postings by Jason Kilborn

Small Biz Reorg Act Sleeper Innovations

posted by Jason Kilborn

Two aspects of the Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 intrigued me as I looked more closely at this important new twist on Chapter 11 for the other 99%.

First, I thought the new SBRA procedure might be a fairly snooze-worthy Chapter 13 on protein supplements (i.e., not even steroids) because the current Chapter 13 debt limit (aggregate) is $1,677,125, while the new SBRA aggregate debt limit is less than double this, at $2,725,625 [note to the ABI: please update the figures in your online Code for the April 2019 indexation]. A couple of obvious and another non-obvious point cut in opposite directions here, it seems to me. First, Chapter 13 is not available to entities (e.g., LLCs), and for individuals, the Chapter 13 debt limits are broken out into secured and unsecured, while the SBRA figure is not. So the SBRA is significantly more hospitable to any small business debtor with only $500,000 in unsecured debt or, say, $1.5 million in secured debt. Flexibility is a virtue, so maybe the SBRA is just a meaningfully more flexible Chapter 13? No, as Bob's post reminded me. In the "conforming amendments" section at the end of the new law is hidden an important modification to the definition of "small business debtor" in section 101(51D), which will now require that "not less than 50 percent of [the debt] arose from the commercial or business activities of the debtor." So no using the SBRA provisions to deal more flexibly with an individual debtor's $500,000 in unsecured debt or a $1.5 million mortgage or HELOC if it's not related to business activity.

Second, this last point is the really intriguing aspect of SBRA for me. For the first time in recent memory, we see a crack in the wall that has insulated home mortgages from modification in bankruptcy. Sections 1322(b)(2) and 1123(b)(5) still prohibit the modification of claims secured by the debtor's principal residence, but the SBRA at last provides an exception to this latter provision: An SBRA plan may modify the debtor's home mortgage (including bifurcation into secured and unsecured portions?!) if "the new value received in connection with the granting of the security interest" was not used to acquire the home, but was "used primarily in connection with the small business of the debtor." A small crack it may be, but this sleeper provision strikes me as an important opening for serious discussion of modification of other non-acquisition home mortgage modifications in Chapter 13, for example. This would be a game changer after the HEL and HELOC craze of the earlier 2000s. It will doubtless provide further evidence that the HELOC market will not evaporate or even change appreciably as small business debtors begin to modify their home-secured business loans. Of course, that depends on a robust uptake of the new procedure. We shall see in 2020.

Small Borrowers Continue to Struggle Without Relief

posted by Jason Kilborn

Several recent stories remind us that many, many ordinary people around the world continue to struggle with crushing debt with no access to legal relief, and when relief is introduced, it is vehemently opposed by lenders and often limited to the most destitute of debtors.  These stories also reveal the dark underside of the much-heralded micro-finance industry.

In Cambodia, micro-finance debt has driven millions of borrowers to the the brink of family disaster, as micro-lenders have commonly taken homes and land as collateral for loans averaging only US$3370. When many of these loans inevitably tip into default, borrowers face deprivation of family land, at best, and homelessness at worst. Actually, in the absence of a personal bankruptcy law (which Cambodia still lacks), things can get much worse. If a firesale of the collateral leaves a deficiency, borrowers might be coerced into selling their children's labor or even migrating away to try to escape lender pursuit. In the past decade, the MFI loan portfolio in Cambodia has grown from US$300 million to US$8 billion, about one-third of the entire Cambodian GDP! People around the world have turned to micro-finance to sustain their lifestyles (or just to survive) in an era of increasing government austerity, with disastrous results for many borrowers.

In India, the government continues to delay the introduction of effective personal insolvency relief, and it seems concerned with the interests of only the lending sector in formulating a path to relief for "small distressed borrowers." In a story that fills only half a page, consideration of individual or national economic concerns is not mentioned, but it is noted four times that discussion/negotiation with the "microfinance industry" has occurred, whose satisfaction seems paramount to law reformers. Among the "safeguards" put in place to prevent "abuse" of this new relief are (1) the debtor's gross annual income must not exceed about US$450 ($70 per month), (2) the debtor's total debt must not exceed about US$500, and (3) the debtor's total assets must not exceed US$280. While this may well encompass many poor Indian borrowers in serious distress, it offers no relief to what are doubtless many, many "middle-class" Indians similarly pressed to the brink and straining to cope in a volatile economy.

In South Africa, a decades-long fight to implement effective discharge relief for individual debtors has culminated in a half-hearted revision of the National Credit Act (Bloomberg subscription likely required). The long-awaited revision still promises relief only to a small subset of severely distressed borrowers. The bill offers debt discharge only to "critically indebted" debtors with monthly income below US$500 and unsecured debts below US$3400. A step to be applauded, this still leaves many, many South Africans to contend with a complex web of insolvency-related laws that offers little or no relief to many if not most debtors. And still, banks engaged in the typical gnashing of teeth and shedding of crocodile tears, terribly worried that this new dispensation will "drive up the cost of loans for low-income earners, restrict lending and encourage bad behavior from borrowers." Where have we heard this before? To their credit, South African policymakers apparently "made no attempt to interact with the [lending] industry," though the compromise solution here still leaves much to be desired.

On a brighter note, the country of Georgia is on the verge of adopting major reforms to its laws on enforcement and business insolvency (story available only in the really neat Georgian language, check it out!). In an address to parliamentary committees, the Minister of Justice remarked that a new system of personal insolvency is also in development. Georgia suffers from many of the same problems of micro-finance as Cambodia, so perhaps Cambodia and other similarly situated countries will be able to learn from Georgia's example. We'll see what they come up with.

New Guide to Money Judgment Collection/Defense

posted by Jason Kilborn

EyesonthePrizecoverI excitedly tore into a small box this morning containing the first printing of my new book, Eyes on the Prize: Procedures and Strategies for Collecting Money Judgments and Shielding Assets (Carolina Academic Press 2019). Since the advent of the Bankruptcy Code in 1979, the study of how one collects a money judgment (or arbitral award) in law schools has become as rare as an involuntary bankruptcy petition against an individual debtor. But my students (and local lawyers) clamored for treatment of the topic for years, so I decided to do what I could to revive the subject. I was surprised at the diversity of approaches I found among the states (whose enforcement law applies to federal judgments, too, as described in the book), but I think I fairly survey the key variants by concentrating on a detailed exposition of the laws in New York, California, and Illinois, with a smattering of other salient state laws thrown in here and there (Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, etc.). In the past, I've used my state's statutes and a series of hypothetical practice problems (both of which included in this book) for years in my Civil Procedure classes, and the students have voraciously devoured that material. More detailed comparative knowledge has also sharpened my appreciation for how the battle between judicial lienholders and secured creditors works. I tried to offer soup-to-nuts coverage here, from discovery to asset protection to bankruptcy, so I think a lot of readers will find something useful, especially new practitioners who likely learned none of this in law school. A bit more of a preview than appears in the "Look inside" link on CAP's website is available for free download on SSRN, as well. Check it out--and let me know what you think!

Seventh Circuit Smackdown of City of Chicago

posted by Jason Kilborn

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals this week released its opinion in In re Fulton, the highly anticipated consolidated appeal of four Chapter 13 cases involving debtors whose cars had been impounded. The City of Chicago had refused to release them to the debtors (exercising the rights of trustee under section 1303) after the petition filings, as clearly required by section 542 and Seventh Circuit precedent, Thompson v. GMAC, 566 F3d 699 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court rejected the City's arguments in favor of repealing Thompson or recognizing a stay/turnover exception for the City to maintain its possessory lien on impounded cars by keeping, well, possession.

The Court reached the right result here, in my view, and two things really jumped out at me. First, the Court explains several times that the case should be governed by "the purpose of bankruptcy - 'to allow the debtor to regain his financial foothold and repay his creditors.'" The Court's emphasis on the debtor-salutary purpose of bankruptcy is refreshing, even in cases where the repaying-creditors purpose is likely to be largely defeated.

More striking were the first lines of the portion of the opinion recounting the facts of Fulton's case. She used the car "to commute to work, transport  her young daughter to day care, and care for her elderly parents on weekends." You can already anticipate where the Court is heading in the case, but then it gets better: "On December 24, 2017, three weeks after she purchased a 2015 Kia Soul, the City towed and impounded the vehicle for a prior citation of driving on a suspended license." Really??!! The City towed and impounded her new car on Christmas Eve!!?? It probably still had a temporary plate indicating it was new. And it got towed for what? A prior citation having nothing to do with the car at all. Note to self, City of Chicago: When the Court opens the fact section with a smackdown recounting @$$hole behavior like this, you can just skip to the end. You lose. Three cheers for the Seventh Circuit again!

Reverse Mortgage Meltdown ... and Gov't Complicity?

posted by Jason Kilborn

USA Today just came out with an interesting expose about reverse mortgages and their negative impact, especially in low-income, African American, urban neighborhoods (highlighting a few in my backyard here in Chicago). I have long been interested in reverse mortgages, touted in TV ads by seemingly trustworthy spokespeople like Henry Winkler and Alex Trebek as sources of risk-free cash for folks enjoying their golden years, and I am always on the lookout for explanations of the pitfalls. Most of these breathless critiques strike me as overkill, but the USA Today story reveals fairly compelling real stories of a few of the ways in which a combination of financial illiteracy and sharp marketing tactics can lead to bad outcomes ranging from rude awakening (heirs having to buy back their childhood homes) to tragedy (simple missed paperwork deadlines leading to foreclosure and an abusive accumulation of default and attorney fee charges).

One line really jumped out at me. In defense of their seemingly hard-hearted and Emersonian-foolish-consistencies-being-the-hobgoblins-of-little-minds conduct, an industry spokesperson deflects, "lenders would prefer to extend the deadlines for older borrowers but fear violating HUD guidelines." Another bank official chimes in, “No matter how heinous or heartbreaking the case, it’s not our call. There’s no wiggle room,” adding that the stress of being unable to behave in a commercially and morally reasonable manner “takes a toll on employees.” [Yes, the unquoted characterization of the rigid lender behavior is mine, not the bank official's].

"Really??!!," I wondered. I wouldn't put any outrage past the Trump administration these days, but forcing banks to foreclose because an elderly surviving spouse overlooked a single piece of paperwork and is prepared to fix the problem a few days past the deadline strikes me as ... hard to believe. Is the government complicit in these reverse mortgage tragedies because it forces lenders to observe rules and deadlines rigidly? If so, how sad and frustrating, and yet another sign of the failures of our modern political stalemate between rational compromise and hysteria, where the latter seems to be winning on all sides.

St. Petersburg Int'l Legal Forum & Insolvency Forum

posted by Jason Kilborn

I've just returned from a really fantastic conference, the entire recorded proceedings of which are available online and might be of interest to Credit Slips readers. The St. Petersburg International Legal Forum takes place annually in the marvelous city of St. Petersburg, Russia, and nestled within the broader forum is a two-day International Insolvency Forum. The numerous panels for this forum were recorded, both in English with Russian simultaneous translation and in Russian with simultaneous English translation--it was a magnificently well-organized undertaking. The insolvency forum was held on Thursday and Friday (May 16 and 17) in the main auditorium, with an agenda including panels on implementation of a rescue culture in business reorganization (chaired by INSOL Europe), digital technology in insolvency proceedings, enforcement proceedings and involuntary bankruptcy petitions (which included a great introduction to Israel's new personal insolvency procedure by the Official Receiver of Israel, the always impressive David Hahn), consumer insolvency (chaired by a member of the State Duma, and including presentations by a Supreme Court justice and other impressive Russian and foreign experts--this was the panel on which I presented on the sticky issue of financing low-value personal insolvency cases), and asset tracing.

The hosts and attendees of the forum were very grateful for and receptive to the exchange of ideas and opinions from non-Russian experts, and they seem eager to recruit more of this kind of exchange in the coming years. If you're interested in participating and/or presenting in May of next year, please let me know, and I'll coordinate and pass on the info to the organizers. St. Petersburg is an absolutely gorgeous place, and it is a very European-ized Russian city (as was Peter the Great's goal in founding the new capital there in the early 1700s). It has changed dramatically since I lived and studied there in college in the early 1990s; today, it is safe, clean, and easy to navigate, there is English on all the signs, most shop and restaurant employees speak English, and the restaurant scene is accessible, varied, and delicious, to say nothing of the world-class cultural opportunities.  Consider it!

Consumer Bankruptcy Reform ... and American Xenophobia?

posted by Jason Kilborn

I hope I'm not stepping on Bob's toes in announcing the public release of the long-awaited report of the ABI Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy. The Commission, with Credit Slips' own inimitable Bob Lawless as its reporter, was formed in December 2016 to explore revisions to the US consumer bankruptcy system that would improve the operation of its existing structure; that is, evolution, not revolution. With this explicitly limited charge, one would not necessarily expect to find much high-level discussion of how the US approach squares with or fits within the many recent global developments in consumer insolvency relief, and one would expect to see a concentration on local solutions for local stumbling blocks.

That being said ... and in no way to detract from the monumental amount and truly impressive nature of the work the Commission has done here ... one might have expected to see a bit of discussion, if not even a touch of inspiration, from comparative sources. In 1970, the Bankruptcy Commission rejected any consideration of foreign developments in consumer bankruptcy, in part because there were few such developments, and in part because so little was known about the operation of non-US bankruptcy law at the time (for those younger than I, note that neither home computers nor the public Internet existed in 1970 ...). Nearly 50 years later, we now have at our fingertips a mountain of comparative data and analysis on the development, operation, and revision of consumer insolvency systems around the world, much of it reported in English specifically to make it widely available to law reformers like the ABI Commission. Again, one would not have expected this comparative material to occupy center stage in a reform of largely US problems in the uniquely US consumer bankruptcy system. But in a bit part here and there, some comparative observations might have supported the Commission's already compelling recommendations.

Continue reading "Consumer Bankruptcy Reform ... and American Xenophobia?" »

The Curious Persistence of Plan B (Bankruptcy Lite)

posted by Jason Kilborn

I've come across a phenomenon numerous times over the years, again recently, that reveals the purpose of and resistance to discharge as the ultimate solution/relief for bankruptcy. In a discussion of the Chinese Supreme People's Court's struggles with "the enforcement difficulty" (执行难), the writers observe that, if a judgment debtor is found by the court enforcement division to have no available assets against which to collect a judgment, the enforcement action is terminated ... but "the court will automatically check every six months whether the involved judgment debtors have new property." On the one hand, the termination of fruitless enforcement actions sounds something like bankruptcy relief. Assuming the process actually works like this, and assuming the court enforcement division is not overly aggressive in pursuing "new property," this seems to me to take some of the pressure off of the Chinese system to adopt a proper bankruptcy discharge to alleviate the suffering of insolvent judgment debtors. On the other hand, without a discharge, the "checking for new property" part ensures that debtors' incentives to be productive will remain perpetually depressed, and official resources will be perpetually wasted in interminable pursuit of phantom new assets. These debtors' productivity and entrepreneurialism is forever lost to Chinese society in an era in which global competition continues to heat up.

Continue reading "The Curious Persistence of Plan B (Bankruptcy Lite)" »

More Data, Please!

posted by Jason Kilborn

Effective reform requires detailed knowledge of exactly what's being reformed. This is especially true of complex systems like corporate and individual insolvency regimes, with numerous inputs and outputs and carefully counterbalanced policy objectives. Two recent papers accentuate an acute weakness in global insolvency reform development--a lack of reliable and comprehensive data on the operation of existing systems, which will of course infect future planned procedures, as well. The global insolvency team at the IMF notes this problem in the context of its current advisory operations, and Adam Feibelman anticipates this problem with respect to India's developing insolvency and bankruptcy law. Both suggest a solution in more careful attention to data production and tracking. Both papers are interesting reading for those concerned with a more responsible approach to global insolvency policy-making, where for far too long it seems the old joke about empirical analysis has rung true: anecdote is not the singular of data.

FDCPA Exclusion for Litigating Attorneys

posted by Jason Kilborn

On the heels of oral arguments in the latest Supreme Court case concerning application of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to lawyers, ABA President Bob Carlson has a comment in Bloomberg Law today {subscription maybe required} explaining succinctly why litigating lawyers should be excluded from the FDCPA. He carefully distinguishes lawyers collecting debts outside the litigation context (pre-filing)--whom the FDCPA might reasonably regulate--but he convincingly argues for exemption for those involved in active litigation (I would hope and presume this applies to both the pre-judgment and post-judgment stages, the latter being the subject of a little book on judgment enforcement I've just written, including a bit about the FDCPA). The courts provide adequate oversight and abuse prevention in this formal collection context, Carlson argues, and the "gotcha" pitfalls for otherwise innocuous behavior in the FDCPA (especially the required "mini-Miranda" and validation notices) are unjustifiable as applied to court-supervised litigating lawyers. We'll see how warm a reception HR 5082 receives in Congress. 

International & Comparative Insolvency Law Symposium CFP

posted by Jason Kilborn

If you're wondering what to do with your New Year's downtime, you might consider submitting a paper proposal for an International & Comparative Insolvency Law Symposium, this year to be held at the beautiful University of Miami (in Coral Gables) on November 14-15, 2019. The hosts are Drew Dawson (Miami), Laura Napoli Coordes (Arizona State), Adrian Walters (Chicago-Kent) and Christoph Henkel (Mississippi College). This is the second (annual?) such event, and if last year's symposium is any indication, it should be great. Proposal submissions are due January 31, 2019. See you there? 

Developing Personal Insolvency Crises in China and India

posted by Jason Kilborn

What is it like to be desperately insolvent with no access to a relief system like the bankruptcy discharge? Many, many people are likely to find out in the coming months in China and India in light of recent developments in these mammoth markets. Neither country currently offers individuals effective relief from financial distress, though both have been actively but languidly considering the adoption of such relief for a long time. That relief can't come soon enough, though I'm not optimistic about its arrival anytime in the near future.

In China, the government is stepping up its efforts to all but eliminate P2P lending platforms, the only reliable source of finance for most individuals and small businesses. I'm afraid Bob Lawless's "paradox of consumer credit" will apply here: a rapid constriction in the supply of consumer/small business credit will lead to a spike in financial distress that can't be avoided by refinancing ... leading to even greater need for an individual bankruptcy remedy that China still lacks. To be sure, many of these P2P lending networks have been ponzi schemes, victimizing innocent investor-lenders and needing to be shut down, but I fear an over-correction here. Resolving 1.22 trillion RMB ($176 billion) in loans extended by 50 million investor-lenders to goodness knows how many small borrowers will be no small feat, especially with no formal insolvency framework to organize the effort. 

Meanwhile in India, the hot mess of corporate debt has begun to cool off, leaving debt buyers hungry for even riskier loans to purchase and pursue. So they're refocusing on defaulted consumer debt. The short-term target is debt secured by homes and cars, likely to produce greater returns from the collateral, but what of the inevitable deficiencies? Unsecured personal liability for deficiency judgments will certainly be on the to-do list of these buyers in the near term, and they are already making plans for the longer term to expand to unsecured education and credit card loans.

While India and China have both made admirable progress in reforming their business insolvency systems, the tragedy unfolding in the consumer and small business sectors cries out for serious attention. These debtors are not deadbeats whom authorities can be content to leave to their chosen fates; they are the victims of global economic volatility, the lifeblood of developing economies, and the center of harmonious societies. China and India would advance and humanize their development in a massive way by finally addressing the gaping hole in their insolvency frameworks to add proper treatment for individual debtors.

World Bank Group's Proposals on Small Business Insolvency

posted by Jason Kilborn

At long last, the World Bank Group's insolvency and debt resolution team has finally released to the public its report on the treatment of the insolvency of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, Saving Entrepreneurs, Saving Enterprises : Proposals on the Treatment of MSME Insolvency. The team worked for over a year on this report, concluding with a meeting of its Insolvency & Creditor/Debtor Regimes Task Force in May in Washington, D.C., where the report and its proposals were vetted. There was a surprising degree of consensus on the proposals developed here, and the final version reflects a fairly widely shared viewpoint on three key points.

Continue reading "World Bank Group's Proposals on Small Business Insolvency" »

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