Thursday, May 19, 2011
I Have My Bankruptcy Discharge. Now What?
You should obtain a copy of your credit report immediately after receiving your bankruptcy discharge. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report from the “big three” credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, every twelve months. The easiest way to obtain your free credit report from each of these agencies is by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
After receiving your free credit reports, check each report for errors. First, any debt discharged by your bankruptcy should be listed as “Discharged in Bankruptcy” with a “Zero Balance.” Second, there should not be any negative activity reported after the date that you filed your bankruptcy case. This includes any new collection agency report after your filing date. Third, any debt that was reaffirmed should not be listed as “Discharged in Bankruptcy,” and should list your on-time payments. Finally, in some cases inaccurate information will be reported. For instance, a car voluntarily surrendered back to a creditor during a bankruptcy is not a “repossessed vehicle” and should not be reported as such.
Correcting any errors on your credit report is simple and easy. Each reporting agency has procedures from contesting erroneous information, either by mail or on-line. Once the credit agency has updated its records, it must issue you a free corrected report. Review this new report for errors; do not assume that the report has been correctly amended. You may need to correspond with the agency several times and supply documentation regarding your bankruptcy case. It is your responsibility to ensure that your credit report is accurate. Neither the bankruptcy court, nor your attorney, nor your creditors are responsible for sending the credit reporting agencies information regarding your bankruptcy case.
Updating and correcting your credit reports is the first step on the road to rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy. Fortunately, this step is free and takes very little effort. Be sure to correct your credit reports and then closely monitor your credit regularly for the first two years after your bankruptcy discharge. With timely payments and by carefully protecting your credit file, your credit score will increase quickly.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
One of the most serious questions a client may ask is, “If I file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, can I keep my vehicle?” Like many simple, straight-forward legal questions, there are no simple, straight-forward legal answers. However, while each case is different, the vast majority of bankruptcy debtors keep their vehicles during Chapter 7.
Keeping a vehicle during Chapter 7 bankruptcy starts with a simple accounting: is the fair market value of the vehicle more than the amount owed on the loan? In other words, does the debtor have equity in the vehicle? If there is no equity in the vehicle, the Chapter 7 trustee cannot take and sell it since there is no benefit to the unsecured creditors.
On the other hand, if there is vehicle equity, that equity must be protected otherwise the trustee can take and sell the vehicle to reach the unprotected equity. The vehicle’s equity may be protected by one or more legal exemptions. The total amount of exemptions available to a debtor is determined by state and/or federal law and varies from state to state, and case to case. In some cases the ownership of the vehicle may protect the vehicle’s equity, such as in cases of joint ownership with a non-filing party.
If the vehicle has unprotected, non-exempt equity, the debtor has a few options. First, instead of taking and selling the vehicle, the trustee may accept a cash payment. Generally this cash payment is less than the amount of available equity, because there are actual costs involved in selling the vehicle. Second, the debtor may consider a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A payment equal to the amount of non-exempt equity must be paid to the debtor’s unsecured creditors during the Chapter 13 plan, but this payment is stretched over 36-60 months. Third, the debtor may choose to allow the trustee to sell the vehicle. Any claimed exemption will be paid to the debtor from the proceeds of the sale. Finally, the debtor may choose to trade or sell the vehicle prior to bankruptcy and use any proceeds for necessary household expenses.
The truth is that it is rather unusual for a debtor to have a vehicle equity issue during Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you have a vehicle with a great deal of equity, your bankruptcy attorney can discuss your options for keeping your vehicle and protecting your equity.