In 2005 Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act also known as BABCPA. At the heart BABCPA’s consumer bankruptcy reforms was that it created a “Means Test” and other income restrictions in order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If a debtor’s current monthly income exceeds a certain threshold amount, than the United States Trustee can try to file a motion to dismiss the case as an abuse under Section 707(b) of the bankruptcy code. 707(b) outlines two tests a court should consider in determining if a Chapter 7 proceeding is appropriate. The first is known as the Means Test which is an objective measure used to determine whether the Court “shall presume” that the case is abusive under the Code. If the presumption does not arise, the second step of the 707(b) process permits the Court to consider whether the case is nevertheless abusive because of the “totality of the circumstances” test.
The Means Test is a mechanical formula for establishing a presumptive bar to obtaining relief under Chapter 7. In short, the means test is a formula in which the debtor takes various deductions from their current monthly income. If after taking these deductions the debtor is below a threshold level then the presumption of abuse does not arise The deductions that an above-median income debtor is allowed to use are outlined in Section 707(b)(2) of the bankruptcy code.
In most cases the largest deduction would be the deduction for the monthly payment on the Debtor’s mortgage. An issue that has arisen in many cases is whether the debtor can still take the mortgage deduction in the Means Test on property that they intend to surrender in the bankruptcy. A bankruptcy court in the Middle District Florida recently answered this question in the affirmative. The Court’s reasoning was that the Chapter 7 Means Test calculation is based on a “snapshot” of a Debtor’s financial situation on the date the petition is filed. If the Debtor is contractually obligated to make the mortgage payment on the date the petition is filed, then the debtor can deduct the mortgage payment in the Means Test even if the debtor intends to surrender the property or is no longer currently making the payments. However, the Court cautioned that although the Chapter 7 Debtor can still deduct the mortgage payment on the Means Test even if they are surrendering the property, the second step in the 707(b) process permits the court to consider whether the case is still abusive based on the totality of the circumstances test. Nevertheless the Bankruptcy Judge held that the case was not an abuse under either 707(b)(2) or 707(b)(3). The Case is In Re: Rivers, 11-2440.
Jonathan Bierfeld is an attorney with Martin Law Firm, P.L., whose practice focuses in Bankruptcy Law and Civil Litigation. He is admitted to practice law in the State of Florida and the Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida. He primarily practices in Lee County Florida in Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Florida.
Eviana Martin, an attorney at the Martin Law Firm, P.L. has recently attended the 20th Annual Bankruptcy Law Convention organized by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in San Antonio, Texas.
One of the topics discussed at the conference was “The Big Freeze” referring to Wells Fargo a/k/a/ Wachovia Bank putting a hold on the individual’s bank account if that individual files for bankruptcy protection. The bank is fast at putting a hold on the bank account even if the individual filing for bankruptcy protection does NOT owe any money to the bank and even if the funds are claimed as exempt in bankruptcy. It does not matter if you are filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, just the fact of having any funds in the Wells Fargo bank account is enough for the bank to “freeze” the account. The bank “preserves” the money in the account for the bankruptcy trustee. An individual can prevent this from happening by withdrawing the funds from the bank account before filing the bankruptcy case. Eventually the funds will be released back to the debtor and the hold will be lifted, but this process might take several weeks and if the money in the account were intended to be used to pay the utilities bill or mortgage, by losing access to these funds an individual’s payments might be jeopardized.
Another hot topic discussed at the conference was the recent state and federal foreclosure settlement with five of the U.S. largest mortgage servicers including Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Ally/GMAC, and Wells Fargo banks. The settlement applies to the homeowners in the State of Florida whose loans were serviced by the above mentioned loan providers and who were harmed by the bank’s unfair mortgage servicing practices and foreclosure abuses. The logistics of the settlement awards and the application procedures and requirements are still in the workouts. The settlement is intended to provide mortgage relief and direct payments to the Florida borrowers. The settlement consists of two segments- one is the federal settlement in the amount of approximately $25 billion dollars and second is a portion of the settlement in the amount of estimated $8.4 billion dollars available to Florida residents who meet the application criteria and have mortgages with one of the five servicers listed above.
Homeowners who are current on their mortgages but who owe more than the property is worth, will also be evaluated for possible eligibility for mortgage modifications and principal reductions to the first and second mortgages. Qualifying homeowners who lost their homes in foreclosure lawsuits from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2011 might also be eligible to receive cash payments. The settlement will also address the future loan servicing practices and will require the loan servicers to comply with a stricter mortgage servicing standards. The settlement does not release the banks from the criminal liability or individual claims from the borrowers or class action lawsuits.
The settlement Monitoring Committee, consisting of numerous State Attorney Generals, is currently looking to select a settlement administration companies that will be in charge of receiving and reviewing the claims for the settlement benefits. The Committee will also overview the bank’s compliance with the settlement provisions and deadlines, imposing penalties and fines for non-compliance. The Committee estimates that the review of the claims will start as early as June 2012 and will continue for the next six to nine months.
Since the duration of this agreement is limited to three years, homeowners are encouraged to contact their lenders directly to inquire about the application process and the qualifications for the mortgage modification programs or monetary awards. Listed below is contact information that will help you to further inquire into the workouts of the settlement agreement:
For the further information regarding the financial restitution for the borrowers who lost their home in foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011, contact the Attorney General’s Office at www.myfloridalegal.com.
For the loan modifications and refinancing options for borrowers who are current but underwater on their homes, contact the banks directly:
Bank of America: 877-488-7814
JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901
However, if your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you are not affected by this settlement. If you are not sure whether your loan is owned by one of these servicers, check their websites:
Fannie Mae at http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup
Freddie Mac at http://freddiemac/mymortgage
Eviana Martin is an attorney with the Martin Law Firm, P.L. Her practice focuses on Bankruptcy and Consumer Law. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Florida and the Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida. She represents clients from Lee, Charlotte and Collier Counties at the firm’s offices in Fort Myers, Cape Cora, North Fort Myers, and Naples, Florida.
MARTIN LAW FIRM ATTORNEYS RECEIVE LEGAL ELITE RECOGNITION
The Martin Law Firm, P.L. of Cape Coral, Florida is proud to announce that Steven E. Martin, Eviana J. Martin, Jonathan Bierfeld, Dustin M. Butler, and Patricia Dills have all been named to Florida Trend’s Legal Elite Up and Comers.
Florida Trend recognizes a prestigious list of approximately 2% of the active members of the Florida Bar who practice in Florida. Active members of the Florida Bar were asked to name attorneys whom exemplify the standards of Legal Elite and would recommend to others. Top vote getters then had their disciplinary records reviewed and finally were reviewed by a panel of previous winners.
When asked about this award, Steven E. Martin of the Martin Law Firm said, “It is a great honor to have all of our attorneys under the age of forty recognized for this prestigious award. I believe it is recognition of the caliber of legal representation provided by our attorneys.”
With offices in Naples, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and North Fort Myers, Martin Law Firm, P.L. is a full service civil law firm. Martin Law Firm, P.L. provides legal services for Divorce, Family Law, Bankruptcy, Personal Injury, Real Estate, Estate Planning, Business Services, Probate Administration and Civil Litigation. Visit their website at www.martinlawfirm.com for more information.
Steven E. Martin received his undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business and also received his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Steven has previously served as the President of the Cape Coral Bar Association. His practice focuses include Estate Planning, Civil Litigation, Business Planning, Family Law, and Real Property Law.
Eviana J. Martin began her studies internationally and graduated with a dual Bachelors of Arts degrees in Business Administration and Photography from Barry University. She then received her J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Her practice focuses on Family Law and Bankruptcy.
Dustin M. Butler graduated from the Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) with a degree in Political Science. He then attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. Dustin now specializes in Family Law and Civil Litigation.
Patricia Dills received her both undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Arts in English, and her law degree from Brigham Young University. She has practiced as an Attorney Ad Litem and now primarily focuses on Family Law and Civil Litigation.