Special Asset Issues

Bankruptcy and Special Assets

Bankruptcy and Special AssetsIf you have decided to file for bankruptcy as a way to get a fresh financial start, you may have concerns about how the bankruptcy filing will affect certain articles of property. What about any money you have received or are eligible for through an inheritance? What about your retirement plan assets? Will you have to reclaim property given to friends or family, or that you’ve recently sold or given away?

Inheritance and Bankruptcy

Whether or not the proceeds of an inheritance will be accessible to the bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 proceeding depend on two issues:

  • Whether your state allows you to claim an exemption on an inheritance—the law varies from state to state
  • When you received the inheritance—if you have already received the inheritance when you file, or if you receive the inheritance within 180 days of filing, it must be included in a Chapter 7 proceeding

Retirement Plan Assets and Bankruptcy

As a general rule, money put into a retirement plan is exempt from access to pay creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding. This includes profit-sharing plans, defined benefit plans, 401(k)s, IRAs and money purchase plans. The only retirement assets that may be taken by the bankruptcy court are Roth and traditional IRA plan assets in excess of $1,245,475.

Gifts to Friends or Family or Items Recently Sold

A significant gift to a friend or family member within two years (under federal rules) of a bankruptcy filing can qualify as a fraudulent transfer. Some states will look back as far as seven years. As a general rule, if the bankruptcy court finds a transfer to be fraudulent, it will require that the property or its value be returned to the bankruptcy estate. It may also prohibit you from completing the bankruptcy.

Items sold at fair market value typically don’t qualify as a fraudulent transfer, but a sale for less than market value may have the same consequences as a gift.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

‘No One Gets A Free House’

No One Gets A Free HouseCourts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have repeated this phrase quite a bit since the mortgage crisis began in 2009. Distressed homeowners burdened by mortgages that had become unaffordable complained of unfair lending practices, both inside and outside of bankruptcy court. While not unsympathetic to their plight, most judges were very reluctant to grant legal relief, absent extraordinary circumstances. However, all the stars aligned for two Madison homeowners in Washington v. Specialized Loan Services and The Bank of New York – Mellon (In Re Washington). What happened in this case, and what does it mean for your family?

Facts

In 2007, the Washingtons purchased a three-family home on Walnut Street. They failed to make the installment payment due on July 1, 2007, and their 30-year adjustable rate mortgage loan has been in default ever since then. The bank accelerated the note in May and filed a foreclosure complaint in December 2007. These dates become very important later.

Decision

A provision in the Fair Foreclosure Act of 2009 places a six-year statute of limitations on a mortgage foreclosure proceeding. In other words, the bank has six years from the date of filing to either take the property or formally reinstate the loan.

Probably because the case slipped through the cracks, the court dismissed the foreclosure action because the bank did not pursue the action, and its six years expired in December 2013. The bank tried to argue that a thirty year statute of limitations applied, but the court was unconvinced.

After “gargl[ing] to remove the lingering bad taste,” Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and that the mortgage was void. The Washingtons are also immune from a deficiency judgment or any other action on the note. Hello, free house.

Application

The ruling only applies when the statute of limitations has expired prior to the commencement of a foreclosure case. Such instances are quite rare, but not unheard of. The same thing happened in Texas in 2001!

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

Filing Bankruptcy for the Second Time

Can You File for Bankruptcy More than Once?

You may have filed personal bankruptcy with the best of intentions, hoping to put your financial challenges behind you. Circumstances can change that, though—you may experience injury or illness without adequate insurance, or you may lose your job at a difficult time. Fortunately, you can seek bankruptcy protection more than once. There are some restrictions, though.

Under the federal bankruptcy laws, you may not receive a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding for at least eight years after the date of a prior Chapter 7 discharge. You may, however, seek to reorganize your debt under Chapter 13 after only four years, if your prior discharge was in Chapter 7.

If you reorganized your debt under Chapter 13, you can file another reorganization petition after just two years. However, if you want to obtain a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding after reorganization in Chapter 13, you must wait at least six years.

These rules, however, apply to discharges rather than filings. The bankruptcy law does not prohibit your from filing a bankruptcy petition immediately after a discharge in bankruptcy—you just can’t obtain a second discharge in bankruptcy before the specified time period has elapsed. For example, many debtors file and complete a Chapter 7, permanently discharging some of their debts. However, once the bankruptcy proceeding is complete, they may start receiving harassing calls and letters from creditors who were not discharged. The debtor may then file a Chapter 13 petition to invoke the provisions of the automatic stay.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

What Property Can I Keep In A Chapter 7?

New Jersey is one of 19 states which allow Chapter 7 debtors to choose between federal and state exemptions. If property is exempt, you get to keep it in a bankruptcy. What are some of the differences between state and federal bankruptcy exemptions on some commonly held property items?

Homestead

New Jersey does not have an exemption for your home.

However, the federal exemption is a bit more straightforward. Up to $22,975 of equity is exempt. After the real estate crash, fewer and fewer people have equity in their homes and as a result find that they can easily protect their homes in a bankruptcy filing.

Vehicle

New Jersey does not have a vehicle exemption, but does allow up to $1,000 of personal property to be exempt. This personal property exemption can be used on a vehicle.

If using the federal exemptions, you can claim up to $3,675 in equity for a motor vehicle.

Retirement Benefits

IRAs, 401(k)s, Social Security benefits, pension plans and other retirement benefit plans are exempt under both state and federal bankruptcy laws. So, bankruptcy will not disturb your nest egg. However, if you have borrowed money against your retirement savings, you will still be required to repay those loans.

The Wildcard

Federal exemptions provide for a “wildcard” of $1,225 plus up to $11,500 of unused homestead exemption to use on anything that you want. This wildcard exemption can be used to protect extra equity in a car, cash at home, money in the bank, or extra equity in a home, boat, investment property, timeshare… you name it!

On a practical basis, New Jersey state exemptions are very meager and infrequently chosen, especially since the federal exemptions under the Bankruptcy Code are so generous. As a result of the federal exemptions under the Bankruptcy Code, the vast majority of people who file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy are able to keep everything that they own, while shedding their debts.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

The Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy

The Benefit of the Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy

The federal bankruptcy laws were enacted to give individuals and business owners a way to get a fresh financial start. But Congress also recognized the need to provide relief from aggressive collection efforts. That relief comes in the form of the automatic stay.

When you file a bankruptcy petition, whether in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, the automatic stay automatically goes into effect. The automatic stay prohibits your creditors or their representatives from calling, writing or taking any action outside of the bankruptcy proceeding to try to collect a debt from you. The automatic stay applies to creditors and their legal counsel, collections agencies, and most governmental entities. Some specific provisions of the automatic stay include:

  • Foreclosure proceedings—An automatic stay will suspend (but not terminate) foreclosure proceedings
  • Evictions—The automatic stay can stall the eviction process for a few days, unless your landlord has already obtained a judgment of possession or can show that you are endangering the property
  • Utilities—Typically, an automatic stay will suspend the disconnection of services for up to 20 days
  • Wage garnishments—The automatic stay stops any garnishment proceeding

Exceptions to the Automatic Stay

You cannot use the automatic stay to stop or suspend:

  • Criminal proceedings
  • Child or spousal support actions
  • Some tax actions
  • The withdrawal of funds from your paycheck to repay a pension or retirement plan loan

The bankruptcy court has the authority to lift or remove the automatic stay, if a creditor can show that the stay serves no purpose. If you have real property with no equity, and have no way to make payments on the property, the bankruptcy court may lift the stay so that your lender can foreclose and protect its interests.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

The Floating Check Controversy

At the moment you file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, all your nonexempt cash and non-cash property technically becomes part of the bankruptcy estate. An interesting question arises concerning the funds in checking and other Demand Deposit Accounts (DDAs).

Assume that you paid your $2,000 monthly mortgage payment on Monday with a check and filed bankruptcy the next day. The money would probably still be in your account, because your check hasn’t cleared yet. Or assume that the mortgage company automatically drafts your installment payment on the 5th, and you filed your petition on the 4th. Once again, the $2,000 is in your account but is not “your money” in any practical sense.

If the trustee files a motion for turnover demanding that you reimburse the estate $2,000, what happens then? This is known in some circles as the “floating check” controversy. With proper bankruptcy counsel and guidance, you can avoid being stuck in this unfortunate situation. If not, you can find yourself facing a motion for turnover from a bankruptcy trustee.

Response to a Motion for Turnover

The wording of Section 542(a) of the Bankruptcy Code is quite clear: any entity with possession of property belonging to the bankruptcy estate “shall deliver to the trustee, and account for, such property or the value of such property.” Yet the purpose of bankruptcy, according to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, is to give the “honest but unfortunate debtor” a fresh start in life. Debtors cannot get a fresh start if they are delinquent on their financial obligations.

Some bankruptcy attorneys argue mootness in these situations. Simply put, there must be a live controversy for the courts to decide. For the most part, judges do not issue advisory opinions or make decisions about hypothetical matters. There may have been $2,000 in the account that may have belonged to the bankruptcy estate, but the money is gone now so there is no basis for a motion for turnover. A finding for the debtor does not necessarily prevent the trustees from collecting. They may be able to file avoidance actions against the payees to recover the funds.

At the very least, these arguments give you leverage when negotiating with the trustee, who may be willing to accept a lesser amount, let you pay the money in installments, or both.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

How Long Will a Bankruptcy Affect My Credit?

How Long Will a Bankruptcy Filing Impact Your Credit?

If you have opted for bankruptcy as a way to get your finances under control, you may be wondering how long the bankruptcy filing will remain on your credit report, and how long it will have an impact on your ability to obtain credit.

How long the bankruptcy will actually appear on your credit report depends on the type of bankruptcy you filed. With Chapter 7 liquidation, where you permanently discharge debts, your credit report will reflect the bankruptcy filing for 10 years. With Chapter 13, though, where you agree to repay your creditors under new terms, the bankruptcy filing only shows up for seven years. There are some situations where the bankruptcy may stay on your credit record for a longer period. For example, if you apply for a loan in excess of $150,000, the potential lender may see the bankruptcy filing, even though it has been more than 10 years.

How to Minimize the Impact of a Bankruptcy on Your Ability to Obtain Credit

When a potential lender considers your creditworthiness, they will likely look at your credit report. In many instances, though, that will be only one of many factors. Many lenders are far more interested in what you have done lately, as opposed to what you did a number of years ago. If your credit report shows that you have made all payments in a timely manner since your bankruptcy, a lender may be inclined to extend credit, perceiving that you have developed new habits, or that the bankruptcy was the result of an illness, injury or other unforeseen incident, and not the result of poor money management.

The other important thing to do, if you want to improve your chances of getting credit, is to minimize the use of available credit. If you have a credit card, don’t use it unless absolutely necessary, and pay it off every month or as soon as possible.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

Recovering From Chapter 7

In most cases, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is discharged only a few months after the filing debt. So, an experienced bankruptcy attorney in Camden can get your family a fresh financial start almost immediately. Once you’re free of the obligation to repay many outstanding debts, what should happen then?

Why People File, and How Bankruptcy Helps

Some people file Chapter 7 in the wake of a short-term financial crisis, such as a job loss, a divorce or a serious illness. 76 percent of American families live from paycheck to paycheck, so most lack savings to weather these rough fiscal storms. Once you’re back at the starting line, you’re in a position to resume the spending and money management patterns that you exercised before.

Other people file bankruptcy because of a financial reverse. Perhaps income from a stock portfolio dried up due to the economic downturn, a home mortgage became unaffordable or a small startup business never really got started. Bankruptcy eliminates the debts that you cannot pay, which generally solves these problems.

Still others have made poor financial decisions. They’ve overspent on luxury items or amassed gambling debts. Bankruptcy, and especially the debtor education class, is a good way to reassess spending habits and get on the right track.

The truth is that most people file bankruptcy due to some combination of all these issues; for example, a family might have been barely able to service its credit card debt, and then a few days in the hospital put them permanently in the red.

Moving Forward

It’s very important to stay current on secured debts, like your car note and home mortgage. Paying your bills on time is the best way to build your credit score.

Once you receive a Chapter 7 discharge you may be inundated with credit card offers. That’s because the lenders know that you cannot file another Chapter 7 for another eight years. While there’s no need to go overboard, talk to your attorney about the best card for you. Charge something every month and pay off the balance every month, and your FICO score will go up even further.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

When Can I Start Rebuilding My Credit after a Bankruptcy?

How Soon Can You Start Reestablishing Credit after Bankruptcy?

If you’ve had to file bankruptcy, for any reason whatsoever, you may be wondering how soon you can start to rebuild your credit, as well as the best ways to do so.

You Can Start Immediately

There are no legal restrictions on how soon you can begin to reestablish credit after a bankruptcy. Though you may find fewer opportunities to do so, and incur greater expense, there are companies that will take the risk. You should understand, though, that the interest rates and penalties assessed to sub-prime borrowers (which you will be after a bankruptcy filing) are significantly higher than for most borrowers.

The reality, though, is that you should take some time to get on your feet before you try to incur any new and significant debt. By simply paying your existing obligations—rent, utilities—in a timely manner, you start to rebuild your creditworthiness.

Depending on the type of bankruptcy you filed, you may actually become more attractive to some lenders after a bankruptcy. In fact, it’s pretty common for persons who’ve just completed a bankruptcy to start receiving offers for credit cards, often within a month. Some may be secured credit cards—where you must deposit a certain amount to have the card—but they can help you begin to rebuild yoru credit. The key is making payments in a timely manner.

If you filed Chapter 7 liquidation, your debt-to-income ratio, one factor considered by lenders, will be dramatically reduced. If you have income, but little debt, a lender may perceive that you can afford to take on a new obligation. You can reap the same benefit in Chapter 13, but it typically takes longer, as you will be paying down existing debts over a three-to-five year period.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.

How Do I Find a Trustworthy Bankruptcy Attorney?

Finding a Bankruptcy Lawyer You Can Trust

Making the decision to file a bankruptcy petition is a difficult decision. But choosing the best bankruptcy attorney for your situation can be even more intimidating and stressful. There are a lot of attorneys who will handle a bankruptcy for you. How do you know you are getting one you can trust, who will really do what’s best for you, and not simply take your money and run you through the same process as all their other clients?

Don’t Make Your Decision Entirely on How Much It Will Cost

Because you are already facing financial difficulties, it may seem wise and prudent to minimize the cost of a bankruptcy. Unfortunately, as with most things, you will likely get what you pay for. Many bankruptcy attorneys advertise flat fee arrangements, promising to complete your bankruptcy for a specific price. It’s important to understand that the only thing attorneys have to sell you is their time. So, for your case to be profitable to them, they need to minimize the amount of time they spend on it.

That’s not to say that you can’t be well-represented by an attorney charging a flat fee, but you want to be clear up front exactly what your attorney will do for that fee. For example, if a creditor challenges your filing, will the fee cover the costs of any legal proceedings? Probably not.

It’s Better to Hire Someone Who Focuses on or Handles Only Bankruptcy

Ask the prospective attorney how many years he or she has handled bankruptcy, as well as what percentage of the practice it comprises and how many bankruptcies the attorney has handled. If your case is not complex, you may be fine with a general practitioner for whom bankruptcy is a small part of the practice. But to get the best representation, you want a specialist.

Make Certain Your Attorney Understands the Revised Bankruptcy Code

Congress made significant revisions to the Bankruptcy laws in 2005. Your attorney should be up-to-date on all changes in the law.

Contact John Hargrave and Associates

We have provided comprehensive counsel to individuals in and around Barrington, New Jersey, since 1977. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at 856-547-6500.