Articles Posted in The Means Test

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With the effects of Coronavirus still impacting the economy, many people are facing loss of income. This reduction in  income makes it harder for working people to pay their bills.  Things might not get better. One economist estimates 42 percent of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

Whether their  lay offs are permanent or temporary,  people are looking for ways to save money on goods and services that they need. With the advent of the Internet, people have become used to finding information and deals on items they need. The Internet Age has made  people used to getting things fast and cheap, or even free. It has also made people believe in do-it-yourself. Just watch a video and you can do anything yourself.  The recent lockdowns have had people searching for Youtube videos on how to cut their own hair, since most salons and barber shops have been closed.

Some people who are facing overwhelming debt also look for do-it-yourself solutions to deal with their debt. They often file for bankruptcy without an attorney. There are signs in Jacksonville along I-95 exits saying “Bankruptcy $150.” These signs are placed along the interstate by non-lawyers or “petition preparers” who will take $150 from you to type the documents necessary to file a bankruptcy case. The thought is that bankruptcy is just filing out some forms and filing them with a court.  (This author once had a boss, who is a lawyer. This lawyer  declared, “Bankruptcy isn’t rocket science; it is just filling out a bunch of forms about your finances.”  When this person filed for bankruptcy a few years later, she hired a competent lawyer.)

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Because of the historic economic impact  of COVID-19, economists are predicting a “tsunami” of personal bankruptcy filings.  Well-known businesses like J. Crew, Beall’s, Goody’s, Gold’s Gym and Neiman Marcus recently filed for bankruptcy protection. Most major airlines could face bankruptcy without a government bailout.

Americans who have become used to using credit cards as a stop-gap measure to survive pay-cuts might not be able to rely  on this method since nearly 50 million Americans just had their credit card limits cut.

For centuries, companies have used bankruptcy as a tool to survive, reorganize or to shut-down. Several airlines have filed bankruptcy over the past three decades, primarily to break contracts and modify pensions.

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I have written many blog posts over the years concerning the MEANS test in Jacksonville, Florida and the deductions that can be used. To jog your memory, the MEANS test is required when your income is above the median income in your state for your household size. It is meant to prohibit high-income households from filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The MEANS test allows you to deduct specific expenses that can help you qualify. The MEANS test is also used to determine your disposable income in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, which in turn determines your Chapter 13 Plan and your monthly payments. But what types of expenses can be deducted on the MEANS test?

First, it is important to note that some expenses have predetermined amounts. Expenses such as food, utilities, housing and other necessary monthly expenses are predetermined by IRS local and national standards unless you have extenuating circumstances. Continue reading →

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If you wish to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you will have to first pass something called the MEANS Test. The MEANS Test is the determination of whether or not you are eligible to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy based upon your household size and income.

For a Chapter 7, your income must be below the median income level for your household size in your state. In order to figure out what your income is, the court looks at an average of your monthly income for the previous six months prior to filing. In Florida, as of April 1, 2017, the median income numbers are around the following and increase as your household size increases:

Household of 1: $44,576.00

Household of 2: $55,344.00

Household of 3: $60,636.00

If your median income is below these numbers for your household size, you only have to complete the “short-form means test.” This is because it is easy to determine that you qualify for a Chapter 7, because your income is clearly under the median.

If your median income is above these numbers, you will have to complete the second part of the MEANS Test. The second part of the MEANS Test, the “long form,” does a further determination/analysis of whether your income and expenses allow you to qualify for a Chapter 7. Things such as a mortgage or car payment can help you to lower your monthly income in hopes that it’s just enough to help you qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

What types of income are included in the MEANS Test?  Continue reading →

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Protect_thumb-150x150Every six months, specifically in May and November of each year, the United States Department of Justice updates the Median Family Income figures in every state. In turn, these figures determine whether an individual or a couple qualify to file a Jacksonville Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. More specifically, if your income is below the median income for your household size in your state, then you most likely qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy; however, if your median income is above the income allowed for your family size in your state, then you will have to file under Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code.

How do I know if my income qualifies for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Jacksonville, Florida?

You will have to pass something called the MEANS Test in order to qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Jacksonville, Florida. The MEANS Test is more or less a comparison between your income over the last six months and your household size.

The Median Family Income in Florida as of November 1, 2016 are:

  • Family size of 1: $3,668 per month, or $44,021 per year;
  • Family size of 2: $4,555 per month, or $54,655 per year;
  • Family size of 3: $4,990 per month, or $49,881 per year;
  • Family size of 4: $5,957 per month, or $71,480 per year;
  • Family size of 5: $6,657 per month, or $79,880 per year;
  • Family size of 6: $7,657 per month, or $88,280 per year,
  • Family size of 7: $8,057 per month, or $96,680 per year.

For each additional family member you have, you can add $7,500 per year. Continue reading →

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For many, being able to make charitable donations and continue to tithe to their religious organization is something that is extremely important to them. When their debts become more than they can manage many people begin to think about filing bankruptcy, and whether or not they will be able to continue making their donations is a major concern. Another concern is whether or not the donations they have already made will be affected if they file bankruptcy. Congress understood and recognized this. In 2006, Congress added the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Clarification Act to The United States Bankruptcy Code, but what does this Act actually mean?

Chapter 7

When filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Clarification Act allows charitable donations or tithing as long as there is an established history of the donations or tithing, and the amount is not extremely unreasonable in relation to your monthly gross income. Additionally, charitable donations and tithing may even help you qualify for a Chapter 7. In order to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must first pass the means test. The means test makes sure you do not have enough income for a Chapter 13 Payment Plan instead. However, the means test does allow you to deduct certain monthly expenses from your gross income. Regular charitable donations and tithing is one deduction that is permitted and could even help you qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

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Means Test Number ReissuedTwice a year the United States Department of Justice releases new Median Family income figures for each state. These figures are used to calculate a debtor’s eligibility to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. If your income is greater than the median(average) income for your state of residence and family size, the trustee may be obligated to dismiss your case.

if your income exceeds the median family income then a presumption arises under part (a) of the Means Test that you do not “qualify” for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The Means Test calculation compares your average monthly income (as calculated over the last six (6) months) to the median family income in your state for a household of your size. If your average monthly income is lower than the median family income for your state of residence and family size, then you meet the means test and there is a presumption that you will be permitted to file for Chapter 7 relief. There are even a few exceptions to the means test for military families and those whose businesses failed.

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Bankruptcy and the Means TestAnyone who knows anything about bankruptcy knows that there were big changes to the bankruptcy code in 2005. Several things were changed by that amendment, but the one having the greatest effect was the creation of the dreaded, “Means Test”.

The Means Test was so terrifying and misunderstood that people rushed to file bankruptcy before it’s scheduled enactment. Some said it made filing Chapter 7 impossible.

Of course, as with all big changes in the news, not all rumors are completely accurate. What the Means Test does is look at the number of people in the debtor’s household, compare that number to the annually published IRS standards and see if the debtor makes less money than the average American in the area. If the person makes less money than average, they can file a Chapter 7. If they make more than the average, they have to file another chapter and make payments to their creditors. This is because they have the Means to do so, i.e. the Means Test.

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Skipping Means Test, Bankruptcy Chapter 7When in 2005 Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA), a flurry of people ran to file their cases before the changes occurred. Everyone had heard that the new law would make it impossible to file for Chapter 7 and that everyone would now be required to file Chapter 13 cases, making payments for five years. Well, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is still alive and well and the big change that was put into place is called, “The Means Test”. The Means Test requires the debtor to show that their income, based on their family size, is less than the average American in their area. It’s that simple. The problem debtors are having is that they don’t want to file Chapter 13 cases, where they have to pay a trustee their disposable income for five years, they want to file Chapter 7 cases where their case can be closed in five months with no payments made.

Congress thought that by forcing higher income debtors to file Chapter 13, creditors would get paid some of what they’re owed and creditors deserve to get paid what the debtor is able to pay. Fortunately for the many residents of Jacksonville, Florida who have heavily invested in rental properties, Congress thought of them as well. When BAPCPA was drafted someone realized the chilling effect a means test would have on small businesses and other small investors. Since only Chapters 7 and 11 are available to corporations, most small businesses would have to be liquidated in Chapter 7 or would have to pay the enormous cost of filing a Chapter 11. Small investors would be forced to file Chapter 13, which would prevent them from doing business for the five year period it took to complete their payment plan. These are the reasons why Congress created an exception to the means test for those individuals whose consumer debts make up less than half of their debt, i.e. if more than half of your debts are business, you can file Chapter 7 without taking the means test at all.

During the housing boom many residents of Jacksonville purchased homes to rent in speculation that their value would keep increasing. Instead, the market tanked to the point where nearly half of all homes owe more money on their mortgages than the homes are worth. Many of these people have higher incomes than average and wouldn’t be permitted to file under Chapter 7 due to the means test but because these properties were purchased as investments, they should all be able to bypass the means test and file Chapter 7 automatically.

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raiseThe effect a raise will have on your Jacksonville Bankruptcy depends on which Chapter you’ve filed and the amount of the raise. “Material” is a term often referred to in the legal world. Prior to law school, I would have thought this had to do with fabric, but no, “Material” in the legal sense means, “Significant”. You may have heard the term, “Material Witness”. The same term can be used to describe a raise. Is the raise a big enough raise to have a “material” effect on the debtor’s income? If the answer is yes, then it may have an effect on your case.

With few exceptions qualifying for a Chapter 7 requires you to demonstrate that your income is less than the average American for your family size. This is called the, “Means Test”. To calculate your income, the last six months of your income is added up and multiplied by two. This gives a quasi-accurate report of what your income will be going forward. If your raise occurs after you’ve filed your Chapter 7 and you qualified on the date of filing, you’re case probably won’t be effected by the raise. That being said, there is a forward looking aspect to the “Means Test” which requires you to declare any anticipated changes in your income. If you know the raise is coming, you need to report it.

In a Chapter 13 case a raise has a very different effect. A Chapter 13 is a reorganization of your debt. Generally, secured creditors get paid in full and unsecured creditors get paid what’s left, your disposable income, if anything of your paycheck after paying living expenses and secured creditors. When you get a raise, the amount of money going to your unsecured creditors can increase because you have more disposable income. So, if you have unsecured creditors in a Chapter 13 who aren’t getting paid in full, you won’t see any money from your raise until your case is over because that increase in pay will go to the unsecured creditors. However, if your unsecured creditors are getting paid all of the money they’re owed, then an increase in income means that you’ll be able to pay everyone off sooner. Once everyone is paid in full, your case can be closed and you can get on with your life.

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