Monday, August 30, 2010

Don't Be On Your Own During Bankruptcy

A person who files a bankruptcy case without an attorney is called a pro se debtor. “Pro se” is Latin meaning “for oneself;” in other words, you are on your own. Being on your own during your bankruptcy may save a few upfront dollars, but can cost you plenty in the long run. There are many negative consequences that are often unexpected and sometimes disastrous.

The savings pro se debtors receive is minimal and the risk is great. Attorney fees during bankruptcy are supervised by the United States Bankruptcy Court. The federal bankruptcy law allows an attorney to collect reasonable compensation for services rendered during a bankruptcy case. Consequently, bankruptcy attorneys charge similar fees in order to stay competitive, and attorneys must disclose their fee to the bankruptcy court.

When you are represented by an experienced bankruptcy attorney you receive several benefits. Your attorney brings years of experience and knowledge in areas including the Federal Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the bankruptcy court’s local rules, federal bankruptcy case law, and state and federal exemption and collection laws. Your attorney is also familiar with the bankruptcy judge, the bankruptcy trustee, and local creditor practices.

When you are represented, you will have counsel at the Meeting of Creditors with the bankruptcy trustee. The trustee assumes that a pro se debtor has made errors in the bankruptcy, and will grill the pro se debtor and scrutinize the bankruptcy case. When you are represented, your attorney helps you answer any trustee questions, and can file motions and responses via the court’s electronic filing system. When you are on your own you must mail or personally file documents with the court and must appear before the bankruptcy judge to reaffirm a debt.

The federal law guarantees open access to the courts and permits self representation in lawsuits, including bankruptcy proceedings. However, the benefit of having an experienced bankruptcy attorney at your side far outweighs any savings proceeding on your own. Consult with an experienced attorney and discover how the federal bankruptcy laws can help you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The effects of debt can affect your credit, your health, and even your job. Calls to your work from debt collectors can interfere with your job performance. Requesting payday advances from your employer can cost you a raise or promotion. In some extreme cases your debt problem can even get you fired.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that 39 Defense Finance and Accounting Service employees will lose their jobs as a result of their bad credit ratings. In each case the employee mismanaged finances and failed to meet standards the government requires of employees who have access to sensitive information like Social Security numbers. While you may not have a government job that requires a security clearance, if your debt issues are affecting your job, it is time to get help.

Government and many private employers hold the opinion that excessive indebtedness increases the temptation to commit unethical or illegal acts in order to obtain funds to pay off debts. Private employers that are especially sensitive to their employees’ debt include banks and other financial institutions, retail stores, and any business where the employee might handle cash on a routine basis.

The federal bankruptcy laws can help you solve your debt problem without losing your job. Section 525 of the Bankruptcy Code prohibits a government or private employer from terminating or discriminating against an employee who files bankruptcy. The federal law clearly forbids an employer from firing you on account of your bankruptcy.

Many employers view bankruptcy as a resolution of a debt problem through a government approved process, which may positively reflect on the employee as an indication of financial responsibility. Eliminating your debts through bankruptcy may also decrease financial pressures and lessen the risk of unethical or illegal acts.

If your debts are affecting your job, consult with a bankruptcy attorney and explore your options. Bankruptcy is a federally guaranteed legal process that helps individuals recover from overwhelming financial hardship. Protect yourself and your job by getting the help and relief you need.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Honesty in Bankruptcy is Best Policy

Several courts have stated that the bankruptcy laws are meant to give an honest debtor a fresh start, but not a head start. It is important to understand that the bankruptcy laws in this country are very forgiving, but these laws require the debtor to make reasonable efforts to repay creditors. The debtor is obligated to disclose all income and assets to the bankruptcy court. From these disclosures the bankruptcy trustee, creditors, and the court are able to determine what, if anything, the debtor can afford to repay.

The debtor has a great responsibility to truthfully disclose income and assets to the best of his or her ability. The federal bankruptcy laws will relieve the honest debtor from the stress of overwhelming debt. However, the dishonest debtor can face serious consequences.

One consequence of failing to disclose income or assets is that the debtor may be denied a discharge. Section 727 of the Bankruptcy Code is designed to protect the integrity of the process and permits the court to dismiss the debtor’s case for dishonest acts like lying on the bankruptcy schedules, hiding assets, failing to maintain financial records, refusing to turn over records, and refusing to cooperate with the trustee. The court may deny the dishonest or uncooperative debtor a discharge under Section 727 and the debtor will remain liable for all debts. To make matters worse, any assets turned over during the case will still be administered by the bankruptcy trustee and the debtor may lose non-exempt property to creditors.

Another more serious consequence for the dishonest debtor is the prospect of being charged with bankruptcy fraud. The Federal Bureau of Investigation ordinarily investigates allegations of bankruptcy fraud, but other federal agencies may become involved including the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation’s Bankruptcy Fraud Program. Most bankruptcy fraud is first discovered by the bankruptcy trustee, and is often the result of whistle blowing from neighbors, creditors, or ex-souses. The Department of Justice Trustee Program encourages individuals to report bankruptcy fraud.

In bankruptcy, honesty is the best policy. For an individual who needs relief from overwhelming debt, bankruptcy is a tremendous tool that gives real results. The promise of bankruptcy is a fresh start, but not a head start. Debtors who are dishonest during the bankruptcy process can lose the benefits of a bankruptcy discharge, and may be criminally charged with one or more federal crimes. If you need help with your debt problem, speak honestly and frankly with an experienced attorney and learn how the powerful federal bankruptcy laws can help you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bankruptcy Can Help Build a Better Future

Pop quiz: What do Walt Disney, Mark Twain and Larry King have in common?

They each filed a personal bankruptcy and went on to have extraordinary success in life.

Bankruptcy is not a professional or financial death sentence. Just ask Donald Trump who has filed multiple Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcies for his casinos. Bankruptcy is a financial tool that uses the federal law to protect the honest, but unfortunate debtor. Bankruptcy allows the debtor the opportunity to restructure finances and formulate a plan to repay or discharge debt. Bankruptcy provides the debtor a fresh start to a new financial future – one free of the pressures from debt collectors.

Here’s another question: What honor did Kim Basinger and Burt Reynolds receive after filing personal bankruptcy?

Each was nominated for an Academy Award in 1997. Basinger won an Oscar for best supporting actress for L.A. Confidential, and Reynolds was nominated for best supporting actor for Boogie Nights.

Bankruptcy can help you and your family build a more solid financial foundation. Henry Ford created another automobile company after his first company filed bankruptcy. It’s safe to say that Ford Motor Company would not exist today without the help of the federal bankruptcy laws. The same can be said for General Motors, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.

How can bankruptcy help you? The bankruptcy laws can stop a foreclosure sale, a pending lawsuit, and creditor harassment. Bankruptcy can protect your family assets and retirement accounts from creditors. Bankruptcy can eliminate debt or give you time to repay loans including delinquent car and home payments. The federal bankruptcy laws helped over a million people get relief during 2009, including celebrities Stephen Baldwin, Sinbad, and Bernie Kosar.

As Abraham Lincoln (filed bankruptcy in 1833) once said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” If you are experiencing overwhelming financial difficulty, take the first step to a better future by speaking with an experienced bankruptcy attorney today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Bankruptcy Trustee is Not Your Friend

The United States Trustee Program is a component of the Department of Justice. The Trustee Program appoints and supervises local private trustees who administer Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy estates. One of the private trustee’s chief duties in Chapter 7 cases is to liquidate the debtor’s nonexempt assets and pay creditors with the proceeds. Similarly, in a Chapter 13 case the trustee must ensure that the debtor devotes all disposable income to debt repayment.

The trustee is not your friend, the judge, or your legal counsel. The trustee has no judicial power to make final decisions or issue orders regarding your bankruptcy case. While the private trustee is very skilled at bankruptcy law, the trustee is forbidden from giving the debtor legal advice.

On occasion a debtor will contact the trustee’s office with questions concerning the bankruptcy case. This is always a bad idea and often results in a negative outcome. Direct debtor contact is uncommon, so the trustee will identify and remember a debtor that personally contacts his or her office. The case may have been a “routine” bankruptcy case for the trustee, but after the debtor contact the case is squarely on the trustee’s radar. The trustee will assume there is a problem with the bankruptcy and scrutinize the case.

During a lawsuit direct communication with represented litigants is generally prohibited. Many trustees are also licensed attorneys, but may communicate directly with you while performing the duties of bankruptcy trustee. If you call the trustee, he or she will likely speak with you. And why not? You may inadvertently disclose something that is better left unsaid. What seems like an innocent and expedient communication may turn into an issue that you are unable to predict.

The bankruptcy trustee is not your friend. If you have questions concerning your bankruptcy, discuss your issues with your attorney. Your attorney can answer questions about your case, and is experienced in dealing with the bankruptcy trustee. Let your attorney represent you and do not complicate your case by communicating directly with the bankruptcy trustee.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lien Avoidance in Bankruptcy

Your bankruptcy attorney has many powerful to help you keep property while eliminating debt. One tool is lien avoidance, which is available to both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 debtors. The general rule in bankruptcy is that debts secured by a lien must be paid or the property must be surrendered to the creditor. However, under certain circumstances, a lien can be legally avoided without losing the property.

The Bankruptcy Code identifies two different types of liens that may be avoided during bankruptcy: (1) a judicial lien; and (2) a non-possessory, non-purchase money security interest in household goods or tools of the trade. Furthermore, to qualify for avoidance the debtor must be able to apply a bankruptcy exemption (a legal allowance to the debtor to protect property from creditors) to the property securing the debt.

Clear as mud, right?

Let's make it a little clearer: first, judicial liens are judgments and garnishments caused by a court order or judicial process. If your property is subject to a debt imposed by a court order, it may be possible to avoid the lien during bankruptcy. Statutory liens, like tax liens, are not avoidable in Chapter 7, but may be avoidable in Chapter 13.

Second, a non-possessory, non-purchase money security interest is simply a lien that you gave a creditor against property that you owned prior to incurring the debt and did not acquire using money from the creditor. A typical example is a personal bank loan secured by your television and/or other household items.

Finally, to qualify for lien avoidance, the debtor must be able to apply a legal exemption to the property. For instance, if you own a television worth $500 used as collateral for a $1,000 personal loan, you may be able to apply a legal exemption to protect the television and avoid the lien against it. Once the lien is avoided, the status of the debt changes from secured to unsecured and is likely discharged at the end of the bankruptcy case.

Additionally, if the legal exemption does not protect all of the value of the property, the lien may be reduced to the extent the lien secures the property. Using the above example, if the television is worth $500, but the debtor is only able to exempt $250 of its value, the creditor's lien would be reduced in value from $1,000 to $250 (the amount of non-exempt equity in the television).

To avoid a lien the debtor's attorney files a motion with the bankruptcy court alleging that the creditor's lien is impairing the debtor's exemption. Typically these motions are uncontested and are granted without hearing.

It is important that you provide your bankruptcy attorney with documentation for all of your loans. Your attorney can avoid certain liens during the bankruptcy that will safeguard your property after your bankruptcy discharge.