What You Can Keep After Filing for Bankruptcy

 

Many people believe that they will lose everything they own if they file for bankruptcy. Not true. In fact, most people who file for bankruptcy do not lose anything they own at all.

How can that be?

Well, the secret lies in…

Exemptions.

Most consumers file for Chapter 7 (or “liquidation”) bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7, exemptions determine what property you get to keep. If your property is exempt, whether it is your home, your car, your pensions, furniture, your clothes, etc., you can keep it during and after the bankruptcy. Exemptions protect your property and put it beyond the reach of the bankruptcy trustee (“trustee”).

If the property is nonexempt, then the trustee is entitled to sell it to pay your unsecured creditors.

In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it is the exemptions that determine how much you will have to pay to nonpriority, unsecured creditors.

If you are considering bankruptcy in Oregon or Washington, it’s important for you to understand how exemptions work and to know what property is exempt in those states. We can help. We have offices in Tigard, Salem, Albany, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Bend, and several other cities in Oregon. We also have offices in Vancouver and Tri-Cities in Washington.

A Little More About Exemptions.

Every state has its own set of bankruptcy exemptions and most states require that you use the state exemptions only. However, some states allow a debtor to choose whether to use state exemptions or federal bankruptcy exemptions. Like all states, Oregon has its own set of bankruptcy exemptions. But in Oregon, if you file for bankruptcy you can elect to use the federal bankruptcy exemptions instead of the Oregon state exemptions. In Washington, you can use either the federal exemptions or the state exemptions.

How Exemptions Work.

There is a lot to know about exemptions, but briefly, this is how it works: if you have property that is worth a certain dollar amount that is equal to or less than the exemption, you will be allowed to keep the property. If, on the other hand, the property’s value exceeds the exemption, it is highly likely that the trustee will sell that property and use it to pay your unsecured creditors. Why? Because the federal government assumes that honest debtors try to pay off their debts. So, if a debtor has excessive property, the federal government believes it should be sold to pay those debts. On the other hand, the bankruptcy laws are designed to give debtors a “fresh start” —– not to leave them destitute. As a result of these dual concepts, both state and federal bankruptcy laws provide debtors with property exemptions.  Generally, Chapter 7 exemptions are far lower, stricter and are less flexible than Chapter 13 exemptions.

 We Can Guide You Through It.

If you are considering bankruptcy and want to know what property exemptions you would be entitled to, contact us. We have offices throughout Oregon and in Washington, and we offer free consultations.

 

 

Bankruptcy in the Context of Divorce

 

Statistics show that 55% of all marriages end in divorce. And 39% of all divorced couples say that conflict over finances was the reason the marriage fell apart. Fights over money ruin relationships. That’s why we so often see divorce occurring when there is a bankruptcy. It’s because of this that it is critical to understand the intersection of the bankruptcy laws and divorce laws.

 What Comes First – Divorce or Bankruptcy? No Simple Answer.

If you are facing divorce and a bankruptcy, the first thing you need to consider is timing. You must decide whether to file for divorce first or for bankruptcy first. (Filing the two together causes significantly more problems.) How you answer that question depends on a number of things: your income, your spouse’s income, what type of bankruptcy you are filing for or qualify for (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13), what assets you have, the costs of divorce and bankruptcy, and more.

There is no easy answer to this question. You must take into account both the facts of your situation, the divorce laws, and the bankruptcy laws before you can come to a final decision. That’s why you should sit down with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to discuss your situation and what is best for you. We have offices throughout Oregon and in Washington, and we offer free consultations.

Here are just two things you need to think about when facing bankruptcy and divorce:

Divorce and the Automatic Stay
Once a bankruptcy is filed, whether it is a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13, the “automatic stay” immediately goes into effect. The automatic stay stops all attempts to collect on your debts and it freezes your assets and your property. The purpose of the stay is to allow the bankruptcy court time to sort through what debts you owe and what assets you have (if any) to pay them with. The automatic stay remains in place until your bankruptcy case is fully resolved (by discharge, dismissal or the case is closed).

Since dividing up a couple’s assets and property (in addition to other things) is what the divorce is all about, bankruptcy’s automatic stay means that the family court will be prevented from making any decisions or dividing up the marital property until the bankruptcy is completed. And that means that the divorce will take longer.

 What Type of Bankruptcy?

Another factor to consider is the type of bankruptcy that you should file for. A Chapter 7 (“liquidation”) bankruptcy requires that you meet the income requirements of the “means test.” If your income compared to certain expenses is too high, you will be required to file for Chapter 13 (“reorganization”) bankruptcy instead.

If there is a big difference between what you earn and what your spouse earns, it might make more sense to file for divorce before you file for bankruptcy. On the other hand, if you earn significantly less than your spouse and you file for bankruptcy individually after the divorce is final, you may have a better chance of qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Then there is the fact that if you both agree to file for bankruptcy jointly, you may not qualify for Chapter 7 as a couple, because the income amounts are based on household size, and the income maximum for two people is not twice that of one person.

The intersection of bankruptcy and divorce may be a common occurrence, but it is not a simple one to navigate. But the good news is that you do not need to try to figure all this out on your own. We are here to help.

 Let Us Help You Decide.

If you are facing filing a bankruptcy and either your spouse has filed for divorce, or you have both agreed to divorce, let us help you think through your options. We are bankruptcy attorneys with offices in a number of cities in Oregon. We also have offices in Vancouver and Tri-Cities in Washington. We offer free consultations and we can help you. To set up an appointment, call us toll free at: 1-800-682.9568 or contact us here.

Core Proceedings and the Bankruptcy Court

Let’s say you’re having a really, really, bad week. You were injured in a car accident, the extension the contractor put on your house fell apart and now you’re suing him for breach of contract, your wife just found out about your (latest) girlfriend and has filed for divorce, and you can’t pay your creditors, so you just filed a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In the middle of reeling from all of this you think to yourself, when I get into bankruptcy court, is the judge going to decide the liability, breach of contract and divorce cases too?

Good question.

When you file for bankruptcy, it is important to understand what matters the court will decide and what matters it won’t decide. Knowing the extent of the court’s  jurisdictional authority is one reason why it is important that you hire competent bankruptcy counsel to represent you. We have offices throughout Oregon and in Washington State. Our attorneys are experienced bankruptcy attorneys and they know the law.

The Bankruptcy Court’s Jurisdiction. Core Proceedings.

Bankruptcy courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. That means that they do not hear and decide everything and anything. Congress granted bankruptcy judges jurisdiction over certain issues, which are called “core proceedings.” A bankruptcy judge’s decisional power is generally limited to bankruptcy matters.

Core proceedings are proceedings or issues that are entirely related to the bankruptcy case. The bankruptcy judge has the power to hear and decide these matters and enter judgment on them. Some examples of core proceedings are: the bankruptcy trustee’s duties, matters concerning debtor exemptions, or proceedings to determine, decide or recover fraudulent transfers. There are many more, but this should give you some idea of what the bankruptcy court will hear and decide.

Non-core Proceedings.

Non-core proceedings are issues that arise in a bankruptcy case that are not technically bankruptcy matters. These are called “non-core proceedings.” Examples of non-core proceedings in our fact pattern above would be your divorce, the car accident and the breach of contract action against your contractor. These matters are not governed by bankruptcy law but by other state laws and they are not directly related to your bankruptcy.

However, that does not mean that the bankruptcy court cannot hear and decide issues that may be non-core proceedings yet are matters directly related to your bankruptcy. For example, in our fact pattern above, while the bankruptcy court will not decide your divorce (in other words, it won’t enter a dissolution of marriage), it may decide issues in the divorce case that are related to your bankruptcy— like division of the marital property.

If the bankruptcy judge makes a decision in a non-core proceeding, that decision cannot become a final judgment unless all parties consent. If the parties don’t consent, then the bankruptcy judge must submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to the Superior or Circuit court.

We Know the Law!

If you find any of this confusing, don’t worry. We are bankruptcy attorneys with offices in Tigard, Salem, Albany, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Bend, and several other cities in Oregon. We also have offices in Vancouver and Tri-Cities in Washington. We offer free consultations and we can help you. To set up an appointment, call us toll free at: 1-800-682.9568.

What the Automatic Stay Can and Cannot Do

 

One of the immediate benefits of filing bankruptcy is the relief that the Bankruptcy Code’s “automatic stay” gives to a debtor. The automatic stay brings all collection efforts against the debtor to a screeching halt. It prevents creditors from collecting on their debts until discharge, the case is closed, or the stay is lifted. The automatic stay goes into effect immediately— without need for a court order —and it applies to all of the chapters of the Bankruptcy Code. It has a very broad reach. But it’s reach is not limitless.

As you might expect, there are many things the automatic stay can do, but there are also some things it cannot do.

Let’s take a closer look at the powers of the automatic stay.

What the Automatic Stay Can Do.

The automatic stay is found in Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code. It prevents creditors from taking pretty much any action outside the supervision of the bankruptcy court that would give one creditor an unfair advantage over any other creditor.

Here are just two of the things the automatic stay prohibits:

  • Anyone from bringing or continuing any judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against the debtor that either was commenced before the bankruptcy was filed, or which could have been commenced before the bankruptcy was filed.
  • Enforcement of a pre-petition judgment against the estate (i.e., the bankruptcy estate), property of the estate, or the debtor. It prohibits all collection activity including: levies, garnishments, restraining notices and all post-judgment collection remedies.

What the Automatic Stay Cannot Do.

While the automatic stay applies to many actions against a debtor, as we said, it is not limitless. Here are just three things that the automatic stay cannot do:

  • Stop criminal proceedings. The automatic stay does not apply to criminal proceedings or criminal investigations against the debtor.  
  • Prevent tax audits or some actions to collect taxes. The automatic stay does not apply to prevent tax audits, notices or demands. It does not prevent all acts to collect any tax, or to enforce, create or perfect any tax lien. It doesn’t restrict the government from continuing with any tax audits. It won’t prevent the issuance of notices of tax deficiencies or a demand for tax returns or tax assessments.
  • Last forever. Generally, the automatic stay terminates on the happening of one of these events:

1. The case is dismissed;
2. The case is closed;
3. A discharge order is entered or denied by the court;
4. The property is no longer property of the bankruptcy estate; or
5. An order is entered that terminates, vacates or modifies the automatic stay.

Understanding the automatic stay— its reach and its limits —is very important. We have attorneys in Portland, Eugene, Coos Bay, Medford, and a number of other cities in Oregon and in Vancouver and the Tri-Cities in Washington, who can explain the reach of the automatic stay to you.

We Are Here To Help You.

If you are looking for relief from collections calls and creditors coming after you, the automatic stay may give you the break you need. We are experienced bankruptcy attorneys with offices in Washington and throughout Oregon. We offer free consultations, reasonable fees, and are committed to getting our clients the relief they need. To set up an appointment, call us toll free at: 1-800-682.9568 or contact us through our website.

What to Expect in Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling

The decision to file bankruptcy is not an easy one to make. Many people experience enormous distress, shame and embarrassment over their financial difficulties. Without question, declaring Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is no minor decision. But it just may be the right one for you. Especially if you cannot see any way of paying off your debt in the next 5 years.

Mandatory Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling.

Before you can file for bankruptcy, however, you must complete mandatory credit counseling and receive a certificate. Once you have completed the counseling and have your certificate, you must file it with the court along with your other bankruptcy forms. Credit counseling is mandatory. If you do not file a certificate of credit counseling with the court, the bankruptcy court will dismiss your case.

But why do you have to do mandatory credit counseling?

Its purpose is to ensure that bankruptcy is your only best option. In 2005, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) in response to the fact that many people who were financially capable of repaying their debts were using bankruptcy to have those debts discharged. This new law completely overhauled the bankruptcy law and made a number of important changes to bankruptcy rules and procedures. One of these changes was the requirement that debtors complete credit counseling both before filing bankruptcy and prior to discharge.

The purpose of pre-bankruptcy credit counseling is to provide an impartial look at whether or not a debtor really needs to file for bankruptcy.

The Where, When, and What of Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling.

Pre-bankruptcy credit counseling may be the most painless part of bankruptcy. It can be done in person, by phone, or online; and it usually doesn’t take more than a couple of hours.

The most important thing to remember is that you must complete the counseling before you file for bankruptcy. Upon completion, you will receive a certificate that is valid for 180 days. If you decide to file for bankruptcy, you will need to file that certificate with the court.

For your counseling session, you will want to bring with you (or have available) information about your debts and your income.

The counselor will discuss your financial situation with you and will talk to you about what non-bankruptcy options you may have. Counseling will most likely include:

  • A thorough review of your personal finances
  • A discussion of alternatives to bankruptcy
  • Personal budget plan.

The counseling will help you to understand how bankruptcy works and what you can do to avoid financial risk in the future.

We’ll Walk You Through it!

If you are concerned about whether or not you should file for bankruptcy, or have questions about what happens if you decide to file for bankruptcy, give us a call. We offer free consultations. We are experienced bankruptcy attorneys with offices in Tigard, Salem, Albany, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Bend, and several other cities in Oregon. We also have offices in Vancouver and Tri-Cities in Washington. You can call us toll free at: 1-800-682.9568.

Are All Debts Discharged in Chapter 7?

You may have heard that you can extinguish all of your debt completely in one fell swoop if you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In many cases, most of your debt can be discharged through a successful Chapter 7 filing, and all debts could potentially be discharged depending on the nature of the encumbrances. However, there are some debts that can never be discharged through bankruptcy.

 

For the most part, tax debts are not dischargeable. Tax liens and property taxes that have been assessed within a year of your bankruptcy filing date cannot be discharged.  If you are an employer, taxes that you are required to pay on behalf of your employees, like payroll taxes, can’t be discharged. Plus, sales taxes that have been paid to you by customers that you are supposed to pass along the government are not dischargeable. Though taxes are usually non-dischargeable, when very specific circumstances exist, it is possible to discharge some income tax debts.

 

If you are required to pay spousal support or alimony, the bankruptcy filing will do nothing to shield you from your responsibilities. The same thing is true for child support or any debts that you owe to your spouse that came about due to a dissolution of marriage. Any legal fees that you may have incurred during a child custody or child support matter would not be dischargeable. If you have financial obligations as a result of a judgment against you after a drunk driving accident that caused an injury, the debt will not be discharged in bankruptcy. You can see a complete list of non-dischargeable debts if you visit this page on the Cornell University Law School website.

 

The debts that we have been looking at simply cannot be discharged, but there can also be procedural barriers that prevent discharges when they could have otherwise been granted. You have to fill out detailed financial disclosure forms when you file for bankruptcy, and if anything is done incorrectly or dishonestly, discharges can be denied. You also have to complete a debtor education course to qualify for a discharge.

 

Set Up a Complimentary Bankruptcy Case Evaluation

 

A ready legal resource is just a phone call away if you would like to explore the debt relief avenues that may be available to you. We have locations in many metropolitan areas in Oregon, including Albany, Medford, and Eugene, and we also have offices that serve the Tri-Cities and Vancouver in Washington. To schedule an appointment, send us a message through the contact page on this website.

 

Am I Personally Responsible for My Business Debts?

Many people are in business for themselves, and being your own boss certainly has its advantages. Of course, there are certain responsibilities that go along with business ownership as well. The lay of the land can be a bit tricky when you are trying to determine whether you can be held personally responsible for debts that are incurred by your business. We will provide some insight in this blog post.

 

Business Formation

 

When you are starting your own business, you should be very discerning about the business entity that you choose, because it will have everything to do with personal responsibility for business debts. If you are a sole proprietor, there is no separation between you as an individual and the actions of your business. As a result, you would absolutely be responsible for debts incurred by the business. The same thing is true of a general partnership. Each partner is responsible for all of the partnership’s debts. It may not sound fair, but if you have personal assets, and your partner is insolvent, you would be responsible for all of the debts, not just your 50 percent share.

 

Things are different with limited liability companies and corporations. Generally speaking, you would not be personally responsible for business debts under these structures. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If you personally guarantee a business-related debt in writing, it would be your personal responsibility. This is not uncommon, because some vendors, leaseholders, and others know that the business entity would not be liable, so they insist on personal guarantees.

 

Of course, if you put personal property up as collateral for a loan that you will use for business purposes, the lender could seek to attach the property if you don’t pay the debt. If you use a personal line of credit or a credit card to infuse your business with resources, the business structure would do nothing to limit your liability. When you digest all of the above information, you can see why you should think long and hard about the business structure that you should utilize when you are establishing your enterprise.

 

Schedule a Complimentary Case Evaluation

 

If your business debt is becoming unmanageable, there are steps that you can take to ease the burden. We are here for you if you would like to discuss them with a licensed Portland, Oregon bankruptcy attorney. Our firm offers free consultations to people in The City of Roses and many other communities throughout the Beaver State. To schedule an appointment, call us toll-free at 1-800-682-9568.

 

 

Is Credit Card Debt Settlement Possible?

There are many different underlying reasons why people sometimes fall into unmanageable credit card debt: overspending, loss of income, unforeseen expenses. Before long, a person has exceeded their credit limit and the minimum payment is no longer just a drop in the bucket. Getting additional credit cards compounds the problem. In fairness, the credit card companies certainly set enticing traps on an ongoing basis as they continually dangle new credit offers.

Excessive credit card usage is certainly the root cause of some financial calamities, but many people fall into debt that they cannot handle through no fault of their own. Medical conditions that result in costly health care bills can lead to overwhelming credit card debt, and a period of unemployment can be another underlying cause.

If you do find yourself with credit card debt that you cannot pay, some credit card companies will work with you to one extent or another. The possible courses of action depend on the policies of the company, the amount of the debt, and the repayment time frame. If you are going to be late for the first time, but you will be able to make a payment a week or two after the due date, the company may be willing to change the payment date. When you are negotiating with your credit card settlement, you may ask them if they will be willing to reduce the interest rate or accept a lump-sum settlement of the debt.

Bankruptcy is also an option, and it can be a more attractive one when certain circumstances exist. With a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your credit card debt can be completely discharged which can be a huge relief. If you would like to discuss the possibilities with our firm, we will be more than glad to assist you. We can discuss with you the pros and cons of settlement verses bankruptcy. We offer free, no obligation case evaluations to people in Portland, Eugene, Medford, and residents of most other metropolitan areas in the state of Oregon. To set up an appointment, send us a message through our case evaluation request page.

Can I Negotiate a Debt Repayment Plan?

When you become incapable of keeping up with all of your creditors’ demands, you are naturally going to consider the possibility of a bankruptcy filing. In many cases, this is the best course of action, but you should understand all of your options so that you make the right decision.

There is a popular misconception that some people have with regard to bankruptcy. They assume that there is no debt repayment plan, because you are essentially waving the white flag as you file for a fresh start. In reality, the matter of repayment will depend upon the type of bankruptcy that is filed. If you can qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your unsecured debts will usually be discharged.

Chapter 13 Reorganization

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a court-ordered repayment plan. You do not have to surrender your property when you file for this type of bankruptcy. Your debt is reorganized, and your disposable income is utilized to pay the debt over a period of 3 to 5 years. You have to pay all of your priority debts, like taxes and child support, under the reorganization plan. Secured debt like your mortgage and car payments will also be prioritized if you decide to keep those items. Depending on the extent of your disposable income and the level of debt that you have, you may be able to pay a reduced amount to satisfy unsecured debts like credit card and medical bills.

Negotiating With Creditors

It is possible to negotiate with some creditors as an alternative to bankruptcy. Your mortgage lender may work with you if you can stay current going forward and make additional monthly payments to correct the arrears. Credit card companies may be willing to make arrangements with you, but some of them are more responsive than others. We have offices in a number of cities throughout the state of Oregon, including Medford, Salem, and Portland. Utility companies in Oregon typically offer deferred debt repayment plans and payment assistance if you are experiencing a hardship.

We are here to help if you will like to set up a case evaluation, and we offer these sessions free of charge. At the consultation we can get to know you, answer your questions, and help you take the appropriate actions if you decide to proceed. To set the wheels in motion, give us a call right now at 1-800-682-9568.

Is Bankruptcy My Only Option?

If your level of debt has become unmanageable, bankruptcy may be an option, but the ideal course of action will depend upon the circumstances. There are some situations that can be addressed without filing for bankruptcy, and you can always file at some future time if you find that there is really no viable alternative. Let’s look at a couple of basic scenarios that can potentially be resolved without a bankruptcy filing.

Stop Collection Agency Harassment

By law, debt collectors must adhere to certain statutory rules, but it is not entirely uncommon for them to step out of bounds. These guidelines are contained within The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that was enacted back in 1978. First and perhaps most importantly, if you choose to do so, you can send collectors a cease-and-desist letter, and they will be forced to discontinue the collection calls. Short of that, under provisions contained within the statute, debt collectors cannot contact you before eight a.m. or after nine p.m. Plus, they cannot contact you at work if they are aware of the fact that your employer does not allow you to take calls from collection agencies while you are on the job or if you have told them to not call you at work. If you have an attorney handling your debt relief efforts, the collectors will be required to speak with your lawyer and they will not be allowed to contact you personally.

There is also the matter of outright harassment. Debt collectors can be held liable if they threaten you with physical violence of any kind, and it is also illegal for them to threaten to mar your reputation. They are prohibited from using any foul or abusive language during their communications, and they must identify themselves as bill collectors when they contact you. If a bill collector violates any of these parameters, you can file a lawsuit to collect any damages that you may incur, and a successful judgment can include your legal fees and as much as $1000 in statutory damages.

Negotiate with Creditors

If credit card debt is the source of your financial difficulties, you can try to negotiate with the credit companies before the matter goes to a collection agency. Company policies vary, and the specifics of the situation will certainly be taken into account. You can ask if they will be willing to change your payment date, and you may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate. Under some circumstances, the company may be willing to provide a payment reduction on a temporary basis. These are a few possibilities, but there are others.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation

There are a number of different debt relief strategies that can be implemented, and it can be difficult to make the right choice without the appropriate legal advice. Our service area includes Eugene, Portland, Salem, Roseburg, and a number of other cities in Oregon and Washington. If you will like to discuss your options with a local bankruptcy attorney, you can set up a free consultation if you call us right now at 1-800-682-9568.