The Haven Act of 2019 is intended to help more veterans qualify for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Prior to the law change the bankruptcy courts would include Veteran Disability Benefit Payments in the calculation of disposable income even though Social Security Disability payments did not count. With the additional income, it made it more difficult for veterans to qualify for Chapter 7. With the new law our veterans will be better served by bankruptcy. Considering a disproportionate share of veterans are forced to turn to bankruptcy for relief, the new law is a welcome change.
Under Bankruptcy Law, the Bankruptcy Court takes into account the debtors household income and compares it to the median family income of their state to help determine whether a chapter 13 or a chapter 7 should be filed. On April 1, 2019 the household income numbers increased. In New Jersey, there is a presumption that a Chapter 13 should be filed (although depending on expenses a Chapter 7 is still possible) if income exceeds $68,349.00 for a family of one, $82,263.00 for a family of two, $103,634.00 for a family of three and $125,465.00 for a family of four. In Pennsylvania those numbers are $55,117.00 for a family of one, $66,649.00 for a family of two, $82,518.00 for a family of three and $100,078.00 for a family of four. Note that even if you make less than the average similiar family, equity in assets and expenses will still also be used to determine whether chapter 7 is appropriate.
Whether I am in my office in Willingboro New Jersey or in Northeast Philadelphia I often hear the same statement when a client comes in to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy- "I don't want to include my car in the bankruptcy ". While keeping a car is generally not a problem, the car is required to be included in the bankruptcy since a debtor is required to list everything owned and all debts, including car loans. However, in addition to listing the car, a Statement of Intentions regarding the car must also be filed. In it the debtor states whether they intend to surrender the vehicle, reaffirm the debt on the vehicle, or redeem the vehicle. Reaffirm means a form is completed and filed with the court which has the effect of taking the car out of the bankruptcy. The good part is it helps rebuild credit. The bad part is if you default and the car is repossessed you will be liable for any deficiency claim. Redemption is when you have a car worth, for example, $10,000.00 and you owe $15,000 there are companies that will lend you the $10,000 and you are basically saying if I gave you the car back you would only get $10,000 even though I owe you $15,000 so I am giving you $10,000 and that is what you get. The bottom line is keeping your car in a bankruptcy is generally not a problem.
On line shopping and high rent costs, among other things has caused multiple retailers to seek protection in Chapter 11 bankruptcy or file Chapter 7 bankruptcy and close. Competition from on line sellers combined with high operating costs are the leading causes. It seems like another large retailer may soon be in bankruptcy. According to USA Today , the retailer Barney's is considering filing a bankruptcy. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.usatoday.co/amp/1728925001 The reasons given are pretty typical of the problems facing many retailers today. A combination of high rent and online competition. The final straw may have been a rent increase at the Madison Avenue location which according to USA Today went from$16 to $30 million in January. The impact on the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Barney's is still unclear. Choices of retailers may soon be a thing of the past.
The increase in exemptions available in New Jersey to protect the equity in your home has made it easier to keep your home in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. As of April 1, 2019 the exemption a home owner is allowed under federal exemptions, which are used in New Jersey, increased to $25,150.00 per home owner. For example, if you and your spouse own a home in, say, Cherry Hill, NJ or Voorhees, NJ and the home is worth $200,000.00 and there is a mortgage of $130,000.00 you would be able to file a chapter 7 and keep your home as long as you are able to continue making your mortgage payments and as long as you meet the other chapter 7 eligibility requirements such as those relating to income. That is because there would be no reason for a trustee to sell your home since there would be no benefit to your creditors. If a trustee sold the home in this example, the trustee would have realtor and other fees of about $20,000.00, the mortgage of $130,000.00 and you and your spouse could protect from creditors a total of $50,300.00. Consequently, if you are in need of a bankruptcy but are concerned you will lose your home, you should immediately consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney
When a bankruptcy is filed the individuals filing are allowed to protect a certain amount of equity in their assets and keep those exempt assets. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania debtors filing bankruptcy can protect assets using Federal or state exemptions. Except for certain types of assets, most bankruptcies in New Jersey or Pennsylvina rely on Federal Exemptions. Those Federal Exemptions increased as of April 1, 2019. For example, the amount of equity in your residence increased from $23,675.00 per owner to $25,150.00 per owner. Household goods and furnishing exemptions increased from $12,625 to $13,400.00. Other increases include motor vehicle from $3,775.00 to $4,000.00, jewelry from $1,600.00 to $1700.00 and proceeds from personal injury lawsuit from $23,675.00 to $25,150.00. As a result, even when filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy often the debtor will not lose any assets in the process.
A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy can eliminate obligations from a Judgment of Divorce that cannot be eliminated in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Neither will eliminate domestic support obligations such as child support or spousal support. However, if there are other obligations relating to a property settlement agreement or an allocation of liabilities, those obligations can be reduced or eliminated in a chapter 13 but not in a chapter 7. This is because the exception to discharge section that applies to chapter 7 basically makes all divorce related liabilities nondischargeable but the exception section for chapter 13 only applies to domestic support obligations. Because of these differences, if you are filing a bankruptcy after a divorce, it is imortant to discuss with your attorney all obligations under the Judgment for Divorce because it may make more sense to file a chapter 13 when at first blush the case may seem appropriate for a chapter 7.
You can build your credit after bankruptcy. Sometimes clients will come into my office in Cherry Hill, NJ and express concern that if they file bankruptcy they will not have credit again for 10 years. That is not accurate. In fact many times credit scores of clients are already low from missed payments and filing will actually lead to improvement in credit score. If a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is filed, approximately three months later the individual receives their discharge. If they own a vehicle with payments and they have reaffirmed the debt, they are already on their way to reestablishing credit since their credit report will show the vehicle payments. After the bankruptcy is completed, often in less than one year an opportunity to obtain a credit card will arise. While avoiding credit cards is a good policy, it may be helpful to get a credit card with a low limit, use it for a small purchase like gasoline or groceries, and pay it off each month. At that point, your defaulted unsecured debt will have been eliminated and the current status on car payments and a credit card will have you well on your way to reestablishing credit.