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美国面临倒闭潮,大量小企业主或将流落街头

美国面临倒闭潮,大量小企业主或将流落街头

David Z. Morris 2020年06月15日
在美国的许多州,破产法可以强制要求小企业主用自己的房屋来抵偿企业债务,此举或将让破产的小企业主无力东山再起。

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虽然封城举措日渐放松,但受几个月来收入大幅下降的影响,在未来一段时间内,像餐馆、自助洗衣店和花店这样的小企业的日子仍然会很艰难。现在因为有PPP小企业贷款计划的支持,这些公司在短期内还有名义上的偿付能力,但等到该计划停止之后,势必会出现一波小企业倒闭潮。

不过有专家表示,考虑破产的小企业主还将面临另一个灾难性的陷阱:在美国的许多州,破产法可以强制要求小企业主用自己的房屋来抵偿企业债务,此举或将让破产的小企业主无力东山再起。

造成这一问题的根源是两个相互关联的因素。首先,许多小企业都是非法人独资企业,这就意味着从法律上来说,这些企业的债务属于所有者的个人债务。即便是股份制的小企业,很多此类公司在获取贷款、财务租赁或其它融资时也是靠所有者的个人担保,也就是说,小企业主本人要为这些债务负责。

理论上说,“宅地豁免”能够防止债权人收走债务人的主要居所,但由于许多州的破产法规定的“宅地豁免”金额上限非常低,这种所谓保护往往有名无实。

美国国家消费者破产律师协会的负责人艾克?舒尔曼说:“美国许多州(如果不是大多数州的话)的宅地豁免金额都远远低于房屋的价值。几十年来都没有怎么变化。”

在2019年发布的一份报告中,美国国家消费者法律中心(NCLC)对各州的破产宅地保护情况进行了分级:包括阿拉巴马和肯塔基州在内,共有22个州仅获得了“F”评级。其中,阿拉巴马州每人的豁免金额仅为15,500美元,肯塔基州每人的豁免金额更是低到了5,000美元。加州的评级同样为“F”。虽然对已婚夫妇的宅地豁免额度提升到了100,000美元,但相较于加州平均578,267美元的房屋价值(根据Zillow的数据)而言,这也只是很小的一部分,在旧金山等房价更贵的地区就更是如此了。

破产法的施行受多种州法及联邦法的约束。而以美国中部各州为代表的许多州则为宅地提供了强大的豁免保护。佛罗里达、爱荷华、堪萨斯和得克萨斯等州都为屋主提供了无上限宅地豁免保护,这样无论宅地的价值有多高,屋主在申请破产时都无需担心自己会流落街头。

某些州的屋主可以选择使用联邦宅地豁免保护。但联邦宅地豁免的金额也同样少的可怜,为每人仅提供约25,000美元的豁免额度,具体金额视通货膨胀情况而定。

舒尔曼说,如果破产申请者所持有房屋的价值超过宅地豁免金额,破产受托人通常会变卖掉申请者的房屋,将宅地豁免的那部分金额以现金形式交给屋主,然后将剩余资金偿还给债权人。舒尔曼表示,这种做法破坏了破产法的基本原则。

“设立破产法的目的是为了让人们不至于因为破产而一败涂地。”舒尔曼说,“应该给他们留下些资产,好让他们能够有机会重新开始。”

但事实却并非如此,在宅地豁免额度较低的州,那些申请破产的小企业主不仅会失去自己的房屋,还会失去他们多年积攒的财富。“他们的毕生积蓄可能都在房子上了。”舒尔曼说。

美国国家消费者法律中心专门处理抵押、破产案件的律师约翰?劳认为,这很可能会让一些原本需要进行破产重组的企业主放弃这一选择,并因此延长负债时间,无法恢复自己的业务,也不能重新创造就业机会。

造成这一问题的原因部分在于管理者的惰性和对破产保护的轻忽。约翰?劳表示,有些州尚未依照联邦规定根据通胀来调整豁免额度,这就让宅地豁免政策的作用一年不如一年。

另一方面,舒尔曼说,解决这一问题也受到了来自银行与讨债行业的阻力。2016年,舒尔曼曾经参与推动加利福尼亚州扩充宅地豁免的工作,他们的努力遭到了代表上述两个行业利益的游说团体的极力阻挠,最终以失败告终。

约翰?劳期望新冠相关破产案例的增加能够推动州及联邦宅地豁免政策的改革进程。他表示,在大衰退后,由于房价大幅下跌,屋主没有什么好保护的了,所以相关工作并未取得太多进展。“这次因为房产价值并未受到影响,所以可能会有不同的结果。”

从更广泛的角度来说,舒尔曼认为人们对破产的态度或将发生变化,而这可能会推动更多改革。

他说:“人们常常觉得破产这件事不会发生在自己身边。但如果看到许多人本身并没有做错什么,只是因为碰上了疫情,生意做不下去,就弄了个流落街头的下场,那么人们可能会开始关注这一问题。”

作者:David Z. Morris

译者:梁宇

审校:夏林

虽然封城举措日渐放松,但受几个月来收入大幅下降的影响,在未来一段时间内,像餐馆、自助洗衣店和花店这样的小企业的日子仍然会很艰难。现在因为有PPP小企业贷款计划的支持,这些公司在短期内还有名义上的偿付能力,但等到该计划停止之后,势必会出现一波小企业倒闭潮。

不过有专家表示,考虑破产的小企业主还将面临另一个灾难性的陷阱:在美国的许多州,破产法可以强制要求小企业主用自己的房屋来抵偿企业债务,此举或将让破产的小企业主无力东山再起。

造成这一问题的根源是两个相互关联的因素。首先,许多小企业都是非法人独资企业,这就意味着从法律上来说,这些企业的债务属于所有者的个人债务。即便是股份制的小企业,很多此类公司在获取贷款、财务租赁或其它融资时也是靠所有者的个人担保,也就是说,小企业主本人要为这些债务负责。

理论上说,“宅地豁免”能够防止债权人收走债务人的主要居所,但由于许多州的破产法规定的“宅地豁免”金额上限非常低,这种所谓保护往往有名无实。

美国国家消费者破产律师协会的负责人艾克?舒尔曼说:“美国许多州(如果不是大多数州的话)的宅地豁免金额都远远低于房屋的价值。几十年来都没有怎么变化。”

在2019年发布的一份报告中,美国国家消费者法律中心(NCLC)对各州的破产宅地保护情况进行了分级:包括阿拉巴马和肯塔基州在内,共有22个州仅获得了“F”评级。其中,阿拉巴马州每人的豁免金额仅为15,500美元,肯塔基州每人的豁免金额更是低到了5,000美元。加州的评级同样为“F”。虽然对已婚夫妇的宅地豁免额度提升到了100,000美元,但相较于加州平均578,267美元的房屋价值(根据Zillow的数据)而言,这也只是很小的一部分,在旧金山等房价更贵的地区就更是如此了。

破产法的施行受多种州法及联邦法的约束。而以美国中部各州为代表的许多州则为宅地提供了强大的豁免保护。佛罗里达、爱荷华、堪萨斯和得克萨斯等州都为屋主提供了无上限宅地豁免保护,这样无论宅地的价值有多高,屋主在申请破产时都无需担心自己会流落街头。

某些州的屋主可以选择使用联邦宅地豁免保护。但联邦宅地豁免的金额也同样少的可怜,为每人仅提供约25,000美元的豁免额度,具体金额视通货膨胀情况而定。

舒尔曼说,如果破产申请者所持有房屋的价值超过宅地豁免金额,破产受托人通常会变卖掉申请者的房屋,将宅地豁免的那部分金额以现金形式交给屋主,然后将剩余资金偿还给债权人。舒尔曼表示,这种做法破坏了破产法的基本原则。

“设立破产法的目的是为了让人们不至于因为破产而一败涂地。”舒尔曼说,“应该给他们留下些资产,好让他们能够有机会重新开始。”

但事实却并非如此,在宅地豁免额度较低的州,那些申请破产的小企业主不仅会失去自己的房屋,还会失去他们多年积攒的财富。“他们的毕生积蓄可能都在房子上了。”舒尔曼说。

美国国家消费者法律中心专门处理抵押、破产案件的律师约翰?劳认为,这很可能会让一些原本需要进行破产重组的企业主放弃这一选择,并因此延长负债时间,无法恢复自己的业务,也不能重新创造就业机会。

造成这一问题的原因部分在于管理者的惰性和对破产保护的轻忽。约翰?劳表示,有些州尚未依照联邦规定根据通胀来调整豁免额度,这就让宅地豁免政策的作用一年不如一年。

另一方面,舒尔曼说,解决这一问题也受到了来自银行与讨债行业的阻力。2016年,舒尔曼曾经参与推动加利福尼亚州扩充宅地豁免的工作,他们的努力遭到了代表上述两个行业利益的游说团体的极力阻挠,最终以失败告终。

约翰?劳期望新冠相关破产案例的增加能够推动州及联邦宅地豁免政策的改革进程。他表示,在大衰退后,由于房价大幅下跌,屋主没有什么好保护的了,所以相关工作并未取得太多进展。“这次因为房产价值并未受到影响,所以可能会有不同的结果。”

从更广泛的角度来说,舒尔曼认为人们对破产的态度或将发生变化,而这可能会推动更多改革。

他说:“人们常常觉得破产这件事不会发生在自己身边。但如果看到许多人本身并没有做错什么,只是因为碰上了疫情,生意做不下去,就弄了个流落街头的下场,那么人们可能会开始关注这一问题。”

作者:David Z. Morris

译者:梁宇

审校:夏林

Though coronavirus lockdowns are beginning to ease, small businesses such as restaurants, laundromats, and florists will continue struggling with the devastating fallout from months of, at best, seriously curtailed revenue. While the PPP small-business loan program has kept some of those businesses nominally solvent in the short term, a wave of small-business bankruptcies is imminent once such support runs out.

But experts say many small business owners who consider bankruptcy will discover a devastating trap. The bankruptcy code in many states could force small-business owners to give up their homes to resolve business debts, potentially robbing them of the solid footing needed to rebuild.

The problem arises from two intersecting factors. First, many small businesses are unincorporated sole proprietorships, meaning the businesses’ debts aren’t legally separate from the owners’ personal finances. Even small businesses that are incorporated often rely on owners’ personal guarantees for loans, leases, or other financing, leaving them personally on the hook.

Compounding that reality is the fact that many states have very low caps on the so-called homestead exemption allowed by their bankruptcy codes. In theory, the exemption prevents a primary residence from being handed over to creditors. But it’s no longer working as intended.

“In many states, if not most, the amount of the homestead exemption has lagged far behind the cost of owning a home,” says Ike Shulman, head of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. “Over decades, it’s not even close.”

In a 2019 report, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) graded states’ bankruptcy homestead protections: 22 states earned an “F” grade, including Alabama, with an exemption of just $15,500 for an individual; and Kentucky, with an exemption of just $500 for an individual. California also earned an “F”: Though its homestead exemption tops out at $100,000 for married couples, that’s a small fraction of the statewide average home value of $578,267 (according to data from Zillow), and even less relative protection for homeowners in expensive markets such as San Francisco.

Bankruptcy codes run according to a complex mix of state and federal rules, and many states, particularly in middle America, do have strong homestead exemptions. Florida, Iowa, Kansas, and Texas are among those with unlimited homestead exemptions, enabling bankruptcy filers to protect their home regardless of its value.

In some states, homeowners can choose to use the federal homestead exemption instead of the state exemption. But the federal exemption, too, is meager—around $25,000 for an individual, variable according to inflation.

When bankruptcy filers have equity in their home above homestead exemption limits, Shulman says it is common for bankruptcy trustees to sell the home, give homeowners cash for the exempt amount, then use the rest to pay creditors. That, Shulman says, undermines the basic point of the bankruptcy code.

“It’s so people don’t just leave bankruptcy wearing a barrel,” says Shulman. “They should be able to get a fresh start with something.”

Instead, small-business owners who file for bankruptcy in states with low exemptions could lose both the roof over their head, and the financial security they thought they had been building. “That house is their life savings,” says Shulman.

According to John Rao, an attorney specializing in mortgage and bankruptcy issues for the NCLC, that makes it “very likely” that at least some business owners who need bankruptcy restructuring will not seek it. That will leave them with long-term personal liabilities, and could prevent them from rebuilding their businesses and bringing back the jobs they created.

The problem is partly a result of inertia and neglect. Some states, Rao says, have not adopted federal rules that keep the exemption in line with inflation, leaving its real value to wither over the years.

But in other cases, Shulman says, the problem has been actively prolonged by the banking and debt-collection industry. Shulman was part of a 2016 effort to expand California’s homestead exemption, which he says was actively opposed by lobbyists from those industries, and ultimately defeated.

Rao expects a ramp-up in efforts to reform state and federal homestead exemptions as coronavirus-related bankruptcies accelerate. Such efforts weren’t significant after the Great Recession, he says, because the crash in housing prices left many homeowners with little equity to protect. “This crisis is potentially much different, because home values haven’t dropped.”

More generally, Shulman thinks attitudes about bankruptcy are poised to change, potentially spurring more reform.

“People aren’t thinking of bankruptcy as something that people they know might need,” he says. “Coronavirus might bring that into focus, if people end up losing their homes because their businesses failed through no fault of their own.”

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