Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Five Common Bankruptcy Mistakes to Avoid

The federal bankruptcy laws promise a fresh financial start for the honest but unfortunate debtor. Bankruptcy balances the interests of the debtor to obtain his fresh start and the interests of the creditor to see that the debtor pays whatever he can afford. In some circumstances the debtor can complicate his bankruptcy case before he files.

Mistake #1: Paying an Insider Creditor
The bankruptcy laws attempt to ensure that all creditors receive fair treatment during the bankruptcy process. One concern is that the debtor will pay loans to family or friends before filing bankruptcy, and therefore deprive other creditors from receiving payment. Family, friends, business partners, and other creditors who have close relationships with the debtor are called “insider creditors” and transfers to insider creditors can be avoided by the bankruptcy trustee if the transfer occurred within one year before the bankruptcy filing. For instance, if you gave your mother $1,000 from your income tax refund as payment for a debt, and then filed bankruptcy two months later, the bankruptcy trustee can sue your mother to recover the $1,000. To make matters worse, often the debtor could have protected the cash money during the bankruptcy and paid the debt without difficulty after the case was filed.

Mistake #2: Incurring Debt After Deciding to File
Some people decide to charge up credit cards or take payday loans just before filing bankruptcy. If you have decided to file bankruptcy, do not incur additional debt. Taking loans with no intention to repay the creditor could be fraud. It could also be a criminal act.

Mistake #3: Transferring Property
Some people fear that they will lose property when they file bankruptcy. Some will give away or sell property to avoid losing it. In most cases your bankruptcy attorney can protect your property and you will not lose anything. However, once you have transferred an item it is no longer eligible for legal protections. For instance, a car worth $2,000 is likely entirely protected from turnover during your bankruptcy. If you transfer title of this vehicle to your brother before the bankruptcy, the trustee can avoid the transfer, take the car, and sell it to pay your creditors.

Mistake #4: Cashing out Retirement
Most retirement accounts are entirely protected during bankruptcy. Unfortunately, some people are unaware of these broad protections and cash out their retirement savings out of fear that it will be taken during the bankruptcy. Sometimes the money is spent to pay off loans which can create preference issues. In other cases the debtor converts an exempt asset (retirement funds) to a non-exempt asset (e.g. a paid off car).

Mistake #5: Failing to Be Honest
This is the worst mistake of all because the bankruptcy laws do not protect a dishonest debtor. Failure to truthfully list all of your assets, debts, income and expenses is grounds for dismissal of your case, or you may have to answer allegations of bankruptcy fraud (a federal crime).

If you are experiencing financial difficulty and are considering bankruptcy, discuss your case with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your bankruptcy attorney can advise you on the best actions to take before bankruptcy and how to avoid common mistakes. Use the federal bankruptcy laws and protect your property.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Can Bankruptcy Stop a Rental Eviction?

A person’s financial situation is often desperate by the time a bankruptcy is filed. In some circumstances the rent is past due and the debtor is facing eviction. Fortunately, the bankruptcy laws can help many debtors stay in their homes, at least temporarily.

Generally, when you file a bankruptcy petition all collection actions are automatically stayed. The purpose of this stay is to give you some breathing room and time to sort out your financial difficulties. If you are behind on rent payments, the bankruptcy automatic stays the commencement or continuation of an eviction action. The automatic stay prohibits your landlord from any attempt to collect rents that accrued prior to the bankruptcy filing date. Your landlord may not write or call you in an effort to collect these rents, and may not start or continue a lawsuit to evict you.

The bankruptcy automatic stay will not relieve you from your obligation to pay rent after the bankruptcy filing date. If you fall behind on your rent payments after the bankruptcy is filed, your landlord may evict you regardless of the bankruptcy, but cannot seek payment of past rents. If you are not behind on rents at the time the bankruptcy case is filed, your landlord is not a creditor and will not receive notice of your bankruptcy filing. However, you must account for any rent deposit on your bankruptcy schedules.

In some circumstances a landlord may complain to the bankruptcy court that the tenant is endangering the property or using controlled substances illegally on the property. The landlord must file a certification to the bankruptcy court and the tenant has 15 days to respond. The court must hold a hearing within 10 days. If the landlord is successful in this complaint, the court will lift the automatic stay and allow the eviction process to continue.

If your landlord has obtained a judgment for possession and order of eviction before you file bankruptcy, the legal process is more complex. You must deposit one month of rent to the bankruptcy court immediately upon filing the bankruptcy petition along with a certification stating that your landlord’s judgment permits you to stay in the premises upon satisfaction of the entire judgment amount. This filing stays the eviction process for thirty days. If you wish to remain longer, the amount stated in the judgment for possession must be paid within the thirty day period.

Bankruptcy can stop an eviction and give you time to move or make arrangements to stay. If you are facing eviction from your rental home and contemplating bankruptcy, discuss your situation with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Medical Treatment And Bankruptcy

It is no surprise that illness is a chief contributor to personal bankruptcy. In fact, a 2009 study released by Harvard researchers claims that 62% of all personal bankruptcies during 2007 were caused by health problems. Many individuals struggling with medical bills need relief, but worry about how a bankruptcy will affect their ability to receive medical care in the future.

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act hospitals and ambulance services are required to provide emergency healthcare to a person regardless of ability to pay. This federal law requires appropriate medical screening, necessary stabilization, and transfer to an appropriate facility for treatment of an emergency condition. In broad general terms, if you have an emergency medical condition, a hospital ER must treat you.

If you do not have an emergency medical condition, the hospital or doctor may refuse treatment to a bankruptcy debtor. It is unusual for a hospital to deny service after bankruptcy unless the patient demonstrates an inability to pay the new bill. If you have insurance or other form of guaranteed payment, the hospital will likely treat you.

Individual physicians are more likely to deny services if you have discharged their bill. Many bankruptcy debtors want to continue a relationship with their personal doctor, and consequently make payment arrangements after the bankruptcy has been filed. While the bankruptcy law requires the debtor to list every creditor, there is no prohibition against paying a debt after the bankruptcy. Paying the debt does not renew or create a new obligation and the doctor may not take action to collect a discharged debt (i.e. writing or calling to encourage payment).

If you need to include medical bills in your bankruptcy, but worry about receiving future medical care, consult with your bankruptcy attorney. In most cases there is no interruption in medical care or treatment. Know your legal rights and be informed of how your bankruptcy will affect your ability to receive medical care.