Using a credit card shortly before filing bankruptcy doesn’t seem right. The law agrees. Writing off this kind of debt can be a problem.
Our last blog post was about writing off—“discharging”—income taxes. The conditions you have to meet to discharge a tax debt are mostly very clear. These conditions are based on rather straightforward calculations of time. If you don’t meet those time-based conditions the tax does not get discharged; you still owe it.
Credit card debts are completely different. First, they’re almost always discharged. Second, there are some timing rules but those rules don’t necessarily decide whether or not the credit card debt is discharged or not. We’ll explain all this in today’s blog post.
The Point of the Timing Rules
With income tax debts, they’re NOT discharged unless you meet the timing rules. With credit card debts they ARE discharged unless you meet the timing rules.
With income taxes the debt is not discharged unless it’s been long enough since the pertinent tax return was due and since that tax return was actually submitted to the IRS/state. The point of the rules is the give the IRS/state a chunk of time to try to collect the tax.
With credit cards the debt is discharged unless it’s been too short of a time since the credit card charge. The point of the rules is to make it harder to discharge a charge incurred after deciding to file bankruptcy.
A Mere Presumption
As we just said, the timing rules with credit cards merely make it harder to discharge a credit card debt. If you run afoul of the timing rules with income taxes, you absolutely still owe the tax. With credit cards, if you run afoul of the timing rule there’s only a bigger chance that you would owe it. It just gives the creditor an easier time of making you pay it—a presumption that it can’t be discharged. But that creditor still needs to act or else it loses that advantage. The entire credit card debt could still get discharged.
For example, if you owed $7,500 on a credit card, of which you incurred $1,000 recently, the entire debt would be discharged in bankruptcy if the creditor did not timely object.
Only a Portion of the Credit Card Debt is at Risk
With income taxes the entire tax is either discharged or it’s not. With credit card debts, most of the debt could be discharged while only the portion that violates the timing rules is not.
In the above example, only the $1,000 incurred recently, in violation of the timing rules, would usually be at risk of not being discharged.
In Rare Circumstances the Entire Credit Card Debt Could Be at Risk
The following may be confusing in light of what we said so far. If a creditor has evidence that you incurred the entire credit card debt without the intent to pay it, the creditor can challenge the discharge of the entire debt. The timing rules do not need to apply (although if they would that may make the creditor’s argument easier).
In the above example, if the creditor somehow had evidence that you didn’t intend to repay any of the $7,500 at the time you incurred the debt, the creditor could object to any of the $7,500 debt being discharged. It doesn’t matter how long ago that $7,500 debt was incurred.
The Timing Rules
So here are the timing rules.
If you buy more than $675 in “luxury goods or services” (essentially, any non-necessity) from any single creditor during the 90-day period before your bankruptcy is filed, that specific debt is presumed not to be discharged. Also, if you make a cash advance of more than $950 from any single creditor during the 70-day period before your bankruptcy is filed, the debt from that cash advance is presumed not to be discharged. See Section 523(a)(2)(C) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
The Presumption Is Only a Presumption
Just because a purchase/cash advance meets these conditions do not necessarily mean you can’t discharge that part of the debt. You can defeat the presumption with evidence that you did actually intend to pay the debt when you incurred it. You can still win by persuading the court of your honest intent. You and your bankruptcy lawyer can do this through your own testimony. You can also provide evidence of other relevant facts, such as of you making payments after incurring the debt, or the subsequent event(s) in your life that induced you to file bankruptcy (and not pay the debt after all).