Posts

Abuses by Debt Collectors May Result in Adoption of New Rules by the Feds

Debt collectors have attempted to intimidate consumers into paying debts that are prescribed or not owed at all in cases of mistaken identity.

This Way Inside

This Way

If new rules are adopted debt companies would have to more fully document their accounts. Also proposed are requirements that would prevent a collector from contacting a debtor more than 6 times a week. And if a debtor dies the collector would have to wait a month before contacting the survivors.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will begin a lengthy adoption process which may or may not end with the implementation of the rules. It promises to be a very politicized path to adoption. But there is some cause for optimism. Debt collection is the most frequent complaint the CFPB deals with. And the bureau began working with consumer groups and industry leaders three years ago to formulate acceptable compromises regarding these problems.

In Louisiana, an open account, like a credit card debt or a credit at a store, prescribes three years from the date of last activity in the account. LA R.S. Art. 3494 (4). Despite this many creditors pay no attention and attempt to collect on older accounts that are past their prescription date. Consumers are often not aware that they may have a legal defense to collection of a debt.

Another issue arises when a creditor has sued the consumer and obtained a legal judgment to enforce payment a debt. In Louisiana, a money judgment prescribes 10 from its date of signing. LA CC Art. 3501. Obviously, a much longer period than for an open account. Most of these judgments are obtained by default, which is when the consumer doesn’t make an appearance in court to defend the suit. Problems arise when the consumer has not been properly served notice and citation of the lawsuit before the judgment is taken. This even has a name “sewer service”.

Another problem arises when the creditor has insufficient proof of the debt. Consumer debt is often sold and resold at deep discounts to debt collectors. This exacerbates the problem of proof as vital documents are lost or so called robo-affidavits are filed without personal knowledge.

Consumers have been ill served by debt collectors where their lack of knowledge and vulnerability have made them easy prey to unscrupulous or careless operators.

The Dreaded Means Test in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

The Means Test is the fierce hurdle Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers have to clear to avoid having the Court dismiss or convert their cases. Sound important? It is.When Congress reformed the bankruptcy law it felt that too many people were filing Chapter 7 liquidations, who could otherwise repay their creditors. To understand the complex rules of the Means Test it helps if you keep the lawmaker’s objective in the back of your mind.

JohnMenszer-0732What is income? Income is the current monthly income of the debtor as based historically on the last six months before filing. It includes all sources of income with the exception of social security benefits and tax refunds. It includes gross wages, pensions, sole proprietor income, dividends, unemployment benefits, payments made on behalf of the debtor by others and child support actually received.

If the Debtor’s income is below the median household income for his state and the size of his family, then there is no need to fill out the rest of the Means Test. You can stop there. The presumption of abuse does not apply. It is OK to file a Chapter 7.

What are expenses? While the income calculation is based on the personal circumstances of the debtor, the expense calculation begins with figures published by the IRS, which are national standards. The IRS has determined allowances for food, clothing, housing expenses, transportation and medical expenses based on family size for different areas of the country. These national standards are adjusted for remaining debt payments on houses and vehicles, payroll taxes, education expenses for minors (but only within strict limits), court ordered support payments, mandatory retirement payments, necessary and provable healthcare payments that exceed the national standards and past-due priority claims, like taxes and child support.

What is the amount proportional to the debtor’s total unsecured debt? In determining abuse Congress looked to how much a debtor could repay every month and also to what percentage of his total unsecured debt he could repay in the maximum of 60 months of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Then Congress indexed these figures for inflation.*

As of the writing of this blog*, if a debtor’s Means Tested income minus expenses is less than $130.37 per month, there is no abuse and the debtor can go on and file a Chapter 7. If a debtor’s Means Tested income minus expenses is greater than $207.92 per month, there is always a presumption of abuse and the debtor should consider filing a Chapter 13 or not at all, unless there are special circumstances like the Debtor took a lower paying job during the 6 months prior to filing. If the debtor’s Means Tested income minus expenses falls between these figures, then it is necessary to look to the total of the unsecured debts. If the Means Tested net income shows the debtor can repay more than 25% of these debts in 60 months then abuse will be presumed and the debtor had better consider filing a Chapter 13 or not at all. If the ratio of monthly net income times 60 months to unsecured debts is 25% or less of the debts, then Congress deemed this to be a negligible amount and it is OK to file a Chapter 7.

The Means Test is dreaded not only because it prevents certain people from filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but because it is such a darned hard test to take.

Will bankruptcy improve my credit score?

It might seem counterintuitive, but filing bankruptcy usually improves a credit score. The estimated 12 month post-filing credit score typically shows increases of from 25 to 100 points. Expect still greater improvement if post-filing credit is applied for, used wisely and bills are paid promptly.

This is for several reasons. The bankruptcy liquidates most debts and although the old debts are still listed on the credit report, they are indexed as discharged,. The debtor has been legally relieved of the obligation to repay the unmanageable burden. Another reason is that Chapter 7 discharge means that the debtor will not be able to re-file another Chapter 7 for 8 years from the date of discharge.

The credit score improvement is reflected in the fact that a post-bankruptcy creditor will not be competing with the old creditors for a share of the JohnMenszer-3496 debtor’s income to service the debt. Then new creditor takes comfort that the Chapter 7 debtor will not be able to re-file and liquidate his debt for at least 8 years. This removes one of the risks to the creditor for the next 8 years. Also, the bankruptcy debtor has taken, and benefitted from, the required consumer credit and financial management educational courses.

My clients want to know when they will be able to apply for new credit to buy a car or purchase a home. I tell them your bankruptcy is a public record and each creditor may interpret it differently as they weigh your financial strength. An auto finance firm may be willing to take your application as soon as your bankruptcy discharge is issued by the court. A company making home loans may want to wait until 2 years have passed since your bankruptcy before considering your application.

The right to bankruptcy is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution at Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4. The founding fathers wanted you to have the advantage of being able to make a fresh start and to be a productive member of the economy free of overwhelming debts. After filing bankruptcy it is likely that you can anticipate your credit score to improve after your discharge is issued.