Category Archives: After Bankruptcy Discharge

What Happens if I Make Payments to a Creditor After Receiving a Discharge in Bankruptcy?

By Ryan C. Wood

You just received your discharge order from the bankruptcy court indicating your debts are now discharged and your case is closed. Congratulations! You now have a fresh start free from burdensome debts. What do you do now? Some people want to pay back some of their creditors due to a sense of obligation (for example, some people want to pay back their dentist who they have been going to for years and who has never hounded them for payment, or their friends or family members who have loaned them money to get by throughout the years). Whatever the reason, there is no law against voluntarily repaying a debt from post-petition funds (meaning money you obtained from whatever source after you filed your bankruptcy case). Does repaying that debt mean you re-obligated yourself to that debt, essentially reaffirming the debt? The short answer is no. In order to reaffirm a debt you have to follow the strict guidelines outlined in 11 U.S.C. §524(c). See In re Charles Lopez 345 F.3d 701 (2003).

When your experienced bankruptcy attorney files your bankruptcy case and you receive a discharge of your debts your personal obligation to repay that debt is discharged. This applies to even secured debts such as your car or home mortgage. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean you do not have to repay your car loan or home mortgage to keep the car or home. Since the car loan is a secured debt, if you do not repay the debt your car loan lender can repossess your car. However, given your personal obligation was discharged in the bankruptcy case the car loan lender cannot go after you for any deficiency balance if there are any. If you sign a reaffirmation agreement as part of your bankruptcy, this is essentially a new contract in which you are re-obligating yourself to that debt. If you sign the reaffirmation agreement and then you cannot make payments on that debt the car loan lender can repossess your car and go after you for any deficiency balance.

You filed bankruptcy to get rid of your personal liability to repay your debts. Why would anyone sign any reaffirmation agreement? Unfortunately, in the Ninth Circuit, In re Dumont (581 F. 3d 1104, 9th Cir, 2009) holds that a car loan creditor can repossess your car if you did not sign a reaffirmation agreement. It does not matter even if you are current on the loan – your creditor can still repossess your car. You have essentially 3 different options after you file your bankruptcy case regarding secured debts: 1) surrender the car; 2) redeem the car for the fair market value (meaning you pay your lender a lump sum payment of what the car is worth rather than pay what you owe on the car – this is only good if your car is heavily upside down); and 3) reaffirm the debt. The good bankruptcy lawyer unspoken 4th option to keep the car and continue making payments on it (sometimes called a “ride through”) is no longer available to consumers based on In re Dumont. However, it is still advisable to speak with your car loan lender to see if they are wiling to offer you that option. Most lenders still can offer it. Some lenders, like Ford, will require you sign a reaffirmation agreement in order to keep the car. Keep in mind, you should not and you do not have to reaffirm huge debts like mortgages on your house because you do not know what the future holds. You do not want to be in a situation where you cannot pay your mortgage and your mortgage holder comes after you for the debt in the future.

Once you have finally made a decision to reaffirm the debt, your lender has to follow the strict guidelines of §524(c) to reaffirm the debt. Essentially they have to provide you with full disclosure of what the terms are and the reaffirmation agreement has to be signed completely voluntarily and cannot be an undue hardship for you. Once you sign the reaffirmation agreement the creditor files it with the court. If you sign the reaffirmation agreement without the representation of a bankruptcy lawyer, there is a hearing in front of the judge. This hearing is to protect you and to make sure the creditors are not taking advantage of you. If the judge thinks it is an undue hardship for you to reaffirm the debt he or she can reject the reaffirmation agreement. The judge can also sign off on the reaffirmation agreement if he or she believes it is in your best interest. The reaffirmation agreement has to be filed with the court before the case is closed. Once the case is closed no further reaffirmation agreements can be entered into. Therefore, you do not have to “accidentally” enter into a reaffirmation agreement because it has to follow these guidelines.

What About After a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Discharge?

By Ryan C. Wood

Once your debts are discharged in your bankruptcy case and the case is closed you would think that it is all over and you can start fresh.  Well, that is in a perfect world and most of the time this is definitely true.  However, once in a while, your creditors believe they have never heard of the bankruptcy code, your order of discharge and try to collect from you even after receiving your fresh start.  So what do you do to protect yourself?

Under 11 U.S.C. §727, all your dischargeable unsecured debts that were incurred prior to the filing of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case are discharged, therefore you are no longer personally liable for those debts.  Creditors are prohibited from collecting those debts from you after your order of discharge is signed and entered.  All collection activities are prohibited, including but not limited to, contacting you by phone, sending collection letters to you, suing you, or continuing a lawsuit against you.  You can always pay for the discharged debt if you wish to, but you are under no obligation to do so, and creditors cannot force you to do so.  If creditors have a valid lien against you, however, they can still enforce those liens if those liens were not avoided in your bankruptcy case.  Examples of valid liens are mortgage or vehicle liens.  Some of the debts that are not dischargeable, however, are debts such as alimony/child support, recent taxes owed, student loans, debts incurred fraudulently, and debts for personal injuries caused by the debtor when operating vehicles while intoxicated.  These debts would still need to be paid by the debtor after the Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge.

Under 11 U.S.C. §1328, you will receive a discharge of all your dischargeable unsecured debts once you successfully complete your Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan.  Similar to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the discharge applies to all your unsecured debts that were incurred prior to filing your bankruptcy case.  Since creditors receive a percentage of your Chapter 13 plan payments, the only creditors you receive a discharge from are the ones scheduled in your Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition.  The creditors that you inadvertently failed to disclose did not receive notice of your bankruptcy case, and thus you may not receive a discharge from those undisclosed debts.

Once you receive a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy discharge, if creditors continue their prohibited collection activity against you, you need to notify them that you have already received a discharge of the debt they are trying to collect on.  If they still continue to harass you or try to collect from you, it is time to contact your bankruptcy attorney to have them put a stop to these actions.  These creditors may be sanctioned by the court for violating the discharge order.

As bankruptcy attorneys know it can be challenging to obtain sanctions and have attorneys fee and costs paid for by the offending creditor.  Most bankruptcy judges believe there is some sort of duty to give creditors bites of the apple over and over again for violating the order of discharge.  Generally bankruptcy attorneys have to send letters, call or fax information to the creditor that they are violating the automatic stay and to stop immediately.  There is no such obligation under the law to do this.  Creditors rarely if never call or email me before filing an objection to confirmation of a chapter 13 plan or filing a motion for relief from stay adding in attorneys fees and costs for doing such things.  It is a troubling double standard that continues to persist.  The pendulum has swung too far towards big business rights instead individual human rights.  

If you are being pursued by an overzealous creditor that is still trying to collect on a discharged debt, and if you did not have a bankruptcy attorney, contact a Fremont bankruptcy attorney or Union City bankruptcy lawyers today at 877-9NEW-LIFE or 877-963-9543 to protect your rights.