Saturday, May 15, 2010

Statement of Intention

The Bankruptcy Code directs the Chapter 7 debtor to file a statement of intention with the bankruptcy court within 30 days after the petition filing, or on or before the 341 Meeting of Creditors, whichever is earlier. A statement of intention advises the court, the bankruptcy trustee, and your creditors of how the debtor intends to treat secured collateral, like a car or home, in the bankruptcy.

The Bankruptcy Code also requires that the Chapter 7 debtor perform on that intention within 45 days after filing the statement. The Bankruptcy Code allows the debtor to choose one of the following: (1) surrender the collateral back to the creditor and discharge any personal liability; (2) reaffirm the debt and retain the collateral in exchange for continued personal liability on the original debt; or (3) redeem the collateral by paying the current fair market value in a lump sum.

Prior to the overhaul of the Bankruptcy Code in 2005, a Chapter 7 statement of intention had little relevance. Now the statement of intention can mean the difference between keeping and losing an automobile or other secured property.

Failure to timely file or perform on a statement of intention causes the automatic stay to be lifted and the property is longer a part of the bankruptcy case. In some cases, a purchase agreement may contain an ipso facto clause which creates a default on the loan by filing bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Code expressly nullifies ipso facto clauses, but only for property of the bankruptcy estate. Most courts find that ipso facto clauses are enforceable under state law when property is no longer a part of the bankruptcy estate.

Let me restate this situation in plain English: if you file bankruptcy and do not file or timely perform on a statement of intention, the property is no longer protected by the bankruptcy and can be repossessed by the creditor, even though you are current on the loan. This situation recently was discussed in a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Dumont v. Ford Motor Credit Company.

If you have an auto loan or other secured item you want to keep, discuss your options with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your attorney can help you reach the right decision for you and your family.

Thursday, May 13, 2010 Mobile, Panama City, Fairhope, Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola, Destin, Niceville

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Non-Dischargeable Debts in Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a federal legal process for declaring an inability of an individual or organization to pay its creditors. The United States Constitution authorizes the bankruptcy laws and federal laws govern all bankruptcy cases.

One stated purpose of the federal bankruptcy laws is to give the debtor a financial "fresh start." At the end of most cases the bankruptcy judge will discharge certain debts and release the debtor from personal liability.

The bankruptcy laws are meant to give the honest debtor a fresh start, but not a head start. Therefore, Congress has identified certain debts that cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy. Many debts that would ordinarily qualify for discharge may be determined as non-dischargeable if a debtor has committed a crime or fraud in acquiring the debt. Other debts are deemed generally non-dischargeable based on public policy reasons (like taxes or child support).

Generally, the following are non-dischargeable debts:

1. child support or alimony obligations, and debts considered in the nature of support;
2. student loans, unless repayment would cause you undue hardship;
3. criminal fines or restitution;
4. debts listed in a prior bankruptcy where debtor was denied a discharge;
5. recent income taxes less than three years past due; and
6. auto accident claims involving intoxication.

Additionally, there are circumstances which may make a debt non-dischargeable:

1. debts incurred on the basis of fraud;
2. debts from willful or malicious injury to another or another's property;
3. recent purchases with credit cards;
4. debts from larceny (theft), breach of trust or embezzlement; and
5. most federal, state and local taxes and any money borrowed on a credit card to pay those taxes.

All of the categories of non-dischargeable debts in bankruptcy have specific rules and exceptions and each situation has its own challenges. If you have a debt that may fall into a non-dischargeable category, discuss your situation with a qualified bankruptcy attorney and learn your options. Your attorney can provide options for managing, repaying, or discharging the debt.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The War On Error: Bankruptcy Attorneys Take Aim Against MERS

Around the country courts are questioning the standing of MERS to assert legal rights in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings. Many courts are finding that Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or “MERS,” is not a legal mortgage holder for lenders, investors and their loan servicers, and are invalidating bankruptcy claims or foreclosure processes.

On its website MERS describes itself:

"MERS is an innovative process that simplifies the way mortgage ownership and servicing rights are originated, sold and tracked. Created by the real estate finance industry, MERS eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans."

Since the mortgage bubble burst, MERS has come under increasing attack in state and federal courts. Some courts (most notably in Kansas, Florida, and New York) have found that MERS does not have standing to assert mortgage rights because it is a mere nominee, and not a mortgage assignee (an assignment of a mortgage without the debt transfers nothing. 55 Am. Jur. 2d, Mortgages § 1002). Additionally, MERS routinely skips legally required processes when a mortgage is transferred.

MERS is not the beneficiary of a Deed of Trust, and has no ownership or possession of a promissory note. Therefore, many courts are finding noncompliance with state laws. Recently one bankruptcy court in the State of New York invalidated a bankruptcy claim by MERS when the company could not show how it had standing in the case.

Many bankruptcy attorneys are demanding proof of assignment and documents establishing a paper trail for their client’s mortgage. In many cases MERS is unable to provide this information; much like collection companies often cannot prove a debt. Original documents, recorded deeds, payment history, and executed assignments seem to be inconsequential matters to the MERS powerhouse. Fortunately, MERS is now under attack and accused of not following legal processes. It will be very interesting to see how the state and federal appellate courts address the MERS debacle.

If you are dealing with an uncooperative mortgage company and need assistance saving your home, speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and discuss your options. There are many legal options available and your bankruptcy attorney can help you determine the best choice for your family.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can I Keep My House If I File Bankruptcy?

One of the most common and important questions asked by a client during the initial bankruptcy consultation is, “Can I keep my house?”

The happy answer is, “Yes.” However, every client’s case is different and requires a skilled and experience attorney to evaluate your situation and help you choose the appropriate debt relief process.

The first question is whether there is equity in your home. Every state allows the debtor to exempt home equity from creditors during bankruptcy. Home equity is simply the difference between the amount that is owed and what the property is worth. If you have more equity in your home than can be exempted, you may need to consider either a Chapter 13 repayment plan or a non-bankruptcy option for debt repayment. In a Chapter 13 the debtor pays the amount equal to the non-exempt home equity to unsecured creditors (like credit cards and medical bills) over a three to five year period. If Chapter 13 is not a feasible option, the debtor may want to consider borrowing against the home equity to pay unsecured creditors.

The second issue is whether you can afford to keep the home by making the monthly payments. A home mortgage is a secured debt which must be paid or you must surrender the property back to the mortgage holder. When circumstances have changed and you can no loner afford to keep your home, the bankruptcy laws can help you to leave on your terms without any lingering debt.

In some cases a third issue is present: the debt is more than the value of the house. In those cases bankruptcy may help either through lien stripping an entirely unsecured second mortgage, or by encouraging the mortgage holder to negotiate for a modification and reduction in principle. Typically the mortgage holder does not want your property, and is usually willing to discuss payment options once a bankruptcy case is filed.

Finally, some debtors are facing foreclosure from an uncooperative mortgage holder. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be used to force the mortgage holder to accept payments that cure mortgage arrears over three to five years.

There are many options available for saving your home. Your bankruptcy attorney can discuss the pros and cons of each and help you decide which option is best for your family. Use the federal law to your advantage and discover how the bankruptcy laws can help you keep your home.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bankruptcy Cases Per Capita

Nevada, Tennessee, and Georgia are the highest per capita states for bankruptcy filings according recently released data concerning the first quarter of 2010. Records from the Automated Access to Court Electronic Records show there were 378,990 total bankruptcies in the first quarter of 2010, up from 325,815 in the first quarter of 2009.

In Nevada residents filed 10.3 bankruptcies per 1,000 residents for the first quarter of 2010. Tennessee and Georgia filed 8.0 and 7.8 respectively. Alaska is the state with the lowest per capita filing with 1.5 filings per 1,000 residents. According to these statistics the average Nevadan is almost seven times more likely to file bankruptcy than the average Alaskan.

Below is a list of the state’s bankruptcy filings per capita:

1. Nevada 10.3
2. Tennessee 8.0
3. Georgia 7.8
4. Michigan 7.4
5. Alabama 7.1
6. Indiana 7.0
7. California 6.4
8. Illinois 6.4
9. Kentucky 6.1
10. Ohio 5.9
11. Colorado 5.9
12. Utah 5.8
13. Arizona 5.6
14. Arkansas 5.6
15. Florida 5.6
16. Wisconsin 5.3
17. Rhode Island 5.2
18. Missouri 5.1
19. Delaware 5.1
20. Mississippi 5.0
21. Maryland 5.0
22. Washington 4.9
23. Oregon 4.8
24. Virginia 4.7
25. New Jersey 4.5
26. New Hampshire 4.5
27. Idaho 4.4
28. Nebraska 4.3
29. Minnesota 4.2
30. Louisiana 3.9
31. Oklahoma 3.8
32. West Virginia 3.7
33. Kansas 3.6
34. Massachusetts 3.5
35. New Mexico 3.3
36. Iowa 3.3
37. Connecticut 3.2
38. Pennsylvania 3.0
39. Maine 2.9
40. Vermont 2.9
41. Hawaii 2.9
42. North Carolina 2.8
43. Montana 2.7
44. New York 2.7
45. Wyoming 2.5
46. Texas 2.2
47. South Dakota 2.2
48. North Dakota 2.2
49. District of Columbia 2.1
50. South Carolina 2.1
51. Alaska 1.5

If you are considering a personal bankruptcy, you are not alone! In this tough economy, many families file bankruptcy to relieve them from the pressures of overwhelming debt and to begin their fresh start to a brighter financial future. Have your case evaluated today from an experienced attorney and discover how the federal bankruptcy laws can help you.