Bankruptcy FreedomOne of the primary questions I get as a Cumming, Georgia bankruptcy lawyer is how long does it take to recover from bankruptcy. While the financial fallout and rebuilding of credit will vary by person, so too will the emotional fallout.

Understandably some people are a nervous wreck throughout the process while others are actually quite glad to see me and get their case processed and done with. Those who have the easiest time dealing with their bankruptcy are completely emotionally committed to the process. Those sort of dipping their toe into the water, have a harder time with their case. Based on this, my advice is to not file bankruptcy until you are 100% sure this is the right step.

The typical chapter 7 case lasts 4-6 months. As I explain to my clients, about 75% of the effort is put into the filing of the case. Once the case is filed, the debtor certainly has to appear in court for their meeting of creditors and take a financial management course, but those are relatively simple requirements. The hearing is usually five minutes and the trustee questioning the debtor usually respectful of the debtors’ situation.

Various motions or request for documents could be filed during the case, but these usually don’t require too much effort of the debtor, if any. The debtor also might sign a reaffirmation agreement along the way. I usually tell my clients after their trustee meeting that “no news is good news” and basically just go on with your life and expect to get a discharge in 2-3 months. This usually puts them at ease.

Even though they have not yet secured their discharge, the fact that their court appearance is done, the required paper work has been completed, their court costs and attorney fees have been paid and creditors are not sending them letters or making phone calls, is enough to put them at ease even though they don’t yet have the discharge.

Post discharge I occasionally communicate with my clients and they usually express happiness that the process is over but no regret that they decided to file. While they know if they are applying for a new loan or a new apartment lease, they might have to deal with the fallout from the pulling of a credit report that reveals a bankruptcy filing, the ones that deal with it best are the ones that know the issue might occasionally creep into their lives, but it’s not in the forefront like it was prior to their filing.

A chapter 13 process is a different animal, as it is a 3-5 year repayment plan. Unlike the chapter 7 meeting of creditors, the chapter 13 client’s meeting of creditors is more involved, as the testimony there impacts the debtor’s monthly trustee payment. The typical chapter 13 debtor is therefore more on edge about his/her case until it finally gets confirmed.

Once it gets confirmed, the debtor hopefully enjoys some normalcy again as he now has a set monthly payment he delivers to the trustee. Of course anything can upset that, like a medical emergency, and the debtor often needs adjusting to the plan. So the chapter 13 debtor can’t move away from the experience nearly as quickly as the chapter 7 debtor, because the 13 debtor is in it much longer. That being said, the chapter 13 debtor probably has more income than the typical chapter 7 debtor. He often has a good employment situation, which enables him to not be as stressed as a chapter 7 debtor would be trying to pay monthly living expenses.

This article was written by Peter Bricks, who is a Jonesboro, Georgia bankruptcy attorney with satellite offices in Atlanta and Cumming, Georgia.

Image courtesy of Leo Reynolds.

O is for Organize

Organizing is something that may be hard to do. Many of my clients have been putting their heads in the sand and leave mail unopened and unorganized until they see me. It is a normal tendency to ignore things that feel out of control. When those bills and collection letters come flooding into your mail, it can be overwhelming.

The first step to getting a handle on things is to tackle organizing those bills and other unopened mail. It doesn’t matter what is in there for now. It could be unopened mail, opened mail, or all mixed up. You need to find and organize all your financial information before you can file a chapter 7, or chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Set aside a block of time, even if it is only a twenty or thirty minute window. Gather up all that paper and find a place to begin to sort it. Somewhere you can leave the project and return to it is ideal. Have several bags or boxes handy. You may want one for trash, one for recycling and one for documents that need to be shredded. Label each bag or box.

Start with the steps below and get as far as you can in your scheduled time. When you are ready set aside another block of time and continue through the steps. Repeat until complete.

Organizing Mail Steps

  1. Open it everything. Use a letter opener or some other tool to make it easier. Toss all the envelopes that the bills and statement arrived in into your recycle bag. There is no need to keep that extra outside wrapper.
  2. If you are unable to pay the bills and are planning to file bankruptcy, or you pay your bills online, you can also toss the return envelopes into your recycle bag.
  3. Sort by type – medical in one pile, credit card bills in another. Utility bills and ongoing household expenses in another, etc.
  4. Sort each type file by creditor or sender. All PG&E together, all Chase cards together and all Aunt Susie’s letters together. Put all Chase collection letters (from agencies and lawyers) with the original Chase bills.
  5. If you have more than one account with a creditor (like two separate American Express card accounts) separate those accounts in different piles.
  6. Organize each creditor pile by date with the most recent on the top.
  7. Finally, place each stack into a file folder and label the folder with the creditor name and the last 4 digits of the account number. In my office we prefer that you do not use staples. If you bring in paper we will scan it and return it to you and staples only slow down the process.

Congratulations! Your bills are now organized and ready to work with whether you are looking at debt consolidation plans, a bankruptcy or just want to know how much you owe. For some tips on charting your financial future click here to read Cathy Moran’s article.

More Bankruptcy O’s:

Image Credit: Leo Reynolds

Renting After BankruptcyGoing through a bankruptcy is a trying experience, especially if it was brought on by foreclosure.  Your life is turned upside down, and now that it’s all over you’re given the chance to get things back on track.

A central problem is one of basic shelter – how to find a place to rent now that your credit report looks like it’s been shot full of holes.  You’ve got to move quickly, so it’s best to start preparing with these simple steps right away.

Bankroll Those Mortgage Payments

If you’re behind on your mortgage and waiting for the foreclosure to be finalized, take the opportunity to start saving at least part of what you’d otherwise be sending to the mortgage company.  You can amass your savings once the bankruptcy case is filed (that is, if it was a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case) without worrying about the trustee or creditors coming after it.

Those funds will come in handy not only for moving expenses, but also to provide for a greater security deposit or advance payment of rent to your new landlord once you’re ready to move.

Stay On Top Of Your Credit Report

Most landlords will check your credit report as part of a pre-screening process, so you’ll want to be sure that everything is accurate.  You won’t be able to do anything about the fact that the bankruptcy will appear on your credit report, but you can minimize the negative impact by ensuring that all of your other accounts properly reflect the bankruptcy discharge.

Organize Your Records

Often, landlords and other post-bankruptcy creditors will ask for proof of your bankruptcy filing and discharge.  They want to be sure the case is over, who you discharged, and whether there were any problems.  By keeping copies of all bankruptcy papers, you’ll be able to document where you were, where you are, and what you’ve left behind.

Don’t Forget The Mortgage Lender

The banks are sitting on hundreds of thousands of homes nationwide, and they’re not so happy about it.  If you’re looking for a place to live, consider picking up the phone and finding out if your mortgage lender will let you stick around for awhile and just pay rent.  You may find that the lender is grateful to have someone in the house to maintain it and keep the pipes from freezing over.  You’ll benefit by being able to keep continuity in your living arrangements.

Jay S. Fleischman is a consumer protection attorney focusing on helping people fight back against creditor harassment and credit reporting problems after bankruptcy.

Image credit:  sfllaw

What is this “Means” Test I Have to Pass?

The means test is used by the courts to determine eligibility for Title 11 of the United States Code Chapter 7, or payments in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. It was designed to prevent debtors who have sufficient financial means to pay a portion of their debts from liquidating them entirely in a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

During the Great Depression, the test was used to screen applicants for such programs as Home Relief in the United States, and starting in the 1960s, for benefits such as those provided by the Food Stamp Program. In 2005, the United States bankruptcy laws changed by adding a means test to purportedly prevent wealthy debtors from filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. This 2005 BAPCPA change is found in 11 U.S.C. § 707(b).

If you are in the military or have a majority of non-consumer debt you are exempt from the means test income guidelines. Non-consumer debts are mainly those incurred for business or profit purposes, tax debt and tort debt.

Is Your Income Less Than the Median?

Debtors whose income is below the state’s median income pass the means test. To check your median income you must first determine your household size. Gross wages, business income, pension, family support, unemployment, regular gifts and other income is included. Social security payments are not included.

The median California incomes as of March 2012 are:

1 person – $47,683

2 persons – $61,539

3 persons – $66,050

4 persons – $74,806

5 persons or more – Add $7,500 for each person in excess of 4.

If your income is below the median you go no farther with the form or the calculations. STOP you are done. You can file for chapter 7 and do not need to complete the rest of the form.

What If My Income is Over the Median?

In Marin County we often see the situation where the income exceeds the median but there is not enough left to pay the creditors. In this case the long form of the means tests must be completed. The long form factors in expenses like mortgage payments, payments for taxes, insurance, costs of education, healthcare costs and insurance costs. Most people who need help find that they pass the means test.

If you pass the means test it means that you can file a chapter 7 bankruptcy. Just because you can file under chapter 7 doesn’t mean it is the best chapter for you to file under. If you are trying to catch up with mortgage payments or have unsecured liens on your property a chapter 13 would likely benefit you more.

Please see the following for more M posts:

Image Credit: Leo Reynolds

 

J is for Joint Filing

Is Joint Bankruptcy Filing For Us?

Couples often ask me if they should file separate bankruptcy petitions. “We have our own debts and don’t think we should file together,“ they say.

California is a community property state

Those debts the couples think are separate usually are not. Unless the debt was incurred prior to the marriage it is a community debt even if it is only in one name. In addition, if there is not enough separate property to pay separate debts the community assets can be reached by creditors.

Filing Jointly

If both spouses need the protection of the bankruptcy court it is usually easier, more efficient and more economical to file jointly. A joint filing will only require one filing fee. Separate filings will require two filings fees, one for each party. All community and separate assets and liabilities are listed whether filing jointly or separately. If the couple files separately, they need to list everything anyway so it may make sense to file one time and list everything together.

Separate Households

If a couple has been separated for a while and set up two distinct households it might be easier to file separately. Sometimes the spouses cannot communicate well and one spouse doesn’t have all the information needed on the other spouse’s income and expenses. In that case it would be better to file an individual bankruptcy.

Nothing in the law requires a couple to file jointly. The decision should depend on the specific circumstances of the couple involved.

More Bankruptcy J’s:

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I is for Income

What income do I need to disclose in my bankruptcy?

All of it gets listed one way or another. Your wages, commissions, bonuses, regular contributions to the household by a family member or housemate, retirement and pension income, workers compensation and unemployment. Loans don’t count and one-time contributions also don’t count.

Means Test Income

For purposes of the means test, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code defines current monthly income as including: “any amount paid by any entity other than the debtor (or in a joint case the debtor and the debtor’s spouse), on a regular basis for the household expenses of the debtor or the debtor’s dependents (and in a joint case the debtor’s spouse if not otherwise a dependent)…” Benefits received under the Social Security Act, payments to victims of war crimes or crimes against humanity on account of their status as victims of such crimes, and payments to victims of international terrorism or domestic terrorism on account of their status as victims of such terrorism are excluded from the means test.

The means test looks back at the past six months on income as defined above. If you file a bankruptcy in January, the past six-month (or look back) period is July through December. It is this six-month period that will determine what your average annual income is. You must compare your average annual income based on the past six-month period to the median average for your state to see if you qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your income is too high to file a Chapter 7 you may still qualify to file a Chapter 13.

Income on Schedules and the Statement of Financial Affairs (SOFA)

There is a Schedule I for Income where you list your monthly income including Social Security payments and other income that might have been excluded form the means test look back income. This schedule will be compared with your expenses that are listed on another schedule. One of the bankruptcy complexities is that income and financial information is listed in more than one way within the same bankruptcy case.

There is also a question on the SOFA that asks for the past several years of income broken down by wages and other types of income. Your answers to these questions can come form your income tax returns.

For another slant see Jay Fleischman’s I is for Income. Also see Cathy Moran’s I is for IRS and Christopher McAvoy, I is for Income Tax Refunds.

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Image credit: Leo Reynolds