Can I File Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Without an Attorney?

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Though filing bankruptcy without an attorney may seem like something you can handle, it’s not necessarily the recommended option. This is not to say that filing for bankruptcy is impossible without an attorney, but it requires serious dedication, time, and self-education. Even with the most extensive research and attention to detail, it’s easy to make a mistake or miss a crucial step in the process. If you’re thinking about filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy without an attorney, be aware of the common mistakes that pro se individuals most often make. Ultimately, whether or not you decide to hire an attorney is up to you, but as always, Veitengruber Law is more than happy to provide you with stellar bankruptcy representation.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy provides the opportunity to construct a repayment plan that will help you pay back your debt. In order for your Chapter 13 application to be approved, you need to be able to prove that you have a steady job that provides enough income for you to realistically be able to pay off your creditors within three to five years.

If you’re considering bankruptcy as a solution to your financial struggles, we want you to know that it may not be your best option. Certain forms of debt, known as nondischargeable debt, cannot be relieved by filing for bankruptcy. Related to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your assets may be at risk if you are unable to exempt them. Knowing these small but significant details will assist you when making the decision to file.

For most people, deciding whether to file for bankruptcy and which type to file depends on: the type of debt they want to eliminate, whether or not they own nonexempt property, if they are able to pay back debt outside of the bankruptcy case, and other details that are unique to their case.

One of the biggest disadvantages of not having an attorney to guide you through the process is that you may not be aware of some of the steps that are imperative to a successful bankruptcy outcome. Just one of these key steps is the credit counseling/debtor education requisites. For any type of bankruptcy filing, it’s necessary to work through credit counseling. If you skip this step, the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court will dismiss your case. To initiate this process, you’ll need to find an agency that can provide an approved credit counseling program. Once you submit your case to the court, you will need to provide the court with proof of counseling completion. Following the submission of your bankruptcy case, you will need to conclude with a debtor education course, also known as personal financial management. If you fail to complete this, you will not receive a discharge from the court.

As with most financial processes, there is a plethora of arduous paperwork to file in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. These include your petition, schedule, statement of affairs, creditor matrix and many other necessary forms. Obviously, if you don’t have an attorney, you may not know which documents need to be completed (along with their deadlines). By choosing not to work with a NJ bankruptcy attorney, you take this responsibility into your own hands.

Believe it or not, bankruptcy court laws are not universal; every state and county court will have their own set of local bankruptcy procedures and regulations that you will be required to follow. Because you have to submit local tax returns and other forms to your bankruptcy trustee, it’s possible that the trustee will have additional, specific forms for you to complete as well. When you fail to follow any of these rules or meet your deadlines, expect to have a delay in or a dismissal of your case.

A huge part of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey means creating a repayment plan that assures creditors that you have the ability to pay back the debt. If you’re foregoing an attorney’s help, it’s your job to design your repayment plan. Once you submit the initial plan, the court must approve it before finalization. The creditors will reject the plan if it doesn’t meet bankruptcy code. While this task is not impossible to do on your own, writing up a repayment plan simply isn’t in the average person’s skill set. This is a step wherein working with an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney is extremely beneficial.

The complexity of filing for bankruptcy shouldn’t scare you away, but because of its nature, it is our advice that you work with a bankruptcy team that has experience with Chapter 13 cases like yours. If you’re set on skipping an attorney, be sure to do ample research online and ask questions of your local bankruptcy court if you are unsure of something. In the end, we would recommend finding a trustworthy legal team near you to walk with you through all of the steps of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy

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What Everyone Should Know About Chapter 13 and SSDI Benefits

Many times, individuals whose only income is Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) have difficulty keeping up with paying creditors and debts and may have to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. There can be a deep internal struggle with choosing this path due to the fear of losing their SSDI benefits.

The Social Security Act provides protection to Americans who become disabled and have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. Disability benefits are available to those (previously and currently) employed workers and their survivors who have paid into the system and can no longer work. These benefits, although helpful, equate to only a portion of what a working individual previously earned.

If an individual receives approval to collect disability benefits, the amount of the benefit is not determined by the severity of the disability or their earnings when they were employed. The Social Security Administration calculates the amount of Social Security taxes an individual has paid on their income over the many years they’ve worked and averages them. A formula is applied to this average using percentages called “bend points.” As a result, any person’s benefit payment will only amount to a percentage of what their earnings were while working. Payment benefits paid to individuals and/or their survivors through SSDI payment ranged from $700-$1,700 per month in 2017.

In almost all cases, this protection will not be overruled by bankruptcy. The most common protection for these benefits, by statutory definition, is that Social Security income is excluded as income being available to repay creditors. In other words, these benefits are not calculated as disposable income or financial assets to determine payment amounts used to pay back unsecured creditors.

42 U.S.C. 407 (Section 207 of the Social Security Act) provides protection in the form of a broad federal non-bankruptcy exemption. The statute provides that “none of the monies paid or payable or rights existing under this subchapter [of the Social Security Act] shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of bankruptcy or insolvency law.” Other federal laws allot exceptions to this protection outside of bankruptcy for established child support or alimony obligations, federal taxes or other obligations to the federal government. Most times, even debtors that have these responsibilities will still have protection of their benefits in bankruptcy. However, other bankruptcy laws, such as priority creditor laws, may require these responsibilities be paid from another income source.

To reiterate, in several instances, Congress has clearly stated that Social Security benefits should not be included in determining financial assets that are used to compensate creditors in a bankruptcy case. Additionally, the Social Security Administration has said it will not honor court orders to turn over an individual’s Social Security benefits to a bankruptcy trustee.

The Social Security Administration has very strict guidelines on what their benefits can be used for as they were created to assist disabled individuals with basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Because of this, you should keep your SSDI benefits in a separate checking or savings account and keep accurate records of income and expenses, so they are traceable. Commingling of your household income and your Social Security Disability benefits may cause confusion and complications. Keeping these monies separate will help you avoid losing protection of those benefits.

Still have unanswered questions or have a unique case not addressed here? Please schedule a free consultation with Veitengruber Law in Bordentown or Wall, NJ to learn how you can continue to receive your income from disability payments while filing for bankruptcy.

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How Soon After my Chapter 7 Discharge Can I File a Chapter 13?

Getting your ducks in a row by filing for and successfully completing a chapter 7 bankruptcy case may only end up organizing half of your ducks. In other words, if you recently received a chapter 7 discharge and still have too many nondischargeable debts, what are your options? After all, bankruptcy law states that a debtor who receives a chapter 7 discharge cannot file another chapter 7 for at least eight years. Filing for chapter 13 in search of another discharge isn’t an option for at least four years after your chapter 7 discharge.

Given that the bankruptcy system in the United States was put into place to help distressed debtors, one would wonder if there is anything left to do should you find yourself just out of a chapter 7 bankruptcy only to discover that it simply didn’t help as much as you thought it would.

Luckily, the US bankruptcy system does have a plan for chapter 7 debtors who find that they are still saddled with too much debt at the end of their case. Sometimes, chapter 7 debtors also mistakenly jump into new debt immediately after their discharge because they think that their money problems have been “solved.” An example of this is the debtor who received a discharge and went right out and bought a car she couldn’t really afford. Her credit had been damaged due to the bankruptcy, so she was forced to accept an extremely high interest rate on her auto loan.

If, after a month of paying bills post chapter 7 discharge, you fall short financially, it is easy to panic. You have most likely been told by your attorney that you cannot file for another bankruptcy until the legal timelines have passed. So: WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO?

Even though you can’t file for a chapter 13 bankruptcy with the intention of receiving another discharge for four years after your chapter 7 discharge, you CAN file a chapter 13 after your chapter 7 if your intent is to reorganize your remaining debt so that it is manageable. This likely will not reduce the total amount of your remaining debt significantly, but it may reduce it slightly, and your attorney can help you negotiate the payment terms on your remaining debt.

If you have creditors who are threatening to garnish your wages (take money directly out of your paycheck) because you can’t afford to repay all of your remaining debts, filing for a chapter 13 will give you the benefit of another Automatic Stay. This prevents any of your creditors or lenders from setting up wage garnishment, repossessing your vehicle or other property, or foreclosing on your home.

A chapter 13 after a chapter 7 is sometimes referred to as a chapter 20, because essentially the two bankruptcies are working together to help you both discharge the debts that can be wiped out and reorganize those that are remaining so that you can really, truly begin again. If you’ve been through a chapter 7 discharge and are still struggling, ask your NJ bankruptcy attorney about a chapter 13 after chapter 7, or a “chapter 20.”

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Bankruptcy After Divorce: Can Property Settlements be Discharged?

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Couples who are going through a separation or divorce learn very quickly how expensive it is to split up a marriage. Firstly, the added costs of simply living in two different residences add up fast. In addition to separate living costs comes child support, alimony, equitable distribution, potential attorney fees (times 2), loss of part of your pension, and more.

In divorces where one spouse remains living in the marital home, they may be saddled with an order to pay their ex-spouse up to half of the equity in the home (if there is any). If this order comes as a surprise, paying it may be nigh on impossible, especially if it’s a substantial amount of money.

Some divorcing homeowners may wonder if they can discharge the home equity money they owe to their ex-spouse in a chapter 7 bankruptcy case. For example, if the party remaining in the home is ordered to pay $30,000 for equity in the home, would a chapter 7 bankruptcy erase that debt?

The answer to that question is no. Property settlements cannot be discharged in a chapter 7 bankruptcy, although any and all debts owed relating to the marriage (except for child support and alimony) must be listed in any bankruptcy filing. Any monies that you were ordered to pay to your ex for their portion of the equity in the home are not dischargeable in a NJ chapter 7 case. Filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy can help eliminate a number of other debts owed, excluding any debts owed as per the Property Settlement Agreement/Divorce Decree.

With that being said, there is another option for divorcing homeowners who are struggling financially and simply do not have the means to pay their ex-spouse’s  portion of the equity in the home.

In fact, filing for chapter 13 if you are struggling to stay financially afloat after a divorce can be a solution to a number of your money woes. As mentioned, shifting to a one-income household can be a challenging adjustment, especially if you make less money than your spouse does.

If you have fallen behind on any utility bills, property taxes, HOA fees or if you have rapidly rising credit card debt in NJ, chapter 13 will help you reorganize all of your debts, giving you as much as 5 years to get caught up. This includes mortgage debt – and filing for chapter 13 will protect your home from foreclosure.

Along with helping you reorganize your debts, the sum you’ve been ordered to pay your ex-spouse can be reduced or discharged entirely. The possibility of this is dependent upon your income and the combined total of all of your debts. The amount you’ll be required to pay toward divorce debts that are not support-related will be based on how much you can afford to pay. Beyond what you can afford within the given time frame of your chapter 13 repayment period, the rest of your non-support divorce debts will often be discharged, and you will no longer owe the remaining amount.

↓↓CRUCIAL INFORMATION BELOW↓↓

The experience of your bankruptcy attorney is of the utmost importance in a matter involving NJ bankruptcy after divorce. There are so many variables that will affect all aspects of your chapter 13 bankruptcy case. An inexperienced attorney can make expensive and disastrous mistakes. Look for a NJ bankruptcy lawyer who focuses their practice on helping people improve their financial future through debt relief and credit counseling.

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Will a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Reduce My Child Support Payments?

Several decades ago, it was possible to have at least some of your child support arrears discharged by filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey. In the 80’s, Congress made changes to some bankruptcy laws because not all debts are created equal. Since then, child support debt can no longer be discharged via bankruptcy of any chapter.

Priority vs Non-priority Debts

Whether you are filing for chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy, New Jersey bankruptcy laws categorize all of your debts into two main lists: Priority Debts and Non-priority Debts.

Those debts that fall into the Priority category include:

  • Child support
  • Alimony
  • Money that you owe due to a court order
  • Money owed to the government

Priority debts are deemed such because of their great impact on others, and they are considered nondischargeable. In addition, child support is given precedence over all other types of priority debts due to the fact that the welfare and well-being of the debtor’s children are dependent on it.

Will the Automatic Stay Allow a Pause in Child Support Payments?

The normal course of action during a NJ bankruptcy case is that as soon as the case is filed, something called an ‘automatic stay’ immediately prevents any creditors from collecting money from the debtor. The stay is a legal injunction that was put into place to protect debtors from falling further into debt.

Relating to child support, the automatic stay has no power. In both chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcies, the debtor is required to continue paying child support in full and on time throughout the entirety of their bankruptcy case. Failure to do so will actually risk a complete lift of the automatic stay, giving creditors permission to attempt collections again, potentially resulting in a huge mess.

If child support payments are a significant problem for you, filing for a chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey is definitely a wise choice. While you must continue making child support payments (including any arrears), doing so will make your overall debt picture look much more promising.

How Will Paying Child Support Ease my Debt Load?

You may be asking yourself how you’ll be better off financially due to the high priority of making all of your child support payments. The courts look fondly upon debtors who take responsibility for and recognize the significance of their child support obligations. Therefore, as long as you are paying your child support on time, your other debts will be reduced in order to help you continue to pay that support.

This is great news for debtors with child support responsibilities because the amount of money you owe in credit card debt, medical bills and personal debts will be reduced. Chapter 13 bankruptcy will also help you reorganize all remaining debts so that you can afford your monthly payments.

Most debtors would naturally much rather support their children than pay off extraordinary medical bills or credit card debt. Filing for chapter 13 will help you do the right thing while reorganizing your payments, ensuring that you can do so without drowning in debt.

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Chapter 13 Bankruptcy & The Confirmation Hearing

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Filing for chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey is a good idea if you accumulated a lot of debt because of temporary circumstances that no longer apply. For example: divorce, job loss or lay off, death of a wage-earning spouse, temporary disability/disease, or a serious injury that prevented you from working for a substantial amount of time.

As long as your circumstances have now righted themselves, you shouldn’t have a problem with a chapter 13 bankruptcy. You should hold a job that provides you with a steady and reliable source of decent income and have your life in order physically, mentally and emotionally (for the most part – none of us is perfect!).

Even with all of these factors in place, you may still be facing a wall of debt that you accrued while your life was upside-down. Rather than filing for a chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, in which you’d put your assets at risk, a better option under these circumstances is a chapter 13 bankruptcy.

A chapter 13 will help you to reorganize your monthly payments so that they are more manageable. This will be accomplished by lowering some of your debt totals, reducing interest rates, eliminating past due amounts and other compromises that your bankruptcy attorney will be able to negotiate for you. The end goal of a chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey is to prevent you from losing any of your assets while satisfying your creditors, too.

What is a Chapter 13 Confirmation Hearing?

In order for your chapter 13 bankruptcy to be considered approved and finalized, it must go through a process called ‘confirmation.’ The New Jersey bankruptcy court will hold a Confirmation Hearing in order to determine whether or not your plan will be confirmed.

Who Attends the Confirmation Hearing?

  • NJ bankruptcy judge
  • Any of your creditors who wish to attend
  • Your bankruptcy trustee
  • Your New Jersey bankruptcy lawyer
  • You (depending on the requirements of your local NJ district court rules)

Who Can Object to the Confirmation?

Any of your creditors (people/companies to whom you owe money) and your bankruptcy trustee may object during the confirmation hearing. If there is an objection to your chapter 13 plan, the objecting party will explain to the presiding judge why they object and how they feel your plan should be changed.

If there is an objection, it will typically come from your mortgage or auto lender. These are almost always the largest loans owed by debtors. Objections from these two parties usually occur when your proposed chapter 13 plan doesn’t allot enough money to be paid to your mortgage or car loan.

What Happens if an Objection is Made?

Each party attending the Confirmation Hearing will have a chance to share their proposed plan for your chapter 13 bankruptcy. The judge will hear all arguments before making any decisions. Additionally, some NJ bankruptcy judges have concerns of their own during Confirmation Hearings.

If you and your creditors cannot agree on the terms of your chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, your NJ judge will almost always set a second Confirmation Hearing, giving ample time for everyone involved to come to an agreement. If there appears to be no possible reconciliation between you and your creditor(s) even at a second Confirmation Hearing, the judge will most likely make the decision for you.

You should never attend a Confirmation Hearing alone. While objections are often related to repayment amounts, complicated and confusing legal issues may also be raised that you may not understand. Be sure to retain a respected, experienced and reliable New Jersey bankruptcy attorney to ensure that the outcome of your hearing is beneficial to you.

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Can Filing for Chapter 13 Help Me Save My Home?

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Have you fallen behind on your mortgage payments and are now at risk of losing your home to foreclosure? Is keeping your home something that you want? Would making your monthly payments be feasible if the amount due each month was adjusted to fit into your budget?

Frequently, we see homeowners at risk of foreclosure who are desperate to keep their homes. Many times, the homeowner has already applied for a loan modification with their mortgage lender. Unfortunately, waiting for a loan modification to be approved can drag on and on for many months.

If you have applied for a loan modification, your mortgage debt (including past due payments and late fees) will snowball while you wait for your loan modification to be approved. Sadly, many loan modifications are not approved the first time around, especially without help from a debt relief attorney. Either way, while you wait for an answer, the amount of arrears will continue to climb, making it more impossible than ever for you to catch up.

We’ve worked with clients who’ve found themselves in this exact scenario. As we recently discussed in our last blog post, many people wait until the last minute to ask us for help saving their home from foreclosure.

Though Veitengruber Law does have last minute strategies that can often help postpone a foreclosure, today we’d like to present you with a way to stop a foreclosure early, giving you many options and the time you need to reorganize your your debts.

While most people associate bankruptcy with chapter 7, filing for chapter 13 may be exactly what you need if you’re facing foreclosure while attempting to obtain a loan modification.

Chapter 13 is a good choice for you if:

  • Your lender has filed a Notice of Default [missed payment(s)].
  • Foreclosure appears imminent.
  • You want to keep your home.
  • A loan modification would make your payments achievable.

How can a chapter 13 bankruptcy help me?

  • Filing for chapter 13 puts a stop to any foreclosure proceedings, known as an automatic stay. Your mortgage lender(s) (and all other creditors) are legally prohibited from collecting payments during the automatic stay period.
  • You are permitted to continue seeking a loan modification during your chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings.
  • While you are seeking the modified loan, you will still be able to make payments (in the amount you can afford) so that you don’t fall further and further behind.
  • Any unsecured debts that you may have in addition to your mortgage loan can also be reorganized or modified to make repayment achievable. Some unsecured debt may even be dismissed altogether.
  • As soon as you file for chapter 13, you will start communicating with the bankruptcy division within your mortgage company. Oftentimes this results in a loan modification application that gets approved!

Consult with an attorney who specializes in debt relief and loan modifications to find out if a chapter 13 bankruptcy is right for you. Send Veitengruber Law a message now or call us at (732)852-7295 for more information about bankruptcy and foreclosure in New Jersey.

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Is Equitable Distribution Dischargeable in Bankruptcy?

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The end of a marriage isn’t what anyone plans for when they’re saying their vows. However, the reality is that divorce happens sometimes, and it when it does, it brings a lot of financial negotiations along with it. Child support, alimony, who keeps the family home, who’ll be responsible for paying off marital credit cards – these are all financial decisions that will have to be negotiated between the two parties. If the parties can’t agree on the terms, then your family court judge will make the decisions for you.

Divorce can be financially destructive and leaves many newly single people wondering if filing for bankruptcy would be in their best interest. If you acquired all of the marital credit card debt, the mortgage and car payments, bankruptcy would definitely help you reorganize (if not eliminate) many of those debts. Naturally, you’d more than likely need to find a new place to live, especially if you choose to go the Chapter 7 route, which liquidates as many of your assets as possible in order to pay back your creditors.

On the other hand, there are some financial ramifications of divorce that fall into the category of ‘Domestic Support Obligations.’ These items include child support, alimony and something called ‘equitable distribution.’

What is Equitable Distribution?

Equitable distribution is the systematic division of property and debts that most state courts use to fairly divide the property and debt that was acquired during the marriage. Keep in mind that the division will not be 50/50; it will be based on a number of factors, including: age(s) of the parties, income of each party, standard of living attained during the marriage, earning capacity of each party, and more. If equitable distribution applies to your unique divorce case, one spouse will be ordered to pay the other spouse a set amount of money using all of the factors that apply. To learn more about exactly how equitable distribution is calculated, visit DivorceNet.

As we mentioned, child support, alimony and equitable distribution payments all fall under the umbrella of Domestic Support Obligations (DSOs). Because child support and alimony payments have been court ordered and your former spouse and/or children depend on them for survival, they are almost never dischargeable in a bankruptcy.

The same goes for equitable distribution payments – usually. They are considered a DSO debt that cannot be relieved or ‘erased’ via Chapter 7. It is possible, though, to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and include your equitable distribution obligation in your debt schedule. Sometimes, your ex-spouse may realize that striking a deal may work out best for both of you.

Reorganizing your debt via a Chapter 13 bankruptcy would still mean you’d owe money to your ex for the equitable distribution; however, it would be a reduced amount, and that may very well be the best situation for everyone involved.

 

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Can I Keep My Tax Refund if I File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

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Tax day is once again approaching, and, if you have filed for bankruptcy, you undoubtedly have some new questions this year about filing your taxes and whether or not you can receive federal tax refunds.

Here, we will focus on Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the effect it will have on your federal taxes and refund(s). Firstly, let’s go over the definition of this type of bankruptcy. In order to be able to file for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must be either: gainfully employed, self-employed or a sole proprietor. The reason for this requirement is that a Chapter 13 is actually a reorganization of your debts rather than a forgiveness of your debts. In addition, all of your tax returns within the past four years must have been filed correctly and on time.

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing will allow you to keep possession of all of your assets/property. The purpose of a chapter 13 proceeding is to create a plan that will allow you to pay back all or most of your debts over the next 3 to 5 years. Other types of bankruptcies can result in you losing assets that you cannot pay for.

In order to file for a Chapter 13, your total debt burden must not be so high so that creating a reasonable repayment plan would be impossible. Your repayment plan will be based on your income, your reasonable living expenses, and the specific debts that you have incurred. As you will be required to pay a specific amount of money each month to a number of different creditors, you will be living on a very strict budget until these debts are sufficiently paid down or paid off completely, depending on what is specifically set out in your repayment agreement.

Around tax time, the appeal of receiving a substantial lump some of money in the form of a tax refund can be very tempting when you are living on such a strict budget every month as you repay your debts.

That being said, it is important to know that, for many people involved in a bankruptcy case, tax refunds are often delayed or are required to be used as payment toward your Chapter 13 debts. This is especially true if any or all of the reason you filed for bankruptcy is overdue federal tax debts.

When you file for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will be required to put all of your disposable income toward repayment of your debts. Disposable income is defined as any income that is not used to pay for your reasonable monthly living expenses. Under this definition, your tax refund will be considered disposable income because you will not have listed any potential tax refund money when you filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

However, it is possible for you to excuse your tax refund from being considered part of your disposable income on a year-by-year basis. This is only possible if you have encountered a necessary living expense that can legitimately be considered unexpected.

In order to be able to keep your tax refund during a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a separate plan modification will need to be filed each year. In your Chapter 13 plan modification, you’ll need to specify exactly how much money you will be receiving as a tax refund.  You will also need to provide details that will prove your need to keep the money.

Anything that is considered part of your regular monthly living expenses will not be reason enough for the court to allow you to keep your tax refund during a Chapter 13 reorganization. The reason for this is that you agreed to certain expenditures when you originally filed your bankruptcy petition, and you will be held responsible for making ends meet with the income that you are currently generating.

To learn more about specific situations that may allow you to keep your tax refund if you have filed for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, contact our office today. Feel free to use this contact form, and please use the information provided on our law blog to learn more about the ins and outs of bankruptcy.

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