Monday, August 15, 2011

What is the Means Test to qualify for bankruptcy?

When the bankruptcy law was totally revised in 2005, a new requirement called "the means test" was added to it. The Means Test is supposed to measure the average income in each state. The debtor's income is compared to the "mean" or "average" state income. If your income is less than the mean income in your state, you qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy under the law assuming you meet other requirements. If your income is more, than you must take "part two" of the means test.

Part two of the Means Test calculates your particular allowable expenses including priority expenses like child and spousal support and taxes, your secured debt like the debts against your house, car, or furniture, and other expenses like health insurance and medical expenses then determines if you have any money left over to pay your creditors. Basic living expenses are filled in for you depending on the city or county you live in and are based on what the IRS thinks it cost, not what it actually cost. The second part of the Means Test is, thus, partly hypothetical.

If you have no money left over to pay creditors, you qualify. If you do have money left over, you have to file Chapter 13. Many people pay enough for health insurance or medical expenses or support that they qualify even with a very high income.

As it happens, some people have money left over under the second part of the means test but do no actually earn enough money to qualify for Chapter 13 because the means test does not use all of your actual living expenses and for some of your expenses, it substitutes hypothetical ones. It assigns expenses to you based on where you live except for priority and medical expenses. Many people are trapped in the middle and thus have no bankruptcy option available to them. They make too much for Chapter 7 and not enough for Chapter 13.

The good news for Virginia is that the Means Test here is about the third highest in the nation as all the high wage earners in Northern Virginia pull up the average income for everyone. Right now, a family of one (just you) can make up to almost $50,000 and a family of four can earn up to about $86,000. These numbers change every month or two and, because of the economy, have gone down a time or two as well.

If you make more than the mean amount, it is still worth inquiring about Chapter 7 as you may pass part two of the means test and be eligible anyway.

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