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Ransom v. MBNA, America Bank, N.A.: A Case About Consumer Rights

How to calculate living expenses during bankruptcy

In Ransom v. MBNA, America Bank, N.A., the Court will decide whether debtors with “above-median” incomes (many are 50-plus) who budget living expenses under a bankruptcy plan are entitled to gasoline, maintenance and other costs associated with operating vehicles that they own free and clear.

What’s at stake. Bankruptcy filings for people over the age of 50 have been increasing at a faster rate that for any other age group, with unaffordable medical expenses often cited as a cause, according to a recent AARP study.

Where AARP stands. AARP believes that older people with unaffordable debt burdens must have sufficient disposable income to meet their basic living expenses.

How the Court Ruled

Chalk one up for creditors. On Jan. 11, the Court affirmed, by a vote of 8 to 1, the Ninth Circuit's decision that a debtor who owns a vehicle outright may not claim the car-ownership allowance under the Bankruptcy Code's "means test" (a formula that determines how much a debtor can pay his creditors each month).

"A person who owns a car free and clear," said Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority in her first Supreme Court opinion (PDF), "is not entitled to claim the ‘Ownership Costs' deduction, because that allowance is for the separate costs of a car loan or lease."

Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissenting opinion.

Next: Can arbitration agreements be used to block class actions?

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