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Jacksonville-based discount retailer Stein Mart filed bankruptcy about 10 days ago.  The company is another victim of COVID-19 and the widespread economic slowdown that the virus has caused. Millions of Americans are still unemployed or earning reduced wages. That means that they are not shopping as much as they were before the pandemic–in person or online.

People often wonder what happens when a store files bankruptcy and shuts down its retail outlets. Store closings and corporate bankruptcy filings affect many kinds of people in the local community: employees and customers and landlords.

Stein Mart started by laying off 100s of employees in its corporate headquarters on the Southbank of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.  It also furloughed over 8,00 employees in its retail stores and in its supply chain. These former employees can file for unemployment benefits as soon as they are laid off.

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With the effects of Coronavirus still impacting the economy, many people are facing loss of income. This reduction in  income makes it harder for working people to pay their bills.  Things might not get better. One economist estimates 42 percent of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

Whether their  lay offs are permanent or temporary,  people are looking for ways to save money on goods and services that they need. With the advent of the Internet, people have become used to finding information and deals on items they need. The Internet Age has made  people used to getting things fast and cheap, or even free. It has also made people believe in do-it-yourself. Just watch a video and you can do anything yourself.  The recent lockdowns have had people searching for Youtube videos on how to cut their own hair, since most salons and barber shops have been closed.

Some people who are facing overwhelming debt also look for do-it-yourself solutions to deal with their debt. They often file for bankruptcy without an attorney. There are signs in Jacksonville along I-95 exits saying “Bankruptcy $150.” These signs are placed along the interstate by non-lawyers or “petition preparers” who will take $150 from you to type the documents necessary to file a bankruptcy case. The thought is that bankruptcy is just filing out some forms and filing them with a court.  (This author once had a boss, who is a lawyer. This lawyer  declared, “Bankruptcy isn’t rocket science; it is just filling out a bunch of forms about your finances.”  When this person filed for bankruptcy a few years later, she hired a competent lawyer.)

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Winn-Dixie has been a staple in Jacksonville, Florida for decades! Being based in Jacksonville has even made it a landmark for those traveling down Interstate 10. However, Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harveys Supermarket and Fresco Y Mas, made the enormously difficult decision to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in hopes of remaining afloat. The decision was announced Thursday, March 15, 2018. Winn-Dixie’s president and chief executive officer, Anthony Hucker has been quoted saying “[t]his course of action enables us to continue writing the story for our company and our iconic, heritage banners in the Southeast.” Southeastern Grocers operates stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. This announcement comes right after Amazon’s entry into the grocery business, just a few short months after the online retail giant obtained Whole Foods Market. Continue reading →

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Protect_thumb-150x150The first and most important thing to keep in mind when trying to rent after filing bankruptcy is the fact that you having filed bankruptcy, in itself, is not going to completely inhibit you from finding an apartment or home to rent. Nonetheless, and of course, a potential landlord will take filing bankruptcy into account as well as the circumstances around your decision to file bankruptcy, as well as where you stand today.

Here are some other items your future landlord is going to look at, some of which might just completely overshadow the fact you ever filed bankruptcy.

Your Rental History

If you have a good rental history, in that you can show that you have always been on time with paying your rent and have not broken any of your leases with previous landlords, then your potential landlord should not be too concerned about the fact you filed bankruptcy. Continue reading →

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To begin, it is important to point out that there are some very important differences between an individual bankruptcy and a corporation bankruptcy. When a corporation files a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the corporation WILL NOT receive a bankruptcy discharge. The bankruptcy discharge is what tells your creditors you are no longer liable for the debt you owed them. This means that the corporation will still be liable for all debts not paid off when the bankruptcy estate has been fully administered and closed. The other major difference to take note of is that corporations are not allowed any exemptions. This means a corporation cannot protect any of its property like an individual can. An individual is afforded very specific exemptions, or protections, for certain types of property or assets up to a specified dollar amount.

You are now probably wondering why a corporation would ever file for bankruptcy? Well, under certain circumstances, it may make a lot of sense for a corporation to become bankrupt. Continue reading →

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home-in-handsIf you have ever looked into filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you probably found out rather quickly that the purpose of a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is to liquidate all of your assets in order to pay your creditors; except for a few things you might be able to exempt. You then most likely became concerned whether or not you would be able to keep your property as you found out, that Florida does not offer much in the way of exemptions. Specifically, other than being able to protect the majority of retirement accounts, the main and most common Florida exemptions used are the following:

  • The Homestead Exemption: Unless you have owned your current homestead property and/or your previous homestead property for 1215 days prior to filing bankruptcy, then you can only exempt up to $146, 450. If you file jointly, then you can protect up to $292,900;
  • Personal Property Exemption: If you claim the Homestead Exemption, then you are able to exempt only up to $1000 of personal property; $2000 of person property if filing jointly. If you do not use the Homestead Exemption, you can exemption up to $4000 in personal property; $8000 if filing jointly; and
  • $1,000 in a motor vehicle, or $2,000 if filing jointly.

Continue reading →

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If you are thinking about filing bankruptcy and you have any kind of intellectual property (i.e. a patent, copyright, trademark, or trade secret), it is very important to understand the affects filing bankruptcy may or may not have on your intellectual property.

Section 365(n) of the United States Bankruptcy Code provides specific protections for licenses, but does not provide any protection for trademarks. All other types of intellectual property (patents, copyrights and trade secrets) are generally determined to be an executory contract and are treated as such in bankruptcy.

If it is the licensor who is filing bankruptcy, then they have the right to either assume or reject the license. If they choose to assume the license, then they must meet the very specific requirements for assuming an executory contract in bankruptcy. In order to assume an executory contract while in bankruptcy, the debtor licensor must cure all outstanding defaults and make sufficient assurances for continued performance moving forward. If both of these criteria are met, the licensee generally will not take issue with the assumption as long as the debtor licensor actually performs. If the licensor chooses to reject the license, safe guards have been put in place to prevent the licensee from losing their rights to use the intellectual property. Specifically, the licensee has the ability to choose to keep its rights to the intellectual property, but must make any mandatory royalty payments.

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Filing bankruptcy is definitely not an easy decision to make and should not be taken lightly. If you are considering bankruptcy, then you are probably already overwhelmed by your debt and having to make a very important decision, such as whether or not you should file bankruptcy, can be extremely stressful. However, the more unknowns you can uncover about bankruptcy while trying to make this very important decision, the more it can help elevate some of the stress. You might not even know what questions you need answered and; therefore, below is a list of some of things you might need to know that may give you somewhere to start.

  1. You most likely have time to assess your financial situation before making your very important decision to declare bankruptcy. This is of course as long as you are not already facing a time-sensitive situation, such as a repossession or foreclosure.
  1. If you are married, your spouse does not have to file with you. And, if you file without your spouse, your spouse’s credit will not be affected.
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Debtors often file bankruptcy too quickly without first considering what, if any, ramifications a bankruptcy may have on their current employment or future employment opportunities. Luckily, in most instances, filing bankruptcy should not affect your current employment, but could play a role when applying for a new employment opportunity and this is why:

If you file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy it is actually unusual for your employer to find out that you have filed for bankruptcy unless a creditor has an active wage garnishment order against you. You will then have to inform your employer of the bankruptcy in order to stop the wage garnishment from continuing, but, in reality, if your employer was already served with a wage garnishment order, then they already know you have been having financial difficulties and may even welcome the bankruptcy.

If you file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy your employer will still only find out of the filing if, like with a Chapter 7, you have a wage garnishment order against you. Your employer may also find out if your bankruptcy Trustee requires a wage deduction order. A wage deduction order requires your employer to deduct your monthly Chapter 13 Plan Payments from each of your paychecks and to send it directly to your Trustee in an attempt to help you keep your Chapter 13 Plan Payments current.

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cutcardsAnother question I get quite frequently from clients considering bankruptcy is whether they can keep a specific credit card or other loan out of their bankruptcy. In today’s world credit cards are a huge part of our daily lives and some have come to depend on them. The thought of not having a credit card can be very scary one.

Whether you can keep a credit card after filing bankruptcy largely depends on whether you are filing a Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. If you are filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, you cannot keep a credit card. This is because while you are in a Chapter 13 Plan, you are not allowed to acquire new debt without first obtaining permission from the court.

If you are filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, theoretically, you can keep any credit card you want to as long as the issuing bank allows it. BUT, in most situations, the bank will require you to sign a reaffirmation agreement for your current balance in exchange for allowing you to keep the card open. This means that you must agree to pay back the full amount you owe even though you are filing bankruptcy.

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