Articles Posted in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

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Ugly-truth-about-debt-relief-companiesI just found an eye opening video by Gary Fraley, a certified bankruptcy attorney in California, on why debt relief companies should be avoided!

Watch the video – it’s short, to the point, and there’s a cool saddle in the back ground — looks like a former Texas transplant to California.  I kept looking for a cowboy hat, but that’s probably in his Ford truck hung on the rifle rack.  Okay, I may have been watching too many Ranches on Netflix lately!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP1BVHdsexc

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consumer-debtCourts are divided on this issue.  The answer may matter as to whether a debtor in bankruptcy must pass the means test.

The federal Bankruptcy Code defines consumer debt as debt incurred by an individual “primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose.” … The court may classify student loans as either consumer debt or non-consumer debt.

Some courts, like the court in In re Gentri, 185 B.R. 368, 373 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 1995), assume that student loans are consumer debts, but do not analyze, whether student loans are “consumer debts.” See In re Dickerson, 193 B.R. 67, 70 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 1996); In re Chapman, 146 B.R. 411, 416 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 1992).

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credit-report-wrongThe FCRA requires that “[w]henever a consumer reporting agency prepares a consumer report it shall follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates.” 15 U.S.C. Section 1681e(b).

That’s a high burden “maximum possible accuracy”!  And it is not being met.  In one over the top case of ours, despite a client providing proof of life, she was reported as deceased by her student loan servicer over and over again wrecking havoc on her credit report.

More typically we run into instances where student loans are incorrectly reported as being in default when in fact they are no longer owed due to a settlement or discharge in bankruptcy.  This in fact is becoming our bread and butter raising these types of claims.

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bk-and-small-busFiling bankruptcy for small businesses just got a whole lot easier!  The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 takes effect on February 19, 2020.  Some of the new features are that it adds a new subchapter V to Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code which is good for small business bankruptcies because:

  • There are no quarterly trustee fees;
  • There is no absolute priority rule;
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Discharge-taxesOrlando Bankruptcy Judge Jennemann’s ruling to discharge taxes was just affirmed in Mass. Dept. of Rev. v. Shek, Case #18-14922 (11th Cir. Jan. 23, 2020).  Several Circuits around the country including the 1st, 5th and 10th hold that tax debts for late filed returns can never be discharged.  The 11th Circuit joined the 4th, 6th, 7th and 10th Circuits in favor of discharging this debt.  As you can see it can make a big difference where you live, as this is a pretty even split among the country’s Circuit Courts.

The Court found this definition fit best under Section 523(a)(1)(B)(ii) which implies that a tax debt can be discharged if there is a delay of at least 2 years between the filing of the return and the filing of the bankruptcy.  This would essentially give the IRS two years to collect on this debt, before a debtor could discharge the tax in bankruptcy.

While we are not tax attorneys, we consult with tax attorneys whenever necessary, for the best results in bankruptcy for our clients.  I spoke with a potential client this week who was unaware that nearly $50,000 in past due taxes, interest and penalties could be discharged in full provided certain tests and timelines were met.  This can be a valuable tool to reset someone’s financial lives to move forward.

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arbitrationAre you looking down the barrel of an arbitration clause in your consumer/creditor agreement?  I’ve posted before (Arbitration Clauses in Consumer Contracts – How to Avoid Being Thrown out of Court) on some local case law here in Florida to help avoid arbitration clauses – but here’s a new case in the consumer’s favor in Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The Bankruptcy Court ruled that an arbitration clause did not constrain the court’s contempt powers, “[w]ords in a consumer agreement cannot deprive the bankruptcy court of the inherent power to enforce compliance with an injunction.”  Verizon Wireless Personal Communications, LP v. Bateman, No. 14-5369, Adv. Pro. No. 18-1394 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2019).

So if you’re in bankruptcy, or had a previously filed one that you can reopen (without a filing fee), challenge the arbitration clause in bankruptcy – you may be much more likely to win!

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SL-mapThis is a pretty cool map that shows the southeastern U.S. as ground zero for the student loan crisis.  Most all of Florida shows this to be a High, Very High or Extremely High debt level according to this map.

I’m glad our bankruptcy court for the Middle District of Florida is taking this very important step to implement a new Student Loan Management Program for all debtors in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Ocala – and surrounding areas in between.  The program goes live on October 1 — and anyone who is a debtor in a pending case is eligible for this relief, as well as all future debtors!

Please reach out to us if you want to know more about the student loan program now being offered by our bankruptcy court.  We are also available to co-counsel on any cases with bankruptcy counsel who may be unfamiliar with the options available under this program.

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bk-vetOn Friday, August 23, 2019 President Trump signed H.R. 2938, the “Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need Act of 2019” or the “HAVEN Act,” into law. HAVEN Act excludes from the calculation of monthly income, for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code’s means test, certain benefits paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. The law takes effect immediately.

Additionally, the President also signed into law: 1) H.R. 2336, the “Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019”; 2) H.R. 3304, the “National Guard and Reservists Debt Relief Extension Act of 2019”; and 3) H.R. 3311, the “Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019″.

For a quick summary:  please see this announcement.

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divorce-debtsRogers v. Rogers, 12 So.3d 288 stands for the general proposition that student loan debt incurred during the marriage is a marital liability.  See, e.g. Smith, 934 So.2d 636, at 641; Adams v. Cook, 969 So.2d 1185, 1187 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007); Banton v. Parker-Banton, 756 So.2d 155, 156 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000); see also Section 61.075(5)(a)(1).  Thus, in the absence of specific findings supporting the unequal distribution of a student loan debt, such debt must be equitably distributed between the parties.  See Smith, 934 So.2d at 641; Adams, 969 So.2d at 1187.

The fact that one party will not receive any benefit from the other party’s education because of the dissolution is NOT a factor to be considered when allocating a marital debt for student loans.  See Smith, 934 So.2d at 641; Adams, 969 So.2d at 1187.  Thus, absent some other justification for an unequal distribution, controlling case law forbids a trial court from awarding student loan debt incurred during the marriage solely to one party or the other.

If the loans were taken out before the marriage, then they would be non-marital debt.

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Which is the better option?

Debt management plans have no guarantee that the creditor will accept a negotiated discount.  Debt consolidators charge a fee regardless of whether a settlement is reached and often years go by with credit scores dwindling each month.  It’s often better to reach a deal with the creditor directly then try to include them in a debt consolidation plan.  Lump sums are needed.  1099s are sent for any forgiven amounts leading to a tax bill.  Any negotiated agreement must be in writing preferably with a line item deletion with the credit reporting agencies or at least reflecting the debt as paid in full.

Bankruptcy, particularly a Chapter 7, is often much faster — only three months for a Chapter 7 discharge.  While a Chapter 7 will remain on someone’s credit for 10 years, most people are able to get their credit score back up to high 600s or low 700s within six months to two years.  Bankruptcy is a legal mechanism intended to let people start fresh and credit rebuilding takes much less time than most people think.

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