The Ins and Outs of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in New Jersey

chapter 7 bankruptcy in new jersey

Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey is designed to allow a debtor to liquidate their debts if they are unable to repay their debts. If you are overwhelmed by personal debt and have not filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy within the past eight years, read on to find out if Chapter 7 bankruptcy might be the first step toward regaining financial health and freedom.

Who qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

You must meet the following criteria to be eligible to file Ch. 7:

  • Your income must be lower than the median income in New Jersey. This is called the means test.
  • Your debts, excepting those that are non-dischargeable under any conditions (examples include income tax debt, unpaid child support, student loans, and alimony), can all be erased under Chapter 7. If the majority of your debt is dischargeable, Chapter 7 may be right for you.
  • You must undergo credit counseling. This counseling cannot be obtained more than 180 days prior to filing your petition.

Do I need an attorney’s help filing?

It is extremely important that your filing paperwork be entirely truthful and accurate. Unfortunately, debtors often make mistakes on their Schedule I form.

Schedule I is the form that you’ll fill out listing all of your income, including your spouse’s income and income from any and all other sources. Making a single significant error on this form will result in the immediate dismissal of your case.

It should go without saying that falsifying your bankruptcy paperwork intentionally carries penalties up to and including time in prison. Working openly and honestly with a qualified attorney will guarantee that your Schedule I paperwork is correct and truthful. Under no circumstances should you attempt to hide a source of income from your bankruptcy attorney.

How will filing Chapter 7 help me?

While any of the aforementioned non-dischargeable debts will remain your responsibility, the majority of debts will be erased. You will not owe creditors anything further.

What will happen to my major assets?

If your spouse owns your home jointly, or if you have kept current on your mortgage payments despite your financial situation, you may qualify to keep your home. Unless you can definitively prove you need your car or truck for your job, your vehicle may be repossessed to contribute to the repayment of your debts.

Once you’ve obtained credit counseling, you can file a petition for bankruptcy with the court. A trustee will then be appointed to you. You will be required to surrender all of your nonexempt assets and divide the proceeds amongst your creditors.

What are my options if filing Chapter 7 doesn’t provide me enough debt relief?

Sometimes even after a Ch. 7 discharge of debts is granted, you may still have a burdensome level of non-dischargeable debt remaining. While bankruptcy law has filing limits intended to prevent debtors from abusing the system and persisting in irresponsible financial habits, you ARE permitted to file for Chapter 13 if you are doing so in order to make your remaining debt manageable. While the result will not be a significant reduction in the amount of money you owe, your attorney will negotiate favorable repayment terms so that you will not be crushed by your debts.

Additionally, filing for Chapter 13 after you’ve filed for Chapter 7 will prevent your creditors and lenders from garnishing your wages, foreclosing your home, or repossessing your vehicle. Consult with your NJ bankruptcy attorney if you have been attempting to pay your debts for at least one month after your Chapter 7 has been granted and you are still struggling to make ends meet.

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Planning a Wedding After You’ve Declared Bankruptcy

bankruptcy

Planning a wedding is a time of excitement and joy, but it can also be a time of significant stress. With the average wedding costing upwards of $25,000.00 in 2017, planning and paying for a wedding can be overwhelming for even the most financially stable couple. For couples going through bankruptcy, affording a wedding can seem nearly impossible. It is important to understand how bankruptcy will affect your ability to pay for a wedding, but also how it will affect the overall financial health of you and your future spouse. Fortunately, with the right planning you can still have the wedding of your dreams, even after declaring bankruptcy.

Financial stress is the leading cause of divorce, so it is important to get a handle on your finances before you decide to tie the knot. In declaring bankruptcy, you’ve taken the first step towards managing your debt to ensure a brighter financial future for you and your spouse. Keep in mind that bankruptcy exemptions are very specific and none of them cover expenses associated with a wedding. Because of this, and the potential stress and uncertainly that comes with bankruptcy proceedings, it is advisable to wait to plan a wedding until after a bankruptcy claim has been fully closed. That way, you can start married life with a clean financial slate.

Open communication and honesty about your financial history is very important as you plan your wedding. Whether you have liquidated your assets to eliminate your debt (Chapter 7) or reorganized your payments to creditors (Chapter 13), after declaring bankruptcy you will be able to get a good understanding of your new financial situation. Sit down with your future spouse and create a detailed budget including your income, expenses, and your expected payments to creditors if you have a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan. Figure out how much you plan on spending on your wedding and create a detailed wedding budget. Keep in mind that post-bankruptcy, it may be harder to obtain a loan to finance wedding purchases. Cut costs where you can so you can focus your financial resources on the aspects of your special day you couldn’t imagine going without.

It is also important to understand how a bankruptcy can affect your new spouse after you say I do. Contrary to popular belief, your credit—even if you have declared bankruptcy—will not directly affect the credit of a future spouse. Every person has their own credit score and these scores are not combined after marriage. However, bankruptcy may affect your future spouse in indirect ways. The only time a declaration of bankruptcy will affect a future spouse is when you apply for credit as joint account holders (like applying for a mortgage) OR when adding a spouse to an existing line of credit. It may become more difficult for you and your spouse to acquire joint loans, or you may have to pay higher interest rates on those joint loans.

Filing for bankruptcy can be a difficult and complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t let bankruptcy get in the way of your happily-ever-after. Contact the qualified legal team at Veitengruber Law help you plan your debt free future.

Frequently Asked Questions about New Jersey Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy FAQs

Will the recently enacted bankruptcy laws make me ineligible for a fresh start?

It’s true that Chapter 7 bankruptcy laws have made it more difficult to qualify for a fresh start, but a healthy percentage of applicants do still qualify for this type of bankruptcy. Every situation is unique, however, so the best course of action would be taking advantage of the free Chapter 7 bankruptcy consultations we offer here at Veitengruber Law. This process allows us to present you with the options that will benefit you most over the long term.

Which type of bankruptcy filing will be best for me?

If a debtor files Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the law requires that the debtor relinquish all property in excess of a set monetary limit in order that it can be liquidated through sales to creditors. However, in most of these cases, real property is exempt. This is to permit the debtor to be somewhat well positioned for a fresh start.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is designed for business and individual debtors who have taken on immense personal debt.

Chapter 12 bankruptcy is only available to family-owned fishing businesses and family farmers.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is usually called a “debt adjustment” since a debtor is required to file a concrete plan to repay most or all of their debts within their current income parameters.

What are New Jersey’s specific requirements for filing bankruptcy?

In order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, a debtor must provide a wide array of personal information regarding their financial status. These categories include, but are not limited to: all creditors and any collection agencies, secured claims, unsecured claims, any existing debt schedules, pensions, stocks, real estate holdings, and the value of the debtor’s life insurance policy.

Once you have arranged your free consultation, the experienced team at Veitengruber Law will carefully explain the applicable filing requirements. Additionally, your bankruptcy attorney at our firm will go through this list with you to be sure you’re prepared to go forward.

Will I be permitted to keep any of my property?

When filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a debtor is permitted to retain property that either state or federal law has declared exempt from the claims of creditors. The debtor is given the option to choose which set of exemptions is more advantageous, but often the federal laws are more favorable.

 

Will I be permitted to own anything once I have filed for bankruptcy?

Absolutely. It’s a common misconception that anyone who has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is prohibited from owning anything. Bankruptcy is not intended to be punitive.

However, it’s important to note that if a debtor does come into an inheritance, receives a personal property settlement, or benefits from a life insurance payout within the first 180 days after filing for bankruptcy, this income or property will almost certainly be flagged as being owed to creditors unless it is specifically exempt.

Will I still be protected from discrimination despite my bankruptcy?

Federal law (No.11 U.S.C. sec. 525) protects you from discrimination from both governmental units and private employers due to your having filed for bankruptcy or failed to repay dischargeable debt.

Will I be required to appear in court?

Yes. Once you have filed your Chapter 7 petition, the court will schedule a formal Meeting of Creditors within 30 – 90 days. The Federal Court Trustee in Newark, Camden, or Trenton will conduct the meeting. Counsel will be present at your side to assist you as you answer questions intended to help the appointed trustee decide if you possess assets that should be distributed to your creditors. Additionally, the trustee will attempt to discern if you have filed your petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in good faith.

Will bankruptcy ruin my credit rating?

While it’s undeniable that having a bankruptcy on your credit report does damage your rating, it’s also true that over time, the bankruptcy itself can be less detrimental than a years-long history of unpaid debts and judgments against you. In fact, many people find that once they have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, they receive offers for fresh credit cards and are even able to obtain them! Lenders are overall more likely to view you as less risky once you are free from your huge burden of debt. After all, they are guaranteed that you will not be permitted to file for bankruptcy for a minimum of six years.

Does bankruptcy erase my debts?

While bankruptcy will erase most of your unpaid debts, there are notable exceptions.

Bankruptcy normally does not adjust:

  • Alimony or child support obligations
  • Some unlisted debt
  • Loans obtained under false pretense
  • Fines
  • Debts resulting from willful and malicious intent
  • Student loans

Additionally, mortgages and any other liens that are not paid via the bankruptcy may be attached to the property. They will not be reattached to you personally until and unless you decide to reaccept the obligation. If the creditor sells the property, the bankruptcy completely absolves you of all obligation to repay the debt.

Are there other viable options for getting out from under my debt?

Once a debtor has been hounded by creditors and has realized that they have very little hope of paying off their debts, the promise of a fresh start through bankruptcy can seem like the only escape. While bankruptcy is the best course of option for a good portion of overwhelmed debtors, it can also greatly impact their credit rating and their ability to purchase large items such as a home or vehicle. Therefore; it is prudent for debtors to carefully consider less drastic alternatives.

This caveat is especially pertinent if the debtor’s financial problems are likely to be merely temporary, in which case creditors may accept smaller payments, or stretch payments out over longer periods of time. It helps the debtor’s credibility if they have demonstrated prompt payment habits in the past, or if they inform their creditors that they are facing potential bankruptcy. Creditors are eager to avoid bankruptcy if they may reasonably expect that the debtor will be capable of and willing to repay their debts over time; once bankruptcy proceedings have begun, they are unlikely to recover anything, or will only be able to garner a fraction of what they are truly owed. Creditors also often like to avoid court proceedings connected to bankruptcy because they are costly and time-consuming.
Veitengruber Law works with our clients to present them with every available avenue of debt relief so that they are able to make a fully informed decision. We will work together with you to get you to the other side of debt. To find out what debt relief solution is right for you, schedule your free consultation with us today.

 

Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling: Is it Required?

nj bankruptcy

If you are contemplating or have already made the decision to file for bankruptcy, you may be wondering about the NJ pre-bankruptcy credit counseling course you’ve heard mentioned. Is it required to do pre-bankruptcy credit counseling before filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey? Does everyone have to take the course? What are the stipulations and specifics? Let’s take a look at the nitty gritty details.


When do I have to take the pre-bankruptcy credit counseling course?


Within 180 days of filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey, you must show proof of credit counseling from a non-profit agency that has been approved by the office of the U.S. Trustee. This step is required if you plan to file for bankruptcy. Within 15 days of filing for bankruptcy, you have to file the certificate of completion your credit counseling agency presented you with. Additionally, any suggested repayment plan(s) that you developed with the agency will also be provided so you can present it to your bankruptcy attorney.


Is this really necessary? Who is profiting from this course?


You may be asking, is there more than meets the eye when it comes to pre-bankruptcy counseling? Some debtors are initially suspicious of taking the course, with thoughts like:

  • “Am I going to be charged more money for this course?”
  • “I am already paying a bankruptcy attorney to help me with this.”
  • “Is this just a ploy for the government to make even more money?”

The goal of bankruptcy counseling is to help you determine if filing for bankruptcy is really the right move for you. During the course, you’ll work through your finances with a certified credit counselor. They’ll be able to assist you in deciding if Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 is better for your unique situation, or if you can come up with an informal payment plan to help you overcome the debt without filing for bankruptcy. The repayment plan may not be realistic for you, especially if you have a low income and the bills are too high. You may not want to pay off high credit card debt with inflated interest rates or emergency room bills.

Even if either of the above stipulations in bold describe you, counseling is still required. Typically, the agency will prepare a repayment plan for you based on your income and debt, and then will review your available options for repayment. In the majority of cases, if you don’t have any other options besides filing for bankruptcy, the agency will confirm that no feasible options exist.


I’ll listen to what they have to say, but I’m not going to participate.


You are actually obligated to participate in the counseling, as well. This will be one of your first steps in getting your money mindset turned around. Your counselor will help you begin to formulate a working budget so that you don’t end up in this situation again. Whether you choose to follow the suggested repayment plan or not (if one was proposed during counseling), you do have to include it when filing for bankruptcy.


What kind of agency provides pre-bankruptcy credit counseling?


Here are a few tips when searching for a professional credit counseling agency:

  • Look for a non-profit agency that has at least 7 to 10 years of experience.
  • If you can’t afford the fees, ask around – some agencies are willing to renounce or lessen them.
  • Debtors who make less than 150% of the poverty level for a family of the same size, there must be a sliding scale fee or fees must be waived completely.
  • The agency should be a part of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA).
  • It’s important to check with the Better Business Bureau to see what information they have on the agency you’re researching.
  • The agency must be approved by the Department of Justice if you’re specifically in need of pre-bankruptcy credit counseling.

I’m disabled; do I still have to take the course?


Pre-bankruptcy credit counseling is required whether you’re considering filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The only people who are exempt from the course are those who are:

  • Currently on active military duty in a combat zone
  • Physically and/or mentally impaired or handicapped so severely that it prevents you from taking the course

If, for some reason, you intended to take the required course but became ill or encountered an emergent situation that prevented you from attending, you’ll need to petition your bankruptcy court to allow you to take the course after your case has been filed. Talk to your NJ bankruptcy attorney about this, if this situation arises.


What do I need to do to prepare for the credit counseling course?


Make sure you are knowledgeable regarding your current financial state before attending counseling. If you have already met with a bankruptcy lawyer in NJ, you can ask what they recommend you have with you when you begin the course. In short: anything you’d share with your bankruptcy attorney is applicable and should be mentioned and discussed during your credit counseling course.

It’s crucial to be mentally present during your credit counseling (avoid going on “auto-pilot” or “zoning out”) because it will help you reach your goal of climbing out of debt. Not only is it a practical way to deal with your debt outside of bankruptcy, but it can also help you to avoid adding even more debt to what you already owe.

Remember: your NJ bankruptcy attorney can assist you with setting up the pre-bankruptcy counseling course, as well as help you get all of your financial paperwork and information organized prior to attending so that you’re prepared. This will allow you to get the most out of the assistance the counseling will offer you.

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What are the Duties of a Bankruptcy Trustee?

 

A NJ bankruptcy trustee is responsible for completing the administrative tasks of a specific bankruptcy case and is typically appointed by the New Jersey bankruptcy court. These individuals are not judges, but are sometimes lawyers, though that is not a requirement. The trustee’s jobs include (but are not limited to): management of all of the petitioner’s bankruptcy paperwork and documentation, leading the meeting of creditors, and handling the liquidation of the petitioner’s assets.

When filing for bankruptcy, you need to first gather the necessary information and paperwork, either on your own or with the guidance of your New Jersey bankruptcy attorney. Based on the New Jersey exemptions, it’s also important to figure out what property (of yours) is exempt from seizure. Once you have filed for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court will take legal control of all debts and properties that are not free from New Jersey exemptions.

The next step in a NJ bankruptcy case is when a trustee will be assigned. His or her responsibility is to review your paperwork in a detailed manner, especially any possessions and exemptions you want to claim. You may contest any decisions or rulings made by your trustee. About one month after you’ve filed, the trustee will be responsible for calling a meeting of creditors. The debtor must attend this meeting.

A trustee either deals with Chapter 7 cases, where the profit is made from liquidating (selling) the petitioner’s nonexempt property, or Chapter 13 cases, in which the profit comes in the form of a repayment plan. Because the trustee receives a portion of what he or she can collect for the filer’s creditors, the trustee has a powerful incentive to collect as much as possible for the creditors.

Regarding Chapter 7 cases, there are typically no non-exempt assets. If there are non-exempt assets, you will have to release non-exempt property, or the cash equivalent of its market value, to the trustee. This takes place following the meeting of creditors. The trustee will then split the proceeds from selling this property to the creditors. In some cases, if the property does not have a high value, the trustee may turn the property back over to you.

Regarding Chapter 13 cases, the trustee is responsible for handling the most important piece of the puzzle – the repayment plan. The trustee will work with the filer to set up a repayment plan of his or her debts. While the filer is in the process of repaying creditors, the trustee will be responsible for collecting the monthly payments and distributing them to the creditors. The trustee will also give the petititioner occasional updates on who has been paid and how much is still owed to each creditor.

Because bankruptcy trustees have a significant role and power in the bankruptcy system, it’s important to start off on the right foot with the trustee that is assigned to your case. A working relationship with your trustee will be vital, especially if you are involved in a Chapter 13 case. Be meticulous and honest when completing the bankruptcy forms and make sure you let the trustee know immediately if you’ve made a mistake. Open communication will make the bankruptcy process easier for both you and the bankruptcy trustee.

Image: “November 9th” by Kate Hiscock – licensed under CC 2.0

Is My Bankruptcy Trustee Entitled to My Upcoming Financial Windfall?

When you file for chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, your bankruptcy case will be assigned to a trustee. The bankruptcy trustee works independent of both your bankruptcy attorney and the NJ bankruptcy court. The trustee’s job is that of bankruptcy case “inspector,” if you will. Their duties are essentially: to review all paperwork, hold the 341 hearing (also called the Meeting of Creditors), liquidate any of your assets that are not exempt, and to prevent bankruptcy fraud from occurring.

Many people wonder how bankruptcy trustees get paid. After all, who would want to take on the intense responsibilities associated with the job if it were an unpaid position?

How does a bankruptcy trustee get paid?

Filing fees

Every bankruptcy petitioner must pay a filing fee to the court system. Your NJ bankruptcy trustee will receive $60 of that fee. That doesn’t sound like much money, does it? Keep reading to learn more.

Commission

Bankruptcy trustees are motivated to find as many assets to liquidate as possible in every bankruptcy case because they receive a percentage of all of the collected assets that are paid to your creditors. They’ll make:

  • 25% of the first $5,000 they collect and disburse to your creditors
  • 10% of the next $45,000
  • 5% of the $950,000 after that, and
  • 3% of any assets collected and disbursed that total over $1,000,000

Costs

If your bankruptcy trustee incurs costs relating to your case, they can request reimbursement for those costs via the NJ court system. You will be notified if this happens, but you will not pay them directly. They will be reimbursed from any money that is freed up in your estate, but for this to happen, it must be approved by the court first.

Financial windfalls

After you file for chapter 7 bankruptcy, let’s assume that you come into some money. This could be due to an inheritance, lawsuit or repayment of a personal debt, etc. You may wonder if you’ll be able to keep this financial windfall or if your trustee will have access to it first in order to pay off your debts.

When you filed for bankruptcy, you essentially handed over your estate (all of your assets and debts) to the trustee. It is the trustee’s duty to lawfully pay back as much of your debt as possible. Therefore, any financial settlements or inheritance monies received while your bankruptcy case is active must be paid to the trustee. There are exemptions, of course, and you should always check with your bankruptcy attorney to ensure that you have the correct and up-to-date information.

If you are interested in reading more about the ‘windfall provision’ section of bankruptcy code 541, you can do so here. Section 541 of the bankruptcy code will also help you can find out exactly which property and assets will be included in your bankruptcy estate.

As always, remember that even if you are entitled to receive a financial windfall during your chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you will almost certainly never receive it in full. This is because once you have filed for chapter 7 in New Jersey, anything outside of the income you earn at your job will be subject to disbursement to your creditors, your trustee’s commission, and your attorney’s fees.

Have a specific question about a NJ chapter 7 bankruptcy case? Call or write us today! We are happy to consult for one half hour with a new client free of charge.

 

 

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