Tag Archives: attorneys fees

Christmas Bills, a New Year and Bankruptcy

There are a number of reasons why Bankruptcy filings surge after the first of the year. The New Year brings introspection and the desire to finally find a way out of the hole you have been trying to climb out of for years. Christmas bills can be the last straw. Then, of course, there is the impending tax refund, which can be a helpful way to pay for the bankruptcy filing.

There are a few things to consider, though.

First, let’s talk about Christmas bills. The general rule is that you want to wait at least 70 days and preferably 90 days after you have last used your credit cards before filing a bankruptcy. There are exceptions to this, but those are sufficiently fact specific, that you will want to talk to a lawyer about your particular facts. What you should remember is, if you haven’t already stopped using your cards – do it now, before you call the lawyer. Then, go ahead and schedule the appointment. You will want some time to get things ready to file anyway, but have a good idea what your card usage has looked like during the last 30 – 60 days so you can discuss it with your lawyer in detail.

There are actually a couple of issues with tax refunds. First of all, you will be happier if you have your tax return for the completed year prepared before you file your Bankruptcy. In some cases, you will have to have it, but you will always want to have it in hand. One reason for that is that if you have not received your tax refund before you file your bankruptcy, your Trustee may be entitled to the refund. The solution to that, of course, is to have already received it and done something constructive with it before the case is filed. I will caution you that you will want to discuss exactly what you do with that refund with your lawyer before you do it – not after. Of course, I think that one of the best things to do with that refund is to pay your attorney for filing the bankruptcy – but I might be prejudiced.

Finally, there is that decision to start a new year finally freeing yourself from the unending cycle of debt that you have been mired in. Finally, it is time to put yourself back in a place where you can take care of yourself, your family, put something aside for retirement – yes, it is time! Not so fast. Is it time? Are you through getting into trouble? If you have lost a job, do you have a stable pay check coming in? With health insurance? If you’ve had health problems, are they behind you? If so, then, yes. It is time. Time for a New Year and a new start.

Elaine

Bankruptcy, the Fiscal Cliff and Tax Refunds

Evidently, we have a deal on the fiscal cliff — well, sort of.  We have a deal for two months, and then all bets are off.  So, I’m not completely sure that what I have read so far accurately describes the contents of this deal (so double-check my facts before relying on them, please); but even better, anything that does (or doesn’t) change today might in 60 days or so.  I’m sorry, but Congress needs to grow up.

What does this have to do with Bankruptcy and Tax Refunds?  Well, first of all, it appears that the tax exemption for forgiveness of debt income on a principal residence has been extended for a year — or at least until March.  So, if your primary reason for filing for bankruptcy was to avoid tax consequences from a foreclosure or short sale; now, you may not need to.  The emphasis there is on MAY.  Do pay the relatively trivial amount of money to check this with a qualified tax expert — which I am not, and this tax exemption is deceptively complicated.

Now, for the bad news, your pay check will get smaller.  Tax withholding rates are going up 2%.  Most people who file for Bankruptcy have been living pay check to pay check  for many months.  A 2% withholding hit can make all the difference in the world between keeping the heat on and not.  Of course, the problem is that filing for bankruptcy isn’t cheap; and if you are living close to the edge, you probably don’t have the cash laid by for attorneys fees and filing fees.  So, before you spend your 2012 tax refund getting current on bills (like credit cards) and then realizing that you’ve blown your refund and still owe more than you can pay; consider whether you will be better served using that money to pay for a bankruptcy filing.

Every year people call me in late April or May who got back several thousand dollars in March or early April.  They spent that getting current on a bunch of debt and then realize a month later, that their balances aren’t going down and their income isn’t going up.  If your tax refund is enough to get you out of trouble, enough that you won’t need to file, enough that you will then be in a position to take care of yourself and your kids instead of Chase and Discover; then, by all means, use it to pay the bills — but do the math first.  Then, take a look at your retirement accounts and your kids’ college funds.  J.P. Morgan Chase made record profits in the 3rd quarter of 2012.  Did you?

Elaine

Divorce Debt and bankruptcy — everybody loses but the lawyer

I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from both prospective clients and other lawyers with questions about how divorce related debt is handled in a Bankruptcy.

Support debt — child support, alimony, anything that is intended in the actual nature of support, regardless of what it is called, is yours for life.  No Bankruptcy court can help you.

Non-support debt, i.e., the credit cards, the medical bills, your own divorce attorneys fees, possibly (but not necessarily) your ex-spouse’s divorce attorneys fees, anything other than support that you are ordered to pay in a divorce decree — this is different.  If you file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you are stuck with this.  If you file a Chapter 13 — not so fast.

Typical scenario, prospective client calls following a nasty divorce.  Decree orders this person to pay tons of credit card debt, and he owes his lawyer a fortune.  (For purposes of this scenario it makes no difference to me how much the other spouse was ordered to pay, how much the other spouse makes, how much the other spouse has or has not suffered.  For one thing the other spouse is not my client.  For another thing, I’m just not that impressed by tales of other people’s poor judgment in things like choosing spouses.)

Here is what I tell the prospective client.  You can file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  You will pay me several thousands in attorneys fees.  You will pay the Trustee a not inconsiderable amount to administer your case.  You will pay your mortgage, car, any recent taxes and any support debt that you owe over a period of five years.  You will pay some additional amount, probably a small amount and almost certainly a lot less than all, of the rest of your debt — what you were ordered to pay in the divorce decree and whatever else you’ve got lying around.  I can’t predict how much of that you will have to pay, but it is generally a lot less than all.  Oh, and it will be paid without interest.  At the end of the five years, you will get a discharge.  Your ex-spouse will not.  Any creditors to whom your ex-spouse is also liable will then be able to try to collect money from the ex-spouse.  Not only can they try to get the remainder of the principle balance, but the interest you didn’t have to pay during your Bankruptcy.

In other words, you two fought for years over this debt.  You paid attorneys thousands of dollars.  You are going to pay me thousands more — and you will both still get the bill.

Now, wouldn’t it just have been better to have both filed for Bankruptcy before the Decree?  Not had all that debt to argue about and then agreed to pay the money it would have taken to fund a Chapter 13 plan and added it to your kids’ college funds?

Elaine