132 posts categorized "Consumer Bankruptcy"

Where People File Chapter 13

posted by Bob Lawless

State Chapter 13 RatesBetween states, there is a big disparity in the rate at which people file bankruptcy. Over the past four years, Nevada has had the highest bankruptcy filing with an a yearly average of 9.32 persons per 1,000 population file bankruptcy. At the other extreme has been Alaska with just 1.39 persons per 1,000 filing bankruptcy. As points of comparison, consider that the national filing rate over 2008 - 2011 was 3.54 per 1,000 population and that the national filing rate over the last twelve months has been 4.26 per 1,000 population.

I wondered how the filing rates would break down if we looked at just chapter 7 and chapter 13 separately. The result is the chart to the right.

Continue reading "Where People File Chapter 13" »

Tax Rebates Lead to Bankruptcy Filings

posted by Bob Lawless

Jialan Wang has a blog post up summarizing her and her co-authors very interesting NBER paper estimating that at least 30,000 to 60,000 liquidity constrained households this will be priced out of bankruptcy because of the increased costs that came with the 2005 changes to the bankruptcy law. Actually, the research does not find that tax rebates lead to bankruptcy filings -- that was just a cheesy trick to get you to read the post. The researchers find that, after receiving tax rebates, people are more likely to file bankruptcy as they now have funds they can use to pay for the bankruptcy fees. They then use the randomization of the delivery of tax rebates in 2001 and 2008 to identify the effect that the higher fees caused on the bankruptcy rates of liquidity constrained households. It is a clever research design, and Credit Slips readers will want to check it out.

FireDogLake Book Salon on BROKE

posted by Katie Porter

On Sunday, March 25, from 5-7pm Eastern/2-4pm Pacific, I am live-blogging about Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class at FireDogLake's Book Salon. My host is Edwin Walker, a retired bankruptcy practitioner with over twenty five years of experience. I am certain that he will prompt a lively discussion. I am looking forward to his questions and to engaging with the public on these issues. All Credit Slips readers are welcome to join in the conversation.

Evaluating Mandatory Financial Education in Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

In 2005, Congress amended bankruptcy law to require individual debtors with primarily consumer debts to complete an "instructional course on personal financial management" to be eligible to receive a discharge of their debts. Adding financial education as a bankruptcy requirement divided the bankruptcy community, even debtor advocates, judges, academics, and others who almost uniformly did not like the 2005 amendments. Part of the mixed sentiment about the financial education may be that it is hard to dislike something as innocuous-sounding as education (although Professor Lauren Willis makes a good case against it in this article). And there were certainly bigger fish to fry in opposing the 2005 laws. Still, many complained that this was one more example of creditors getting Congress to lard on duties for debtors, driving up the cost and work of obtaining bankruptcy relief and setting up debtors to have their cases dismissed if they tripped up by failing to complete the educational course.

Dr. Deborah Thorne and I have a new study that looks at how debtors themselves feel about the mandatory financial education course. It is a chapter in this book, Consumer Knowledge and Financial Decisions (ed. Douglas Lamdin, Springer, 2012) and available to read here. In the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we asked debtors whether they believed that the information from the financial education class 1)would what they learned in the financial education class have helped them avoid bankruptcy originally, and 2) would help them avoid financial trouble in the future. While only 33% thought a financial instruction course similar to the one required of bankruptcy debtors could have helped them avoid filing, 72% thought it would help them avoid future financial trouble. As we report in detail in the chapter, some demographic groups were much more positive about the value of financial education than others.

Continue reading "Evaluating Mandatory Financial Education in Bankruptcy" »

Littwin on Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer

posted by Bob Lawless

A few weeks ago, Katie Porter noted the release of the new book, Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class. We are trying to feature posts from the authors of Broke about their contributions. Today's post comes from Professor Angela Littwin of the University of Texas School of Law and a founding member of Credit Slips:

After a long absence, I am temporarily back on Credit Slips, blogging about my contribution to Broke, the new book edited by Credit Slips’ own Katie Porter. My chapter is about consumers who file for bankruptcy without a lawyer (known as filing “pro se”). The chapter is entitled The Do-it-Yourself Mirage: Complexity in the Bankruptcy System. which should give you a pretty good idea of my take on the matter. Using data from the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project, I found that pro se filers were significantly more likely to have their cases dismissed than their represented counterparts. My most interesting result deals with education. My analysis suggests that consumers with more education were significantly more likely than others to try filing for bankruptcy on their own, but that their education didn’t appear to help them navigate the process. Pro se debtors with college degrees fared no better than those who had never set foot inside a college classroom. I argue that bankruptcy has become so complex that even the most potentially sophisticated consumers are unable to file correctly.

This bad news, however, is not the entire story.

Continue reading "Littwin on Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer" »

Teach Consumer Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

It's the time of year when professors, including those who are adjunct professors or are interested in teaching as adjuncts, submit their proposed courses for the next academic year. Many of us teach a general 3 or 4 unit bankruptcy course that uses a textbook, and some of us teach specialized seminars on chapter 11. This year think about teaching a seminar on consumer bankruptcy. I've got just the class all ready to go--course pack, syllabus, writing assignments, even in-class exercises. All you need to do is put "Consumer Bankruptcy Seminar" on the form and return it to your Associate Dean.

When the chapter authors and I wrote Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class, we wanted to create a reader that could support a seminar on consumer debt. I road-tested the book this fall in a seminar at UC Irvine Law School. The students loved it! (You can check out the course evaluations for yourself.) From my standpoint, it is the most fun, creative and easiest-to-prep class that I've taught. Full details are on this site, but the skinny is after the jump.

Continue reading "Teach Consumer Bankruptcy" »

Fixing the "Fixed" Forms

posted by Katie Porter

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the Forms Modernization Project's effort to create new forms specifically for consumer bankrupts. The chair of that Project, Judge Elizabeth Perris, offered a lengthy comment that shared some information on the goals and process. I recommend it to you.  She noted that law students were asked to review the forms.

This fall during my seminar on consumer bankruptcy, I had my students do this as a take-home assignment. We had just read a chapter in Broke by Angie Littwin on pro se bankruptcy filers, and the students' task was to assess whether the forms would make the system easier for debtors. The students' observations ranged from the minute to global. My favorites are below.

Continue reading "Fixing the "Fixed" Forms" »

Bankruptcy Implications of AG Settlement

posted by Katie Porter

Even though I was up at 4am Pacific this morning, the AG and federal government mortgage settlement was nearly old news by then. But in case you haven't heard, here is your official Credit Slips announcement--there was a $26 billion settlement.While the details are still being released, I am already concerned about how the settlement will affect bankruptcy cases. Remember that bankruptcy was one of the first places we saw the misbehavior of mortgage servicers--way back in 2005 when Tara Twomey and I did our study.

As of December 1, new Bankruptcy Rules of Procedure 3001 and 3002 impose new requirements on servicers of loans owed by bankruptcy debtors. Are the terms of the settlement consistent with those new rules? If so, do they add any new procedural benefits to protect bankrupt homeowners against robo-signing and legal violations?

The Department of Justice participated in the settlement and the U.S. Trustee's Office apparently was at the negotiating table. Their press release,  however, is just boilerplate of the general DOJ release. The only mention of bankruptcy is that the settlement will impose "new requirements to undertake pre-filing reviews of certain documents filed in bankruptcy court." I'm not sure what to make of that. Presumably, filing claims under penalty of perjury already required a review of claims, and Rule 9011 required a significant review of motions for relief from stay to permit a foreclosure to continue. What does the settlement add? I hope the US Trustee will let us know soon, as I am sure debtors' attorneys will get calls today on the issue.

An additional observation is that it is important to remember who is not a party to the settlement--the chapter 13 trustees. Those folks are not bound by the settlement, meaning that they can still challenge servicing practices that comply with the settlement, but in the professional judgment of the trustee violate bankruptcy law. Of course, the trustees are supervised by the U.S. Trustee so perhaps there will be political pressure to make the settlement the final word on the obligations of servicers in bankruptcy, but this could be an issue.

Comments and thoughts on the implications of the settlement for bankruptcy cases are very welcome!

The Backdrop for BROKE: Consumer Debt Then and Now

posted by Katie Porter

In the introductory chapter of the book, Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle ClassI present some data about consumer debt levels in the United States. As Bob Lawless and others have shown, levels of consumer debt are strongly correlated with bankruptcy filings. While conditions such as unemployment, rising health care costs, and skyrocketing college tuition--and recessions--all create pressures on consumers that lead to borrow, debt is the sine qua non of bankruptcy--the relief offered by the system is the reduction or elimination of debt--not the promise of a good paying job or a strong social safety net. Because bankruptcy is driven by debt, those filings help reveal whether the levels of consumer debt will create serious problems for the economy and American families.

In Broke, I present a figure, courtesy of the San Francisco Fed, that shows the dramatic growth in household debt in real dollars over the last few decades. Reproduced below, the figure shows that the sharp acceleration began in the mid 1980s. E-letter_figure_8 Figure1This is an important point to understanding why recovery is proving difficult from the recession. As I explain in the book, "The consumer debt overhang, however, began long before the financial crisis and the recession. Exhortations about subprime mortgages reflect only a relatively minor piece of a much broader recalibration in the balance sheets of middle-class families. . . . The boom in borrowing spans social classes, racial and ethnic groups, sexes and generations." Broke, pp 4-5. The gray bands on Figure show recessions; this recovery is more difficult, at least in part, because we have an unprecedented gap between income and debt. Is this gap disappearing as a consequence of consumer reluctance to borrower and tightened credit conditions?

Continue reading "The Backdrop for BROKE: Consumer Debt Then and Now" »

Consumer Friendly Forms for Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

In many respects, bankruptcy is a one-size-fits-all legal process. Yes, there are ample differences in the law (and a world of difference in practice) between the bankruptcy of a large corporation and a typical consumer. But the Bankruptcy Code itself contains plenty of provisions of general applicability. A major example of the one-size-fits-all approach to bankruptcy is the official forms for filing a case. The basic petition and schedules are the same forms for Big Airline Co. and Mr. Joe Blow. The information on the forms is wildly different, with Big Airline Co. listing hundreds or even thousands of creditors, with many more digits in their debts, than Joe Blow. But the form for those debts--Schedule F--is the same form. That may all be changing soon.

The Bankruptcy Rules Committee began a Forms Modernization Project a few years ago, and one of its top agenda items has been creating new forms just for use in consumer bankruptcy cases. Although few people seem to be aware of the effort, a draft version of those new forms is available to the public and to my mind, well worth a look. To see the forms, go here, then click on September 2011, download the file, and look  at pp. 189-315 of the PDF (or tab 7.1 if you use the PDF index.) One thing that is obvious from the page numbers in the prior sentence is that the new forms are really long--way longer than the current forms as completed in the typical consumer case. The added length results in part from the development of extensive instructions for each form. Below is an example of a new form with some commentary on its notable new features.

Continue reading "Consumer Friendly Forms for Bankruptcy" »

The GM & Chrysler Success

posted by Adam Levitin

During the State of the Union address, the President crowed about the success of the GM/Chrysler bailouts, noting that these companies were thriving again. An NPR program this evening was holding up GM/Chrysler as a beacon of hope for Kodak, as if bankruptcy were now the fountain of corporate youth.  

But this just begs the question of why did the GM/Chrysler bankruptcies work? What made these bankruptcies success stories? NPR raised the question, but had some lame answers, namely that it forced management to make decisions it hadn't wanted to do like cutting loser brands (Saturn, Pontiac). It might have helped focus management decision-making, but that alone can't be the answer, I think. I'm curious to hear readers' thoughts. A few thoughts of my own below the break.

Continue reading "The GM & Chrysler Success" »

How to Address Apparent Racial Disparity in the Consumer Bankruptcy System

posted by Jean Braucher

The article discussed in the N.Y. Times story today is heavily empirical. It is also deliberately light on the prescriptive. Bob Lawless, Dov Cohen and I did make two modest proposals: (1) that a question about race of the debtor should be included on the form for a bankruptcy petition to make it possible to confirm (or disprove) the finding that African Americans file in chapter 13 at a much higher rate than debtors of other races (about double in the data we have), and (2) that all actors in the bankruptcy system—judges, trustees, attorneys and clients—be educated about the apparent racial disparity and the possibility that subtle racial bias may be producing it. The Times certainly helped with the second one!

Beyond that, we leave it to others and to each of us individually to come up with policy responses. In my view, Henry Hildebrand, a longtime chapter 13 trustee in Tennessee, got the big picture exactly right; he is quoted in the Times story as saying we should “use this study as an indication that we should be attempting to fix what has become a complex, expensive, unproductive system.” He will probably reappraise his views if he finds out that I agree with him! Those of us who participate in or study the system know that its complexity is onerous.

Continue reading "How to Address Apparent Racial Disparity in the Consumer Bankruptcy System" »

Race and Chapter 13

posted by Bob Lawless

As Adam noted in his kind post, the New York Times today featured our study, "Race, Attorney Influence, and Bankruptcy Chapter Choice." My co-authors are Credit Slips blogger Jean Braucher, a law professor at the University of Arizona, and Dov Cohen, a professor at the University of Illinois who holds a cross appointment in psychology and law. And, we all express many thanks to the NYT reporter, Tara Siegel Bernard, who spent a lot of time slogging through the statistics and legal intricacies in our study.

In a nutshell, the study reports real-world data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project showing that, among bankrupcy filers, blacks file chapter 13 at higher rates than all other races. The effect is large -- for example, blacks even had a higher chapter 13 rate (54.6%) than homeowners (47.1%). The second part of the study showed that, in a random sample, bankruptcy attorneys were more likely to recommend chapter 13 for a hypothetical couple named "Reggie & Latisha" who went to the African Methodist Episcopal Church as compared to "Todd & Allison" who went to the United Methodist Church. Also, attorneys were more likely to see "Reggie & Latisha" as having good values and being more competent when they expressed a preference for chapter 13.

Continue reading "Race and Chapter 13" »

Kudos to Jean Braucher and Bob Lawless!

posted by Adam Levitin

A new study by Credit Slips own Jean Braucher and Bob Lawless (with Dov Cohen) on race and bankruptcy filings received very prominent and well-deserved page A1 coverage in the New York Times.  It's a fabulous study, and it's wonderful to see it getting such great media attention. 

Bankruptcy, Backwards

posted by Adam Levitin

Credit Slips Own Anna Gelpern has a great new article in the Yale Law Journal that very much deserves a plug. It's called "Bankruptcy, Backwards:  The Problem of Quasi-Sovereign Debt." The article deals with the problems of financial distress for quasi-sovereigns, like US states or even to some degree EU member states. As Anna points out, bankruptcy seems to mean all things to all people, and as a result framing discussions of how to deal with quasi-sovereign debt---where there is no bankruptcy regime of any sort--quickly devolves into debates about existing bankruptcy systems, like US Chapter 9, rather than starting from the unique problems of quasi-sovereign debtors and then figuring out what sort of financial restructuring system might make sense.

I highly recommend the article, particularly for those of us who don't regularly deal with sovereign debt issues. There's a strange divide in practice and scholarship between domestic bankruptcy and sovereign debt restructuring. A few people (David Skeel, Steven Schwarcz, Bob Rasmussen, e.g.) have written in both areas, but they remain pretty separate fields. Anna's insights from the sovereign debt field are very useful for domestic bankruptcy scholars, as they help us step back and see the larger picture of what is going on.  

Foreclosure Timelines and Mortgage Delinquency: More Evidence from Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

At the end of a lively session yesterday at Duke Law School featuring Professor Stephen Ware of University of Kansas Law School, there was a brief discussion of whether shorter foreclosure timelines and clearer rules would promote more workouts of delinquent mortgages. The aforementioned paper about bankrupt homeowners suggests that the opposite might actually be the case: among homeowners in bankruptcy, longer foreclosure timelines in their home states were associated with a lower probability of foreclosure initiation while shorter timelines were associated with a higher probability of foreclosure initiation.

Continue reading "Foreclosure Timelines and Mortgage Delinquency: More Evidence from Bankruptcy" »

What is the Relationship Between Credit Cards and Mortgage Delinquency?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Previously I mentioned this new paper on homeowners in bankruptcy in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal. The central goal of the paper was to investigate what makes homeowners more or less likely to have mortgage troubles as they head into bankruptcy. One of the notable findings is that, across all the models, credit access had a significant effect on keeping mortgages current and avoiding foreclosure initiation (specifics listed pp. 302-304). But why?

Continue reading "What is the Relationship Between Credit Cards and Mortgage Delinquency? " »

BROKE: A New Book on Consumer Debt and Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

Just in time for New Year's resolutions on 1) reading more, 2) paring back your own debt, and 3) learning more about consumer bankruptcy to help you do your job (if you are a lawyer, judge, or academic, media, etc), the book, Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class was released from Stanford University Press.

BrokeThe book makes extensive use of the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project data, providing statistics, analysis, and commentary on consumer bankruptcy and debt topics. I edited the volume, and chapter contributors are many Credit Slips regulars or guest bloggers--Jacob Hacker, Bob Lawless, Kevin Leicht, Angela Littwin, Deborah Thorne, and Elizabeth Warren--along with other top scholars.

In the next few weeks, the chapter authors will blog here at Credit Slips about the research featured in the book, but to whet your appetite, I've included a table of contents for the book after the break. The book is accessible to lay readers but its scholarly focus provides plenty of data to educate and surprise even bankruptcy experts. Working on the book, I certainly learned a great deal about timely and important topics such as how pro se debtors (those without attorneys) fare in bankruptcy, where families go after they lose their homes to foreclosure, how bankruptcy affects couple's marriages, and the ways that bankrupt households differ in their financial straits from other households of concern such as those with low assets or late payments on debt. Of course I'm biased but I think the book provides the most comprehensive overview of the consumer bankruptcy system since the enactment of the 2005 bankruptcy amendments.

Continue reading "BROKE: A New Book on Consumer Debt and Bankruptcy" »

In or Out of Mortgage Trouble? A Study of Bankrupt Homeowners

posted by Melissa Jacoby

This is a newly published paper  in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal that I was lucky to work on with Daniel McCue and Eric Belsky at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Using previously unexamined data in the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we study what makes homeowners more or less likely to have mortgage troubles as they head into bankruptcy. Although much can be said about the econometric analysis, for now I wanted to mention quickly that the paper includes descriptive details about bankrupt homeowners (debtor-reported) such as numbers of missed mortgage payments, use of adjustable rate mortgages, mortgage broker use, mobile homes, and refinancing or home equity lines of credit. So please check it out!   

Your Government Prefers Chapter 13

posted by Katie Porter

Today, I went looking for the court costs payable by chapter 13 debtors who wants to convert their cases to chapter 7. I admit that like many Americans my starting point was Google. I quickly landed here, at the Bankruptcy Basics page provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, a division of the judiciary. The site says that it "provides basic information to debtors, creditors, court personnel, the media, and the general public on different aspects of federal bankruptcy laws. It also provides individuals who may be considering bankruptcy with a basic explanation of the different chapters under which a bankruptcy case may be filed." From this description,  you might expect a factual, value-neutral description of the fundamental choice facing all consumer debtors: whether to chose chapter 7 or chapter 13. But look what I found when I read up on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 . . .

Continue reading "Your Government Prefers Chapter 13 " »

New Resource: NCLC's Bankruptcy Mortgage Project

posted by Jean Braucher

The National Consumer Law Center has launched a useful new resource for the bankruptcy community called the Bankruptcy Mortgage Project. See here. Those likely to find it handy include judges, consumers, trustees, mortgage servicers, attorneys, and academics. The website, created with a grant from the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges’ Endowment for Education, collects all sorts of documents related to mortgage issues in consumer bankruptcy cases. It thus provides easy, free access to various local rules, forms, general orders, and court opinions.

Continue reading "New Resource: NCLC's Bankruptcy Mortgage Project" »

A Deeper Dive into Racial Disparities in Chapter Choice and Women in Bankruptcy

posted by Geoff Smith

Thanks again to Bob Lawless for his excellent post this morning highlighting the findings from our latest report, “Bridging the Gap II: Examining Trends and Patterns of Personal Bankruptcy in Cook County's Communities of Color." The report found evidence of racial disparities in chapter choice in Cook County, IL, as well as a disproportionately high concentration of filings among women living in communities of color. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, check out our press release and policy brief.

If this report raised any burning questions, feel free to ask them on a conference call we will be hosting on Thursday at 11am CT (follow the link to register and get the call-in information).  If you’re shy, you can also send questions via Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll answer them on the call. I will be joined by Megan Cottrell of the Chicago Reporter.  The Reporter is an investigative magazine that published a companion piece to our report asking why these racial disparities in chapter choice might exist. I will also be joined by Woodstock Institute’s Policy and Communications Associate Katie Buitrago who will close out the call by telling the story of one bankruptcy filer, Roxie King, a grandmother of 20 from an African-American neighborhood in Chicago who went through Chapter 13 bankruptcy after being laid off from her job as an echocardiogram technician. Roxie tells her story in the video below:

Continue reading "A Deeper Dive into Racial Disparities in Chapter Choice and Women in Bankruptcy" »

One Consumer Bankruptcy System, or Many?

posted by Lois R. Lupica

As Principal Investigator of the Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study, I've been gathering "qualitative data" from attorneys, trustees and judges about how the consumer bankruptcy system is working. I have conducted over a dozen focus groups, many, many one-on-one interviews, and have been privy to myriad list-serve threads discussing the costs of BAPCPA generally and more specifically, consumer bankruptcy attorney fees.

Here is one preliminary observation: there is a huge disparity with respect to how and how much attorneys are paid, depending upon where in the country they practice. This is not a shocking revelation on its face, given the disparities in the cost of living from city to city. The data reveal, however, variations that go beyond big city=expensive, small town=cheap.

Continue reading "One Consumer Bankruptcy System, or Many?" »

The Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study

posted by Lois R. Lupica

Thanks to Katie and my friends at Credit Slips for the guest blogging gig.  I appreciate the invitation and the opportunity.

In my next couple of posts, I am going to report on the Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study (see Katie's post below).  Today, I'm making a pitch to the consumer debtor's attorneys who have received (or will receive) an invitation to participate in a survey about their consumer bankruptcy practices.  To date, the Consumer Debtor Attorney Fee Survey has been distributed to ~400 lawyers who represent consumer debtors.  I expect to send out a couple of additional "waves" in the next weeks.  As I said in my cover note,

Continue reading "The Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study" »

Bankruptcy Robosigning Business Challenged by Debtors, Trustee

posted by Alan White

A new amended class action complaint filed on behalf of Chapter 13 debtors, with their Trustee as additional plaintiff, describes in exhaustive detail the business of Lender Processing Services and its network of creditor attorneys and mortgage servicers.  The gist is that LPS sells the dominant software product to mortgage servicers, and the software is designed to refer all foreclosure and bankruptcy cases to LPS-affiliated firms, which then share legal fees earned by litigating stay motions and claims in bankruptcy with LPS companies.  In the process, LPS firms and their nonattorney employees allegedlly produce robosigned missing mortgage assignments and bankruptcy court filings.

This colorful pleading describes LPS as Mephistopheles and the participating law firms as Faust.  Some of the practices are familiar, thanks to Judge Sigmund's decision in the Taylor case, discussed here previously.  LPS and its affiliates, of course, vigorously dispute all allegations and claim that their business is perfectly legal, and does not constitute unauthorized practice of law, although their SEC filings are considerably more ambivalent on the latter point.

More details on this and related litigation are available in this detailed report.

Can HAMP Help in Bankruptcy?

posted by Katie Porter

About six months ago, the government rolled out guidelines for how HAMP should work for people in bankruptcy. Given bankruptcy's historical role as a foreclosure prevention device, it never made sense to me why from its inception, HAMP did not envision ways for homeowners in existing chapter 13 cases to seek loan modifications and for people to try to obtain a loan modification as part of their chapter 13 bankruptcy. This may have just resulted from the right people not being in touch in a timely fashion. But now that HAMP is available for people in bankruptcy, does it really provide much?

Continue reading "Can HAMP Help in Bankruptcy?" »

Ransom Argument--Not Very Edifying

posted by Jean Braucher

The very first case argued today, the opening day of the 2010 Supreme Court term, was Ransom v. MBNA. Ransom presents an issue at the heart of the bankruptcy means test. The question for the Court is whether an above-median-income debtor in chapter 13 who does not currently have a car payment can take the IRS allowance for vehicle “ownership expense” as part of the means test. This issue also arises in chapter 7. You can find the transcript of the oral argument here. http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/09-907.pdf

As with any oral argument, it is hard to know what to make of it as far as prediction as to the outcome. I will refrain from critiquing the lawyers’ arguments. I will merely note that Katie Porter recently asked why the government was involved and that although an answer to that question was not forthcoming, the government lawyer did end up serving the function of presenting a simple argument that the justices could (barely) follow.

Continue reading "Ransom Argument--Not Very Edifying" »

What Is the Government Interest in Bankruptcy Cases?

posted by Katie Porter

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Ransom v. MBNA, an appeal of a decision in a consumer bankruptcy case. The Bankruptcy Code requires chapter 13 debtors to commit all their "projected disposable income" to repaying their creditors. After 2005, for debtors whose income exceeds the median in their state, disposable income is determined by deducting certain expenses. In the Ransom case, the issue is whether a "debtor’s applicable monthly expense amounts specified under the National Standards and Local Standards [of the IRS]” includes the cost of ownership for a vehicle that is not encumbered by a loan or lease.The statutory language is unclear, to put it mildly, and there are plausible readings of the statute that support either permitting or denying the expense.  So why is the U.S. government throwing its weight behind MBNA Bank and arguing that debtors should not be permitted to take the ownership deduction for vehicles that a debtor owns outright? What exactly is the government's interest in this case? Why are our taxpayer dollars at work here in briefing and arguing a dispute in which the adversarial aspect of bankruptcy (debtor and creditor litigating) seems to be fully functional?

Continue reading "What Is the Government Interest in Bankruptcy Cases? " »

The Shadow Consumer Bankruptcy System

posted by Alan White

    Bankruptcy filings have not risen at anything like the rate at which consumer debt defaults have risen since 2007.  Part of the explanation may lie in the shadow bankruptcy system, a network of alternative service providers who purport to save debt-burdened consumers from the bankruptcy court.  While consumers being sued on delinquent credit cards and mortgages receive solicitations in the mail from bankruptcy attorneys, they are also deluged with a variety of other offers of aid.  These range from foreclosure rescue scams to a wide range of legitimate and dubious debt advice and counseling services, to debt elimination and debt settlement schemes.  While pondering this post I searched in the usual places for any good empirical data on the number of consumers participating in non-profit counseling, or the number of customers enticed by those who promise to make debt disappear, with no success.   We don't seem to know how many debtors go to these debt advice services.

Continue reading "The Shadow Consumer Bankruptcy System" »

The Thorne-Porter Financial Education Study

posted by Jean Braucher

Last week, a short item was posted on a bankruptcy listserv about the excellent new paper by Deborah Thorne and Katherine Porter, Debtors’ Assessments of Bankruptcy Financial Education, available on ssrn.com.  Despite the insights of the paper about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the requirement of financial management education in bankruptcy and about how to improve the education as long as it remains a condition for bankruptcy discharge, the listserv item (predictably) unleashed a lot of venting by consumer bankruptcy attorneys.  I share their pain, but I still feel strongly that the paper is extremely valuable (a dream from a researcher’s point of view, for how much light it sheds).

Continue reading "The Thorne-Porter Financial Education Study" »

Debt Distress: Symptoms and Treatment

posted by Alan White
From the United Kingdom comes an interesting new study, based on a survey of more than 10,000 applicants for legal aid about their problems and the means they use to address them. The study explores the linkages between overindebtedness and social exclusion.  Consumers seeking help with debt problems are much more likely to face multiple related difficulties, including employment, mental health and other civil justice problems.  This longitudinal study also reports on the duration of debt problems and the success or failure of different strategies consumers employed.  The findings support the need for a broad array of services to assist consumers overwhelmed by debt, an approach characteristic of many European consumer bankruptcy and debt adjustment systems, about which Jason Kilborn and others have written.  These coordinated social service approaches are notably absent from the US bankruptcy system, at least officially, and apart from some token counseling requirements.  

Bankruptcy and the Crisis: Why so Few?

posted by Alan White

Many thanks to Bob for the invitation to guest blog here.  Those who follow Bob's postings on bankruptcy filing numbers will have seen that U.S. consumer bankruptcy filings have been plodding upwards steadily, but only to roughly where they were before the BAPCPA bubble back in 2005.  One of the inscrutable mysteries of the financial crisis of 2007-??, which is after all a housing and consumer debt crisis, has been how few bankruptcies have been filed.  Somehow, historically unprecedented levels of consumer debt and loan defaults have not produced the surge in bankruptcy filings one would expect.

Continue reading "Bankruptcy and the Crisis: Why so Few?" »

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