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Apr 2023

Paying Your Mortgage with Money Order is a Bad Idea

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

Paying Your Mortgage with Money Orders is a Bad Idea

Handing somebody a money order to buy a car or something–that’s sometimes safer than cash.  But mailing a money order to pay your mortgage–that’s almost always a bad idea.

Mailing a money order is usually a mistake.

Norman mailed Selene money orders; now he can’t prove his mortgage is current.

Let me tell you about Norman.  Norman filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy with different lawyer.  He later came to see me in a panic. Selene, his mortgage company, has started to foreclose. “So have you paid on time for the fifteen month since the bankruptcy was over?” I asked.  “Absolutely,” he replied.  That was Friday.  Sunday afternoon, he sent proof.  Eleven cancelled checks and four sets of Western Union money orders.

We need to move quickly to stop that foreclosure but I don’t really have proof he made the payments. The cancelled checks–they show Selene got them.  But the money orders; who knows where they actually went.

Getting Proof from Western Union

We are sure glad Norman kept his receipts.  Western Union money orders have form on the back he can mail in–with $15.00–to track if the money orders were cashed.  And by whom.  That will be a total of $240 to track sixteen money orders.  (Western Union money orders are limited to $500; so Norman needed four money orders for each mortgage payment.)

If they haven’t been cashed, he can get his money back. If Selene cashed them, we can prove the mortgage is current. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward foreclosure.  Because Virginia foreclosure law was changed a few years ago, we do have enough time to work with. But no time to spare. 

Selene Violates Regulation Z and Makes This Problem Worse

When Norman filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, Selene stopped sending monthly to him. As far as I can tell, that’s their national policy. (I’m suing Selene because of that.) Regulation Z requires mortgage companies to send periodic statements. And expressly says that bankruptcy is NOT an excuse to stop sending statements.

If Selene had sent monthly statements, Norman could have seen right away if the money orders weren’t being properly credited.  When the case was over and Selene started sending statements, Norman couldn’t figure out what was going on.  We went to the Selene website to download the past monthly statements.  But they would only give us six months of past statements.




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Apr 2023

Inflation Adjustment on income–But not on Expenses

Posted by / in Weekly Posts /

Bankruptcy income eligibility got easier April 1, 2023

Income eligibility to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia got easier April 1, 2023.  The median income–that’s the cutoff for automatic eligibility based on income–shot up six to ten thousand dollars.

The median income for a family of four increased from $124,304 to $134,252.  For a family of three, from $102,791 to $111,017.  For a one person household from $69,791 to $75,376.

Budget Eligibility Did NOT Change

Family of five at grocery store.

The food and clothing allowance for a family of five is unchanged at $1651 per month.

Bankruptcy budget eligibility for people with higher incomes (incomes over the median) did NOT change. Families, and individuals, making more than those median incomes can often get approved for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But only if they can show budget eligibility on a “means test.” Some parts of the means test use actual expenses, but some are based on fixed allowances.  Those fixated allowances have not changed.  (The food and clothing allowance for a family of five is unchanged at $1651 per month.) 

Usually, the budget allowances increase on either May 1 or May 15.  If your eligibility is border line, not filing until May might get your Chapter 7 case approved.  (Or get you a lower payment in Chapter 13.)

Consumers Do Have a Friendly Person in Charge

These bankruptcy eligibility numbers are published by the Office of the United States Trustee.  In February 2023, the Biden administration appointed Tara Twomey to be in charge there.  Tara was previously Executive Director of the National Consumer Bankruptcy Rights Center and Of Counsel to the National Consumer Law Center.  Over the last ten years she did as much as any lawyer in the country to help consumers get favorable decisions pm close questions of law.  

Her office needs information from the Internal Revenue Service to publish the budget numbers. But I know Tara will pressure them in every way possible to get those numbers published on time.  





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Mar 2023

Ten Years Out of School and Still Struggling with Student Loans?

Posted by / in Blog, Student Loans and Bankruptcy, Weekly Posts /

Are You Ten Years Out of School and Still Struggling with Student Loans?

Recent student loan policy changes by the Biden Administration can help people still struggling with student loans. These are new rules making it possible to discharge your student loans in bankruptcy.  In bankruptcy, you can clear your federal student loans if you can clear these three hurdles.

1. You Have to Be Bankrupt

This new policy allows you to get rid of your student loans by filing bankruptcy.  In most cases to file bankruptcy, you have to be below the median income: that means, making less money that half the people in Virginia (or your state, where you are.) 

Image of struggling with student loan debt

Struggling with student loans.? The Biden administration new policy makes it much easier to discharge those debts in bankruptcy.

Before this new policy, you had to be almost starving.  Certainty of hopelessness was the rule.  Now, you have to be worse off than most people. Worse off than most people–that’s something you can show.  Under the old certainty-of-hopelessness rule, there was no chance.  “That door is nailed shut,” That’s what the bankruptcy chief judge here said under the old rule.

2. You Have to Be Ten Years Out of School

The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is ten years.  At the end of ten years, if you’d been able to stay on the standard plan, you’d be paid off.  This new policy agrees that ten years of struggling with student  loans is long enough.

3. You Have to Have Tried to Pay

This new policy gives you a lot of ways to show you tried to pay. Making payments is of course the best way to show you tried.  But there are others. Applying for a lower payment shows you tried. Applying for a payment deferment–surprise–shows you tried! Signing up with a scammer who promised to help–even that shows you tried!

Did you just blow off the student loans? Then this new student loan bankruptcy policy won’t help you. You have to have tried something.

This New Plan is NOT Automatic

Student loans are still not just another debt in bankruptcy.  (Before the Education Amendments of 1976, student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy just like any other debt.)  It’s a separate legal step and it requires its own court case–an adversary proceeding–and its own attestation form. It’s not automatic. The government and the judge have to agree. But if you can clear these three hurdles, you shoulds be able to clear your student loans.

Do I have to Be Ten Years Out of School to Be Eligible Under Biden’s New Policy?

There are other factors that can also work.  Never got your degree is one. Or a medical disability. Being over sixty-five. Or chronic unemployment.  If any of those factors apply to be, you may be able to clear your debts under the Biden Administration new policy.

Are Student Loans a Good Enough Reason to File Bankruptcy?

I’ve talked to over a thousand people who were struggling with student loans.  All of them had other financial problems too.  If student loans are part of a financial burden that you can’t carry any more, it’s time to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer.  

Want to Find Out More?

Getting your NSLDS is the first step to finding out if bankruptcy can clear your student loans.  The NSLDS is the National Student Loan Data System. Your NSLDS file will give you most of the info we need on your loan.  I have instructions on how to download your NSLDS file here. 

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