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Variable income and the Chapter 7 means test

In qualifying for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, means testing is not an issue for people whose pay is below the median for their state and family size, but for those whose income is more, it can be a problem.

The means test is like a big IRS form with spaces for plugging in certain numbers and checking off boxes. If you’ve filed for bankruptcy in years past, you may not have seen it. The form was introduced as a result of the new bankruptcy legislation that Congress passed in 2005, which created more hoops for individual bankruptcy filers to jump through.

It has two main parts: The first determines whether your earnings are above or below median. The second is for those who are above median – it lets you take *certain* deductions from your income in an attempt to lower it to the point where you can qualify for a Chapter 7.

Obviously, it’s preferable not to have to fill out the second part of the Chapter 7 means test.

Those whose earnings vary during the year might be in a better position with regard to the means test than those with steady over-median earnings. Examples of people with variable pay over the course of a typical year include teachers, college professors, those who work solely or primarily on commission, and those who periodically claim unemployment insurance benefits because of temporary jobs or seasonal employment.

Many people credit their variable income for getting them into debt trouble to begin with, since they aren’t always able to afford their monthly payments steadily throughout the year.

How can earnings that vary over the year possibly be to your benefit? Because the means test only includes the earnings you received during the 6 months before your bankruptcy filing. If that prior 6 months encompasses a part of the year during which your income was lower, you have a better chance at your pay being below the median and qualifying for a Chapter 7.

So when considering the question of when you should file, think about filing soon after a period of lower income.

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