When a business files a bankruptcy, under certain circumstances the bankruptcy trustee can assert a preference claim against certain creditors and take back from those creditors money previously paid to the creditor by the debtor. For example, if within 90 days of the filing of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy a payment is made on a past due invoice, in certain circumstances the trustee can assert that the creditor received a preference which is unfair to the other creditors and therefore, even though the money was owed, they must give it back to the debtor so the money can be redistributed to treat creditors equally. Trustee's would take advantage of this power by filing suit in order to try and get a settlement even though there may be valid defenses such as new value or contemporaneous exchange. In addition, if a company in, say Maple Shade NJ files a chapter 11 and the the debtor paid a company in Bozeman, Montana within 90 days before filing, the company in Bozeman could be forced to litigate in New Jersey. Under the new law, a trustee must do reasonable due diligence and consider defenses before they can file a suit. In addition, all lawsuits for less than $25,000.00 must be filed in the District where the defendant business is located. Both changes were badly needed.
"Am I eligible to file a Chapter 13?" is a question I am often asked. Bankruptcy code section 109, entitled "Who may be a debtor" provides many of the requirements. To file a Chapter 13 you cannot have more than $1,257,850.00 in secured debt nor more then $419,275.00 in unsecured debt. Since this is Federal law these rules apply regardless of whether you file bankruptcy in New Jersey, Pennsylvania or anywhere else. In addition you must have completed a credit counseling course within 180 prior to the filing. You must be an individual. Also, you are not eligible to file a Chapter 13 you had a Chapter 13 within the prior 180 days and your prior case was dismissed for willful failure to obey court order or to appear in proper prosecution of a case. In addition, if you dismiss a chapter 13 bankruptcy after the creditor has filed a motion for relief from the automatic stay, you cannot file another Chapter 13 for 180 days. However, if your prior bankruptcy was dismissed by the court, and not at your request, you can refile. There are other rules that come into play, such as good faith. It is best to consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to confirm eligibility
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.
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.
When a chapter 13 bankruptcy is filed the court automatically schedules two hearings. The first is a meeting of creditors. The debtors are required to attend this meeting with the chapter 13 trustee and their attorney. Creditors are invited to come but they rarely do. The other hearing is the confirmation hearing. The debtors' do not have to attend this hearing but their attorney does. In New Jersey the hearing will take place at the Federal courthouse in Camden NJ, Trenton NJ or Newark NJ. The purpose of the hearing is to have the court approve the chapter 13 plan regarding repayment to creditors. Often the confirmation hearing will need to be adjourned to address the claims filed or other issues raised by the trustee. Except in unusual or complicated matters if the Chapter 13 trustee is satisfied with the plan and objections have been addressed the trustee will recommend confirmation and the judge will enter an order approving the chapter 13 plan
The Wall Street journal reports that Gymboree is on the verge of filing a bankruptcy with the likely closure of their stores. Locally there are several stores including at the Cherry Hill Mall in Cherry Hill New Jersey, The Promenade at Sagemore in Marlton NJ and the Deptford Mall in Deptford NJ. In Philadelphia Pennsylvania the store at the Philadelphia Mills Mall would be impacted. The bankruptcy will be just another reminder of the difficulties retail chains face today.