The Center For Debt Management
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Summary of the United States Bankruptcy Code

... Continued From Previous Page

Spendthrift Trusts

Most states have property laws that allow a trust agreement to contain a legally enforceable restriction on the transfer of a beneficial interest in the trust (sometimes known as an "anti-alienation provision"). The anti-alienation provision generally prevents creditors of a beneficiary from acquiring the beneficiary's share of the trust. Such a trust is sometimes called a spendthrift trust. To prevent fraud, most states allow this protection only to the extent that the beneficiary did not transfer property to the trust. Also, such provisions do not protect cash or other property once it has been transferred from the trust to the beneficiary. Under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, an anti-alienation provision in a spendthrift trust is recognized. This means that the beneficiary's share of the trust generally does not become property of the bankruptcy estate.

Redemption

In a Chapter 7 liquidation case, an individual debtor may redeem certain "tangible personal property intended primarily for personal, family, or household use" that is encumbered by a lien. To qualify, the property generally either (A) must be exempt under section 522 of the Bankruptcy Code, or (B) must have been abandoned by the trustee under section 554 of the Bankruptcy Code. To redeem the property, the debtor must pay the lienholder the full amount of the applicable allowed secured claim against the property.

Debtor's Discharge

Key concepts in bankruptcy include the debtor's discharge and the related "fresh start." Discharge is available in some but not all cases. For example, in a Chapter 7 case only an individual debtor (not a corporation, partnership, etc.) can receive a discharge.

The effect of a bankruptcy discharge is to eliminate only the debtor's personal liability not the "in rem" liability for a secured debt to the extent of the value of collateral. The term "in rem" essentially means "with respect to the thing itself" (i.e., the collateral). For example, if a debt in the amount of $100,000 is secured by property having a value of only $80,000, the $20,000 deficiency is treated, in bankruptcy, as an unsecured claim (even though it's part of a "secured" debt). The $80,000 portion of the debt is treated as a secured claim. Assuming a discharge is granted and none of the $20,000 deficiency is paid (e.g., due to insufficiency of funds), the $20,000 deficiency -- the debtor's personal liability -- is discharged (assuming the debt is not non-dischargeable under another Bankruptcy Code provision). The $80,000 portion of the debt is the in rem liability, and it is not discharged by the court's discharge order. This liability can presumably be satisfied by the creditor taking the asset itself. An essential concept is that when commentators say that a debt is "dischargeable," they are referring only to the debtor's personal liability on the debt. To the extent that a liability is covered by the value of collateral, the debt is not discharged.

This analysis assumes, however, that the collateral does not increase in value after commencement of the case. If the collateral increases in value and the debtor (rather than the estate) keeps the collateral (e.g., where the asset is exempt or is abandoned by the trustee back to the debtor), the amount of the creditor's security interest may or may not increase. In situations where the debtor (rather than the creditor) is allowed to benefit from the increase in collateral value, the effect is called "lien stripping" or "pairing down." Lien stripping is allowed only in certain cases depending on the kind of collateral and the particular chapter of the Code under which the discharge is granted.

The discharge also does not eliminate certain rights of a creditor to setoff (or "offset") certain mutual debts owed by the creditor to the debtor against certain claims of that creditor against the debtor, where both the debt owed by the creditor and the claim against the debtor arose prior to the commencement of the case.

Not every debt may be discharged under every chapter of the Code. Certain taxes owed to Federal, state or local government, government guaranteed student loans, and child support obligations are not dischargeable. (Guaranteed student loans are potentially dischargeable, however, should the debtor prevail in a difficult-to-win adversary proceeding brought in the nature of a complaint to determine dischargeability brought against the lender. Also, the debtor can petition the court for a "financial hardship" discharge, but the grant of such discharges is rare.) The debtor's liability on a secured debt, such as a mortgage or mechanic's lien on a home, may be discharged, but the effects of the mortgage or mechanic's lien cannot be discharged in most cases if it affixed prior to filing, so if the debtor wishes to retain the property, the debt must usually be paid for as agreed. (See also lien avoidance, reaffirmation agreement) (Note: there may be additional flexibility available in Chapter 13 for debtors dealing with oversecured collateral such as a financed auto, so long as the oversecured property is not the debtor's primary residence.)

Any debt tainted by one of a variety of wrongful acts recognized by the Bankruptcy Code, including defalcation, or consumer purchases or cash advances above a certain amount incurred a short time before filing, cannot be discharged. However, certain kinds of debt, such as debts incurred by way of fraud, may be dischargeable through the Chapter 13 super discharge. All in all, as of 2005, there are 19 general categories of debt that cannot be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and fewer debts that cannot be discharged under Chapter 13.

Entities That Cannot Be Debtors

The section of the Bankruptcy code that governs which entities are permitted to file a bankruptcy petition is 11 U.S.C. § 109. Banks and other deposit institutions, insurance companies, railroads, and certain other financial institutions and entities regulated by the federal and state governments cannot be a debtor under the Bankruptcy Code. Instead, special state and federal laws govern the liquidation or reorganization of these companies. In the U.S. context at least, it is incorrect to refer to a bank or insurer as being "bankrupt". "Insolvent", "in liquidation", or "in receivership" would be appropriate under some circumstances.

Status of Certain Defined Benefit Pension Plan Liabilities In Bankruptcy

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a U.S. government corporation that insures certain defined benefit pension plan obligations, may assert liens in bankruptcy under either of two separate statutory provisions. The first is found in the Internal Revenue Code, at 26 U.S.C. § 412(n), which provides that liens held by the PBGC have the status of a tax lien. Under this provision, the unpaid mandatory pension contributions must exceed one million dollars for the lien to arise.

The second statute is 29 U.S.C. § 1368, under which a PBGC lien has the status of a tax lien in bankruptcy. Under this provision, the lien may not exceed 30% of the net worth of all persons liable under a separate provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1362(a).

In bankruptcy, PBGC liens (like Federal tax liens) generally are not valid against certain competing liens that were perfected before a notice of the PBGC lien was filed.

Bankruptcy Crimes

In the United States, criminal provisions relating to bankruptcy fraud and other bankruptcy crimes are found in sections 151 through 158 of Title 18 of the United States Code.

Bankruptcy fraud includes filing a bankruptcy petition or any other document in a bankruptcy case for the purpose of attempting to execute or conceal a scheme or artifice to defraud. Bankruptcy fraud also includes making a false or fraudulent representation, claim or promise in connection with a bankruptcy case, either before or after the commencement of the case, for the purpose of attempting to execute or conceal a scheme or artifice to defraud. Bankruptcy fraud is punishable by a fine, or by up to five years in prison, or both.

Knowingly and fraudulently concealing property of the estate from a custodian, trustee, marshal, or other court officer is a separate offense, and may also be punishable by a fine, or by up to five years in prison, or both. The same penalty may be imposed for knowingly and fraudulently concealing, destroying, mutilating, falsifying, or making a false entry in any books, documents, records, papers, or other recorded information relating to the property or financial affairs of the debtor after a case has been filed.

Certain offenses regarding fraud in connection with a bankruptcy case may also be classified as "racketeering activity" for purposes of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Any person who receives income directly or indirectly derived from a "pattern" of such racketeering activity (generally, two or more offensive acts within a ten year period) and who uses or invests any part of that income in the acquisition, establishment, or operation of any enterprise engaged in (or affecting) interstate or foreign commerce may be punished by up to twenty years in prison.

Bankruptcy crimes are prosecuted by the United States Attorney, typically after a reference from the United States Trustee, the case trustee, or a bankruptcy judge.

Bankruptcy fraud can also sometimes lead to criminal prosecution in state courts, under the charge of theft of the goods or services obtained by the debtor for which payment, in whole or in part, was evaded by the fraudulent bankruptcy filing.

Bankruptcy and Federalism

On January 23, 2006, the Supreme Court, in Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, declined to apply state sovereign immunity from Seminole Tribe v. Florida, to defeat a trustee's action under 11 U.S.C. § 547 to recover preferential transfers made by a debtor to a state agency. The Court ruled that Article I, section 8, clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution (empowering Congress to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcy) abrogates the state's sovereign immunity in suits to recover preferential payments.

History

The current Bankruptcy Code was enacted in 1978 by § 101 of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, and generally became effective on October 1, 1979. The current Code completely replaced the former Bankruptcy Act, sometimes called the "Nelson Act", which initially entered into force in 1898. The current Code has been amended numerous times since 1978. See also the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. Before 1898 there were several short-lived federal bankruptcy laws in the US. The first was the act of 1800 which was repealed in 1803, followed by the act of 1841 which was repealed in 1843, and then the act of 1867, which was amended in 1874 and repealed in 1878.


Before You File For Bankruptcy

Filling for bankruptcy is a major event in one's life and should only be taken as a last resort. Before filing we suggest that you first speak to a certified debt counselor who has a number of alternatives that are appropriate for many debtors contemplating bankruptcy. We highly suggest that you call 1800 DEBT.COM (that's 1800-332-8266) and speak to a debt professional prior to making a final decision whether filing for bankruptcy is the right decision for you.

If you do believe that filing bankruptcy is the right decision for you, to locate a qualified and affordable bankruptcy attorney in your local area, we suggest that you call toll-free 877-828-0606.

Professional Debt Help!  Call Right Now — 1800 DEBT.COM


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