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Prevent Future Judgment Liens

Posted by Kevin on September 19, 2019 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Bankruptcy can prevent future judgment liens. It usually stops a lawsuit from turning into a judgment, and then a judgment lien on your home. 

 

Judgment Liens Are Dangerous

Our last blog post was about how filing bankruptcy can sometimes remove, or “avoid,” a judgment lien from your home. This is a great potential benefit of bankruptcy if a judgment lien has already been recorded.

But it is often much better to file a bankruptcy case before a judgment lien hits your home’s title. Here are a few of the practical reasons why:

  • You have to meet certain strict conditions to be able to avoid the judgment lien. If you don’t meet them, even bankruptcy won’t get rid of that lien on your home. You may have to pay all or part of the debt in spite of filing bankruptcy.
  • Even if you succeed in avoiding the lien in your bankruptcy case, it is an extra step that can cost you more. And the cost can go up substantially if the creditor fights your lawyer’s efforts to avoid the lien. Besides higher lawyer fees, you may have to pay for a home appraisal and for the court testimony of the appraiser.
  • The existence of a judgment lien adds uncertainty, and thus some extra anxiety, to your bankruptcy process. The goal of bankruptcy is relief. So it’s better to prevent a judgment lien from hitting your home than messing with it after it has hit.

Judgment Liens Are Preventable

Filing bankruptcy usually stops an ongoing lawsuit against you from turning into a judgment. Bankruptcy’s “automatic stay” immediately stops “the… continuation… of a judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against the debtor…  .”

Filing bankruptcy also usually prevents future lawsuits against you from being filed much less turning into judgments. The automatic stay” immediately stops “the commencement… of a judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against the debtor…  .” Section 362(a)(1) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The exceptions are debts that cannot be written off (“discharged”) in bankruptcy, such as certain ones based on fraud, income taxes, child or spousal support, most student loan debt and criminal behavior. But bankruptcy does discharge most debts. So filing bankruptcy will stop ongoing and future lawsuits on most of your debts. And it will prevent those debts from turning into dangerous judgment liens on your home.

The Timing Can Be Crucial

You know when things are going south financially.  You are making no more than minimum payments on your credit cards.  You miss payments here and there but convince yourself that you will make it up next month.  But you don’t make it up.  Debt collectors are calling daily.  And the dunning letters are also coming in.  You could bury your head in the sand and that will lead to lawsuits, judgments, and judgment liens on your home.

Most times, it is best to be proactive.  At the very least, you should be seeking out an experienced bankruptcy attorney to analyze your situation and let you know whether bankruptcy can be an effective tool to deal with your creditors.

The Truly Amazing History of Bankruptcy Law

Posted by Kevin on August 4, 2019 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Debtors’ prisons? There’s that and a lot more to the very colorful history of bankruptcy law.

 

American bankruptcy law naturally grew out of the law of England during our colonial history. Pre-Revolutionary War bankruptcy laws were extremely different from current law.

  • The first bankruptcy law in England was enacted more than 450 years ago during the reign of Henry VIII. Debtors were called “offenders” under this first law, in effect seen as perpetrators of a property crime against their creditors. The purpose of this law, and as expanded during the following hundred and fifty years, was not to give relief to debtors. Rather it was to provide to creditors a more effective way to collect against their debtors.
  • Given this purpose, it is not surprising that this first law did not give debtors a discharge—a legal write-off—of their debts. In a bankruptcy the assets of the “offender” were seized, sold, and the proceeds distributed to creditors. And then the creditors could still continue pursuing the “offender” for any remaining balance owed.
  • A bankruptcy proceeding could only be started by creditors, not by debtors.  Creditors accused a debtor of an “act of bankruptcy,” such as physically hiding from creditors, or hiding assets by transferring them to someone else.  The current extremely seldom used “involuntary bankruptcy” is a remnant of this.
  • Strangely, only merchants could file bankruptcy. Why? Credit was seen as immoral, with only merchants being allowed to use credit, for whom it was seen as a necessary evil. As the only ones who had access to credit, only merchants had the capacity to become bankrupt.
  • For the following century and a half through the late 1600s, Parliament made the law even stronger for creditors, allowing bankruptcy “commissioners” to break into the homes of “offenders” to seize their assets, put them into pillories (structures with holes for head and hands used for public shaming), and even cut off their ears.
  • Finally in the early 1700s the discharge of debts was permitted for cooperative debtors, but only if the creditors consented!
  • Yet the law still provided for the death penalty for fraudulent debtors (although it was very seldom used).
  • Cooperative debtors received an allowance from their own assets, the very early beginnings of the current Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”

So this was the English bankruptcy law that was largely in effect at the time that the U.S. Constitution was adopted. That gives some perspective on what the framers may have had in mind with the Bankruptcy Clause of the U. S. Constitution. That Clause gave Congress power to “pass uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies.” Fortunately the language is so open-ended that it gave bankruptcy laws the opportunity to evolve during the last two hundred fifty years into one infinitely both more compassionate and beneficial for the economy.

But this evolution during our national history was extremely rocky, until surprisingly recently. That is the topic of the next blog. 

 

The Most Important Things to Know If You Get Sued by a Creditor

Posted by on February 4, 2019 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

 

 

Most debts that people get behind on are at some point—often quite quickly—assigned by the original creditors to collection agencies. This can happen two ways. Either the creditor still owns the rights to the debt and the collection agency simply gets a percentage of what it collects, or the creditor sells all of its rights to the debt to a collection agency and then is legally no longer in the picture.

Either way, the collection agency then tries to get you to pay the debt.  At first—it will tend to  contact you and try to make you pay whatever it can. Depending on the facts of the situation—including whether you have a job or real estate or other assets—the collection agency will then decide whether it’s worth suing you. If you ARE sued, there’s a good chance that the collection agency believes it can force payment from you by garnishing your paycheck or bank account, or by putting a lien on your home or by attaching other assets.

This is a signal you need to pay attention right away.

In fact, the collection agency is banking on you not taking the lawsuit seriously enough. The sad truth is that a large majority of the time people don’t respond to lawsuits so that judgments are entered against them by default.

Don’t assume that there is nothing you can do. Learn your options.  How? Most consumer or bankruptcy attorneys will give you a free consultation.  This consult should provide you with the following:

a) You will understand the consequences of the lawsuit, and your options for dealing with it. Know what your options are instead of assuming you have none.

b) You may have defenses so that you don’t legally owe the debt after all. Collection agencies routinely try to collect debts on which the statute of limitations has expired. They can sue the wrong person. They may include allegations which are not accurate or supported by law.

c) You may have a counterclaim—an argument that the creditor acted illegally in some way and actually owes you money for damages. At the least this could give you leverage to settle the debt under much better terms.

d) Once the time to respond expires and a judgment is entered, it is usually too late to deny the allegations in the complaint.

e) By having an attorney review the lawsuit and your overall debt picture, and discuss your options, you may end up solving deeper problems. Most consumers do not have an attorney who they talk with regularly. So problems accumulate. You don’t have a chance to ask questions when they arise. This often leads to lots of confusion and anxiety. Seeing an attorney about a pending lawsuit could lead to addressing how to improve your entire financial life.

Final advice worth repeating- if you are sued, you must act quickly.  In NJ, you have only 35 days to respond to a lawsuit.

Why You Should or Should Not Worry about Creditors Objecting in Your Bankruptcy Case

Posted by Kevin on September 1, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

FACT: In bankruptcy, creditors seldom fight the write-off of their debts. Why not? And when DO they tend to fight?

 

Debts That Creditors Must Object To

This blog post is NOT about the kinds of debts that simply can’t be discharged (legally written off), and don’t need the creditor to object for that to happen. Examples of those are child and spousal support obligations, recent income taxes debts, and criminal fines. Those survive bankruptcy without any effect on them.

Instead this is about ordinary debts and the ability of any creditor to raise certain limited kinds of objections (like fraud) to the discharge of its debt.

Why Objections Aren’t Usually Raised

But if creditors have a right to object, why don’t they do so? If they can make trouble for you, why don’t they?

Simply because doing so is very seldom worth their trouble.

Why not?

1. Creditors seldom have the factual basis on which to object.

2. It takes money for creditors to object, money they may well not recoup.

3. The risk that the creditor would have to pay your attorney fees.

That would happen if the judge decided that “the position of the creditor was not substantially justified.” So if creditors are not very confident of their argument, they could be dissuaded further by the risk of having to pay your costs fighting the objection.

So that’s why most creditors just write off the debt and you hear nothing from them during your bankruptcy case.

When Creditors Tend to Object

Creditors do object sometimes, often involving one of the following two situations:

1. Using leverage against you.

If a creditor thinks it has a sensible case against you, it could raise an objection knowing that you are not willing or able to pay a lot of attorney fees to fight it. The creditor knows that even if you have a good defense to its accusations so that you could well win if the matter went all the way to trial, it would cost you a lot to get to that point. So they raise the objection in hopes of inducing you to enter into a settlement quickly.

2. A Personal Grudge

If a creditor is very angry at you for some reason, he, she, or it might be looking for an excuse to harm you or cause you problems. Ex-spouses and ex-business partners are the most common creditors of this sort. Irrationality is unpredictable, so it sometime drives an objection even when there are little or no factual grounds for it.

The Creditors’ Firm Deadline to Object

Creditors have a very limited time to raise objections: their deadline is only 60 days after the Meeting of Creditors (so around 3 months after your bankruptcy case is filed).

So, talk with your attorney if you have any concerns along these lines. And then if whatever assurances he or she gives you doesn’t stop you from worrying about this, you’ll at least know that you won’t have long to worry before the creditors’ right to object expires.

 

Automatic and Immediate Protection from Your Creditors

Posted by Kevin on June 9, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

How does bankruptcy stop garnishments, foreclosures, and repossessions?

 

Filing a bankruptcy case gets immediate protection for you, for your paycheck, for your home, and for all your possessions. This “automatic stay” provides this kind of protection for you and your property the moment either a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case or a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case is filed. Virtually all efforts by all your creditors against you or anything you own comes to an immediate stop.

“Automatic Stay” = Immediate Stop

“Stay” is simply a legal word meaning “stop” or “freeze.”

“Automatic” means that this “stay” goes into effect immediately upon the filing of your bankruptcy petition. That filing itself, according to the federal Bankruptcy Code, “operates as a stay” of virtually all creditors’ actions to pursue a debt or take possession of collateral. Since the filing of your case itself imposes the stay, there is no delay or doubt about whether a judge will sign an order to impose the “stay” against your creditors.

Creditors Need to Be Informed, Sometimes Directly

Although the protection of the “automatic stay” is imposed instantaneous, practically speaking your creditors need to be informed about the filing of your case so that they are made aware that they must comply with it. If your creditors are all listed in your bankruptcy case documents, they should all get informed by the bankruptcy court within about a week or so after your case is filed. This doesn’t take any additional action by either you or your attorney (beyond making sure all of your creditors are listed in the schedule of creditors filed at the bankruptcy court). If you have no reason to expect any action against you by any of your creditors before that, just letting them all be informed by the court is usually all that’s needed.

However, if you are expecting some action by any of your creditors quicker than a week or so after filing the case, be sure to talk with your attorney about it. That way any such creditor can be directly informed by about your bankruptcy filing to stop whatever collection action it was contemplating. Make sure you and your attorney are clear which of you is informing that creditor and in what way.

Creditor Action Taken Unexpectedly

But what if a creditor has not yet been informed of your bankruptcy filing when it takes some action against you or your property in the days after your bankruptcy filing but before it finds out about it?

If this happens, the “automatic stay” is so powerful that in most circumstances such a creditor must undo whatever action it took against you after your bankruptcy was filed, even if this creditor honestly did not yet know about your filing. For example, if after your bankruptcy is filed a creditor files a lawsuit against you or gets a judgment on a lawsuit that it had filed earlier, the creditor must dismiss (throw out) its lawsuit or vacate (erase) the judgment.

 

Easily Preventable Mistakes to Avoid–Don’t Be Nice to Special Creditors

Posted by on September 4, 2016 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Paying Your Favorite Creditor Before Filing Bankruptcy

Although bankruptcy law fixates on what you own and who you owe at the moment your bankruptcy case is filed, there are some important ways that the law can look into the past. “Preferences” are an example where the bankruptcy system can potentially look into and upset a certain limited piece of your past.

If during the 365 days before you file a bankruptcy you pay what is termed an insider creditor (90 days if not an insider creditor) more than you are paying at that time to your other creditors, then after you file bankruptcy that favored creditor may be required to give to your bankruptcy trustee the money that you had paid to this creditor. So for example, if you paid your mother $1,000 to pay off a debt you owed her, and then six months later filed a bankruptcy case, your trustee could likely require her to pay that $1,000 to the trustee.  Mom certainly is not going to be happy about that especially if she already spent the money.  That $1,000 would then be divided by the trustee among your creditors as prescribed by law (with your mother likely getting just a tiny portion of it, based on her pro rata share of all your debts).

That $1,000 is called a “preference” or a “preferential payment,” which the trustee can undo, or “avoid.” You are considered to have paid that creditor in “preference” to your other creditors.

The Good News—It’s Preventable

This mess can be avoided altogether if you get legal advice from an experienced bankruptcy attorney before you make the preferential payment(s) to your favored creditor. Or even if you’ve already made the payment(s) by the time you see your attorney for the first time, there are often ways to get around it.

Careful, though, because the law about preferences is complicated. Section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code on preferences is a head-scratcher. It’s about 1,300 words long, containing 56 sub-sections and sub-sub-sections. Take a look at it and you’ll see it’s certainly not clear.

What is clear that if there is any chance that you may be filing a bankruptcy case within a year, before paying anything to a relative, friend, or any other special creditor that you feel obligated to pay, talk first to an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Especially do so if you figure this does not apply to you because you don’t consider the person you are paying to be a “real” creditor—because it’s a “personal debt,” was never put into writing, or nobody knows about it.

And most importantly, if you’ve already made such a payment before you see your attorney, absolutely be sure that you disclose that to him or her, and do so right away, early at the first meeting. It could well affect your game plan, and maybe the timing of your bankruptcy filing.

 

Just Been Sued by a Creditor? How Bankruptcy Helps Right Away

Posted by Kevin on July 16, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Getting sued by a creditor is a wake-up call to consider filing bankruptcy. If it is the right thing to do, there are advantages to filing before your deadline to respond to the lawsuit.

If you get sued by a creditor, as discussed in my last blog it’s dangerous both short-term and long-term not to consult with an attorney. Today’s blog is about the immediate effect on that lawsuit if you do file bankruptcy.

The Basic Automatic Stay

The filing of your bankruptcy stops that lawsuit instantaneously. It doesn’t take a separate court order or any action by the bankruptcy court or judge to stop it. It’s the mere act of filing the bankruptcy case of itself that stops the lawsuit against you. The word “stay” in that statute means “stop.”

The Immediate Effect of the Automatic Stay

Timing is important with a lawsuit. A judgment will be entered against you if you don’t formally respond to the lawsuit by the stated deadline, and that judgment would give the creditor more ways to get money out of you. The entry of a judgment can also create a lien against your real estate, and filing bankruptcy afterwards will create complications in trying to clear that lien off your title.

So stopping the judgment from being entered in the first place can be very important.  The safe way to do that is to file bankruptcy plenty of time before your deadline to respond to the lawsuit. But if you are cutting it close, it helps that the automatic stay is effective instantaneously. If the creditor’s attorney is about to file documents to enter a judgment at court, but your bankruptcy is filed before that happens, that attorney can’t try to get a judgment quickly before the bankruptcy court acts, because the bankruptcy court doesn’t need to act. As its name says, the stay is automatic.

Telling the Suing Creditor about the Bankruptcy Filing

All your creditors will receive a formal notice of your bankruptcy filing, by mail and in some situations perhaps electronically. But that mailed notice is of course not instantaneous. It is mailed out a few days after the filing of your bankruptcy case, so that all of your creditors should know about it within about a week after you file. But that may well not be fast enough to stop the judgment documents from being filed by the creditor’s attorney and entered by that court. So in urgent situations either you or your attorney need to directly inform that attorney about the bankruptcy filing.

Creditors’ Violations of the Automatic Stay

But what if that attorney just goes ahead and submits the judgment papers, either from not finding out in time about your bankruptcy filing or in spite of knowing about it?

The judgment will not be effective, and the attorney will be required to undo the paperwork. If the entry of the judgment results in any damage to you (such as a garnishment of your bank account), the creditor would likely have to compensate you for the damage it (or its attorney) caused. These damages can include your attorney’s fees for enforcing the automatic stay. In circumstances where the bankruptcy court is persuaded that the creditor needs to be taught a lesson, the court may order the creditor to pay you punitive damages.  Because of these potential penalties, most creditors are cooperative about stopping their lawsuits immediately when they are informed about a bankruptcy filing.

The Bottom Line

As soon as you are sued by a creditor, the clock is ticking for a judgment to be entered against you. So use this lawsuit as an incentive to see an attorney right away to find out the short-term and long-term ways the judgment could hurt you. Find out whether bankruptcy is or is not a sensible option, and whether it is in your best interest to file a bankruptcy case before a judgment can be entered against you in the lawsuit.

Dealing with Very Aggressive Creditors Who Say You Can’t Discharge Their Debts in Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on April 20, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Bankruptcy court is a relatively efficient place to determine whether or not you must pay a debt which the creditor says can’t be discharged.

One of the realities about filing a consumer bankruptcy case is that your case can get much more challenging if you have a very aggressive creditor. Most creditors take your bankruptcy filing in stride as a normal part of their business, figuring that you’re doing it for a sensible reason. But some creditors take it personally and react with more anger than good sense—often because they have some personal connection to you like an ex-spouse or former business partner. Or other more conventional creditors may honestly believe that they have grounds to prevent their debt from being discharged.

This blog, and the next one, are about what happens when there is such a creditor. The topic here is is not about creditors with rights to collateral, where the issues focus on what will happen to the collateral. It’s not about debts which will clearly not be discharged, like recent income taxes or child support obligations or most student loans. Rather this is about debts that would normally be discharged unless the creditor can prove that the debt arose of some bad behavior by you, usually involving some sort of fraud, theft, drunk driving, or such. Not just any bad behavior will do; it has to be one of a specific list that is in Section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Creditors Have to Put Up or Shut Up

Before filing bankruptcy, you may be told by a creditor’s representative or collection agent that a debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy or that they will fight you if you file bankruptcy. Most of the time they’re bluffing you. But for sure tell your attorney about the threat so that he or she can determine whether it has any merit. If it doesn’t, that will avoid unnecessary worry for you. In the unlikely event the threat does have merit, that will help your attorney prepare for a challenge by the creditor if it comes.

Even if a challenge has legal merit, a creditor may not pursue it for practical reasons, mostly to avoid putting out more money—in filing fees and attorney fees—to try to prove that you can’t discharge the debt, only to risk losing that battle and wasting its money. At least in theory the law has a “presumption” that your debts will be discharged, so the burden is on the creditor to show that a debt should not be.

And you don’t have to sit around wondering for long whether or not any creditor will raise a challenge. Except in very rare circumstances (such as forgetting to list the creditor in the bankruptcy documents), any creditor that has any objections to the discharge of its debt has only 60 days from your hearing with the trustee to formally file an objection or forever lose its opportunity to do so. Since that meeting (also called the “meeting of creditors” or “341 hearing”) usually happens about a month after your case is filed, this means that within about 3 months after filing you will know.

The “Adversary Proceeding”

The creditor may tell your attorney in advance about an intended challenge, usually in an effort to get you to settle the matter by agreeing to pay part or all of the debt. But much of the time the creditor just files a formal complaint at the bankruptcy court. This begins what is in effect a mini-law suit, called an adversary proceeding, focusing only on whether the creditor can prove the facts that the law requires for the debt to be excluded from discharge. This issue is usually NOT on whether you owe the debt in the first place—that’s usually assumed and admitted. Rather the issue would be whether, for example,  you incurred the debt by falsifying a credit application, by never intending to pay it through bounced checks, by coercing a relative to change their will on your behalf… behavior of this sort.

Please come back to the next blog in a couple days for the rest of the story about what happens in these adversary proceedings.

Rescap- Ally

Posted by Kevin on February 26, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Ally is GM.  Rescap is their subprime, residential mortgage subsidiary.  Rescap and a slew of its subsidiaries filed bankruptcy.  Prior to the filing, Ally reached a settlement with Rescap whereby Ally would pay $750 million to Rescap’s estate in return for a release from claims from outsiders (presumably based on the bad loans made or owned by Rescap).

Love it.  Potential claims against Rescap could be tens of billions of dollars or more.  So, what Ally tried to do is get a puppet subsidiary to enter into a sweetheart deal which would effectively screw investors, borrowers and other people in contact with Rescap bad paper.

At this point, the creditors have put their collective feet down.  They have asked Rescap’s board to allow the creditors to sue Ally while at the same time, the creditors committee is seeking court approval to bring suit against Ally.  Ally is pushing back saying it was an arm’s length transaction because Rescap had an independent board, and has threatened to take the $750 million off the table.

Government has not shown the cajones to litigate these matters.  I hope that the creditors committee at Rescap does not lose its will.  It is important for the Too Big to Fail banks to start to understand that  they cannot buy themselves out of their own wrongdoing.

In the meanwhile, if you have a mortgage with Rescap, you may want to check the Rescap  bankrutptcy docket periodically to make sure that your rights have not been sold out from under you.