Debt Consolidation vs Debt Settlement

When you’re in debt, it can seem like there’s no way out. Credit card payments, rent or mortgage payments, car payments, student loan payments . . . you may feel like you’re being bled dry. If 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, debt settlement, 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. One of the easiest ways to consolidate your debt is to obtain a new credit card that offers 0% interest for a period of time (usually 6 to 12 months). Once you get the card, you can transfer the balance from other credit cards where you are paying high interest to the new card and use the 6 to 12 months to pay down the principal. Of course, that only consolidates your credit card debt. Alternatively, you can take out a debt consolidation loan; most are secured loans though, and 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

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.

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 ($67,355 for Wisconsin in 2019). 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 actions, and you will almost certainly retain possession of your home and vehicle.

If you’re experiencing significant debt management problems, it would be a good idea to talk to one of the experts at Burr Law.

As Pandemic Programs Begin to Expire, Personal Bankruptcies Are Expected to Rise

A Debt Tsunami Is Coming

As legislation designed to cushion the effects of the COVID pandemic expires after Christmas, filings for personal bankruptcy will undoubtedly soar. Congress was unable to agree on extending stimulus payments, and nobody has received that money in several months. Main Street has been harder hit than Wall Street so far, and deferments on payments for borrowed money–mortgages, student loans, automobile loans and credit card debt–are all due to expire just after Christmas. Bah! Humbug!

So far, many lenders have been flexible about calling in their debts, but they won’t stay that way for long, and when these debt deferment grace periods end, a lot of them will be competing for a lot less money than the total accumulated debt. It’s only at this point that most of us will get an idea of just how costly the COVID pandemic and our responses to it have been. And at this point, too, the competition among debtors to recover as much of what they are owed as they can will have begun.

What Does This Mean for You?

It means that it pays to be realistic and proactive about your prospects for paying back your debt. One portion of our economy that will certainly not lack for business will be the courts and law firms. In many cases, dockets have become backlogged, because COVID has kept lawyers, court employees, and juries at home out of caution. But although financial proceedings don’t typically require juries, the courts that deal with litigating debt settlements will be absolutely swamped.

If you have debt obligations that you feel have gotten beyond your control, you are not alone. In fact, you are one of a great many who have been swept up in circumstances beyond their control. A lot of people ended up ringing up credit card debt at high rates of interest, just to get by. As lenders crack down, people who’ve put off filing for bankruptcy will also begin filing in large numbers. It’s best to get out in front of events if you can. The folks at Burr Law can help you decide whether to file, and taking into consideration your circumstances and the laws of your state, under what chapter to file.

Chapter 7

Most bankruptcies are filed under Chapter 7. Chapter 7 bankruptcy eliminates all unsecured personal debt, such as credit card debt, personal loans, and medical bills. Auto loan debts, mortgage debts, and tax debts still remain. Personal property may be sold to satisfy obligations, though what gets liquidated depends on the state. On the other hand, many people are surprised at what they may be allowed to keep, and sometimes funds are available to help meet the costs of filing. A Chapter 7 filing will remain on your credit report for 10 years, but programs exist to minimize the effects, and it is possible to rehabilitate credit more rapidly if you are strategic and disciplined about it.

Chapter 13

Under Chapter 13, you reorganize and consolidate your debt payments. In this case, your personal property may be protected so long as you meet your newly renegotiated debt obligations. it is typically significantly more expensive to file for Chapter 13 protection, but depending on your situation, it may be the best approach. Chapter 13 filings will remain part of your credit history for 7 years.

Get Professional Advice

Let the folks at Burr Law help you. They’ve seen everything there is to see in bankruptcy, and they’ve helped thousands of clients move on as painlessly as possible. The one thing they haven’t seen before, though, is the sheer magnitude of cases that are likely soon to hit the courts. They are here to help. Make up your mind to call them now, so that you’re not stuck waiting for an enormous number of cases to make their way through the courts prior to yours.

Pros and Cons of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

When your financial situation is difficult and you can see no way out of the spiraling debt, you may be considering bankruptcy. There are two common forms of personal bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Filing for Chapter 7 is means tested. In Wisconsin, you must not make more than $67,355 as a household (2019 statistics). Chapter 13 doesn’t have those restrictions, but it does have limitations on the amount of debt you have. To be eligible to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must have no more than $394,725 in consumer credit debt and you also can have no more than $1,184,200 in secured debts, which includes mortgages and car loans. This post outlines the pros and cons of Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

PRO – Protects Your Assets

Filing Chapter 13 causes all collection actions to stop, including home foreclosure. Chapter 13 bankruptcy preserves your secured assets, so you don’t have to worry about losing your home or car. Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is also known as Liquidation Bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also called Wage-Earner’s Bankruptcy. The objective is reorganization of debt rather than liquidation of assets.

PRO – Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt includes credit card debt, medical bills, and other debts that don’t depend on collateral. Chapter 13 bankruptcy results in unsecured debt being discharged entirely or diminished significantly. If the debt is not completely eliminated, you will be paying off a small portion of what you owe over the course of three to five years.

PRO – Attorney Fees Become Part of Plan

Often, people delay filing for bankruptcy because they fear incurring additional debt through attorney fees. Yet expert guidance is necessary to navigate bankruptcy law. When you file for Chapter 13, your attorney fees can be included in the reorganization plan and paid over the three to five year time frame.

PRO – Other Debt Included in Reorganization

A professional bankruptcy attorney may be able to help you incorporate debts not usually available for reorganization. For instance, while domestic support obligations (DSO) like child support remain due and payable, past-due amounts can be worked into the reorganization plan and paid over three to five years. Likewise, if you owe back taxes, there are some situations where some amounts of tax debt can be incorporated into the reorganization plan too.

PRO – Second Mortgage as Unsecured Debt

If your home’s second mortgage is worth less than what you owe on your first mortgage, then you can motion the court to have your second mortgage become an unsecured debt. Upon completion of your debt repayment plan, your second mortgage may be reduced greatly or discharged. Again, this is a situation where the guidance of the experts at Burr Law can make the difference.

CON – Length of Reorganization Plan

As indicated above, the typical Chapter 13 reorganization plan lasts from three to five years. That’s a long time. Many debtors find it impossible to maintain, though they are contractually and legally obligated to do so. Again, seeking professional advice from attorneys dedicated to bankruptcy law makes a tremendous difference here. Crafting a reorganization plan that anticipates periodic extra expenses and realistically assesses your earning potential over the next five years makes the length of the reorganization workable.

CON – Credit Implications

Like all bankruptcies, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is part of the public record and remains on your record for 10 years. It will decrease your credit score by 100 to 200 points. While Chapter 13 bankruptcy doesn’t immediately deprive you of all of your credit cards, it will affect your ability to acquire new ones, and sometimes how you are able to use the ones you already have.

Bankruptcy May Become An Option

The state and federal programs designed to diminish the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 have generally worked very well. In Wisconsin, there were 8,272 consumer bankruptcy filings (Chapter 7 and Chapter 13) from January through August 2020; that’s 28% fewer than through August of 2019, according to American Bankruptcy Institute data. However, almost all of those programs end December 31, and Wisconsin’s seasonal prohibition on utility cutoffs ends April 15. So if you’re barely making it now, you should consider whether you may need to declare bankruptcy in the spring.

Would Bankruptcy Affect My Partner?

The short and not very helpful answer is maybe. If you file to discharge joint debts, that will likely appear on your spouse’s credit report. Creditors will be notified of your filing, and will likely come after your spouse for payment of debts. Whether and how much one spouse’s filing for bankruptcy will affect the other’s credit also depends on whether you file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, and also on what the laws of your particular state of primary residence are.

Property owned outright by your spouse may be protected, particularly if they were acquired prior to marriage, but jointly owned properties and debts are another matter. A bankruptcy trustee may sell any jointly owned property to pay off debts, but how property is treated depends largely on whether you reside in a Common Law Property State or a Community Property State.

If you live in a Common Law Property State and you file for bankruptcy, your assets and those you own jointly with your spouse are liable to be sold to satisfy debt obligations, whereas those held outright by your spouse are to some degree protected. Still, a bankruptcy trustee may sell an entire property jointly owned if it is not clearly divisible under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. He would then reimburse your spouse for their portion in funds.

If you live in a Community Property State, virtually everything acquired during the time of the marriage is liable to be seized. It is very important, therefore, to declare bankruptcy early if you have significant debts that you think you will be unable to discharge. Because you are jointly liable for all property held in common, a bankruptcy declaration is liable to have a significant impact on your spouse’s property and credit. This liability covers income as well as assets acquired during the course of marriage. Once you have discharged your debts through Chapter 7 bankruptcy, creditors may be able to come after your spouse’s property, but only for debts for which they are personally liable. Because your spouse is jointly responsible for all mutually owned property, which includes all income and assets acquired during the marriage, the spouse also is discharged from debt obligations at the time of settlement, in what is commonly known as a phantom discharge.

A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy filing can sometimes help to protect a spouse, by way of a codebtor stay that prohibits creditors from going after a codebtor (in this case, your spouse), but debtors may request that a court lift a codebtor protection.

As you can see, there are a variety of different scenarios, which can seem quite complicated and daunting. The expert team at Burr Law know all the ropes, and will take the tack that best suits your particular situation, so that you can get back on track as quickly and as painlessly as possible. You’re not just discharging your debts. You’re discharging a great weight off your mind. Reach out to Burr Law. They can help.

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.

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.

When Does Bankruptcy Clear From Your Credit Report?

If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy in Wisconsin, you probably have a lot of bankruptcy questions. It’s important for you to have all the information you need in order to make a truly sound decision, and in this post, we will look at one of the most commonly asked bankruptcy questions: When does bankruptcy clear from your credit report?

Credit reports are simply a fact of contemporary existence, and they are consulted every time you apply for a new credit card, or an automobile loan, or any type of financial undertaking. You may not be aware that in Wisconsin credit reports are also considered by landlords, and by some employers. So concern about your credit report is absolutely reasonable when making the decision to file for bankruptcy.

Filing for bankruptcy becomes part of the public record, so if anyone is truly interested in the bankruptcy filing itself, they can access that information.

Generally speaking, bankruptcy stays on your credit report in Wisconsin for about 10 years. Remember, though, that even if you don’t file bankruptcy, your creditors can obtain a judgment against you for your debt, and that judgment would appear on your credit report. A judgment can remain on your credit report for seven years or until the statute of limitations expires, whichever is longer. In Wisconsin, the statute of limitations on a judgment can be up to 20 years! So a bankruptcy may well fall off of your credit report before a particular judgment.

Bankruptcy will mean a drop in your credit score immediately after filing, but about 12 to 18 months after you receive your bankruptcy discharge your credit score should go up because your debtor to income ratio becomes much better than when you filed the bankruptcy. However, you may already have a poor credit score due to your debt-to-asset ratio (your debt is high compared to your available credit) and delinquent accounts; in that case, the decrease in your credit score may be less than you suppose. If your credit score was good before filing bankruptcy, the drop may be more pronounced.

The type of bankruptcy that you file may also affect how its presence on your credit report is viewed by prospective lenders. Chapter 7 Bankruptcy completely wipes out your debt by selling whatever eligible assets you have; Chapter 13 Bankruptcy sets up a three to five year plan to repay a portion of your debt. Obviously, prospective lenders would consider a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in a more favorable light than a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. When applying for credit after bankruptcy, you should be straightforward about the bankruptcy and your reasons for choosing that option.

Attorney Michael Burr and the Burr Law Offices can answer all of your bankruptcy questions. You concern about your credit report is certainly warranted, and we can help you understand all the implications of a decision to file bankruptcy. Consult the experts in Wisconsin bankruptcy law at the Burr Law Offices, and bring all your bankruptcy questions with you.