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Collecting Workers' Compensation Claims After BankruptcyWhen can a creditor claim a workers’ compensation award from a debtor who has filed for bankruptcy in Illinois? That question is at the heart of a recent case that is heading to the Illinois Supreme Court. In the case of In re Elena Hernandez, the debtor filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Among her debts were more than $100,000 that she owed to healthcare providers for treating a work-related injury. She claimed a bankruptcy exemption for her $31,000 workers’ compensation settlement. The healthcare creditors contested the exemption, stating that it unreasonably undermines their ability to collect on the debt. Both the bankruptcy court and a circuit court agreed with the creditors, but the appellate court saw enough evidence on both sides of the argument to ask Illinois’ highest court to make a definitive ruling.

Workers’ Compensation and Debt

A workers’ compensation claim is meant to cover the actual cost of an employee’s work-related injury, including:

  • Healthcare provider expenses;
  • Missed pay from time off work; and
  • The loss of earning potential due to disability.

Thus, one of the primary purposes of workers’ compensation is to ensure that healthcare providers are paid for their services. Illinois law requires employers to directly pay providers for all undisputed healthcare bills. Employers may dispute whether an employee’s injury qualifies for workers’ compensation or whether a certain treatment was a necessary expense. Creditors can hold a patient liable for payment when the employer disputes a bill.

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Requirements for Creating a Reaffirmation AgreementAfter bankruptcy filers discharge their debts, unsecured creditors may lose the ability to seek or enforce repayment. The debtor can voluntarily repay the creditor in order to keep a property but has no contractual obligation to make continued payments. In some cases, the debtor may choose to reaffirm the debt. The debtor signs a new agreement that requires him or her to repay the debt. As an incentive, the creditor may offer to refinance the debt into terms that are more manageable for the debtor. However, courts will not enforce a reaffirmation agreement unless you met the legal requirements in creating it. You could instead be liable for damages to the debtor if the court rules that the agreement violated the bankruptcy discharge injunction.

Deadline

You must meet two deadlines in order to file a reaffirmation agreement with a debtor:

  • The agreement must be filed no later than 60 days after the first meeting of creditors unless the bankruptcy court gives you an extension; and
  • The agreement must be filed before the debts are discharged as part of a bankruptcy.

The deadlines mean that you must discuss and complete the reaffirmation agreement while the bankruptcy case is ongoing. Once a debt has been discharged, you cannot create a new agreement that requires payment of the same debt from the same party. Even if the debtor agrees to reaffirm the debt, a court will likely rule that the contract is unenforceable. However, a third party who was not involved in the bankruptcy could agree to take on the debt.

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Banker's Options When Debtor Files for BankruptcyA bank must pause its efforts to collect a debt or foreclose on a property if the debtor files for bankruptcy. The automatic stay is one of the most powerful tools that a debtor has during bankruptcy. The stay expires after 30 days, but the debtor can file for an extension. As a bank, your priority when a client files for bankruptcy is to protect yourself and try to recuperate the debts owed to you. There are several actions you should consider.

Freezing Account

The automatic stay prevents you from withdrawing money from a bankruptcy filer’s account in order to offset debt. However, you can freeze your client's bank account in order to:

  • Protect the money from a bankruptcy trustee; or
  • Hold onto the money until you are able to offset it.

The trustee may order you to release the portion of the bank account that will be exempt from the bankruptcy. It may take weeks for the trustee to make this determination, which buys you time to pursue legal action.

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Options for Junior Creditors During ForeclosureJunior creditors are at a disadvantage when senior creditors decide to foreclose on a debtor’s mortgage. The senior creditor has priority in the foreclosure sale, and the junior creditor may receive little or no compensation for what the debtor owes it because its debt is often unsecured. A junior creditor can be:

  • A lender that gave a second mortgage to the debtor with the property as collateral; or
  • A party that received a judgment lien against the debtor’s property as the result of winning a lawsuit against the debtor.

A junior creditor can put itself in a position to receive some compensation from a foreclosure by participating in the foreclosure process. It may also file a lawsuit against the debtor to collect money still owed from its lien.

Sale Surplus

A junior creditor may claim the surplus from a foreclosure sale as long as it establishes its lien on the foreclosed property during the process. This requires the junior creditor to:

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When Mortgagees Claim They Never Received Foreclosure NoticeA mortgagor can complete a foreclosure and sale of a property, all without hearing a word from the mortgagee who is living at the property. However, the mortgagee may object to the foreclosure sale at the last minute, claiming that he or she never received notice of the foreclosure. This may be a delaying tactic or a desperate attempt to hold onto a property. The mortgagee has the burden of proving that the mortgagor failed to properly serve notice of the foreclosure.

Service Methods

A mortgagor tries to directly serve the foreclosure notice to the mortgagee, who confirms receipt with his or her signature. The mortgagor has alternative methods of service when the mortgagee cannot be found, including:

  • Leaving it with someone who lives with the mortgagee at the property;
  • Mailing it to the last-known address of the mortgagee; or
  • Publishing it in a newspaper that the mortgagee is likely to read.

Leaving a foreclosure notice with another party is called substitute service. The server must record the name of the person being served, a physical description, and his or her relationship to the mortgagee. The mortgagor usually follows up a substitute service by mailing the notice to the mortgagee.

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Filing a Probate Claim on a Debtor's EstateThe debt that someone owes you does not disappear when he or she dies. Instead, you can turn your collection efforts towards the deceased debtor’s estate. Creditors have a deadline to file a claim against a debtor’s estate and collect compensation from the estate before the debtor’s beneficiaries inherit the assets. You may lose your ability to collect your debt if you miss the deadline. You must know who you may contact about the debts, who can be liable for the remaining debts, and how quickly you will need to file a probate claim.

Contact

The representative of the debtor’s estate handles all contact with creditors about claims on the estate. Once you know who the representative is, you are not allowed to contact the debtor’s family members. In many cases, the representative will notify you of your debtor’s passing and your right to file a probate claim against the estate. The representative could also send you a letter to cease contact because there are no assets in debtor’s estate to repay you. After receiving this letter, you are not allowed to contact the representative unless you are filing a lawsuit to dispute the claim of no assets.

Liable Parties

In most situations, personal debt does not transfer to another person when the debtor dies. However, there are exceptions that make family members liable for the debts, including:

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Technicalities Do Not Quash Garnishment in Debt Collection CaseObtaining a judgment order against a debtor gives you the authority to enforce your debt collection. However, your debtor may continue to fight your collection efforts, based on legal technicalities and new claims. Thus, the legal battle against your debtor is not finished until you have received the money you are owed.

Recent Case

In MI Management v. Proteus Holdings, the plaintiff is a creditor who appealed multiple Illinois circuit court decisions that:

  • Quashed garnishment orders against a debtor;
  • Vacated a third-party citation to discover the debtor’s holdings in a bank; and
  • Granted a third-party creditor’s adverse claim to the debtor’s holdings.

In 2014, the plaintiff received a favorable judgment against two individual debtors and their company for breach of a $1.25 million promissory note. The plaintiff issued wage and non-wage garnishment summons against the debtors, who did not respond or appear in court. The court granted conditional garnishment judgment orders, which were later confirmed after the debtors continued to not respond. The plaintiff issued citations to discover assets to the debtors and their bank.

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Illinois Enacting New Rules for Credit Card Companies, Debt BuyersThe Illinois Supreme Court has adopted new rules regarding procedures for credit card companies and debt buyers who file lawsuits against debtors. The rules will go into effect on Oct. 1 and will apply to both new cases and active cases that have not reached a judgment. The new rules do not apply to an original creditor that is not a credit card company. The rules create new requirements that are meant to force creditors to be more timely and thorough in filing specified motions in court. There are three notable rule changes:

  1. New Affidavit Requirements: A credit card company or debt buyer must use a new affidavit form when filing a complaint against a debtor. A statement must accompany the affidavit that says that the complaint was filed within the statute of limitations. Applicable creditors can modify their existing affidavit to comply with the new rule, as long as it includes the debt contract, relevant information on both parties, and a history of the debt.
  2. Same-Day Motions: Credit card companies and debt buyers will need to give prior notice before requesting a continuance or voluntary dismissal of a trial. This means that the court will no longer accept a plaintiff’s written or oral request to end or continue a trial if it is made on the day of the trial. Courts may require that applicable creditors file a motion to dismiss a trial at least five business days before the trial. As for a continuance, the court may accept a same-day request if both parties agree to it and the continuance would serve the interest of justice.
  3. Identity Theft Rules: A defendant may claim that he or she is not liable for a debt because he or she was the victim of identity theft. A new rule requires a debtor to file an identity theft affidavit. Once the affidavit is filed, the creditor will have 90 days to either dismiss the lawsuit or contest the affidavit. To contest the identity theft claim, the creditor must submit its own affidavit that gives factual evidence as to why the identity theft claim is false.

Effect on Creditors

The new rules largely favor debtors because they require creditors to make quicker decisions on how to proceed during their cases. Failing to comply with the rules could delay a judgment or lead to a dismissal. A Chicago creditor’s rights attorney at Walinski & Associates, P.C., can help you remain in compliance with court rules and obtain the judgment you need in your case. Schedule a consultation by calling 312-704-0771.

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Possession Can Perfect Security Interest in Collateral VehicleWhen repossessing a property from a debtor, having a perfected security interest in the property helps you prevent other interested parties from gaining possession of it. According to the Uniform Commercial Code, a security interest is created when:

  • The property has been given value;
  • The debtor has a right to the property; and
  • The debtor agrees that the creditor shall attach a security interest to the property.

The security interest gives the creditor the right to possess the property if the debtor cannot meet the debt obligation, and perfecting the security interest gives the creditor priority over other parties who may claim ownership of the property. A recorded financing statement is a common means of perfecting a security interest. However, actual possession of the property can be sufficient with properties such as vehicles.

Recent Example

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How You Can Collect Rent While Foreclosing on a PropertyAn assignment of rents clause in a mortgage agreement can be helpful when the borrower collects rent from tenants on its property. With the clause, the mortgagee may be able to collect rent payments directly if the borrower defaults on the mortgage. However, it can be difficult to predict how the clause will work in practice because of the vagueness of the law and inconsistencies between different state’s laws. Mortgagees with borrowers in Illinois have used litigation to enforce the clause. U.S. district courts have interpreted Illinois’ law on the assignment of rents to allow the mortgagee to collect rent when it meets certain requirements.

Property Possession

Establishing the possession of a rental property is the clearest way for a mortgagee to assert the assignment of rents clause in a mortgage. The mortgagee can claim actual possession of the property or constructive possession, which means the mortgagee effectively controls the property. In order to take possession of a real property during foreclosure:

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Illinois Supreme Court Sides with Borrower in Foreclosure CaseA foreclosure case between a bank mortgagee and borrower made its way to the Illinois Supreme Court earlier this year. In Bank of New York Mellon v. Pacific Realty Group, LLC, the courts had been trying to solve two points of contention:

  • Whether service by publication was an adequate means of informing the borrower of a pending foreclosure when the borrower does not have an agent in the state; and
  • Whether the 60-day deadline for a borrower to file a motion to quash a foreclosure should have included a period during which the case was inactive.

The supreme court answered the second question in favor of the borrower and sent the case back to the appellate court in order for it to rule on the first question.

Background

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Key Differences Between Forbearance and Loan ModificationWhen a borrower is defaulting or about to default on a loan, the lender can offer to modify the loan agreement to allow the borrower to repay the debt and avoid the consequences of violating the agreement. Loan forbearance is a tool that lenders and borrowers use to temporarily reduce or stop debt payments. The borrower agrees to repay the missed payments at a later date, with interest sometimes added. Forbearance is most often used when a borrower is going through a temporary financial hardship and anticipates being able to catch up on the payments once the hardship has passed. However, forbearance is different from loan modifications, and some of the differences can be advantageous to a lender.

Separate Agreements

With a loan modification, the lender and borrower are changing the original loan agreement to create a new repayment plan that the borrower can adhere to. Loan forbearance is creating a new agreement that temporarily supersedes the original loan agreement. The forbearance agreement should state:

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Congress Proposes Law to Exempt Creditor Lawyers from Debt Collection RegulationsThe U.S. House of Representatives is considering legislation that would exempt creditors’ rights lawyers from the federal regulations meant for debt collectors. The Practice of Law Technical Clarification Act would amend both the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 so that:

  • Law firms engaged in litigation are excluded from the definition of a debt collector; and
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does not have authority over attorneys who are not acting as debt collectors.

If the law passes, state courts would have primary authority to determine whether a creditor lawyer is guilty of misconduct in a case.

Lawyer Exemption

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Four Ways to Present Reaffirmation Agreements During BankruptcyOffering a reaffirmation agreement to a debtor going through Chapter 7 bankruptcy can allow a secured creditor to receive close to full value on debts for real and personal property. As part of a Chapter 7 debt discharge, a secured creditor normally repossesses properties if a debtor will be unable to repay the loan. However, the creditor most likely cannot hold the debtor liable for any deficiency after resale of the property. With a reaffirmation agreement, the debtor keeps the property as long as he or she can continue making payments. If the debtor defaults, the creditor can repossess the property, and the debtor would be liable for any deficiency after resale. Knowing the risk this may pose their clients, bankruptcy lawyers will discourage debtors from signing reaffirmation agreements. Creditors need to inform debtors of why a reaffirmation agreement may be to their advantage:

  1. Property Importance: Some collateral property during a bankruptcy has greater value to a debtor than others. A debtor may be more eager to hold onto real estate and personal vehicles than luxury items. Thus, debtors will be more receptive to proposals that allow them to retain possession of important properties.
  2. Realistic Plan: A court will reject a reaffirmation agreement that puts an undue burden on the debtor. Debtors must also be current on their debt payments in order to enter an agreement. Creditors should understand whether debtors will have the financial means to make payments after bankruptcy. If a debtor does, the creditor can explain why it is reasonable to reaffirm the debt.
  3. Short-Term Debt: In some situations, the remaining debt on an agreement may be small enough that the debtor could repay it in a year or less. Offering short-term repayment plans that allow them to keep their properties may be more palatable to debtors.
  4. Modifying Loan: The debtor may need an extra incentive in order to reaffirm a debt. The creditor can present an agreement that lowers the burden on the debtor by reducing the monthly payments or interest rates. A better deal may entice a debtor to reaffirm.

Reaching an Agreement

Debtors must state their intention to reaffirm debts before their debts are discharged during Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Though either party can file a reaffirmation agreement, creditors are most often the ones to initiate the discussions. Reaffirmation agreements must be filed within 60 days after the first meeting of creditors. A Chicago creditor’s rights attorney at Walinski & Associates, P.C., can help you negotiate a reaffirmation agreement with your debtor. Schedule a consultation by calling 312-704-0771. 

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Six Reasons to Object to a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy PlanWhen facing bankruptcy, some debtors prefer filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead of Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A well-constructed Chapter 13 repayment plan can prevent property foreclosure and repossession while clearing the filer of debt obligations. Creditors can benefit from Chapter 13 bankruptcy, as well, but only if the debtor creates a fair and reasonable plan. Creditors must examine repayment plans for possible objections before the plan reaches its confirmation hearing. Failing to object in time allows an unjust repayment plan to become legally enforceable. There are several objections that a creditor can make before the plan is confirmed:

  1. Understated Debt: A debtor’s proposed repayment plan may exclude certain debts that he or she is required to repay. Priority debts must be part of the repayment plan. Mortgage and auto payments may also need to be included if the debtor wants to keep the related properties.
  2. Insufficient Payments: Unsecured creditors must receive compensation from the repayment plan that is at least equal to what they would have received by liquidating properties in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is the tradeoff that debtors must make in exchange for keeping those properties.
  3. Withholding Disposable Income: Plan payments must use whatever income is left over after necessary living expenses and other financial obligations. Some debtors will try to hide how much money they make so they do not have to repay as much of their debts.
  4. Unsustainable Payments: A repayment plan should be based on what the debtor will realistically be able to afford. The plan may fail if the debtor cannot prove he or she will have the income to maintain those level of payments.
  5. Unqualified Debtor: A debtor is allowed to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy only if he or she meets certain requirements. The debtor does not qualify if he or she has insufficient disposable income, is behind on income tax payments or has debts that exceed the legal limit.
  6. Bad Faith Plan: The debtor must be honest and fair with his or her creditors when creating a repayment plan. Any evidence that the debtor tried to deceive his or her creditors may terminate the plan.

Outcome

If the court upholds your objection, the debtor will have to revise the plan or abandon filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The debtor may still be able to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if he or she does not qualify for Chapter 13. A Chicago creditor’s rights attorney at Walinski & Associates, P.C., can identify objectionable aspects to a debtor's bankruptcy repayment plan. To schedule a consultation, call 312-704-0771.

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FHA Loans Add Extra Steps to Mortgage ForeclosureThe Federal Housing Administration, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, offers protected loans to help lower income borrowers obtain mortgages. The FHA insures the loan, which gives the lender greater certainty that it will be compensated in case of default. As part of the FHA insurance, the lender must follow federal guidelines in contacting borrowers when they default on the mortgage. Failure to document compliance can halt foreclosure efforts on the property.

In-Person Meeting

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, the lender must have or attempt to have a face-to-face meeting with the borrower before the borrower has missed three months of required payments. If the lender does not have the meeting, it must show that it made a reasonable effort to contact the borrower, including:

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Be Careful When Creating Intercreditor AgreementsWhen a debtor borrows money from multiple creditors, an intercreditor agreement can be helpful in determining the rights of each creditor. The primary purpose of the agreement is to establish which creditor receives priority in case the borrower defaults on its debts. The higher-priority lender is called the senior creditor, and the other lender is called the junior creditor. In the event of default, the agreement may state that the senior creditor must be repaid in full before the junior creditor can take action on the debt. However, the agreement can also include provisions that will protect the junior creditor in case the senior creditor takes action that impairs the junior creditor's ability to collect on its debt. Depending on the severity of the action, a court can decide to strip the senior creditor of its priority claim on the debt.

Impairment

An intercreditor agreement is based on the junior creditor knowing how much the senior creditor must be repaid before the junior creditor can file a claim on the defaulted debt. Following the agreement, a senior creditor may act on its own to increase the borrower’s debt obligation by:

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Fast-Tracking Foreclosure on Abandoned PropertiesWhen a lender concludes that it must foreclose on a mortgage, it likely wants to get through the process as quickly and smoothly as possible. The sooner the lender can reclaim the property, the sooner it can try to find a new buyer and recuperate the cost from the failed mortgage. However, the foreclosure process does not work quickly. While this is inconvenient for all mortgage lenders, the situation is most dire for those trying to foreclose on an abandoned property. Recognizing this problem, Illinois is one of the few states to have a fast-track foreclosure law.

Foreclosure Process

Illinois is a judicial foreclosure state, meaning the lender must go to court to receive a judgment on the foreclosure. The process includes:

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Bankruptcy Law Allows Debtors to Continue Retirement ContributionsA Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee in Illinois recently objected to a debtor’s request to exclude $200 per month from his disposable income in order to contribute to his 401K retirement plan. The trustee questioned the motivation of the decision because the debtor had not made any contributions to the plan in the six months prior to filing for bankruptcy. However, an Illinois bankruptcy court denied the objection, stating that the debtor was within his rights. The ruling shows how bankruptcy courts treat retirement plan contributions as a protected expenditure.

Chapter 13 Plans

As opposed to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves creating a repayment plan instead of liquidating assets. Qualified debtors must submit documents that detail their:

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Using Citation to Discover Assets with DebtorsCreditors who take legal action against uncooperative debtors can view their debt retrieval as happening in two overarching stages. The first stage is receiving a court judgment that quantifies the monetary amount that the debtor owes the creditor. The second stage is retrieving the judgment debt from the debtor. Judgment enforcement of a debt can require further legal measures. Though the debtor is legally obligated to compensate the creditor, the debtor may claim financial hardship in order to delay or deny repayment. Creditors can use a citation to discover assets, which forces the debtor to disclose all of his or her available assets.

Citation of the Debtor

When a creditor files a citation to discover assets, the debtor is given notice of a court date that he or she must attend. At the hearing, the debtor is placed under oath and must answer questions about his or her available assets, including:

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