Category Archives: Bankruptcy

Bankrupts Beware, FDCPA No Longer Applies – Opening the Floodgates to Bad Claims

Debtors often see bankruptcy as one refuge from debt collectors, but the Supreme Court has recently made things much worse. In Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17), the Court held that filing outdated claims in bankruptcy court does not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you are in bankruptcy or considering it, this is huge. It could mean having to pay more if you file for bankruptcy than if you don’t.

What Bankruptcy Does

In general, if your debts get too bad, you can file bankruptcy and force all your creditors to stop contacting you. They have to file claims in your bankruptcy action, and the court will either “allow” those claims or deny them. If the court allows a claim, you will have to pay some fraction of it (or all of it). The court then determines the amount of payments you must make, over what period of time, and you do your best to do that.

If you succeed, you will receive a “discharge” – this eliminates all the debts disallowed and the fraction of your debts that you don’t have to pay under the plan. This is this “fresh start” that lures most people into the bankruptcy process.

It isn’t an easy path, and most bankruptcies are dismissed without “discharge.”  I have often taken the position that bankruptcy is NOT an appropriate solution for most people facing debt collectors. See my  article, Is Bankruptcy the Best Option for you? and  Bankruptcy May Not Be the Best Option When Sued for Debt, for example. The Supreme Court has made that analysis even more powerful.

Courts Allow Uncontested Claims

The dirty little secret of bankruptcy is that if claims are not disputed, the courts generally allow them. In bankruptcy cases of people without much money, the lawyers representing the bankrupts have little (personal) incentive to dispute wrongful claims. They get their pay out of the scanty resources of their clients.

The U.S. trustee who oversees the process should protect the bankrupt and legitimate creditors from bad claims, but guess what?They often don’t. Likewise, the court should winnow out bad claims, but given the number of bankruptcies and their complexity, they often do not.

Under current realities, poor people pay a lot of bad claims.

Junk Debt Buyers Seek to Exploit the System

Enter the junk debt buyers to make things much worse. They buy vast amounts of LONG overdue debt – debt far beyond the statute of limitations – and file claims in bankruptcy cases. This bogs the bankruptcy courts, the trustees, and bankruptcy lawyers down. The more bad claims they file, the more get through because of carelessness. They should NEVER get through, because an unenforceable claim should ALWAYS be denied under bankruptcy rules. But they often do.

The Trap of Res Judicata

Paying some part of bad claims in bankruptcy is bad, but what happens if your bankruptcy, like most, ends without discharge. What if, for some reason you fall short and don’t get your “fresh start?” What happens then?

Res judicata is the rule that if an issue has been, or could have been decided by a court, it can’t be relitigated.  If a bankruptcy court has allowed a claim – even if it did so by mistake or simply because it was not disputed, you may not be able to dispute the claim in another court later.  And even if a claim would have been illegal to bring in a state court originally, if you file bankruptcy and the claim is allowed, you will probably have to pay full value on the claim later.

Bad claims hurt the chances of the bankrupts to get their fresh start. They hurt the chances of the legitimate creditors to get paid. And they make the whole process stink to high heaven of injustice. Allowing a bunch of hoodlums in fancy suits to steal wholesale from the poor damages the legal system at its very core.

The FDCPA used to offer some protection against that, but the Supreme Court negated that protection with its holding in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17). In that case, the Court ruled that debt collectors could file claims in bankruptcy that would be illegal if filed in other courts.

Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson

The relevant facts in Midland Funding are very simple. Midland, a junk debt buyer, was buying extremely old debts for very small amounts of money. They were using these debts, which were far beyond the statutes of limitations, as the basis for many claims in bankruptcy. Johnson opposed and got the claim in that case disallowed, and then filed suit in district court under the FDCPA, alleging that the claim had been unfair or unconscionable. The essence of Johnson’s claim was that filing obviously time-barred claims in a bankruptcy proceeding was an unfair debt collection practice.

The Supreme Court ruled that it was not.

There is no need to review (here) the tortured logic that effectively immunizes from consequences the intentional doing of something that never, under any circumstances, should be allowed. The state of the law simply is this: debt collectors can file obviously unenforceable claims in bankruptcy without worrying about the FDCPA. That means there’s a big risk that you will pay them if you aren’t looking out for them.

Result Possibly Different if you Allege Deception

There is perhaps one glimmer of light in this very bad decision. The Supreme Court was addressing “obviously outdated” claims. What Midland was doing was buying obviously unenforceable claims and hoping they would be overlooked and erroneously allowed. While this obviousness is one main way a debt collector’s intention to file outdated claims would be known, the obviousness was also a reason the Court found that the claims were not “deceptive.” What if the claims were known to be outdated by the debt collector but were not obviously so? Facts like that, or similar facts tending to show some actual intent to deceive would present difficult evidentiary issues, but the case could arise and might tip the balance in the other direction.

Conclusion

What the Midland Funding case means is that even if you’re in bankruptcy you’re going to have to know and protect your own rights. Your lawyer has VERY LITTLE incentive to challenge bad claims. The U.S. Trustee and court probably won’t protect you either.

If the claims are allowed, you will probably have to pay them. That means that even if you file for bankruptcy you must be prepared to defend yourself against the debt collectors. You will AT LEAST need to know your rights, and you will very probably have to defend them pro se. You’re probably not going to get much help from your lawyer on this one.

Should I Declare Bankruptcy? Maybe not if Sued for Debt

Should you declare bankruptcy?  When debt collectors call or bills pile up, many people look or hope for a quick, easy escape. Too many people tell them bankruptcy is that easy way out. Unfortunately, for most people it is neither easy nor a way out. It can be a costly mistake.

There might be better ways.  Most people can defend themselves from debt cases  (using materials provided by this site) without having to hire an expensive lawyer.

When people are being sued for debts, they often panic and look for the quickest, easiest, or least scary way out. And they often consider bankruptcy as a possible solution. There are often much more effective ways to handle old debt, especially credit card or merchant account debt in the possession of a debt collector, than bankruptcy. You can defend yourself without hiring a lawyer, and even if that doesn’t work out – which it usually does – you could still file bankruptcy. But if you can avoid bankruptcy, you will reduce the harm the debt doesyou.

Types of Debt

There are two main types of debt: “secured,” and “unsecured.” Secured debt means that the debt has specific assets backing it. If you miss payments, you can have your house foreclosed or your car repossessed. These things “secure” the debt and can be repossessed and sold if you stop making payments.

Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt is debt that is not secured – no specific assets guarantee the debt’s repayment. Just because a debt is “unsecured” does not mean that a debt collector can’t sue you for it. On the contrary, it means the collector must sue you personally in order to collect any money. The creditor then “enforces” the judgment against you by garnishing wages or attaching accounts. But this can be difficult for various reasons.

Rights of Creditors

Lenders on secured debts are in a much better position than unsecured lenders in general. One of those advantages comes in bankruptcy.

In the bankruptcy law, the law regards an item securing a debt as the creditor’s property (the one who lent the money). If you do not make the payment owed, the creditor can just take it back. Consider a mortgage on a house. The house “secures” the debt, and if you stop making payments the bank can take the house and sell it to pay the debt. That is “foreclosure” as you probably know. The law considers it unjust to allow someone not paying for the property to keep it from the rightful owner. So the lender typically asks the bankruptcy court to “lift the stay” so foreclosure can take place. Although you can sometimes delay the lifting, the courts usually “relieve” the lenders and allow them to foreclose on the house and kick the debtor out.

Unsecured Debt

With unsecured debt, on the other hand, the court simply adds up the debts and pays them out according to how much money the bankrupt person has. Usually very, very little. And only at the end of the bankruptcy procedure.

Bankruptcy May Not Help When It Applies

What all that means practically is that if you have a large secured debt (mortgage) that you cannot pay, bankruptcy will offer you very little protection. If you have a large unsecured debt, bankruptcy will probably protect you to an extent, but it is slow, time-consuming and expensive compared to defending yourself against the debt collector. And most people who start bankruptcy end the process without getting what they wanted.

Some examples may help make it clearer.

Consider the Smiths. The Smiths have a house and make payments of $2.500 per month. Mr. Smith loses his job and they fall behind in their payments. If the family seeks bankruptcy as their house payments add up, the lender will obtain “relief from the stay” and foreclose on the house. The Smiths are out of luck, and bankruptcy usually does not help.

Now consider the Joneses. If the Joneses have credit card debt of $25,000 and Mrs. Jones loses her job so they can’t make payments, they could seek bankruptcy help. It would probably cost them at least a thousand dollars or more to file, require them to disclose most or all of their finances over the past year or two, and fill out a large amount of paperwork. At the end of the proceeding, at least a year later, the court would “discharge” their debts.

If they make it to the discharge, the bankruptcy will help. But it will remain as a mark against their credit record for seven years.

An Alternative: Defense

The Jones could, however, simply defend themselves against the lawsuits brought by the debt collectors. For reasons I’ve made clear elsewhere, their chances of winning the suit would be excellent. If the Jones do it right, they can eliminate the debt completely. This does not always mean completely cleaning their credit reports. But it can often mean canceling the debt and removal of the recent credit report damage. And it usually will happen in less than six months from the date the debt collector brings suit. They won’t have the bankruptcy on their credit report. They can do it themselves for almost no money at all, and if by chance it doesn’t work, then they could declare bankruptcy.

Conclusion

Better results, less cost. That’s why it’s often better to defend yourself against credit card debt than to seek bankruptcy protection. It’s also true that if for any reason the Jones lost their case against the debt collectors, they could still file for bankruptcy without having lost its protection.

Foreclosure: A Debt Collection Method in Ordinary Life

Foreclosure is a form of collection
Foreclosure is collection

Foreclosure is Debt Collection

Foreclosure is a form of debt collection in the real world. Debt Collectors threaten to repossess and auction off property that secures a loan unless that loan is paid, or else they actually repossess and sell off the property, in order to pay the debt. This video and article discuss the way the process works.

What Foreclosure Does

Foreclosure is designed to allow for possession (or repossession) of property that was used to secure a debt that was subsequently unpaid. Most people simply think of foreclosure as “getting kicked out of your house,” and in many situations that is an appropriate understanding. In reality foreclosure addresses ownership rights rather than possession, however. It involves the termination of at least one person’s rights of ownership in favor of another person, and this can, but does not always, lead to eviction.

English Law and the History of Foreclosure and Property Rights

We don’t think of it very often, but one of the great inventions of English law was the division of property into different property “interests” or rights that could co-exist in the same property. The state “owns” physical property in one way, the landowner in another, and the tenant also has certain ownership rights, for example. If the landowner is married, both spouses will have rights in the property, and it is possible to divide the rights up in many other ways, too. Another form of coexisting rights is the way the same property could be owned by you, but subject to a mortgage and also various sorts of liens.

“Foreclosable” Interests

It is with the mortgage and liens we are primarily interested here, because these can be “foreclosed.” It is worth remembering that while most people (including the courts) only think of “purchase-money mortgages” (the mortgage you take out in order to buy your house) when they analyze foreclosure, there are other ways liens can be placed on your house (by the state for taxes or judgments, to name two), and all liens can be foreclosed. Mechanically what happens is that the foreclosing party causes the property interests to be divided and paid off – and the way that is accomplished is by selling the property and splitting the money up according to the priority of interests.

There is a definite hierarchy of interests, and the higher interests must be completely satisfied before the lower interests get anything. Eventually, if every interest is satisfied and money is left over, this would go to the property “owner.” Or to put it another way, being the property owner means that you get whatever is left after all the other interests are paid off (you are entitled to the “equity”). But usually, if there is not enough to cover all the secured interests, you will owe the secured parties money personally.

Two Examples of Foreclosure

Let’s consider two examples. In the first, Owner A each own houses worth $100,000 on the open market. That’s what it sells for.

Owner A

Owner A has the following liens against the property: a purchase money mortgage of $35,000, a home equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($35,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($10,000) Home Equity Loan
($ 1,000) Mechanic’s Lien
===================

$54,000 – Equity

Owner B

Owner B has the following liens against the property (in this order – the order of liens is beyond the scope of this article): a purchase-money mortgage of $110,000 (the house is “underwater” because the loan remaining is more than the house is worth); a home-equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($110,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($ 10,000) Home Equity
($ 1,000) Mechanics lien
=============

($21,000) equity (a negative number)

If neither one can pay off the purchase money mortgage, go into default, and are foreclosed, here’s what happens.

Results of Foreclosure

A loses possession of the house, and all security interests in the property are “extinguished.” The money is enough for the mortgage, and that is subtracted and given to the bank. Because the home equity loan and mechanic’s liens was “secured” by the house, the foreclosure breaches the contract with the lender. It intervenes (legally) in the foreclosure and demands its money and gets paid before anything goes to A. Because the lien was “subject” to the other agreements, it gets paid afterward, again before A gets anything.

In B’s situation, the bank gets all the money, and the lenders are left with claims against B. Their security interests in the property are extinguished, and chances are good they’ll lose everything they had lent.

Why Debt Collectors Often Do Not Foreclose

What if, instead of not paying the bank, A and B had failed to pay the home equity loan? In that situation, the Home Equity lender could foreclose on the loan. Lower level security interests can foreclose on the loan. It would be conceivable that any other person with an interest in the property, including the mechanic, might take some action to intervene in order to protect its interests, although in B’s case, especially, this is unlikely. The bank will get all the money, and the home equity lender will get nothing even though it is the one that foreclosed.

This explains why debt collectors rarely foreclose on a house. It will cost them money but get them nothing. But that isn’t to say they couldn’t or that it would never make sense for them to do or threaten to do.

About Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a business dedicated to helping people fight debt collectors without having to hire expensive lawyers to do it. We offer you everything you need to defend your rights – with special help through our membership services to help make the process smoother, easier, and less worrisome. YourLegalLegUp.com has been in operation since 2007. Before that, Ken Gibert practiced law representing people being sued for debt among other types of consumer law.

If you would like to get a personalized evaluation of your situation, follow this link: https://yourlegallegup.com/pages/evaluation.

For further help, consider our Manuals and Memberships. We have materials on debt negotiations and settlement, forcing debt collectors to leave you alone, credit repair, and many other issues that arise when you are facing debt trouble.

Click here to sign up for our free newsletter, Fightdebt.

Is Bankruptcy the Best Option when You’re Sued for Debt?

When people are being sued for debts, they often panic and look for the quickest, easiest, or least scary way out. And bankruptcy often occurs to them as the solution. I believe there are often much more effective ways to handle old debt, especially credit card or merchant account debt that has been sold to a debt collector, than bankruptcy.You can defend yourself without hiring a lawyer, and even if that doesn’t work out – which it usually does – you could still file bankruptcy. But if you can avoid bankruptcy, you will reduce the harm the debt does to you.

Panic is not necessary, and bankruptcy—at least at first–is seldom the best solution in a real-world sense. Here’s why.

 

goodthingsoutofbad.jpg

Types of Debt

Debt is divided into two types: “unsecured,” and “secured.” Secured debt means that the debt has specific assets backing it. If you miss payments, you can have your house foreclosed or your car repossessed. These things “secured” the debt and can be repossessed and sold if you stop making payments.

Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt is debt that is not secured-it isn’t attached to any specific assets. Just because a debt is “unsecured” does not mean that you cannot be sued for the debt. On the contrary, it means you must be sued in person for the debt collector to collect any money. And it cannot repossess the thing. The creditor then “enforces” the judgment against you by garnishing wages or attaching accounts. But this can be difficult for various reasons.

Secured Debt

Lenders on secured debts are in a much better position than those who are not secured. One of those advantages comes in bankruptcy.

In the bankruptcy law, the item securing a debt is really regarded as belonging to the creditor who lent the money if the payment is not made. Specifically, consider a mortgage on a house. The house “secures” the debt, and if you stop making payments the bank can take the house and sell it to pay the debt. In the bankruptcy law, it is considered unjust to allow someone not paying for the property to keep it from the rightful owner. So the lender typically asks for the bankruptcy “stay” to be “lifted” so that foreclosure can take place. Although this can sometimes be delayed, the courts usually “relieve” the lenders and allow them to foreclose on the house and kick the debtor out.

Unsecured Debt

With unsecured debt, on the other hand, the debts are simply added up and paid according to how much money the bankrupt person has. Usually very, very little. And only at the end of the bankruptcy procedure.

Bankruptcy May Not Help When It Applies

What all that means practically is that if you have a large secured debt (mortgage) that you cannot pay, bankruptcy will offer you very little protection. If you have a large unsecured debt, bankruptcy will probably protect you, but it is slow, time-consuming and expensive compared to defending yourself against the debt collector.

Some examples may help make it clearer.

Consider the Smiths. The Smiths have a house and make payments of $2,500 per month. Mr. Smith loses his job and they fall behind in their payments. If the family seeks bankruptcy as their house payments add up, the lender will obtain “relief from the stay” and foreclose on the house. The Smiths are out of luck, and bankruptcy usually does not help.

Now consider the Joneses. If the Joneses have credit card debt of $25,000 and Mrs. Jones loses her job so they can’t make payments, they could seek bankruptcy help. It would probably cost them at least a thousand dollars or more to file, require them to disclose most or all of their finances over the past year or two, and fill out a vast amount of paperwork. At the end of the proceeding, at least a year later, their debts would be wiped out. But so, of course, would their credit reports. The bankruptcy filing will remain a mark against them for ten years.

not-alone600x150[1].jpg

An Alternative: Defense

The Jones could, however, simply defend themselves against the lawsuits brought by the debt collectors. For reasons I’ve made clear elsewhere, their chances of winning the suit would be excellent, and if the Jones do it right, they can simply get the debt eliminated. This does not usually mean completely cleaning their credit reports, but it can often mean canceling the debt and removal of the recent credit report damage. And it usually will happen in less than six months from the date the debt collector brings suit. They won’t have the bankruptcy on their credit report. They can do it themselves for almost no money at all, and if by chance it doesn’t work, then they could declare bankruptcy.

In addition, if you are facing debt troubles, chances are good the debt collectors have made some mistakes that violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and give rise to a counterclaim, which increases your chance of fighting the debt.

Conclusion

Better results, less cost. That’s why it’s often better to defend yourself against credit card debt than to seek bankruptcy protection. It’s also true that if for any reason the Jones lost their case against the debt collectors, they could still file for bankruptcy without having lost its protection.