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Repaying a debt before bankruptcy? Better think twice

Day 4 - Paying off debt
Image by quaziefoto via Flickr

Can you repay a debt to a friend or a creditor before you file for bankruptcy? Yes, you can, but it’s not necessarily a good idea because that repayment may be what bankruptcy law calls a “preference” or a “preferential transfer.”

After you file for bankruptcy, preferential transfers may be taken back by the trustee. Determining whether or not a transfer constitutes a preference is very fact-specific, but bankruptcy law defines a preference as a payment (not necessarily of money) made to or for the benefit of a creditor for a debt previously owed while the debtor was insolvent. To be a preferential transfer, the transfer must be made within the 90 days before filing. Except that if the transfer was made to an “insider” (such as a relative), the trustee can look at transfers made within the year before the bankruptcy filing.

But when you buy something at the grocery store, for example, that’s not a preference because it is a contemporaneous exchange for value. You are immediately getting something in return for your payment.

Section 547 of the bankruptcy code, which governs preferential transfers, contains many other exceptions to the definition of preferential transfers and as mentioned above, the analysis of whether a transfer is a preference is fact specific. If you are thinking of repaying anyone to whom you owe money before filing for bankruptcy, stop and consult an attorney first. My email address is: jweil@jenlawyer.com.

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