Areas of Practice
We are conveniently located off of Hwy. 67 in Farmington, MO.
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The following are answers to questions, as well as topics, asked by clients about Bankruptcy. If, after reading the answers and topics, you still have questions or would like to retain the office, you are invited to make an appointment.
No. You must list all debt; however, debt which is secured by property (i.e. home, motor vehicle, boat, motor and trailer, mobile home, etc.) may be retained if debtor(s) and creditor(s) agree and reaffirmation agreement is signed.
No. In your bankruptcy schedules, you must list all property (real or personal) that you own. This includes property that is tangible or intangible. Intangible property includes a right to receive property or benefit in the future. This does not mean you will lose all your property. You will retain all of your exempt property as described herein.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is known as a “clean start” bankruptcy. It allows you to discharge most of your debts, while keeping your exempt property. No monthly payments are required.
Chapter 13 is known as a wage earner’s plan. It is an alternative to a Chapter 7. Chapter 13 involves making payments on your debts over 60 months; in return, you are allowed to keep most, if not all, of your property. At the conclusion of the payments, your unsecured debts are discharged; your secured debts, if still unpaid are not discharged. You must have regular income to file a Chapter 13.
Although there are many considerations as to whether to file under one or the other chapters, your eligibility to file Chapter 7 is controlled by a median income test, means (income) test and a totality of the circumstances test. Generally, if your household income falls below the median income for your state, then you may file Chapter 7. Even if it does not you may still qualify but only after analysis of your household income and living expenses. Unfortunately the criteria mandated by the new bankruptcy law is so involved that any further discussion of the test is not possible here. Normally you should file Chapter 7 unless you have a lot of valuable unsecured or non-mortgaged property that you wish to keep. Chapter 13 is especially helpful if you have in excess of $15,000.00 in equity in your home and you wish to keep it.
A debt is any present or future obligation to pay money or provide a service to a creditor. All debts to any creditor should be scheduled in your bankruptcy regardless if they are disputed or contingent. You want to discharge all possible debts. A creditor can be any person, partnership, corporation, limited liability company, as well as any federal, state or local government. A creditor includes any relative or friend that you owe money to or have a legal duty or obligation to do something, such as hold them harmless from a debt, provide a service, deliver property to that person or relative. A binding promise or guarantee is also a debt and must be listed. Obligations and duties that are due and owing pursuant to orders of a divorce court wherein you have been directed to assume, pay or hold harmless a non filing spouse or ex-spouse from a debt or an obligation is considered a debt to the creditor as well as your spouse or ex-spouse. A claim for personal injury, property damage, workers’ compensation claim against you or any other claim anyone might bring against you should be listed.
A debt incurred as result of fraud (theft, forgery, misrepresentation, etc.) may not be dischargeable; under certain circumstances it may even be grounds to deny a discharge of all your debts by the bankruptcy court. Fraudulent misrepresentations (lies) or failure to disclose known information in your bankruptcy proceeding either in your petition, schedules, statement of financial affairs, etc. are crimes. False statements (regardless if made under oath) to the court, trustee, U. S. Trustee’s representatives at any time is a crime. The FBI investigates bankruptcy crimes. You may go to jail or prison. Your discharge maybe denied.
“Property” is any real estate or personal property owned by you. Although not normally considered as property, the following is property for bankruptcy purposes:
Yes, Yes and Maybe.
The right to receive a refund in the future, even if the amount of the refund is unknown, is considered by the bankruptcy laws a property right. It must be listed as an asset if the amount is known. Even if it is not known, the trustee overseeing your bankruptcy case may require you to provide future tax returns and may very well require the refund be paid over to the bankruptcy court if it is not exempt. Do not spend a refund unless you have permission to do so. Often the refund check must be held until the court determines if it has an interest in your refund. The money paid into the court is used to pay administrative expenses and the balance is applied towards your debts.
Tax refunds that have been received and still exist in the form of cash should be listed as cash on hand or, if deposited in an account, as money in an account at a financial institution. Only if these assets are exempt will you be able to keep the money.
Do not apply for a rapid refund or a loan that is to be paid out of the refund.
Personal property that secures a debt (mortgaged or collateralized property) is valued at what a retail merchant would charge for property of that kind considering the age and condition of the property at the time the value is determined. (See 11 U.S.C.A. § 506)
Otherwise, property (real or personal) is valued at what price a willing seller would sell and a willing buyer would pay. A good value test is what it would sell for at public auction.
The value of personal property is not necessarily what it costs you new or what it would cost to replace new. Only if the merchandise has recently been purchased, i.e., within days, would its new cost or replacement cost be considered. But, even then, one should bear in mind that all retail personal property decreases in value as soon as you leave the store with it.
Real estate value is determined by purchase price, cost of improvements, comparable sales, recent appraisals, and/or county real estate assessments. One or more of these can be used as a basis for the value of your real estate.
In order to understand how bankruptcy works, you must understand what is “Equity”. Equity is the value of property, less what is owed against it. As an example, if your residence had a value of $57,000.00, but was subject to a mortgage of $42,000.00, you would have equity of $15,000.00 in the residence. If you had a car with a value of $10,000.00 but owed $7,000.00 against it, you would have equity of $3,000.00.
Exempt property is either personal or real property, which you are allowed to keep in spite of your debts and the failure to pay your debts. Exempt property includes the following:
There are many other exemptions, but this document does not allow for a complete discussion of the same. By listing all of your personal property and real estate, I will be able to identify any other exemptions you may be entitled to use to protect your property.
Exemptions can be waived by mortgage or security agreements.
In a chapter 7 any property you own, which is not “exempt”, will be sold or applied to satisfy your debts. In chapter 13 you will be allowed to keep the non-exempt property so long as you make the payments to fund the plan.
Debtors often use their refund to pay debts to friends or relatives; some make gifts to friends or relatives. If such payment was made within the last 2 years, it may be considered a preference of one creditor over another; it may also be considered a fraudulent act to defeat the rights of your creditors. The bankruptcy law does not allow you to prefer one creditor over another or give your property away to avoid paying your debts.
The court has the authority to set aside payments to a creditor, even if it was a family member or a friend. A loan from a family member or friend is a debt. Payment of this debt can be considered a preference of one creditor over another.
You cannot avoid the burden of the bankruptcy law by making a gift. Disposal of property by gift may be considered a fraudulent act and can be set aside by the bankruptcy court.
This office has seen debt repayments to grandparents or gifts to a child set aside and the money ordered paid into the court.
In Chapter 7, if you have real estate, which is your primary residence, and the equity exceeds $15,000.00, you may lose your primary residence. In Chapter 13 you will retain your residence so long as you make all payments of the Chapter 13 plan.
Any debt incurred after you have decided to file bankruptcy is considered a fraudulent act and is grounds for denial of discharge of the debt and denial of your general discharge of all debts. Once you decide to file bankruptcy, do not incur any more debts except for routine monthly living expenses that you expect to pay out of ordinary income. A creditor may contest a discharge because you incurred a debt before you decided to file bankruptcy. The creditor may believe you incurred the debt with plans to file bankruptcy even though you intended at the time to pay the debt. It is impossible for this office to predict what, if any, creditor will assert such objection. If such objection is made, it must be litigated in the bankruptcy court and we charge extra for this service. An objection is formally made when an adversary proceeding is filed with the bankruptcy court.
Cash advances on credit cards may not be dischargeable. Do not obtain cash advances of any type or kind once you decide to file bankruptcy. If you do so, such advances could be considered a fraudulent act, which could result in you being denied a discharge or possibly being charged with a crime. Make sure you discuss any cash advances on credit cards with your lawyer during your initial consultation.
Balance transfers on credit cards may not be dischargeable. Do not make balance transfers of any type or kind once you decide to file bankruptcy. To do so might be grounds for denial of a discharge or could be considered a crime. Make sure you discuss any balance transfers on any credit cards with your lawyer.
Once your bankruptcy is filed, all personal property, or real estate owned by you comes under the exclusive control of the bankruptcy court. You no longer have the right to transfer, sell or mortgage your real estate or personal property. You should continue to pay routine monthly living expenses out of ordinary income. Any significant payment of a debt besides routine monthly expenses or monthly installments should not be made without permission of your attorney. This restriction on the sale, transfer or mortgage of your property terminates once you receive the order of discharge or your bankruptcy case is dismissed.
In a chapter 7 case, obligations created in a divorce may not be dischargeable. In chapter 13, you can discharge financial obligations that are not considered child support or spousal support.
If you have transferred property to anyone for less than its fair market value, the bankruptcy court may set the transfer aside and order the person who received the property to turn it over to the bankruptcy court. The person who received the property may become involved in your bankruptcy proceeding. These types of transfers are considered fraudulent and in violation of your creditor’s rights. Your creditors must be treated equally even in anticipation of filing bankruptcy. The court will scrutinize any transfers or gifts made within two (2) years of filing. You are required to disclose all transfers of real or personal property made to anyone within the last year in your bankruptcy papers. You cannot transfer real property or personal property to someone to avoid the consequences of bankruptcy.
If, within six months after your Petition for relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Laws is filed, you become entitled to receive life insurance as a result of the death of anyone, you must report the same to the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court will then order that the money be transferred to the court and be applied to your debts. Failure to inform the court may be considered grounds for denial of discharge of all your debts and also could be considered a criminal act. Upon learning that you are entitled to receive proceeds from a life insurance policy, either before we file your bankruptcy petition, or within six months thereafter, you should immediately inform your attorney of this occurrence.
If you become entitled to an inheritance anytime within 6 months of filing your petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, you must inform the bankruptcy court of the same. Any inheritance you become entitled to will become an asset of your bankrupt estate and, in all likelihood, would have to be turned over to the court to be applied towards your debts. You should inform your attorney if you become entitled to any inheritance during that six month period. Failure to do so could be grounds for denial of your discharge and also could be considered a criminal act.
If you have filed a timely, non-fraudulent income tax return and did not engage in tax evasion, but have simply failed to pay the tax, the obligation is dischargeable in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 so long as:
(1) Taxes are more than three (3) years old; and
(2) Taxes were assessed more than 240 days before the bankruptcy.
When counting off the three years, count three years after any extension period expired. Besides extensions, certain events can also interrupt the three year period, including the following:
(a) The time that an automatic stay existed in an earlier bankruptcy case.
(b) Any amount of time during which a taxpayer assistance order is in effect.
(c) Any time that the IRS was prevented from collecting the taxes because of requests for due process hearing.
It is not possible for me to give an opinion on whether or not you qualify for discharge of your taxes until you have consulted with an accountant, who determines your qualifications based on the above criteria. If you are seeking a discharge of taxes, you should consult with an accountant familiar with the exact history of your tax return and contacts with the Internal Revenue Service. Your accountant should provide me a detailed history of that contact. Then, and only then, can I give an opinion as to whether or not your taxes are dischargeable.
Normally, student loans are not dischargeable except in cases of extreme hardship. Extreme hardship can only be shown after trial and presentation of supporting evidence. The cost of litigation can be costly.
Child support and ex-spouse maintenance is not dischargeable.
It is illegal to sell or transfer any property you have pledged as collateral without permission of the creditor. Any debt secured by such property that has been sold or transferred, may not be dischargeable.
Clients may not know if their property purchased on credit has been pledged as collateral. That status is only determined by the written contract you signed with your creditor.
You may retain real property or personal property that has been mortgaged so long as you agree with your creditor that the debt will survive the bankruptcy and you will continue to make payments. Both you and the creditor must execute a Reaffirmation Agreement and that Agreement must be filed with the Bankruptcy Court. This Reaffirmation Agreement creates a new debt which survives the bankruptcy and the obligation as described therein is not discharged by the bankruptcy proceeding. Reaffirmation Agreements that are filed with the Bankruptcy Court can be rescinded if notice of rescission is given to the court and to the creditor within sixty (60) days of filing the Agreement with the court.
Under the new bankruptcy law, there is a test to determine whether or not you can reaffirm a debt. If you fail this test, you can only reaffirm if your attorney or the bankruptcy judge certifies that you are able to make payments on the debt and it is not otherwise a hardship upon you or your family. Without such certification, the reaffirmation may not be approved by the court. Your attorney may refuse to certify the reaffirmation. The reason he will not certify is because it is not in your best interest. This office will not certify any reaffirmation agreements wherein it will be a hardship upon the client or debtor.
Your creditor is not required to execute a Reaffirmation Agreement, but usually will do so because it is in the creditor’s best interest to avoid the cost and expense of repossession of the collateral. Creditors will be reluctant to enter into Reaffirmation Agreements if you are behind in your payments. If you intend to reaffirm a debt, then keep your payments current on that debt.
Within thirty (30) days of the meeting of creditors, a chapter 7 debtor must perform the stated intention with respect to collateral of a secured or mortgaged debt, i.e., surrender, redemption, or reaffirmation; failure to do so will result in the stay order of collection activities being terminated. A chapter 7 debtor may not retain possession of purchase money collateral beyond forty-five (45) days from the meeting of creditors without redeeming the collateral or reaffirming the debt.
If you have borrowed money and pledged consumer goods (which you already owned) as collateral and these consumer goods are also exempt personal property, any lien on these consumer goods may be canceled. In order to do so, a Motion must be filed with the bankruptcy court and a hearing must be held on this motion. Additional fees are charged for this service. This lien is called a Non-purchase money security lien. This cancellation process does not apply to money borrowed to purchase new or pre-owned consumer goods; it does not apply to motor vehicles.
After you have retained your attorney, it takes approximately 2 to 4 weeks to prepare the paperwork. The paperwork is complex and extensive and will require you to provide detailed information about your debts and financial condition. Until all information is gathered, your Petition cannot be filed with the Court.
Once your Petition is filed, the court will schedule a hearing within 30-60 days. This first hearing is called a creditor’s meeting and each debtor’s attendance is mandatory. At this hearing you will be questioned about your financial status and accuracy of the information in your Petition.
In Chapter 7, approximately 120 days later, if no one contests the proceeding, the Court will discharge you from your debts.
In Chapter 13, you will get a discharge only if you make all the payments of the plan.
You will be provided many documents to read and understand before you file bankruptcy. You must read these disclosures; they contain important information that will prevent problems after filing your bankruptcy. Before your bankruptcy is filed you must proof read all documents to be filed. You must sign your name affirming the accuracy. This final check of accuracy is extremely important. Only you can verify your records are accurate. Failure to do so can be disastrous, leading to a denial of discharge of all or parts of your debts. It can be used against you later to prove fraud in a criminal proceeding against you because your information is not accurate. Do not casually read your court documents. If something is not accurate, bring it to our attention immediately.
The new law mandates a credit briefing or counseling session for the debtor within 180 days preceding the bankruptcy filing, either by telephone or over the internet, by a non-profit credit counseling agency. The briefing will introduce the debtor to the services of credit counseling and assist with a budget analysis. The debtor is required to submit a certificate from the credit counseling agency describing the services provided. The cost of credit counseling is paid by the debtor. If you hire us, we arrange for credit counseling at my office. Credit counseling can not be done the day we file your bankruptcy.
Once you file your Petition, the Bankruptcy Court enters a stay order directing your creditors to stop any collection activities including phone calls, garnishments, lawsuits, foreclosure sales or repossession activities.
However, if you have filed one or more previous bankruptcy cases within a year of filing the present bankruptcy (and said bankruptcy was dismissed), your automatic stay may be limited or may not be granted at all. If you have filed bankruptcy within one year before the present case, a stay order with respect to a debt secured by your property or with respect to any lease shall terminate thirty (30) days after filing. It will only continue if the court grants an extension. Any cost of obtaining an extension is an extra fee by my office. Such litigation is not encouraged by this office.
If you have filed bankruptcy more than once within the last year, then you will not be granted an automatic stay without order of the court. Again, this office does not encourage such litigation and the cost and expense is extra in addition to any other fees you may pay this office.
Bankruptcy does not always make it impossible to get credit, but it usually makes it much harder. The fact that you have filed bankruptcy will stay on your credit record for ten years. If you expect to need credit in the next ten years for such things as a car, business, house, furniture, or appliances, you may have to rebuild your credit record from scratch or else deal with merchants who charge higher interest rates and are very harsh when payments are late.
Filing of a Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy proceeding suspends all of your present legal activities. Legal activities include any lawsuits, regardless if you are a plaintiff or defendant. Legal activities also include real estate sales contracts, lease agreements, sales contracts for personal property. Make sure you bring any lawsuit or any uncompleted contract to the attention of your attorney.
Under the new law, you must complete a financial management course before the bankruptcy court will grant you a discharge of your debts. The cost of this course ranges from $50.00 to $60.00. Failure to complete the financial management course would mean that your bankruptcy was a complete waste of time because you would not receive a discharge of your debts. If you hire us, we arrange for the financial management course to be done at my office. The financial management course must be completed within 45 days of the first scheduled Creditor’s meting.
Prior to the meeting of creditors, in a Chapter 7 case, a copy of debtor’s federal tax return for the most recent year must be provided to the trustee. Failure to provide the return mandates a dismissal of your case unless you can show the failure is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control.
The United States Trustee, on behalf of the bankruptcy court, is responsible for conducting random audits of 0.4 percent (1 in 250) of Chapter 7 and 13 cases with the purpose of determining the accuracy, veracity and completeness of petitions and schedules. The debtor’s failure to cooperate in such an audit is grounds for revocation of discharge under Section 727(d)(4), and the debtor has a duty to cooperate.
Any creditor can bring an adversary proceeding against you to contest the discharge of any debt for grounds allowed by law. Typically these are based on allegations of fraud in procurement of the debt or in dealings with your creditor. The US Trustee’s office (a branch of the United States Prosecuting Attorney’s office) can also file an adversary proceeding to contest your entire discharge of all your debts, if it determines you have acted fraudulently in filing or presenting your bankruptcy to the court or trustee, such as failing to accurately complete your documents, trying to hide assets, lying at the creditors meeting or other acts of fraud. If the bankruptcy court determines you acted fraudulently, you will be denied a discharge of all or part of your debts. These debts can never be discharged. You also may be prosecuted criminally for fraud. Adversary proceedings are considered separate and distinct from your bankruptcy case. Our fees do not cover representation in an adversary proceeding. Fees are quoted only on a case by case basis.
Read the Handouts and Your Contract
If hired we provide many handouts, disclosures, notices and warnings. You will be provided a detailed contract of employment of this office. Read each one. If you fail to do so, don’t be surprised that you suffer adverse consequences including a money or property loss.
Problems at any time must be brought to our attention as soon as possible
Completion of bankruptcy forms is time consuming, complex and difficult. You must cooperate with this office. Only you have the information necessary to complete the forms. We will not gather records and documents from your creditors. You must perform this task. If you fail to provide documents or information requested, I might terminate the relationship; if I do so, all fees paid are considered earned and no refund is made.
You must answer all questions of your attorney and complete all forms in an honest manner. When asked questions by representatives of the court or the U. S. government, you must answer honestly. Fraudulent misrepresentations made in your bankruptcy proceeding are a crime. The FBI investigates bankruptcy crimes. They are also grounds for denial of a discharge of your debts. These crimes are actively prosecuted by the U. S. Attorney’s Office of the Department of Justice. You lie, you may go to jail.
Read All Documents. Bankruptcy is serious and requires your undivided attention
You are responsible for the accuracy of all petitions, schedules, statements, reaffirmation agreements, motions, etc., filed with the Bankruptcy Court. Carefully review all documents presented to you. If you believe information is inaccurate, or you do not understand the meaning of the document or terms contained therein, then it is your responsibility to bring those issues to the attention of your attorney. Do not sign documents which are incorrect, have inaccurate information, or you do not understand. In addition, you will be provided other documents that you are required to read prior to the creditor’s examination. Only you can verify the accuracy of your documents
Each debtor must undergo examination. You must personally appear in either the City of St. Louis or the City of Cape Girardeau, be placed under oath, and answer questions concerning your bankruptcy. Attendance at creditor’s hearings is mandatory and failure to attend means that your proceeding may be dismissed. Creditor’s hearings are not continued except for extreme emergencies, such as hospitalization or death. Continuances, which are caused by you, may result in additional charges. You will be required to bring records or documents of your financial condition to the creditor’s examination.
Chapter 7 Fees
Fees are quoted over the phone.
Chapter 13 Fees
We no longer offer this service. We will be glad to refer you to an attorney who does provide this service.
You are invited to make an appointment to see me personally to answer any additional questions or to start your bankruptcy.
KENNETH A. SEUFERT
This webpage was created for educational purposes only. Although every attempt has been made to provide accurate information, you read and rely on this information at your own risk. You must not act, fail to act or rely on this information herein. You should consult with an attorney to discuss what legal problem you may have before taking any action or inaction. If you do not have an attorney, you are invited to contact our law office and make an appointment to discuss your legal problem. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.