Thursday, April 30, 2020

Garnishment of SS for student loan default suspended

Published: April 28, 2020

From: Overton County News

The Trump Administration has put a timely halt on the ability of the government to garnish Social Security benefits to pay for defaulted student loans for an indefinite period during the COVID crisis, reports Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC].

Seniors are the fastest growing segment of the population with outstanding student loan debt. Research conducted by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] shows that, “In 2018, Americans over the age of 50 owed more than $260 billion in student debt, up from $36 billion in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve. Nearly 40% of borrowers aged 65 and older are in default.”

Bob Carlstrom, president of AMAC Action initiative, said, “Forty-five percent of unmarried Social Security recipients and 21% of married couples rely on their benefits for at least 90% of their income. Garnishing that fixed income for student loan debt can have a particularly devastating impact on their lives.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, March 25, Carlstrom expressed AMAC’s appreciation for the decision to suspend the garnishment of Social Security benefits.

“We commend the administration and the Secretary of Education for suspending the ability of the federal government to garnish the Social Security income of beneficiaries for payment of student debt during this challenging time,” Carlstrom stated. “The Secretary has indeed responded to the concerns and pleas of many members – and non-members – of AMAC. This action is a good first step on this issue.”

Social Security benefits are off limits to nearly all creditors, but not the federal government, which can garnish Social Security benefits for certain debts, including federal student loan debt cosigned by retirees.

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans over 50 hold $260 billion in student loan debt. Benefits can be garnished for court-ordered child support or alimony, or for debts owed to the government. For many seniors, however, their monthly Social Security check is both a critical part of, and indeed the safety net, of their income and financial situation.

“We believe Social Security benefits should be protected permanently from student loan default garnishment by any party, including the federal government,” Carlstrom said.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Do I have to pay back my $1,200 stimulus check?

Don’t fall for these five myths about the stimulus payments

 Published: April 21, 2020
From: MarketWatch
By: Andrew Keshner

Can Debt Collectors Steal Your Stimulus Check?

The CARES Act neglected to protect people from creditors, but some lawmakers are working to correct that.

April 16, 2020
From: The Motley Fool
By: Dan Caplinger

The coronavirus crisis is causing severe financial pain across the U.S., where tens of millions of people have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment benefits in just the past month. For those who have lost income, a federal stimulus check could be vital to their financial well-being right now.

Unfortunately, many people who were already having money troubles before the COVID-19 pandemic hit are now running into a new challenge with their stimulus payments. Debt collectors are rushing in to try to grab up those stimulus checks in order to satisfy people's past debts. Because of the way that lawmakers set up the stimulus check program, what those debt collectors are doing appears to be legal -- but it also threatens to undermine the entire point of the program, which was to rush cash to hard-hit Americans so that they could cover their current expenses during this crisis.

Despite the best of intentions

The Treasury Department has worked hard to try to get stimulus money to people rapidly. For those who included direct deposit banking information with their 2018 or 2019 tax returns, the Treasury is using that data to send stimulus payments directly into people's bank accounts. For most people, that's the fastest way to get the money where it needs to go.

However, millions of people owe certain kinds of debt for which creditors can garnish bank accounts. That includes just about any type of debt on which collection proceedings have advanced far enough for creditors to get a court judgment. When debt collectors present banks with garnishment orders, banks follow procedures that often include freezing accounts. To regain access to their funds, banks require account holders to provide proof that the money that's come into the account is somehow exempt from garnishment. Most people in debt don't know how to respond effectively to such demands even in the best of times -- let alone when they are stuck in their homes, when bank branches are closed to the public, and when courts aren't functioning at anywhere near normal capacity.

Lawmakers could have specifically designated the stimulus payments as exempt from garnishment or debt collection proceedings. However, they didn't include such clear provisions in the CARES Act, which leaves the matter up to legal interpretation. That ambiguity set the stage for debt collectors to act -- and they're acting quickly.

Fixing the problem

Now that they've identified the problem, legislators at the state level are working fast to address it. State laws govern much of the legal framework around debt collection, so in some states, those receiving stimulus checks already had some protection. Other states are moving to pass emergency legislation that exempts the stimulus payments from debt collection proceedings.

Congress could also take action, although it might be difficult for it to do so quickly enough to make a difference. Passing a federal law that reclassifies stimulus money into the same category as other exempt payments would offer everyone across the nation protection.

What you can do

If you're already aware that your bank account might be subject to a garnishment order, there are some things you can do to try to protect yourself. They include:
  • Having your stimulus payment sent to a different bank account. Often, garnishment orders will apply to all bank accounts, but if you know that debt collectors have only identified one of your accounts, then having your stimulus money deposited into an account at a different institution might protect it.
  • Getting a physical stimulus check. The IRS is seeking banking information for many Americans through its Get My Payment tool, with the goal of expediting those stimulus payments. However, if you anticipate problems, getting a physical check and cashing it will help keep it from getting locked up in a frozen bank account.
With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on all our lives, the last thing any of us need is for our stimulus checks to get taken away. If you think debt collectors might be looking to take your stimulus payment, don't wait for lawmakers to help you out -- do what you can to protect yourself and your finances.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

What Really Happens When You File for Bankruptcy

April 17, 2020
By: Kristin Wong and Lisa Rowan

Bankruptcy is a last resort for people and businesses alike. Many companies file for bankruptcy and continue business as usual; the lesser-known reality is that individuals can file for bankruptcy and emerge in one piece, too.

Bankruptcy is poorly understood, so let’s talk about how it affects your finances.

The differences between chapter 7, 13, and 11

In general, people file for bankruptcy when there’s no way in hell they can meet their debt obligations. Popular assumption is that those people are bad with money and take out too much credit card debt. Sure, that happens, but often, people file bankruptcy after a major financial blow. It might be a lawsuit debacle or an unexpected illness.

A lot of people think bankruptcy wipes out any and all debt obligations, but that’s not the case. You still have to pay up, and how you’ll pay up depends on what kind of bankruptcy you file: chapter 7, chapter 13, or chapter 11. There are other types of specific bankruptcies, too (chapter 12 is for farmers and fishermen, for example), but these three are the most common.

With chapter 7, you may have to liquidate certain assets (like a car or a second home) to pay off at least some of the debt. Most of your assets are probably exempt, but it depends on your state, your financial situation, and whether or not that asset is deemed “essential.” You have to meet certain eligibility requirements to file, and income is perhaps the most important one. As legal site Nolo explains, there’s a whole set of criteria to determine your income eligibility, but generally, you have to have little to no disposable income.

With chapter 13, you get a plan to pay off your debts within the next three to five years, but you get to keep your assets. After it’s all said and done, some of those debts will likely be discharged. You have to qualify, though, and that means your secured debts can’t be more than $1,184,200 and your unsecured debts cannot be more than $394,725. Secured debt is debt that’s backed by collateral, like your house or car.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy works kind of like chapter 13, but it's typically reserved for businesses. Businesses can file for chapter 7 bankruptcy, too, but again, that means a liquidation of assets, so chapter 11 is usually a more attractive option. Companies get to keep their stuff and keep their creditors at bay while they continue their operations, but they have to come up with a plan to pay off at least some of their debt, or get it forgiven.

What happens when you file

When you file for bankruptcy, you get an automatic stay. Basically, this puts a block on your debt to keep creditors from collecting. While the stay is in place, they can’t garnish your wages, deduct money from your bank account, or go after any secured assets.

Ironically, bankruptcy isn’t free. The filing fee alone is between $300 and $350 for chapters 7 and 13. And then there are the attorney fees. You can file without a lawyer, but it’s not recommended since bankruptcy laws can be tough to navigate. Attorney fees for chapter 7 average around $1,500, while chapter 13 fees tend to be in the $2,000-$3,000 range. With many attorneys, the more complex your situation, the more you’ll pay.

There are ways reduce the legal costs of filing for bankruptcy. Nonprofit Upsolve, for one, helps you generate your bankruptcy filing forms for free if your case is a simple one. Or, your local legal aid society may be able to connect you with low-cost legal services.

You’ll also have to take a class or two. The government requires individuals to get credit counseling 180 days before you file, and you also have to take a debtor education course if you want your debts discharged.

A couple of weeks after filing, you’ll have to attend a “creditors meeting,” which is basically what it sounds like: a court meeting between you, your bankruptcy trustee, and any creditors who want to attend. They’ll all ask you questions about your financial situation and decision to file bankruptcy.

Your assets get liquidated with chapter 7

Nolo says that in most cases, chapter 7 debtors don’t have to liquidate their property (unless it’s collateral) because it’s usually exempt or it’s just not worth it. They explain:
If the property isn’t worth very much or would be cumbersome for the trustee to sell, the trustee may “abandon” the property — which means that you get to keep it, even though it is nonexempt...Most property owned by Chapter 7 debtors is either exempt or is essentially worthless for purposes of raising money for the creditors. As a result, few debtors end up having to surrender any property, unless it is collateral for a secured debt…
After the creditors meeting, your trustee will figure out whether or not to liquidate your stuff. If it does get liquidated, that means you’ll have to either surrender it or fork over its equivalent cash value to pay back your debt.

You get a payment plan with chapter 13

With chapter 13, you get a plan to pay off your debts, and some of them have to be paid in full. These debts are “priority debts,” and they include alimony, child support, tax obligations, and wages you owe to employees.

Your plan is based on how much you owe and what your income looks like, and it will include how much you have to pay and when you have to pay it.

What happens to your credit

Your credit score will plummet with a bankruptcy. The higher your score, the more it’ll fall. FICO notes that the more accounts are involved in your bankruptcy filing, the greater an impact you’ll see to your score.

In general, chapter 7 bankruptcy remain on your credit report for 10 years, and chapter 13 stays on for seven.

After bankruptcy is all said and done, most debts are discharged, but not all of them.

In some cases, student loans can be discharged after a bankruptcy, but you have to pass a federal test for hardship.

Other difficult-to-discharge debts include:
  • Tax debts
  • Alimony and child support
  • Divorce-related debts, including property settlement debts
Bankruptcy is usually a desperate remedy to a helpless situation. But knowing how it works and what to expect can help you navigate some of the misconceptions and figure out what the process actually entails.

This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated on 4/17/2020 by Lisa Rowan. Updates include: Checked links for accuracy; updated formatting to reflect current style; revised article to focus on bankruptcy methods for individuals; updated monetary requirements and averages.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020

We hope that all are safe and doing well in these uncertain times. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, contains several changes to the Bankruptcy Code, which are detailed below.
1) a) With respect to personal bankruptcy, the CARES Act amends the definition of “income” in the Bankruptcy Code for Chapters 7 and 13 cases so that coronavirus-related payments from the federal government will be excluded from being treated as income.   b) Coronavirus-related payments made by the federal government under the CARES Act will be excluded from the disposable income calculation for purposes of confirming a Chapter 13 Plan.          c) Finally, chapter 13 debtors will now be able to extend their plan payments for up to seven years instead of five years (under the prior law).

2) A. The Small Business Debtor bankruptcy provisions were modified such that small business debtors with debt up to $7.5 million will now be eligible to file for bankruptcy, rather than the old limit of $2,725,625 in debt.

B. Under the chapter 11 reorganization plan, small business debtors can now retain their equity or member interests in an LLC even if creditors are not being paid in full. The law requires a small business debtor to pay their “projected disposable income” over the next 3 to 5 years to creditors who were owed money at the time of the bankruptcy filing. Under the new law, a creditors’ committee is not formed, but the small business debtor will only have 90 days to file a reorganization plan, with very limited right to extend. Additionally, a “standing trustee” will be responsible for oversight of the small business debtor instead of a creditor committee. The standing trustee will be selected by the U.S. Department of Justice from a list of preapproved turnaround professionals.

People with questions about the CARES act should contact
Jim Shenwick   212-541-6224

Monday, April 06, 2020

NYC taxi fleet founded in the 1970s files bankruptcy amid coronavirus

April 1, 2020
From: NY Post
By: Thornton McEnery

A Brooklyn taxi operator who got his first medallion in the 1970s has filed for bankruptcy as the coronavirus ravages an already struggling industry, The Post has learned.

Joe Pross, who started driving a taxi in 1975 and now runs a fleet of 42 cabs, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for his Crown Heights-based medallion company, Walker Service Corp., on March 27, court papers show.

Pross, 75, declined to be interviewed for this story. But his Brooklyn federal court bankruptcy filings underscore how vulnerable taxi operators were prior to the coronavirus crippling tourism and forcing thousands of New Yorkers inside.

Walker Service Corp. appears to be the first medallion owner to file for bankruptcy protection since the pandemic shut down the city, but it’s not likely the last, industry experts say.

 “This industry was on the brink before this happened, and this virus has just pushed it totally over the edge,” said Matthew Daus, a former TLC commissioner who’s now a lawyer with Windels Marx. “I hope we don’t see more bankruptcies, but I’m afraid a lot of people might go under and file for bankruptcy protection. This will be worse than 9/11 economically, especially for the black cars and luxury livery.”

In an affidavit filed with his bankruptcy papers, Pross says his medallions — “once worth millions” — plummeted in value as ride-hailing apps and Uber and Lyft grew in popularity, leaving him and his wife struggling to pay off loans they took out on their medallions to build the business.

By 2019, before the coronavirus even hit, Pross’ fleet was pulling in $29,400 a month — far short of the $105,610 a month he needed to repay $18.7 million in medallion loans, court papers show.

In late February, his lender, Virginia-based Pentagon Federal Credit Union, issued notices of default on six loans and demanded $158,186 within 30 days to rectify the situation.

Pross says he tried to negotiate repayment. Then the coronavirus hit — slamming the brakes on taxi revenue even as drivers and operators continue to face expenses for parking, dispatchers, mechanics and administrative workers.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has now rendered the debtors with virtually no income to operate its businesses as the debtors have recently suspended operations during the COVID-19 pandemic for March, April and possibly May 2020,” Pross’ filing says.

As The Post reported on March 15 - before Gov. Cuomo even ordered restaurants shut down and non-essential workers stay home — taxi drivers were making as little as $50 a week as people afraid of contagion avoided public spaces.

“The drivers are coming back asking if I can pay their gas because their fares didn’t even cover it. We can’t go on like this,” a taxi operator who asked not to be named told The Post on Wednesday.

Pross’s affidavit also blames Walker’s debt holder, PenFed, saying it has been playing hardball by “shockingly” refusing to extend its 30-day payment deadline.

PenFed acquired $290 million worth of medallion loans, including Pross’s, as part of its 2019 merger with New York-based Progressive Credit Union, according to reports at the time.

The credit union declined to comment on how many medallion loans it currently possesses, but insisted its working hard to keep taxi operators in business.
The credit union declined to comment on how many medallion loans it currently possess, but insisted it’s working hard to keep taxi operators in business.

“PenFed actively works with our members experiencing financial hardships, including taxi medallion borrowers who have requested relief,” a PenFed spokesperson said in a statement. “PenFed has an extensive team in New York working to help members who need assistance during this challenging time.”

Pross is hoping to come out of bankruptcy with reduced loans so he can continue to run the business through his main business, Utica Taxi, which operates the cars and garages and employs the dispatchers and other workers, filings show.

But with coronavirus deaths in New York nearing 2,000 and growing, the main business also faces the threat of going under.

“The proliferation of ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft … combined with the economic devastation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, may eventually render Utica Taxi bankrupt as well,” Pross’ affidavit said.