Chapter 7 Debtors Should Beware Hoggish Behavior
There is an old saying among bankruptcy attorneys, “Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.” Bankruptcy attorneys know that the bankruptcy laws are intended to give an honest debtor a fresh start. There are many provisions to protect bankruptcy debtors and a fair and reasonable amount of property needed to start fresh. In most cases the debtor is able to retain equity in personal property and even real estate. On the other hand, bankruptcy courts can (and do) penalize Chapter 7 debtors who appear to be abusing the bankruptcy system.
Take for instance the interesting case of In re Vogeler. When Mr. Vogeler filed his Chapter 7 bankruptcy, he was unemployed and owed a car loan of $11,000 and $35,925 of unsecured debt. Just one month after filing, he received $90,000 in net proceeds from the Kansas lottery! The bankruptcy trustee caught wind of Mr. Vogeler’s good fortune and instructed him to not spend the lottery proceeds. Mr. Vogeler did not listen to the trustee and spent his winnings on new cars and various, non-emergency personal expenses.
The bankruptcy court decided that it would be an abuse to grant Mr. Vogeler a discharge based on the totality of his circumstances. The court pointed out that, “First, debtor entered bankruptcy with approximately $47,000 of debt. Second, a month later, debtor received more than $90,000. Debtor, without explanation, opted to spend his lottery winnings on new items rather than attempt to address the debt with which he entered bankruptcy. Debtor enjoyed his lottery winnings at a time when the automatic stay kept his then-existing creditors from executing on his good fortune. Debtor failed to satisfactorily explain the dissipation of the lottery proceeds. Debtor has been shown to have had significant ability to pay his pre-petition debts.”
The bankruptcy court denied Mr. Vogeler a discharge and said he was not an unfortunate debtor entitled to a fresh start. On the contrary, debtor was fortunate and could have repaid all of his creditors. The court denied the discharge because it would have given the debtor a “head start” instead of a “fresh start.”
Typically, a small bonus or increase to a debtor’s income after filing will not affect a Chapter 7 case. However, any post-petition increases in income should be discussed with your attorney. With help from your attorney, you can emerge from bankruptcy with your discharge and avoid being slaughtered.