Bankruptcy works as a safety net for individuals, families, and businesses by helping them get back on their feet financially when overwhelmed by debt. For many, filing bankruptcy is a natural step after a job loss, pandemic, divorce, or another unexpected event because it relieves the stress associated with illness-related medical bills, foreclosure, credit card bills, and more.
Getting a fresh start with bankruptcy begins by learning about:
Your goal? Determining the best bankruptcy chapter for you, and we can help.
You'll find a basic overview of bankruptcy in the "How Bankruptcy Works" section. Then you'll want to learn about the differences between bankruptcy chapters 7 and 13, the two bankruptcy chapters most people file.
Being bankrupt is the last thing anyone wants, but it happens. Fortunately, our legal system helps people start over by filing for bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy works by "voiding" or breaking the contracts between you and your bankruptcy creditors, freeing you from the responsibility of paying your bills. It's how bankruptcy can give you a fresh start.
But bankruptcy works for creditors, too. Keep reading to learn more.
Bankruptcy starts when you file completed bankruptcy forms with the bankruptcy clerk. In your bankruptcy filing, you'll explain everything about your financial situation, which in turn will reveal why you're bankrupt.
For instance, some of the things you'll tell the bankruptcy court will include:
The task of reading your bankruptcy paperwork will fall on the bankruptcy trustee the bankruptcy court appoints to oversee your case. If the bankruptcy trustee finds that you can pay some amount to your bankruptcy creditors, the bankruptcy trustee will follow the bankruptcy law to ensure each bankruptcy creditor gets the amount the creditor is entitled to receive.
How the bankruptcy trustee will pay creditors will depend on which one of three types of bankruptcy you file.
Keep reading for more information about each type of bankruptcy.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings exceed all other types of bankruptcy every year by far, which isn't surprising because, when possible, most people prefer to file for Chapter 7. Why? Because it doesn't require creditor payments, and it's over in about four months.
However, all this stripped-down, bare-bones type of bankruptcy does is help people "discharge" or wipe out qualified debt, such as credit card balances, medical bills, and personal loans. It doesn't solve any other financial problems.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy works best for people who don't have much money left after paying monthly expenses and don't have more property than their state lets them protect or "exempt" with a bankruptcy exemption. Filers lose property they can't protect with a bankruptcy exemption.
Individuals and businesses can file this type of bankruptcy.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy solves a lot more problems than Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filers can use the three- to five-year repayment plan to catch up on mortgage payments and keep a house, or bring a car loan current and keep a car.
This type of bankruptcy works best for bankruptcy filers who make too much to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or those who want to keep property they'd lose in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Only individuals and sole proprietors qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Businesses and companies can't use this type of bankruptcy.
Very few Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases get filed each year. Why? Because this type of bankruptcy is complicated, expensive, and usually filed by large and small businesses needing financial help from creditors. Individuals who have too much debt for Chapter 13 can also use Chapter 11.
You can learn more about Chapter 11 bankruptcy here.
You will have to pay for "nondischargeable debt" or debt that doesn't go away in bankruptcy. If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, these debts will remain with you after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy ends. In Chapter 13, you'll pay most nondischargeable debts in full through your Chapter 13 plan (but not student loans).
These are the most common nondischargeable debts:
Before deciding you're bankrupt, make sure you can erase enough debt to make filing for bankruptcy worthwhile.
If you can, the next step is determining if you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy by passing the bankruptcy means test. If you pass the Chapter 7 means test, you'll likely want to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but always be sure to consult with a bankruptcy attorney.
If you don't qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or if you have other problems, such as you want to keep a home out of foreclosure or prevent your car from being repossessed, you'll likely want to consider filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Did you know Nolo has been making the law easy for over fifty years? It's true—and we want to make sure you find what you need. Below you'll find more articles explaining how filing bankruptcy works. And don't forget that our bankruptcy homepage is the best place to start if you have other bankruptcy questions!
Providing all information needed to file for bankruptcy is beyond the scope of this article. If you'd like to file without an attorney, a self-help book like How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill and Albin Renauer J.D. or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time, by Cara O'Neill (Nolo) can help you make well-informed decisions about your bankruptcy matter.
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