A recent decision out of the Norther District of California Bankruptcy Court bolsters a position I have already been espousing. In re Christoff, 510 BR 876 (N.C. Cal. 2014) looked at 11 USC Sect. 523(a)(8) which makes three types of loans non-discharged unless certain things are proven in an adversary proceeding (a lawsuit within the bankrutpcy). The three types of loans are, in essence: government subsidized loans, IRS qualified education loans, and “an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship or stipend[.]” 11 USC Sect (a)(8)(A)(ii).
This case involved Meridian University directly funding the debtor’s studies in their Psychology program and whether that constituted the third type of debt above. The court ruled against Meridian because that statutes says “repay funds” thus requiring that actual funds are distributed. Instead, Meridian simply kept a “tab” of sorts of what the debtor owed them for tuition and fees. There was no third-party lender involved that distributed funds to Meridian or to the debtor.
I expect this would be the same outcome if such a debt discharge were challenged here in the Eastern District of Kentucky. This impacts many technical schools that simply charge the student debtor directly for tuition rather than involving an independent third-party lender. It is very good news for student debtors who went to such schools and then discover their training is not quite as marketable as the school led them to believe. So, the student debtor in the case above had student debt, but not a student loan.
Having a sheriff or constable hand you a summons and complaint (a lawsuit) is an awful feeling. If you have been served with a lawsuit, then you really should consult a lawyer about the particulars of the complaint. This post should not be a substitute for obtaining individualized legal advise. However, I also know that not everyone has access to legal representation. If you are being sued for non-payment of a debt, then you likely have a hard time finding the funds to retain counsel. So, I am offering a few pointers in filing an answer to a complaint in order to protect your interests.
First, though, I want to suggest you reach out to a modest means or pro bono legal clinic if you cannot obtain private counsel. In the Bluegrass area and Eastern Kentucky you can contact: Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, The Fayette County Bar Association, and AppalReD.
Again, this is not a substitute for legal advice:
In Kentucky, a state court lawsuit must be answered within twenty (20) days of being served with the complaint. If the 20th day falls on a weekend or holiday, you have until the next weekday to file your answer, though I always err on the side of filing it a day or two early. If your goal is to delay the lawsuit as long as possible while you pull things together for bankruptcy, then you will wait until the last day of your time before filing your answer (again, I shave a day off just for an abundance of caution). Filing an answer consists of delivering your original, signed answer to the clerk and mailing a copy to each lawyer (or unrepresented party) listed on the complaint you received by first class mail. You do not need to send it certified mail.
The answer consists of three parts. The first part is the “style” of the case. It is all the stuff on the heading of the complaint, except you do not have to list the addresses of the parties – just their names – and you call it an “Answer” rather than “Complaint”. The case number is the most important part because you want the clerk to file your answer in the right case.
The second part is where you either admit or deny the allegations in the complaint. This is where a bit of lawyer speak comes in: if do not know something for certain, but suspect it may be true, you can still deny it by saying “I cannot confirm or deny such and such allegation of the complaint, therefore I deny the same.” You must do this because anything you admit in your answer is not longer a controversy. So, if the lawsuit is filed by the original creditor that you borrowed money from, then you can admit that you owe them a debt, but still deny the exact amount they are claiming is owed. However, if the lawsuit is brought by a collection agency or a party claiming that the debt was assigned to them, you may suspect that to be true, but you really do not know for sure that it was assigned to them correctly. So, you can deny owing that party a debt altogether as well as the amount they claim is owed. You must sign this part of the answer, but do NOT sign for anyone else. If you and your spouse are being sued for the same debt, you each must sign the answer or risk being found to be practicing law without a license.
The third part must also be signed (so you will sign your answer twice). This part simply is a statement saying that you put a copy of your answer into the mail, US Post, first class postage, and then list each party or their lawyer and the address you mailed it to. Again, sign after this statement and make sure you actually do send a copy to that party or lawyer.
Filing the answer can either be hand delivery to the clerk or by mailing your answer in to the clerk. Either way, you also want to submit a cop of your answer along with the original so that the clerk can stamp it and hand the copy back to you. This is your proof of filing the answer just in case the clerks misplace the answer (they do have lots of cases to manage by the way). If you mail your answer in, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with the original and copy so the clerk can mail it back to you.
Filing an answer in a lawsuit simply prevents the plaintiff from a quick and easy default judgment against you. It forces them to produce proof to the court. They may do this by way of a Summary Judgment or it may end up being a hearing (especially if it is small claims court). Either way, it typically gains you extra time to either file bankruptcy or prepare a defense.
First of all, I want to clearly state that bankruptcy is not something to aspire to achieve. Almost no one wants to file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 and get a discharge of debts. Nearly everyone I talk to would rather have the means with which to pay their creditors. So, if you are reading this post, you have likely already tried everything you can think of to make things work and you are considering bankruptcy as a last resort. I can appreciate that. And I know that also means many of you have already gone past the point where wisdom would have you go. And that is why I hope to lay out some general principles as to when one should file bankruptcy. Everyone’s situation has its own unique twists and turns, so you should find a lawyer who will provide a free consultation to see if it is time for you to file.
If a creditor has filed a lawsuit against you to collect a debt because you have not had the means to pay it, then you likely should file.
If the only way you can pay all your bills next month is to take a loan out from your retirement account, you likely should file.
If your house has been sold at a foreclosure auction, you likely should file.
If your car has been repossessed and sold at auction for less than you owed on it, you likely should file.
If you are seriously considering utilizing a payday loan provider in order to stay afloat, you likely should file.
If you feel crushed by debt and you do not see an end in sight unless you win the lottery, you likely should file.
If your employer notified you that they just received a wage garnishment order, you likely should file.
The main thing is to not wait until you are right up against the wall. It takes time to properly assess a persons financial situation and make sure that a petition and schedules are accurately completed. This means that you have to pull together a lot of documents in a very short period of time. It is far better to seek counsel when the crisis is still off in the future a bit.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently put the question to rest as to whether a non-spousal inherited IRA could be exempted are retirement funds. In Clark v Rameker, 2014 WL 2608860 (US June 12, 2014), SCOTUS went against many lower courts by stating that an IRA that is inherited cannot be exempted as retirement funds under 11 USC Sect. 522(d)(12). This does not impact IRAs that are left from one spouse to another since a surviving spouse can “roll over” their deceased spouse’s IRA into their own existing IRA. However, IRAs that are left to children or other heirs lack certain legal characteristics of an IRA one set up for themselves and are not “funds set aside for the day an individual stops working.” That is, the individual who received the inheritance did not set the funds aside – the grantor set them aside.
A debtor filing bankruptcy can apply to the court to pay the filing fee in installments AFTER filing the petition. For example, the filing fee now for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $335.00. It can be really hard for a person to come up with that AND their attorney fees. Since their unpaid attorney fees would be discharged along with everything else in the bankruptcy, those nearly always have to be paid up front. But, the filing fees are a different matter since the court retains the power to dismiss the case if they go unpaid.
In the Eastern District of Kentucky, installment applications taking up to 120 days post-petition to pay the fees are routinely granted. However, there has been a shift in how the court handles those installments. Until recently, the clerks had a lot of latitude as to when those payments were made so long as they all were paid by the final deadline. NOW, though, if debtors run late on ANY of the installments, a Show Cause Order is being issued to make the debtor appear in court. If they cannot convince the judge that they have a good reason for running late, their bankruptcy may be dismissed.
So, if you are going the installment fee route and paying monthly payments of $83.75 for a Chapter 7, make sure you give yourself reminders. Also, you cannot pay by personal check. You either have to show up in person with exact change or you must mail in a money order for the exact amount. The courts system does not account for payments that are even a penny off. You can double or triple up (i.e. $167.5 or $251.25) or even pay it in full early. Just do not round up to $84.00.
I am glad to announce that Matthew D. Henderson will be joining Troutman & Napier, PLLC as an associate attorney. Matthew comes to us from the Fayette County Attorney’s office. Prior to that, he served as Judge Philpot’s judicial intern in Fayette Family Court. He will be bringing tremendous skills and knowledge in areas of criminal law and family law as well as estate planning and general litigation. With the addition of Matthew, Troutman & Napier, PLLC offers a full range of services and practice areas for our clients.
I posted awhile ago about a neighboring high-volume bankruptcy firms TV advertisements to “get your bankruptcy started for just $71.00″. I speculated on how they did that, but I have since learned what the deal is from a client who went to them first. She clearly was a candidate for a Chapter 7: below median income, no secured debt arrears, no priority debt, and nothing else that would lend itself to Chapter 13. However, she could not come up with the attorney fees to do the Chapter 7 right then. So, they offered to put her into a Chapter 13 with just $71.00 up front.
This seems like an acceptable approach. Basically the attorney is using the ability to have their fees paid through the Chapter 13 as administrative expenses. The up side for the debtor is that they get the relief from creditors including garnishment right away. The downside is that this is a much more expensive and involved process than the Chapter 7. Debtors need to be made aware of how much more they would pay in the long run for the Chapter 13 as compared to the Chapter 7 – sort of fair credit act kind of disclosure. Perhaps my colleague is giving that kind of disclosure – I have no reason to doubt that they are. If so, then I give them props for giving another option for debtors that needs relief from debt right away, but whom cannot afford the attorney fees.
The trustee’s office appears to be taking a closer look at expenses in Schedule J of Chapter 13 cases. Specifically, they appear to be pushing for decreasing recreational/entertainment expenses and miscellaneous expenses. Previously, this trustee’s office tended to utilize the standardized amounts provided for in the means test as a gauge. As a result, if a debtor reported a particular expense in excess of those amounts, I would encourage them to engage in “belt-tightening” in that area.
The interesting thing about those standardized expenses is people who make less money have lower expenses while people who make more money have higher expenses even when the family size is the same. In the prior approach, the trustee’s made some allowance for this dynamic. The trustee’s current approach seems to be to cram those relatively higher income families into the expense structure of the lower-income Chapter 13 families. Now, even if expenses fall within the standard allowance of the means test, the trustee is looking for deeper cuts.
On the surface, this seems fair – after all, why should richer people get to have higher expenses and still discharge their debts at the end? The problem comes down to human nature. Once people develop a set point of expenses, then it is extremely hard for them to do substantial cuts in those expenses. When one is talking about the extended timeframe of five years in a bankruptcy, well the likelihood of successfully maintaining extensive cuts drops dramatically.
So, what is the goal of Chapter 13? I suggest that we are best served when people successfully complete Chapter 13 plans. This will not happen when budgets are made so tight as to be unwieldy over time. Debtors will get into a tight spot with unexpected expenses and be unable to make their payments. This is not to suggest that people should get to engage in lavish lifestyles in a Chapter 13; rather, I suggest a balance between belt-tightening and sustainable budgets. Clothing makes for a good analogy: a really tight dress may look really trim and neat, but no one can wear it day in and day out. Rather, one needs slightly roomy clothes to go about their day-to-day business. Such an approach will increase Chapter 13 successful outcomes and, thus, increase the overall return to unsecured creditors.
I am an advocate for Chapter 13 bankruptcy because of its flexibility. Provision 11 USC Section. 1307(a) allows a debtor to convert to a Chapter 7 under certain circumstances. And, 1307(b) allows for the debtor to dismiss the case if they started out in a 13.
One reason for a voluntary dismissal came up just recently. The debtor’s situation had worsened. Ordinarily this would be cause for converting to a 7. However, they had also moved far away and it would cost more to come back to Kentucky for the Chapter 7 meeting of creditors than to dismiss here and file a new Chapter 7 there.
This information just released from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney’s (of which I am a member):
The Judicial Conference approved new filing fee increases effective June 1, 2014.
The administrative fee and a.p. filing fee increases are as follows:
The total new filing fee for each chapter will be as follows:
For filing a petition, or for filing a motion to divide a joint case, under Chapter 7: $335
For filing a petition, or for filing a motion to divide a joint case, under Chapter 12: $275
For filing a petition, or for filing a motion to divide a joint case, under Chapter 13: $310
For filing a petition under Chapter 9, 11, or 15: $1,717
- Student Debt v Student Loan – viva la difference!
- Answering a lawsuit on your own
- When should I file bankruptcy?
- Exemption issues with an inherited IRA
- Practice Tip: Filing fee installment payments
- Expanding Services
- The scoop on the $71.00 bankruptcy ad
- Trending in Chapter 13 in the Eastern District of Kentucky
- It is Time to Go
- It is getting downright expensive to file bankruptcy
- Car Cares and the Chapter 13 Dilemma
- Phone Adventures or “How does one get an “Account Transcript” from the IRS?”
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