Attorney Daigle Talks About Medical Bills and Utility Debt in Bankruptcy

Katherine: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us on This Needs to Be Said. We’re here with our friend, Peter Daigle. He is a bankruptcy attorney, as you all know. He shared many great things with us before, and today will be no different. Hey, Peter, how are you?
Peter Daigle: Hey, Katherine. Good afternoon. Happy to be talking with you today.
Katherine: Same here. It’s always a pleasure. Today we’re going to cover medical bills and utilities which may not seem to fall naturally in the category of bankruptcy. Peter, tell the audience what they need to look forward to in today’s conversation.
Peter Daigle: Sure. One of the overlooked areas of debt a lot of times is medical debt and utilities. Both of those types of debts are fully dischargeable in a bankruptcy. Essentially, it’s a bright line approach which means that the moment you file the bankruptcy, the moment you press click on the computer to file, anything that you had in the past is forgiven. It’s like your sins are forgiven. All that debt that you may have accumulated for either medical or utilities will be wiped out. In terms of utilities goes, they will reset the meter to zero on the day that you file. If you owe the electric company $1,000 or so, then as of the filing date you’ll have a zero balance in going forward.

The opportune time to discharge utility bills is the last day for the cut off for when they can shut you off. In Massachusetts for instance, that’s April 15th. If you run up your utility bills throughout the winter time, and you discharged or filed bankruptcy on the 14th of April, you’d have no shut off notices, and you’d be able to discharge any obligations that you had as of that date. After the April 15th date you can still discharge the debt in bankruptcy, but you might have a slight interruption of service because they might interrupt you and shut you off before you’re able to file. As soon as you file the bankruptcy, the old debt would be discharged. Utility debt is included, and it would be fully dischargeable in bankruptcy, so that’s it. Any questions on that, Katherine, on utilities?

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Katherine: No, that’s interesting because I would have never put utilities with bankruptcy, just one of those things I feel like is always going to be there. I’m surprised that utilities could be included. I don’t have any questions about that. I’m trying to think of the best question here. When was the first time you had to know this, that utilities could be included because people don’t normally think about it, maybe medical bills, for sure, credit cards, car payments, that kind of thing, but utilities? You may have already known this, but I’m like, wow, if you can’t tell by I can’t form a question for you. Wow. How often has this come up that utilities are …
Peter Daigle: It usually comes up especially after a long, cold winter because utility bills can get out of control. The gas company, the electric company, those are the big ones. If you have a private oil dealer, you can discharge the debt to the oil dealer, but he may not want to serve you in the future. The public utilities have to serve you. Whatever your electric company is, they have no choice but to provide you electricity after you file because they’re the only electric company. If you don’t pay the oil guy, then the oil guy can say I’m sorry, you know what? I don’t want to do business with you because you didn’t pay me. There are other oil guys out there besides the one you had. You are able to continue on. You’ll have no interruption of service.
Katherine: I’m still like wow, but you’re right. I won’t say you’re right, but with there only being one electricity company, what are your options?
Peter Daigle: They have to turn you back on. It’s a public utility. The public utility has no choice but to turn you back on. Let’s say for a second they shut you off because you didn’t pay the bill, then you discharged the debt. They have to turn you back on again even though the debt is discharged.
Katherine: I’m sure the audience is like, wow. That just messed me up. I was like, when did this come up? How would you know? As a client I wouldn’t even know to ask this question, hey, by the way.
Peter Daigle: We ask. In terms of medical debt goes, to the extent that it’s not covered by your insurance, co-pays or any of the other type of debts that are outside of the insurance assuming that you have insurance would be discharged. The best bet is to wait until after you’re done treating, if you’re in the middle of something that has quite a bit of co-pays and the like and then file for the bankruptcy because it only would discharge those debts prior to it. If you’re currently being treated for something, and you see it only going to last a few more months or whatever, you’d consider waiting until you’re done treating before you file for the bankruptcy. All that debt is dischargeable.
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Katherine: That’s a lot to think about. Medical bills, I would see that being something that we would definitely include in a bankruptcy. You always talk about timing though. Let’s talk about that a little bit more today because people may not really understand. I know you’ve said it to us several times, but they may not really understand how important the timing of when they filed is. You’ve pointed out a couple today in what we talked about and utilities as well as the medical bills whenever we may be in the middle of a procedure or that April 14th date versus 24 hours later on the April 15th. You’ve talked about timing before. I think I want to drive that point a little bit more for people to understand why you even bring that up.
Peter Daigle: Everybody who we consult with for bankruptcy, there’s a good time, and maybe there’s a better time. The idea is to look at your life in a timeline, so to speak. What’s happening right now? Are you behind in your mortgage? Are you behind in utilities? Are you cut back in hours? Are you going to increase your hours? The attorney is going to sit with you and get a pulse on your life in the totality, so to speak, to see what event if anything is going to come up that’s going to trigger either something improving or something getting worse. It’s a collection of all those events that occur in your life that are going to allow you to determine whether to file. To give you an example, let’s say that you’re three months behind or four months behind on your mortgage payment. Ordinarily, that would precipitate a Chapter 13 where you could take the three or four months and pay it out over 36 months or over 60 months.

Let’s say that you’re getting a tax refund, and you’re going to be getting in $5,000 or $6,000 in your tax refund. Instead of filing for Chapter 13 and catching up on your mortgage, you might want to wait until after you get your refund, bring your mortgage current and then get rid of all your other debt, credit cards and medical and the like in Chapter 7. It’s difficult to generalize as to timing because if possible, you want to try to file Chapter 7 versus Chapter 13. You may all of a sudden be losing overtime hours in the next month. You might want to wait till after the month to file for the Chapter 7 because your income will be less at the time that you filed. There’s a number of events or variables based upon income and expenses that would dictate what type of bankruptcy you’d file and when you would file. The entire bankruptcy docket is electronic, so you can file a case in no time at all. It doesn’t take time to file it. You can do it almost instantly.

Katherine: Through your consultation with them you will know when would be a better time, if this time isn’t immediately for them, for example, being in the middle of a medical process. I like the fact that you spend time with the clients, and it’s not just about getting their money. Come in, pay me, and we’ll file your bankruptcy. You’re really asking questions because you want to help them be set up to reset their lives. The bankruptcy isn’t all is lost. This is a time for you to turn things around for yourself. We want to make sure we do that the best possible way and not just do it to be doing it. I think that takes a lot of the fear out of the word bankruptcy for people because you’re not a shark. You’re not trying to take them for their money. People are attached. We’ve talked about this before. People are attached to their things. You’ve created memories, and you’ve worked really hard for this. You’ve invested, and you feel like you deserve these things and where you are in life. Now we’re saying give it all up to start over in a sense. If they don’t have to give it all up, you show them what the best route would be.

Peter, as always, our conversations are enlightening. You’re giving people something to think about because we may sit and let something build, and build and build, and we don’t have to do that. We’re thinking this isn’t really a problem. They won’t know unless they come and talk to someone like yourself. How far gone am I? Can I save this? You’ve already told us if bankruptcy isn’t for you, we’ll tell you that. It’s not just to have you come and be our client because sometimes it’s worse than we think, and sometimes it’s not as bad as we think. We don’t know until we talk to someone who knows like yourself. Again, I’m still blown away by the utilities. I’m like, wow, really?

Peter Daigle: That’s good, right?
Katherine: That is real good. That was a real big nugget for today. I’m just like wow, really? I’m still stuck on it. That was the first thing we talked about. As always, I want you to tell the audience of This Needs to Be Said how to get in touch with you outside of this interview.
Peter Daigle: The best way is you could go to my website at DaigleLawOffice.com, D-A-I-G-L-E, Law, L-A-W, Office, O-F-F-I-C-E.com, or you can call me at 508-771-7444. There’s no charge for a phone consultation or initial meeting.
Katherine: Awesome. Until next time, Peter, have a great day.
Peter Daigle: Okay, Katherine. Thank you.
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