The decision to file for bankruptcy is never easy. If you’re weighing your debt relief options or currently working through a debt settlement program, you may have considered whether bankruptcy is right for you. Although it can provide individuals with a financial fresh start, in some circumstances, bankruptcy can come with social stigma and will severely impact your credit. If you are considering bankruptcy, it is highly recommended that you research thoroughly and speak with an attorney, as the lasting impacts can make this option a last resort.
How Do Bankruptcies Work?
Bankruptcy is a legal process for individuals and businesses who owe more than their assets are worth. Most individuals file for bankruptcy voluntarily, but creditors can ask a court to order a person bankrupt.
There are multiple forms of bankruptcy that can be filed in the United States, but the most common forms of personal bankruptcy are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, also known as “liquidation bankruptcy” or “straight bankruptcy,” aims to pay off as much of your debt as possible by selling all of your nonexempt assets and giving that money to your creditors. Assets like your home, vehicle and other personal property may be exempt from being sold to satisfy creditor claims.
When filing for Chapter 7, you are required to pass a Chapter 7 Means Test. If your income is below your state’s median income, you will likely qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your income is higher than your state’s median income, but you’re still experiencing the consequences of overwhelming debt, you may still qualify if you can prove that you don’t have enough disposable income to pay your financial obligations.
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is a reorganization of your assets. Rather than focusing on the liquidation of your property, the court will require you to participate in a 3 to 5 year payment plan. If you are successful in making all of your payments, your unsecured debts may be discharged.
If you have a steady stream of income set in place and want to avoid liquidating your home, company or assets, filing for Chapter 13 might be the better option for you. It’s important to understand, however, that your court-mandated payment plan is inflexible, and you’ll lose the court’s protection and bankruptcy benefits if you fail to meet all of your payments. This means that if you have an emergency payment pop up while you’re making your payments, such as a medical bill or a home repair, you may be at risk of joining the roughly two thirds of filers who were unable to complete their court-approved repayment plan.
What Happens if I File For Bankruptcy?
Although the decision to file for bankruptcy is difficult, it can come with some relief. The court will place an automatic stay, which stops most creditor harassment and collection attempts. Wage garnishments will cease once this stay is in place, but you will still be required to pay student loans, child support and taxes.
Bankruptcy filings are public record and will remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years after your filing. This may cause problems if you attempt to file for future credit, apply to rent a home or apply for a new job. Your employer will know about your bankruptcy if the court decides to take bankruptcy payments from your paycheck directly, and any cosigners on your loans will also be notified.
Your credit score will take a huge hit if you file for bankruptcy. If your score was high to begin with, it may drop as much as 200 points. Your low score won’t be around forever; if you make all of your payments after filing for bankruptcy, your credit score will heal over time.
Debt settlement programs have provided many of people with the bankruptcy-alternative solutions they needed to rise above their debt. By working directly with your creditors on your behalf, they may be able to reduce what you owe and help you move beyond your debt faster.