Bankruptcy Court: go ahead and make their day

The last thing you want to do when asking for bankruptcy protection is lie to the judge! A woman in upstate New York learned her lesson the hard way when a federal judge recently threw the book at her for failing to disclose that she could afford payments on her leased Mercedes. The 33 year-old was sentenced to two years of probation and 50 hours of community service. Luckily, for her, she pled guilty to defrauding the court, because had prosecutors needed to spend efforts further prosecuting the case she may have ended up behind bars.[i]

One of the comments to the article: “Simple mistake. I countless friends of mine have done the same thing.” Not Yet Hacked Bluesman (response to his comment: “Nice ‘friends’ you have!” seniorplus)

So, you think…”probation isn’t that big of a deal…I’ll risk fibbing…” Here are some of the results you might earn if you fail to list assets and the trustee and the court find out (as noted in a recent Nolo legal resource article[ii]).

  1. The court will disallow your discharge of debts. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 because you’re done and just wasted your time and money.
  2. Your bankruptcy case may still be active but you may not receive discharge protection but may have to sell or turn over assets while keeping debts.
  3. The trustee could revoke your discharge, and you will need to go back into repayment of your debts. This may happen at any time before or after your case is closed by the court.
  4. In subsequent bankruptcies you might not be able to discharge the debts involved during the bankruptcy proceedings in which you were not truthful.
  5. Criminal charges could be fined against you. As in the case of the “hidden Mercedes” payments, you could end up with a criminal conviction and sentencing. No fun.

If you want to learn more about bankruptcy proceedings, contact an attorney at Joseph Wrobel, Ltd. The firm’s website contains informative videos about financial issues as well as bankruptcy protection for families who want a fresh start. To keep in touch and read about consumer finance news and stories you can Like the firm’s Facebook page and Follow Joseph Wrobel. Ltd. on Twitter. If you need legal assistance please call Joseph Wrobel, Ltd. by dialing (312) 781-0996 to talk to an attorney.

[i] Syracuse News: Woman sentenced for not revealing money for Mercedes to bankruptcy court

[ii] Hiding Assets in Bankruptcy: It’s never a good idea to hide assets in bankruptcy. Here’s wny.

Child identity theft: Protecting your kids and their credit score

Imagine that your son or daughter is ready to start college and apply for student loans. You do your job as a financially prudent parent and talk to your kids about finances, budgets and the importance of credit. How would you react to learning that your child’s credit score was damaged due to identity theft? Can your family pay for college tuition and expenses if your son or daughter cannot get a student loan? It can happen to anyone, and often, child victims of identity theft do not learn about it until they are young adults and are denied credit.

Strangers as well as adult family members perpetrate child identity theft.

It may not occur to most people, but there are parents who take advantage of their children by using their social security numbers to obtain credit, often when their own credit reputations are damaged. Divorced parents who suspect their former spouse is using their child’s credit can order a copy of the child’s credit report and investigate suspected identity theft. In the event you discover fraud, an attorney can help. Credit damage experts can also get involved to suggest options to repair damaged credit and in some cases, assist in lawsuits against identity thieves.

Protecting your children from identity theft starts with an audit of the individuals and organizations having access to your son or daughter’s non-public information. The Federal Trade Commission website contains consumer information about identity theft prevention and states, “A child’s Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live. Check for a credit report to see if someone misused your child’s information. Take immediate action if it is.” You may be surprised how easily private information can travel and fall into the wrong hands. “Many school forms require personal and, sometimes, sensitive information. Find out how your child’s information is collected, used, stored, and thrown away. Your child’s personal information is protected by law. Asking schools and other organizations to safeguard your child’s information can help minimize your child’s risk of identity theft,” says the FTC.[i]

Take some time to review the resources offered by the Federal Trade Commission regarding child identity theft.

The FTC Child Identity Theft page on its website contains a list of warning signs and helps parents who want to check for a credit report to prevent and repair damage. Fraud alerts, credit freezes and other steps parents can take to protect their son or daughter are worth some time and consideration.[ii] Being aware of the risks and acting proactively can help families maintain peace of mind, especially as kids head to school this fall.

If you want to learn more about consumer credit, child identity theft and matters affecting a family’s finances, contact an attorney at Joseph Wrobel, Ltd. The firm’s website contains informative videos about financial issues as well as bankruptcy protection for families who want a fresh start. To keep in touch and read about consumer finance news and stories you can Like the firm’s Facebook page and Follow Joseph Wrobel. Ltd. on Twitter. If you do suspect your son or daughter is a victim of child identity theft and you need legal assistance and referral to other experts who can help please call Joseph Wrobel, Ltd. by dialing (312) 781-0996 to talk to an attorney.

[i] Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information on Child Identity Theft

[ii] Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information on Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes

Flash News Report – Foreclosure Rights Survive Bankruptcy – Full Story Below

In 2010, we filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for a client.  Among other assets, she owned a condominium that was burdened with a first and a second mortgage. She could no longer afford to pay both mortgage payments and the condominium assessments. As have many properties around he country, her condo had dropped a lot in value; it was not worth her while to keep it.

Her Chapter 7 went smoothly and she received her discharge.

I recently received the following email from this same client:

“Mr. Joseph Wrobel:

I received a summons in the mail on Dec. 23rd. I faxed it to your office so you could see exactly what it says. Is this just a formality or am I in more financial trouble?I assume since it’s a summons I do have to attend the court hearing on Feb 9. It says to contact the lender but I do not want the property so is there anything I should do now? This was filed by the second mortgage company. What are they going to do in court am I really going to have to pay the $198.00 filing fee and is there anything else they will make me pay. Thank you.”

This is a common scenario:  as part of the Chapter 7 process, many clients in our current economy
have decided that it is not worthwhile to retain the real estate that they own. They use the discharge that comes with the Chapter 7 to eliminate their legal obligation to pay their mortgages.

Often, at the time the Chapter 7 petition is filed, the mortgage company has not yet filed the foreclosure complaint. Clients are then surprised ( and often nervous ) when they later receive a summons to appear in foreclosure court. How can this happen? Understand that the Chapter 7 eliminates the ability of the mortgage lender to collect the debt. The debt was created by the “note” that was signed when the loan was taken out. However, the Chapter 7 does eliminate the rights that the mortgage lender has to foreclose. Those rights were created by the mortgage which is a lien against the property. Those rights survive the Chapter 7.

So how did I answer my client’s email?

You need not do anything. You need pay a filing fee, file an appearance or appear in court; you can ignore the whole thing. The foreclosure will run its course through the courts. Your bankruptcy protects you.

Don’t worry about it.

Happy New Year.

Why Do I Have To List All My Credit Cards?

“I went to this lawyer the other day and he told me that I can’t pick and choose who goes into my bk. Hey, what gives here? I gotta keep one of my Visas.”

Sorry, but you can’t. A petition in bankruptcy requires the complete disclosure of all financial information, which includes a complete listing of all your debts. What happens if you don’t? Your petition is signed under oath; you do not want to commit perjury by signing a false oath.

You might be able to keep one or more credit cards. First of all, you need to be able to afford to pay them. Secondly, the interest rate need to be sensible. How does one go about doing this? Wait a few weeks after your bankruptcy petition is filed. Contact the creditor. Find out if they will allow you to continue to charge on the credit card if you agree to pay them. If so, you still have a useable credit card. You probably have a better chance retaining a department store card. If the creditor says they will not, you have only wasted a little time on the telephone.

In general, retaining the use of a credit card is not the best idea since for many but not all clients, the credit cards caused the financial problems leading to bankruptcy.

But there is only $5.00 in my checking account

Something that I see routinely:  On our forms that we ask our clients to complete providing us with information about their finances so that we can provide proper advice to them, there is a section to list bank accounts. Every so often, a prospective client leaves this section completely blank. Although some clients do not have any checking or savings accounts, it is not a very common situation.  So I ask the client: “You have no checking and no savings accounts at all, even if there is nothing in the accounts?”  I am answered: “Oh yes, I do have a checking account at ‘so-and’so’ bank, but there is just five dollars in the account, so I didn’t list it since I didn’t think it mattered.”
BUT IT DOES MATTER: all bank accounts need to be listed, regardless of how little is in the account. The Bankruptcy Code requires complete disclosure of all assets. Anything less and you are risking adverse consequences against you. Your lawyer cannot properly represent you unless you have provided your lawyer with everything requested concerning your financial situation.

How In the World Did We Get Here? – The Making of Our Present Bankruptcy Law

In the late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s, the finance industry ( Visa, MasterCard, the major National Banks, the major automotive loan finance companies, the mortgage industry) complained to Congress about Americans who were filing bankruptcy. Why were they complaining?

“We are losing money”,  whined the companies-that-charge-you-outrageous-interest-on-your-credit-cards.  “You people are getting away with murder by filing bankruptcy when you really don’t need to”.  These “needless” bankruptcies supposedly were bad for the bottom line of the finance industry.

Indeed!!! I have been practicing for more than 37 years and I have NEVER had a client file a bankruptcy without there being an actual need to do so.

” Plus, these bankruptcy filers – they are all liars. They are hiding gobs of money and assets that they never tell anyone about.”

“And….. and….. and ….. you know what else?” said the whiny industry. ” It is way too easy to file a bankrutpcy. We need to make it harder”.

And so they did.

Millions of dollars were spent lobbying Congress and after years of lobbying efforts in Washington, a new bankruptcy law was voted into being by Congress. Welcome to BAPCPA, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, enacted in April, 2005 and Effective October 17, 2005.  (See what I mean? Congress used the word “abuse prevention”. ) As a bankruptcy attorney, my life became much more complicated once the new law went into effect. In fact, I know quite a number of attorneys who stopped handling bankruptcy cases once the new law went into effect. They found the learning curve too steep. What our Senators and Representatives did with the enactment of the current law which governs the bankruptcy process was to create a paper monster. I wish I owned the trees from which the paper is created for all the documents that are needed in order to properly prepare a bankruptcy petition.

Stay tuned. There is more to come.

Credit Counseling – Why Do I Have To Do It?

Many clients ask me: Why do I have to take a credit counseling class?  The simple answer is: the Bankruptcy Code requires it.

You may have paid your lawyer all of the fees required, you may have provided your lawyer with all the information necessary for a petition to be properly prepared, your petition may have been prepared, you may have signed it….but if you have not taken the pre-filing credit counseling session and provided a certificate of completion to your attorney, your petition cannot be filed.  Note that the bankruptcy petition cannot be filed the same day as the date of the certificate; the filing of the petition must be at least one day later than the date of the certificate

Many clients are fearful of the credit counseling: What will they ask? I don’t know what to say? What if I don’t pass? How much does it cost?

The credit counseling itself is extremely simple;  you cannot fail. You will be asked about income and living expenses; estimated answers are fine. The counseling can be done on the Internet, by telephone or in person. Make certain that you use an approved agency. There is a HUGE list of approved agencies at the following link:

The credit counseling is not expensive at all. There are some that are extremely inexpensive. Your attorney can provide with the “cheap” ones; our office does.

Keep in mind that in order to receive your Court-Ordered Discharge, which finalizes your bankruptcy, there is a second class that you must take called a Financial Management Class. Again, this can be done on the Internet, by telephone or in person. If you are filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois, our Chapter 13 Trustees offer the counseling free of charge AND…my clients told me that they actual learning something about budgeting and managing money.

Overview of Consumer Bankruptcy – Part II of II

What is Chapter 13?

Chapter 13 is a  payment plan procedure to pay back your debts. The petition and plan are file with the bankruptcy court so it is one of the two bankruptcies available to consumers.  Just about all of your debts are consolidated and instead of paying them individually, you make one monthly payment to the Chapter 13 Trustee for the county in which you live. The Trustee will use the monthly payment that you send in to repay your creditors over a period of time from three to five years.

Why does someone file Chapter 13 instead of Chapter 7?

There are a number of different reasons. Here are a few of them:

1) You filed a Chapter 7 less than eight years ago so you can’t file another one now

2) You own something worth too much money and it would be taken from you by a Chapter 7 Trustee and sold in order to pay your creditors from the sale

3) You cannot pass the Median Income/Means Test

4) You have one or more debts that you need to pay, such as a past due IRS debt

5) You want prevent a foreclosure from being filed or stop a foreclosure that has started. The monthly Chapter 13 plan payments will repay, over a period of time, the mortgage payments that have fallen past due.

As with a Chapter 7, the process involves the gathering of  information and documents in order to prepare a petition that is filed with the bankruptcy court. There is a meeting scheduled a few weeks after filing with the Chapter 13 Trustee’s office, followed a few weeks later by a court date for the matter to be recommended to the Judge for confirmation (approval) by the Chapter 13 Trustee. Upon completion of the plan, as with a Chapter 7, you receive an Order of Discharge signed by the Judge and you are now debt free, other than mortgages that you might have and possibly auto loans.

How much is the monthly payment? How many years will the plan run? Will creditors be paid in full or a percentage of what is owed them.

Determining a proper Chapter 13 plan ( proper meaning based upon the bankruptcy law) contains too many variable for this blog. Chapter 13 is almost much more complicated than a Chapter 7. Make sure that your attorney has sufficient experience and knowledge in the handling of Chapter 13 bankruptcies.

Overview of Consumer Bankruptcy – Part I of II

What is Chapter 7?

It is the most common type of consumer bankruptcy.

Why would I file?

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed in order to eliminate your obligation to pay your creditors: credit cards, pay-day loans, medical bills of all kinds, balances still due on repossessed automobile loans or foreclosed mortgages, etc., etc.

How is it started?

A petition needs to be prepared and filed with the Clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Your lawyer will prepare the petition. The petition contains a great deal of  financial information about you, including but not limited to: a list of creditors, a list of assets, a budget, answers to a series of financial questions and the Median Income Test. Preparing the petition requires the accumulation of many documents, among other things: copies of bills, collection letters, loan statements, law suits filed against you, tax returns pay stubs, etc., etc.

What happens after the Petition is filed?

As soon as your petition is filed, you are now protected against your creditors. Telephone calls must stop, nasty collection letters must stop, lawsuits cannot be started or continued, wage garnishments cannot be started or continued.

Meeting with the Trustee

Four to eight weeks after filing, you will have a meeting with the bankruptcy trustee that is assigned to your case. This is not a court appearance; it is simply a meeting and is generally much easier than you can possibly imagine and quite painless. The purpose of the meeting is to verify that you will be allowed to keep those things that you own that you want to keep, whether bank accounts, vehicles, real estate, furniture, etc. Very few people who file Chapter 7 have anything taken from them. (A reason to file the other type of consumer bankruptcy,  Chapter 13,  is to keep an asset that is worth too much money. If your uncle gave you a brand new automobile six months ago, and you came to see me to file a Chapter 7 to get rid of $50,000.00 worth of credit card debt and medical bills, I would tell you that you need to file a Chapter 13 and repay some of your debt to keep that car; that if you filed a Chapter 7, your car would be sold by the trustee.)

What happens after the meeting? You will soon have no more debt!

Just about 4 months after your petition has been filed,  you will receive a document  called “Order of Discharge”.  The Order of Discharge is the document that officially eliminates, forever, your legal obligation to pay the creditors that you owed at the time you filed your Chapter 7 petition.  Your case will not take 2 months, nor will it take 8 months; just about 4 months after it has been filed is when you will receive your discharge. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the only legal process that I know of where you know how long it will take and what will happen.

How Do I Know If I Should File?

Are you making just minimum payments on your credit cards? Do those credit card balances never get smaller? Are collection agencies calling you? Have you been summonsed to court?  These are all signs that a bankruptcy may be of great value to you.

Contact a local experienced bankruptcy attorney for advice. The initial consultation is free at any of our six offices; many bankruptcy attorneys also offer a free initial consultation. Don’t be afraid to disclose everything requested about your finances. Honest people who qualify for Chapter 7 receive a discharge of their debts.