What is a bankruptcy reaffirmation agreement? Do I need one?

contractA reaffirmation agreement is simply an agreement that reaffirms or recreates a contract that has been broken by your chaper 7 bankruptcy.  After you file for bankruptcy all of your previous contractual obligations for things like credit cards, auto loans, jewelry and furniture loans, mortgage loans, and leases for personal or real property go away.  You no longer have those contractual obligations once you pull the trigger and file your case.  If your case goes all the way to discharge then these obligations go away forever.

This is what makes bankruptcy such a powerful tool for people.  Any contract that is difficult, onerous, or they just can’t afford is cancelled by bankruptcy.  This is what gives you a fresh start when it is all over as you can go on in life free from these big contractual balls and chains.

The problem is that some of these creditors have a secured interest in some property you bought from them.  This is not true of credit cards which are unsecured but it is true of cars, boats, jewelry, and furniture as well other types of property you could finance.  Whenever you buy something and make regular payments for it the seller probably took a security interest in the property you bought from them.

Though the contractual obligations owed by you are cancelled in a bankruptcy this security interest gives finance companies certain rights in the property that you purchased.  They can move against the property to repossess it after the bankruptcy case closes (or if they file a motion for relief from stay).

It used to be before the 2005 bankruptcy law change that you could buy a car, go bankrupt, and then continue to pay for and keep the car.  This was called the “ride through”.  You had that right before 2005 and people regularly did this in bankruptcy.  The creditors hated this because you could turn the car in at any time thereafter and be done with it.  Creditors could not then come after you for the “deficiency balance” because the contract was cancelled in bankruptcy.  They would be stuck with only the car of limited value.

So the creditors eliminated this option in the 2005 law.  A case called “Dumont” in the 9th circuit confirmed this and that was that.  Now the ride though option is gone and you must either reaffirm, pay off the balance, or surrender the car.

Even having said this though there is a loophole out there.  Most creditors will allow you to keep the car and pay though they are not obligated to do so because they don’t want people to return cars.  Many bankruptcy filers will not reaffirm and if the car company wants the car back then they will return it.  We call this “let them eat steel” because the finance companies then sell this car at a great loss when the could have had some payments.

Many car companies recognize this fact and they have allowed the “ride through”.  They therefore don’t exercise their legal right to repossession and they allow you to keep the car as long as your payments are current.

But there are those others like Ford and in San Diego the San Diego County Credit Union.  These lenders tend to demand that debtors sign and file reaffirmation agreements with the court or they will pick up their cars.  It appears that they may just want to make a point or scare people into signing reaffirmations.

It gets complicated here but you must at least attempt to get a reaffirmation agreement in the court or the creditors can and some will pick up cars.  Losing the car can be extremely inconvenient for those who want and need the car or for those who recently put down a large down payment.  It is also true that financing a new car can be difficult and costly right after a bankruptcy so sometimes reaffirmations make sense.  (Have your bankruptcy attorney discuss these issues with you when you are considering signing one).

If you go into court and attempt to get a reaffirmation and it is denied for some reason by the judge who does not think it in your best interest then there is still an out.  Many judges will insert special language into the judicial order that denies the reaff. that will prevent any pick up of the car by the finance company.  Consult your bankruptcy attorney in your area as he or she should know which judges do this and he will be sure to request such language into the judicial order.

This is especially necessary if you have one of those lenders who tend to be more demanding like Ford or in San Diego, the San Diego County Credit Union.

I am a San Diego bankruptcy attorney.  For further questions please visit my websites at www.farquharlaw.com or www.freshstartsandiego.com.  Or call my office for a free consultation or for any other advice about bankruptcy or debt at (619) 702-5015.  Call now for free credit report and analysis!  For a free e-book on “13 things to do to prepare for your bankruptcy filing” please e-mail me at farquharesq@yahoo.com.

Contract photo courtesy of Steve Snodgrass.

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Did you receive a notice of garnishment of your wages? Bankruptcy can stop it and get some of your money back that has already been taken!

Many of my clients come to me with wage garnishments already in place or they have received notice that one is about to begin.  A wage garnishment is when a creditor can reach out to your employer and seize part of your paycheck for some debt you owe.  These creditors are limited to taking no more than 25% of your take-home pay.  This amount can be large though and can make the difference in whether you can afford to pay your bills or not.

Before creditors can get this garnishment in California they must go to court and get a judgment and then file for the wage garnishment with your employer.  Once they get it the garnishment will continue until the debt is paid in full which can be some time if the debt is large.

Some of my clients have a $20,000 or $30,000 credit card debt or vehicle deficiency debt that is being garnished from their wages.  Most of these people can’t afford to pay their ongoing bills with their current income and a 20% pay cut makes their situation impossible.

It is best to catch this before the garnishment hits your paycheck but the good news is that bankruptcy can stop this immediately from happening.  If we catch the garnishment before it starts that is best.  But if we do not we can still stop it and wipe out the underlying debt.  We can even get back some or all of your money garnished if we file within 90 days of the garnishment beginning.  We will send a request to the creditor that they return the money and most will return it if a bankruptcy case has been filed.

So don’t despair if you receive a garnishment notice.  It is not the end of the world.  A wage garnishment can be stopped and the money can usually be returned.  You just need to call a bankruptcy attorney, let the attorney analyze your case, and file the bankruptcy.  And don’t worry about whether you owe the money or not and don’t worry about not paying it back.  It’s your federal right to file for bankruptcy and get a fresh start with your debts discharged so contact an attorney today and begin the process to return your income to you.

I am a bankruptcy lawyer practicing bankruptcy law in San Diego, CA.  For more information please visit my website at www.farquharlaw.com or www.freshstartsandiego.com.  Or call my office for a free consultation at (619) 702-5015.  Call now for a free credit report and analysis!

If you are considering bankruptcy and want to receive the Free e-book; “13 Things You Should Do To Prepare For Filing Bankruptcy” then please e-mail me at: farquharesq@yahoo.com.

What debts are non-dischargeable and what debts are dischargeable in a chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Non-dischargeable debts

1) Student loans- Sorry!  Totally non-dischargeable unless you can prove undue hardship which is very hard to prove.   Any loan for any educational purpose is probably not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

2) Government fines, fees, and penalties- Generally not dischargeable in a bankruptcy.  Any ticket or fine from a government agency is non-dischargeable.  The exception to this rule is the three-year old income tax debt.  Generally the government exempts its debts from the bankruptcy system.

3) Spousal and child support obligations- All non-dischargeable and in fact the trustees often ask if these obligations are being paid whether the debtor is the party that owes the support or the party that is owed the support.

4) Debts involving criminality and fraud-Not dischargeable and drunk driving is specifically mentioned in the bankruptcy code under debts that are non-dischargeable.

Dischargeable debts

1) Credit cards and personal loans- Generally all dischargeable.  The exception is when the creditor can prove that you had no intention to pay back the debts when you incurred them.  They do this by looking at when you charged something and what you charged.  Generally old charges are safe as are all charges for necessities.  But recent large charges on credit cards for luxuries might be challenged by a creditor at an adversary hearing in bankruptcy court.

2) Medical debts- Usually dischargeable without a problem unless you got some purely cosmetic surgery recently that you had no intention to pay for when you underwent the surgery.

3) Deficiency balances-Deficiency balances on autos, jewelry, furniture, and even second and third loans on homes are all dischargeable in a bankruptcy without a problem if the creditor has already repossessed the original property.  If the creditor has not then all he can do is recover the property.  He must leave you alone.

4) Debts not listed in the bankruptcy- There is case-law that states that if there is an unintentional failure to list a debt in the bankruptcy then it is dischargeable if there was no fraud, and there were no assets that were distributed by the trustee, and you received your discharge.  These are 9th circuit rulings and there are two cases that support this principle so don’t worry about this one.

E-mail me today at farquharesq@yahoo.com if you have a particular debt that you have questions about.

I am a bankruptcy lawyer practicing bankruptcy law in San Diego.