postings by Pamela Foohey

New Consumer Law Conference - Call for Papers

posted by Pamela Foohey

Exciting news for consumer law scholars. To the best of my knowledge, the first ever conference in the United States dedicated expressly to scholarship in the field of consumer law is happening in February 2019 at the new Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice. Details from the call for papers:

The Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice, its director Ted Mermin, and co-organizers Abbye Atkinson, Kathleen Engel, Rory Van Loo, and Lauren Willis are pleased to announce the inaugural Consumer Law Scholars Conference (CLSC), which will be held the afternoon and evening of February 21 and all day February 22, 2019, in Berkeley, CA.

The conference will support in-progress scholarship, foster a community of consumer law scholars, and build bridges with scholars in other disciplines who focus on consumer issues. The bulk of the conference will consist of paper workshop sessions at which discussants, rather than authors, introduce and lead discussions of the papers. Everyone who attends a session will be expected to have read the paper; everyone is a participant. The conference will also feature keynotes by leading practitioners and prominent policymakers, as well as time to discuss ideas and collaborate informally.

Details about how to submit a work-in-progess and logistics after the break.

Continue reading "New Consumer Law Conference - Call for Papers" »

Pets and Financial Distress

posted by Pamela Foohey

Last weekend, The New York Times published an opinion piece about animal shelters, Are We Loving Shelter Dogs to Death? It highlighted the sad reality that nationwide shelters are horribly overcrowded. According to the piece, a "big part" of shelters' overcrowding "is poverty: An estimated one-quarter of shelter animals are there after their owners have surrendered them because of family dysfunction or financial pressure." For instance, a family might not have enough money for vet bills. Or a family must relocate to less expensive housing that does not accept pets. The example in the piece that stood out to me most was families' inability to pay fees and fines related to their pets being picked up by animal control.

Reading the piece -- particularly the parts about fines -- led me to wonder more about pets and financial distress and bankruptcy. And to a broad question for Credit Slips readers. What have been your experiences regarding pets and financial distress, both pre-bankruptcy and in bankruptcy?

Older Americans’ Rising Bankruptcy Filings

posted by Pamela Foohey

Older Americans (age 65 and over) are increasingly likely to file bankruptcy and now comprise a larger proportion of the people who file bankruptcy -- and the effects are not small. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, in a new working paper just posted to SSRN -- Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society -- my co-authors (past Slipster Debb Thorne, Slipster Bob Lawless, and past Slipster Katie Porter) and I find a more than two-fold increase between 1991 and now in the rate at which older Americans file bankruptcy. We further find an almost five-fold increase in the percentage of older persons in the bankruptcy system. The magnitude of growth in older Americans in bankruptcy is so large that the broader trend of an aging U.S. population can explain only a small portion of the effect.

In the paper, we link older Americans’ increased filing rates with the shrinking social safety net. A story published today in the New York Times (on actual paper and on the front page!) does an exceptional job of both describing our study and detailing the ways in which the risks of aging have been off-loaded onto older Americans: “vanishing pensions, soaring medical expenses, inadequate savings.” The story also highlights the financial and life travails of a few older Americans who filed bankruptcy. Their struggles stem from declining income, lost insurance, and unmanageable medical expenses.   

Continue reading "Older Americans’ Rising Bankruptcy Filings" »

Access to Justice, Consumer Bankruptcy Edition

posted by Pamela Foohey

The Great Recession, the CFPB's creation, the rise of debt buying, changes in the debt collection industry, and advances in data collection have encouraged more research recently into issues of access to justice in the context of consumer law and consumer bankruptcy. This spring, the consumer bankruptcy portion of the Emory Bankruptcy Development Journal's annual symposium focused on access to justice and "vindicating the rights of all consumers." Professors Susan Block-Lieb, Kara Bruce, Alexander Sickler, and I spoke at the symposium about how a range of consumer law, finance, and bankruptcy topics converge as issues of access to justice.

We recently posted our accompanying papers (detailed further below) to SSRN. My essay overviews what we know about the barriers people face entering the consumer bankruptcy system, identifies areas for further research, and proposes a couple ideas for improving access to bankruptcy. Susan Block-Lieb’s essay focuses on how cities can assist people dealing with financial troubles. And Kara Bruce’s and Alex Sickler’s co-authored essay reviews the state of FDCPA litigation in chapter 13 cases in light of Midland Funding v. Johnson and explores alternatives to combat the filing of proofs of claim for stale debts.

Continue reading "Access to Justice, Consumer Bankruptcy Edition" »

More on "Undue Hardship" and Student Loans in Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Following up on Bob's post earlier this week about the Department of Education's request for information (RFI) regarding evaluating "undue hardship" claims in adversary proceedings to discharge student loans, a group of 23 academics, including myself, also submitted written comments in response. The effort was spearheaded by Slipster Dalié Jiménez. Matthew Bruckner (Howard Law), Brook Gotberg (Missouri Law), and Chrystin Ondersma (Rutgers Law) also were part of the drafting team.

Our primary recommendation is that the Department establish ten categories of borrower circumstances under which the Department would agree to the borrower’s discharge of federal student loans. As with the ABI Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy's comments (and the National Bankruptcy Conference's comments), our categories are designed to offer objective criteria for when the Department should agree to a discharge of student loans. The overall aim of the proposal is to establish clear, easy-to-verify, dire circumstances that merit the Department’s acquiescence to a student loan discharge and thereby promote the efficient use of taxpayer funds. To this end, we also recommend that the Department accept "reasonable proof" that a borrower fits into one of the ten categories without engaging in formal litigation discovery. Our response also calls on the Department to collect and release more data about federal student loans.

Tax Reform and Nonprofit Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

It's Tax Day! When the new tax bill was debated late last year, a few reports noted an unintended consequence of the bill's expansion of the standard deduction might be decrease people's charitable contributions, in turn harming nonprofits. After the bill passed, I continued to hear comments about the increased standard deductions' potential to cause financial problems for nonprofits, and saw estimates of a loss of $2 billion to the sector. Financial problems, of course, make me think of bankruptcy. And nonprofits make me think about religious organizations, which are the nonprofits I've studied the most in the context of bankruptcy. Tax Day seems like an appropriate day for some thoughts about the tax reform's possible connection to nonprofits' chapter 11 filings, particularly churches' chapter 11 filings.

Continue reading "Tax Reform and Nonprofit Bankruptcy" »

Education Department Request for Information on Student Loan Discharge in Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Following up on Alan White's post from this morning about the Education Department's draft notice about debt collection laws applicable to student loan debt collectors that prompted a Twitter moment, some more student loan news from the Education Department. Last week, it posted a less Twitter-popular request for information on evaluating undue hardship claims in adversary proceedings seeking discharge of student loan debt. The summary in the request:

"The U.S. Department of Education (Department) seeks to ensure that the congressional mandate to except student loans from bankruptcy discharge except in cases of undue hardship is appropriately implemented while also ensuring that borrowers for whom repayment of their student loans would be an undue hardship are not inadvertently discouraged from filing an adversary proceeding in their bankruptcy case. Accordingly, the Department is requesting public comment on factors to be considered in evaluating undue hardship claims asserted by student loan borrowers in adversary proceedings filed in bankruptcy cases, the weight to be given to such factors, whether the existence of two tests for evaluation of undue hardship claims results in inequities among borrowers seeking undue hardship discharge, and how all of these, and potentially additional, considerations should weigh into whether an undue hardship claim should be conceded by the loan holder."

Responses must be received by May 22, 2018.

People’s Pre-Bankruptcy Struggles -- New Paper from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project

posted by Pamela Foohey

The current Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP)’s co-investigators (myself, Slipster Bob Lawless, and past Slipsters Katie Porter & Debb Thorne) just posted to SSRN our new article (forthcoming in Notre Dame Law Review), Life in the Sweatbox. “Sweatbox” refers to the financial sweatbox—the time before people file bankruptcy, which is when they often are on the brink of defaulting on their debts and lenders can charge high interest and fees. In the article, we focus on debtors’ descriptions of their time in the sweatbox.

Based on CBP data, we find that people are living longer in the sweatbox before filing bankruptcy than they have in the past. Two-thirds of people who file bankruptcy reported struggling with their debts for two or more years before filing. One-third of people reported struggling for more than five years, double the frequency from the CBP’s survey of people who filed bankruptcy in 2007. For those people who struggle for more than two years before filing—the “long strugglers”—we find that their time in the sweatbox is marked by persistent debt collection calls, the loss of homes and other property, and going without healthcare, food, and utilities. And although long strugglers do not file bankruptcy until long after the benefits outweigh the costs, they still report being ashamed of needing to file.

Continue reading "People’s Pre-Bankruptcy Struggles -- New Paper from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project" »

Other (Non-Religious) Non-Profit Organizations Also File Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey


NumberNRYesterday I posted about the number of religious organizations that filed chapter 11 between 2006 and 2017, and how their filings track fluctuations in consumer bankruptcy filings during those years. Non-religious non-profit organizations also file chapter 11, but in fewer numbers than religious organizations. As shown in this graph, between 2006 and 2017, a mean of 44 other non-profits filed chapter 11 per year (note: I count jointly-administered cases as one case).

 In comparison, a mean of 79 religious organizations filed chapter 11 per year between 2006 and 2017. Over these twelve years, 36% of all chapter 11 cases filed by non-profit organizations were filed by non-religious non-profits.

Continue reading "Other (Non-Religious) Non-Profit Organizations Also File Bankruptcy" »

Churches Are Still Filing Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Not only are religious organizations still filing under chapter 11. As in prior years, they continue to file under chapter 11 in line with fluctuations in consumer bankruptcy filings. Find a couple graphs below to show this. But first, some background.

In my prior work, I analyzed all the chapter 11 cases filed by religious organizations from the beginning of 2006 through the end of 2013. (I define any organization with operations primarily motivated by faith-based principles as religious.) I found that these chapter 11 cases were filed predominately by small, non-denominational Christian churches, which mainly were black churches (80% of more of their members are black). And, also, that the timing of the filings tracked consumer bankruptcy cases (chapters 7, 11, and 13), not business bankruptcy filings, but lagged by one year. That is, if consumer bankruptcy filings decreased in a given year, religious organizations' chapter 11 filings decreased in the next year. I linked this result to how religious organizations' leaders came to think about using bankruptcy to deal with their organizations' financial problems.

NumbersSince my original data collection, four years has passed. I thus recently identified all the religious organizations that filed under chapter 11 between the beginning of 2014 through the end of 2017. During these four years, religious organizations continued to file, but in smaller numbers per year, as shown in this graph (note: I count jointly-administered cases as one case).

Continue reading "Churches Are Still Filing Bankruptcy" »

Lularoe, Other Multi-Level Marketing Companies, and Bankruptcy Filings

posted by Pamela Foohey

Several days ago, Stephanie McNeal at BuzzFeed News published a short piece on Lularoe's intersection with consumer bankruptcy filings. I've blogged about multi-level marketing (MLM) companies' potential role in bankruptcy filings a couple times. So when BuzzFeed sent me a list of twenty-four chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy filings from the past two years in which the debtor listed Lularoe as a part of its DBA or FDBA, I was intrigued. Much of what I could glean from the sample of those petitions and schedules I reviewed is in the short piece. The debtors' reports of past years' income from their Lularoe businesses show a precipitous decline in income, some schedules include unsecured loans from online lenders (seemingly to fund purchases of inventory), and most schedules include a large amount of credit card debt. The debtors also are overwhelmingly married with children, and the couples together owe quite a bit in student debt (over $50,000 on average).

Of course, as the story notes, there likely are many more filings stemming, in part, from Lularoe businesses, and these cases very likely are not representative of all the cases. But it was interesting to review them nonetheless. Lularoe reminds me very much of Rodan + Fields and Herbalife, two other well-known MLMs. Which led me to run the same search that BuzzFeed ran for Rodan + Fields and Herbalife. 

Continue reading "Lularoe, Other Multi-Level Marketing Companies, and Bankruptcy Filings" »

Lessons for the #BankBlack Movement from Mehrsa Baradaran's New Book

posted by Pamela Foohey

#BankBlack emerged on Twitter earlier this summer. The hashtag began as an encouragement to those protesting police brutality to move their money to black-owned banks, and is credited with growing the assets of black-owned banks by $6 million over the summer. A search on Twitter shows that the hashtag remains popular, and now is linked with #BlackWealth and #BuyBlack. Indeed, I found one tweet that claims that black-owned banks' assets have grown $20 million over the past 9 months as a result of the broader movement.

The motivation for these three hashtags relates to Professor Mehrsa Baradaran's recently-released (and fantastic) book, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap. In the book, she chronicles the rise and fall of black-owned banks as a vehicle to grow black wealth and combat predatory practices, such as red-lining, to help underserved, often low-income, predominately black communities. Since its release a couple weeks ago, the book has been reviewed in the Atlantic and the American Banker. Here, I want to highlight a couple of statistics and focus on what Baradaran's analysis suggests about the possibilities for the #BankBlack movement.

Continue reading "Lessons for the #BankBlack Movement from Mehrsa Baradaran's New Book" »

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