Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bankruptcy: After Christmas?

It's the time of the year where many people start buying gifts for others for the holidays. That, of course, is in addition to buying food, heat, electricity, telephone(s), gasoline, auto insurance, cigarettes (bad for health - bad for pocketbook), cable, clothes (don't forget shoes, socks, and underwear), and paying rent or mortgage and the car payment. Oh, and remember to buy the medications the Doctor prescribed.

Quite a list! How To Pay For It? Many people use CREDIT CARDS. Then comes February 1st and the bills flood the mailbox overwhelming the Letter Carrier's ability to carry all of the Visa, Mastercard, Discover, JC Penny, Sears, BestBuy, Fingerhut, QVC, Amex, Capital One, Orchard Bank, Bank of America et al BILLS.

When asked how they expect to pay, many will say "Well, I HAD to get those presents. I mean, it was Christmas (or Chanukah or whatever other holiday "requires" gift giving)". Says the lawyer at the first consultation about debt relief, "Okay, but how did you expect to pay the bills?" - the classic answer "I didn't think about that. I figured I be able to pay a little on each card, I guess." This response is typical from clients with sufficient income to pay the bill with minimum payments over the next 20 years, and from those who HAVE TO GO WITHOUT FOOD AND HEAT TO MAKE ONE PAYMENT!!

There are several problems here, actually many more than several. The biggest, in a sense, is that with debt that has accumulated over the past 3, 5, or 10 years there is no way ANY PAYMENTS are affordable. Then comes "Can I file bankruptcy?" The real question is "Can I file bankruptcy and still get rid of my bills (a discharge) even though I was foolish...?" There is no easy answer.

In order to eliminate/discharge debt, the Bankruptcy has to be filed in good faith. You cannot intentionally incur debt that you know you cannot pay. At a minimum, that debt cannot be discharged (made to go away). But wait...There's more! When the gifts were being bought and the plastic nearly melting from over-use, did the purchaser intend to repay the credit card company? The easy answer is "Yes, I always pay my bills!" But, is that the honest answer.

Many people just do not think about or know how to think about budgeting. People of all ages get caught up in the "I have to buy a gift for..." mode. So, what can be done for the honest but horrid money manager/giver?

Rule 1. Know how much you take home every month and how much must be spent on essentials, like the list above

Rule 2. If there is any extra, before deducting current credit card payments, be certain that it is truly disposable income immediately. Do not count the money you will save when you stop smoking.

Rule 3. Add up all of your credit card and other unsecured debt (debt not attached to collateral, like a car loan)

Rule 4. Multiply the amount of debt by 3% or 0.03

Rule 5. If the result after following Rule 4 is more than your "extra" (your disposable income) you should not incur more debt.

Rule 6. To figure how much unsecured debt you can support reasonably, DIVIDE your extra/disposable income by .03. So, if you have $200/month truly extra, the Most unsecured debt you can have is $6,000. And, remember that "extra" is what's left after paying all of the expenses listed in the beginning of this posting and any other NECESSARY expenses you have.

Even at the level shown, paying will be a bit of a struggle - things happen that cost money and are unexpected. Missing one month of the payment on any unsecured debt will make everything fall apart and you might never catch up.

If you have done those calculations, and after being careful you find that 6 months (I just picked a number) into the new year that you cannot pay because "Life comes at you fast!", then yes, you can file a bankruptcy with a clear conscience and peace of mind.

Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq, November, 2011


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