Archive for the ‘Government/Legislation’ Category
When clients consult with us about filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts we are forced to make a decision concerning what exemptions they wanted to claim. In the past, the choice was easy, if our client had more than $20,000 in equity in their home, then we would choose the Massachusetts exemptions in order to take advantage of the $500,000 homestead exemption. However, that meant losing protections on other items, such as a car or cash and our clients possibly having to either surrender property or hand over cash to the trustee.
In fact, Massachusetts’ exemptions were so outdated that other than the homestead, you were only afforded $700 for a car, $125 in the bank, 2 cows, 12 sheep and 2 pigs.
Now, on April 7, 2011, Massachusetts moves into the 21st Century. On that date, Massachusetts residents who file bankruptcy will have the benefit of choosing to keep their house, car, and some money to pay bills. While the federal exemptions will still be available and will be the best choice for many debtors considering bankruptcy, the increase in the new state exemptions will help a lot of people. Here is a review of the new exemptions available to debtors and chose the state exemptions:
Homestead: if you own your home, you are entitled to protect up to $500,000 in equity so long as you have lived there for 3.3 years; otherwise you are only entitled to $250,000. (investment, or vacation property is not eligible) The Massachusetts Homestead statute has recently been updated…but that is a topic of another post.
Automobile: In one of the most significant changes…you can now exempt $7,500 in an automobile. If you are handicapped or over 60, then you are entitled to $15,000. This exemption represents the “equity” in the vehicle. (if the Auto is worth $20,000 and you owe $15,000, then your exemption would be $5,000 which I allowable since it is less than the $7,500 exemption). Under the old statute, you were only entitled to $700.
Jewelry: You may now exempt up to $1,225 in personal jewelry.
Clothing, beds, appliances: The New Rule – All necessary wearing apparel, beds, bedding, 1 heating unit, 1 stove, 1 refrigerator, 1 freezer, and 1 hot water heater.
Furniture: Residents can now exempt $15,000 in home furniture. Under the old statute, you could only exempt $3,000.
Computer, TV, Sewing Machine: One sewing machine, one computer and one television, in actual use, not exceeding $300 each in resale value. The old statute did not exempt a computer or TV.
Cash for Rent: if you are a renter, then you are entitled up to $2,500 of cash in the bank (not to exceed your actual rent) to pay the rent for the dwelling unit you actually occupy.
Cash for utilities: you are now entitled to have up to $500 on hand to pay utilities. This is up from $75.
Checking & Savings: Cash or savings not exceeding $2,500. (up from $125).
Wages due and payable: the greater of 85% of the your gross wages or 50 times the greater of the federal or the Massachusetts hourly minimum wage for each week or portion thereof.
Tools for Trade or Business: if you have tools that you use in your trade or business you can now protect up to $5000, up from $500.
Materials and Stock Used in Trade or Business: a debtor can now exempt up to $5,000 in materials that you use in your trade or business. (up from $500).
Fishing equipment: Boats, fishing tackle and nets of fishermen actually used in their business, up to $1,500. This is an increase from $500 under the old statute.
Wild Card: You can now use up to $5,000 of your unused tool, auto, or furniture exemption to protect any other property; so long as the value of any single item does not exceed $1,000.
This list provides a brief summary of the new changes in Massachusetts’ exemption laws as they apply to bankruptcy. However it is not an exclusive list, nor should you rely on this list to try to file your own bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is an extremely complicated area of practice and a mistake could lead to the loss of your home or car or could result in your case being dismissed.
If you have been served by a deputy sheriff or constable, or by first class mail, a document entitled “Application for Supplementary Process,” your problems with debt have become very serious. Your Creditor(s) have already obtained a judgment for money against you in a separate legal proceeding. In all likelihood, you have received a copy of the complaint, relevant motions, and judgment associated with that proceeding. Supplementary process is the next step that enables creditors to collect monies owed to them. Supplementary Process is used to compel a Debtor to pay the amounts due on the money judgment. This is a process that is permitted under the laws of the Commonwealth, specifically Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 224 s. 14.
After an Application by a Judgment Creditor has been made to a District Court, you will be issued a summons by the Court, which commands your attendance a hearing on a specific date and time. The goal of the application and summons is to compel you to be physically present at a courthouse. This will allow the attorney for the Judgment Creditor to investigate your financial affairs and examine your ability to pay the outstanding judgment. Many collection attorneys send a financial worksheet to Judgment Debtors to fill out prior to the hearing date. Otherwise, you will likely be handed this worksheet by the collection attorney on the day of supplementary process hearing. In most cases, the Creditor’s attorney will insist that you enter into a monthly payment plan, or make a lump sum payment, if there are assets available to satisfy the judgment. In other words, your Creditors are placing you on a court supervised payment plan and schedule, and can use the District Court as an enforcement mechanism.
If you fail to appear at the scheduled Supplementary Process hearing, you will be defaulted by the Clerk, and a Capias will issue against you. The court will also continue (reschedule) the hearing for a later date. A Capias is a civil warrant, also called a “bench warrant,” for your arrest. This warrant was issued because you have failed to obey the summons issued to you, and failed to be physically present at the Supplementary Process hearing. Once the Capias is issued to the Creditor’s attorney, you will likely be contacted by a Deputy Sheriff from the Sheriff’s Department, who will provide you with instructions on where you must meet him/her prior to the continued hearing date. If you fail to cooperate with the Deputy Sheriff, you can be placed in custody by the Sheriff’s Department, and will be physically transported to the courthouse for examination, and will be required to explain to the Court your reasons for non-compliance with the summons. In other words, there are great risks associated with being uncooperative during a Supplementary Process proceeding, and you should make every effort to comply with a Court issued summons or the Deputy Sheriff, until you decide to file for bankruptcy.
How can one avoid Supplementary Process and its perils?
The most certain method of stopping a supplementary process proceeding; collection attorney investigation of your financial affairs; court ordered payment plans; court summonses; oversight by the Sheriff’s Department; and arrest, is to file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. The automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. s. 362, prohibits your creditors from engaging in collection activity against you after you have file a petition for relief under the bankruptcy code. If you are subject to a supplementary process proceeding, a copy of your Notice of Bankruptcy Case filing can be provided to the Deputy Sheriff and/or the District Court, which will suspend that proceeding until you receive your bankruptcy discharge. A bankruptcy petition has many benefits, and it is extremely effective in terminating the pains and perils associated with supplementary process. Even if you have an inability to pay the judgment on the first hearing date, the Supplementary process action will remain ongoing and you may be required to go to the courthouse every 3-6 months, depending on the court’s schedule. If you are currently subject to this proceeding, please contact one of our bankruptcy attorneys for more information on how to obtain a fresh start and stop collection activity against you.
If you owe money to a creditor and do not timely pay your debts, or are delinquent, you will inevitably receive telephone calls from your creditors or debt collectors. Numerous clients of Grantham Cencarik, P.C. have protested to their bankruptcy attorneys that many creditors call their cell, home and business telephone anywhere between 5-6 times per day. This rule typically applies to each creditor. Because you are required to provide updated telephone numbers to your creditors, and telephone numbers are easily discoverable, your creditors and collectors consider your telephone line “fair game” during the collection process.
What can you do to stop calls from creditors and collectors?
If you have already filed bankruptcy, the automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. s. 362, prohibits all of creditors and collectors from contacting you for the purposes of collecting a debt. Once you bankruptcy petitions has been filed, your creditors and the collectors will be notified of the case filing, and the calls will gradually terminate. If one of your creditors contacts you after your petition has been filed, provide them with your case number and that you have filed for bankruptcy in the District of Massachusetts. This should put an immediate end to collection calls.
If you have not yet filed for bankruptcy, are in the middle of the bankruptcy process, or still deciding whether to file for bankruptcy, there are actions that you can take to eliminate off collection telephone calls. Pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, your creditors must cease and desist debt collection communications if you notify them in writing that you do not wish to be contacted. The next time you receive a call you should answer it. Then, ask the caller which account they are calling in reference to; as well as the name, address and fax number of the caller (collection agent). Make sure to include all this information on your letter that instructs the collector not to contact you. If you are receiving calls at work, make sure to inform them not to call you at work or that your employer does not permit such calls to be made to your place of employment. Make sure to fax and mail this letter to the collector.
Keep in mind though, that just because your creditors are no longer calling you; they have not stopped collection of your account. Usually, your creditor’s next step will be to sue you for the money you owe them. Once they get a judgment against you, then your creditor has new powers to make you pay, such as seizing a vehicle, garnishing your wages, or forcing you to come to court on a monthly basis. The only way to stop your creditors is to either pay them, or to file bankruptcy. For more information, contact us by calling 1-888-5-BOSTON, or 617-497-7141.
Just one question…How many of you reading this post had their credit card interest rate raised or minimum payment raised before February this year? My guess is nearly everyone did. Why you may ask? Well, despite the typical corporate greed reasons, the answer is simple.
Last year, Congress passed new legislation designed to help the average borrower. This legislation that was signed by President Obama last May, prevents card companies from raising rates on existing balances unless the borrower is at least 60 days late and would requires the original rate to be restored if payments are received on time for six months. The law also requires banks to get customers’ permission before allowing them to go over their limits, for which they would have to pay a fee. This law went into effect in February of this year.
So how did the credit card companies respond to this law? Simple….they all raised their rates just before February regardless of the borrower’s payment history or credit score. So effectively, the credit card companies gave them selves a quick raise before they were no longer allowed to. (I guess the bailout wasn’t enough.)
So for most of you who were probably just making ends meet up until February, you are now finding that it is harder and harder to keep up with your payments, even falling behind on your bills or losing money to bank overdraft fees that seem to creep up on you when you least expect it.
Well, guess what? You are not alone. We have had several recent clients who saw their credit card payments increase over $500 a month. Prior to this, they had perfect credit and had never missed a payment. After their payments increased they fell further and further behind until finally they ran out of options.
The point is, there are options available. For a few with relatively small balances, credit counseling may be an option. However, if your balance is over $20,000, you may find this option unacceptable. This leaves Bankruptcy. Bankruptcy provides people like you with an an opportunity to take control of your finances. In most cases, through bankruptcy, you are able to discharge all of your unsecured credit card debt. This leaves you debt free and gives you an opportunity to start over with your credit score.
Keep in mind that bankruptcy is not for everyone; but for most, it is a very powerful tool that will allow you take control of your finances. Our firm provides a free consultation for anyone who is having problems paying their credit cards. There are no obligations, so contact us today.
Good News Massachusetts: Two Bills Before the State Legislature Would Help Homeowners and Bankruptcy Filers.
Currently there are two bills pending before the legislature this session that would have a major impact on debtors in Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Homestead Act and Personal Property Exemption Statutes. Both statutes are in dire need of modernization and the proposed changes would increase financial protections to individuals in Massachusetts.
If these bills are passed, they will have a major impact on all homeowners in Massachusetts and would significantly consumer bankruptcy in Massachusetts.
Proposed Changes to the Massachusetts Homestead Statute
Currently: to take advantage of the Massachusetts homestead statute a homeowner must actively file a declaration of homestead with the registry of deeds where their property is located. If passed, the new legislation will do the following:
- Create Automatic homestead protection: every homeowner will automatically be entitled to a homestead in the amount up to $125,000. Individuals and families with more equity in their homes can still file a declaration of homestead with the registry of deeds and will be able to protect up to $500,000 of their equity (the amount of the declared exemption under current law).
- Beneficiaries of trusts are entitled to homestead protection. Therefore, if your property is held in a trust, then the beneficiary is permitted to a homestead in the property.
- Mortgages cannot terminate previously filed homesteads.
- If you sell your home, or it is destroyed and you receive insurance proceeds, those funds are entitled to homestead protection (for up to a year for sale proceeds, and two years for insurance proceeds)
- Transfers among family members will not terminate a previously declared homestead.
- Manufactured homes are eligible for protection under all provisions of the statute.
Increase in Personal Exemptions from Execution
Personal exemptions from execution are those personal items that cannot be seized if someone obtains a judgment against you. These exemptions are also used on bankruptcy because they represent the maximum value of an asset that you can keep without having to forfeit. The current values of assets has not changed since the 70’s. This means that many times, debtors were forced to surrender certain belongings to the trustee because the value of the exemption was too low.
Significant Proposed Changes to Personal Exemptions Statute
- the proposed legislation would increases most of the personal property exemptions to adjust for the cost of living since the exemptions were last revised in the 1970’s. For example, the exemption amount in an automobile increases from $700 to $7,500.
- New exemptions are created to account for items necessary to a modern household
- Two new sections would provide for a “wildcard” exemption to cover personal property not covered by a more specific exemption.
- A new limited exemption for jewelry.
- Moreover, there would be an automatic cost of living adjustment, which is crucial to keep the Massachusetts exemption scheme current.
These changes are long overdue and would go along way to helping protect debtors and homeowners by allowing them to keep the basic necessities. Moreover, these two statutes would also align Massachusetts with most other states.