If you are currently in a loan modification, it would not be affected by your bankruptcy proceeding. If you are behind on your mortgage payments, its best to have a plan of action when your case is filed, with the direction you want to take.
One option is to try work something out directly with the lender to see if they will allow you time to get your payments caught up, modify the loan, defer payment temporarily, or put what you owe on the back end of the loan. I will usually caution people to set a deadline because with each passing month of you not paying your mortgage, the amount of late fees, potentially attorney’s fees, and arrears continues to grow.
Unfortunately, the lenders do not always timely respond and if you want too long for a result then you might find yourself unable to keep your home. If the lender isn’t working with you, some other options would be to sell the home if it has equity or surrender the home if it has no equity. With inflation being so high currently, most people living in the Tampa area do have equity in their homes.
If you want to stay in your house, a Chapter 13 will afford you two options. You can pay back the arrears over a 60-month period. This is helpful because instead of coming up with say $15,000 within 3 months, you would have 60 months to get the payment current and spread it over a longer period of time. You also have a guarantee that the lender cannot foreclose on you while you are in an active bankruptcy. Another option would be to attempt a loan modification in a Chapter 13 case.
It is often more helpful to do so within the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court because the lenders have time deadlines to respond so it ensures a result. We would need to look at your debt to income ratio and if you have done a loan modification the past to determine if you are a good candidate.
For this segment we are providing an explanation of what the” present ability to pay” or “undue hardship” standard means. If you are reading this blog, you probably do not feel like you have the current ability to pay your student loans. The undue hardship/present ability to pay is a standard looked at by the Justice Department and the Department of Education to determine if you can afford to pay back your student loans.
If your expenses exceed your gross income (the amount you make before taxes or payroll deductions are taken out) you are presumed to lack the present ability to pay. These might not be your actual expenses, but rather expenses that are specified in the IRS guidelines. Where your expenses for items such as food, housekeeping supplies, apparel, medical expenses, etc. are below the amount allowed by the IRS National Standards and your net income does not cover those expenses you cannot maintain a “minimal standard of living”. Keep in mind your actual expenses may vary from what the IRS guidelines find to be reasonable. Similar guidelines operate in the means test of the bankruptcy petition.
For example, pet expenses are not considered. There are limitations on transportation expenses which includes gas, insurance, and vehicle maintenance. If you do have a reasonable expense that exceeds the IRS standards, those can be considered. You must have a persuasive reason why your expenses are higher than the IRS guidelines.
For example, higher medical expenses due to an ongoing medical condition or higher transportation expenses because you live far from work. In addition to National Expense Allowance Standards, there are also Local Standards. If your actual expenses exceed the local standard amount, the Department Attorneys should generally limit your allowable expenses to the standard amount.
If you have reasonable expenses that are not yet incurred such as currently living with a family member, but moving to an apartment in the future those expenses are considered. If you have sufficient discretionary income to make a full student loan payment as required under your loan agreement, then you are deemed to have the ability to pay and have no undue hardship.
The standards are a bit tricky so its helpful to consult with an attorney to determine if you qualify for partial or full discharge of your student loan. Stay tuned for our next segment on the “future ability to pay” standard.
There are three types of tax debt. The first type is unsecured priority tax debt which is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. That includes recent tax debt within the last three years.
The second type is unsecured non-priority tax debt. This type of tax debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy. This would include tax debt for returns that were due and filed over three years ago or assessed by the IRS over 240 days prior to filing your bankruptcy case. We can verify the date the tax got assessed by the IRS if you obtain an account transcript.
Interestingly, there are times when the tax return was timely filed over three years ago, but the IRS assesses the tax liability years later. This often occurs during an audit where additional tax debt is assessed.
Tax debt will not be dischargeable if the taxes haven’t been timely filed or filed within two years of filing for bankruptcy. Fraud or tax evasion would also be grounds for having your debt be non-dischargeable.
The third type of tax debt is secured tax debt where the IRS files a lien against your property. This occurs less frequently. We recommend contacting the IRS Insolvency Unit approximately 60 days after receiving your discharge to confirm that your tax debt is discharged.
We have clients who move here from other states who are behind on their state income tax. Fortunately, we don’t see this issue too often since Florida has no state income tax.
State income tax essentially follows the same rules as federal income taxes in terms of whether those taxes would be dischargeable or not in a bankruptcy. If you have specific questions about your outstanding tax debt, feel free to contact my office.
There is no minimum threshold amount of debt to be able to file for bankruptcy. My personal recommendation is that it’s probably not worth it for a debt amount under $5,000. If you have debt over $5,000, your minimum monthly payments are causing you a hardship, and you have been paying high interest and minimum payments with little, or no progress in reducing the principal amount of the debt you are a potentially good bankruptcy candidate.
There is no maximum amount of debt to file a Chapter 7, so that amount can be unlimited. If you have hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, be assured that the trustee will ask how that money was spent. Some people have over hundred thousand dollars just in student loan debt alone. Even though there is no debt limit to file a Chapter 7, there are income requirements which should be addressed during your consultation. Our first analysis is whether you will qualify for a Chapter 7.
There are caps on debt in a Chapter 13 case which might seem illogical because you are actually paying your creditors, through the trustee for 36-60 months and in a Chapter 7 you are not making a monthly payment to the trustee. For a Chapter 13 you are permitted to have $465,275 in unsecured debt. Unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans, medical debt, and student loan debt.
You are allowed to have up to $1,395,875 in secured debt which would include items such as a home mortgage or financed vehicle.
1) Use credit cards, open new credit lines, or take out cash advances. This could be viewed as a bad faith filing if you take out a large credit line then file for bankruptcy within a few months. The reason is because it appears that the money was taken out without the intention to repay the debt. This could result in the debt potentially not getting discharged. Cash advances taken out and not repaid 90 days prior to filing your bankruptcy case would likely have to be repaid.
2) Give any gifts over $500. If this happens, expect to have to repay the trustee the equal amount of the gift. So, you give your mom a $1,000 birthday gift, you or your mom will be repaying the trustee $1,000.
3) Repay any family members or friends. Same scenario, you’ll have to repay the trustee whatever repayment you have made to friends or family members (insiders) in the last 12 months.
4) Make more than a regularly monthly payment on your car, rent or mortgage. This is considered a preferential payment.
5) Take out large cash withdrawals out of your bank account. The trustee could ask for receipts for these withdrawals to see how the money was spent. It’s much better to deposit funds and use a debit/check to track how the money was spent.
6) Gamble. There are a few potential problems associated with gambling. First, if your spending $500 a month gambling, that money could be used to pay your creditors. Second, if you are incurring debt and taking out credit lines for the purpose of gambling that is also problematic.
7) Sell, transfer, borrow against, or dispose of any property. You do not want to convert assets that would be exempt to a non-exempt asset, or you’ll potentially need to pay the trustee.
8) Purchase new assets. If you purchase an asset, it might not be covered by the bankruptcy exemptions. If that happens you would need to pay the trustee or surrender your personal property. It’s critical to get legal advice, prior to selling or purchasing any property (personal property, real property, or vehicles) prior to filing.
9) Spend money on unreasonable expenses such as vacations or luxury items. Your bank statements are produced so it’s evident when and where money is taken out and spent. Any luxury items can also be viewed as a bad faith filing if you are spending frivolously instead of paying your creditors.
10) Get married. You can get married, but if you do, your spouse’s income gets counted towards the means test and could put you into a Chapter 13. If you’re in the middle of a divorce or getting married, definitely discuss the potential ramifications with your lawyer.