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Craig D. Robins, Esq. New York Bankruptcy Attorney, Longisland bankruptcy attorney

“ Craig D. Robins, Esq., has been a practicing Long Island bankruptcy attorney for over twenty-four years ”

Craig D. Robins, Esq.

Archive for January, 2012

What is a Bankruptcy Discharge?

Posted on Saturday (January 7, 2012) at 6:00 am to Bankruptcy Terms
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Photographs of Max

The bankruptcy discharge means freedom from debt.  That's my son, Max.

The bankruptcy discharge means freedom from debt. That's my son, Max.

Written by Craig D. Robins, Esq.

 
The general objective in filing a consumer bankruptcy is to eliminate debts.  At the conclusion of a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, the consumer receives a discharge.
 
The bankruptcy discharge releases the debtor from personal liability for most debts.  That means the consumer is no longer legally required to pay these debts.  Certain debts are non-dischargeable such as most taxes, student loans, alimony, child support and traffic tickets.
 
The discharge comes at the conclusion of the bankruptcy case.  For Chapter 7 filers, that is typically about three and a half months after the bankruptcy petition is filed.  For Chapter 13 filers, this typically occurs a month or two after the Chapter 13 payment plan is completed.
 
The actual discharge is in the form of a permanent court order, signed by the bankruptcy judge assigned to the case.  The Bankruptcy Court sends a copy of it to the debtor and all creditors and parties listed in the petition.
 
The order of discharge prohibits creditors from taking any action to collect a debt.  This means that it becomes forever illegal for creditors to phone the debtor, send collection letters, sue the debtor or take any other action to collect the debt.
 
If a creditor has a secured debt, such as a mortgage or car loan, the creditor is still prohibited from collecting the debt.  However, the creditor has the right to recover the collateral.
 
 
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About the Photograph:  This is one of my fine art shots of my son, Max.
 
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Filing Bankruptcy After Taking a Cash Advance — Beware

Posted on Wednesday (January 4, 2012) at 2:00 pm to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Discharging cash advances in Chapter 7 bankruptcyWritten by Craig D. Robins, viagra dosage Esq.
 
Most of my Chapter 7 bankruptcy clients have rather large amounts of credit card debt.  This comes from making purchases, advice incurring services charges and interest, treat and taking cash advances.  Almost all credit card debts are dischargeable in bankruptcy.  However, there are a few exceptions.
 
When it comes to cash advances, those about to file for bankruptcy should be careful.  The Bankruptcy Code provides that any cash advance, or combination of cash advances from one lender, totaling more than $875 obtained within 70 days of the bankruptcy filing date are presumed to be non-dischargeable.  This is contained in Bankruptcy Code section 523(a)(2)(C)(i)(II).
 
Congress imposed this provision because it felt that consumers who obtained significant cash advances relatively close to time they filed for bankruptcy knew or should have known that they would be seeking bankruptcy relief, and should not be able to eliminate such debts.  It was also designed to prevent consumers from running out and taking cash advances on the eve of a bankruptcy filing.
 
Even if a recent cash advance is presumed to be non-dischargeable because of the above provision, the credit card bank must still file objections in the bankruptcy court in the form of an adversary proceeding.  Such proceedings are rare.
 
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy it is important to tell your bankruptcy attorney about any recent large cash advances to make sure that the petition is not filed too soon.
 
The dollar amount of the cash advance, as set forth in Bankruptcy Code section 523(a)(2)(C)(i)(II) changes every three years.  It is scheduled to change again in April 2013 and will probably increase about $50.
 
 
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Unborn Children and the Bankruptcy Means Test: Can You Include Them?

Posted on Monday (January 2, 2012) at 11:00 pm to Bankruptcy Means Test
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Passing the Bankruptcy Means Test with an unborn childWritten by Craig D. Robins, Esq.
 
In order to qualify for filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, you need to pass the means test, which is designed to prevent those individuals with relatively high incomes from easily eliminating their debts in a Chapter 7 proceeding.. 
 
The means test formula makes it easier for a larger family to be eligible for Chapter 7 relief than a smaller one.  Each additional family member enables the debtors to take an additional, very significant deduction on the means test.  These deductions are based on census tables and IRS charts of living expenses.  See:  New Changes to Means Test
 
Most consumers will pass the means test and will not have any problem qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  However, some individuals, who are just barely failing the means test, can pass if they have the ability to add an additional family member to the calculation.  The Means Test is Often the Key to a Successful Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case .
 
Dealing with the Means Test If a Female Debtor is Expecting
 
If the wife is pregnant and expecting, can you include the unborn child as household member of the family to calculate family size for means test purposes?  If you could, this might mean the difference between passing or not.
 
In at least one case, the United States Trustee has taken the position that an unborn child cannot be included as a family member for means test purposes.  Some bankruptcy courts have adopted this position stating that a debtor may not rely on events which have not yet occurred. 
 
That was the case in In re Pampas, 369 B.R. 290 (Bankr.M.D.La. 2007).  In that case, the child had not been born as of the date of the bankruptcy filing, and the debtor was still carrying at the time the U.S. Trustee brought a motion do dismiss.  The court dismissed the case, although the unborn child issue was just one of several concerns the court addressed.
 
However, this case and outcome does not necessarily spell doom for the debtor, and I do not think a similar result would have occurred if this situation had arisen here in New York.
 
Arguing “Special Circumstances” As a Way Around a Failing Means Test
 
A debtor who has filed with an unborn child, can argue “special circumstances” under Bankruptcy Code § 707(b)(2)(B). 
 
This section enables a debtor to argue that a presumption of abuse, which is what happens if the debtor fails the means test, can be rebutted by demonstrating that there are special circumstances that justify additional expenses or adjustments to the current monthly income. 
 
Generally, to support a claim of special circumstances, the debtor must itemize each additional expense or adjustment of income, and provide documentation and a detailed explanation of the special circumstances that make those expenses or income adjustments necessary and reasonable.
 
Perhaps the U.S. Trustee Would Be Reasonable
 
I would like to think that most local offices of the U.S. Trustee would be reasonable under such situations and keep the case in abeyance, pending the birth of the child.  It would seem unlikely that a US Trustee would put much effort into seeking dismissal of a case, when shortly after the dismissal the debtor would qualify anyway because of the increased family size after the baby is born.
 
I personally represented a debtor last year where this became an issue.  I did not include unborn children in the family size at the time of filing.  However, the Chapter 7 trustee questioned the propriety of some of the other deductions on the means test and debated whether to refer the matter to the U.S. Trustee for further review as to whether the meanst test meant that this was an abusive filing. 
 
My response to the Chapter 7 trustee was that it didn’t matter because the debtor was several months pregnant with twins, and even if the trustee was able to disallow some of the debtor’s means test deductions, the debtor would still quickly qualify in any event because of the increased family size.  After some back-and-forth discussion, and proof that the debtor was pregnant, the trustee let the matter go, and the debtor received her discharge.
 
I also find that communicating in advance with the U.S. Trustee is very important.  If I had to file a case in which the debtors had to rely on an unborn child to pass the means test, I would disclose the information early on. 
 
If the U.S. Trustee believes that the debtor has filed in good faith, then it is much more likely that they will evaluate the case in a fair and equitable manner and give due consideration to the debtor’s special circumstances.
 
An Objection by the U.S. Trustee Can Be Politically Charged
 
In parts of the country, the U.S. Trustee might want to avoid raising controversy over the potential for politically-charged issues which can result in Roe v. Wade type arguments that are used in debates over the right to abortion.
 
There’s Always Waiting a Few Months so the Unborn Child Can Undisputedly Be Included in the Bankruptcy Means Test
 
If debtors want to play it safe, they can wait until the baby is born before filing.  That way, there would not be any controversy of dispute over family size.  However, sometimes debtors need immediate bankruptcy relief and simply cannot wait.
 
In a worse-case scenario, if the U.S. Trustee brought a motion to dismiss the case, refusing to accept the unborn child as a member of the household for means test purposes, the debtor could always let the case be dismissed, and then re-file after the child is born.
 
 
Other Issues Concerning Family Size for Bankruptcy Means Test Purposes
 
Calculating family size for the means test can be tricky.  This subject seems to be a never-ending source of issues and bankruptcy court decisions.  See my post:  Determining Household Size for the Means Test .
 
Unborn Children in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Cases
 
In Chapter 13 cases, a debtor will often pay less into a monthly Chapter 13 plan if there is another member of the household.  This savings is usually many hundreds of dollars a month.  Therefore, an expected child could make a great impact as to the affordability of a Chapter 13 plan.
 
If the issue of an unborn child arose in the context of a Chapter 13 filing, I would argue that confirmation should be delayed until the child is born if the Chapter 13 trustee is not willing to count the unborn child right away.  Then, assuming the child is indeed born, the baby should be included in the household size.
 
Most Bankruptcy judges, at least in New York, are forward-thinking judges who want the means test in Chapter 13 cases to be based on realistic events going forward, as opposed to looking backward.  I explored this concept in my post:  Deciphering the Plethora of Means Test Cases Across Many Bankruptcy Courts .
 
In one Colorado case, the bankruptcy court stated that a debtor had the right to amend schedules to show an increase or decrease to household size prior to plan confirmation, to reflect changed circumstances.  In that case, the unborn child was delivered just days after the Chapter 13 trustee filed a pre-confirmation motion to dismiss.  In re Baker, (Bankr. Court, ND Illinois 2009). 
 
In the Baker case, the court interpreted Bankruptcy Code § 1325(b)(1) (which states that the applicable commitment period should be determined as of the plan’s effective date), as meaning the date when the plan is confirmed.  Thus, the Baker court permitted the debtors to include the unborn child in the means test over the objections of the Chapter 13 trustee.
 
The Importance of Consulting with Experienced Bankruptcy Counsel When There Are Means Test Issues
 
When unusual issues arise that can mean the difference between qualifying or not for bankruptcy relief, it becomes that much more important to seek out experienced bankruptcy counsel.
 
The means test is rather complex and complicated.  Retaining an experienced Long Island bankruptcy attorney is your best way to ascertain whether you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, and if not, to learn what your other options are.
 
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How American Airlines Sought Bankruptcy Court Approval to Continue its Frequent Flyer Programs in its Chapter 11 Filing

Posted on Sunday (January 1, 2012) at 11:45 pm to Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
Suffolk Lawyer

American Airlines Bankruptcy AAdvantage Frequent Flyer ProgramWritten by Craig D. Robins, decease Esq.
 
The recent bankruptcy filing of American Airlines on November 29, illness 2012 got me thinking in several ways about the interplay between airlines, consumers and bankruptcy.
 
How does an airline seeking bankruptcy protection continue its frequent flyer programs and honor tickets?  I’ll answer this question in this column.
 
What happens when a consumer, who has a cache of frequent flyer miles, files a consumer bankruptcy — can the consumer keep those miles?  I’ll answer that question next month.
 
As a regular flyer on American Airlines, I get e-mails from AA almost daily.  Within hours of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, which AA commenced in the Southern District of New York under AA’s parent company, AMR Corporation, AA sent me an urgent e-mail assuring me that all would be OK and that it would be“business as usual” during the course of the bankruptcy. 
 
The e-mail stated that miles “you’ve earned are yours and will stay yours.”
 
AA’s spin doctors included verbiage that the bankruptcy proceeding was going to make the airline leaner and stronger, and better for its customers.
 
As a bankruptcy attorney, I wondered what procedural path they would take in bankruptcy court to continue its business practices.
 
American Airlines Files a First-Day Application Seeking Special Bankruptcy Court Approval to Continue Certain Business Practices
 
On my own, I tracked down one of the first-day applications that AA filed, which sought an immediate order permitting AA to continue its customer programs and practices in the ordinary course of business and honor existing obligations to its customers.
 
It is standard Chapter 11 practice for debtors to bring several “first day” applications seeking various types of immediate relief.  This application was necessary because technically a Chapter 11 debtor is prohibited from honoring pre-existing debts and obligations.
 
The 23-page application, which was prepared by the Manhattan bankruptcy powerhouse firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, sought authorization pursuant to Bankruptcy Code sections 105(a) and 363(c), to continue a multitude of programs including the AAdvantage frequent flyer program, as well as seek permission to honor pre-petition tickets, refunds, access to Admirals Club lounges, gift cards, etc.
 
Bankruptcy Caselaw and Statutory Authority for the Application
 
Section 105(a) is the Bankruptcy Code’s general catch-all provision that grants bankruptcy judges broad equitable powers to “issue any order, process, or judgment that is necessary or appropriate to carry out the provisions of this title.”
 
The application discussed how the airline’s customers were the lifeblood of their business, which is highly competitive, and that customer satisfaction is the key to survival.
 
Airlines routinely offer travel to many of the same locations as their competitors.  The application discussed the concept that this competition makes retaining loyal customers and attracting new customers critically important. 
 
AA argued that the Chapter 11 filing would negatively affect customers’ attitudes unless AA was able to continue its customer practices.   The airline also argued that continuation of its customer programs on an uninterrupted basis is critical to maintaining this support and loyalty.
 
Incidentally, AA created the first frequent flyer program in 1981, by rewarding its loyal customers with frequent flyer miles.  The application stated that there were 69 million members of their AAdvantage frequent flyer program.
 
There is precedent for granting such relief, as Eastern Airlines requested similar relief about two decades ago when it filed for reorganization and sought authority to continue its pre-petition obligations. 
 
It has become well-established that bankruptcy courts have the power to permit the post-petition payment of pre-petition obligations where necessary to preserve or enhance the value of a debtor’s estate for the benefit of all creditors. 
 
This is sometimes referred to as the “doctrine of necessity.”  See the Eastern Airlines case, which is: In re Ionosphere Clubs, Inc., 98 B.R. 174, 176 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 1989).
 
The airline argued that if they could not get the requested approval, the consequences would be draconian.  Their customers would lose confidence, question the airline’s ability to survive, and likely take their business elsewhere.  All of the loyalty and customer goodwill that AA had engendered over years would be lost.
 
It was therefore no surprise that the bankruptcy court granted the application, thus permitting AA to continue its customer programs on an uninterrupted basis. 
 
Thus, the experience of flying on American will likely stay the same for the short-term, but as the airline tries to reorganize itself through bankruptcy, it will probably make significant changes down the road. 
 
Incidentally, most financial commentators suggest that AA will successfully emerge from bankruptcy, as several of its legacy competitors have done this past decade, and that AA is in no danger of liquidation at this time. 
 
One industry analyst quipped, “Airlines do a better job at filing bankruptcy than delivering luggage.” 
 
I personally have a boatload of American Airlines Aadvantage miles, some of which I earned traveling to conventions and workshops of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.  It is therefore a relief to know that they will be protected!
 
The Effect of Consumer Bankruptcy on Frequent Flyer Miles
 
These days, most consumers have an assortment of frequent flyer miles, whether they earn them from flying or credit card spending. 
 
These miles can have a substantial value to the consumer as they can be used to obtain tickets worth thousands of dollars or purchase goods or store gift certificates. 
 
What happens to these valuable miles when a consumer files for bankruptcy relief?  Can they be protected?   I will cover this question next month.
 
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About the Author.  Long Island Bankruptcy Attorney Craig D. Robins, Esq., is a regular columnist for the Suffolk Lawyer, the official publication of the Suffolk County Bar Association in New York. This article appeared in the January  2012 issue of the Suffolk Lawyer. Mr. Robins is a bankruptcy lawyer who has represented thousands of consumer and business clients during the past twenty years. He has offices in Mastic, Patchogue, Commack, West Babylon, Coram, Woodbury and Valley Stream. (516) 496-0800. For information about filing bankruptcy on Long Island, please visit his Bankruptcy web site: http://www.BankruptcyCanHelp.com.  
 
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Craig D. Robins, Esq. is a Long Island bankruptcy lawyer, who is focused primarily on helping individuals and families, find solutions to their debt problems. Read more »

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Craig D. Robins, Esq.
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