Loading Up on Debt Prior to Bankruptcy

March 10, 2010

For most, the decision to file a bankruptcy is a tough choice. It is the final step in a long journey that has included great compromise and sacrifice. A person usually experiences a sense relief when deciding to file bankruptcy, and there may be a tendency to "let go" of your debt problem. Unfortunately, in some cases people will “let go” by recklessly spending money and running up credit card balances.

It is generally not a good idea to incur any new debt before a bankruptcy filing. The Bankruptcy Code has several provisions prohibiting the debtor from loading up on debt prior to filing bankruptcy. One of the most commonly cited is a spending spree prohibition against purchasing “luxury goods or services” totaling more than $550.00 within 90 days prior to filing a bankruptcy case. Another provision makes credit card cash advances presumptively non-dischargeable if taken within 70 days prior to the bankruptcy filing.

Recently the United States Supreme Court in Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P. A. v. United States reiterated that incurring new debt before bankruptcy with the intent to discharge the debt is not only prohibited, but may also amount to civil fraud or a criminal act. The high court said that bankruptcy attorneys cannot instruct or encourage debtors to take on more dischargeable debt before bankruptcy, but attorneys “remain free to talk fully and candidly about the incurrence of debt in contemplation of filing a bankruptcy case.” 

There are many situations where taking on additional debt is beneficial and permissible. The Supreme Court cited three of those situations in the Milavetz opinion: (1) refinancing a mortgage; (2) purchasing a reliable car; and (3) incurring “additional debt to buy groceries, pay medical bills, or make other purchases ‘reasonably necessary for the support or maintenance of the debtor or a dependent of the debtor[.]’”

The bankruptcy process can relieve you of many financial worries. However, your path to financial recovery can be complicated without the sound advice from an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Don’t make any significant financial decisions prior to filing bankruptcy without consulting your attorney.  

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