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Jul 2022

We knock out Dyck-O’Neal, Save Lonnie’s Clearance and his Family Home Place

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

We knock out Dyck-O’Neal, Save Lonnie’s Clearance and his Family Home Place

Lonnie was about to lose his federal job. His clearance review showed he owed Dyck-O’Neal $127,153 from a foreclosure deficiency. He needed to take care of that. Or he’ll lose his clearance and his job.

Dyck-O'Neal buys foreclosure debts

After his foreclosure, Lonnie still owed Dyck-O’Neal $127,000.00

Obviously he didn’t have $127,153.  And when we looked at it, he couldn’t file Chapter 7 bankruptcy either.  When his parents died, Lonnie had inherited a share of their home place. The parents’ home place was paid for. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee would take and sell it.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Payment Plan–How Can He Afford it?

He needed to do a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  To protect his clearance by paying his debts.  And protect the family home place–by paying his debts.  But, in a Chapter 13 payment plan, how much would Lonnie has to pay?

The Chapter 13 trustee demanded a payment Lonnie couldn’t afford. The trustee didn’t want the whole $127,153.  But he wanted most of that to be paid.

We solved that problem by knocking out the Dyck-O’Neal $127,153 claim. We knocked them out under the statute of limitations.

What’s the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is a law that says if a creditor leaves you alone too long, they are too late. More than five years after the mortgage company accelerated the loan (starting the foreclosure process) was too late.  (That’s five years under Virginia law. Each state sets their own rules on this.)

Based on the records we had, it looked like the five years was up. Dyke-O’Neal had more complete records than us–at least they should have. But they didn’t fight.  So, we won.

Now all Lonnie has to pay are the smaller debts he was paying anyway.


Don’t put it off

Foreclosure or repossession? Talk to a bankruptcy lawyer right away. You probably have eligibility now–you need to find out of course.  And in three or four years when they come after you, you might not.  (Lonnie could have filed Chapter 7 when the house foreclosed; after his parents died, then he couldn’t.) Usually relying on good luck doesn’t work real well. 




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Jun 2022

Linda Pays through Beyond Finance and Gets Garnished

Posted by / in Alternatives to bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Weekly Posts /

Linda Pays Mariner $6113 through Beyond Finance. Then She Gets Garnished

Linda Cash (not her real name) wanted to clear her debts without filing bankruptcy. As an alternative to bankruptcy, she signed up for Beyond Finance.

Linda needed Beyond Finance to help her with Mariner. (She originally borrowed $5383, got behind, and now owed Mariner $6113.65.) 

Beyond contacted Mariner and then told Linda “Congratulations–we’ve settled Mariner for $6113.65.”  In 29 installments, they told her.

Now, Linda thought $6113 was all she had to pay. She paid $213 per month; $213 was what Mariner told her to pay. At the end of 28 payments, she thought she had only $150.00 to go.

Bad surprise. Mariner wanted $6113.65 at 36% interest. Mariner had agreed to $213 a month until paid in full. It would take 66 months–not the 29 Beyond told her–to pay Mariner with interest.

How bad was it? Linda had paid $5964 and she still owed $4808.  (Of the $5964 she paid, $4681 had gone to interest.)

Linda complained to Beyond. Beyond didn’t explain.

She argued with Mariner. Mariner garnished her. That’s when Linda called me.

Bankruptcy Would Have Been Better

Linda is eligible for two kinds of personal bankruptcy.  Chapter 7 bankruptcy says “sorry I can’t pay this debt.”  Chapter 13 is a court approved payment plan.

Chapter 13 would have done what Linda wanted.

If Linda had signed up for chapter 13, the bankruptcy court would have made Mariner accepts payments at no interest. (The Chapter 13 trustee does charge a handling fee on each payment–so it would have taken 32 payments at $213 to pay off Mariner. Not the 29 payments Beyond promised her.  But way better than the 66 payment settlement from Mariner.)

Chapter 7 is Even Better

As a single person in Virginia making less than $67,815, Linda is eligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 discharges–clears–her finance company loans, like the one she had with Mariner. If she had filed Chapter 7 in the spring of 2019, instead of going to Beyond, she’d be back to good credit today.  She could get a car loan at a good rate, or even qualify for a mortgage and buy a house.

And she would have saved the $5964 she paid through Beyond to Mariner.

Beyond Finance is n alternative to bankruptcy

Linda thought Beyond Finance had settled her debts with Mariner with 29 payments of $213.00. But Mariner had only agreed to 66 payments of $213.  After the 29th payment, she stopped–and got garnished.

Beyond This Screwup

I don’t think Beyond was intentionally tricking Linda–they just screwed up. But I do say these debt settlement outfits are rarely a good idea.

Why Not Debt Settlement? Actually They Warn You

Here’s what it says in small print on the Beyond website.  “The use of debt consolidation services will likely adversely affect your credit. You may be subject to collections or lawsuits by creditors or collectors.”  In other words, if you sign up for their program, you will wreck your credit; then expect to get sued.  Probably not the best idea.

For people who really, really want to pay their debts, and need only a little help, I often recommend debt managment programs. They can usually get each payment down a little off the regular minimum monthly and still pay everybody off in five years.  Debt management plans have to be licensed in most states, including Virginia

Most legit debt managements programs (they are sometimes called credit counselling) won’t BS you. If they can’t make your budget work, they will tell you so, and suggest bankruptcy.

Other alternatives to bankruptcy

For other alternatives to bankruptcy, you can disappear. Or just don’t pay.




PS Why Does it Take So Long to Pay off a loan at 36%.  Here’s the chart:


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Jun 2022

Alternatives to Bankruptcy–Disappear

Posted by / in Alternatives to bankruptcy, Blog, Weekly Posts /

Alternatives to bankruptcy–disappear

One alternative to bankruptcy is to just disappear.  Why am I bringing this up, now?

cruise as an alternative to bankruptcy

Need an alternative to bankruptcy? You can try to disappear. Take a cruise, get off at the Virgin Islands, don’t get back on.

This week somebody asked Quora (a website I follow) how to legally disappear.  The answer, sign up for a Caribbean cruise. Get off at the Virgin Islands. Don’t get back on.

For most people, bankruptcy works. But when people ask me for alternatives, I share my best ideas.  I’ve added the Caribbean cruise to the list.  

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Jun 2022

One Way to Get Ready for Recession: Bankruptcy

Posted by / in Blog, Weekly Posts /

Get Ready for a Recession

Michelle Singletary in Wednesday’s Washington Post writes about getting ready for a recession.  Two pieces of her advice: clear your credit card debt; and start saving.

Recession ahead

Are you paying your debts down every month? Or are debts going up?  How will you get out of debt when the recession hits?

Suppose the recession hits hard ten months from now–April 2023.  Will your credit cards be paid off?  If there’s a lot of slack in your budget, then maybe you can get there.  But what if you are barely making it now?

Filing bankruptcy, for many people, is the quick and easy way to clear your credit card debt. And if you start now, your bankruptcy can be finished this year, so you can start saving.  

Before the recession: Take a hard look at your monthly payments

Take a look at where your monthly payments are going now, before the recession. Are you rapidly reducing your debt? Or only paying just enough on the cards that you can use them to buy groceries for another month? If you are not digging your way out of debt now–while inflation is still new and job openings are everywhere–you will never be able to do it when times get tight.

For most people, bankruptcy works.



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Jun 2022

Are Changes on the Way for Bankruptcy and Student Loans?

Posted by / in Blog, Weekly Posts /

Are Changes on the Way for Bankruptcy and Student Loans?

There’s one big change Joe Biden can make (without Congress) so people who can’t afford to pay their student loans can clear them in bankruptcy.

During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to help people who can’t pay their student loans.  So far, he’s helped people who got sucked in by scam colleges.  He provided closed school student loan forgiveness for people who went to ITT and Corinthian/Everest College.  Plus, for almost everybody, he suspended student loan payments because of the pandemic.

There’s talk now of $10,000 forgiveness across the board.  But that talk of $10,000 forgiveness across the board gets a lot of criticism.  It helps some people who don’t need help.  And does very little for people who really are overwhelmed.

There’s more that can be done.  That’s why pressure is building to treat student loan debt in bankruptcy like any other debt:  Ordinary debts debts that you can clear in bankruptcy if you can meet the bankruptcy requirements showing that you can’t pay.

“Undue Hardship”

student loan with undue hardship

Bankruptcy can discharge your student loans only if you can show undue hardship.

The bankruptcy law now says student loans can be cleared only in cases of “undue hardship.” Over the years the courts have said “undue hardship” basically means paralyzed, never work again.  Under that definition, according to the chief judge of the bankruptcy court here in eastern Virginia, you just can’t win in court on “undue hardship.” The judge said “that door is nailed shut.”

Calls for Change in the Undue Hardship Law

Recently, several news outlets have called for changes to the undue hardship rule.  Here’s a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.  And one from Politico.  And another in Bloomberg. 

But There’s No Chance Congress Will Act

Personally, I think there is zero chance that Congress will change the undue hardship rule, although there have been some steps in that direction.  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is a long-time supporter for better bankruptcy laws.  March last year he was able to get Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to join him on introducing a bill to change the undue hardship rule for people who had been struggling with student loans for more than ten years.

But I don’t think it will go anywhere. Why?  In our current political environment, support for bi-partisan cooperation often leads to defeat in the next primary.

On Bankruptcy and Student Loans, Biden Can Do One Thing

Government lawyers, the U.S. Department of Justice, go into bankruptcy court and fight against consumers trying to prove “undue hardship.”  Those government lawyers argue that the consumer should work longer hours or get their children to work to help pay for the loans.

Biden can call off those government lawyers. If the consumer, without government opposition, can persuade the judge–and that may still be tough–the consumer should win. And if the consumer wins at trial, the government should not appeal.

Let me tell you about Sandy Chamberlain

Sandy, not her real name, is a divorced mom with three kids, 17, 8 and 7. Her annual is $68,952 and she gets $900 a month in child support. (That will drop when the teen reaches her 18th birthday.) That seems like a lot of money but it doesn’t go far around here.

As a family of 4, she has automatic income eligibility to file Chapter 7 if she’s making less than $121,793. She’s under that eligibility cutoff by $42,000 a year!  And her student loans? Sandy has $70,757 in student loans.  Her payment, if ever hopes to pay it off, is supposed to be be $554.00 a month. Even though she’s $3500 a month below the average for a family of four in Virginia, and it’s considered no “undue hardship” to make her pay $554 a month on the student loan.

Never gonna happen.  That $554 almost makes her car loan payment and she needs that car a lot more.  (Besides transportation for herself and the kids, she does Instacart driving in months where the food and money run out before the next paycheck.) The government will never get the $70,757 student loan paid. And $10,000 student loan forgiveness won’t really change that.

Rents around here are shooting up even faster than housing prices.  If Sandy’s bankruptcy could clear her student loans, she’d be eligible to buy a house in a couple years.  But with $70,000 in student loans just sitting there unpaid, she can’t ever get a mortgage. (And that blot on her credit means she pays higher interest on her car loans, too.) 

Can Sandy Come Back?

Sandy’s bankruptcy will be over this July. And we can’t do anything about her student loans now, because we can’t win when the government lawyers come in to fight against us. But if President Biden changes the government policy later this year–or next year–Sandy will be able to come back to court. Under the law, Sandy is allowed to reopen her bankruptcy case for “further relief.” 

A chance to show hardship would be a relief.

The Whole Idea of Bankruptcy

The whole idea of bankruptcy is that the country is better off if people who cannot pay their debts are able to start over. That should apply to student loans, too.  For people whose degree has made them good money, bankruptcy wouldn’t apply.  For people who just can’t pay, those people, and their kids, and the country are all better off if the debts are cleared.

We’re hoping Joe Biden agrees and will help Sandy out.  


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May 2022

Bankruptcy and Depression

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Bankruptcy and Depression: No, I’m Not a Doctor

This post is about bankruptcy and depression. No, I’m not a doctor. (Actually my law school degree says I’m a JD– a juris doctor). But I see depressed people a lot. And because I see it a lot, I’ve read up on it.

The VA says that depression can be caused by trauma. As a bankruptcy lawyer, I see a lot of people who’ve been knocked down by physical or emotional trauma.

Next, according to this NIH article, many physical illnesses also cause depression. Academic research–the first and most famous by Professor, now Senator, Elizabeth Warren–shows that most bankruptcies follow medical problems.

Finally, this blog from the Harvard Medical School says depression can be a side effect of many medications.

I talked to someone this week–I’ll call her Farah–who had all three of those factors. And she was obviously, seriously depressed.

We Talk Openly About Depression

If one of my clients looks depressed, I bring it up. When I talk openly about depression, most people who look depressed tell me that they already know they are. Most of those, like Farah, have already sought treatment. If they haven’t, I encourage them to get help, saying something like this: “Depression is tied to chemical changes in your brain.  You can’t just pull up your socks and get over those chemical changes.”

Bringing up depression directly is what the Cleveland Clinic calls “assertive communication.” The Cleveland Clinic says one way people can help their depressed friends is to talk openly about what we see.


I see depressed people a lot. If one of my clients looks depressed, I bring it up.

After I bring it up, I try to coax people to taking a look at their depressed self; and encourage them to remember their “real self.” So, I don’t tell people to shake off the depression. (Telling depressed people to get over it is NOT recommended.) Instead, I tell them to recognize how seriously it is affecting them. I try to show what the Cleveland Clinic article calls “empathy.”

Depression is often combined with guilt. When that feeling of guilt to comes up, I bring up Donald Trump. Look, I tell people. Donald Trump used “the chapter laws” (he meant Chapter 11 but didn’t say that) because he lost money in the casino business.

A few years ago I calculated that in his fourth Chapter 11, Donald Trump discharged more debt than all fifteen thousand people I’ve helped put together.

If Trump, who claims to be worth ten billion dollars, can take advantage of the “chapter laws,” you can too.

The Purpose of Bankruptcy is to Help You

Ninety years ago, the Supreme Court, in the famous case of Local Loan v Hunt, said that giving people in bankruptcy a fresh start in life is a “public…interest.” In other words, the country is better off when people are able to get back on their feet, financially.

That’s the point of the bankruptcy laws. The country is better off when people like you can get back on your feet.  (The credit card companies will do fine either way.)

Bankruptcy and Depression

I love being a bankruptcy lawyer because I can help almost everyone I talk to.  Of life’s problems–and people with depression are usually battling many of life’s problems–too much debt is usually the easiest one to fix.

PS For More Information on Depression

Here’s an article I think is helpful from Psychology Today.

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May 2022

Solving Your Debt Problems By Doing Nothing.

Posted by / in Alternatives to bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

For some people on Social Security, Doing Nothing About Debt Problems Works Fine

I tell a couple people a month there’s no reason to file bankruptcy. Most often older people who have no income except for social security. For them, there’s often no reason to file bankruptcy.

Here’s why.

People File Bankruptcy for Three Reasons

People file bankruptcy for three reasons. So the creditors can’t call you. So you don’t get garnished. And to get back to good credit. (After bankruptcy, people also sleep better and handle their problems better.)

Many people living on social security won’t ever need good credit.  This is a hard one for some people to take in.  Does your car have more miles ahead of it than you have on you? Then you will probably never need to buy another car. And your social security income is likely not enough to afford a house. So, you don’t need to worry about your credit score or your “good credit.”

They Can’t Garnish Your Social Security

If all you have is social security, they can’t garnish you. They can’t garnish it from the social security administration and they can’t garnish it from your bank.

To stop debt collector harassment, tell them “I refuse to pay.”

That leaves the collection calls. When you get collection letters, write them back.  Just write on it.  “All I have is social security. I can’t pay and I refuse to pay.”  The words “I refuse to pay” can give you additional legal rights. Tell them the same thing on the phone. Nearly all the debt collectors will give up after being told once or twice.

That’s it.


Now do NOT follow this plan if you have other money somewhere.  Or real estate. Or there’s a chance you could end up inheriting something. But for many people who just have social security, this plan of “doing nothing” works fine.




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May 2022

Colorado Bankruptcy Homestead Just Increased to $250,000

Posted by / in Virginia Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

In Bankruptcy, Can I Protect the Equity in My House?

Bankruptcy is set up by the Federal government, but each state sets its own rules on how much equity you can protect if you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  That protection is called your homestead exemption.  In April 2022, Colorado raised their homestead exemption from $75,000 to $250,000.

Colorado is one of five states that has increased their homestead since 2020. Let’s see how they compare.

California increased to $300,000

Colorado to $250,000

Connecticut to $250,000

Washington state to $125,000

Virginia to $30,000

July 2020 was when Virginia increased their homestead exemption from $5,000 to $30,000.  At the time that seemed like a big boost. And that did move us out of last place in the entire country.  But it’s still one of the lowest anywhere. 

Now the good news for most married people is that the Virginia’s homestead exemption is mainly needed by singles.

Homestead exemption

Virginia has one of the smallest homestead exemptions in the country.

Virginia Does Have a Better Rule for Married Couples       

Virginia recognizes tenancy by the entirety, which gives great protection to real estate owned by married couples.  Under tenancy by entirety, real estate owned by a married couple is safe from the creditors of only one.  Some married people, for cultural reasons or bad advice, put the house in only one name. And entirety doesn’t protect you for loans you co-signed for each other. 

Widows, divorced people, singles need the protection of a bankruptcy homestead exemption or Chapter 13

Widows, divorced people, singles and poorly advice married people need the protection of a homestead exemption. Virginia’s is near the bottom.  Now, having too much equity does NOT mean you automatically lose your house when you can’t pay your credit cards.  The bankruptcy court can help you with a Chapter 13. Chapter 13 is a payment plan through the bankruptcy court. That payment can be quite painful. Because the Virginia homestead exemption is one of the smallest in the country, people who could file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in most places end up in a Chapter 13 payment plan here.   

Want to know more about Virginia exemption law?    

I’ve written more about Virginia exemption law here.                


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Apr 2022

Penalties for Bankruptcy Fraud

Posted by / in General Information About Bankruptcy Law, Weekly Posts /

April 2022 saw courts dish out two big penalties for Bankruptcy Fraud.

In April 2022, over in the UK, former tennis great Boris Becker was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for bankruptcy fraud: hiding $3 million in assets during his case. Becker had landed bankruptcy in the UK back in 2017, because of a $5 million bank loan he couldn’t pay. It came to light later that he hid assets from the bankruptcy court.

Prison sentence of bankruptcy fraud

Boris Becker , former tennis great, gets over two years in prison for bankruptcy fraud

Also in April, closer to home, William Henry Romm, III, of Glen Allen Virginia, pled guilty to concealing $400,000 from the bankruptcy court in his Chapter 13 bankruptcy case.  He faces a possible 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced in August.  (Usually people who plead guilty don’t get the max.)

They Look for This Bankruptcy Fraud Stuff

There’s a government agency–the Office of the United States Trustee–that’s in charge of looking for this stuff.  (Sometimes it seems like they are just “neat paperwork” police, but their job is to catch bankruptcy fraud.)  In 2020, they recommended 2489 people for criminal law prosecution.                      

Tell the Truth to Your Bankruptcy Lawyer

For most people–usually–there are both legal and illegal ways to protect yourself and your property in bankruptcy.  Your lawyer can point you to the legal ways: as long as you tell your lawyer the truth. Also, now and then I have to warn some people they should never set foot in the bankruptcy court.


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Jan 2022

After Paying for Ten Years, Nina Got Public Service Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

After Paying for Ten Years, Nina Got Public Service Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

There’s very little bankruptcy law can do to help people with student loans. But as a bankruptcy lawyer, I can at least give people good advice.
Since 2017, I started steering people who seemed eligible to Public Service Student Loan Debt Forgiveness. Back then, hardly anyone I talked to had heard of it. The last year or so, most people I mentioned it to knew about it and were in.
Just Wednesday, Nina told me, her student loans had been forgiven. For me, that’s a first.
To get approved, you first have to be in public service. (That’s mainly government or a hospital, but it’s estimated that 25% of jobs in the US can count as public services jobs.) Next you have to make your payments for ten years. (Doesn’t have to be ten years in a row. Just a total of 120 payments.) The program was signed into law by President George Bush in 2007. So in theory, eligible people who signed up right away could have been approved starting in 2017–four years ago.
In that first year, 28,000 people applied for forgiveness, thinking they had completed the program Exactly 96 out of the 28,000 got approved.
For the first four years, more than 98% of the people who applied got rejected. (This is 98% rejection of the people who knew about the program and thought they had completed it!).

Joe Biden to the Rescue

Last October, the Department of Education changed the regulations on public service student loan debt forgiveness. They said that 550,000 people who had been turned down would now be eligible. I’m guessing Nina is one of these.

Student Loan Bankruptcy Reform Is Still Needed

It’s nice to have this program that targets people who work in government, or hospitals or other public service. We want good people to take those jobs.
Electrician is not eligible for public service student loan debt forgiveness

Running telephone wires is an important job. But people who run telephone wires, stock grocery shelves, or care for the elderly in nursing homes aren’t eligible for the public service student loan debt forgiveness that people working for government can get.

Still there are lots of jobs that are important to the country that don’t count as public service for that program. Running telephone wires. Repairing cars. Caring for the elderly in nursing homes. Stocking grocery shelves. Face it, many people who completed college and held a government job for at least ten years are pretty well off. (Even with her student loans cancelled, Nina is still in a tough sport. Mainly because her husband disappeared, leaving her with two kids.)

Every week I talk to people who will die in debt to their student loans. No way to pay; and no way to clear them. The 2020 Democratic Party Platform proposed to treat student loans like any other debt. Eligible for bankruptcy if you can’t pay. In this closely divided Congress, any reform needs Republican support. Very few Republicans are willing to get on board. The most visible Republican supporter of student loan bankruptcy reform, Rep John Katko, (R-NY), has announced he’s leaving Congress as the end of the year.
I’m excited for Nina. And for the half million people President Biden has helped be eligible for student loan forgiveness. But there are millions of Americans far worse off than Nina, whose financial lives are crippled–for a lifetime–because they cannot use bankruptcy, or something, to get out from under their student loans.

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