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Would you like to repay Aunt Sally before filing bankruptcy? Read this first.

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The whole issue of whether you should repay someone to whom you owe money before you actually file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is more complex than it looks at first glance. I introduced the issue in a previous post about repaying debts before bankruptcy, but there is a lot of detail here that is worth examining.

You may recall from my previous post that if you repay someone you owe money (whether it’s American Express or your Aunt Sally) just before filing for bankruptcy, and the total repayment is $600 or more, the bankruptcy trustee could take back that money from your creditor.

The trustee will look back only 90 days before your filing to see if you repaid any ordinary creditors, such as American Express. But for creditors like your Aunt Sally, the trustee will look back a year before your filing for repayments that they can take back. If the trustee finds loan repayments and takes them back, they can be used to repay your other creditors. The money doesn’t go back to you.

A loan repayment made before bankruptcy that the trustee can take back is known as a “preference” or a “preferential transfer.”

But even when the trustee decides that a payment made to a creditor before a bankruptcy filing was a preference that they can take back, there are defenses that might be applicable. Two of these defenses are: 1) The earmarking defense and 2) The new value defense.

The earmarking defense is available when someone provides you with money to re-pay one of your existing creditors.

In a recent decision the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that certain things need to be present for the earmarking defense to work: 1) An agreement between you (the debtor) and the person providing you with the money stating that the new money will be used to pay the prior debt; 2) Performance of the terms of the agreement; and 3) This transaction does not reduce the value of the debtor’s estate.

The idea behind the earmarking defense is that the debtor never had an interest (in the sense of a property interest) in the funds to begin with.

The second defense is the “new value” defense. In the same decision mentioned earlier, the Third Circuit said that for the new value defense to apply, you need: 1) A preferential transfer; 2) After receiving the preferential transfer, the creditor makes a new loan to the debtor – this new loan must be unsecured; and 3) As of the bankruptcy filing date, the debtor has not yet repaid the new loan to the creditor.

An example of when the new value defense is available would be when you repay your Aunt Sally the $2500 she loaned you and then your Aunt Sally makes a brand new $2500 loan to you that you had not yet repaid by the time you filed for bankruptcy. It’s basically like reversing the loan repayment.

The Third Circuit decision I referred to above is Shubert v. Lucent Techs. Inc. (In re Winstar Communs., Inc.), 554 F.3d 382 (3d Cir. 2009).

If all this is confusing to you and you don’t know what to do, remember this: Seek advice from a bankruptcy attorney before repaying any loans to anyone in any amount, whether it’s American Express or your Aunt Sally or anyone in between! If you’d like, give me a call at 201-676-0722.

  • Numerous Preference Actions Brought in Two Large Bankruptcy Cases (netdocketsblog.com)
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