Are Student Loans Dischargeable?

Can Student Loans be Discharged in Bankruptcy?

The answer, surprisingly is yes, but the road to discharge is long and hard. I decided to write this post because potential clients who have student loan debt instinctively tell me when the subject comes up that they “know” student loans are “never dischargeable” in bankruptcy, which just isn’t true. Now I freely admit that the process of getting a discharge is hard enough that for most people it is de facto non-dischargeable. My goal in this post is to shed a bit of light on what it takes to discharge a student loan debt. While the topic can get complicated, I hope that by the end you will have at least a general understanding of the topic.

The best place to start when talking about discharging student loans is the beginning. Sometime during the early 70s, Congress changed the law regarding the dischargeability of student loans as a reaction to stories of ne’er-do-well students who, after obtaining a prestigious degree – usually medical or legal – filed for bankruptcy promptly upon graduation to wipe out their student loan debts (oftentimes at the government’s expense). In response to these lurid tales, Congress made it harder to get out from under student loan debt by making such loans non-dischargeable by default. If the student could show that repayment of those loans would impose an “undue hardship” then he or she could get a discharge. Whether this fear of rampant abuse of the student loan system were real or imagined, this is now the system we operate under.

How do you get a student loan discharged?

When you file for bankruptcy all debts that are dischargeable are extinguished when the court grants the debtor a discharge, which is not true for student loans. You have to file what is called an adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court (essentially a civil trial) to have the court declare the debts are dischargeable. This can be expensive and time-consuming but it provides an opportunity for the debtor to submit evidence about their current inability to pay, something that you cannot really do when you are talking over the phone with a lender or loan servicer. I have seen cases where once the process gets started that the loan company makes a settlement with the debtor that works for everyone, so the opportunity is there to avoid a trial.

If a settlement cannot be reached then the debtor has the burden to prove an undue burden exists. In Maine, a debtors situation is analyzed under the totality of circumstances test. Under this test, the debtor must show that his or her financial resources (past, present and future) and necessary living expenses, when considered in conjunction with any other factors that might impact the debtor’s ability to repay the student loans, does not allow the debtor to repay the loans while maintaining a minimum standard of living. I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to understand that the debtor has his or her work cut out for them to prove undue hardship under this standard.

If, after trial, you show that paying your student loans will place an undue hardship upon your life then the student loan debts and associated interest and costs will be discharged unless the servicer or loan company appeals the ruling. Alternatively, if you lose at trial you now have the right to appeal. During the appeals process the reviewing court only considers legal arguments and you cannot introduce new evidence but if the case was a close one you might have another opportunity to get a ruling in your favor or to settle the matter on good terms.

So what are some of the things courts consider when determining if an undue hardship exists?

Listed below are some factors I have compiled from reading student loan discharge cases. I tried to write down factors that are cited by multiple courts but there is always the chance that a court hearing your case might come up with additional factors to consider or only consider some of the factors listed below. Still I think the list I have complied below is a good guidepost for what courts look at when considering undue hardship:

  • Has the debtor made reasonable efforts to find gainful employment? If the debtor is employed, has the debtor taken extra shifts or a second job?
  • Will the debtor’s income steadily increase over time or remain relatively stable?
  • Can the debtor only make loan payments by deferring other necessary expenses, such as home maintenance, medical care and auto repairs?
  • Does the debtor suffer from a long-term medical condition which impairs his or her future job prospects? Or is the condition only temporary or otherwise not an impediment to working?
  • Is the debtor nearing retirement age or just starting his or her working career?
  • How much time has passed since the debtor obtained his or her student loans and subsequently filed for bankruptcy?
  • Does the debtor have other assets that he or she can liquidate to pay something on the loan?
  • What is the availability of any Federal or state programs that might help the debtor that might reduce or eliminate payments? If these programs exist, has the debtor tried to take advantage of them?

In conclusion

Getting a discharge of your student loans is not easy but not impossible. Thankfully, whether or not you qualify for a student loan discharge, there are other avenues for dealing with your debts. Most student loan servicers offer programs like the income based repayment plan, which can reduce or eliminate your loan payments, or a hardship discharge, if your situation is bad enough. It all depends on your particular situation but you do have options to get relief if you cannot afford to make payments. If you have questions about whether bankruptcy may be an option to help you deal with your student loan debts feel free to call or email me.

Photo courtesy of http://www.cafecredit.com

 

Bankruptcy Basics: The Means Test

Source: Link to Form B 122A-2 Chapter 7 Means Test Calculation

“Do I make too much money to file bankruptcy?” is a  common question I get from potential clients. The short answer is no, but earning too much may prevent you from filing under Chapter 7. A debtor who earns more than the state’s median income may need to file under another Chapter such as 11 or 13 or simply forgo filing Chapter 7. Right now, according the U.S. Trustee’s Office, which oversees the bankruptcy program, the median income for a family of two in Maine is $54,701; a family of four raises the median income to $78,270. This roadblock to filing Chapter 7 is called the means test.

Prior to 2005, when the means test was enacted, debtors could file Chapter 7 so long as it was not an “abuse” of the bankruptcy process. Abuse was normally found where a debtor filed for Chapter 7 but who could pay all or most of their debts within a reasonable time. As you can imagine, determining which cases were abusive was not easy. So in 2005, Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (or BAPCPA). Congress was not satisfied with the rather loose-y goose-y “abuse standard” and so it introduced a more mechanical test to weed out consumer debtors who could afford to pay something to creditors from filing under Chapter 7. Failure to pass the means test means a presumption of abuse arises and, unless rebutted, will create a bar for the debtor to file under Chapter 7.

The means test has come under a great deal of criticism from many quarters. First, it only applies to individuals with consumer debts and not businesses or individuals with mostly business debts. Second, the earnings used to compute the means test is the last six month’s income, which can be gamed by smart debtors or debtors’ counsel. Third, the computation is complicated and time-consuming which means it drives up the cost to file bankruptcy. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Congress applied the means test to Chapter 13, where it serves another purpose. In Chapter 13, the means test is used to determine the length of the debtor’s repayment plan and how much needs to be paid monthly. So it is easy to see why the means test is despised by bankruptcy attorneys.

The means test is a barrier to filing Chapter 7, to be sure, but that does not mean that if you earn too much that you are barred from doing so. Experienced counsel can help you navigate the form and determine if you are eligible to file Chapter 7. If not, through appropriate planning you may be able to qualify at a later date.

 

If you are not familiar with how bankruptcy operates then I suggest reading my prior post on the various chapters that make up bankruptcy.

 

Bankruptcy Basics: The Chapters of Bankruptcy in a Nutshell

Filing for bankruptcy is more than merely filing a petition in court; the Bankruptcy Code provides for five different chapters under which a debtor can file. Much work has to be done before filing to select the appropriate chapter for the client as each chapter has its own unique rules and restrictions as well as pros and cons. Selecting the proper chapter, at times, can be more art than science. The purpose of this post is to introduce the various chapters of bankruptcy and some of the issues that go into deciding which chapter to file.

Who Can Be a Debtor?

Bankruptcy is not available to everyone. Certain entities, such as railroads, banks and insurance companies, are barred from filing for bankruptcy. Additionally, even if a person or entity can file for bankruptcy does not mean that every chapter is available. Only individuals can file under Chapter 12 and 13; Chapter 9 cases are exclusively for municipal government. Who or what can file bankruptcy and under which chapter is another topic for another time but it is worth mentioning early on.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is the “liquidation” chapter of bankruptcy[1]. When a debtor files for Chapter 7, his or her assets, at the date of filing, become part of a bankruptcy “estate.” The trustee, who is the person appointed to administer the case, will sort the debtor’s assets into exempt and non-exempt categories. This distinction is important for liquidation purposes as exempt assets are protected from the claims of creditors. As a quick example of an exemption, under Maine law a debtor can exempt $5,000 in equity in one car. Non-exempt assets, on the other hand, are collected by the trustee and sold, with the funds being distributed to creditors in full or partial payment of their claims. Exempt assets are released back to the debtor at the end of the case, when the debtor receives a discharge. More often than not Chapter 7 cases are “no-asset cases”, meaning that the debtor’s exemptions cover all of his or her property, leaving nothing for creditors[2]. A common misconception about bankruptcy is that debtors will lose all of their assets when filing under Chapter 7 but often that is not the case because of the exemptions.

This ability to protect most, if not all, of a debtor’s assets while getting an immediate discharge of any debts is what makes Chapter 7 the most attractive chapter to file but there is a one little hitch: the “means test”. The means test is designed to prevent certain debtors from filing Chapter 7, those have mostly consumer debts and who make more than the median income[3]. The ostensible purpose of Congress was to force those consumer debtors who have sufficient income to pay something back to creditors. Much ink has been spilled poking holes in the reasoning behind the means test (or in pointing out how the test can be gamed, rendering it useless for its purpose) but for now it is an impediment to anyone who wants to file Chapter 7.

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 covers municipal bankruptcies and thus unlikely to be of interest to the casual reader. This area of bankruptcy law has seen a great deal of activity in recent years with the bankruptcy filing by Detroit and San Bernadino.

Chapter 11

Chapter 11 is a “reorganization” chapter. Rather than liquidate all of the debtor’s non-exempt assets, in Chapter 11, the debtor proposes a plan to creditors on how creditors will be paid back, whether in whole or part. The plan can be a mixture of a payment plan or funded through the sale of assets, all of which is handled through the “confirmation process.” Confirmation is the actual means by which a plan is proposed to the creditors and approved. Failure to have a plan approved usually means the debtor will have to dismiss the case or convert to Chapter 7. Filing a Chapter 11 case is an expensive proposition and requires a great deal of expertise, so the typical Chapter 11 debtor tends to be a large corporation or an individual with significant income, who does not otherwise qualify for Chapter 7, 12 or 13.

Chapter 12 and 13

Also reorganization chapters, Chapters 12 and 13 are much less complicated than Chapter 11, though both are much more complicated than Chapter 7. Both chapters share similar procedures but they differ in which debtors can file for relief under each chapter. Chapter 12 is restricted to individuals who are farmers or fishermen while Chapter 13 is reserved for individuals who have regular income (meaning that the individual has a consistent source of income) and whose liabilities do not exceed certain debt limits: $383,175 in unsecured debts, like credit cards, and $1,149,525, in secured debts, like mortgages.

Like Chapter 11, the debtor will propose a plan and seek to have it confirmed (in Chapters 12 and 13, however, only the debtor can propose a plan). Once confirmed, the debtor contributes his or her disposable income, earned over the term of the plan, to the trustee to be paid to creditors; if during the plan’s term, the debtor receives an inheritance or other assets then this may have to be turned over to the trustee for payment to creditors. Plans under Chapter 12 can last up to 10 years while Chapter 13 plans by law cannot last more 5 years.

Structuring a plan in Chapter 12 and 13, even using the simplified procedures allowed to debtors, is still a complicated and time-consuming process which makes these chapter more expensive to handle than a Chapter 7 (though 10 times easier and cheaper than Chapter 11). As you can imagine, much can happen over the plan term and very often a debtor loses a job, gets divorced or gets hurt which makes regular plan payments impossible. I have been told the success rate for debtors completing their Chapter 13 plan is hovering just above 60%.

In spite of the difficulties in proposing and maintaining a plan in Chapter 12 and 13, there are many advantages for the debtor who can complete the plan. Here are just a few: first, the debtor can keep non-exempt assets, rather than surrendering them to the trustee, by paying the value of the asset into the plan; second, mortgage arrears can be paid, or “cured”, through the plan, without interest; third, any c0-debtors (someone who is liable along with the debtor) is protected by the automatic stay – meaning no collection action can be taken against them while the debtor is in bankruptcy. There are other benefits to filing Chapter 13 but these are some of the better ones. In my experience, though, most debtors prefer Chapter 7 over 13 and will resist filing Chapter 13. I believe this is due to the uncertainty with what can happen over a number of years that most turns people off. Still there are times when Chapter 13 (and Chapter 12, if you qualify) can be a great tool for obtaining debt relief.

Conclusion

Much more can be written about each chapter but this quick summary  explain some of the basics. In future posts, I intend to add more detail about Chapter 7 and 13 cases, as both of those chapters are the most common encountered for individuals debtors, my core clientele. Once you understand the basics of each chapter then you can see how bankruptcy can be used to help debtors get a fresh start.

[1] And the chapter most frequently used by debtors. In Maine, Chapter 7 cases make up the majority of filings in bankruptcy court. In 2015, 1,551 out of 1,867 cases were filed in the District of Maine were Chapter 7 cases, which comes out to 83% of the case filings. It is my understanding that across the states Chapter 7 cases far exceed other cases. Here is a link to the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maine’s website: http://www.meb.uscourts.gov/meb/pdf/web_stats_2015.pdf

[2] Exemptions will be discussed in more detail in a later blog post.

[3] Exceeding the median income is not an immediate disqualification from filing Chapter 7 but it does make it much harder. I will be posting a much more in-depth discussion in the near future. You can find the median income for your state here: http://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/20151101/bci_data/median_income_table.htm

When is a Tax Return not a Tax Return?

In Re Giacchi, on appeal to the District Court E.D. of Pennsylvania

Good question. The answer can mean a great deal to a debtor trying to discharge a stale tax debt. Mr. Giacchi, hailing from Pennsylvania, sought out bankruptcy protection to try and discharge several years of unpaid tax returns, specifically 2000, 2001 and 2002. For reasons not explained, Giacchi did not file tax returns for those three years. It was only after the IRS examined those years and assessed taxes that Giacchi filed tax returns to report what he argued was the correct amount due. These returns were often filed several years after the original due date of the return; for example, Giacchi’s 2000 tax return was not filed until November 29, 2004 – more than three years after the original due date of April 15, 2001. Even though the returns were not filed on time, in each case, the IRS accepted Giacchi’s returns and adjusted the amount of taxes due to match the tax returns. In spite of this, Giacchi was still unable or unwilling to pay the amount due and in 2010, and again in 2012, he filed for bankruptcy protection.

While in bankruptcy, Giacchi attempted to get out from under his tax liabilities. He argued that while he did not file his return on time, each time he was notified that the IRS assessed a tax against him, he immediately filed a tax return; in fact, the IRS did not contest the returns as filed and adjusted his tax liability to match the returns. The problem for Giacchi, however, was that while he had prepared the correct tax form, with the necessary information to calculate his tax liability, mailed to the correct address and signed under penalty of perjury, what he filed was not, legally speaking, a tax return for bankruptcy purposes.

As a threshold matter, for a tax liability to be dischargeable, the debtor must file a tax return. Seems simple enough. Under the Bankruptcy Code, to meet the definition of a “tax return” a document must:

  • purport to be a tax return;
  • be signed by the taxpayer under penalty of perjury;
  • contain sufficient information to allow the IRS to determine if the proper amount of tax was calculated; and
  • represent an “honest and reasonable” attempt to satisfy the requirements of the tax code.

It is this last requirement that caused Giacchi’s ship to founder. A late filed return, filed post-assessment, is treated as being untimely by the courts; by not filing a return in a timely manner, Giacchi did not show that he was making an “honest and reasonable” attempt to satisfy the tax code, which meant that his tax debts were nondischargeable. The court did leave open the possibility that a debtor who has a good reason to file a late return, filed after an IRS assessment, might still receive a discharge of those taxes. Giacchi, however, failed to provide any excuse for the late filing, beyond stating that by filing his tax returns he reduced his tax liability, which the court rejected as not being a legitimate tax purpose. If, the court noted, the debtor only had to show that the IRS did not correctly calculate his or her tax liability then ” ‘the availability of a discharge would turn on the IRS’s accuracy in assessing taxes, rather than on [the debtor’s] sincerity and diligence in complying with the tax code.’ ”

So the question of whether a tax return is indeed a tax return can make a big difference for a debtor seeking to discharge an old tax debt. While the court did not address whether or not a merely filing a return late, without an IRS assessment, is dischargeable or not, it is clear that waiting to file a return until after the IRS comes a knockin’ can be detrimental to your financial health.

Home is Where the Heart is, or is it?! Colorado Bankruptcy Court Denies Homestead Exemption to Debtor Living in His Semi-Truck.

IN RE EDWARD ROMERO, United States Bankruptcy Court, D. Colorado; decided June 23, 2015.

Edward Romero filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on February 12, 2015 and on his petition he listed his “1997 Peterbilt truck” as exempt under Colorado’s homestead statute.[1] Since 1998, Mr. Romero has lived almost exclusively in his semi-truck; operating independently under the name Romero Transportation, Inc., he spends, on average, 20 to 25 days a month hauling freight cross country. When he does come back to Colorado, he lives out of his truck, with some occasional overnight stays at friends and family. Being a long-haul trucker, the truck was not only his home but his main means of making a living. The opinion does not make it clear why he filed for bankruptcy but it was clear that he filed to protect his “home” and his livelihood. The trustee disagreed with the debtor’s position and sought to deny his exemption. All of which leads us to the present question: under Colorado law, can a semi be treated as a homestead where the debtor lives in it almost exclusively? The answer turns out to be no.

The semi at the heart of this dispute is valued at $45,000; designed to haul freight over long distances, it is close to 14 feet long with a Caterpillar-brand engine, a steering axle, and two drive axles. Mr. Romero lives behind the driving compartment in a large cab (along with his dog); inside the cab, there is a bed, a microwave, a toaster, a coffee pot, refrigerator, printer, television, a small storage loft for his clothes and other items, and (last but not least) a self-contained portable toilet. The dog has a small kennel near the bed.

In this case, the debtor was attempting to exempt the equity in his home and his primary means of making a living and to avoid a sale by the trustee; while Colorado also has exemptions for a debtor’s motor vehicle and tools of the trade both are substantially less than the homestead exemption.[2] If the debtor could exempt the full amount of his equity in the vehicle, $45,000, then there would be no equity for creditors and thus he would avoid a sale by the Chapter 7 trustee. The only snag was whether the term “homestead” could be read to include a semi as a residence.

The court reviewed the history of the word “homestead” in Colorado (the legislature had failed to provide a definition of the term), both as a territory and as a state, and concluded that it had always been used in connection with real estate. Therefore for the truck to be a residence it had to have some permanent or semi-permanent connection to the land in Colorado. The problem for the debtor was that the semi had no fixed location in Colorado, where it stayed; in fact the semi was constantly on the move, hauling freight across the country, which as the court pointed out was its primary purpose. While sympathetic to the debtor’s plight, the court felt bound to apply the plain meaning of the word “homestead” and it denied his homestead exemption.

The results may have been different if it had been decided under Maine law. Title 14 M.R.S.A. §4422(1) protects a debtor’s equity in his or her residence, up to $47,500 ($95,000 if over 60 or disabled and unable to be gainfully employed). Unlike Colorado, a residence is defined as “real or personal property that the debtor…uses as a residence.” The statute seems to contemplate a residence that is not tied directly to the land, like a houseboat or a RV. That being said, another problem would likely arise from the dual use of the semi as a residence and as a business.

Currently pending in Maine bankruptcy court, In Re Fallen 14-20077, is a case involving a debtor and a creditor wrestling over the residential exemption where the debtor is using part of the home in a catering/events business; both parties have very different views of how the value of the property should be allocated. I would think an appraiser might be hard pressed to figure out how much value of the semi should be allocated to the debtor’s residential use but people are pretty creative so I am sure it can be done. Like Colorado, Maine has an exemption for motor vehicles and tools of the trade, again both significantly less than the residential exemption. I would certainly argue that the semi was a residence if he was my client, even though valuation may be tricky.

While Mr. Romero lost, I have to tip my hat to his attorney for some out-of-the-box thinking; I think his position was not frivolous, in that it had no basis in fact or law. Unfortunately, Colorado’s exemptions used the term homestead instead of residence. That being said, all may not be lost. Mr. Romero may have a chance to covert his case to Chapter 13, where he can “buy” the equity in his semi by making payments to the trustee for 3 to 5 years (a long time to be sure). He might be able to claim a lesser exemption in his semi by claiming it as a vehicle or tools of the trade and find some way to pay the rest of the equity to the trustee. Finally, he may also be able to dismiss his case, though dismissals in Chapter 7 are not automatically granted and subject to court approval. The only risk there is that if Mr. Romero filed because creditors were hounding him, dismissal puts him right back where he was before.

[1] Colorado’s homestead exemption allows a debtor to exempt up to $60,000 of equity in a debtor’s home (up to $90,000, if over 60 or disabled).

[2] I believe the motor vehicle exemption is up to $3,000 and the tools of the trade exemption is up to $10,000.

Potentially Nasty Surprise for Chapter 7 Filers with Children in College

Potentially Nasty Surprise for Chapter 7 Filers with Children in College

Debtors file bankruptcy to get a fresh start, not always realizing what that means practically speaking. Most people understand that if you file Chapter 7 then any non-exempt assets will be sold by the trustee to pay off creditors. Much less known is the ability of the trustee to recover money from third parties for the benefit of creditors using the power to avoid preferences or to recover fraudulent transfers.

A recent Wall Street Journal has highlighted a new trend: tuition recovery lawsuits. Where a parent pays the tuition of a child, whether directly or not, then the parent has made a transfer to a third party that is potentially recoverable by the trustee. Under fraudulent transfer law, where a debtor makes a transfer and does not receive “reasonably equivalent value” in return, i.e. not an even trade, then the trustee can demand the third party pay the trustee an amount equal to the bargain element of the transfer.

Thus payment of tuition for a child may potentially be a transfer for less than reasonably equivalent value because the parent does not get anything tangible in return. Indeed, the Wall Street article highlights several cases where children or colleges/universities have been required to pay the trustee because such payments are not made with the expectation of receiving an “economic” benefit.

Where courts have heard the issue, it has gone both ways, which leaves a potential debtor with children in college in an awkward position. Does the debtor delay or avoid bankruptcy because of the potential for the trustee to sue to recovery tuition payments by the debtor. I do not think I have to point out the potential mischief this could cause to the relationship between parent and child. All may not be lost though, as a result of the Wall Street article a member of Congress has introduced legislation to remove the ability of the trustee to sue to recover such payments but we will have to wait and see if it passes.

This nasty surprise can be mitigated or avoided with proper planning but it is always good to consider the potential problems that might arise. If you have any questions about this post, please feel free to contact me and I will be more than happy to talk your ear off about this or any other bankruptcy topic.

http://blogs.wsj.com/bankruptcy/2015/05/06/whats-behind-bankruptcy-lawsuits-over-college-tuition/

Delivering the Goods: What Happens When a Consumer Puts Up a Deposit for Goods and the Retailer Goes Belly Up?

Last September, Gediman’s Appliances of Bath Maine close abruptly. Customers who had put deposits down on appliances were left with neither their money or what they ordered. Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence when a retailer, big or small, closes. What then is a customer to do? Unfortunately, not much.

Leaving bankruptcy aside for a moment, the customer can sue the retailer and obtain a judgment but likely this is an empty gesture. Retailers that close their doors usually do so for a lack of assets, more specifically cash. It is therefore unlikely that the customer will recover anything by way of a lawsuit. Customers who paid their deposits by credit card fare better as their deposits may have some protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act. This Act allows customers to dispute the credit card charges on the basis of non-delivery of goods and have the charges reversed, assuming, of course, the consumer knows about their rights and timely disputes the charges. Finally, there is a small chance that a retailer may be able to pay customers back after holding a liquidation sale but I would not hold my breath; liquidation sales are trying to generate quick cash and so assets are sold for much less than they are worth.

If the retailer files for bankruptcy, the customers’ situations are only improved slightly. Under the Bankruptcy Code, Section 507(a)(7) allows an individual customer, who put a deposit down with a retailer to purchase goods, to receive a priority of payment over certain other creditors for up to $1,800. Practically speaking (and to avoid a long discussion of bankruptcy law) what this statute means is that customers with deposits move up the food chain. When a business is liquidated in bankruptcy, its assets are liquidated and the proceeds used to pay creditors. Secured creditors (meaning the creditor has a lien on the debtor’s property) come first, usually banks and finance companies then comes the priority creditors and finally general unsecured creditors. From experience, by the time the secured creditors are paid there is not much left over for anyone else. I am not saying that a customer will not recover anything but it likely will not be the full amount of the deposit.

Returning to Gediman’s Appliances, the attorney for the business has said that it has no intention of filing bankruptcy for the business. Instead an auction is being held to sell all of the business’ assets in the hopes of generating money to pay creditors, including customers with deposits. So until then customers have to hold tight and hope for the best. I guess the best lesson to learn here is that if you are considering putting down a deposit on goods your best bet is to use your credit card, even if you incur some interest charges. This is probably the best means to protect your purchase otherwise you may have to wait a long time to receive a pittance or nothing at all.

Here is a link to the Bangor Daily News article: http://bangordailynews.com/2015/01/23/business/customers-remain-in-limbo-as-owners-of-appliance-store-that-closed-without-filling-orders-consider-bankruptcy/

Excerpt from Title 11 Section 507(a):

“Seventh, allowed unsecured claims of individuals, to the extent of $1,800 for each such individual, arising from the deposit, before the commencement of the case, of money in connection with the purchase, lease, or rental of property, or the purchase of services, for the personal, family, or household use of such individuals, that were not delivered or provided.”