If you’re facing severe debt problems, filing for bankruptcy can be a powerful remedy. It stops most collection actions, including telephone calls, wage garnishments, and lawsuits (with some exceptions). It also eliminates many types of debt, including credit card balances, medical bills, personal loans, and more.
But it doesn’t stop all creditors, and it doesn’t wipe out all obligations. For instance, you’ll still have to pay your student loans (unless you can prove a hardship) and arrearages for child support, alimony, and most tax debts.
What Bankruptcy Can Do
Bankruptcy allows people struggling with debt to wipe out certain obligations and get a fresh start. The two primary bankruptcy types filed—Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy—each offer different benefits and, in some cases, treat debt and property differently, too. You’ll choose the chapter that’s right for you depending on your income, property, and goals.
Here are some of the things you can expect regardless of whether you file for Chapter 7 or 13.
Stop Creditor Harassment and Collection Activities
Once you file, the court puts in place an order called the automatic stay. The stay stops most creditor calls, wage garnishments, and lawsuits, but not all. For instance, creditors can still collect support payments, and criminal cases will continue to proceed forward.
Stop a Foreclosure, Repossession, or Eviction (at Least Temporarily)
The automatic stay will stop these actions as long as they’re still pending. Once complete, bankruptcy won’t help.
- Evictions. An eviction that’s still in the litigation process will come to a halt after a bankruptcy filing. But the stay will likely be temporary. Keep in mind that if your landlord already has an eviction judgment against you, bankruptcy won’t help in the majority of states. Learn more about evictions and the automatic stay.
- Foreclosure and repossession. Although the automatic stay will stop a foreclosure or repossession, filing for Chapter 7 won’t help you keep the property. If you can’t bring the account current, you’ll lose the house or car once the stay lifts. By contrast, Chapter 13 has a mechanism that will allow you to catch up on past payments so you can keep the asset. Find out more about bankruptcy’s automatic stay and foreclosure and car repossession and bankruptcy.
Wipe Out Credit Card Debt and Most Other Nonpriority Unsecured Debts
Bankruptcy is very good at wiping out unsecured credit card debt, medical bills, overdue utility payments, personal loans, gym contracts. In fact, it can wipe out most nonpriority unsecured debts other than school loans.
The debt is unsecured if you didn’t promise to give back the purchased property if you didn’t pay the bill. By contrast, if you have a secured credit card, you’ll have to give the purchased item back. Jewelry, electronics, computers, furniture, and large appliances are often secured debts. You can find out by reading the receipt or credit contract.
Wipe Out Secured Debt (But You’ll Have to Give Up the Purchased Property)
If you can’t afford a payment that you secured with collateral—such as a mortgage or car loan—you can wipe out the debt in bankruptcy. But you won’t be able to keep the house, car, computer, or other item securing payment of the loan. When you voluntarily agree to secure debt with property, you must pay what you owe or give the property back (more below under “What Bankruptcy Can’t Do”).
What Only Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Can Do
Chapter 7 and 13 each offer unique solutions to debt problems. The two bankruptcy types work very differently. For instance, how quickly your debt will get wiped out will depend on the chapter you file:
- Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This chapter takes an average of three to four months to complete. Learn more about erasing your debt in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
- Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you file for Chapter 13 rather than Chapter 7, you’ll likely have to pay back some portion of your unsecured debts through a three- to five-year repayment plan. However, any unsecured debt balance that remains after completing your repayment plan will be discharged. Find out how to pay off or discharge your debts in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Chapter 7 is primarily for low-income filers, and therefore, it won’t help you keep property if you’re behind on payments. But, if you have enough income to pay at least something to creditors, then you’ll be able to take advantage of the additional benefits offered by Chapter 13.
Here are some of the things that Chapter 13 can do.
Stop a mortgage foreclosure. Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stop a foreclosure and force the lender to accept a plan that will allow you to make up the missed payments over time. To make this plan work, you must demonstrate that you have enough income to pay back payments and remain current on future payments. Learn more about your home and mortgage in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Allow you to keep property that isn’t protected by a bankruptcy exemption. No one gives up everything own in bankruptcy. You can save (exempt) items you’ll need to work and live using bankruptcy exemptions. A Chapter 7 debtor gives up nonexempt property—the trustee liquidates unprotected property for creditors—but not a Chapter 13 filer. While it might seem as though you’d get to keep more assets, it’s not the case. Chapter 13 filers pay the value of any nonexempt property to creditors through the repayment plan.
“Cramdown” secured debts when the property is worth less than the amount owed. Chapter 13 has a procedure that allows you to reduce an obligation to the replacement value of the property securing it. For example, if you owe $10,000 on a car loan and the car is worth only $6,000, you can propose a plan that pays the creditor $6,000 and discharge the rest of the loan. However, exceptions exist. For instance, you can’t cram down a car debt if you purchased the car during the 30 months before filing for bankruptcy. Also, filers can’t use the cramdown provision to reduce the mortgage of a residential home. Learn more about lowering mortgages and loans using a “cramdown” in Chapter 13.
For more information on Chapter 13 bankruptcy, including other benefits, see Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time, by Attorney Cara O’Neill.
Freire & Gonzalez is an attorney’s office where the attorneys are involved with their clients from beginning to end. You, as the client, will not be passed off to secretaries or paralegals like at other bankruptcy law firms. The attorneys will meet with you, will return your phone calls, and will answer your questions. We provide services in English and Spanish.
Our lawyers will answer any bankruptcy question you might have during the free consultation. To request a free consultation, please contact us at 305-826-1774. Please browse through our website, read our bankruptcy FAQ and see if our firm can help you resolve your financial issues. Contact Us at our locations: