Bankruptcy is a term we are hearing more and more these days. While it usually signals financial difficulty, there are many different situations that can cause it, and your personal experience with it will be unique. Before you go worrying about the long-term effects, consider this simple guide to bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy, specifically Chapter 7, is a legal procedure that can occur when a person can’t pay their debts with the assets or money they have on hand. It’s designed to liquidate (or sell) off property or assets so that the resulting proceeds can be used to pay off as many of the debts and loans as possible in a fair manner. While this type of bankruptcy rarely covers all that is owed, it rids the debtor of any further payment obligation. It also gives an opportunity for a fresh start for the person filing.
This type of bankruptcy is most popular among businesses and corporations, but it can be used by individuals, too. It is a formal restructuring of assets and debts, which allows the debtor to keep paying the debt over time without having to close his or her business. This complicated proceeding is not handled by many law offices.
Similar to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also called a wage earner’s plan, is used by individuals. It enables people with regular income to develop a plan to repay all or part of their debt. Most plans require debtors to make installment payments to creditors for an additional three to five years after the proceeding, with any debt left after the plan period to be forgiven.
The process may be very different depending on the type of bankruptcy you seek. While it is possible to file for bankruptcy yourself, most consumers aren’t well-versed in the constantly changing bankruptcy laws. It is usually recommended to get legal assistance in these important financial matters.
The first step is to find legal help that is experienced in the type of bankruptcy you seek and is actively taking on new clients. Most legitimate bankruptcy attorneys can give you a free consultation to help you decide if bankruptcy is right for you. Together, it’s possible to figure out in an hour or less which type of bankruptcy applies to your situation.
The total number of hours your legal representation spends on your case and the type of bankruptcy you choose will determine how much you’ll pay. The filing fees for each type are as follows:
$335 for Chapter 7
$310 for Chapter 13
$275 for Chapter 12
Those who cannot afford the fees upfront can sometimes arrange waivers or payment arrangements. You can find applications to have bankruptcy filing fees waived on the uscourt.gov website.
In addition to these fees and any legal counseling you receive, you will be required to take financial counseling and debt education courses prior to filing. The total for both may be between $70 and $100, although the fees may be waived due to inability to pay.
Most bankruptcy settlements will not discharge your student loan debt, and you will be responsible for paying it even after your proceedings. In very rare instances, however, student loan debt may be dischargeable if the court finds that paying off the loan will impose an “undue hardship” on the debtor and his or her dependents. Including student loans in your bankruptcy petition may at least get some of the debt discharged, if not all.
Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy filings, even outpacing credit cards. Medical debt, along with unsecured personal loans and credit cards, is nonpriority unsecured debt, which means it can be discharged without any repayment in a bankruptcy. Depending on the type of procedure you file, some or all of your medical bills can be forgiven.
While your credit history will show your bankruptcy for 10 years after you file, you can start rebuilding your credit right away. One good method to do so is by paying all of your utility and insurance bills on time, as well as opening a secured debit card account. By continually checking your annual free credit report, as well as monitoring your credit score, you can be sure you are starting your new financial life on the right foot.
Many people have said that life post-bankruptcy is less stressful. Having the constant worry of unpaid bills and the calls from debt collectors is a part of being in debt they don’t miss. While the decision to file for bankruptcy isn’t for everyone, it’s possible to move on and make better choices with fewer day-to-day burdens. Regardless of which bankruptcy option you choose, getting sound financial advice from a professional is recommended to ensure the most successful path after bankruptcy.