Blog

06 Jun Why Nothing Good Comes from Pro Se Bankruptcy Filings

I have been a personal bankruptcy lawyer in Atlanta for more than 30 years and one of the trends that I have seen over all these years has been that personal bankruptcy is more complicated and confusing now than it is ever been in the past. Back in 1988, for example, I would often see pro se (people who filed bankruptcy without a lawyer) appearing at 341 hearings and Chapter 13 confirmation hearings. At that time, a pro se filer could head over to Office Depot and buy Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 forms, fill them out with a pen, make copies and stand in line with everyone else to file a case. In those days, there was no online access to the Clerk of Courts office and everyone - lawyers and non-lawyers - would have to stand in long lines with 5 or 6 copies of bankruptcy petitions and wait for the clerk to hand stamp each copy. Bankruptcy schedules in 1988 were fairly straightforward and other than figuring out how to declare the right exemptions to protect property, a reasonably intelligent person could muddle through a Chapter 7 case. Chapter 13 cases were problematic for pro se filers even in the 1980's but occasionally a friendly trustee would take the time to help a non-lawyer navigate the waters of Chapter 13.
Read More

09 Apr How Cognitive Biases Can Drive You Into Bankruptcy

Are you familiar with the term cognitive bias? A cognitive bias represents an error in reasoning or decision making when you disregard accurate information in favor of your subjective preferences and beliefs. In other words, you exhibit a cognitive bias when you “go with your gut” rather than more objective information. Taken to an extreme, cognitive biases can lead you into bankruptcy, or can prompt bad choices when you are in bankruptcy. Here are some examples.

Have You Fallen Victim to the Sunk Cost Fallacy?

One cognitive bias I see frequently in my bankruptcy practice is the sunk cost fallacy. It usually takes the form of a client refusing to surrender an expensive and unaffordable house or car because “I have put so much money into that house/car I would be throwing all that money away if I gave it up.” Obviously, your financial capacity to pay a car note or mortgage in the future has nothing to do with what you have invested in that item in the past. Either you can comfortably afford your purchase or you can’t, and if you are contemplating bankruptcy you should fight against the sunk cost fallacy. There is an old saying “don’t throw good money after bad” which is the correct frame of mind if you are struggling with a sunk cost decision.
Read More

06 Mar Are We Seeing a Return to Debtors’ Prisons?

Some time ago, I posted a video on my YouTube channel posing the question “Can I Go to Jail for Not Paying Credit Card Debt?” The answer to this question is “no” - if you don’t pay your credit card bill, the lender bank can sue you for money damages, but they have not power to throw you in jail. Only the state or federal government has the power to incarcerate you for not paying debts and the type of debts that could result in jail time include unpaid such obligations as past tax debt, fines due to governmental units, past due child support and other debts owed to governments. Interestingly I get comments on this video claiming that the commentator or someone the commentator knows has been put in jail for common private debt like unpaid credit card bills and other signature loan. It turns out that there is some truth to what my video viewers are saying.
Read More

06 Feb Why Surrendering Your Car or House in a Chapter 13 May Create Unexpected Problems

One of the more powerful tools available to you when you file a personal bankruptcy has to do with your option to cancel an installment contract and surrender secured collateral. This applies to all forms of secured collateral, including such things as houses, motor vehicles, furniture, and jewelry. In a Chapter 7, your surrender of secured collateral will usually mean an end to your obligation to the secured creditor. Any remaining debt owed to the creditor for a deficiency balance will be treated as unsecured debt and unsecured debt is generally going to be eliminated with your Chapter 7 discharge. In Chapter 13, however, your act of surrendering collateral does not necessarily mean that you are done with the now unsecured creditor. Unsecured creditors often do get paid in Chapter 13 - sometimes as little as 1 penny on the dollar, but sometimes as much as 100 pennies on the dollar (i.e, they are paid in full).
Read More