Bankruptcy choices for consumersWhen an individual falls desperately behind in his or her debt payments, one option may be to declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding in a federal bankruptcy court that relieves the debtor of some or all of his or her debts. While bankruptcy may not be the best option for everyone, in the right situations, it can provide people with a fresh start. A lawyer experienced in bankruptcy law can advise you as to whether bankruptcy may be the right move for you.
Consumers, like businesses, have options in terms of which type of bankruptcy to pursue. These options are set forth in separate chapters of the federal bankruptcy law — called the Bankruptcy Code — and they are commonly referred to by their chapter numbers. Consumers most commonly file either under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, with a very few filed under Chapter 11.
The 2005 changes to the federal bankruptcy laws created a new requirement that debtors receive credit counseling from an approved agency in the 180 days before filing for bankruptcy under any chapter, with some exceptions.
Most consumer bankruptcy cases are initiated voluntarily by consumers, but under certain circumstances, can arise involuntarily when creditors force debtors into bankruptcy.
Chapter 7 bankruptcies, called “liquidation bankruptcies,” are the most common type chosen by consumers. The Chapter 7 proceedings begin with the debtor’s filing of a petition with the bankruptcy court, which triggers the automatic stay — bankruptcy terminology for the cessation of debt-collection activity. The court appoints a trustee who oversees the case and liquidates the debtor’s nonexempt assets to pay off eligible debts to the extent possible.
Not all of the debtor’s assets will be sold in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case because the law specifies that certain property is exempt from liquidation. For many typical consumers, all of their property is exempt or already subject to valid liens, so eligible debts will be discharged without the loss of any property. This situation is commonly called a no-asset case.
Once the trustee has collected any nonexempt assets and paid creditors from the proceeds, any remaining unpaid debts are discharged, meaning that they no longer exist and the debtor has no further obligation to pay them. Some debts, however, are nondischargeable and remain valid, such as taxes, domestic support obligations and damages resulting from a debtor’s willful or malicious acts.
Any remaining unpaid debts are discharged, meaning that they no longer exist and the debtor has no further obligation to pay them. Some debts, however, are nondischargeable and remain valid, such as taxes, domestic support obligations and damages resulting from a debtor’s willful or malicious acts.
Alternatively, a consumer may choose Chapter 13 if he or she has regular income, believes the crisis is temporary and wants to repay at least some debt. The debtor must have less than $383,175 in unsecured debt and $1,149,525 in secured debt to be eligible for Chapter 13. 11 U.S.C. § 109(e). A Chapter 13 proceeding, called a wage-earner plan, is also initiated by filing a petition and also stops creditors from trying to collect debts. The debtor proposes a debt repayment plan, to which creditors may object. If the court approves the plan, however, the creditors can take no action outside the plan’s scope to collect their debts. Once the plan is completed, the debtor is entitled to a discharge, which releases him or her from all debts dealt with by the plan.
Chapter 13 has certain advantages over Chapter 7 in consumer bankruptcies. For example, Chapter 13 allows the debtor to discharge more types of debts. Although many average consumers have only assets exempt from the liquidation requirement under Chapter 7, some may have assets eligible to be sold. For these consumers, Chapter 13 may allow them to retain more of their assets. A consumer’s choice between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 is not necessarily permanent; once proceedings have begun, a case may be converted to a different chapter under certain circumstances.
Speak to a bankruptcy lawyer
Sometimes consumers find themselves in such dire financial situations that filing for bankruptcy is their best option. Any decision to file for bankruptcy should be made carefully after consulting an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Contact a bankruptcy attorney today to learn more about your options to protect your financial well-being.
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