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  • Robert Weed

Your bankruptcy forms: budget the buzzards

You see them eating along side the interstate, and wonder how they dodge the on-rushing traffic.  That’s the “buzzard” — formally known as the North American turkey vulture.

For bankruptcy, budget the buzzards.

Last week a buzzard hit my car, snapped my antenna, and added $300 to my car repair budget. On your bankruptcy budget, be sure to "budget the buzzards."

One didn’t dodge the traffic on Friday.  It took off the wrong way from the median, slamming into the windshield of the car in the left lane, ricocheting along the side of my car, snapping off my radio antenna.

Getting a new antenna will cost me–I’m guessing–maybe $300.  That $300 car repair is now part of next month’s budget.

This is not the only unexpected repair I’ve had this year from critters.  In March, my rear lights went out.  Fuse?  No.  Apparently a raccoon had acquired a taste for rubber and road salt, and had gnawed my wires.  That’s was $600.

What does that have to do with bankruptcy?

To get your bankruptcy approved, we have to do a budget (two actually) that shows the court why you can’t afford to pay.  And maybe half the people I see start with a transportation budget that is way too low.  Like two or three hundred dollars a month too low.

So, I’m telling you, when you fill in your forms, “budget the buzzards.”  There are plenty of unscheduled things that can go wrong with your car–and a lot of them will.

You are supposed tell the bankruptcy court how much transportation costs, based on a monthly average.  People have a pretty good idea what they are spending on gas–because we all buy gasoline every week.

But lots of people come in way too low on repairs and maintenance.  Last month you didn’t spend anything on maintenance–maybe you were driving with a check engine light, but knew it would cost too much to check.

So you guess maybe twenty or thirty bucks a month on car maintenance.  That’s not right.

Even if you are not averaging $100 a month on critter repairs, like me this year, you can expect to take gravel in your windshield, or a nail in your tire.

If you are lucky enough to avoid all that, your brakes will still wear out, you may need new belts and hoses, you are probably way overdue for new shocks and struts, and you may have major repairs when it’s time for the emissions inspection.

So, please do not write down $25 per month.  You haven’t budgeted the buzzards.

Claiming only $25 a month for maintenance and repairs sets up a big problem getting getting the bankruptcy approved.  The Justice Department lawyers can ask for your bankruptcy to be thrown out based on “totality of the circumstances.”  This “totality of the circumstances” test is found in Section 707(b)(3)(B) of the bankruptcy code.  If one of your circumstances is that you claim you have $350 left over each month, they are going to ask for your bankruptcy to be thrown out.

Suppose you get that totality of the circumstances objection. Then, in addition telling me what your transportation actually costs, we have to file new bankruptcy papers and maybe make an extra trip to the bankruptcy courthouse together, for you to explain it to the judge.  Who wants to go through all that?

People tell me, “I don’t want the bankruptcy court to think I’m wasting money.”  That’s true, you don’t.  But you also don’t want to tell them you have money left over when you are actually living paycheck to paycheck.

So, budget the buzzards.

(Oh, and did you know, more than a million Americans every year have car accidents with a deer?)

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