Why Does the Means Test Look at My Gross Income Instead of Net Income?

This is a question frequently asked by clients.  You do not have access to your gross income, since a great deal of it goes to pay federal and state taxes, health insurance, life insurance, long and short-term disability, 401(k), etc.  The net income or your take-home pay is what you have available to pay your house payment, utilities, food, clothing, gas, car payments, etc., so shouldn’t this be used to see if you qualify for bankruptcy?

Family Riding Bicycles Together

Unfortunately, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) decided to establish a process for determining whether a person qualified for bankruptcy, specifically a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  BAPCPA decided it was prudent to conduct a “Means Test” for each potential bankruptcy filer.   As part of the Means Test, it was determined that gross income would be the fairest starting point for all bankruptcy filers.  Although two people may have the same gross income, their net income may vary considerably due to different payroll deductions.  In addition, median household income for each state is based on gross income, so this provided a consistent base for comparison.

So, why is your gross rather than net income considered in the means test used in bankruptcy?  BAPCPA requires it!