postings by Pamela Foohey

The Resurgence of Calls For Financial Literacy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Today is the last day of National Financial Literacy Month. At a time when the economy has come to a grinding halt, it seems pertinent to talk about financial literacy, or, more accurately, the fallacy of financial education. Agata Soroko recently published a short essay in Public Seminar -- The Financial Literacy Delusion. In it, she details how calls for financial education already are ramping up in light of the coronavirus's highlighting how little savings most Americans have. I suspected that the refrain that it's people's fault that they didn't have sufficient savings to cover a few months, and thus that they exacerbated the economic downturn with their inability to control themselves enough to save, would emerge with a vengeance in the coming months.

Combating that narrative will become more important than ever, as a matter of economic policy, but also of kindness and understanding to each other. Indeed, it's important right now as Congress considers how to help American families during the crisis. As Slipster Dalie Jimenez, Chris Odinet, and I wrote in our just-uploaded-to-SSRN essay, The Folly of Credit As Pandemic Relief, forthcoming in UCLA Law Review Discourse, in the CARES Act, Congress predominately provided relief to Americans in the form of credit products, not actual cash. This very likely will prove to be problematic because people will be unable to repay in the coming months, just as they are unable to pay for their necessities now. They simply do not have the money, and will not in the future because people still won't have sufficient income to accumulate meaningful savings. As Soroko writes, financial education cannot solve widening income disparities, rising costs, and wealth inequality--the roots of why many Americans have so little savings.

Continue reading "The Resurgence of Calls For Financial Literacy" »

Save the Date: 3rd Annual Consumer Law Scholars Conference

posted by Pamela Foohey

CLSC 2021 Banner (large)To give us something to look forward to, the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice recently announced that the third annual Consumer Law Scholars Conference (CLSC) will take place on March 4-5, 2021, at Boston University. The conference is organized by scholars well-known to Credit Slips: Kathleen Engel, Ted Mermin, Rory Van Loo, and Lauren Willis. I attended the inaugural conference at Berkeley Law a couple years ago. It brings together a great and diverse group of scholars working on a range of consumer-related issues. Some details from the announcement:

The conference will provide those who publish in the field of consumer law the opportunity to share their work with peers, give and receive feedback, and collaborate in setting a research agenda for the field as a whole. Speakers will include both leading scholars and prominent policymakers. Although the conference is focused on scholarship, practitioners are encouraged to attend.

The organizers will send out a call for paper in June. They welcome doctrinal, theoretical, and empirical approaches across a range of topics: common law contracts and products liability; UDA(A)P and disclosure laws; food, drug, and public health law; consumer lending, credit reporting, and fintech; loan servicing and debt collection; commercial speech and the First Amendment; federalism, preemption, and sovereign immunity as related to consumer transactions; regulation, supervision, and enforcement by public agencies; private enforcement; and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus Will Hasten the Shift To App-Based Banking and Lending. How Will That Affect People's Pocketbooks?

posted by Pamela Foohey

Over at the Machine Lawyering blog -- organized and edited by the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Law Faculty’s Centre for Financial Regulation and Economic Development -- Slipster Nathalie Martin and I just posted some commentary about our new article, Reducing The Wealth Gap Through Fintech "Advances" in Consumer Banking and Lending, forthcoming in the University of Illinois Law Review. The article, in part, assessing new "advances" in fintech products that promise to provide people with lower-cost banking and lending options. We focus on prepaid cards for wages, early wage access programs, and auto lending apps. We conclude that these products more likely than not will prove to be disadvantageous to consumers. The article's connection to the wealth gap is the recognition that high-cost banking and lending products impede people's ability to convert income into savings. We put forth a few ideas about the hallmarks of banking and lending products that actually may help close the wealth gap by targeting Americans’ unequal access to banking and lending services. 

Nathalie and I, of course, wrote this article before the coronavirus pandemic. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing in effect, it is highly likely that people's already increasing use of online and app-based banking and lending products will increase even faster. If our analysis proves correct, the spoils of the increased shift will accrue more to providers than to consumers, and people may be able to save even less of their income. The pandemic has highlighted American's lack of savings. Hopefully helping Americans save will become more of a focus in the future.

Also, on the note of early wage access programs, when we drafted the article, we found effectively no published analysis of early wage access programs. As we were writing, Nakita Cuttino and Jim Hawkins kindly shared their draft articles with us. Both articles are now available SSRN and present interesting (and different) analyzes of early wage access programs. Nakita's article is titled, The Rise of "FringeTech": Regulatory Risk in Early Wage Access. And Jim's article is titled, Earned Wage Access and the End of Payday Lending.

Treasury Must Act Now To Protect Relief Payments From Debt Collectors

posted by Pamela Foohey

The CARES Act provides for direct "rebate" payments to American households. Treasury is gearing up to send some of those payments out soon. But Congress forgot to protect the payments from garnishment. American families may see needed funds deposited into their bank accounts only to watch that money disappear. Slipster Dalié Jiménez, Chris Odinet, and I just published a short piece on the Harvard Law Review blog detailing this problem and proposing a simple solution that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should implement ASAP. 

Boy Scouts Is On A Path To Upset Survivors. It Doesn't Have To Be.

posted by Pamela Foohey

Before and just after the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed chapter 11, I received a few inquiries about the benefits and drawbacks to survivors of BSA's then-potential filing. I generally responded by highlighting that bankruptcy would not necessarily take away survivors' rights to compensation and to have a voice, but could ensure that each survivor received the same percentage compensation for the wrongs done to them. I also noted that the bankruptcy might help survivors come forward, both because they would have to by a certain date and because they would know they would be joining forces with hundreds of other survivors. (See here, here, here.) Both benefits hinged on BSA taking the reorganization process seriously and working to make bankruptcy court a place for survivors to be heard and negotiated with in good faith.

Based on BSA's initial filings, it seems suspect that BSA is planning to do either. Which means that the bankruptcy court must be even more vigilant in stepping up to ensure that survivors' rights and voices do not get washed away in this reorganization.

To understand why BSA is on a path to make survivors very upset, let's take a walk through BSA's informational brief and proposed plan.

Continue reading "Boy Scouts Is On A Path To Upset Survivors. It Doesn't Have To Be. " »

The Boy Scouts of America Filed Chapter 11 . . . in Delaware???

posted by Pamela Foohey

As you almost certainly have seen, early morning, Tuesday, February 18, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed chapter 11 (Case No. 20-10343). The filing solely was motivated by the deluge of sex abuse claims filed against BSA. There currently are approximately 275 lawsuits pending in state and federal courts across the country. The case raises a host of issues--from litigation consolidation and multi-district litigation to limited liability to ensuring that survivors have a voice in bankruptcy and in their pending cases. I intend to take up those issues later a longer post. There is one issue particular to bankruptcy worthy of noting in this separate post.

Venue. How did BSA, with its national headquarters located in Irving, Texas, file in the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware? As disclosed by the restructuring adviser to the BSA, on July 11, 2019, a non-profit limited liability company, called Delaware BSA, was incorporated under the laws of Delaware. The sole member of this company is BSA. Delaware BSA's principal asset is "a depository account located in Delaware."

Besides at its national headquarters, other employees are located at the BSA’s warehouse and distribution center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Still other employees work at "approximately 175 official BSA Scout Shops located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico and at the BSA’s four high adventure facilities located in Florida, Minnesota and parts of Canada, New Mexico, and West Virginia." I wonder who, if anyone, works at the Delaware BSA. And who involved in the bankruptcy case itself has any true connection to Delaware. BSA's attorneys are from Chicago. None of the creditors on its list of 20 largest creditors have addresses in Delaware.

In short -- Why Delaware? Will we see a venue transfer motion soon? Is this an(other) example of why venue reform remains necessary?

Consumer Bankruptcy, Done Correctly, To Help Struggling Americans

posted by Pamela Foohey

Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her new plan to reform the consumer bankruptcy system. The plan is simple, yet elegant. It is based on actual data and research (including some of my own with Consumer Bankruptcy Project co-investigators Slipster Bob Lawless, former Slipster, now Congresswoman Katie Porter, and former Slipster Debb Thorne). Most importantly, I believe it will make the consumer bankruptcy system work for American families. And, as a bonus, it will tackle the bad behavior that big banks and corporations currently engage in once people file, like trying to collect already discharged debts, and some non-bankruptcy financial issues, such as "zombie" mortgages.

In short, the plan provides for one chapter that everyone files, combined with a menu of options to respond to each families' particular needs. It undoes some of the most detrimental amendments that came with the 2005 bankruptcy law, including the means test. In doing so, it sets new, undoubtedly more effective rules for the discharge of student loan debt, for modification of home mortgages, and for keeping cars. It also undoes "smaller" amendments that likely went unnoticed, but may have deleterious effects on people's lives. Warren's plan gets rid of the current prohibition on continuing to pay union dues, the payment of which may be critical to allowing people who file bankruptcy to keep their jobs and keep on their feet. Similarly, the plan eliminates problems debtors face paying rent during their bankruptcy cases, which can lead to eviction.

One chapter that everyone files means that the continued racial disparities in chapter choice my co-authors and I have documented will disappear. No means test, combined with less documentation, as provided by Warren's plan, means that the most time-consuming attorney tasks will go away. Attorney's fees should decrease. Warren's plan also provides for the payment of fees over time. People will not have to put off filing for bankruptcy for years while they struggle in the "sweatbox." Costly "no money down" bankruptcy options should disappear. People will have the chance to enter the bankruptcy system in time to save what little they have, which research has shown is key to people surviving and thriving post-bankruptcy.

Continue reading "Consumer Bankruptcy, Done Correctly, To Help Struggling Americans" »

Supreme Court Grants Cert To Decide Fate of Repossessed Cars in Bankruptcy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Yesterday, the SCOTUS granted certiorari in City of Chicago v. Fulton, 19-357, to resolve a circuit split about whether a creditor's inaction in not returning property repossessed pre-petition can violate the automatic stay. The split arises predominately from chapter 13 cases in which, pre-petition, creditors repossessed or cities impounded debtors' cars. As the petition for cert stated, this issue is of significant practical importance. As Slipster Bob Lawless, former Slipster Debb Thorne, and I set forth in our new paper based on Consumer Bankruptcy Project data, Driven to Bankruptcy (Wake Forest Law Review, forthcoming 2020), bankruptcy courts deal with more than a million cars in every year. Creditors will have repossessed, but not disposed of some of those cars, and cities (for instance, Chicago) and municipalities will have impounded some of those cars.

In our new paper, we note that bankruptcy seems to be an important tool for some people to keep their cars, including getting their cars back from creditors and impound yards. As will be decided by the Supreme Court in addressing the issues regarding the automatic stay raised by the circuit split, if debtors need to request that bankruptcy courts order creditors or cities to return their cars after they file bankruptcy, the usefulness of filing bankruptcy will decrease, potentially significantly. Stated differently, people need their cars now -- to get to work, to get food, to get their kids to daycare, to get to the doctor. For some households, one of the biggest benefits of filing bankruptcy seems to be that their creditors must turn over repossessed and impounded cars as soon as the debtor files . The question now is -- is that actually what the Code provides? 

There's Still Time to Register for NCBJ 2019

posted by Pamela Foohey

The National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges' annual conference is happening soon – Wednesday, October 30 through Saturday, November 2. I'm delighted to be part of this year's education committee. The 2019 conference features some panels that include Slipsters and touch on Slipsters' research. (If you're thinking of attending, "semi early bird" registration, with its lower costs, ends at the end of September.)

Particularly noteworthy is the American Bankruptcy Law Journal symposium, "Equitable Powers of the Bankruptcy Court 40 Years After the Enactment of the Bankruptcy Code," which will be framed as a mock-Senate Judiciary Committee hearing during which a panel of experts will discuss and debate bankruptcy courts' equitable powers. The symposium features Slipsters Jay Westbrook and Melissa Jacoby.

Also worthy of mention are two panels that deal with consumer bankruptcy hot topics, both of which happen to touch on issues that recent papers analyzing Consumer Bankruptcy Project data have considered in depth. First is a panel titled, "Porsches and Clunkers – A Road Trip Through Car Issues." The description for the panel asserts, "many consumers file chapter 13 petition to save their cars, which are essential to maintaining their jobs." In our latest article, Driven to Bankruptcy, Slipster Bob Lawless, past Slipster Debb Thorne, and I rely on Consumer Bankruptcy Project data to assess the veracity of that assertion (among other questions related to cars, car loans, and bankruptcy). As detailed in my recent post about that article, we find a subset of bankruptcy cases that may be labeled "car bankruptcies," in which the debtor owns a car (or cars) and little else. In these cases particularly, debtors may find themselves in chapter 13 to save their cars.

Continue reading "There's Still Time to Register for NCBJ 2019" »

Driven to Bankruptcy — New Research from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project

posted by Pamela Foohey

In America, people drive — to work, to the doctor, to the grocery store, to their kids' daycare, to see their aging parents. Research shows that car ownership increases the probability of employment and number of hours worked; households without cars have lower incomes and are more likely to be in poverty. In short, cars are essential. Household financial distress can threaten people's cars, and with them, the day-to-day stability that car ownership brings. People thus may file bankruptcy, in part, to save their cars.

Although there is a substantial literature on financial distress and home ownership, the literature on car ownership, financial distress, and bankruptcy is thin. In Driven to Bankruptcy (available via SSRN, forthcoming in the Wake Forest Law Review), Slipster Bob Lawless, past Slipster Debb Thorne, and I document what happens to car owners and their car loans when they enter bankruptcy.

In brief, we find that people who file bankruptcy own automobiles at the same rate as the general population. This means that over the last ten years, 15.1 million people filed for bankruptcy owning 16.4 million cars. The majority of these cars, particularly a household's most valuable car, entered bankruptcy encumbered with a hefty loan. And most debtors want to keep their cars, particularly their most valuable and second most valuable cars.

Continue reading "Driven to Bankruptcy — New Research from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project" »

Ditech, Reverse Mortgages, Consumer Concerns, and Section 363(o)

posted by Pamela Foohey

A couple days ago, Judge Garrity Jr. of the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York issued a 132 page opinion denying confirmation of Ditech's proposed plan. Ditech, of course, is an originator and servicer of mortgages, including reverse mortgages. Its plan contemplated sales of both its forward and reverse mortgage businesses--free and clear of customers' claims and defenses. As reported at various times since Ditech filed in February 2019, homeowners have claims that Ditech did not credit mortgage payments properly, levied improper fees, failed to recognize tax payment plans, and wrongly foreclosed on homes.

Beyond its sheer length, the opinion is noteworthy for a couple reasons. First, the sales of mortgage businesses in the context of a plan raised the question of whether § 363(o) applied. Section 363(o) deals with consumer credit transactions subject to the Truth in Lending Act and provides that if any "interest" in such a transaction is purchased through a sale, then the buyer must take all the claims and defenses related to the consumer credit transaction. Ditech, of course, wanted to sell free and clear of those claims, through the plan. In holding that § 363(o) does not apply in the plan context, Judge Garrity Jr. provides a detailed analysis of the section's legislative history. This history includes removal of language about application to reorganization plans by an amendment proposed by Senator Phil Gramm (which was approved), and Senator Gramm's continued opposition to the addition of § 363(o) in its entirety because he claimed it would, among other things, encourage people to make up grievances against mortgage originators and servicers. (As many readers likely know, Senator Gramm spearheaded the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.)

Continue reading "Ditech, Reverse Mortgages, Consumer Concerns, and Section 363(o)" »

Counting Healthcare Chapter 11 Filings: Are There More Than Expected?

posted by Pamela Foohey

This post is co-authored with my student, Kelsey Brandes, rising 3L, IU Maurer School of Law

Reports of hospitals, physician practices, healthcare systems, and clinics filing for bankruptcy have become seemingly increasingly well publicized in recent years. At the beginning of this year, Pew released a study detailing why rural hospitals are in greater financial jeopardy in non-medicaid expansion states in the wake of the ACA. This may foreshadow more hospital closures and possibly more bankruptcy filings. With this in mind, one of my students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Kelsey Brandes (with whom I'm co-posting), decided to survey healthcare businesses that had filed chapter 11 between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2017 with the goal of assessing how many healthcare businesses filed chapter 11 and why they filed, as based on their disclosure statements and other filings.

This survey found that, after combining jointly-administered cases, on average, 38 healthcare organizations filed per year during the study's ten year period, as shown by year on this graph.

Healthcare Post Graph

Continue reading "Counting Healthcare Chapter 11 Filings: Are There More Than Expected?" »

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