Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

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Phone Adventures or “How does one get an “Account Transcript” from the IRS?”

This post is geared more towards attorneys practicing bankruptcy law, but it is useful to anyone trying to resolve income tax debt. I am following up on my last post about how to determine if income tax debt can be discharged in bankruptcy. First, as an attorney, you have to complete and have your client sign a Power of Attorney, Form 2848. Well, actually you have to back up a step further and obtain a CAF number from the IRS. You will need that CAF number in order to get anywhere with them.

Once the 2848 is completed, you send it in to the IRS so that they can either lose it or take weeks to process it. Oh, but do not worry, you can still proceed. You next want to get a Form 4506-T completed. You really should do this at the same time as the 2848 to save time. There are fax numbers of the back of the 4506 to send it to  and you only have to try that fax number a dozen or so times. More recent years can be obtained by calling the automated number for the IRS, but the transcripts can only be sent directly to the taxpayer’s address if you go that route.

Once the Account Transcripts come in, you need to look for those “520” codes I mentioned in the last post. If there are any on the transcripts, you will want to spend a leisurely afternoon on the phone listening to the Internal Revenue Services music interrupted by occasional transfers to different departments. Once you get to the right place, you will be grilled about who your are. They will look in the system and fail to find the 2848 that you had dutifully sent in per the instructions. Just go ahead and have a copy of the 2848 at hand because the person helping you will ask you to fax it directly to them.

Once that 2848 is in front of them, they will ask you to repeat information that is clearly spelled out on the form itself to “verify” things. It seems this only verifies that you faxed them the very same document they are looking at, but no matter. Now you are cooking with GAS – well, perhaps kerosene. It will just take a few seconds to get the closing code. If you want to forgo this whole experience, then look for a code “971” and see it there is one whose dates corresponds to the “520”. If so, you are safest to assume that the closing code is 77.

PS: By the by, attorneys, this is a time intensive and liability laden analysis, so be sure to charge separately from the bankruptcy for this procedure.

PPS: Be sure to get your client’s dates of birth – the IRS sometimes asks for this to verify that you are whom you say you are.

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Tax Debts | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Ramifications of Paying Off a Chapter 13 Early

I am often asked by Chapter 13 debtors if they can pay their Chapter 13 off early. This is a problematic question with no one clear answer. It is problematic because certain property of the debtor continues to come into the Chapter 13 estate while the bankruptcy is pending. This is different from a Chapter 7 where the property of the estate is established and remains static at the moment the bankruptcy is filed. The clearest example of this ongoing inclusion in a Chapter 13 are wages and other earned income of the debtor.

Since ongoing wages and earned income of the debtor comes into the estate of the Chapter 13 so long as the case is pending, then one cannot use those wages to pay your plan off early IF you were not below the median income on the means test OR you are paying 100% of unsecured debts in the Chapter 13. This makes sense because the idea with a Chapter 13 is that you repay creditors to the extent that you reasonably can. So, if you end up getting promotions or a better paying job during the bankruptcy, then you could reasonably pay a higher percentage of your unsecured debts.

Some Chapter 13 trustees require a new budget (Schedules I & J) to be submitted each year. If they see a substantial bump up in disposable income, they then require the plan to be modified to pay a higher percentage of the unsecured debts. In the Eastern District of Kentucky, the trustee does not automatically require this. However, if you begin to pay ahead on your Chapter 13 plan, they well may pay attention and decide you must be making more money. This can trigger a demand from the trustee for a new budget and probably a higher plan payment.

There are some things that clearly and unquestionably CAN be used to pay off a Chapter 13 plan early. If you use property of the estate that was exempt at the inception of the bankruptcy, such as a 401k account, then there should be no issue if you fell below the median on the means test. However, there are other things that need to be investigated and carefully considered by your attorney. Therefore, I must abstain from listing those things that are in the grey area here lest I miss some peculiarity of your situation.

January 27, 2014 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Discharge, Plan, Planning, Property (exempt | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Creative Can One Get?

Since I do not focus on a volume practice in bankruptcy and because I have become known as someone who is able and willing to tackle some unusual situations, I get to consult with debtors that have really tough circumstances. A recent case led me down a path of seeing just how creative I could be in a bankruptcy situation to forestall and ultimately pay their home loan lender. Anyone who has talked to me or read many of my posts know that I am quite fond of Chapter 13 bankruptcies. This is partly due to the flexibility afforded by them to accomplish many things, such as saving one’s house from foreclosure. So, I fully expected to find that a Chapter 13 would be the best vehicle to solving this client’s issue where they were nigh on losing their home.

In the scenario presented to me, the debtor had a sizable asset they had not been able to touch which was in trust but not much in ongoing income. The trust was not a spendthrift trust, or else we would not even venture far down this path. However, the debtor hoped that in bankruptcy, the trust assets could be obtained in order to pay their debts – likely at 100%. There are many twists and turns to this matter which I simply cannot go into here. Negotiating this one particular twist will just bring us to another turn and so the analysis is far more complicated than I am putting forth. Other issues involve the couple being unmarried and looking at who actually owns what. There are issues related to the automatic stay when a foreclosure has already been granted, but on appeal. And, just how tight the trust actually is will determine much. However, this particular issue I am focusing on may be helpful to others. In theory, the debtor’s notion of satisfying their debts with this currently unattainable asset is appealing.

We must look at 11 USC Sect. 1322(b)(8) to start the analysis. This section allows the plan proposed by the debtor to provide for payment of all or part of a claim from their property or property of the estate (let’s not worry about that distinction too much – it is often one and the same, but not always). The debtor can do this, in part, because under 11 USC Sect. 1306(b), the debtor remains in possession of all property of the estate. In other words, if you have property you cannot cover with exemption and you really want to keep that property, the way to be assured of that and file bankruptcy is in a Chapter 13. In a Chapter 7, what you cannot exempt is subject to being liquidated.

So far, so good – the debtor keeps the trust assets and keeps the house. Oh, but then we have to look at other provisions of the code. Next, we turn to 11 USC Sect. 1325 which requires that they are able to make payments. If my debtor’s only means to make payments on the plan is accessing their trust, then we run into a problem because there is no reasonable certainty that they will get into that trust in bankruptcy. After all, they were unsuccessful before considering bankruptcy. Because of this uncertainty and the absence of regular income, the plan may not get confirmed. The second barricade the debtor hits is the dreaded “adequate protection” called for in 11 USC Sect. 361. If they cannot protect the secured creditor’s interest in the Chapter 13, then they have no right to keep the asset securing the debt. In essence, this is a carve out of the Section 1306 provision.

Oh, but the secured property is land which typically increases in value; it does not decrease in value. However, in our situation, the amount owed on the property is far more than the value of the land under current market conditions. Still, we may be able to show adequate protection if we show that the value of the land is increasing faster that the debt is accruing interest and other allowed charges. Let us leave this one alone then, since it is driven by things I do not wish to get mired in.

The real problem I find myself up against is caused by the very provision that usually helps people out so much in a Chapter 13: Section 1306. When we combine the fact that the debtor keeps possession of their assets with the other nicety of Chapter 13s: the debtor has an absolute right to convert to a Chapter 7 or dismiss their Chapter 13 case, that is where get to the rub. My debtor cannot show that she can and will make payments to unsecured creditors as required by Section 1325 when she could dismiss the case as soon as she gets hold of the trust assets. Such a plan is unlikely to get confirmed.

Only if her income could pay an amount equal to the non-exempt asset could she get confirmed because there is one other hurdle not yet mentioned. The final hurdle is back in Section 1325 which basically says that creditors have to come out at least as well as or better than if the debtor filed a Chapter 7. This is the creditor’s “best interest” test that balances out the debtor’s benefits in Chapter 13s. In our case, if the debtor filed a Chapter 7 which cannot be converted dismissed without permission and where the assets of the estate go into the trustee’s hands, my debtor cannot pass this test.

Oddly enough, given many facts that I did not go into, this case is actually one where Chapter 7 gives a better likelihood of saving the house. The trustee would be vested with the ability to crack open that trust and has more resources with which to do it than the debtor in a Chapter 7. And, if successful, the home loan would still likely be paid in full even after the commission and other expenses.

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Adequate protection, Assets, Automatic Stay, Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Conversion, Discharge, Disposable Income, Disposable Income / Budget, Exemptions, Foreclosure, Plan | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things to be aware of when facing bankrutpcy #10

I have said it many times – nearly everyone who I help with bankruptcy has already gone beyond reason in trying to pay off their debts by the time they reach my door. This post is about one of those very common steps people take in being as responsible as they can for their financial obligations: emptying retirement accounts.

I am not going to say it is a mistake to empty retirement accounts to pay off debt, nor am I going to say it is a good idea. It is simply a choice. However, it is a choice that you need to make armed with knowledge. Under the Federal bankruptcy code, retirement account funds are exempt pursuant to 11 USC 522. If you have over a million dollars in an Individual Retirement Account, though, you need to make sure your attorney is aware of this so their can maximize exemption amounts.

So, if you take money out of retirement to pay off debts, you are converting exempt assets. This is all well and good if, by doing so, you avoid bankruptcy altogether. However, if it only buys time and you end up filing bankruptcy regardless of the valiant effort, then you simply have lost those funds down the black hole of debt. Additionally, you will have incurred extra taxes if you withdraw the funds or borrow them but are unable to repay timely.

These are funds that would have ridden through the bankruptcy and remained available to for starting over after all debts were discharged. It is very difficult to gauge whether the strategy of raiding retirement accounts will pay off or not. Therefore, I strongly recommend getting a third-party, preferably and attorney familiar with the bankruptcy code, to review your situation before you withdraw those funds. As my dad would say, “There’s no use throwing good money after bad!”

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Alternate Debt Relief, Assets, Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7 | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taxes & Bankruptcy

I write about this every year because it is a recurring issue for people facing bankruptcy. Taxes have a bearing on bankruptcy whether you are owed a refund or whether you owe the IRS. Therefore, they must always be taken into account, but it is especially important during this first handful of months each year.

The first thing to remember is that if you are owed a refund at the time of filing, that refund is an asset of the estate and must be reported in Schedule B and hopefully exempted in Schedule C. If you owe taxes, they are reported on either Schedule F or E depending on whether they are priority debts or not. Your attorney can help sort that out. Tax debt and tax refunds arise on December 31st each year. So, if you file a bankruptcy on January 1st, then you must account for the tax situation that arose from just the day before. So, even if you do not file your tax return until April 15th (or October if you file an extension) you either owe taxes for the year that just ended or you are getting a refund (rare indeed is the person who lands right at zero, but I suppose it happens).

If you owe taxes for the preceding year, they will be considered a “priority” debt and a debt that cannot be discharged. In a Chapter 7, the IRS and any state agency you owe taxes to will begin collection activity after your Chapter 7 is closed. In a Chapter 13, you will have to make sure you pay enough into the plan for those taxes to be paid in full over the life of the Chapter 13 along with 4% interest for federal income taxes and 5% interest on Kentucky income taxes.

If you are owed a refund, you need to report the refund as accurately as possible in your schedules of assets. This means you will likely have to run at least a rough draft of your tax return to get a good faith estimate of what is due back to you. Then, you will attempt to cover the entire amount in “wild card” exemptions. If you cannot exempt the entire amount, you will need to make a determination with help from your attorney as to whether you should wait until you receive the refund or press on.

If you decide to wait until you receive the refund, then the smart thing to do would be to pay for the bankruptcy and spend the money on necessities, such as food or needed repairs to you car. Do NOT use it to pay unsecured debt, especially not to relatives. Your attorney can help you know how much you can hold onto and exempt.

Your attorney can also help you determine if older income tax debts, such as those that arose a few years prior to the bankruptcy, will be discharged in your Chapter 7 or 13. All of this is acceptable pre-petition planning to make the most of the fresh start bankruptcy allows.

December 27, 2013 Posted by | attorney fees, Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Plan, Tax Debts, Tax refund, The estate | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Consolidation loan conundrum

I had a consult scheduled with a potential client recently who did not make it in. No worries, I just reached out to her to see if she wanted to reschedule. She declined because she had initiated a consolidation loan process to pull together all her outstanding unsecured debts under one, lower interest rate. She was getting this consolidation loan by refinancing her house and using up any equity in the house to secure the loan. I still offered to meet with her – for free even though I likely would see no business result from the meeting. I did not want to talk her out of this plan; I simply wanted to make sure she had full knowledge of all the ramifications. This is because I know people who have done this successfully and avoided bankruptcy. I have known others who did this and it ended up putting their home at risk.

Essentially, a consolidation loan like the own my potential client was wrangling does not reduce debt principal. It usually does reduce interest costs over the lifetime but, to be sure of this, one must factor in the closing costs and fees associated with an equity loan secured by your house. What does happen is that unsecured debt gets converted into secured debt. Secured loans offer lower interest rates because the risk of total loss on the loan is mitigated by the value of the property securing the loan. In other words, if you do not pay they take your house.

A bankruptcy, whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, shreds off most or all unsecured debt. So, in a bankruptcy situation, unsecured debt is good debt to have because you will not have it long. Secured debt does not pass away so quietly. You can sever the personal obligation to repay the debt, but there are only very narrow avenues by which the secured obligation – the liability on the property – can be done away with. An equity line on a house can only be completely discharged in a Chapter 13 IF there is absolutely zero equity to which the loan actually adheres.

So, if my potential client does follow through with this secured consolidation loan, then she has closed off the possibility of shedding that debt unless she sheds the house as well. This may be a great strategy. She may have enough income that is reliable enough to make that extra house payment and still meet her living expenses. I just want her to know that doing so commits her to that one way out of debt and to make that decision with as full knowledge as she can get. And, if it works out, I am glad for her. If it does not work out, well – perhaps I can still help her save the home with a Chapter 13.

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Alternate Debt Relief, Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Consolidation loan, Discharge, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Security interests | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That Pesky Equity Line of Credit

Many people who own a home have more than one loan secured against their residence. These junior liens (a consensual lien against real property is also called a mortgage) may be home equity lines of credit, business loans where the lender insisted on a personal residence as security, judgment liens, and so on. Judgment liens can be “stripped off” (the security interest ended) in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 if it cuts into the debtor’s exemption. 11 USC Sect 522(f)(A). However, voluntary liens (one the debtor consented to) are more challenging.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear that voluntary security interests against real estate in this neck of the woods (including Kentucky) cannot be stripped off in a Chapter 7. In re Talbert, 344 F.3d 555 (6th. Cir. 2003). They stuck with the pre-code rule that “real property liens emerge from bankruptcy unaffected.” Id. at 561. This case focused on the role of 11 USC Sect. 506 which provides for the determination of a secured debt status.

So, if the only way to save your home is to get rid of (strip off) a second or third mortgage, you must file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. However, the relief provided in a 13 is limited as well. If the loan is secured solely against the debtor’s real property which is also their principal residence, then the loan cannot be modified. 11 USC Sect. 1322(b)(2). The one exception to that takes us back to 11 USC Sect. 506: If the loan is completely underwater – that is, if there is zero equity in the property for the security interest to attach to (and I mean not even $1), then even such a loan can be stripped off and treated as wholly unsecured debt in the Chapter 13. When home prices were dropping consistently, this was a more common occurrence but it still happens.

What can be done with junior loans where there is some equity to which their lien attached? Well, this is where your bankruptcy attorney needs to take a careful look at the promissory notes, mortgages, and secured property. In an interesting case coming out of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit took a look at the meaning of the words “only”, “real property” and “principal residence” and found that they all three must come together for the 1322 protection to come into play. The In re Reinhardt, 563 F.3d 558 (6th. Cir. 2009) case involved a loan secured against a mobile home and the real property upon which it sat. Most would see that as real property which is the principal residence, but under Ohio law, the mobile home was personal property. Just like in Kentucky, that mobile home only became real property (affixed thereto) when the title was surrendered and the proper documents filed with the County Clerk.

Because the Reinhardt’s never surrendered the title of the mobile home, the loan was secured BOTH in the real property and an item of personal property. Therefore, the terms of the loan could be modified by the Chapter 13 plan. Basically, this means that the loan could be valued under 11 USC Sect. 506 and split into a secured claim and an unsecured claim. The part that was secured (equal to the value of the property at the time of the filing) would be paid in full (not necessarily in the plan though) and the rest would be paid pro-rata as with all the other unsecured debts. The other place where it is common for a loan to be secured against both one’s principal residence real estate and other property is with business loans. These lenders often want security in the home and in any assets of the business. However, this makes those loans vulnerable to modification (cram down).

Be sure that you bankruptcy attorney takes a careful look at all the factors that come into whether a secured debt with a lien against your home can be stripped off or crammed down.

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Exemptions, Foreclosure, Home loan modifications, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Property (exempt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things to be aware of when facing bankruptcy 9

If you have made it to an attorney and are preparing to file bankruptcy, then you have received a packet requesting a lot of information including a list of assets. Be sure to be complete in listing your assets. Now, I do not mean you need to count your skivvies or socks, but you do NOT want to exclude items of value (yes, do give an estimate of the number of outfits and wearing apparel in your household but no need for an exact inventory unless they are fancy designer clothes).

A few things that tend to get left off that list: life insurance policies (even term policies that have no cash value need to be listed), burial plots, and tax refunds. These are all out of sight and out of mind things that, nevertheless, are assets of your estate. Most people have enough exemptions to cover them, and so there is no down side to listing them. The up-side to listing them is a smooth bankruptcy.

November 4, 2013 Posted by | Assets, Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Discharge, Exemptions, Planning | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things to be aware of if facing bankruptcy 6

As a follow-up to my last warning post  where I talked about preferential payments including to insiders (friends and family members). I ended that post saying that after your bankruptcy is completed (discharge order, case closed) then you can repay anyone you like. This post is a caveat to that statement. Do not promise a creditor, whether friend or foe, that you will repay them afterwards. Simply let it be a nice surprise. T

You see, if you end up not paying them in full after the bankruptcy is over, your promise to pay could give them a legal argument to try to overcome the discharge of the debt. Basically, they would say that they relied upon your promise to their detriment and thus you defrauded them.  This could lead to that particular debt suddenly becoming non-discharged. This is an unlikely eventuality, but attorneys deal with such things all the time. So, it is best just to stay silent and pay if you can.

October 25, 2013 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Fraud, Fraud | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things to be aware of if facing bankruptcy 5

For the next installment of my warnings of things to avoid pre-bankruptcy, I want to speak to a big temptation. Many people, by the time they make their way to me, have already exhausted not only their own resources to stay fiscally afloat, but also the resources of friends and family. So, these same people who were responsible enough to do all they could to pay their debts, feel beholden to their friends and family to pay them back. I understand that. I would feel the same way. However, this can be hurtful to those same friends and family.

To pay any single creditor more than $600.00 in the ninety (90) days preceding bankruptcy is a preference. The trustee in your bankruptcy has the right to pursue recovery of those payments. When the payments were made to a friend or family member (an insider), that 90 day time-frame gets extended out a LONG way. In fact, you are required to self-report any such transfers occurring in the last year prior to the bankruptcy. However, the bankruptcy code actually allows the trustee to use state law in determining a preference to an insider. That means that in Kentucky, the trustee could pursue transfers to insiders made in the five (5) years preceding bankruptcy.

Now, do not panic. The transfer would have to be pretty substantial for a trustee to want to go after one really old. The point, though, is that you are not really doing your friends or family a favor by trying to pay them prior to the bankruptcy. This is because the trustee could go yank those funds right back from them. Then neither of your are helped. Rest assured, after the bankruptcy is completely over, you can pay whomever you like. They just cannot force your to pay them.

October 23, 2013 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Preference / Preferential payments | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment