October 21, 2019

The F Word

No.  Not that F Word.

The word I am talking about is Forgiveness.

In particular, Debt Forgiveness.

Let go...or be dragged. -Zen Proverb

Let go…or be dragged.
-Zen Proverb

This can be achieved through Bankruptcy or Bankruptcy Alternatives.

I talk a lot about Bankruptcy, but it’s not for everyone.

So, what are the alternatives? Here are the top three:

  • Repayment with Workouts

(aka Debt Negotiation)

  • Debt Management with Strict Budgeting

(read our budgeting blog here)

  • Claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Don’t let your debt drag you down.

Let it go.

For more information, contact me here.

Sincerely,

Theresa Rose DeGray

Attorney at Law

PS: Debt Forgiveness may result in tax consequences; whereas Bankruptcy does not.

SCRA: Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act applies in bankruptcy cases. It provides protection to members of the military against the entry of default judgments and gives the court the ability to stay proceedings against military debtors.

Background

The Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) is found at 50 U.S.C. app. §§ 501 et seq. The purpose of the SCRA is strengthen and expedite national defense by giving servicemembers certain protections in civil actions. By providing for the temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect servicemembers during their military service, the SCRA enables servicemembers to focus their energy on the defense of the United States. Among other things, the SCRA allows for forbearance and reduced interest on certain obligations incurred prior to military service, and it restricts default judgments against servicemembers and rental evictions of servicemembers and all their dependents. The SCRA applies to all members of the United States military on active duty, and to U.S. citizens serving in the military of United States allies in the prosecution of a war or military action. The provisions of the SCRA generally end when a servicemember is discharged from active duty or within 90 days of discharge, or when the servicemember dies. Portions of the SCRA also apply to reservists and inductees who have received orders but not yet reported to active duty or induction into the military service.

General Provisions

There are three primary areas of coverage under the SCRA: (1) protection against the entry of default judgments; (2) stay of proceedings where the servicemember has notice of the proceeding; and (3) stay or vacation of execution of judgments, attachments and garnishments. 50 U.S.C. app. §§ 521, 522 and 524.

Protection Against Default Judgements

Section 521 of the SCRA establishes certain procedures that must be followed in all civil proceedings in order to protect servicemember defendants against the entry of default judgements. These procedures are outlined below:

  • If a defendant is in default for failure to appear in the action filed by the plaintiff, the plaintiff must file an affidavit (1) with the court before a default judgment may be entered. The affidavit must state whether the defendant is in the military, or that the plaintiff was unable to determine whether the defendant is in the military.
  • If, based on the filed affidavits, the court cannot determine whether the defendant is in the military, it may condition entry of judgment against the defendant upon the plaintiff’s filing of a bond. The bond would indemnify the defendant against any loss or damage incurred because of the judgment if the judgment is later set aside in whole or in part.
  • The court may not order entry of judgment against the defendant if the defendant is in the military until after the court appoints an attorney to represent the defendant.
  • If requested by counsel for a servicemember defendant, or upon the court’s own motion, the court will grant a stay of proceedings for no less than 90 days if it determines that (1) there may be a defense and the defense cannot be presented without the defendant’s presence; or (2) after due diligence the defendant’s attorney has not been able to contact the defendant or otherwise determine if a meritorious defense exists.
  • The court may, in its discretion, make further orders or enter further judgments to protect the rights of the defendant under the SCRA.
  • If a judgment is entered against the defendant while he or she is in military service or within 60 days of discharge from military service, and the defendant was prejudiced in making his or her defense because of his or her military service, the judgment may, upon application by the defendant, be opened by the court and the defendant may then provide a defense. Before the judgment may be opened, however, the defendant must show that he or she has a meritorious or legal defense to some or all of the action.

    Stay of Proceedings Where Servicemember Has Notice

    Outside the default context, and at any time before final judgement in a civil action, a person covered by the SCRA who has received notice of a proceeding may ask the court to stay the proceeding. 50 U.S.C. app. § 522. The court may also order a stay on its own motion. Id. The court will grant the servicemember’s stay application and will stay the proceeding for at least 90 days if the application includes: (1) a letter or other communication setting forth facts demonstrating that the individual’s current military duty requirements materially affect the servicemember’s ability to appear along with a date when the servicemember will be able to appear; and (2) a letter or other communication from the servicemember’s commanding officer stating that the servicemember’s current military duty prevents his or her appearance and that military leave is not authorized for the servicemember at the time of the letter. The court has discretion to grant additional stays upon further application.

    Stay or Vacation of Execution of Judgements, Attachments and Garnishments

    In addition to the court’s ability to regulate default judgments and stay proceedings, the court may on its own motion and must upon application: (1) stay the execution of any judgment or order entered against a servicemember; and (2) vacate or stay any attachment or garnishment of the servicemember’s property or assets, whether before or after judgment if it finds that the servicemember’s ability to comply with the judgment or garnishment is materially affected by military service. 50 U.S.C. app. § 524. The stay of execution may be ordered for any part of the servicemember’s military service plus 90 days after discharge from the service. The court may also order the servicemember to make installment payments during any stay ordered.

    Additional Protections

    Several additional rights are available under the SCRA. For example, when an action for compliance with a contract is stayed under the SCRA, contractual penalties do not accrue during the period of the stay. 50 U.S.C. app. § 523. The SCRA also provides in most instances that a landlord cannot evict a servicemember or dependants from a primary residence without a court order. In an eviction proceeding, the court may also adjust the lease obligations to protect the interests of the parties. 50 U.S.C. app. § 531. If the court stay the eviction proceeding, it may provide equitable relief to the landlord by ordering garnishment of a portion of the servicemember’s pay. Id. Under the SCRA a servicemember may terminate residential and automotive leases if he or she is transferred after the lease is made. 50 U.S.C. app. § 535. A court may also extend some of the protections afforded a servicemember under the SCRA to persons co-liable or secondarily liable on the servicemember’s obligation. 50 U.S.C. app. § 513.

Applicability to Bankruptcy Proceedings

The language of the SCRA states that it is generally applicable in any action or proceeding commenced in any court. 50 U.S.C. app. §§ 521, 522 and 524. Therefore, absent contravening language with respect to bankruptcy proceedings, the SCRA applies to all actions or proceedings before a bankruptcy court.

The applicability of the SCRA in bankruptcy proceedings is also evident in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. For example, the advisory committee note to Federal Rule for default judgments, Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b), states that it is directly affected by the SCRA. (2) Under Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7055 and 9014 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, Fed. R. Civ. P. 55 is applicable in bankruptcy adversary proceedings and contested matters. Thus, the default judgment protections of the SCRA clearly apply in bankruptcy cases.

The bankruptcy court clerk’s office is aware of the requirement that the plaintiff must provide an affidavit stating whether the defendant is in the military before default may be entered against the defendant. Bankruptcy Procedural Forms B260, B261A, and B261B, and their accompanying instructions, provide additional guidance concerning the applicability of the SCRA to default judgments and related procedural requirements.

SOURCE: SCRA. Servicemembers’ Civil Relief, Federal Courts Bankruptcy Basics Page

EVERYONE NEEDS A WILL!

If you are over the age of 18, you need an “Estate Plan,” especially if you have children.

A basic estate plan consists of three documents:

  1. A “Power of Attorney,” which appoints someone you choose who will have the power to do things on your behalf such as banking, real estate and other transactions if you are unable to do them yourself; please note that the only “power” this documents does not include, is the power to make health care decisions;
  2. A “Living Will,” which does two main things: appoints a health care agent (or someone to make your health care decisions) and designates organ donation; and
  3. A “Last Will and Testament.” This document only operates upon your death and it has two or three main functions, depending on your circumstances. First, it designates an “executor” to administer your estate in the Probate Court. Secondly, it directs your executor how to distribute your possessions. And lastly, if you have minor children, it appoints a guardian for your children to make sure they are taken care of by someone you trust instead of someone you don’t want to care for your children, like the state/DCF.

 

Contact Attorney Theresa Rose DeGray to discuss your personal Estate Plan today!

 

Not an April Fools Joke: Means Test Numbers Going Up!

2Means Test Numbers April 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find out if you qualify for FREE:

Qualification for Bankruptcy is based solely on income. It is calculated using your last six months of income. The Means Test used to determine qualification allows you to make up to certain amounts of money based on your state and household size. We’re excited about the new Means Test Numbers (above) as they are going up, therefore allowing many more people to file for Bankruptcy relief.

Please click here to schedule your free consultation which includes a FREE Means Test.

New Bankruptcy Form, Rules Take Effect

Individuals filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 must use a new form that presents their payment plan in a more uniform and transparent manner, and creditors will have less time to submit a proof of claim, under new bankruptcy rules and form amendments that took effect Dec. 1.

By creating greater uniformity of where specific types of information must be entered, the new national Chapter 13 plan form will make it easier for creditors, lawyers and judges to ensure that all elements of a bankruptcy agreement reached under Chapter 13 comply with federal laws. Chapter 13, sometimes known as the wage earner’s plan, enables qualified individual filers to reschedule and make debt payments, allowing them to keep their homes and other property.

Bankruptcy courts previously had relied on local versions of Chapter 13 plans, which varied from district to district, in resolving Chapter 13 cases. They now must either use a new national Bankruptcy Form 113, or create a locally adapted form that contains key elements of the national form. In recent months, courts have been updating electronic filing systems and notifying local bankruptcy lawyers and filers of the pending changes.

The deadline for creditors to file a proof of claim was revised in an amendment to Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 3002.

The new deadline will affect bankruptcies filed under Chapter 7, in which debtors liquidate assets; Chapter 12, which enables family farmers and fishermen to restructure their finances; and Chapter 13. Previously creditors had 90 days after an initial meeting of creditors was held. Now, a proof of claim must be submitted within 70 days of the filing of a bankruptcy petition.

Federal rules amendments typically follow a three-year process, which includes multiple layers of review and extensive public comment.

In April, the Supreme Court transmitted the new rules regarding bankruptcy, as well as amendments to Appellate and Civil Rules of Procedure, and Rules of Evidence, to Congress. The new rules took effect Dec. 1 when Congress did not act to prevent their implementation.

Find a full list of the new rules and form amendments and the Current Rules of Practice and Procedure. Find additional information about the bankruptcy process.

(Re-posted from http://www.uscourts.gov/news/2017/12/01/new-bankruptcy-form-rules-take-effect)

Role of the Courts [in Connecticut]

Maintaining Order – The judicial system in Connecticut exists to uphold the laws of the state. Our courts help to maintain order in our society by:

  • determining the guilt or innocence of persons accused of breaking the law;
  • resolving disputes involving civil or personal rights;
  • interpreting constitutional provisions of laws enacted by the legislature and deciding what is to be the law of the state when none exists for certain situations. The court decision then becomes a precedent to be applied in like situations unless later overruled or modified by the Supreme Court or the General Assembly; and,
  • determining whether a law violates the Constitution of either the State of Connecticut or the United States.

Separation of Powers – Under our constitution, the courts are one of three branches of government:

  • The Legislative Branch (the Senate and House of Representatives) is responsible for creating new laws.
  • The Executive Branch (the Governor and executive branch agencies) is responsible for enforcing them.
  • The Judicial Branch (the courts) is responsible for interpreting and upholding our laws.

Relationship of Connecticut Courts to Federal Courts
In Connecticut, as throughout the United States, there are two judicial systems. One is the state system, established under the authority of the state constitution; the other is the federal system, established under the United States Constitution. Connecticut courts are courts of general jurisdiction. These courts handle most criminal matters and a variety of civil matters, including contracts, personal injury cases, dissolution of marriage and other legal controversies. In some instances, decisions of state courts may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court if a question of federal constitutional law arises.

Federal courts have jurisdiction over matters involving federal law, and over the following matters: cases brought by the United States, cases between two states or the citizens of two different states, cases between a state and a foreign state or its citizens, admiralty and maritime cases, and cases affecting ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel.

(Reposted from the Connecticut Judicial Branch Website)

Process – Bankruptcy Basics

Article I, Section 8, of the United States Constitution authorizes Congress to enact “uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies.” Under this grant of authority, Congress enacted the “Bankruptcy Code” in 1978. The Bankruptcy Code, which is codified as title 11 of the United States Code, has been amended several times since its enactment. It is the uniform federal law that governs all bankruptcy cases.

The procedural aspects of the bankruptcy process are governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (often called the “Bankruptcy Rules”) and local rules of each bankruptcy court. The Bankruptcy Rules contain a set of official forms for use in bankruptcy cases. The Bankruptcy Code and Bankruptcy Rules (and local rules) set forth the formal legal procedures for dealing with the debt problems of individuals and businesses.

There is a bankruptcy court for each judicial district in the country. Each state has one or more districts. There are 90 bankruptcy districts across the country. The bankruptcy courts generally have their own clerk’s offices.

The court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases is the United States bankruptcy judge, a judicial officer of the United States district court. The bankruptcy judge may decide any matter connected with a bankruptcy case, such as eligibility to file or whether a debtor should receive a discharge of debts. Much of the bankruptcy process is administrative, however, and is conducted away from the courthouse. In cases under chapters 7, 12, or 13, and sometimes in chapter 11 cases, this administrative process is carried out by a trustee who is appointed to oversee the case.

A debtor’s involvement with the bankruptcy judge is usually very limited. A typical chapter 7 debtor will not appear in court and will not see the bankruptcy judge unless an objection is raised in the case. A chapter 13 debtor may only have to appear before the bankruptcy judge at a plan confirmation hearing. Usually, the only formal proceeding at which a debtor must appear is the meeting of creditors, which is usually held at the offices of the U.S. trustee. This meeting is informally called a “341 meeting” because section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code requires that the debtor attend this meeting so that creditors can question the debtor about debts and property.

A fundamental goal of the federal bankruptcy laws enacted by Congress is to give debtors a financial “fresh start” from burdensome debts. The Supreme Court made this point about the purpose of the bankruptcy law in a 1934 decision:

[I]t gives to the honest but unfortunate debtor…a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt.

Local Loan Co. v. Hunt, 292 U.S. 234, 244 (1934). This goal is accomplished through the bankruptcy discharge, which releases debtors from personal liability from specific debts and prohibits creditors from ever taking any action against the debtor to collect those debts. This publication describes the bankruptcy discharge in a question and answer format, discussing the timing of the discharge, the scope of the discharge (what debts are discharged and what debts are not discharged), objections to discharge, and revocation of the discharge. It also describes what a debtor can do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case is concluded.

Six basic types of bankruptcy cases are provided for under the Bankruptcy Code, each of which is discussed in this publication. The cases are traditionally given the names of the chapters that describe them.

Chapter 7, entitled Liquidation, contemplates an orderly, court-supervised procedure by which a trustee takes over the assets of the debtor’s estate, reduces them to cash, and makes distributions to creditors, subject to the debtor’s right to retain certain exempt property and the rights of secured creditors. Because there is usually little or no nonexempt property in most chapter 7 cases, there may not be an actual liquidation of the debtor’s assets. These cases are called “no-asset cases.” A creditor holding an unsecured claim will get a distribution from the bankruptcy estate only if the case is an asset case and the creditor files a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court. In most chapter 7 cases, if the debtor is an individual, he or she receives a discharge that releases him or her from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. The debtor normally receives a discharge just a few months after the petition is filed. Amendments to the Bankruptcy Code enacted in to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 require the application of a “means test” to determine whether individual consumer debtors qualify for relief under chapter 7. If such a debtor’s income is in excess of certain thresholds, the debtor may not be eligible for chapter 7 relief.

Chapter 9, entitled Adjustment of Debts of a Municipality, provides essentially for reorganization, much like a reorganization under chapter 11. Only a “municipality” may file under chapter 9, which includes cities and towns, as well as villages, counties, taxing districts, municipal utilities, and school districts.

Chapter 11, entitled Reorganization, ordinarily is used by commercial enterprises that desire to continue operating a business and repay creditors concurrently through a court-approved plan of reorganization. The chapter 11 debtor usually has the exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization for the first 120 days after it files the case and must provide creditors with a disclosure statement containing information adequate to enable creditors to evaluate the plan. The court ultimately approves (confirms) or disapproves the plan of reorganization. Under the confirmed plan, the debtor can reduce its debts by repaying a portion of its obligations and discharging others. The debtor can also terminate burdensome contracts and leases, recover assets, and rescale its operations in order to return to profitability. Under chapter 11, the debtor normally goes through a period of consolidation and emerges with a reduced debt load and a reorganized business.

Chapter 12, entitled Adjustment of Debts of a Family Farmer or Fisherman with Regular Annual Income, provides debt relief to family farmers and fishermen with regular income. The process under chapter 12 is very similar to that of chapter 13, under which the debtor proposes a plan to repay debts over a period of time – no more than three years unless the court approves a longer period, not exceeding five years. There is also a trustee in every chapter 12 case whose duties are very similar to those of a chapter 13 trustee. The chapter 12 trustee’s disbursement of payments to creditors under a confirmed plan parallels the procedure under chapter 13. Chapter 12 allows a family farmer or fisherman to continue to operate the business while the plan is being carried out.

Chapter 13, entitled Adjustment of Debts of an Individual With Regular Income, is designed for an individual debtor who has a regular source of income. Chapter 13 is often preferable to chapter 7 because it enables the debtor to keep a valuable asset, such as a house, and because it allows the debtor to propose a “plan” to repay creditors over time – usually three to five years. Chapter 13 is also used by consumer debtors who do not qualify for chapter 7 relief under the means test. At a confirmation hearing, the court either approves or disapproves the debtor’s repayment plan, depending on whether it meets the Bankruptcy Code’s requirements for confirmation. Chapter 13 is very different from chapter 7 since the chapter 13 debtor usually remains in possession of the property of the estate and makes payments to creditors, through the trustee, based on the debtor’s anticipated income over the life of the plan. Unlike chapter 7, the debtor does not receive an immediate discharge of debts. The debtor must complete the payments required under the plan before the discharge is received. The debtor is protected from lawsuits, garnishments, and other creditor actions while the plan is in effect. The discharge is also somewhat broader (i.e., more debts are eliminated) under chapter 13 than the discharge under chapter 7.

The purpose of Chapter 15, entitled Ancillary and Other Cross-Border Cases, is to provide an effective mechanism for dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency. This publication discusses the applicability of Chapter 15 where a debtor or its property is subject to the laws of the United States and one or more foreign countries.

In addition to the basic types of bankruptcy cases, Bankruptcy Basics provides an overview of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, which, among other things, provides protection to members of the military against the entry of default judgments and gives the court the ability to stay proceedings against military debtors.

This publication also contains a description of liquidation proceedings under the Securities Investor Protection Act (“SIPA”). Although the Bankruptcy Code provides for a stockbroker liquidation proceeding, it is far more likely that a failing brokerage firm will find itself involved in a SIPA proceeding. The purpose of SIPA is to return to investors securities and cash left with failed brokerages. Since being established by Congress in 1970, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation has protected investors who deposit stocks and bonds with brokerage firms by ensuring that every customer’s property is protected, up to $500,000 per customer.

The bankruptcy process is complex and relies on legal concepts like the “automatic stay,” “discharge,” “exemptions,” and “assume.” Therefore, the final chapter of this publication is a glossary of Bankruptcy Terminology which explains, in layman’s terms, most of the legal concepts that apply in cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code.

Reprinted from http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/process-bankruptcy-basics

CONTEMPLATING A BANKRUPTCY AFTER DIVORCE

Oftentimes Bankruptcy and Divorce go hand-in-hand.  If you are in the process of getting divorced, it would be wise to consult a consumer attorney to analyze your financial circumstances, ensuring all of your obligations will be accounted for in the Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement, and to determine if you can handle paying them once you go back to a single income after the divorce.  Bankruptcy may be a safe option once you are divorced if you find you cannot afford living on a single income.

If you will be taking the bulk of the debt once you separate and do not have the income to support it, you may consider filing for bankruptcy and starting over all together once the divorce is finalized.  Here are some topics that often arise from divorce when contemplating a bankruptcy or may lead you to file for bankruptcy after your divorce:

  1. Who will take the marital home and pay its related expenses?

If you are getting a divorce and taking over possession of the marital home, along with taking over the related expenses, especially the mortgage(s) on the home, be sure to have your Divorce Decree state the terms of this transfer accurately.

Also, making a budget before the divorce is final will help you determine if you will be able to afford to stay in the home.

If it is determined that you can, in fact, afford to live in the home after the divorce, then make sure the proper documents are recorded on the Land Records after the transfer.  This will give you a paper trial you may need to provide in your bankruptcy case later on.

  1. Will you be responsible for credit cards in your ex-spouses name?

If so, make sure the Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement spells out all debt you will be taking responsibility for once the divorce is final, along with the last four digits of any account numbers.  Once the divorce is final, be sure to contact each company in writing and have the accounts switched into your name.  Wait at least six weeks and then review your credit report(s) to ensure accurate reporting, so as not to inadvertently leave off a debt you are responsible for on your Bankruptcy petition, among other things.

  1. Will you be ordered to pay alimony or child support?

Keep in mind, that these particular types of “debts” are allowable deductible expenses in your Bankruptcy case; this means that they are taken into consideration when qualifying for Bankruptcy.  Also, it is important to note that court-ordered Alimony and Child Support are what is known in the Bankruptcy realm as “priority debts” and cannot be discharged in most cases.  (Taxes and loans involving the government are also included in the priority category.)  It is vitally important to have all obligations in this category fully defined and explained in your Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement, as you will likely be fulfilling these obligations regardless of ever filing for Bankruptcy.

Filing for bankruptcy after a divorce is not the end of the world.  In fact, it may be the best thing that ever happened to you, and will help you to move on and start fresh.

Gain Financial Freedom in your Pursuit of Happiness!

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Every year I re-read the Declaration of Independence and meditate on the amazing freedoms I enjoy (and sometimes admittedly, take for granted). This year I have been studying the history of Bankruptcy in America and came across this wonderful book called Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence by Bruce H. Mann.

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After reading a bit of this book, I realized how incredibility blessed we are to have the laws that allow us to file Bankruptcy with ease of process, and without judgment or fear. It wasn’t always that way and not everyone who suffered from crushing debt was given that second chance. It took years and a lot of legislation to get the laws where they are today; the laws that protect debtors from their creditors.

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I believe the secret to happiness is the freedom of choice. When you choose to take the first step to get out of debt you begin on the road to financial freedom. Bankruptcy will help you keep your home, relieve you of unsecured debt, keep your utilities on and give you the freedom to start over. It was the best thing that ever happened to me (read my personal Bankruptcy story here) and was my own declaration of independence.

25% Off Estate Planning / Reminders & Announcements

For the month of January 2017, all Estate Planning Packages are 25% off.  They include a Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney.  Also, we are announcing that we are moving from 74 Cherry Street to 50 Cherry Street, Milford, CT as of February 1, 2017, and we will be starting a new Blog/Vlog Series in February 2017 regarding the entire Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process!!

This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.