COVID-19 Financial Relief: What Resources Are Available

The pandemic that is sweeping the world is causing untold suffering, and not only through illness and death. The financial implications of the lockdown to individuals and to businesses have yet to be fully understood. At the moment, everyone is wondering what financial relief is available. This post explores the possibilities open to individuals, businesses, and other entities.

Relief for Individuals

Economic Impact Payment

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the CARES Act that included a number of provisions for individuals. The most widely known is the Economic Impact Payment. The amount differed based on your tax filing status and income level, but generally, individuals received $1200 plus $500 per dependent child. By the beginning of May, the federal government had already sent out 110 million direct deposit transfers and 20 million paper checks. All payments ought to be received by the end of May. There is some talk that a second payment may be authorized in the summer.

Student Loan Payments Suspended

The CARES Act also suspended all federal student loan payments (including federal Parent Plus loans) for six months until the end of September. This happens automatically, and no interest will accrue on those loans during this period. Other student loan lenders are offering similar relief, though it likely is not automatically granted. If you have a student loan with an entity other than the federal government, contact it for help.

Expanded Unemployment Benefits

The federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 18, 2020, and among its numerous provisions, it expanded unemployment benefits. The typical unemployment benefits of $300 per week for 26 weeks have been expanded to 39 weeks, and for the first time, gig workers and freelancers can claim for unemployment benefits.

401(k) Penalties Waived

Generally, if you withdraw money from your 401(k) before retirement, you are subject to a hefty 10% penalty. This penalty has been waived, and you can now take as much as $100,000 from your retirement fund without penalty to help you through this time.

Private Companies

Credit card companies, auto lenders, and others are eager to help consumers through the COVID-19 crisis. If you find yourself temporarily unable to meet your debt obligations, contact your creditors. Various nonproft and charitable organizations are also offering grants to individuals. You can find information at GrantSpace.

Relief to Both Individuals and Small Businesses

Paid Sick Leave

Another part of the Families First bill is designed to help workers in smaller businesses deal with using sick leave to care for their families. It offers 100% pay for two weeks to anyone needing to care for family or needing to take personal sick leave. Companies with fewer than 500 employees will receive a tax credit on next year’s tax bill to offset the cost of providing 2 weeks of full-pay sick leave to their employees.

Relief for Small Businesses

Paycheck Protection Program

The CARES Act included $350 billion for the Payment Protections Program, designed to allow small businesses to continue paying their employees during the lockdown. That original amount was gone within 2 weeks, and many in the public decried the companies approved, as they did not fit the small business category. Congress has approved an additional $320 billion, and these applications are being more stringently examined. The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center has information and assistance about this program.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Other Programs

The Small Business Administration has Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) funds available, though at the moment applications are being accepted from agricultural businesses only. Again, the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center has dedicated staff to help you understand and apply for these loans. This page can also guide you to other programs that provide relief to small businesses.

Other grants and Relief for Small Businesses

There are a number of programs to help small businesses survive COVID-19. Some have specific requirements to qualify (like the Ethnic Minority Emergency Grant). The best way to get the information you need is to look at the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center site or at the national list on Grantspace.

If you cannot find a financially sound way through the COVID-19 crisis, individual and business bankruptcy may be a viable option. Call the experts at Burr Law. We’re here for you.

Bankruptcy in Retail Stores: How the Process Works

Retail stores have been struggling since the advent of TV shopping networks and online shopping. Now, with most retail businesses closed down for weeks due to COVID-19, the situation may have become really dire. Many retail businesses may be considering bankruptcy. This post explores the bankruptcy process for retail stores, and complications that may arise because of the pandemic.

Different Types of Bankruptcy

Most businesses choose to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy rather than Chapter 7. Chapter 7 is a straight forward liquidation proceeding where all assets are sold off and creditors paid as much as possible from those funds. The court appoints a trustee who conducts the liquidation. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a reorganization of the business that allows it to continue to trade in the marketplace while repaying creditors. Generally, the business itself proposes the reorganization plan. It is also possible to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy more than once, without an onerous waiting period. This is informally called Chapter 22 bankruptcy. We will concentrate on the Chapter 11 process here.

Typical Court Process

When a retail business is considering bankruptcy, the obvious first step is consultation with expert attorneys. The professionals at Burr Law have years of experience dealing with bankruptcy and can guide you through the complexities of the process. When you file for Chapter 11 relief in bankruptcy court, no trustee is appointed. Instead, you become the Debtor in Possession (DIP). You have the exclusive right to propose a reorganization plan for at least 4 months and up to 18 months. Once you do so, your creditors need to agree to the plan, and the court needs to approve it. That is called confirmation and in doing so, the court will decide whether the plan demonstrates 4 factors: feasibility, good faith, best interests of the creditors, and fairness. The whole thing usually takes between 6 months to 2 years.

Typical Business Process

Because you are the DIP, you continue to run your business. With expert advice, you can decide what product lines to discontinue, what marketing strategies to change, and whether some stores need to close. The bankruptcy court must approve any sale of assets, lease agreements, and financing arrangements (mortgages or other secured financing). Usually, it takes 4 months to plan and run a going-out-of-business sale, so there’s a lot of analysis and decision making that needs to happen in a short amount of time. The key, though, is that you get to make those decisions, not the bankruptcy court.

COVID Complications

The aftermath of this pandemic creates unique difficulties for both the court and the business parts of the bankruptcy procedure. Experts anticipate that the numbers of bankruptcy will rise significantly, both personal and business. That means that the bankruptcy court will be flooded with cases, and delays due to packed court schedules may result. Bankruptcy judges may feel pressured to rush through cases, causing precipitous decisions detrimental to those involved. On the business side, with many states still imposing retail store closures, going-out-of-business sales simply cannot happen. And the kind of predictive analysis required to decide about customer traffic and buying behavior will be extremely difficult.

Best Advice: File Now

As a retail business in financial trouble, it may be wisest to file now. You may be able to avoid the overcrowded bankruptcy court schedule, or be at the top of the list. And with the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, stores are able to open and hold those important going-out-of-business sales, except for some local restrictions. The bankruptcy experts at Burr Law can help you navigate the process.

How Will the New Stimulus Bill Affect Bankruptcy?

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

Chapter 7

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.

How Can I Manage My Debt During the Coronavirus Crisis?

In order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, all but three states have ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Most of the country’s people are in lockdown in their homes, and millions have therefore lost their jobs. Since March 15, nearly 10 million people have filed first-time jobless claims. All of this means that for millions of Americans, managing their debt has suddenly become unmanageable. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t despair. You still have options. In this blogpost, we will look at ways of dealing with different kinds of debt, and explore bankruptcy options.

Student Loans

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Trump signed on March 27, 2020 suspends payments on federal student loans for six months, until September 30, 2020. During that time, interest will not accrue, either. This suspension is automatic, so you don’t need to fill out any forms or formally request it. The CARES Act also stops collection actions, wage garnishments, and treasury offsets; and it prohibits negative credit reporting due to your student loans. The payment pause and interest waiver includes Federal Parent PLUS loans in addition to Federal Stafford Loans, Federal Grad PLUS loans and Federal Consolidation Loans. It is important to remember that this only applies to loans owned by the federal government. It does not apply to private student loans, student loans acquired from state lenders, or, if you have consolidated your student loans through a third-party lender.

Mortgage, Rent Payments, and Foreclosures

The CARES Act provides for forbearance of mortgage payments. It also provides for a 60-day foreclosure moratorium for federally backed mortgage loans like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as FHA-insured, VA-insured or guaranteed loans, and FDA guaranteed loans. This covers almost all household mortgages; many banks and mortgage companies have suspended all foreclosure proceedings as well. In the state of Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers issued an emergency order on March 27, 2020 banning all evictions and foreclosures for 60 days, thereby including any mortgages not covered by the CARES Act and extending protection to renters. If you are a renter, you are still responsible for your monthly rental, but if you cannot pay it, your landlord cannot begin eviction proceedings. The best course of action is to talk to your landlord to see if you can work out some kind of agreement. Wisconsin has also instituted a moratorium on utility shutoffs.

Credit Cards and Other Loans

Many credit card issuers are offering assistance to consumers during the COVID-19 outbreak in various forms. Available help includes credit line increases, collection forbearance, and skipped payments. You should check the website of your credit card companies to see what help you could possibly receive. Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions are offering loan extensions and deferred payment options, among other things, if you’ll have trouble making payments on a personal loan or small business loan. A number of auto loan companies are offering payment delays as well.

Bankruptcy

Another option to consider right now is bankruptcy. The CARES Act modified the Bankruptcy Code making it easier for individuals to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as well as making changes to Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you are a sole proprietor or self-employed person, the Small Business Reorganization Act that went into effect in February 2020 could also be a source of relief for you. It extended the amount of secured and unsecured debt you could have in order to qualify for the streamlined bankruptcy offered

in Chapter 11. If you have ever considered filing bankruptcy, now may be the time to follow through on it. Contact one of the experts at Burr Law to discuss your situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing all of our lives in significant ways. The ways in which you have always managed your debt may no longer work for you. There are options available to you, though. If you are concerned about your debt situation, you should contact the professionals at Burr Law. We’re here to help your finances survive this coronavirus.