We’ve written a series of blog posts answering common questions regarding filing for bankruptcy in Wisconsin. Call (262) 827-0375

Who Pays for Bankruptcies? How Bankruptcies Work

When you’re in desperate financial distress, bankruptcy can be a lifeline. When you declare personal bankruptcy using Chapter 7 under the Bankruptcy Code, you can eliminate all of your unsecured debt (credit card debt, medical debt, etc.). If it’s not possible for you to file under Chapter 7, you can file under Chapter 13. Your unsecured debt will not be eliminated, but it will be greatly reduced and you will have three to five years to pay back that lower amount.

Declaring bankruptcy, however, means instigating a court procedure, and there are certain costs associated with that.

Court Costs

There is an entirely separate court system for bankruptcy and these courts need to be maintained, and the personnel paid. Part of that cost comes from the filing fee that the person filing for bankruptcy (the petitioner) pays. Currently, the national bankruptcy fee is $335 to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you are unable to pay that amount in full at the time of filing, you can pay in four installments within 120 days of the date of filing. In other words, you can pay approximately $84 a month for four months. There are provisions to waive the fee entirely if your family income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. As of January 17, 2020, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four in Wisconsin is $39,300. There is also a small fee for the bankruptcy trustee. The filing fee for Chapter 13 is $310.

Credit Counseling Course Costs

When you file for bankruptcy, you must agree to participate in a credit counseling course at the beginning of the procedure, and a debtor education course at its conclusion. The cost of these courses varies widely. Some can be as inexpensive as $10, while some can cost about $60. You must attend a court-approved course. So you can expect to spend an additional $20 to $120. If you have been granted a filing fee waiver due to your low income, course costs are often waived as well.

Attorney Costs

You are not required to use an attorney when you file for bankruptcy, but it would be foolish not to do so. Bankruptcy is extremely complicated and any mistakes can have long-term, serious consequences for you and your family. Having an attorney responsible for the paperwork necessary helps assure mistakes are not made. There are ways to mitigate attorney fees, and certainly, consulting with a firm that specializes in bankruptcy law, like Burr Law, is a sensible course of action. We would be able to assess the nature of your situation, and anticipate the complexity of your case. So we would be able to give you a clear idea of what your attorney costs might be. While only 5% of Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings were challenged by a creditor in 2019, if that happens, litigation would obviously increase attorney costs as well.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

It is important to keep the costs associated with bankruptcy in the proper perspective. When you are being buried under a mountain of debt, the logic of incurring a small additional obligation should be apparent. Here at Burr Law we will work with you to make sure that you derive all possible benefits from filing for bankruptcy and still retain the financial means to restart your life.

Can You File Chapter 13 After Chapter 7?
Multiple Bankruptcies

There is nothing prohibiting a person from undertaking multiple bankruptcies. If you have already gone through bankruptcy and find yourself in financial difficulties again, you already know some of the advantages that filing bankruptcy brings. While there are no limits on the number of bankruptcies you can file, there are time frames you need to be aware of. It’s also important to know that these time frames apply to bankruptcy cases that have been discharged, not those that have been dismissed.

Successive Same Chapter Filings

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be done and dusted in three to six months with all unsecured debt eliminated. If you have previously filed Chapter 7, eight years must elapse from the date of filing in order for you to file another Chapter 7. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy your unsecured debt may be eliminated or substantially reduced. It is possible for you to file another Chapter 13 bankruptcy after two years. Given that the first Chapter 13 plan would still be in place, it would be wise to consult with one of the experienced bankruptcy attorneys at Burr Law before doing so.

Chapter 13 Then Chapter 7

Typically, you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy six years after the filing date of your Chapter 13. That time frame can be shorter if you paid your unsecured creditors in full or if you paid at least 70% of the claims and it represented your best efforts. You will need to meet the income status requirement for Chapter 7 as well.

Chapter 7 Then Chapter 13

Four years after the filing date of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can file for Chapter 13. This is sometimes known informally as a Chapter 20, though that can refer to filing a Chapter 13 immediately after a Chapter 7 (or while it is still pending). When you file a Chapter 13 after a Chapter 7 without waiting four years, you cannot receive a discharge in the Chapter 13 but there are some advantages. In Wisconsin, though, courts rarely allow the filing of Chapter 13 earlier than the four year time limit. If the four years has elapsed, then it is perfectly acceptable to file Chapter 13. That will protect your home and car, eliminate or significantly reduce unsecured debt, and give you time to deal with nondischargeable debts.

Multiple Bankruptcies and Automatic Stays

It’s important for you to know that if your initial bankruptcy case is dismissed rather than discharged, there are implications for the next bankruptcy you file (whatever Chapter it is under). If you file within a year of the filing of the first bankruptcy, and that first bankruptcy was dismissed, the automatic stay that prevents creditors from pursuing all collection action will be limited to 30 days only. Usually it is for the duration of the bankruptcy proceedings. The time limit is based on the assumption that the second filing is done in bad faith, so it is possible to request the bankruptcy court to extend it beyond the 30 days. You would need to demonstrate your good faith to the court for that to happen. In the event that you file three bankruptcies within a year, the automatic stay is voided in the third instance.

Bankruptcy is a complicated legal situation. Multiple bankruptcies present even more intricacies. If you are considering a subsequent bankruptcy, it is vital that you have expert advice. With Burr Law, you have access to the finest bankruptcy attorneys, all of whom are experts on Wisconsin bankruptcy law.

When Should I File for Bankruptcy? How to Determine if Filing is Right for You

You’re feeling overwhelmed. The credit card payments or medical bills are just too much to keep up with in addition to your car payments, student loans, mortgage/rent, and other monthly bills. You’re paying absurd monthly interest charges and never seeing the capital decrease significantly. It’s just impossible to keep juggling all your financial obligations. It’s time to think seriously about your debt management problems. In this blogpost, we will explore the options of debt consolidation and bankruptcy.

Debt Consolidation: What Is It?

In its most basic form, debt consolidation works by combining multiple debt payments into one monthly payment through obtaining either a secured or unsecured loan. That monthly payment is sometimes lower than the individual payments combined, and the interest you pay is sometimes lower as well. You will maintain your access to credit, though incurring more debt increases the likelihood of the debt consolidation failing. If the debt consolidation loan is secured, then you risk losing your collateral, usually your car or other significant tangible property.

Cross-Collateralization

Sometimes you may risk losing collateral that you aren’t aware you have placed in jeopardy. That can happen when your debt consolidation loan has a cross-collateralization clause that lets the lender take other property it has financed if you default on the debt consolidation loan. For example, if you get your debt consolidation loan through the same bank that financed your car, under the cross-collateralization clause, if you default on the debt consolidation loan, the bank could repossess your car—even if the car payments are current.

Debt Management Plans: Hidden Costs

Some people go to an agency that creates a debt management plan for them and negotiates with the credit card companies on your behalf. It’s important for you to know that agreeing to a debt management plan comes with a number of hidden costs – monetary and otherwise. You will be expected to pay an enrollment fee as well as a monthly fee for each credit card on the plan. Also, most credit card companies will require that an account entering into a debt management plan be closed, so you lose your access to credit. And the fact that you’re engaged in a debt management plan will be noted on your credit report. Most debt management plans run for three to five years, and at least half of clients do not successfully complete the plan.

Negative Tax Consequences
Depending on your financial condition, any money you save from debt relief services such as debt consolidation may be considered income by the IRS, which means you pay taxes on it. Credit card companies and other creditors may report settled debt to the IRS, which the IRS considers income.

Debt Consolidation vs Bankruptcy

There are two types of bankruptcy you can pursue: Chapter 13 and Chapter 7. Chapter 7 is means tested, so you need to make no more than your state’s median household income ($60.773 for Wisconsin).* If you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your unsecured debt can be completely eliminated. The whole process takes about four months, and then you can start over with a clean slate. Chapter 13 bankruptcy lasts between three to five years, similar to debt consolidation. With Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the moment you file, there is an automatic stay on all collection action, and you will almost certainly retain possession of your home and vehicle.

If you’re considering debt consolidation vs bankruptcy, it would be a good idea to talk to one of the experts at Burr Law.

How to Prepare for Bankruptcy: What to Avoid Before Filing

If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy, it’s important to plan ahead, whether it is Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. There are a number of strategies that you can use to make sure that your bankruptcy work most effectively to eliminate your debt. Once your bankruptcy is complete, you want to have a completely clean slate to begin your financial life anew.

Timing Is Crucial

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best choice for actually getting rid of your unsecured debt. It requires a means test, though; you can’t make more than the median household income based upon your family size for your state. For Wisconsin, the median household income in 2019 for a single filer (the most recent data) is $51,792, for a 2 person family is $67,146, a 3 person family is $82,119, and a 4 person family is $98,317. The calculation of your household income is made from all of your income for the six months prior to the month in which you file for bankruptcy. So if there are particular times of the year when you receive money, either in the form of a bonus from your work or a payout from an investment for instance, it would be wise to file for bankruptcy so that any extra income isn’t included. For instance, if you get a work bonus around the 20th of December every year, filing in December means that your household income is figured from June 1 through November 30. You want to avoid any extra money that might push your household income above the median for your state.

Credit Card Spending

When you are contemplating bankruptcy, it may be tempting to make a number of purchases on your credit cards. You may think that it is a good idea to use them while you still have them, and that it’s your final chance to buy something major. There is some truth to this thinking. With either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will no longer have access to your credit cards. However, it is important for you to know that some credit card debt can be determined non-dischargeable. If you go on a spending spree just before filing bankruptcy, your credit card company can claim those were fraudulent purchases, that you never intended to repay them, and request that they be declared non-dischargeable. You would need to be able to prove that you intended to repay them or that you didn’t plan to declare bankruptcy.

Presumed Fraudulence

There are some instances where the law presumes that your intent was fraudulent. If you use your credit cards in the three months before filing bankruptcy for luxury goods and services totaling more than $725, fraud is presumed (11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(C)(i)(l). Likewise, If you use your credit cards for cash advances totaling more than $1,000 within 70 days before filing bankruptcy, fraud is presumed (11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)(C)(i)(l).

Necessary Spending

The designation of luxury goods is significant. The court will not penalize you for using your credit card for reasonable and necessary living expenses. So, while buying a new elliptical machine for your home would not be allowed, paying for your heating for the winter would. If you are considering getting a cash advance on your card in order to pay for necessary living expenses, it would be better to use your card to pay for the gas you need to get to work, and the groceries to feed your family.

If you’re contemplating filing for bankruptcy, the best advice is to speak to one of the bankruptcy experts at Burr Law. We can help inform your decision, and advise you based on your particular situation.

How Does Bankruptcy Affect A Lawsuit?

There is no quick and easy answer to this question. Generally, if the lawsuit involves money or property, it will be temporarily suspended or dismissed. If it is primarily concerned with something else (child custody, for instance), it will not have any effect. When you file for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court will enter an automatic stay. This injunction means that as soon as any other court learns of the bankruptcy proceeding, it must act accordingly. Usually, lawsuits that involve money or property are immediately suspended, with the possibility of dismissal if the bankruptcy goes through to completion. This is an extremely complicated area of law, however, and it is imperative that you have the advice of bankruptcy experts, like those at Burr Law.

Pending Money/Property Lawsuits

This lawsuit would overlap with the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court, so typically, the automatic stay will stop the debt collection lawsuit. Your attorney would file a “Suggestion of Bankruptcy.” This lets the judge know that a bankruptcy case is pending, and the entire lawsuit is suspended, at least until the bankruptcy court enters a discharge. When that happens, the court in the collection suit usually dismisses the case since it will be dealt with in the bankruptcy court. However, this course of action is not guaranteed. Though bankruptcy courts issue an injunction that suspends a pending case that has to do with money or property, it may be determined that having another court continue the case would be more efficient. In that situation the bankruptcy court would allow the case to go forward.

New Lawsuits

Likewise, if a creditor wants to begin a lawsuit against you after you have filed bankruptcy, it is possible, though difficult, to do. The creditor can request that the automatic stay be lifted in that particular instance, and it would be up to the bankruptcy judge to decide.

Divorce and Child Custody

Generally, divorce or child custody cases that are in current litigation will not be affected by a bankruptcy action. A number of family court judges will put the case on hold as a courtesy until they get an order from the bankruptcy judge. Bankruptcy courts don’t want to have anything to do with these kinds of family law matters.

Alimony and Child Support

With alimony and child support, the relevance of bankruptcy is apparent. The family court’s imposition of child support or alimony orders could affect a bankruptcy case because of the effect on the debtor’s resources. This is true when the person declaring bankruptcy is the one also paying alimony and/or child support as well as when the person declaring bankruptcy is the one receiving alimony. A bankruptcy court may reserve jurisdiction over a property settlement but even then, bankruptcy courts rarely take issue with a property settlement unless it is extreme.

If you are behind on your alimony payments and legal action has actually begun to collect them, the bankruptcy injunction will suspend that activity. However these are not debts that are dischargeable under either Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This can also be the case for many property settlement agreements. Consultation with the professionals at Burr Law can help clarify your position.

A child support creditor (a state agency or the other parent) is subject to the automatic stay just like any other creditor. However, any debts you owe for child support will not be discharged in the bankruptcy case. The creditor can renew collection activities after the bankruptcy court enters the discharge.

Other Lawsuits

There are other kinds of lawsuits where the intricacies of the particular situation mean that bankruptcy might have an affect on them. These lawsuits include: criminal cases, code enforcement and nuisance actions, evictions, and administrative actions. Ask the expert bankruptcy attorneys at Burr Law for help if you are considering bankruptcy.

Don’ts: Things Not To Do Before Filing for Waukesha Bankruptcy

If you find yourself in a situation where filing for bankruptcy is your best option, there are a few things you should keep in mind before doing so. Due to the fact that your debts will soon be reorganized and put into someone else’s control, it’s important that you abide by rules and regulations associated with bankruptcy. The last thing you would want is for new problems to arise. Here are a few helpful tips to consider, from Waukesha bankruptcy lawyer Michael Burr.

Don’t: Acquire new debt.

Creditors may attempt to object to a discharge if you’ve increased your debt within up to 90 days before filing. They may argue that it’s a case of fraud, saying that you acquired the debt with no intention of paying it back. Additionally, you shouldn’t cash out or take loans from your 401(k), pension, or any other retirement plan or take out an equity line of credit against your home. Doing any of these things can cause issues in your bankruptcy.

Don’t: Provide inaccurate, dishonest, or incomplete information.

Completely the paperwork for a bankruptcy filing must be taken very seriously. Lying or providing falsified information can lead to serious consequences in addition to putting an immediate stop to your bankruptcy filing. Be sure to provide all information correctly and do not hide any information.

Don’t: Skip filing your income tax returns.

Filing for bankruptcy is, in essence, impossible if you haven’t filed all of your income tax returns for at least two years prior to filing. These documents play a very important role in determining your earnings and asset holdings. Be sure to provide all tax related information to your Waukesha bankruptcy attorney before proceeding.

Don’t: Lie about or hide assets.

It is very important that you do not hide any assets in a bankruptcy filing. Some people may be tempted to sell or transfer assets in hopes that they will be protected during your bankruptcy proceedings. If you do this, there is a strong chance that you would be denied a discharge and could face criminal charges. There are exceptions to this, of course, in that some people sell things hoping to help pay off their debts on their own. The important thing to note if you’ve done so is to let the trustee know. They’ll generally ask if you’ve sold, transferred, or given away any assets up to a year before filing.

Nobody wants to be presented with issues in addition to what they’re already dealing with. If you’ve already done one of these things or want to learn more things to avoid before filing, talk with Waukesha bankruptcy Attorney Michael Burr. He can help you determine the best solution for your situation and get you on the path to being debt-free.

How to Pay for Bankruptcy?

How to Pay for Bankruptcy | Waukesha, WIFiling for bankruptcy can be expensive. Hiring an attorney and paying court filing fees can cost you anywhere from hundreds to several thousand dollars. When you’re in tough financial shape, this added cost can seem stressful…and even impossible.

Don’t fear: you have options. Here is a breakdown of what bankruptcy costs and how to afford it.

The Cost of Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy comes with two types of expenses: court filing fees and attorney fees.

An attorney is critical to filing for bankruptcy, as they help file your petition, represent you in court, and take over communication with your creditors.

The two types of bankruptcy are Chapter 7, in which most or all of your debts are forgiven, and Chapter 13, in which your debts are reorganized into a repayment plan.

Here is an estimated breakdown of what you can expect to pay*:

Chapter 7 Chapter 13
Court Filing Fees $335 $310
Attorney Fees $1,000 – $1,500 /
$200 down
$1,500 – $6,000
Total $835 – $1,835 $1,810 – $6,310

*Please note, attorney fees vary greatly based on location and complexity of your case.

When filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the court will review your attorney fees to find out if they’re reasonable.

(At Burr Law office, we offer monthly payment plans starting with as little as $100 down.)

Your Bankruptcy Payment Options

If you are filing Chapter 7, you may be required to pay your attorney fees before they file your case. The reasoning behind this is: if you are granted Chapter 7, all unsecured debts are wiped out, including any outstanding attorney fees.

If you cannot afford these costs, you have three options:

  • Raise the money.
  • Establish a payment plan.
  • Find a pro-bono attorney, or one who will take your case without charging a fee.
  1. Raising the money. Use these steps to minimize your expenses and save enough to cover your costs:
    1. Stop payment on credit cards. If you’re planning to file for bankruptcy, continuing to pay your credit cards is not useful. Save that money and put it toward your bankruptcy costs.
    2. Secure additional income. Sell big-ticket items, like furniture or electronics, or find part-time employment.
    3. Ask family or friends for help.
    4. As a last resort, you can borrow against your 401(k) or IRA. However, doing so may deplete the money you will need in retirement.
  1. Using a payment plan. The right attorney may agree to payment in installments. Ask the lawyer you are considering about their payment plan policy during your initial meeting. Please note: most attorneys will require payment upfront before filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.

Your attorney may also work with the court to allow you to pay your court filing fee in installments.

  1. Finding a pro-bono attorney. If your household income is less than 150% of the federal poverty line for your family size, you may qualify for free legal assistance. You have several options for finding a pro bono attorney:
    1. Reach out to your local bankruptcy court to request information on local free legal aid resources and free legal clinics. These organizations may be able to connect you with free legal assistance, but be aware: legal aid organizations are often extremely busy and understaffed.
    2. Research The American Bankruptcy Institute’s bankruptcy attorney directory for more pro bono resources in your area.
    3. Contact your state’s bar association to inquire about free legal aid. Some attorneys are required to take on 10%-15% of their caseloads as pro bono work.
    4. Consider hiring a petition preparer instead of a lawyer. If you’re in a rush to file your bankruptcy, a petition preparer will help you fill out paperwork for an hourly fee. Though they can’t give you legal advice like an attorney would, a petition preparer is a good solution if you are looking to quickly trigger the automatic stay that halts collection efforts.
    5. Finally, we strongly advise against filing on your own without the help of an attorney or petition preparer. Bankruptcy filing is an extremely complicated process and it is easy to make mistakes, which could lead the court to throw out your case.

When making decisions about bankruptcy, you may feel that the deck is stacked against you. But remember: you have options. And if you’re in the Milwaukee area, the experts at Burr Law Office are here to help. We have earned a reputation as experienced advocates, and can help you reclaim your life and get a fresh start. Give us a call today at (262) 827-0375!

 

How to File Bankruptcy: Documents

In order to qualify for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you need to provide details about your current financial situation, including your debts and income. You need to back up all information you disclose in your bankruptcy paperwork with official financial documents. Here’s a look at some of the documents you will need to provide to the trustee handling your bankruptcy petition and how to file bankruptcy:

Tax Returns

You need to give your trustee a copy of your tax returns or tax transcripts for the last two years. If you haven’t filed your tax returns, you will need to provide an explanation as to why you were unable to file them. You may need to file your taxes before continuing with your petition.

Income Documentation

To show proof of your employment and monthly income, you need to provide copies of paystubs for the six-month period before you filed for bankruptcy. You also need a copy of your last two W-2 forms. In addition, you need to provide details of any supplemental monthly income you receive, including social security, disability, and rental properties.

Valuation of Property

If you are a property owner, you need to provide a full appraisal of your property and a mortgage statement showing your current loan balances. You will also need to provide your trustee with deeds of trust and proof of your homeowner’s insurance. Similar documentation needs to be provided if you have a car loan.

Miscellaneous Documents

Any financial obligations that may affect your bankruptcy petition need to be disclosed. For example, you need to provide information about alimony or child support obligations with proof of these expenses. At the hearing, you will also need to show your trustee a valid form of photo identification, such as a driver’s license.

For more information and help on how to file bankruptcy, schedule a meeting with Burr Law Office. We are an affordable bankruptcy attorney in the Milwaukee area. You can reach us by dialing (262) 827-0375.

Common Reasons Why Seniors File for Bankruptcy

Between 1991 and 2007, the number of Americans age 65 and older who filed for bankruptcy more than tripled. Today, senior citizens are the fastest growing group of adults to initiate Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 filings. Here are some of the reasons why older Americans have found themselves overwhelmed by their expenses.

Medical Bills

Major medical expenses can be hard on anyone’s pocketbook, but aging men and women often face additional health concerns. If a senior citizen doesn’t have health insurance, even doctor’s checkups can quickly become unaffordable. Sadly, without proper medical attention, illnesses that go untreated can quickly develop into serious or even chronic conditions. Seniors who must pay thousands of dollars to physicians, hospitals, and specialists are often faced with bankruptcy.

Credit Card Debt

Elderly Americans most often file for the same reason as their younger counterparts: credit card debt. In fact, approximately two-thirds of debtors age 65 and older cite overwhelming credit card debt, interest, and fees as their primary reason for declaring Chapter 13 or Chapter 7. Experts have found that seniors are more likely to feel embarrassed about their mounting bills and frequently simply take out more credit cards to avoid their inevitable financial problems. But when they fail to make minimum credit card payments, filing is usually the only option available.

Inadequate Preparation

If you have been neglecting your nest egg for more pressing financial obligations, you are not alone. Thousands of elderly Americans report being late on rent or mortgage payments, and many even go without required medication or food in an effort to pay off mounting debts. Unfortunately, returning to the workforce is simply not an option for some seniors who failed to anticipate the economic downturn.

Whether you are drowning in medical debt or face insurmountable credit card fees, you have legal options. To speak to a Milwaukee bankruptcy attorney about whether filing may be your best option, call Burr Law Office at (262) 827-0375 to schedule a free consultation today.

See also “Top 5 Reasons People File for Bankruptcy