Do I Have Enough Debt to File Bankruptcy

How much debt do you need to file bankruptcy?  I am asked this question quite often.  The answer: “It depends on your situation.”  Everyone’s income and expense situation is different and so is the amount of debt they have.  A single elderly woman with a low fixed income from social security is in a completely different situation than a married couple with 2 or 3 kids and both spouses working.

Bankruptcy is a personal matter.  First of all you need to be comfortable filing for bankruptcy protection so you can receive a fresh start.  Secondly, it needs to make sense financially.

If you are an elderly woman (or man) receiving $1300.00 per month from social security, how much money do you have left over at the end of the month after you pay for the items you need to survive, such as food, shelter, transportation, and medical?  Do you have $50.00 left over at the end of the month?  How about $100.00?  Can you afford to continue making monthly payments on your credit card debt?  The answer is probably no.  You may only have $5000.00 in unsecured debt but you can’t live and make the minimum monthly payments.  Bankruptcy can help you.

Please note, in Ohio your social security benefits are generally protected from your creditors.  Your creditors will continue to call and harass you and they may even file a lawsuit against you in court.  Your social security benefits are still protected, but you have to take steps to ensure they don’t get snatch up in a bank garnishment.  I explain this issue to many clients and most of the time they decide to file for bankruptcy protection for peace of mind.

What if you’re a single parent with a couple kids.  You have a job and your making $60,0000 a year.  Your gross monthly income is $5000 per month.  Your monthly income is significantly more than the elderly woman.  But so aren’t your monthly living expenses.  Children are expensive.  In terms of the amount of unsecured debt that pushes you over the edge, well it may only be five to ten thousand dollars.  After you take care of living expenses can you make the minimum monthly payments on your credit card debt?  If the answer is no, then bankruptcy can help you.

Let’s not forget the married couple.  You and your spouse have two kids, maybe three.  Your gross income is $80,000 per year or $6700 per month, maybe more.  Your living expenses may not seem like they are that much more than the single parent, but you probably have a larger mortgage or rent payment and an additional car.  You possibly have less than $1500 in the bank.  It seems like you never have any extra money.  Here, like the examples above, it really does not take much unsecured debt to make your financial life miserable.  Can you dig out of the debt without filing bankruptcy?  Maybe, but you have to stop using credit cards, go to a cash system, and have enough money left over at the end of the month to pay more than the minimum monthly payments to your credit card debt.

Sometimes it only takes one creditor to file a lawsuit and ruin your finances.  When a creditor wins the lawsuit it can then take legal action to collect on the debt.  That creditor can now garnish your wages and/or garnish your bank account.  Both of these situations will make your life miserable.  In that instance, filing for bankruptcy protection generally makes a whole lot of sense.

So how much debt do you need to file for bankruptcy protection depends on your personal circumstances.  If you live in Central Ohio and are struggling to make end meet, feel free to give me a call.  We will discuss your situation and find out if you have enough debt to file bankruptcy.

SHOULD I HIRE A BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY OR BANKRUPTCY PETITION PREPARER

As a general rule of thumb, if you are planning to file for bankruptcy protection you should hire an experienced bankruptcy attorney. You can hire a bankruptcy petition preparer or do it yourself, but these two options generally may not save you money in the long run and the experience may not be pleasant.

Filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is not an easy task. My Chapter 7 case filings average about 50 pages in length. They contain a tremendous amount of information. But filing alone is not the end of the process. Provided that all of the required documents are filed, you still have to send copies of certain information to the Chapter 7 Trustee by a specific date. You are required to appear at the Bankruptcy Court for your Section 341 Meeting of Creditors, which is where the Chapter 7 Trustee will question you about the information filed. Even if all goes well, you still may need to file additional documents before you receive your discharge.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

Whether you proceed on your own or hire a bankruptcy petition preparer, chances are that something will go wrong.
I witnessed “something going wrong” today during a Section 341 Meeting of Creditors at the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The debtor had hired a bankruptcy petition preparer. They paid the BPP $650.00. What the debtor got was the three page Petition and the two page Exhibit D. That’s about 1/10 of the required documents for $650.00. The debtor had to take her papers to the Bankruptcy Court and file them herself. When she got to the Section 341 Meeting, she had no-one there to help her when the trustee started asking questions. (I do commend the trustee in this case who was extremely courteous). Although the Chapter 7 trustee and the Assistant U.S. Trustee were trying to get this lady back on track, it is hard to say what will happen. The meeting of creditors will probably be rescheduled, causing her to come back to court again. It is also possible that her case will be dismissed.

And, the she still owes the Bankruptcy Court $306.00 for the filing fee.

YOU COULD LOSE YOUR PROPERTY

Keep in mind that the Chapter 7 Trustee works for your creditors. Her job is to find assets of yours that can be liquidated and paid to your creditors. Fortunately for Ohio debtors, you get to keep most if not all of your stuff. There are limits however, and I have had many clients with exposed assets. Because they hired an attorney they were aware of the risks before the case was filed.
So, the very minute you file for protection under Chapter 7, the trustee is theoretically in control of all of your assets. The Chapter 7 Trustee has a lot of power, and remember she works for your creditors. Her job is to find assets for your creditors. She is not interested in protecting you.

If you have assets that cannot be protected or you fail to assert your protection, and you file Chapter 7, the trustee is going to take your stuff. Well, maybe not everything, but things of value like cars, cash, and your home.

YOU MAY NOT GET A CHAPTER 7 DISCHARGE

As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t file all of the required documents and/or fulfill your duties, your case could be dismissed. You don’t get a discharge of your debts if your case is dismissed.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Hire an experienced bankruptcy attorney. One that will explain the bankruptcy process and answer your questions. Hire an attorney you can trust, someone that will be with you when you meet the Chapter 7 Trustee at the meeting of creditors. If you want to reduce the headaches and frustrations and get a fresh start, you should hire a bankruptcy attorney.

Buying a House After Filing Bankrutpcy

How soon can I buy a house after filing bankruptcy is a question that many people often ask.  There is no clear answer to this question.  It depends upon a number of things like how well your credit score improves following bankruptcy, what your income situation is, and what other debt you have incurred after your bankruptcy discharge.  Other considerations are whether you still are the owners of a house that is still in foreclosure.

What is the Hurry to Jump Back Into Debt?

Generally speaking, the largest debt people have is owning a home.  Not only is there the mortgage payment, but you also have homeowner’s insurance, real estate taxes, and home maintenance which can add 30% more to the actual mortgage payment.  There may also be homeowner association fees.  So why are we in such a rush to take on huge debt?

Our society has placed a premium on home ownership.  Be it good or bad, we have this notion that we have to be homeowners.  In fact, our real goal should be saving money for emergencies, future necessary purchases, education, and retirement.  If you can rent comfortable accommodations for $200 per month less than it would cost you to purchase a home, you could save $2400 per month (easy math).  Likewise you don’t have a 15 to 30 year debt obligation that may be very difficult to get out from under depending upon the real estate market.

I am not against home ownership, but I am definitely in favor of making smart financial decisions and saving for the future.  Real estate can be a good investment, but how many people actually make money when it is time to sell?

Improved Credit Score

As I stated earlier, one consideration in the equation will be your credit score if you are going to borrow money.  How quickly your credit score rebounds after filing bankruptcy all depends upon what you do.  If you want to improve your credit score, you must obtain credit sparingly and use it wisely.  You have to pay your credit accounts on time and keep your running balances low.  In other words, borrow a little and pay it off every month.  Use cash more frequently than you swipe a credit card.  There is no magical formula, but you have to live below your means.

Your Income Situation

Again, when you apply for a mortgage, assuming you are going to borrow money to purchase a house, your income needs to be more than adequate.  Following the mortgage crisis of the early 2000’s, lenders are now requiring that your mortgage payment cannot exceed about 30% of your income.  That is a huge change compared to the loose lending practices before the crisis.  So, if your household brings in approximately $40,000 a year, your mortgage payment needs to be less than $1100 a month.

Other Debt Incurred Post Bankruptcy

Another consideration lenders consider when deciding to lend money is your debt to income ratio.  As stated above, your income will be a major consideration.  Also included is the amount of debt you have.  Following bankruptcy your debt position should have improved, but over a couple of years it may be creeping up again.  You may have needed to replace a car or two.  Or you could have suffered some major medical expenses after your bankruptcy that affect your debt position.  Regardless, it is important to minimize the amount of debt you are carrying if you plan on buying a home.

New Time Limits

One of the biggest factors out there affecting how soon you can purchase a home after bankruptcy is the lenders requirements.  I have been told by many of my previous clients as well as associates in the mortgage industry that most, if not all government secured loans now require a four year waiting period after bankruptcy before they will approve a loan to purchase a house.  Obviously there are non-government backed loans that will play, but who knows what the terms will be.  And, remember the saving money talk earlier, you may have the willpower to save the money outright and purchase on a cash basis.  Wouldn’t that be great.  You can also explore rent to own options.

The Bottom Line

There is no sure answer to the question “How Soon Can I Buy A House After Filing Bankruptcy?”  Regulators are going to impose certain barriers, but most of the answer will be found in how well you manage your financial affairs after filing bankruptcy.

Alone with Debt – Finding Hope

I was at a point in life I didn’t know what to do. For one year I tried to pay all my bills. There was never anything left for food or medications. I did without medications for about 3 months. Very little food – just enough to get by. I found I was losing weight and didn’t feel good.

I called my attorney. She referred me to Jeff Jackson. I talked to Jeff and told him my problem. First time I met him he gave me Hope of a way out. He suggested I file a Chapter 7 because there wasn’t another good option. [I work part time and receive Social Security. It wasn’t enough.] It was hopeless.

Jeff said I had to go through credit counseling. First course of Access Hope on the internet. My daughter helped me. It was the best 2-1/2 hrs I ever spent.

Then Jeff filed my case in April.

I took the required second course [Dave Ramsey’s Debtor Education] on the internet. A friend helped me with it. This course was so easy to understand. It was about how to handle your money and get on a budget. I told Jeff I wish I had taken this course 50 years ago. I wouldn’t be in the bad mess that I’m in.

One thing, Jeff was very understanding. I would recommend Jeff to anyone. He was very helpful to me. If I didn’t understand he would explain.

The program was Great! I learned:
• About the myths of Consolidation Loans;
• You can’t borrow yourself out of debt;
• Reverse Mortgages are not good;
• Credit Cards are bad; and
• Payday Loans are bad.

I learned a lot [from this process.] I believe I did everything wrong in the last 50 years.

There is hope to get out of debt.

Creditors Will Put A Lien On Your Property

Many creditors will put a lien on your property.  They are trying to ensure they get paid for the debt you owe.  There are judgment liens when you lose the lawsuit.  And there are tax liens when you don’t pay your income taxes.  A lien against your property creates many problems for you.

A lien can be placed on just about anything you own.  Usually liens are placed on your home and/or cars.  They make it hard for you to sell the property.  They also give the creditor the right to take your property and sell it.

A lien on your house gives the creditor the right to foreclose on your house.  Even if the creditor does not foreclose the lien causes other problems.  If you try and sell your house the creditor gets paid.  If you try to refinance your mortgage the creditor gets paid.

Liens are very costly.  Some creditors obtain the lien and wait.  They sit back until you to try to sell or refinance.  The whole time the debt is getting bigger with interest.  That $5000.00 credit card debt is now $7000.00 five years later.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will prevent liens from attaching to your property.  However, once attached liens are not discharged in Bankruptcy.  A lien may be able to be removed during the bankruptcy process.  This generally requires additional procedures.  Creditors will put a lien on your property, it’s a cheap way for them to get paid.

Income Taxes After Your Home Foreclosure

You may have to pay income taxes after your home foreclosure.  Currently many can escape foreclosure with just the loss of their home.  Starting in 2013 foreclosed homeowners may also be paying taxes to the IRS on the forgiven debt.  Most tax debt is not dischargeable.

Current federal tax laws generally do not tax consumers for forgiven debt from home foreclosures.  The current law will expire at the end of 2012.  If the law is not extended, many consumers will pay federal income taxes on forgiven foreclosure debt.  Think paying taxes on an extra $30,000 to $100,000 of income.

Mortgage modifications were supposed to help.  I have seen very few success stories.  You make too much money or you make too little money. Sorry, but thanks for trying.

The only real mortgage relief is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  Take care of the mortgage debt.  Avoid paying taxes on forgiven debt.  Clean up your other debt at the same time.

The Bankruptcy laws have been around longer than the current tax law.  Rely on a remedy that has staying power.  If you are in a current foreclosure you need to act fast.  Contact a local Bankruptcy Attorney to learn more.  Don’t pay income taxes after your home foreclosure.

Will I Lose My House if I File Bankruptcy?

This is a common concern for many people who are contemplating whether or not they should file bankruptcy.  The vast majority of people who own a home have one or two and sometimes three mortgages secured by their home.  Because of these mortgages, there is generally little equity or value beyond the amount owed on the mortgage(s).

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is available to most people who have a steady stream of income.  One of the goals of Chapter 13 is to allow people to keep their property while they pay some money back on the debts they owe.  So no you will not lose your house if you  file Ch 13 as long as you have sufficient income to meet your basic living expenses and can still afford to make the mortgage payments.

If Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the option you prefer, you will generally not lose your house as long as you are current on the payments, and your income is enough to allow you to continue making the mortgage payments and cover your basic living expenses.  In Ohio you also have exemptions of approximately $20,000.00 (single) and $40.000.00 (married) that allow you to claim as exempt against any equity you have in your residence.  So unless your house is will sell for an amount far exceeding the amount you owe on it, and you can continue to make the mortgage payments, you should not lose you house if you file Ch 7 bankruptcy.

But what about the Trustee, can’t he/she take my house anyway?  The trustee works for your creditors.  The Chapter 7 trustee’s job is to find assets he/she can turn into cash to pay to your creditors.  In order for the trustee to benefit from taking your house he has to be able to sell it for a profit after he pays the mortgage(s), taxes, and you for your exemption amount.  Typically you will not lose your house because the trustee will not profit from selling your house.

Please contact me at 740-369-6812 to discuss your situation and answer any further questions.

Taking the Time: Delaware, Ohio

Thank you so much for helping us through this difficult situation.  The first attorney I talked too said there was no way I could file Chapter 7, that it would have to be a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.  You took a positive approach and made it work.  As questions arose, I could get in touch with you easily or you would get back to me promptly.  We also appreciated the much needed advice on how to move forward with our lives and our finances.  Thank you again!  You seem to really want to help people.  Its great to find an attorney you can really trust.  April 14, 2012.