File Bankruptcy When Your Debts Outweigh Your Necessary Living Expenses
Before you file for bankruptcy, itâs important to weigh all your options. Although bankruptcy can relieve you from financial stress, it is not something that should be taken lightly. This is especially true because you can only get relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code every 8 years. If you file Chapter 7 even though you can pay at least some of your debts, you will not be able to seek the same relief if an accident, illness, loss of income, or other financial hardship arises in the near future. A good way to determine whether you need Chapter 7 relief is to compare your income with your necessary living expenses and your monthly minimum payments. If your monthly living expenses are higher than your income even without making the minimum payments on your unsecured debts, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is likely a good option for you. If, on the other hand, you have money left over after paying basic expenses and buying necessities such as food and household supplies, Chapter 7 bankruptcy may not be the right move for you at this time.
What Happens If You Declare Bankruptcy
If you declare bankruptcy, creditors have to stop any effort to collect money from you, at least temporarily. Most creditors cant write, call or sue you after youve filed. But even if you declare bankruptcy, the courts can require you to pay back certain debts. Each bankruptcy case is unique, and only a court can decide the details of your own bankruptcy.
Lets talk for a moment about what bankruptcy does and doesnt cover:
You Can Lose Certain Types Of Property
One of the trade-offs for getting a bankruptcy discharge in a matter of a few months is the requirement to give up certain expensive items. Nonexempt property – the type of property the bankruptcy trustee can sell to pay creditors in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case – is pretty rare.
If you own expensive property you donât want to lose, itâs best to speak to a bankruptcy lawyer. Then youâll know whether thatâs really a possibility and, if so, whether filing Chapter 13 is a better debt relief option for you.
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Do My Debts Qualify For Bankruptcy
Not all debts qualify for bankruptcy. Debts that cant be wiped out are child support, alimony, some types of taxes, debts to government agencies, debts for personal injury caused by driving while intoxicated and any court fines or penalties.
Debts that can be wiped out in Chapter 7 bankruptcy include credit card debt, medical bills, personal loans, lawsuit judgments and obligations from leases or contracts. Chapter 13 bankruptcy wipes out those debts, plus debts from a divorce , debts for loans from a retirement plan. Technically, student loans can be discharged if you prove undue hardship, however, this is often a difficult task.
There are some people who are considered judgment proof because everything they have is exempt under state law. People that are judgment proof may not need to file bankruptcy because creditors cant touch their assets if their source of income is from social security, pension plans, 401 retirement savings, disability benefits, veterans benefits, alimony or support payments.
The Chapter 7 Discharge
A discharge releases individual debtors from personal liability for most debts and prevents the creditors owed those debts from taking any collection actions against the debtor. Because a chapter 7 discharge is subject to many exceptions, debtors should consult competent legal counsel before filing to discuss the scope of the discharge. Generally, excluding cases that are dismissed or converted, individual debtors receive a discharge in more than 99 percent of chapter 7 cases. In most cases, unless a party in interest files a complaint objecting to the discharge or a motion to extend the time to object, the bankruptcy court will issue a discharge order relatively early in the case generally, 60 to 90 days after the date first set for the meeting of creditors. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4004.
The grounds for denying an individual debtor a discharge in a chapter 7 case are narrow and are construed against the moving party. Among other reasons, the court may deny the debtor a discharge if it finds that the debtor: failed to keep or produce adequate books or financial records failed to explain satisfactorily any loss of assets committed a bankruptcy crime such as perjury failed to obey a lawful order of the bankruptcy court fraudulently transferred, concealed, or destroyed property that would have become property of the estate or failed to complete an approved instructional course concerning financial management. 11 U.S.C. § 727 Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4005.
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Understand The Advantages Of Filing For Bankruptcy
You may have wondered, what is the downside of filing for bankruptcy? There are some advantages to filing for bankruptcy, too, however. When you need a fresh start to get out from under a heavy debt load, filing for bankruptcy could be just the answer you need. In addition to a new start, federal bankruptcy offers consumers, business owners, and corporations many benefits, including the following:
- Complete relief of all dischargeable debts with no further obligation to repay them.
- The ability to hold on to some personal property and assets like your home and vehicle.
- Relief from the constant pressure and invasive contact from debt collectors.
- Over time, your credit score can improve when discharged debts are removed from your .
Your wages cannot be garnished by your creditors and your car cannot be repossessed while you are going through the bankruptcy process. Your lawyer can explain other advantages to filing bankruptcy that apply to your specific situation. Bankruptcy can give you the opportunity to create a new financial picture for yourself, your family, or your business.
Balance Transfer Credit Card
If you have credit card debt on a card with a high APR, try transferring the balance to a card that offers 0% intro APR. This lets you pay down the balance without being charged any interest.
Most of these special APR offers last between 12 and 20 months, depending on the cards terms. When the special offer is over, a regular interest rate will kick in, so its best to make as many payments as you can during the introductory period.
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Reasons To File For Bankruptcy
There are some circumstances in which filing for bankruptcy may be your best recourse:
- Youve already tried to negotiate. Suppose that you have attempted to negotiate a repayment plan with one or more major , as experts often recommend as a first step, but they have not budged. They want their full payment and arent willing to be paid out over timeand you dont have the means to make that payment. This can leave you with few options other than to file for bankruptcy.
- Your liabilities far exceed your income and assets. Another major reason some individuals file for bankruptcy is that they simply cannot pay their debts, and just servicing the debtthat is, making the required monthly paymentsexceeds the monthly income they generate. For example, consider someone who owes $500,000 to a bank and whose monthly mortgage payment is $4,000. If this person only has income of $2,000 a month, and another $25,000 in assets to draw on, they may have few other options than to file for bankruptcy. Otherwise, they will deplete their assets in about a year and be completely unable to make that $4,000 payment going forward.
Here’s How Bankruptcies Impact Your Credit Score
While bankruptcies on your credit report will always get factored into your credit score for as long as they are on there, the impact on your score lessens with each year that passes. So, you may see a dramatic drop in your score in the first month immediately following your bankruptcy filing, but by the end of the first year it could have less weight, and certainly less in later years compared to year one.
Your own credit profile will also play a part in how much your credit score is affected when you declare bankruptcy. Similar to how having a higher credit score can ding your more points if you miss a credit card payment, so, too, is the case if you file for bankruptcy. According to FICO, someone with good credit may experience a bigger drop in their score when a bankruptcy appears on their report than someone with an already poor credit score.
Estimates we found online from places like Debt.org show how people with different credit scores would be impacted by a bankruptcy filing. Someone with a credit score of 780 or above would be dinged between 200 and 240 points, while someone with a 680 score would lose 130 to 150 points.
Whatever the case, no one really benefits from filing for bankruptcy. It’s an option of last resort that sometimes even those with good credit find themselves making.
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Role Of The Case Trustee
When a chapter 7 petition is filed, the U.S. trustee appoints an impartial case trustee to administer the case and liquidate the debtor’s nonexempt assets. 11 U.S.C. §§ 701, 704. If all the debtor’s assets are exempt or subject to valid liens, the trustee will normally file a “no asset” report with the court, and there will be no distribution to unsecured creditors. Most chapter 7 cases involving individual debtors are no asset cases. But if the case appears to be an “asset” case at the outset, unsecured creditors must file their claims with the court within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. Fed. R. Bankr. P. 3002. A governmental unit, however, has 180 days from the date the case is filed to file a claim. 11 U.S.C. § 502. In the typical no asset chapter 7 case, there is no need for creditors to file proofs of claim because there will be no distribution. If the trustee later recovers assets for distribution to unsecured creditors, the Bankruptcy Court will provide notice to creditors and will allow additional time to file proofs of claim. Although a secured creditor does not need to file a proof of claim in a chapter 7 case to preserve its security interest or lien, there may be other reasons to file a claim. A creditor in a chapter 7 case who has a lien on the debtor’s property should consult an attorney for advice.
Opting For A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Proceeding
A Chapter 7 is best for bankrupt individuals with a few assets and whose problem debts include credit card debts, medical bills, payday loans, or other debts that a Chapter 7 may wipe out through a discharge. It is also applicable for filers whose problem debts exceed two-fifths of his or her annual income and therefore have no capacity to pay off debts even with extreme measures.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of assets, if you are generally dealing with secured debt, or if it would be possible for you to pay back some of what you owe to your creditors, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition may be a better option. A hands-on Pasadena bankruptcy lawyer can look into your specific circumstances and help you decide on the debt relief option or filing chapter that is most suited for you.
If you are facing financial problems and would want to qualify for this type of bankruptcy, you must go through the following steps:
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What Happens When I File Bankruptcy
Filing for bankruptcy after youve defaulted can protect your assets from being seized by the lender or creditor.
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court will decide which of your assets to sell in order to repay your creditors. Any remaining debt will be discharged, except for student loans, child support, taxes and alimony. This type of bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years.
If you file for Chapter 13, you may be able to keep more of your assets while discharging some of your debts. The debt that is not discharged will be put on a three- to five-year repayment plan. This will stay on your credit report for seven years.
Your credit score will likely go down significantly if you file for bankruptcy by at least 130 points, but sometimes by as much as 200 points or more. If you work in an industry where employers check your credit as part of the hiring process, it may be more difficult to get a new job or be promoted after a bankruptcy.
Jay Fleischman of Money Wise Law says that if you have credit cards, they will almost always be closed as soon as you file for bankruptcy. Getting another loan or credit card will also be very difficult in the early stages after bankruptcy. But as time goes on, the bankruptcy will affect your score less and less if youre responsible with your credit.
If You Have Good Credit It Will Likely Take A Temporary Hit
Those that are able to maintain their monthly payments and keep their credit score high before filing their bankruptcy petition will see their score drop initially. But, a bankruptcy filing often does more good than harm to the filerâs credit score. Plus, once their bankruptcy discharge is granted, they can begin increasing that pesky credit score immediately.
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Types Of Personal Bankruptcy
In the case of individuals, as opposed to businesses, there are two common forms of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Here is a brief description of how each type works:
Chapter 7. This type of bankruptcy essentially liquidates your assets in order to pay your creditors. Some assetstypically including part of the equity in your home and automobile, personal items, clothing, tools needed for your employment, pensions, Social Security, and any other public benefitsare exempt, meaning you get to keep them.
But your remaining, non-exempt assets will be sold off by a trustee appointed by the bankruptcy court and the proceeds will then be distributed to your creditors. Non-exempt assets may include property , recreational vehicles, boats, a second car or truck, collectibles or other valuable items, bank accounts, and investment accounts.
At the end of the process, most of your debts will be discharged and you will no longer be under any obligation to repay them. However, certain debts, like student loans, child support, and taxes, cannot be discharged. Chapter 7 is generally chosen by individuals with lower income and few assets. Your eligibility for it is also subject to a means test, as explained bellow.
Should I File For Bankruptcy Or Default On My Loan
Defaulting on a loan and filing for bankruptcy are not opposite choices. In fact, Fleischman recommends defaulting on a loan before filing for bankruptcy. If you havent defaulted, it might indicate that you havent given yourself enough time to allow your financial situation to improve.
If you do default, then filing for bankruptcy can protect your assets from being seized by creditors. It can also protect you from having future wages or an inheritance garnished. Bankruptcy is useful not only for protecting what you have, but also for protecting your future, Fleischman says.
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Medical Bill Collections Are Even Easier To Get Removed
Medical collections are one of the easiest items to get removed from your credit report. This is because of the HIPA act. HIPAA protects most of your information, so the collection companies dont have much information about your account. When the Credit Bureau sends a creditor a request for information to validate the account, they may not have it. Or, they may ignore the request.
If they do ignore it, the Credit Bureau will remove the collection account. In my experience, about 50%-60% of all medical collections can be removed by disputing them.
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Saving Your Credit Score Is Only One Reason
An end to collection hell: Nosals study found that once people fell seriously behind on their debt with at least one account 120 days overdue, for example their financial troubles tended to get worse. Balances in collections and the percentage of people with court judgments grew.
By contrast, people who file for bankruptcy benefit from its automatic stay, which halts almost all collection efforts, including lawsuits and wage garnishment. If the underlying debt is erased, the lawsuits and garnishment end.
Freedom from certain debts: Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes out many kinds of debt, including:
Civil judgments .
Some older tax debts.
Some debts, including child support and recent tax debt, cant be erased in bankruptcy. Student loan debt can be, but its very rare. But if your most troublesome debt cant be discharged, erasing other debts could give you the room you need to repay what remains.
Better access to credit: It can be difficult to get credit right after a bankruptcy. But Nosals study shows people who have completed bankruptcy are more likely to be granted new credit lines within 18 months than are people who fell 120 days or more overdue at the same time but didnt file.
Your credit limits after bankruptcy are likely to be low, however, and your access to credit like your credit scores wont recover completely until a Chapter 7 bankruptcy drops off your credit reports after 10 years.