On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. This follows the Small Business Reorganization Act (SBRA) that took effect in February 2020. Both of these measures have an impact on those contemplating bankruptcy, or already in the bankruptcy process. Across the United States, people have more household debt now than at the height of the recession – $14.15 trillion as of the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to $12.68 trillion during the third quarter of 2008. And now, millions of Americans are losing their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 15, nearly 10 million people have filed first-time jobless claims; many of them may be looking to bankruptcy for relief.
CARES Direct Payments
Included in the CARES Act are one-time payments to qualifying individuals of $1200 for anyone making under $75,000 annually, and $500 for each dependent child. If you have made more than $75,000, but less than $99,999, you will still receive a payment, though it will be less than $1,200. The amounts of the direct payments for individuals making more than $75,000 and couples making more than $150,000 will decrease $5 based on every $100 an individual makes over $75,000. An individual with an income of $76,000, for example, would receive a $1150 payment.
CARES and Bankruptcy
The CARES Act makes temporary changes to bankruptcy law. Those filing under Chapter 7 need to meet a means test; they must not make more than their state’s median household income. For Wisconsin, that is $62,629 (as of 2018). The CARES Act excludes the direct payment from that calculation. So for a debtor just on the borderline, this extra income will not count as “current monthly income” when determining eligibility to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Chapter 13 – Disposable Income
For those who have filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy, these direct payments will not count as “disposable income” for purposes of Chapter 13 plan confirmation. Those debtors are also now permitted to seek modifications of their confirmed Chapter 13 plans if “the debtor is experiencing or has experienced a material financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.” The modification can be approved after notice and a hearing.
Chapter 13 – Extended Payment Plan
Debtors experiencing such hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic are also allowed to extend their plan payments for up to seven years after the time that the first payment under their original confirmed plan was due. So if you had a repayment plan of three years, it can be extended another four years. This means that the payments you are currently responsible for would decrease, perhaps substantially..
SBRA and Bankruptcy
The SBRA amends Chapter 11 and creates Subchapter V which applies both to small businesses and to individuals. It significantly increases the amount to qualify for the bankruptcy process. Debtors can have up to $7,500,000 in secured and unsecured debt and still qualify to proceed under this streamlined bankruptcy process. Previously, the debt limit was $2,725,625. With 38 states in complete lockdown and all “nonessential” businesses closed to the public, small business owners can be feeling desperate. For many small business owners who are facing a sudden and dramatic drop in income, this may bring some hope. Small businesses filing under Subchapter V may have a clearer way to obtain relief and maintain their ownership of the business.
The measures that the federal government has put in place to protect the economy during this COVID-19 pandemic can provide some substantial relief to those considering or in the process of bankruptcy proceedings. It’s important to remember, though, that the provisions are temporary. These changes expire precisely one year after their introduction. So as of March 27, 2021, they end. If you are experiencing financial hardship, the CARES Act and SBRA may mean that it is the best time for you to file for bankruptcy. Consult one of the experts at Burr Law for guidance.