07 Jul Over Median? – Get Creative to Fit into Chapter 7
Chapter 7 offers many advantages over Chapter 13:
- faster process – 5 months vs. 5 years
- lower cost
- more complete relief from debts
When I meet with a prospective client, I start my evaluation by by asking “can this person fit into a Chapter 7?”
By contrast, the Bankruptcy Code is designed to push debtors into Chapter 13, where they repay some or all of their debt. This issue – how much, if anything, should a debtor pay back to creditors – underlies most of the conflict (and litigation) that can arise in a bankruptcy case.
As an advocate who works on behalf of debtors, my goal is to help my clients obtain a fresh start – that is, complete their bankruptcy cases as quickly as possible and with as little residual debt as possible.
One hurdle that appears in just about every bankruptcy case is the means test. Designed to bar Chapter 7 relief from debtors who have the means to pay back their debts in Chapter 13 or Chapter 11, the means test uses a clunky, mechanical series of calculations to predict future earnings capacity based on past performance. How ironic that federal securities laws require sellers of investments like stocks and mutual funds to specifically disclaim that past performance is no guarantee of future results.
In any case, an astute bankruptcy lawyer should view the means test as a flexible structure and not a monolith. There are numerous angles to argue that the means test should not apply in a particular case or that the results in a particular case should be ignored. A nice example of good lawyering in this regard was published by my BLN colleague Jay Fleischman in his law firm blog, where he points out that a student loan incurred for a business purpose may make a Chapter 7 case non-consumer in nature and this eliminate the means test requirement entirely.
In cases where the means test does apply, it is important to look for every possible may be possible to end up with the result that you are eligible to file Chapter 7 if you wish. If you are an above-median debtor the first draft of your means test may yield the result that you cannot file Chapter 7 but you and your attorney must dig deeper. In this video I discuss several tactics that may help you qualify for Chapter 7 when the means test suggests that you may not be eligible.
by Jonathan Ginsberg, Atlanta bankruptcy lawyer
Jonathan Ginsberg, Esq.
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