Articles Posted in The Means Test

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Protect_thumb-150x150Every six months, specifically in May and November of each year, the United States Department of Justice updates the Median Family Income figures in every state. In turn, these figures determine whether an individual or a couple qualify to file a Jacksonville Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. More specifically, if your income is below the median income for your household size in your state, then you most likely qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy; however, if your median income is above the income allowed for your family size in your state, then you will have to file under Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code.

How do I know if my income qualifies for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Jacksonville, Florida?

You will have to pass something called the MEANS Test in order to qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Jacksonville, Florida. The MEANS Test is more or less a comparison between your income over the last six months and your household size.

The Median Family Income in Florida as of November 1, 2016 are:

  • Family size of 1: $3,668 per month, or $44,021 per year;
  • Family size of 2: $4,555 per month, or $54,655 per year;
  • Family size of 3: $4,990 per month, or $49,881 per year;
  • Family size of 4: $5,957 per month, or $71,480 per year;
  • Family size of 5: $6,657 per month, or $79,880 per year;
  • Family size of 6: $7,657 per month, or $88,280 per year,
  • Family size of 7: $8,057 per month, or $96,680 per year.

For each additional family member you have, you can add $7,500 per year. Continue reading →

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For many, being able to make charitable donations and continue to tithe to their religious organization is something that is extremely important to them. When their debts become more than they can manage many people begin to think about filing bankruptcy, and whether or not they will be able to continue making their donations is a major concern. Another concern is whether or not the donations they have already made will be affected if they file bankruptcy. Congress understood and recognized this. In 2006, Congress added the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Clarification Act to The United States Bankruptcy Code, but what does this Act actually mean?

Chapter 7

When filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Clarification Act allows charitable donations or tithing as long as there is an established history of the donations or tithing, and the amount is not extremely unreasonable in relation to your monthly gross income. Additionally, charitable donations and tithing may even help you qualify for a Chapter 7. In order to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must first pass the means test. The means test makes sure you do not have enough income for a Chapter 13 Payment Plan instead. However, the means test does allow you to deduct certain monthly expenses from your gross income. Regular charitable donations and tithing is one deduction that is permitted and could even help you qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

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Means Test Number ReissuedTwice a year the United States Department of Justice releases new Median Family income figures for each state. These figures are used to calculate a debtor’s eligibility to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. If your income is greater than the median(average) income for your state of residence and family size, the trustee may be obligated to dismiss your case.

if your income exceeds the median family income then a presumption arises under part (a) of the Means Test that you do not “qualify” for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The Means Test calculation compares your average monthly income (as calculated over the last six (6) months) to the median family income in your state for a household of your size. If your average monthly income is lower than the median family income for your state of residence and family size, then you meet the means test and there is a presumption that you will be permitted to file for Chapter 7 relief. There are even a few exceptions to the means test for military families and those whose businesses failed.

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Bankruptcy and the Means TestAnyone who knows anything about bankruptcy knows that there were big changes to the bankruptcy code in 2005. Several things were changed by that amendment, but the one having the greatest effect was the creation of the dreaded, “Means Test”.

The Means Test was so terrifying and misunderstood that people rushed to file bankruptcy before it’s scheduled enactment. Some said it made filing Chapter 7 impossible.

Of course, as with all big changes in the news, not all rumors are completely accurate. What the Means Test does is look at the number of people in the debtor’s household, compare that number to the annually published IRS standards and see if the debtor makes less money than the average American in the area. If the person makes less money than average, they can file a Chapter 7. If they make more than the average, they have to file another chapter and make payments to their creditors. This is because they have the Means to do so, i.e. the Means Test.

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Skipping Means Test, Bankruptcy Chapter 7When in 2005 Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA), a flurry of people ran to file their cases before the changes occurred. Everyone had heard that the new law would make it impossible to file for Chapter 7 and that everyone would now be required to file Chapter 13 cases, making payments for five years. Well, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is still alive and well and the big change that was put into place is called, “The Means Test”. The Means Test requires the debtor to show that their income, based on their family size, is less than the average American in their area. It’s that simple. The problem debtors are having is that they don’t want to file Chapter 13 cases, where they have to pay a trustee their disposable income for five years, they want to file Chapter 7 cases where their case can be closed in five months with no payments made.

Congress thought that by forcing higher income debtors to file Chapter 13, creditors would get paid some of what they’re owed and creditors deserve to get paid what the debtor is able to pay. Fortunately for the many residents of Jacksonville, Florida who have heavily invested in rental properties, Congress thought of them as well. When BAPCPA was drafted someone realized the chilling effect a means test would have on small businesses and other small investors. Since only Chapters 7 and 11 are available to corporations, most small businesses would have to be liquidated in Chapter 7 or would have to pay the enormous cost of filing a Chapter 11. Small investors would be forced to file Chapter 13, which would prevent them from doing business for the five year period it took to complete their payment plan. These are the reasons why Congress created an exception to the means test for those individuals whose consumer debts make up less than half of their debt, i.e. if more than half of your debts are business, you can file Chapter 7 without taking the means test at all.

During the housing boom many residents of Jacksonville purchased homes to rent in speculation that their value would keep increasing. Instead, the market tanked to the point where nearly half of all homes owe more money on their mortgages than the homes are worth. Many of these people have higher incomes than average and wouldn’t be permitted to file under Chapter 7 due to the means test but because these properties were purchased as investments, they should all be able to bypass the means test and file Chapter 7 automatically.

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raiseThe effect a raise will have on your Jacksonville Bankruptcy depends on which Chapter you’ve filed and the amount of the raise. “Material” is a term often referred to in the legal world. Prior to law school, I would have thought this had to do with fabric, but no, “Material” in the legal sense means, “Significant”. You may have heard the term, “Material Witness”. The same term can be used to describe a raise. Is the raise a big enough raise to have a “material” effect on the debtor’s income? If the answer is yes, then it may have an effect on your case.

With few exceptions qualifying for a Chapter 7 requires you to demonstrate that your income is less than the average American for your family size. This is called the, “Means Test”. To calculate your income, the last six months of your income is added up and multiplied by two. This gives a quasi-accurate report of what your income will be going forward. If your raise occurs after you’ve filed your Chapter 7 and you qualified on the date of filing, you’re case probably won’t be effected by the raise. That being said, there is a forward looking aspect to the “Means Test” which requires you to declare any anticipated changes in your income. If you know the raise is coming, you need to report it.

In a Chapter 13 case a raise has a very different effect. A Chapter 13 is a reorganization of your debt. Generally, secured creditors get paid in full and unsecured creditors get paid what’s left, your disposable income, if anything of your paycheck after paying living expenses and secured creditors. When you get a raise, the amount of money going to your unsecured creditors can increase because you have more disposable income. So, if you have unsecured creditors in a Chapter 13 who aren’t getting paid in full, you won’t see any money from your raise until your case is over because that increase in pay will go to the unsecured creditors. However, if your unsecured creditors are getting paid all of the money they’re owed, then an increase in income means that you’ll be able to pay everyone off sooner. Once everyone is paid in full, your case can be closed and you can get on with your life.

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Means Test, Bankruptcy
Jacksonville Bankruptcy Courts take into account who lives with you when you file bankruptcy and, depending on the chapter of bankruptcy you file, they may consider those people in different ways. I don’t mean to imply that the character of the people you live with matters. It makes no difference if you’re living with Tim Tebow or Timothy McVeigh. What matters is whether those living with you are dependent on you for most of their care and if they aren’t, the court wants to know if they make regular contributions to the household.

A regular contribution to the household is any payment of money to or on behalf of the person filing bankruptcy. A good example of this is when someone’s mother pays their phone bill every month. Their mother’s intent is to help them out a bit and have them call more frequently. By paying for that utility, it frees up more money for the debtor and so that debtor has more money to pay bills. A regular contribution from anyone counts, but most contributions come from people who live in the same home, such as boyfriends, girlfriends and roommates.

When figuring out which chapter of bankruptcy best suits your situation (if any), your lawyer should take your basic income information and preform a cursory, “Bankruptcy Means Test“. The Means Test was created by the U.S. Legislature in 2005 and requires that anyone wishing to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy show that their income is lower than average for their family size than the average American household of the same size in their area. There are exceptions to this test for active military and some business holders, but generally this income test is required.

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As is most legal processes, bankruptcy can be a difficult thing to maneuver. There is a lot of misinformation out there, you need to be careful to get your information from a trusted source. Here are some myths regarding bankruptcy:

Myth 1: If I file for bankruptcy, everyone will know.

Like most legal proceedings, most bankruptcy documents are public record. Since I work at a law firm in the bankruptcy department, I search these records all the time. I even have a special username and password that allows me access online. However, how many times do you think your friends, family, or co-workers search through federal court records? The truth is that while your bankruptcy documents will be public information, it is unlikely that those you know would search to find them.

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Soldier bypassing means testRecently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the The National Guard and Reservist Debt Relief Act of 2011 (H.R.2192). This bill is an extension of a 2008 version of the bill with the same name. The currently existing law helps soldiers qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy by allowing those on active duty to bypass the means test.

Soldiers would more easily qualify for a Chapter 7, because they can now bypass the means test. The means test requires the court to look at the debtor’s income and compare it to an average income for the same family size. If the debtor’s income is above average, then the filing a Chapter 7 is presumed a fraudulent abuse of the system as the debtor makes too much money to not pay any debts back. The debtor presumed fraudulent can then either file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy or pursue a non-bankruptcy option. The National Guard and Reservist Debt Relief Act of 2008 dictates that those in active duty for at least 90 days do not have to overcome any fraud analysis. They automatically qualify for a Chapter 7 regardless of how high their income is.

The justification behind the bill is that oftentimes these soldiers are called upon on short notice, requiring them to leave higher paying jobs to travel to remote locales to defend America. This may lead to soldiers having to maintain more than one household. Again, to qualify under this bill, reserve members must have been on active duty for 90 days or more since September 11, 2011. You can also qualify during the 540 days following activation.

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Filing for bankruptcy can be very confusing for those trying to go it alone. As an in-depth legal process, it is greatly beneficial to have a Jacksonville Bankruptcy Attorney to help you navigate your way through a successful bankruptcy. Here are some reasons why:

1. There are many calculations that must be done correctly. To file for bankruptcy, you must first know which Chapter you qualify for, a Chapter 7, 13, 11 or 12. One step to figuring it out is by completing a Means Test. This is complex thing to do. You must know things which deductions you can use for food, clothing, personal care, health care, housing, and many more. You’ll need to how the allowances for vehicles work and what involuntary deductions you can take. You must know how to list future debt payments correctly. And the list goes on and on. Without the proper knowledge and skill, this can be very difficult to do right the first time. If you do not do this correctly, the court could dismiss your case without a discharge, penalize you with fines or in rare cases, even send you to jail. Hiring a Jacksonville Bankruptcy Attorney would be beneficial because someone with knowledge and experience would be handling these issues, taking the stress off of you.

2. Another daunting task is drafting a Chapter 13 Plan. This Plan is very important, as it outlines your responsibilities over a three to five year period. You must know which creditors get paid, how much is required to go to unsecured creditors, and how to allocate the Trustee’s portion. You want to make sure that you get all the benefits you can through your Plan. It is not the job of the Court or Trustee to watch out for your interest, it is there job to be sure that the code is being applied properly.

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