bankruptcy and utility bills

Bankruptcy and Utility Bills: The Secret to Avoiding a Shutoff?

When you can’t access the basic things you need to survive, everything gets harder. Losing power is no exception, and when your utilities get shut off due to nonpayment, bouncing back may seem like an impossible trial.

If you live in Wisconsin, you have certain rights when your gas or electric service is about to be discontinued. While many people are familiar with the laws designed to prevent utilities from putting consumers through life-threatening situations, you may not realize that your ability to fight back goes even further.

What do bankruptcy and utility bills have to do with each other? Here’s how filing might make life easier and what to do next.

Understanding Your Legal Status and Rights

Wisconsin law imposes a moratorium on certain utility shutoffs during the coldest part of the year. From Nov. 1 to April 15, the state’s gas and electric providers aren’t allowed to disconnect people for things like having fallen behind on their bills. (Date is wrong on website)

Ideally, this law would protect all Wisconsin residents, but as with so many regulations, there are loopholes. For instance, the utility company doesn’t have to reconnect your power if it got turned off before the moratorium period began. This means that you’ll find yourself in a bind if a sudden cold snap catches you off guard.

Other options designed to assist you in tough times may not be as helpful as they seem. For instance, although the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program offers emergency services, such as fuel aid and co-payment plans, these programs are limited. Due to the number of applicants, it may take time to get the ball rolling. Your income has to be at or below 60 percent of the median level for the state, and the program is only designed to pay for a portion of your heating. You might easily find yourself ineligible if you experienced sudden debt, such as after a medical emergency.

Bankruptcy May Be a Better Choice

When aid programs and consumer protection laws fail, where can you turn? In reality, bankruptcy and utility bills aren’t totally unrelated — Taking your case to court could keep your family and household safe in the face of extreme weather conditions.

Filing for bankruptcy does a few things. In addition to letting the court know that your financial situation has gotten out of control, it gives you instant protection. This automatic stay is a pause that lasts while your case is working through the system, and it temporarily stops creditors, utility companies and other parties from taking further action against you in pursuit of the money you owe them.

Taking this route also gives you more leeway to make good on your overdue bills. Your utility company will forward you a letter requesting a deposit about 20 days after you file, and if you pay it, life will continue as usual regardless of whether the court decides to award you bankruptcy protection. What’s more, you’ll get the deposit back — plus interest — if you keep paying on time during the next year. If you don’t pay the deposit, however, you’ll lose power or gas.

Exercise All of Your Options

While 20 days might not seem like much, the extra time can be a massive help. If you file with the help of a lawyer, you also increase your chances of winning protection, which will erase your previous debts and make it easier to get back on top of life. To find out more about dealing with this kind of emergency, Call (262) 827-0375 to get in touch with a Burr Law Office specialist.

electric meters

Fighting for Your Rights: Utility Shutoff Laws and Bankruptcy

Safe shelter and protection from the environment are more than convenient privileges: They’re fundamental necessities. Unfortunately, energy companies don’t always seem to view things this way. If you don’t pay, they’re more than willing to shut off the gas or electricity services that help your family survive.

If you live in Wisconsin, can filing for bankruptcy protect you from such dire outcomes? Here’s what you need to know.

Bankruptcy and Utility Shutoffs

Bankruptcy isn’t just for stopping collection agencies from hounding you. In addition to putting an automatic hold on collection activities, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Waukesha can help you keep the heat going and the lights on.

Timing is key to using bankruptcy to avoid a utility shutoff. Once you file, you have just 20 days to prove that you’ll pay your future bills.

Knowing Your Rights When Filing for Bankruptcy

The laws against turning off electricity during bankruptcy are part of federal law. According to 11 U.S. Code § 366, utilities aren’t allowed to treat you unfairly just because you filed. This law means they can’t alter your service terms, refuse to serve you or discontinue your existing service.

What Happens After 20 Days?

After the 20-day period ends, the utility can only refuse, discontinue or change your service if you haven’t given them proof of your payment ability. In most cases, this means forking over a cash deposit, prepayment, credit letter, deposit certificate or surety bond. Different utility companies have their own standards for what kinds of payment assurance they prefer.

It’s also worth noting that this payment is for your future service, not the overdue bills. In other words, filing for bankruptcy may help you clean the slate and move forward.

What Happens to Your Old Account Balance?

One nice aspect of the legal code is that it lets you discharge, or erase, your old bills. If you file successfully and convince the court that you deserve bankruptcy status, the judge may wipe out what you currently owe. Although you’ll still have to pay your upcoming bills, you might be able to escape the burdens of digging yourself out from under a mountain of debt.

Special State Rules

Wisconsin also has some applicable laws against turning off electricity that may affect your case. For instance, in Wisconsin utilities are prohibited from disconnecting service to non-paying customers between November 1 and April 15.

Wisconsin also maintains the same 20-day payment window rule for accounts in non-bankruptcy cases. In these situations, however, the clock starts ticking when you receive the bill.

Should You File for Bankruptcy?

The laws against turning off electricity apply to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings. However, keeping the gas, water or power connected should never be your only reason for filing.

Seeking bankruptcy status is most powerful when it’s part of a complete debt-management strategy. The most effective filings help you keep your head above water by addressing all of your liabilities. In other words, it’s smartest to discuss your situation with a reputable, experienced legal adviser.

Connect with a lawyer who’s ready to fight tirelessly on your behalf. Get in touch with the Burr Law Office team to learn more. You can also contact a Milwaukee bankruptcy lawyer by texting (262) 720-8783.