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Obligation To Be Honest in Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on January 28, 2018 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

A constant theme in consumer bankruptcies is that a fundamental purpose of bankruptcy is to give the honest but unfortunate debtor a fresh financial start.

The fresh start is effectuated, in part, by allowing a debtor to get a discharge of his or her debts. “Discharge” is the permanent legal write-off of debts. The law says that all debts get discharged, except those that fit specific exceptions.

Exceptions to Getting a Discharge

There are two types of exceptions to the discharge of your debts.  The first excepts discharge as to specific debts (while the remainder of the debts are discharged).  The second excepts discharge as to all of your debts.

1.  Specific Debts Not Discharged

Many of my clients have a general understanding that certain debts may not be dischargeable.  They are surprised , however, when they find out how many different debts are or may not be dischargeable.  The Rules indicate that the debtor or any creditor may file an action relating to the dischargeablilty of a debt.  However, in practical terms, these debts fall into 3 groups based on how the debtor and her attorney may decide to deal with with the issue of dischargeability during the course of the bankruptcy.

  • debts such as unpaid child support are never dischargeable and, for the most part, no special action need be taken by either the creditor or debtor;
  • debts including  income taxes and  student loans are dischargeable but only under certain conditions.  Since the taxing authority and student loan holder will usually begin collection efforts upon the conclusion of the bankruptcy, the onus usually falls on the debtor to apply to the court for a determination relating to dischargeability; or
  • debts incurred through misrepresentation or fraud are deemed dischargeable unless  a creditor objects AND successfully proves the misrepresentation to the satisfaction of the court.

2. NO Debts Discharged

The second, less familiar set of exceptions is actually more dangerous. That’s because these doesn’t affect just a specific debt or two. Rather this set of exceptions affects your ability to receive a discharge of ANY of your debts whatsoever in a Chapter 7 case.

The following kinds of dishonesty could result in not being able to discharge your debts in a Chapter 7 case:

  • Hiding or destroying assets during the year before filing bankruptcy
  • Hiding or destroying assets after the bankruptcy case is filed
  • Hiding, destroying, falsifying, or failing to keep records about your financial condition
  • Failing to satisfactorily explain a loss of assets before the filing of bankruptcy
  • Making a false oath.

Actions to deny discharge of all debts can be brought by a creditor, the trustee assigned to the case, or the United States Trustee’s office.  A negative result is devastating to a debtor.  At a seminar, I recall a judge referring to this type of denial of a general discharge as a death sentence for a debtor.


Most of the time, you’ll be able to discharge all the debts you expect to discharge. Furthermore, your right to an overall discharge of debts will very likely not be challenged. But if you have ANY reason for doubt about these, be sure to tell your bankruptcy lawyer. And do so right away, preferably early in your first meeting.


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.


When Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy” is Not So Straightforward

Posted by Kevin on July 25, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

How can you tell if your Chapter 7 case will be straightforward? Avoid 4 problems.


Most Chapter 7 cases ARE straightforward. Your bankruptcy documents are prepared by your attorney and filed at court, about a month later you go to a simple 10-minute hearing with your attorney, and then two more months later your debts are discharged—written off. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes but that’s usually the gist of it.

But some cases ARE more complicated. How can you tell if your case will likely be straightforward or instead will be one of the relatively few more complicated ones?

The four main problem areas are: 1) income, 2) assets, 3) creditor challenges, and 4) trustee challenges.

1) Income

Most people filing under Chapter 7 have less income than the median income amounts for their state and family size. That enables them to easily pass the “means test.” But if instead you made or received too much money during the precise period of 6 full calendar months before your case is filed, you can be disqualified from Chapter 7. Or you may have to jump through some more complicated steps to establish that you are not “abusing” Chapter 7. Otherwise you could be forced into a 3-to-5 year Chapter 13 case or your case could be dismissed—thrown out of court. These results can sometimes be avoided with careful timing of your case, or even by making change to your income before filing.

2) Assets

Under Chapter 7 if you have an asset which is not protected (“exempt”), the Chapter 7 trustee can take and sell that asset, and pay the proceeds to the creditors. You may be willing to surrender a particular asset you don’t need in return for the discharge of your debts. That could especially be true if the trustee would use those proceeds in part to pay a debt that you want and need to be paid anyway, such as back payments of child support or income taxes. Or you may want to pay off the trustee through monthly payments in return for the privilege of keeping that asset. In these “asset” scenarios, there are complications not present in the more common “no asset” cases.

3) Creditor Challenges to the Dischargeability of a Debt

Creditors have a limited right to raise objections to the discharge of their individual debts. This is limited to grounds such as fraud, misrepresentation, theft, intentional injury to person or property, and similar bad acts. With most of these, the creditor must raise such objections to dischargeability within about three months of the filing of your Chapter 7 case—precisely 60 days after your “Meeting of Creditors.” Once that deadline passes your creditors can no longer complain, assuming that they received notice of your bankruptcy case.

4) Trustee Challenges to the Discharge of All Debts

In rare circumstances, such as if you do not disclose all your assets or fail to answer other questions accurately, either in writing or orally at the trustee’s Meeting of Creditors, or if you don’t cooperate with the trustee’s review of your financial circumstances, you could possibly lose the right to discharge any of your debts. The bankruptcy system largely relies on the honesty and accuracy of debtors. So it is quite harsh towards those who abuse the system through deceit.

No Surprises

Most of the time, Chapter 7s are straightforward. The most important thing you can do towards that end is to be completely honest and thorough with your attorney during your meetings and through the information and documents you provide. That way you will find out if there are likely to be any complications, and if so whether they can be avoided, or, if not, how they can be addressed in the best way possible.


Discharge of Your Debts: THE Goal of Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on June 15, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

 Bankruptcy is about Discharge

The point of bankruptcy is to get you a fresh financial start through the legal discharge of your debts.

Both kinds of consumer bankruptcy—Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts”—can discharge debts.

This blog post focuses on Chapter 7 discharge of debts.

What Debts Get Discharged?

Is there a simple way of knowing what debts will and will not be discharged in a Chapter 7 case?

Yes and no.

We CAN give you a list of the categories of debts that can’t, or might not, be discharged (see below). But some of those categories are not always clear which situations they include and which they don’t. Sometimes whether a debt is discharged or not depends on whether the creditor challenges the discharge of the debt, on how hard it fights for this, and then on how a judge might rule.

Why Can’t It Be Simpler?

Laws in general are often not straightforward, both because life can get complicated and because laws are usually compromises between competing interests. Bankruptcy laws, and those about which debts can be discharged, are the result of a constant political tug of war between creditors and debtors. There have been lots of compromises, which has resulted in a bunch of hair-splitting laws.

Rules of Thumb

Here are the basics:

#1:  All debts are discharged, EXCEPT those that fit within a specified exception.

#2:  There are quite a few of exceptions, and they may sound like they exclude many kinds of debts from being discharged. It may also seem like it’s hard to know if you will be able to discharge all your debts. But it’s almost always much easier than all that. As long as you are thorough and candid with your attorney, he or she will almost always be able to tell you whether you have any debts that will not, or may not, be discharged. Most of the time there are no surprises.

#3:  Some types of debts are never discharged. Examples are child or spousal support, criminal fines and fees, and withholding taxes.

#4:  Some other types of debts are never discharged, but only if the debt at issue fits certain conditions. An example is income tax, with the discharge of a particular tax debt depending on conditions like how long ago those taxes were due and when its tax return was received by the taxing authority.

#5:  Some debts are discharged, unless timely challenged by the creditor, followed by a judge’s ruling that the debt met certain conditions involving fraud, misrepresentation, larceny, embezzlement, or intentional injury to person or property.

#6:  A few debts can’t be discharged in Chapter 7, BUT can be in Chapter 13. An example is an obligation arising out of a divorce other than support (which  can never be discharged).

The Bottom Line

#1: For most people the debts they want to discharge WILL be discharged. #2: An experienced bankruptcy attorney will usually be able to predict whether all of your debts will be discharged. #3: If you have debts that can’t be discharged, Chapter 13 is often a decent way to keep those under control.


Why Can’t a Creditor Chase You After Your Bankruptcy Discharge?

Posted by Kevin on June 7, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Chasing a Discharged Debt is a Violation of Federal Law

The Bankruptcy Code makes it perfectly clear that for a creditor to try to collect on a debt after it is discharged under either Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” or Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is illegal. Section 524 of the Bankruptcy Code is about the legal effect of a discharge of debt. Subsection (a)(2) of that section says that a discharge of debts in a bankruptcy “operates as an injunction against” any acts to collect debts included in that bankruptcy case. Acts explicitly stated as illegal include:

the commencement or continuation of an action, the employment of process, or an act, to collect, recover or offset any such debt as a personal liability of the debtor.

In other words, the creditor can’t start or continue a lawsuit or any legal procedure against you, and can’t act in any other way to collect the debt.

What If a Creditor Violates This Injunction?

Nowhere in Section 524 of the Code does it say anything about what happens if a creditor violates the law by disregarding that injunction. The section does not clearly say what, if anything, the penalties are for a creditor caught doing so.

However, even though no penalties are specified in THAT section, there is a strong consensus among courts all over the country that bankruptcy courts can penalize creditors for violating the discharge injunction through another section of the Bankruptcy Code, Section 105, titled “Power of Court.” The idea is that the injunction against pursuing a discharged debt is a court order, and so a creditor violating it is in contempt of court. So the usual penalties for those who act in civil contempt of court apply.

Penalties Assessed Against Violating Creditors

These penalties for civil contempt can include “compensatory” damages and “punitive” damages.

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate you for harm you suffered because of the creditor’s violation of the injunction. These potentially include actual damages such as time lost from work or other financial losses, emotional distress caused by the illegal action against you, and attorney fees and costs you’ve incurred as a result.

Punitive damages are to punish the creditor for its illegal behavior. So the judge looks at how bad the creditor’s behavior was in determining whether punitive damages are appropriate and how much to award.


The vast majority of the time creditors in a bankruptcy case write the debts off their books and you never hear about those debts again. But even though it’s illegal for creditors to try to collect on a debt that’s been legally written off in bankruptcy, once in a while they do try. Some creditors don’t keep good records or simply aren’t all that serious about following the law.

So after you receive your bankruptcy discharge, if you hear from one of your old creditors trying to collect its debt contact your attorney right away.  This needs immediate attention. If the creditor’s behavior is particularly egregious, you and your attorney should discuss whether to strike back at the creditor for violating the law. There might possibly even be some money in it for you.


Defeating Creditors’ Accusations That You Misused Their Credit to Pay for the Holidays

Posted by Kevin on April 7, 2014 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

The risk that creditors will not allow you to discharge some of their debts can be minimized through smart timing of your bankruptcy.

One of the most basic principles of bankruptcy is that honest debtors get relief from their debts, dishonest ones don’t. One way you can be “dishonest” in the eyes of the bankruptcy law is to use credit when, at that point in time, you don’t intend to pay it back. That makes sense. Each time you sign a promissory note or use a credit card you are directly stating in writing, or else strongly implying, that you promise to pay the debt you are then creating. That makes moral common sense. And it’s the law: a creditor can challenge your ability to write off a debt that you did not intend to pay when you incurred it.

Creditors Have the Burden of Showing Dishonest Intent

But most of the time when a person takes out a loan or uses a credit card, they DO intend to pay the debt. The law respects that reality by holding that most debts are discharged (legally written off) unless the creditor can prove to the court that the debtor had bad intentions when incurring the debt. So, for example, if a person completes a credit application with inaccurate information, for the creditor to successfully challenge the discharge of that debt it would not only have to show this inaccuracy was “materially false,” but also that the person provided that information “with intent to deceive” the creditor. See Section 523(a)(2)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Dishonest Intent Inferred from When You Incurred the Debt

However, in the delicate balancing act between the rights of debtors and creditors, the law also recognizes that it’s quite hard to prove an “intent to deceive.” So the Bankruptcy Code gives creditors a significant, although limited, advantage when consumer purchases or cash advances are made within a short period of time before the bankruptcy filing. A debtor’s use of consumer credit during that period is presumed to have been done with the intent not to pay the debt, on the theory that the person likely was considering filing bankruptcy at the time, and likely wasn’t planning on paying back that new bit of debt. So the statute says that this new portion of the debt is “presumed to be nondischargeable.”

Limitations on the “Presumption of Fraud”

This presumption is limited in lots of ways:

  • Applies only to consumer debt, not debts incurred for business purposes.
  • Covers only two narrow situations:
    • 1) cash advances totaling more than $750 from a single creditor made within 70 days before filing bankruptcy;
    • 2) purchases totaling more than $500 from a single creditor made within 90 days before filing bankruptcy, IF those purchases were for “luxury goods or services,” defined rather broadly as anything not “reasonably necessary for the support or maintenance of the debtor or a dependent.”
  • The debtor can override the presumption by convincing the court—by personal testimony and/or other facts—that he or she DID, at the time, intend to pay the debt.

So there is no presumption of fraud, and no presumption of nondischargeability of the debt, if cash advances from any one creditor add up to $750 or less within the 70-day period, or if credit purchases for non-necessities from any one creditor add up to $500 or less within the 90 days. See Section 523(a)(2)(C). This means that one simple way to avoid the presumption is to wait until enough time has passed before filing bankruptcy so that you get beyond these 70- and 90-day periods. That is, this is easy unless you have some urgent need to file the case.  Either way, your attorney will help determine when you should file your case.

Possible Creditor Challenge Even Outside the Presumption

With all this focus on the presumption, be sure to understand that even if your use of credit doesn’t fit within the narrow conditions for the “presumption of nondischargeability,” a creditor could still believe that the facts show that you did not intend to repay a debt, or that you incurred the debt dishonestly in some way. However, these kinds of challenges are relatively rare because:

  • As stated above, the creditor has the burden of proof, and it’s not easy for it to prove your bad intention;
  • The creditor can spend a lot of money on its attorney fees to make the challenge, with a big risk that the debts will just be discharged anyway; and
  • The creditor may also be required to pay YOUR attorney fees in defending the challenge if it loses. See Section 523(d).

Help! My Co-Signer and I Just Got Sued!

Posted by Kevin on September 22, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

If you and someone else jointly owe a debt, bankruptcy can protect you against the debt and against your co-signer. Or if you want, bankruptcy can instead protect your co-signer.

Let’s look at two essentially opposite scenarios involving you and your co-signer getting sued on a debt you both owe:

1) You’ve had a falling out with the co-signer, and all you care about is escaping the debt; or

2) You believe you have a moral duty to protect the co-signer, so that is your highest priority.

We’re going to address the first scenario today, and then the second one in the next blog.

Protecting Yourself…

If you and your co-signer are being pursued by your creditor, and you cannot and will not pay the debt, you have two distinct obligations to worry about—a definite one to the creditor and a likely one to the co-signer.

… from the Creditor Itself

The obligation to the creditor is based on your promise to pay the debt. Most likely that obligation can be discharged (legally written off) by filing bankruptcy.

Like any other creditor, this one could object to the discharge on grounds of your fraud or misrepresentation, but those objections are rare.

You could discharge this debt through either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, depending on whichever is in your best interest otherwise. Chapter 13 happens to come with the “co-debtor stay,” some extra protection for your co-signer which will be discussed in the next blog, because here we are assuming you don’t care about protecting the co-signer.

… from the Co-Signer

You very likely have a closely related but still distinct obligation to your co-signer, one that is likely less clear than the one you owe directly to the creditor. This obligation to the co-signer is indirect, likely only to arise if your co-signer pays all or part of your debt to the creditor. Even then you may or may not have a legal obligation to the co-signer. There is a good chance that you and the co-signer did not write out the terms of your obligation. So your obligation to the co-signer could be merely inferred, based on an unspoken assumption that you would make the co-signer whole if you ever failed to pay the debt and the co-signer paid the creditor all or part of it. But there could also be a sensible inference—depending on the facts of the case—that the co-signer did not expect you to pay it in that situation. So you could possibly defend against that liability.

But practically speaking, the creditor is going to pursue both you and your co-signer. If you can’t pay the creditor who you clearly owe, there may well not be much point in putting a lot of time and expense into defending against a legal obligation to the co-signer. A bankruptcy would likely discharge both obligations, protecting you from both.

If you do file bankruptcy, be sure to list among your creditors not just the direct creditor but also your co-signer. Otherwise you could remain liable to the co-signer after your bankruptcy case is finished.

As with your direct creditor, your co-signer could object to the discharge of his or her claim against you, based on your fraud, misrepresentation, or similar bad behavior in the incurring of the debt. Although these objections are rare, they ARE more often raised by former friends, ex-spouses, ex-business partners. Why? Because 1) they have a personal axe to grind, 2) misunderstanding tend to arise more in informal arrangements, and 3) these kind of folks may  know more damaging information about you than would a conventional creditor.

The best way to protect yourself from such challenges is to explain the situation thoroughly to your attorney when you first meet. That way your bankruptcy documents can be prepared in a proactive way, and you’ll avoid being blindsided.

More about Dealing with Very Aggressive Creditors in Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on April 22, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Most creditors don’t challenge your write-off of their debts in bankruptcy. But if one does, the system is poised to resolve that challenge relatively quickly.

The last blog, and this one, are about what happens when a creditor raises one of the few available arguments to try to prevent its debt from being legally discharged.  As emphasized last time:

  • Most potentially dischargeable debts DO in fact get discharged. To avoid any particular debt from being discharged, the creditor has the burden of establishing that the debt arose out of a very specific sort of bad behavior by you, one that is on a list that is in Section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code.
  • Your creditors have a very firm deadline to raise such a challenge, or else lose the ability ever to do so.
  • The challenge is raised by filing a complaint . This starts an “adversary proceeding,” a lawsuit focused only on this question.

Avoid Losing by Default

After a creditor files a complaint, the most important thing to realize is that the creditor will automatically win if you and your attorney do not file a formal answer at the court within the stated deadline. So contact your attorney immediately if you receive a complaint.

Most Discharge Challenges Don’t Go to Trial

The adversary proceeding can go through all the steps of a regular lawsuit. After filing the answer, there can be “discovery”—the process of requesting and exchanging any pertinent information and documents, and holding depositions (questioning witnesses under oath). And there could be various kinds of motions, pre-trial hearings, and a full trial. But these kinds of adversary proceedings rarely go through all these step and get to trial, because the amount of money at issue usually does not justify the cost involved for either side to pursue it that far. So after both sides get a clear picture of the facts, there is usually a settlement. Or the debtor does some quick math, and decides that it would be cheaper to buy off a creditor than to spend the money on additional legal fees with the possibility that you could lose at trial and be forced to pay the creditor the full amount due (note that representation in an adversary proceeding is never included in the base fee).

But if there is enough at stake, or else if one or both sides are unreasonable and insist on getting a decision from the judge, the dispute does go to trial. These trials usually last a half-day, or a day, very seldom longer. At the end of trial the bankruptcy judge decides whether the debt is discharged or not. Extremely rarely, this decision can be appealed, in fact theoretically all the way up to the United States Supreme Court!

What’s So Quick and Efficient about All This?

Any litigation is very expensive, so you hope to avoid any discharge challenges. But bankruptcy court is a relatively fast and efficient forum for a number of reasons:

1) Because creditors have the opportunity to review your finances beforehand, much of the time they will not bother to raise challenges at all.

2) If a creditor does raise a challenge, the issues are narrow and so the fight is usually focused on just a few critical facts.

3) Adversary proceedings move along fairly quickly. Compared to most state court and regular federal court litigation which often takes a couple of years, these kinds of adversary proceedings tend to be resolved in a matter of few months.

4) Because bankruptcy judges deal with these kinds of challenges all the time, they are extremely familiar with these legal issues.  So they move these cases fast.

Having a creditor object to the discharge of a debt can significantly complicate a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. But these disputes are usually settled relatively quickly. Help this happen by informing your attorney about any threats made by creditors before your bankruptcy is filed, and then working closely with your attorney if a creditor follows through on its threat by filing a complaint.

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.

Paying Your Special Creditor After Filing Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on March 29, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

If you file bankruptcy, it’s okay to voluntarily repay any debt. But there can be unexpected consequences.

The Bankruptcy Code says “[n]othing…  prevents a debtor from voluntarily repaying any debt.” Section 524(f).

But that doesn’t mean that repaying a debt won’t have consequences, including sometimes some highly unexpected ones. So what are those consequences?

To start off let’s be clear that we’re NOT talking about a creditor which you want to pay because it has a right to repossess collateral that you want to keep. Nor is this about paying a debt because the law does not let you to discharge (write off) it. Those two categories of debts—secured debts and non-dischargeable ones—have their own sets of rules governing them. We’re talking here about voluntary repayment, paying a debt even though you’re not legally required to.

And let’s also make a big distinction about the timing of those voluntary payments. We’re NOT talking here about payments made to creditors BEFORE the filing of bankruptcy. That was the subject of a blog a while back.. Be sure to check that out because the consequences of paying certain creditors at certain times before bankruptcy can be very surprising and frustrating, seemly going against common sense.

Instead, today’s blog is about paying creditors AFTER filing your bankruptcy case. The straightforward rule here is that you can pay your special creditor after filing a “straight” Chapter 7 case, but can’t do so in a “payment plan’ Chapter 13 case. For that you must wait until the case is completed, which is usually three to five years after it starts. So, if you would absolutely want to start making payments to a special creditor—such as a relative who lent you money on a personal loan—right after filing your bankruptcy case, you would have to file a Chapter 7 case instead of a Chapter 13 one.

Why is there such a difference between Chapter 7 and 13 for this? Basically because Chapter 7 fixates for most purposes on your financial life as of the day your case is filed, while Chapter 13 cares about your financial life throughout the length of the payment plan. You can play favorites with one of your creditors right after your Chapter 7 is filed because doing so doesn’t affect your other creditors. In contrast, in a Chapter 13 case your payment plan is designed so that you are paying all you can afford in monthly payments to the trustee to distribute to the creditors in a legally appropriate fashion. Here the law does not allow you to favor one creditor over the other ones just because you have a special personal or moral reason to do so. You can only favor a creditor AFTER the case is completed, again usually three to five years after filing.

So what would the consequences be of paying your special creditor “on the side” during an ongoing Chapter 13 case? The simple answer is that it’s illegal so don’t do it. Beyond that it’s difficult to answer because it would depend on the circumstances of the case (such as how much you paid inappropriately) and would depend on the discretion of the Chapter 13 trustee and of the bankruptcy judge. You’d be risking having your entire Chapter 13 case be thrown out. You would be wasting a tremendous investment of time and money, risking years of your financial life. Clearly, things you want to avoid.

Are Creditors Going to Challenge the Discharge of Debts in My Bankruptcy Case?

Posted by Kevin on June 13, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Every creditor has the right to challenge your ability to write off your debts in bankruptcy. But none of them likely will. Why not?

For most people filing bankruptcy, every debt they intend to discharge (write off) will in fact be discharged.

There are two categories of debts that are not discharged in bankruptcy. The first category includes those special ones that Congress has decided for policy reasons simply should not be subject to a bankruptcy discharge. Among the most common ones are spousal and child support, most student loans, and many tax obligations. Assuming you are represented by a competent bankruptcy attorney, you will know before your case is filed if any of your debts fall into this category.

The second category of debts includes those that are discharged UNLESS the creditor files a formal objection to the discharge. Any creditor can raise an objection. But creditors very seldom do, for these reasons:

1. Although any creditor can challenge your discharge of its debt, it can only win such a challenge if it can prove that you acted inappropriately in certain very specific ways.  Proving inappropriate action is not easy and it can be costly.   Many creditors first impulse is that they will fight the discharge.  Then after they sit down with a lawyer and find out what it is going to cost and what the chances of success are, a vast majority of creditors are sensible enough to not throw the proverbial good money after bad chasing a hopeless cause.

2. On top of that, bankruptcy law discourages creditors from raising challenges in two ways:

a. Debts are presumed to be dischargeable—at least if they do not fit any of the special nondischargeable debts in the first category referred to above. So the creditor has the burden of proving that the debt is not dischargeable, and the debt is discharged if it fails to provide the necessary evidence to meet that burden.

b. The creditor risks being ordered to pay YOUR costs and attorney fees for defending a challenge if you defeat the challenge. This is an added disincentive for a creditor to push a challenge when it has weak facts against you.

However, there are two situations where a debtor may get challenged on her discharge:

1.  In cases involving use of credit card for luxury purchases within 90 days of filing or obtaining cash advances within 70 days of filing, there is a presumption that the debtor is trying to defraud the creditor.  Since this presumption makes it easier to prove the case, creditors will bring this type of action.

2.  Also, you may have a creditor who is motivated less by economic good sense than by a desire to cause you trouble, say an ex-spouse or former business partner.

The best way to deal with these situations is, first, to be completely honest with your attorney in answering every question he or she asks you, whether during a meeting or when providing information in writing. Be thorough in your responses. And second, if you have ANY concerns along these lines, make a point of voicing your concerns, and do so early in the process. Particularly, if you wonder whether you’ve acted inappropriately with any of your creditors; or if you have any personal creditors who are carrying a grudge, discuss it with your attorney. It may be that your concerns are unfounded and that would be a relief.  However, if your concerns are real, then it is better to prepare for opposition ahead of time.

Here’s What You Need to Know about the Discharge of Your Debts under Chapter 7

Posted by Kevin on June 6, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

The point of filing bankruptcy is to get relief from your debts. So, under what conditions DO those debts get “discharged”—legally written off—in a regular Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Here’s what you need to know:

1. You WILL receive a discharge of your debts, as long as you play by the rules. Under Section 727 of the Bankruptcy Code, the bankruptcy court “shall grant the debtor a discharge” (“shall”is a catch word among lawyers which means the court must do it )  except in relatively unusual circumstances:

  • If you’re not an individual! Corporations and other kinds of business entities do not receive a discharge of debts, only human beings do.
  • If you’ve received a discharge in an earlier case too recently. You can’t get a new discharge of your debts in a Chapter 7 case if:
    • you already received a discharge of debts in an earlier Chapter 7 case filed no more than 8 years before your present case was filed, or
    • you already received a discharge of debts in an earlier Chapter 13 case filed no more than 6 years before your present case was filed (except under limited conditions).
  • If you hide or destroy assets, conceal or destroy records about your financial condition (This does not mean that you cannot find a bank statement from 2 years back.  It means that you are playing games and not turning over things)
  • If in connection with your Chapter 7 case you make a false oath, a false claim, or withhold information or records about your property or financial affairs.

2. ALL your debts will be discharged, UNLESS a particular debt fits one of the specific exceptions. Section 523 of the Code lists those “exceptions to discharge.” I’m not going to discuss those exceptions in detail here, but the main ones include:

  • most but not all taxes
  • debts incurred through fraud or misrepresentation, including recent cash advances and “luxury” purchases
  • debts which were not listed on the bankruptcy schedules on time
  • money owed because of embezzlement, larceny, or through other kinds of theft or fraud in a fiduciary relationship
  • child and spousal support
  • claims against you for intentional injury to another person or property
  • most but not all student loans
  • claims against you for causing injury or death to someone by driving while intoxicated (also applies to boating and flying)

3. A discharge from the bankruptcy court stops a creditor from ever attempting to collect on the debt. Under Section 524, the discharge order acts as a court injunction against the creditor from taking any action—through a court procedure or on its own–to “collect, recover, or offset any such debt.” If a creditor violates this injunction by trying to pursue a discharged debt, the bankruptcy court may hold the creditor in contempt of court and, depending on the seriousness of its illegal behavior, can require the creditor to pay sanctions.

How Come My Attorney Cannot Always Tell me Which of My Debts Will be Discharged under Chapter 7?

Posted by Kevin on June 4, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Most of the time your attorney will know which debts will be legally written off in your bankruptcy. But not always, for two reasons.

A couple of blogs ago I made the point that the discharge order entered on your behalf by the bankruptcy judge will write off all of your debts, EXCEPT for those types of debts which are on a list in Section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code. The most common ones on the list include:

a. most but not all taxes

b. debts incurred through fraud or misrepresentation, including recent cash advances and “luxury” purchases

c. debts which were not listed on the bankruptcy schedules on time in a case involving assets to be distributed to creditors

d. money owed because of embezzlement, larceny, or through other kinds of theft or fraud in a fiduciary relationship

e. child and spousal support

f. claims against you for intentional injury to another person or property

g. most but not all student loans

h. claims against you for causing injury or death to someone by driving while intoxicated (also applies to boating and flying)

These different types of debts each deserve a closer look, which I will do in upcoming blogs. But let’s go back to the question in today’s title. Most of the time your attorney can reliably tell you whether a particular debt will be discharged in your bankruptcy case. But sometimes he or she will not know because:

1. With some types of debts—the ones described in items b, d, and f of the list above—the debt is discharged unless that creditor raises an objection by a specific deadline (which is usually 60 days after your meeting with the trustee).  So the best your attorney can do is point out to you that you may have a problem.   He or she sometimes may know that reputation of a given creditor to object under similar facts- a rough risk assessment.  But whether the risk is high or low, with these types of debts neither your attorney nor you will know for sure whether that debt will be discharged until either the creditor objects or the deadline for objection passes without objection.

2. With the other types of debts—the ones described in items a, c, e, g, and h of the list above—at the beginning of the case sometimes either the facts are not sufficiently clear or how the law should be applied to the facts is not clear, or both. You might think that the attorney should get all the necessary facts before filing the case. But sometimes the facts are simply not available, the additional work to get them is not worth the cost, or there is no time to do so because of the need to file the case quickly. Add in the consideration that the bankruptcy statutes often use broad language that can be and is in fact interpreted differently by different judges. As a result, in these situations there is simply no absolute way to know at the start of the case whether a particular debt will be discharged.

Take as an example one of the types of debt listed—a claim against you for fraud or misrepresentation.  Since intent of the debtor and reliance by the creditor are issues that the court must consider, it is not clear cut whether a claim of fraud can stand up.  For example, if you fudge your income on a loan application, but the lender based the loan on the value of the collateral instead of your income, then the lender did not rely on your stated income.  No reliance, no fraud; therefore, the obligation is dischargeable.   But your attorney will not know this until discovery is conducted (and that’s only if the lender rep tells the truth.)  So you can see that in these “gray areas” your attorney may well not be able to tell you in advance whether that particular debt will be discharged.

When you are consulting with an attorney about a bankruptcy filing, it is important to give that attorney all pertinent facts about your debts.  Moreover, you should ask your attorney whether any of your debts may not be discharged.