decision. You do not immediately need to make the decision of whether to surrendering your car back to the lender. You can surrender the car during the bankruptcy or much later, as long as you do not reaffirm the debt. Some of my clients continue to make payments for 3 to 6 months after the bankruptcy. After their credit has bounced back, they apply for a new car payment and surrender their old vehicle then.

You have options

It is important to understand you have a lot of options. Additionally, you must take important steps to protect your assets. Talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney about all the options that apply to your specific case and your options to handle your car in bankruptcy.

 

 

It is important to understand all your options and rights during 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. She understands good credit is important, and she wants her clients to completely understand all the tools at their disposal before taking action.

Bankruptcy sign ahead

Chapter 7: Ins and Out of a Bankruptcy Liquidation

A Guide to Chapter 7 Bankruptcies

The most common type of bankruptcy is a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is also called a liquidation.  The process usually takes approximately three to four months for a standard case. During this process you file a petition that provides information regarding 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.

Who Can File

Chapter 7 is an option for individuals or businesses. An individual is basically being given a fresh start after filing a Chapter 7. A business that files a Chapter 7 as way to close your business after it is no longer profitable.  Basically, after a Chapter 7, the business ceases to exist.

Parties in a Bankruptcy

There are many important people to know about in your bankruptcy filing. These people include:

Debtor

The debtor is the person (or persons or businesses) filing for bankruptcy. These individuals are looking for relief under the bankruptcy code.

Case Trustee

This person is chosen by the court to represent your creditors. It is his/her job to review your petition, ensure it is accurate, and also determine if you have any assets that the court can take and sell to pay your creditors. The Trustee interviews you at your Meeting of Creditors (also called a 341). The Trustee has a lot of power; he or she can sell jointly owned property, cancel contracts, and much more.

Creditors

These are people that the Debtor owes money. They have the right to review your petition and assets. They also have a right to object to your discharge if they believe it is being done in bad faith or you have certain debts that should be considered non-dischargable.

U.S. Trustee

This person represents the Justice Department. The U.S. Trustee has a responsibility to ensure people are properly filing bankruptcy and that cases are appropriate. Most Debtors never deal with the U.S. Trustee, but they do audit random cases to ensure your paperwork is in order, you have all the proper documentation, and you have followed all the rules.

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 requires that your income is analyzed under what is called 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. Using these standards, if you have little or no money leftover, then you can usually qualify for a Chapter 7.

Exemptions

The exemptions you can use depend on state law and where you have resided for the past two years. There are also federal exemptions some Debtors are permitted to use. These exemptions, which are really legal protections, allow you to keep certain assets during your Chapter 7. Assets without protections are called non-exempt assets. The trustee in your case looks at these assets to determine if there is value to sell and give to creditors. In Virginia, there are various exemptions that apply for residents. Some of the most common exemptions include:

Clothing

Virginia law allows you to protect 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 issues that usually ever arise are if there are a significant amount of newer designer clothes.

Vehicles

Virginia’s automobile exemption allows each individual Debtor 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 is allowed 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

Virginia exemptions permit for 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. Additionally, there are requirements related to the TBE exemption regarding the type of property and how is was obtained. If you think this may apply to you, then I recommend speaking to an experienced bankruptcy attorney. In addition to the above issues, the spouses can have no joint debt; the non-existence of joint debt must also be proven to the trustee in your case.

Federally-Qualified Retirement Plans

Virginia law allows for a generous exemptions for traditional retirement plans, such as your 401(k), IRA, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), etc. These qualified plans are all 100% exemption. The only caveat

Tools of the Trade

There is a $5,000.00 exemption for assets that are directly related to your primary profession. As a result, it is very important to review your situation with your attorney. For example, if you are a plumber, but have a side job as an Uber driver that brings you in extra money, you would likely be able to use the Tools of the Trade to protect tools necessary for your job as a plumber, but not be able to protect any assets related to driving Uber, such as your car or car cleaning equipment.

Wildcard

Virginia’s wildcard exemption is different than many other states. A wildcard applies to any asset that has no other exemptions available, including cash in the bank and equity in a house. You can use this exemption to supplement any of the above exemptions, if the applicable exemption is not sufficient to protect your property.
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. The exemption increases an additional $500.00 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 depending on federal and state law. See an experienced bankruptcy attorney for the most accurate information about exemptions and what exemptions may apply to you.

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 trustee can petition the bankruptcy court to reverse those 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 trustee, and potentially the court, review any debts that have been 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 law provides that you must be treat all creditors the same; as a result, you must treat American Express the same as Uncle Joe. The courts refer to the better treatment as a “preference” because you are giving preferred treatment to one creditor over another.
Once a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed, you cannot voluntarily choose to dismiss the case. A judge must grant you permission to dismiss a Chapter 7 case; judges only allow for a dismissal for good cause. 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 to Chapter 7

If Chapter 7 is not right for your situation, there can be other options. It really depends on why Chapter 7 does not work for you. If you have nonexempt assets, a Chapter 13 is another option to consider. 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. Some of my clients who are trying to stop a foreclosure, are better suited to apply for a modification before considering bankruptcy.
If you are considering bankruptcy, make sure to speak to an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Ashley F. Morgan Law, PC helps many individuals file bankruptcy every month. Attorney Ashley Morgan has experience dealing with all the above issues. She understands bankruptcy is a difficult discussion for many, and she wants her clients to completely understand the bankruptcy process before making any decisions.
Bankruptcy basics and bankruptcy options.

Bankruptcy: Is it the right option for me?

Many people fear bankruptcy because it means they will lose everything, or they do not want to file because someone might find out that they filed, or the client believes it is an admission of failure. These are not always correct. When someone comes into our office we try to let them know bankruptcy is not as big of a deal as they think. It is a legal and financial decision that must be taken seriously, but it has a lot benefits.

 

Different Types of Bankruptcy

The bankruptcy court is there to help the “honest but unfortunate debtor.” There are different bankruptcy chapters to fit different people’s needs. Some cases we see are for people that are a few months or years behind on a mortgage, or a few months behind on a car payment.  In other cases you just overspent and you can’t catch up. Or even, perhaps, you just went through a difficult divorce and cannot afford your expenses anymore or have crushing medical bills. Bankruptcy can often help your mange your debt. There are four chapters: Chapter 7 (liquidation), Chapter 13 (restructuring for wage earners), Chapter 11 (restructuring for businesses or individuals with high debts), Chapter 12 (restructuring for farmers and fishermen).  Most of our clients file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13. Depending on your situation, one of these bankruptcy options may help you achieve your goals.

Chapter 7

A Chapter 7 is usually what most individuals think of when they hear the terms bankruptcy. It is a fairly quick process (three to four months) and it wipes away most unsecured debt and can relieve your obligation to pay secured debts. Any liens remain on the property, which means creditors can still foreclosure or repossess the collateral if you are not current. You can qualify for Chapter 7 in one of two ways. The first way only requires that your household income is below the median for the state. The second way requires what is called the Means Test. This “test” takes your income and reviews it to see if you have any disposable income at the end of the month after taking out allowable expenses. The court allows for certain actual expenses, such as your taxes, your car payment, and your mortgage payment. Then it allows deductions for other allowable expenses, such as the IRS standard for utilities, food, etc. If, after all the allowable deductions are taken out, only a small disposable income remains, then you are permitted to file a Chapter 7.

The reason a Chapter 7 is called a liquidation is because the court will take non-exempt assets and sell them to help pay off your debt. The Court assigns a Trustee to your case to represent your creditors to review your situation and determine what assets are non-exempt. Non-exempt means that there is not a law that allows you to keep the property. Important exemptions in Virginia include: 100% protection for qualified retirement plans, 100% protection for wedding/engagement rings, and $6,000.00 equity in a vehicle (per person), $5,000.00 wildcard exemption for any cash or cash like assets such as (such as money in the bank or equity in a home). Most of my clients do not have any non-exempt assets and after four months they get their discharge and their case closes. If there are non-exempt assets, the Debtor has the choice on whether he or she wants to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and surrender those assets or consider filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Chapter 13

A Chapter 13 is called a wage earner plan. This type of bankruptcy is for those individuals who have steady income. We use a Chapter 13 when individuals have too high of income to qualify for a Chapter 7 or have assets they could lose in a Chapter 7. The major benefit of a Chapter 13 plan is that you get to keep all non-exempt assets because you pay out the value of those assets in your plan. The plans are usually three to five years, which vary depending on your income. The plan requires that you make regular payments to the court during the life of your plan; at the end of your plan your remaining dischargeable debt is discharged. Some of our clients pay 100% back to all creditors. Even our clients that pay 100% back will often benefit from bankruptcy because the case will freeze your unsecured debts and stop them from incurring more interest. We have other clients who pay between 1% to 99% of all debt in their plans, and then we even have what we call a 0% payout plan. The 0% plans are Chapter 13 cases where you have some debt that is secured (cars and houses) or prioritized (non-dischargeable taxes, child support arrears, etc.) over other unsecured debt, and your plan pays the secured debt and the priority debt, but nothing to your unsecured creditors. One of the most common reasons for a Chapter 13 is to stop a foreclosure and then allow the debtor time to catch up on the arrearages. Sometimes we even use a Chapter 13 to help with student loans when you need to temporarily lower your payments.

If your plan is anything less than 100% the court will review your income every year to see if there is an increase, which means they may require you to pay more in. Additionally, if you get a tax refund or inheritance over the next few years, you will turn over the funds over to the Court.

There is a limit on the amount of debt you can have and be in these plans. These limits are unsecured debts of less than $394,725 and secured debts of less than $1,184,200, which will be updated as of April 1, 2019.

Chapter 11

A less common option for bankruptcy is a Chapter 11. This type of bankruptcy usually is only an option for an individual when an individual cannot do a Chapter 7 and has debts over the Chapter 13 debt limits. Businesses also do Chapter 11 to restructure their business. When you hear about major companies filing bankruptcy (such as Toys ‘R’ Us or Sports Authority), they are usually filing Chapter 11. The major benefit of a Chapter 11 is that your repayment plan can be over the course of more than 5 years. However, they are cost prohibitive. It is an expensive and complicated process.

Chapter 12

The last common bankruptcy is a Chapter 12, which is a restructuring of debt for farmers and fishermen. This type of bankruptcy is very similar to a Chapter 13, but provides more flexibility in the payment structure. This is because the court takes into account the seasonal nature of the businesses.

Can People Find Out I Filed Bankruptcy?

As for people finding out that you filed bankruptcy, it may happen. It is not published in the newspaper and notice is not mailed out to family and friends (unless you owe them money or have a joint debt with them). It is a public court filing that can be looked up, but so this can also be said about divorce, collection lawsuits, and foreclosure.

Sometimes people who were referred to our office for help with dealing with debt; they do not know that we help people file bankruptcy. After talking with us, they sometimes figure out that the individual who referred us, likely filed bankruptcy with us, too. Additionally, we have people from all walks of life who are considering bankruptcy, including people who are unemployed, individuals who have multiple properties, people going through divorce, individuals making six figures every year, business owners, and much more. We have other clients who start talking about filing bankruptcy with a friend only to find out the friend filed bankruptcy years ago. You just never know.

Bankruptcy is a Tool to Manage Debt  

As stated before, bankruptcy is a legal and financial decision. Congress included bankruptcy as an option in the law because they understand people need help managing their debts. It is not an admission of failure; it is a way of managing your debts and taking care of your financial situation.

For some, bankruptcy helps wipe away debt and allow a fresh start. For others, bankruptcy can help restructure your payments on various debts, such as your cars, student loans, IRS debt, personal loans, second mortgages, etc.   People often worry they make too much money to file bankruptcy, but there is usually an option out there that will provide some relief. Additionally, even if you make a lot of money, you may still qualify for a Chapter 7 if you have high secured debt payments (car, mortgage, etc.) or court ordered payments (alimony, child support, etc.).

If you will do whatever it takes to start over, perhaps you should consider bankruptcy.  It is not just for the poor and unlucky.  The code was written to allow various options to fit various situations. Bankruptcy is really just a tool in your financial tool box; if you are struggling with debt, it is at least an option you should look into.  For many of our clients, bankruptcy is also a tool to improve their credit, and it helps them get on track for an even higher credit score. We often tell prospective clients that they do not need bankruptcy, or that they have a variety of alternatives; it is not for everyone; it does not solve every financial problem.  But, you really should at least understand how it could benefit your situation. Consider a free consultation with my office; give us a call at 703-880-4881.

 

 

 

 

Ashley F. Morgan, Esq. is a Virginia Bankruptcy Attorney. She helps individuals and business file bankruptcy in the northern Virginia area. She has experience handling Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13 cases. She also understands bankruptcy is only one of many options available to debtors. She wants to help her clients review all potential options to determine what is the best option in each person’s situation. Instead of bankruptcy, Ashley has also helped negotiate settlements and payment plans for her clients when appropriate. Visit Ashley at her Herndon, VA office to discuss options to manage your debt.

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