Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

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What options do small businesses have to deal with debt?

This economy has been tough on the small business owner. Many of the people I talk with are sole owners of a Limited Liability Company, S Corporation, or sole proprietorship. Invariably, the owner has invested a great deal of his or her own resources into the business to fuel their dream. Because small business ventures, especially start-ups, lack assets and reliable revenue streams, banks always insist that the company and the owner individually AND the owner’s spouse all co-sign any loans. They typically also insist on a lien against personal property, such as the family residence.

So, when a small business start-up becomes insolvent (which statistically accounts for the majority of new businesses) there is far more at stake than just the business assets. The home and other personal property are at stake as well. Because of what is at stake, many folks understandably push on past the point of wise investing and empty out retirement accounts and cash in other exempt assets to keep the business going just a little longer.

When the economy first began faltering, this strategy had some wisdom to it because everyone expected a rebound in a few months. Now, though, the new reality of our economy is setting in and fewer people are expecting a big turn around. Because of this, the small business owner is compelled to a new level of shrewd thinking.

However, what happens when one’s best laid plans simply are no match for sluggish sales? It basically boils down to two possibilities: 1) an out of court work-out, or 2) bankruptcy. The way to determine which route to go involves an analysis of debt, income and assets. One business owner I consulted with was being pressed very hard by creditors and wanted to do a bankruptcy, but when I reviewed the assets he had that were not encumbered (were not collateral on a debt) he realized how much he stood to lose in a bankruptcy. The analysis allowed him to explore an out of court restructuring of debt because he had a dollar number where it made sense to incur additional debt and a cut off point. In other words, the analysis gave him a make it or break it line. I’m happy to say he avoided bankruptcy and his business is still going.

Out of court work-outs are generally a good thing to attempt, but you have to be careful. I’ll visit that more in-depth soon. The other option is bankruptcy. If most of your total debt is from business debt (your home loan debt is non-business in nearly every instance, so that is often a stumbling point for this) then you can file a personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy without having to pass the means test (the test that sets a threshold of income for taking Chapter 7 bankruptcy). I say a personal bankruptcy because a business cannot receive a discharge from debt; only an individual, and as I said earlier, small business owners are on the hook individually 99 and 44/100s percent of the time. Whether or not the business also takes bankruptcy is a case by case analysis. Often, the company can be dissolved prior to filing bankruptcy and then a new business can be created afterwards. Sometimes the value of the business is so low that one can exempt their ownership interest.

Many small business owners have heard about Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This is an option to consider if you have too much at stake in terms of non-exempt assets (assets you stand to lose in a bankruptcy) to file a Chapter 7 but your creditors are unwilling to cooperate in a work-out. However, Chapter 11s are not a viable option for the overwhelming majority of small businesses because they are incredibly expensive. And, if any secured creditor has a perfected security interest against your cash collateral (including revenue coming in), then you are going to have to have a new source of funding on-line whether that is a new creditor who gets a super-priority position for the new value they bring or if it is an investor who will inject unencumbered cash.

January 3, 2012 - Posted by | Bankruptcy, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Property (exempt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] wrote a while back about strategies for dealing with debt for the small business owner. I will get more focused here about a key issue involved in a business related individual […]

    Pingback by Small businesses and the bankruptcy estate « Kentucky Bankruptcy Law | February 6, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] wrote a while back about strategies for dealing with debt for the small business owner. I will get more focused here about a key issue involved in a business related individual […]

    Pingback by Troutman & Napier, PLLC | Small businesses and the bankruptcy estate | December 8, 2014 | Reply

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