Debt and taxes Congress moves to tighten bankruptcy laws, Bush rebate hikes income, and other business news » by Lynn Vincent Busting bankruptcy
Soon it will be harder for an American to lose his shirt and keep it too. Congress is crafting legislation aimed at curbing the upward trend in bankruptcy, with the House and Senate both chiseling away at differences between similar bills passed this year. The pending bankruptcy legislation:
- Establishes amounts debtors should pay for food, clothing, transportation, and housing, and requires them to live within those guidelines unless extenuating circumstances prevent it;
- Makes it harder to shield assets by moving to Texas or Florida (or another state with a high homestead exemption) and buying an expensive house;
- Forces debtors to repay fully auto loans or face repossession;
- Requires debtors to pay all charges made to credit cards in the three months before filing for bankruptcy;
- Makes it easier for landlords to evict bankrupt tenants who are behind on their rent.
In addition, new rules would make it more difficult for people to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy-the version in which debtors walk away from credit card bills-and require more to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which requires at least partial repayment. "We can't allow deadbeats to get away with stiffing creditors," said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley. "That is what it is all about: Imposing some responsibility on people who can pay their debts." From April through June, new bankruptcy filings rose nearly 25 percent over the same period a year ago, the American Bankruptcy Institute reported last month. Filings increased from about 320,000 to 400,394, making this the highest three-month period ever, according to data released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Tax relief raises income
Democrats howled last month that the Bush tax rebate gnawed at the edges of the Social Security trust fund, while retailers tried to help Americans spend it. But the Commerce Department reported last week that the tax checks did exactly what Mr. Bush promised in his election campaign: provided financial relief for "the people who pay the bills." Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $127.9 billion, or 1.7 percent, in July according to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Analysts attributed the change to several "special factors," the largest of which was the advance refund checks sent to taxpayers beginning in July. The Act also lowered various income tax rates-and thus estimated tax payments and employer withholdings-beginning in July, adding more net dollars to household bottom lines. The BEA said a one-time correction of Social Security and welfare underpayments also hiked the DPI. Even excluding that correction and the tax checks, Americans in July had $20 billion more in discretionary income. Wired workers
First health insurance, then stock options-now personal computers? More companies seeking to attract and retain key employees are tossing technology into employee benefit packages. Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Ford, and Enron are among numerous firms that have recently added company-paid PCs and Internet access to their rosters of perks. Recruiting and retention aren't the only reasons companies are helping employees go digital, according to Avenue B2E, a Houston-based employee benefits firm. Employers who equip employees with home-based PCs also hope to enhance workers' technical capabilities and open a low-cost avenue for employer-employee communication, performance reviews, work force collaboration, and training.
Up in smoke
At companies across the nation, smoke breaks are vanishing into thin air-or at least being forced out of doors. A study released last month showed that in every U.S. state the number of smoke-free workplaces increased between 1993 and 1999. Nationwide, the number of smokeless businesses rose more than 20 percent during the same period. The report, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, was based on interviews with more than 270,000 private-sector workers conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). While smokers'-rights groups battle back, about 40 state coalitions actively lobby to promote legislation for smoke-free work environments. The NCI study cited the hospitality industry-hotels, restaurants, bars, and casinos-as least likely to implement smoke-free policies.