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13

Dec 2021

Debt Settlement or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Which is Better?

Posted by / in Chapter 13, Weekly Posts /

Debt Settlement or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Which is Better?

My friend Roberta knew she was in financial trouble, but she wanted to try pay her debts. Rather than file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, she signed up for a debt settlement company, who promised her a “customized reduction plan.”  Over 18 months she paid $23,673.00.  And the debt settlement company settled two of her credit cards:  A Chase card for $10,496; and another Chase card for $9719.  With their fees and overhead, Roberta’s payments to debt settlement totaled $3458 more than the total of the debts they settled.

It cost Roberta $23,673 to settle two credit cards totaling $20,215. Her “savings” was negative $3438.

That debt settlement company promises “you will settle your debts for less than you owe.” Settling for less than you owe doesn’t necessarily save you money.  It depends on how much less they settle for.  That’s because most debt settlement companies charge you a 25% fee.  (Plus a monthly account fee, usually $10.00) That fee isn’t 25% of what they save you–it’s 25% of the whole debt.  So if the creditor is only willing to settle for 75% of what’s due, you have no savings at all.  

Spending that extra $3458 wasn’t the worst of it.  

While she was settling the two Chase cards, her other creditors weren’t getting paid. Two Bank of America cards, two Citibank cards, and a Target card were all reporting her to the credit bureaus every month as late.  She had nineteen months of being reported as late–and of those 13 months were reported as “charged off.”  

Finally, after being ignored for 19 months, Bank of America sued.  (I say finally because Roberta was lucky–or unlucky–that she didn’t have Discover or Capital One. Both of those companies are much quicker to sue than Bank of America.)  That’s when she realized debt settlement was not working for her.

I See Debt Settlement a Lot

Since I’m a bankruptcy lawyer, I see a lot of people who get sued while they are paying their debts through debt settlement. The two debt settlement outfits I see most often are the biggest, Freedom Debt Relief and National Debt Relief.   (Freedom Debt Relief calls what they do “debt resolution.” National Debt Relief says they do “debt relief.”) 

Roberta’s experience is typical of what I see.  She kept really good records, so I could understand exactly how it worked out for her.

The big debt settlement companies have thousands of happy customers. Maybe you’ll be one of them.  To help you decide, I put the advantages of debt settlement compared to Chapter 13 for you to read and think about.  (I’ve written on this twice before, but not in much detail.) 

Debt Settlement vs Chapter 13: What are the Advantages?

Settlement Fees

Debt Settlement: 25% of the total debt (NOT just 25% of what you save.) On $45,000 in credit cards, that’s $11,250. Plus $9.95 a month, another $597.00.  That comes to $11,847.

Chapter 13: 10% of each payment, plus $5485 in legal fees.  Total $9,985. 

Advantage Chapter 13.

 

Tax Consequences

Debt Settlement:  You get a debt forgiveness 1099 when the credit card company settles for less than the entire amount.  If the Debt Settlement Company reduces your debt by $22,500, you get a 1099-C for that and you likely owe $6,243.60 in federal and Virginia income taxes.

Chapter 13.  There are no taxes on debt discharged in Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Advantage Chapter 13.

 

Total You Have to Pay

Debt Settlement companies try to get creditors to settle for 50 cents on the dollar.  But while you are paying off your first few settlements, the other creditors continue to add interest (often at 29%) and late fees.  (Usually, after six months, the credit card companies stop adding interest.)  

Chapter 13 freezes the balances on your credit cards and unsecured loans.  In Chapter 13 you have to pay “all you can afford” according to a formula written in the law and applied by the bankruptcy court, but never more than the total of the debt, sometimes far less.

Advantage: It depends. Debt Settlement is definitely better if the creditors all settle quickly and if the bankruptcy court would decide you can “afford” to pay your debts in full.  Otherwise Chapter 13 can be better.

 

Do All Credit Card Companies Participate?

Debt Settlement:  Some major credit cards refuse to participate in debt settlement programs.  Participation is voluntary.

Chapter 13:  Chapter 13 is a federal law. Creditors can apply to the bankruptcy court to get paid. Or if they don’t apply, the debt is discharged (cleared) even though they get nothing.

Advantage:  Chapter 13

 

Court Cases

Debt Settlement: National Debt Relief posts this warning in bold.  “If you don’t repay or settle the debt, the debt collector can sue you.” Unless you have enough money to settle with all your debts quickly (and pay the settlement fees) the creditors NOT getting paid are likely to sue.

Chapter 13: Chapter 13 is a court order for the creditors to leave you alone. They can’t garnish, they can’t sue, and all pending court cases are stopped.

Advantage:  Chapter 13

 

Is Debt Settlement Legal?

Debt Settlement: While still operating legally in Virginia, Freedom Debt Relief has been shut down in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.  The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau sued them in 2017 and in 2019 Freedom Debt Relief agreed to pay a fine of $25 million.

Chapter 13 is established by law. When you file Chapter 13 you have a law on your side.

Advantage: Chapter 13

 

Credit Reporting

Debt Settlement:  When you stop paying your credit card in a debt settlement program, the credit cards show on your credit report as late. When they are 180 days late, they show on your credit report as “charged off.”  As you settle some accounts, those are updated to show “Paid in settlement” (Code AU). Meanwhile, the accounts not settled keep reporting 180 days past due and “charged off” every month.

Chapter 13: In Chapter 13, your accounts are noted as Chapter 13. (Code D). When the Chapter 13 is completed, they are notes as Discharged through Chapter 13. (Code H)

Advantage: Chapter 13.

 

Security Clearance

Debt Settlement tells you to stop paying all your bills–and some admit they do NOT start to negotiate until you’ve been making monthly payments to them for six to twelve months.  That’s six months or more when none of your creditors are getting paid anything. And after that, the debts are settled usually one at a time, while other continue to go later. Just not paying your debts looks irresponsible.  

Chapter 13 proposes a payment plan to a judge. That shows your security clearance officer that you have taken responsibility for your problem and are working out a solution.

Advantage: Chapter 13.  

 

Conclusion Debt Settlement or Chapter 13

When they work, Debt Settlement programs can save you about 25%–which after taxes would be more like 15%–of the total you owe and they spread your payments out over three years or so. That savings can be substantial.  But, if some of the credit cards get tired of waiting while you settle with others, then you have a year or two of terrible damage to your credit, followed by the sheriff bringing court papers to your door. You end up where you didn’t want to be, talking to a bankruptcy lawyer about Chapter 13. Or maybe Chapter 7.

PS On Roberta.

I told you at the top that Roberta paid $23,673.00 on her debt settlement plan. Where did she get that money?

Through most of the last 19 months, Roberta was able to get a COVID forbearance on her mortgage payment.  She was able to pay the debt settlement company by NOT paying her mortgage, and putting the missed payment on the end.  Of course that means she really could NOT afford debt settlement at all. It also means that she would have been able to propose a very low payment in Chapter 13, because in Chapter 13 the court allows you to budget the money you need to pay your mortgage.  That $23,673.00 was money down the drain.

 

 

 

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31

Jul 2021

The Wells Fargo Home Projects Card and Chapter 13

Posted by / in Chapter 13, Weekly Posts /

The Wells Fargo Home Projects Card and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

The Wells Fargo Home Projects Card is issued differently than most credit cards. As far as I can tell, they don’t market it directly to consumers. Instead, they get home improvement businesses to sign people up. That way Wells Fargo finances the home improvement and the business gets paid.  Makes sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense to me is this:  Wells Fargo uses that card to butt in line ahead of other credit card creditors in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  That’s because Wells Fargo claims to be a secured creditor.  Secured creditors have to be paid ahead of regular credit cards in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan. 

What’s a Secured Creditor?

What’s a secured creditor?  A secured creditor is a creditor with a “security interest.” UCC § 9-102(a)(73).  The Wells Fargo Home Projects card agreement claims they have a security interest:  “You grant us a purchase-money security interest under the Uniform Commercial Code in the goods purchased on your Account.”

What’s a security interest?  Your car finance company has a security interest in your car.  The car finance company has a lien attached to the title of your car.  If you don’t pay; they can come get it.  (Bankruptcy clears your personal liability–you don’t have to pay. But the car still has to pay.)

Consumer goods–something like a washing machine–don’t have a title.  But the people who finance them are still have a security interest.  They are secured automatically.  UCC § 9-309(1). Automatically, as long as you sign a paper with a description of the washing machine, so it can be reasonably identified.

Years ago Sears was very aggressive asserting their right to payment after bankruptcy on things like washing machines.  So aggressive that they ended up getting hit with multi-million dollar sanctions by the bankruptcy court in Massachusetts.  Conley v Sears 222 BR 181. D Mass 1998.  A few years later, Sears got out of the business of issuing their own credit cards.

Wells Fargo though isn’t claiming a security interest in a car, or in a washing machine.  In the cases I’ve seen, they claim a security interest in “trim,” in “replacement,” in “remodeling,” and most often in “items purchased.”

I call BS on the Wells Fargo Home Projects Card

I call BS on Wells Fargo.  These come nowhere near the legal requirement that the consumer sign an agreement that provides a description of the collateral. UCC § 9-203(b)(3)(A).  “Items purchased” could be anything. That’s not a description. By law, it’s not a description unless it “reasonably identifies what is described.” UCC § 9-108(a).

Second, a security interest does not exist in “ordinary building materials” once they become part of the building.  Trim obviously becomes part of the building. UCC § 9-334(a).

On their website, Wells Fargo tells home improvement businesses what kinds of things they finance. Here’s the list.

Flooring       Siding     Windows/Doors   

Remodeling   Roofing    HVAC

Doors and HVAC are a gray area.  Are they part of the building, or not?  Could go either way.  But Wells Fargo can never be secured in flooring (once it’s installed, of course.) Or siding. Or windows, or remodeling, or roofing.   

Most people would agree that flooring is part of the building.

It looked to me like Wells Fargo always claims a legal right that they hardly ever actually have.

Wells Fargo Caved In

In the case of Merida Mejicanos, 21-10600-KHK, Wells Fargo Home Projects claimed a security interest in “trim” and “door replacement.”  I objected, and privately dared them to come in and fight.  They caved.  Without admitting they were wrong, they dropped their claim. They said they wanted to avoid “the risk of further litigation.”

The big risk of course is that the judge would write that they were wrong–and other lawyers and judges would read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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24

Aug 2019

New Law Helps Disabled Veterans in Chapter 13 Plans

Posted by / in Chapter 13, Weekly Posts /

New Law Helps Disabled Veterans in Chapter 13 Plans

Disabled veterans facing bankruptcy, got a big boost yesterday when the HAVEN Act became law.

Disabled veterans get a break under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy law

Disabled veterans get a break under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy law

From now on, disabled veterans can’t be forced to use their veterans disability payment to fund debt repayment plans.  Here in Northern Virginia, there are many disabled veterans, who are also working. Those veteran families had been considered high income and forced into very high payment plans under bankruptcy Chapter 13. 

Now the bankruptcy court is not allowed to consider the disability pay, in calculating what these veterans can “afford” to pay their creditors.

Senator Tammy Baldwin was the chief sponsor of this bill in the US Senate.   

(I was one of the members of NACBA who lobbied for this bill on Capitol Hill earlier this year.)

I participated in a class on this new law, September 5, 2019, and kept some notes.

Here’s some detail that shows exactly what benefits are covered. 5 HAVEN Act TPM Addendum 6 Haven_Act_Faqs From USTP   And where to go to find out what benefits exactly are being HAVEN Ebenefits Mypay.

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05

Aug 2018

How a cheap car payment can help you on the bankruptcy means test.

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy, Chapter 13 /

How a cheap car payment can help you on the bankruptcy means test.

The 2005 Bankruptcy law, known BAPCPA or sometimes BARF, was designed to make bankruptcy much more painful for families making over the average income in each state.  For Virginia, in the summer of 2018, that’s $103,549 for a family of 4. Or $111,949 for a family of five. 

Bankruptcy means test applies to families of 5 over $111,949

Bankruptcy means test applies to families of 5 over $111,949

The bankruptcy means test determines whether families making over that average income can be approved for Chapter 7 anyway.  And if not eligible, how much they have to pay for five years in Chapter 13.

The bankruptcy means test formula is arbitrary.  It was designed to be arbitrary. Congress, and the credit card companies, thought that bankruptcy judges were too easy.

Most families around here, making too much to get approved for Chapter 7, end up failing at Chapter 13. Without careful Chapter 13 planning, the bankruptcy means test will put you into a Chapter 13 plan that you are not able to afford for five years.

Here’s one example where careful Chapter 13 planning can make all the difference. 

John and Tanya is live Woodbridge in a house they own with two children.  John is stationed at Joint Base Andrews; Tanya is home with the kids, one child needing special attention.

Trying to handle the debts, they have gotten by as a one car family, and John’s car now has 110,000 file on it.  

If John and Tanya go into Chapter 13 now, they get a budget allowance of $497 for the car payment (regardless of what the payment really is) and $221 for gasoline, car repair and car insurance.  It will be impossible for John to hold his car operating expenses, gas, repairs, insurance, below $221 for five years on a car that already has 110,000 miles.

John and Tonya  talk to me before their credit is totally shot. So I can point out to them that they are much more likley to survive Chapter 13 for five years, if they go out and get a low payment second car now.

Tanya buys a brand new Nissan Versa, sale price $13,500, at 4.5% for five years. Her payment is $227.00 monthly.  That $227 payment counts as $497 on the means test.  That frees up for the family budget $270 a month. (That’s $497 means test ownership allowance, minus the $227 actual payment.) That $270.00 can go to pay things like sports for the kids, which the bankruptcy means test budget does not allow.

And they get a second $221 monthly for operating expenses.  John drives the new Nissan Versa to work, and Tanya takes the older car for errands around town. They can hold their gasoline, repair and insurance below the new total operating allowance of $442.

(I should note here that it would be illegal for me to tell John and Tonya to go out and finance a car.  But it was legal for me to tell them that it’s legal for them to do it.)

People say that bankruptcy should be a last resort. But you don’t want it to be a last minute, last resort.  Careful Chapter 13 planning is very important for getting the best result.

 

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28

Jan 2016

Chapter 13 in Virginia–A New Nightmare

Posted by / in Chapter 13, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Chapter 13 in Virginia–A New Nightmare

The Bankruptcy Judge in Norfolk just made chapter 13 in Virginia even more dangerous.  And last night one bankruptcy judge in Alexandria hinted that he agrees.

 

Chapter 13 bankrutpcy in Virginia--Tidewater at this court house

The Bankruptcy Judge in Norfolk is in this Federal Courthouse

The issue came up the the case of In re Marlene Evans.  Ms Evans made her bankruptcy payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee for five years.  According to her plan, she had paid about $4500 toward $23,000 in debts, and the rest of it was supposed to be discharged–gone.

Not so fast, said the Chapter 13 Trustee, Clint Stackhouse.  The Trustee said, you paid me, but you are behind with your mortgage payments. And sure enough, Ms. Evans admitted she was about ten months behind on the mortgage.

That means, argued the Chapter 13 Trustee, you didn’t keep all your promises–you paid me, but not the mortgage.  And you promised to do both.

The Judge, Stephen St John, agreed.  Even though she had paid what she promised toward the $23,000–mostly credit cards, personal loans and payday loans–they are allowed to start chasing her again, when the bankruptcy was over. Why, because she fell behind with the mortgage payments.

This doesn’t seem fair.

It doesn’t seem fair.  Ms. Evans paid what the credit cards were promised–why does she have to pay them again?  Since she admits she’s behind on the mortgage–well, everybody has always agreed that the mortgage company can come after her for that.  And if she can’t work it out, she’ll lose her house.  But why do the credit cards get to hide behind the mortgage company?

And it happens a lot in Chapter 13

People often finish Chapter 13 a few months behind on their mortgage.  That’s because Chapter 13 budgets are very tight.  In Northern Virginia, where the cost of living is real high, they are very, very tight.  So after four years of the Chapter 13 trustee draining every available cent from your budget, towards the end, you may need a $2500 car repair.  And skipping the last couple mortgage payments seems like the only way to do that. Figuring when the Chapter 13 payment is done, then there’s money to catch up the mortgage.

That strategy is now officially a disaster, at least in Tidewater, and maybe in all of Virginia.

The Judges in Alexandria

Last night was the annual dinner of the Bankruptcy Judges and the bankruptcy lawyers.  The Judges got to talk for an hour, and Judge Robert Mayer brought this up.  He didn’t say he agreed (Judges are not supposed to tell you what they think–except when you are in court in front of them.) But he did say that “most courts around the country” that have decide this, have all decided the same way.  

UPDATE: Ms. Evans Loses Her Appeal

A US District Court Judge in Norfolk, today on January 13, 2017, agreed with the bankruptcy judge. (You can read it here. Evans v Stackhouse.)  It’s now the law in Virginia. If you finish your Chapter 13, and pay the credit cards all your promised, but fell behind on your mortgage, your bankruptcy is tossed out. The credit cards are allowed to start chasing you all over again.

What’s the lesson? Avoid Chapter 13

Here are some disadvantages of Chapter 13, compared to Chapter 7.  

1.  If your income increases after you start paying, the Chapter 13 trustee will want more.

2.  If you inherit money while you are in Chapter 13,  that money goes to the Chapter 13 trustee.

3. In many cases, the bankruptcy trustee takes your refund.

4. It’s worse on your credit than Chapter 7.

5. Less than half of Chapter 13 filings succeed.

6.  And now, you can complete your payments and still not get a discharge, if you slip behind on your mortgage payments.  

 

hank hildebrand chapter 13 trustee

Tennessee Chapter 13 trustee Hank Hildebrand says Chapter is a “complex, expensive, unproductive system.”

If there’s any way, you want to avoid Chapter 13.   

Hank Hildebrand, Chapter 13 Trustee in the Middle District of Tennessee, and one of the nation’s most frequent speakers on Chapter 13 issues describes Chapter 13 as a “complex, expensive and unproductive system.”  

One more darn thing.

Just had a ruling from the 11th Circuit.  Suppose during the Chapter 13, you are injured in a car accident.   If you go ahead and sue for your injury, without first telling the bankruptcy court, you forfeit your right to sue for that injury.  

Chapter 13 is Anti-family

Client, two years into Chapter 13, asked me today if getting married will affect his Chapter 13 plan.  Well, it might. If the spouse is working, too, the trustee can claim that the increased family income is a substantial, unforeseen change, and ask that the payments be increase.

The members of Congress of the Judiciary Committee, who care about family values, could support a change in the law that blocks the trustee from arguing that.

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21

Jun 2014

Chapter 13: Your vehicle operating budget is too small.

Posted by / in Chapter 13, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Virginia Bankruptcy / No comments yet

If you are in Chapter 13, the vehicle operating budget you are allowed will be too small.

That’s (almost) a mathematical certainty.   Here’s why.

The census bureau shows–no surprise–that people who are working spend on average double on transportation gasoline and maintenance than people who aren’t.    (For more, see this from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.)

If you are in chapter 13, you’re working.  Unless you telecommute, you’ve got to get to work and get there everyday.

Your Chapter 13 vehicle operating budget in Northern Virginia is $277 a month, for one car, $544 for two or more.   That amount is figured based on all cars–NOT just on all cars owned by people who have to get to work.  (That budget is in the the bankruptcy means test.  That’s a formula that says how much money you have to pay back on your debts, and what you are allowed to keep to live on.)

For most people the chapter 13 vehicle operating budget is not enough to pay for car repairs.

For most people in Chapter 13, when you get that $700 car repair bill, the money won’t be there.

There are more cars than jobs in America.

There are 250 million passenger vehicles.

There are only about 150 million Americans working or looking for work. )

So there are a hundred million cars in America that are NOT being used to get people to work.

If we recalculated that $277 by whether people work, we’d have $340 monthly for cars that take people to work;  $170 for cars that don’t.

If your car takes you to work, your Chapter 13 transportation budget will be $65 a month short every month.

If your car takes you to work, your Chapter 13 transportation budget will be $65 a month short, every month.  That’s $780 short each year.

To put it differently, if you use a tank and a half of gasoline a week, driving to work (plus whatever else you have to do), you have enough money left for insurance, but NO money for car repairs.

People with short commutes aren’t using a tank and a half.  But for many people in the outer suburbs, that’s low.

Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Robert Weed

It cost me $1500 to get my Honda Civic through the safety inspection last month. My service rep said it was time to buy a new car.

A budget with no money for car repairs is ok, if you a driving a new car under warranty.  No money for car repairs is awful, if you’ve got a hundred thousand miles on your car.  And you have to get through a sixty month chapter 13 plan.

Car repairs don’t come on a regular schedule (well, you should change your oil every three months.)  At some point you need new brakes, new tires, a new transmission.  And you will need them now!

Maybe you’ve saved some money, but since the bankruptcy court is taking ALL your “projected disposable income,” saving is tough.

At that point, you’re choices are: skip the rent, stop eating for two months, walk to work.  None of those work every well.

Recently, I proposed a chapter 13 plan, with a higher transportation allowance,  each year of the five years, as the cars got older.  I pointed that the Supreme Court said we should project virtually certain changes in a chapter 13, when calculating how much you had to pay the chapter 13 trustee, and how much you could keep.

I argued that is was “virtually certain” that over five years the cars would get older.  Nope, said Bankruptcy Judge Robert Mayer–the cars will be older but who knows if they need repairs.   (Huh?  I thought everybody knew that.)

If you have to go into Chapter 13, and you have a long commute, how can you avoid certain failure of your chapter 13 plan?  What can you do when your car needs major repairs?

Here are some ideas.

1.  Have four thousand dollars for car repairs already set aside when you go into Chapter 13

2.  Get the boss give you a company car.

3.  Make sure you are driving a new car, with a strong warranty, before you file.

4.  Move closer to work.

5.  Ask the bankruptcy court for permission to buy a brand new car–and then see if someone will finance you while you are still in bankruptcy.  (Alexandria Chapter 13 Trustee Thomas Gorman recently told the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that buying a new car in chapter 13 is easy and painless. Brief 5-23-2014   To me, it looks a little harder.)

Here’s my last idea–keep track of all your transportation expenses–gasoline, car repair, insurance, tolls, parking–every year and ask your lawyer to submit them to get a reduction in your Chapter 13 payment.  Each year, here in Alexandria VA, Chapter 13 Trustee Thomas Gorman demands to see your tax returns to see if he can squeeze you for more money.  Maybe you and your lawyer should look at your transportation costs, and annually ask to pay less.

PS  Here’s a good article by Heather McGivern, a Michigan Bankruptcy Lawyer, that talked about this problem in 2011.  She says there are many people who drive to see their bankruptcy lawyer in car that probably won’t last much longer.  And there are many people about to file bankruptcy who need to go out and buy a newer car.  And that some people say your lawyer cannot tell you that.

PPS   I’ve got a hundred thousand miles on my Honda Civic, and it cost me $1500 last month to get it through the safety inspection.  My service rep at the Honda dealer told me it needs new shocks and struts but I should “buy a new car rather than spend any more money on this one.”

 

 

 

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27

May 2014

Dismissed Chapter 13

Posted by / in Chapter 13, Virginia Bankruptcy / No comments yet

Sometimes a dismissed Chapter 13 is all your need.

Chuck and Inez came to see me today about Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

gif_0_realtor29-1-135x150

After Chapter 13 saved their house form foreclosure, I didn’t want Chuck and Inez to have it sold by a Chapter 7 trustee.

I had put Inez in a Chapter 13 in December 2011 when their house was days away form foreclosure.   The Chapter 13 was dismissed six weeks later.

BUT, that short Chapter 13 had stopped the foreclose, landed their loan mod application on a different desk, and they got approved for first and second mortgage loan mods by the end of 2012.

They also had three big credit cards that were late–and they came to see me today about what to do with those.  Do nothing, I said.  Because of the very limited homestead protection in Virginia, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee would take and sell your house to pay for the cards.

Since they haven’t bothered you  in nearly two years–and were a couple years behind in 2011–doing nothing is your best plan.

I brag a little that my Chapter 13 dismissal rate is among the lowest here in Northern VA.   But sometimes a Chapter 13 dismissal is all the help you need.

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02

Jan 2011

Chapter 13 bankruptcy: Why it’s picked by only 5% of my clients

Posted by / in Chapter 13 / 4 comments

Chapter 13 is selected by less than 5% of my Virginia bankruptcy clients.  For other people filing bankruptcy in Northern Virginia, it’s about 20%.  That statistic jumped out from a computer study of cases filed in bankruptcy court for Northern Virginia for the last six weeks of 2010.

You might wonder if we avoid Chapter 13 bankruptcy because we don’t know how to do them.  Actually, our firm has really good qualifications to do them–but only when they are needed.

Lori Rupp, our Chapter 13 Senior Paralegal, was paralegal for the Chapter 13 Trustee in Flint Michigan.

I moderated the panel of bankruptcy judges on Chapter 13 at the NACBA national convention when the 2005 law took effect.

I have a whole website on how we can use it to get rid of second mortgages.   And I have a blog post on innovative use of Chapter 13 bankruptcy for people with overwhelming student loans.

Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Robert Weed

We’ve done nearly a thousand Chapter 13 bankruptcies–and we know that for most people, Chapter 7 is better.

We’ve done nearly one thousand Chapter 13’s.

We know a lot–including knowing enough to avoid Chapter 13 unless there’s some good reason to be there.

Why?  One reason is most of them fail.  In the last six weeks, there were 200 filed in Northern Virginia–and 120 were dismissed.   That works out to a failure rate of 60%.

Second, they are unpredictable.  Under the 2005 bankruptcy law, you are required to send your tax forms to the trustee every year.  If there’s an “unforeseen” increase in your income, the trustee can ask the judge to increase your payments.   You can get your case approved paying a couple hundred dollars a month–and end up paying over a thousand.  (Richmond Bankruptcy Judge Judge Keith Phillips explains that here.  Swain decision – KLP.)

(Bankruptcy is supposed to be a new start in life and clear field for future effort. I don’t think it’s much of a new start if the trustee can keep coming back asking for more.)

Third, it’s worse for your credit.   You start getting back to good credit when you get your bankruptcy discharge.  In a Chapter 7, that’s about four months.  In Chapter 13, it’s sometimes three and usually five years.

(About half the creditors keep reporting you as late every month of your payment plan–piling on five more years of bad credit.  Christine Wolk, a NACBA member out of Wisconsin, got her judge there to say that’s illegal.  You can download that Judge’s ruling here.  I’ve tried challenge to that unfair credit reporting here, too, but these judges did not see it my way.)

Chapter 13’s often fail.  Your payment is unpredictable.  They are worse for your credit.  For those reasons, and a few others, for most people, I think Chapter 7 works better.

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NORTHERN VIRGINIA BANKRUPTCY LAW OFFICES