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

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.

Foreclosure For Sale - bankruptcy ahead?

Bankruptcy: Should You Consider Filing When You Face Foreclosure?

When a lender decides to foreclose on your property, where do you turn? Filing for bankruptcy may not seem like the obvious answer, but it might be a viable solution in some cases. Here’s how these concepts all add up under Wisconsin law.

Foreclosure Fundamentals

Foreclosure is when you are behind in mortgage payments and a bank, loan servicer or other lending institution decides it’s going to seize your property. Thanks to the lending contract you signed, they have the right to grab your home, office or other asset and sell it for the cash.

Of course, there are some limits to this power. Banks usually only foreclose when you’ve missed three (3) payments or more. If it looks like you’re not going to pay, then the lender will want to cut its losses.

Bankruptcy As a Self-defense Mechanism

The glaring problem with foreclosure actions is that they don’t always leave consumers with room for error. Lenders can be quite aggressive about recovering their losses and fail to consider the human impacts.

Bankruptcy is an effective last line of defense because it instantly implements an automatic stay. This puts a halt to creditor actions such as

What Happens Next?

After a bankruptcy filing, the automatic stay will remain active until the case wraps up in a few months. Life doesn’t always play out so perfectly, however. If a lender files a motion to lift, or cancel, the automatic stay, then your breather might be cut short.

Are creditors trying to make things tougher? The lender just wants to get its money back because you are behind in mortgage payments. Reducing the length of the stay makes it possible to sell your property earlier.

Upholding the Automatic Stay

Fortunately, you can fight back. When lenders try to get stays canceled, they typically make the argument that they’re losing money. You might counter by

  • Showing that a mortgage’s equity, or property value minus lien balance, is high enough to cover the lender’s losses, or
  • Providing the lender with court-approved adequate protection, such as interest-only cash payments, during the case.

Making a Smart Choice

When lenders foreclose, families can lose their homes and the lifestyles they’re used to. Professionals might have to give up the vehicles that are critical to their careers.

Foreclosure cases can be tricky to predict. Bankruptcy may let consumers divert bad situations toward better outcomes. It doesn’t stop the foreclosure forever, but if you’re behind in mortgage payments, putting things on hold could help you get back to a state of financial balance.

Want to learn more about how bankruptcy types like Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 might help you push back and even stop foreclosure until you regain your footing? Talk to bankruptcy attorney Michael Burr at the Burr Law Office.

Photo by Jeff Turner from Flickr using Creative Commons license.

Filing for Bankruptcy? Here’s What to Know About Your Tax Debt

Filing for bankruptcy won’t magically solve all of your money problems. What it can do, however, is reduce some of your hardships. When it comes to your overdue tax burdens, you may get some relief. Does bankruptcy clear tax debt? Here’s what to know about the complex rules and why you might need legal help.

Understanding Bankruptcy

Being bankrupt doesn’t just mean that you can’t pay your debts. It’s a specific type of legal status with roots in constitutional law, and you have to petition a court to leverage the benefits. As you might expect, this process includes a variety of rules.

A Good Example: Chapter 7

Imagine that you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin. This widely used form of protection lets you transfer your assets, or properties, over to a third party. The third party, or trustee, then sells them and uses the money to pay your creditors.

Chapter 7 and Taxes

Does bankruptcy clear tax debt? It all depends on your situation and ability to build a strong, evidence-backed case.

Chapter 7 only lets you eliminate tax debt under specific circumstances. For instance, you’ll still need to file your taxes during your bankruptcy case, and you need to have filed a previous return at least two years before seeking protection. You also can’t have previously taken unlawful actions, such as lying on a return or trying to hide non-exempt assets, to evade taxes or mislead the court.

The specifics of the tax debts that you want to discharge also matter. Chapter 7 only excuses income tax debt that’s at least three years old at the time of your filing. In addition, the IRS needs to have assessed the liability at least 240 days before your bankruptcy petition becomes formal.

If you owe money in penalties from missing a payment or took on more tax debt recently, then these liabilities won’t be excused. It’s also important to understand the case-by-case limitations of the rules: As various cases in the Eastern District of Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court have shown, things like tax refunds may not be protected from claims.

The Value of Filing for Bankruptcy

Why file for protection if you have to jump through so many hoops? When you work with a reputable attorney like Burr Law Office, there are many potential advantages.

Chapter 7 has the benefit of immediately stopping your collectors from pursuing repayment. This temporary relief, also known as an automatic stay, only lasts while your case is going through court, but it can be a huge perk if you’re struggling financially. What’s more, the stay goes into effect the instant you file even if you don’t eventually receive approval.

Chapter 7 filings can also be quick compared to alternatives, such as Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Although these options have their benefits, they require you to come up with a repayment plan, which can take time.

Filing for bankruptcy has the potential to relieve you from overbearing debt. Even if it doesn’t clear all of your tax debt, the mere act of giving you breathing room may make it easier to adapt and pay what you owe.

Want to learn more about the ins and outs of seeking bankruptcy protection in Milwaukee or Waukesha? Talk to a legal tax debt adviser at the Burr Law Office. Call (262) 827-0375 today.

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 7Chapter 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!

 

I’m Married and I’m Broke. Should I File for Bankruptcy?

Joint or Separate BankruptcySummary: If you are married and considering bankruptcy, this guide will help you decide between a joint or separate filing.

Making the decision to file for bankruptcy can be both difficult and confusing. Each situation is unique; there is no standard solution for handling delicate financial matters like bankruptcy.

For married couples, the decision to file jointly or for one spouse to file separately depends on many factors. Here are some points to consider as you choose the best solution for yourself and your partner:


When Joint Filing is Your Best Option

Under certain circumstances, a married couple should file jointly. With a joint filing, the property of both spouses is included in the bankruptcy estate, and all debts of both spouses are part of the filing. Filing jointly also allows you to complete one set of forms, incur only one filing fee, and pay one lawyer, if applicable.

In the following situations, you may consider filing jointly:

  • Both you and your spouse are experiencing debt trouble.
  • Both you and your spouse reside in a community property state (Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin), and incurred most debts and acquired most property during your marriage. In these states, everything earned and all property bought during the marriage is community property, and all debts acquired during marriage are community debts. In this instance, joint filing allows both parties to release their separate debts and participate in decisions that will affect jointly held property.
  • The exemption laws of your state allow partners to double their exemptions. If this allows you to keep property you might otherwise lose, filing jointly may be a good option.

When You Should File Separately

In a separate filing, your share of the marital property and all separate property are part of the bankruptcy estate. If you or your spouse has substantial separate property to protect, you might consider filing separately.

You may consider a separate filing if:

  • One partner carries all or most of the debt, you don’t own any substantial property together and you married recently. In this instance, a separate filing will allow the partner who isn’t having debt trouble keep a good credit rating and maintain their separate property.
  • You and your spouse own property together as tenants by the entirety and, if one spouse files separately, your state excludes this property from the bankruptcy estate. In this case, filing separately may allow you to keep your home.

A separate filing may be unavoidable in certain situations. If one partner was discharged in a Chapter 7 case within the past eight years or a Chapter 13 case within six years, that spouse will not be able to file another Chapter 7 case. Additionally, if one spouse does not want to cooperate with a joint filing, you may also have to file separately.

In the complicated world of bankruptcy, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. It is always best to consult a qualified bankruptcy attorney who can examine your unique situation and explain your options. At Burr Law Office LLC, as expert Milwaukee bankruptcy attorneys, we can help you make the best decision. If you are married and considering bankruptcy, call us today at (262) 827-0375!

The Road to Financial Recovery After Filing for Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 | Milwaukee Bankruptcy AttorneyAs experts in bankruptcy law in Wisconsin, we’ve seen a whole range of financial situations that cause individuals and families to file for bankruptcy. It’s certainly true that no two cases are exactly alike; however, there are very often common contributing factors involved in many of the bankruptcies we see.

As a premiere bankruptcy law firm in Milwaukee, we understand—perhaps more than anyone—the importance of bankruptcy law for protecting the lives and futures of families all over southeastern Wisconsin. Bankruptcy law exists so that people can have a fresh start and get back on the right track with their finances.

As we have mentioned many times in the past, we certainly understand there are many different unique situations that may lead a person or family to decide to file for bankruptcy, and it’s not our intention to paint with a broad brush. But in this post, we would like to talk a bit about some common tips for helping people get back on track after completing the bankruptcy process. While these tips aren’t applicable in all situations, we do find that following these few suggestions can be positive steps for many of our clients.

#1. Start Rebuilding Your Credit

If credit cards put you in a financial hard spot in the past, it’s likely you may be a bit wary of opening another account after a bankruptcy—not to mention the fact that you’ll also likely have a hard time being approved. But what many people don’t realize is that using credit cards is not the only way to build or re-build credit. If you are a renter, you can ask your landlord to report your on-time rent payment history to the credit bureaus. If you have a post-paid cell phone plan, paying your bill on time will also build your credit. And most people have utility bills as well. Pay them on time and in full and you’ll be on your way to building credit—all without having to do any borrowing.

#2. Start a Savings Account

This may seem counter-intuitive, especially if you are working hard just to make ends meet. You might think there is never any money left over for savings, but you may be surprised at how you can push yourself to get creative and make sure you have some money—even if it’s just a very little bit at first—to put away for savings. Research shows that having a savings account acts as a great “safety net” and can often prevent people from turning to things like payday loans or high-interest credit cards for emergencies.

#3. Reduce Your Bills

You might be saying to yourself, “I can’t reduce my bills—they are what they are.” While there are many bills you simply can’t avoid paying, it’s worthwhile to take a good, hard look at what you are paying out every month. Is there anything you can cut out and won’t miss all that much? And for bills that are a “must,” like utilities, find ways to try to decrease them by trying to conserve energy or running the heat just a bit lower. Make a point of using free wifi when available and reduce your cell phone data plan by a few dollars a month. Get creative!

#4. Set a Budget

Studies show many Americans don’t do any kind of household budgeting. Without a budget, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of how your money is coming and going. You can’t get control of your money if you don’t know anything about it. Start small if the process seems intimidating. Set a budget for one category, such as food/grocery and see how you do with it. As you get comfortable with tracking your money, start tracking more and more of it until you know how just about all of it is being spent or managed. You’ll be surprised at how much you may be spending on things you don’t think twice about, and you also might be surprised that some items that you assumed were costing you a lot aren’t actually costing you as much as you assumed. Get educated about your money and start making it work for you.

While the above tips certainly won’t apply to everyone, give some of the suggestions a try if you think they may be applicable to you. If you’re facing financial hardship and need information about your options under the bankruptcy law, contact Burr Law Office LLC today and let us work with you to find a solution that truly protects you and your future.

Is It Time for You to File for Bankruptcy?

We all know how stressful the holidays can be on our wallet and bank account. Sometimes it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you need to reach out to external sources for help. One of the most important things to understand is that open communication is key to successfully getting out of debt. Whether your spouse, bankruptcy attorney, or other source, open communication and willingness to cooperate will help make the process smoother and much less difficult. Here are a few ways to know if it may be time to file for a bankruptcy.

Credit Card Payments

If you’re consistently making the minimum payments on your credit card, it can mean one of two things. You may be making purchases you shouldn’t be which is more linked in irresponsible spending, or you may need help getting your credit situation figured out. If the latter is the case, contacting an experienced bankruptcy attorney may be a smart idea.

Debt Collectors

If you’ve been receiving phone calls from debt collectors, you’d be smart to consider contacting a bankruptcy attorney. One of the main reasons working with an attorney is smart is because they have the capability and knowledge to resolve issues like debt collectors.

Unsure About Debt

If you’re not sure how much money you owe, it would be in your best interest to contact a bankruptcy attorney. If you aren’t aware of your financial situation, it’s hard to determine the next steps.

For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Burr Law Office today. Our expert Milwaukee and Waukesha bankruptcy team will help you find the best debt relief solution for your needs.

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.

How to File for Bankruptcy

Waukesha bankruptcy adviceMany people find themselves in difficult financial situations and come to a point where they need to decide whether or not bankruptcy is the right option. The best thing to do in this situation is schedule a complimentary consultation with Attorney Michael Burr. He will help guide you through the entire process of how to file for bankruptcy, catering to your specific needs. Here are a few quick bits of information that can help you determine if you should move forward.

You won’t lose everything.

It’s a common misconception that filing for bankruptcy means you’ll lose everything. Depending on your particular situation, you are allowed to exempt a certain amount of property. You cannot, however, hide possessions or “sell” things to family or friends in attempts to keep them. There are serious penalties for such actions, as they are considered fraud. An experienced Milwaukee bankruptcy attorney, like Attorney Michael Burr, can explain how to properly list your assets to maximize your exemptions.

There are multiple types of bankruptcy.

Depending on your situation, you may only qualify for certain types of bankruptcy. Chapter 7, or “straight bankruptcy,” is quite difficult to qualify for. More common is Chapter 13, or “wage earners bankruptcy,” which reorganizes your debts into a repayment schedule. In order to qualify for bankruptcy, you will be required to complete a means test which determines your eligibility.

Work with a lawyer.

New bankruptcy laws in 2005 have made it much more difficult to file for bankruptcy. While it’s not required by law, it is highly recommended that you work with a lawyer when filing. Milwaukee Bankruptcy Attorney, Michael Burr, has over 20 years of experience in bankruptcy law and truly cares about his clients. At the very least, we recommend scheduling a consultation to learn why working with Attorney Burr can help save time, money, and pain.

These tips are by no means legal advice and should be considered a guide as to whether or not you should inquire further about how to file for bankruptcy with Attorney Burr. At Burr Law Offices, we want to give you the fresh financial start you’re looking for. Contact the best bankruptcy lawyers Milwaukee us today to schedule your consultation.