Bankruptcy is a process in which consumers and businesses can eliminate or repay some or all of their debts under the protection of the federal bankruptcy court. For the most part, bankruptcies can be divided into two types — liquidation and reorganization.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy comes under the liquidation category. It’s called liquidation because the bankruptcy trustee may take and sell (“liquidate”) some of your property to pay back some of your debt. However, you may keep property that is protected (also called “exempt”) under state law. There are several types of reorganization bankruptcies, but Chapter 13 is the most common type for consumers. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you keep all of your property, but must make monthly payments over three to five years to repay all or some of your debt.
Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy have many rules — and exceptions to those rules — regarding which debts are covered, who can file, and what property you can and cannot keep.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as “wage earner” bankruptcy because, in order to file for Chapter 13, you must have a reliable source of income that you can use to repay some portion of your debt.
Repayment. When you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must propose a repayment plan that details how you are going to pay back your debts over the next three to five years. The minimum amount you’ll have to repay depends on how much you earn, how much you owe, and how much your unsecured creditors would have received if you’d filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Debt limits. Your debts must be within limits set by the federal government: Currently, you may not have more than $1,010, 650 in secured debt and $336,900 in unsecured debt.
Secured debts. If you have secured debts, Chapter 13 gives you an option to make up missed payments to avoid repossession or foreclosure. You can include these past due amounts in your repayment plan and make them up over time.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be filed by individuals (called a “consumer” Chapter 7 bankruptcy) or businesses (called a “business” Chapter 7 bankruptcy). A Chapter 7 bankruptcy typically lasts three to six months.
Property liquidation. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, some of your property may be sold to pay down your debt. In return, most or all of your unsecured debts (that is, debts for which collateral has not been pledged) will be erased. You get to keep any property that is classified as exempt under the state or federal laws available to you (such as your clothes, car, and household furnishings). Many debtors who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy are pleased to learn that all of their property is exempt.
Secured debt. If you owe money on a secured debt (for example, a car loan for which the car is pledged as a guarantee of payment), you have a choice of allowing the creditor to repossess the property; continuing your payments on the property under the contract (if the lender agrees); or paying the creditor a lump sum amount equal to the current replacement value of the property. Some types of secured debts can be eliminated in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Eligibility for Chapter 7. Not everyone can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. For example, if your disposable income is sufficient to fund a Chapter 13 repayment plan — after subtracting certain allowed expenses and monthly payments for certain debts — you won’t be allowed to use Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
We are well aware that taking action when confronted by overwhelming financial challenges can be difficult for most people. Getting credit counseling, advice, direction and encouragement from a trusted source can make all the difference. Our certified credit counselors offer sound advice and solutions to fit the customer’s need and lifestyle. Customers looking for credit counseling will work with the same credit counselor over time and develop a trusting relationship that has proven to help client’s long term success. Clients are treated with respect and support as they make important financial improvements.
Debt consolidation entails taking out one loan to pay off many others. This is often done to secure a lower interest rate, secure a fixed interest rate or for the convenience of servicing only one loan.
Debt consolidation can simply be from a number of unsecured loans into another unsecured loan, but more often it involves a secured loan against an asset that serves as collateral, most commonly a house. In this case, a mortgage is secured against the house. The collateralization of the loan allows a lower interest rate than without it, because by collateralizing, the asset owner agrees to allow the forced sale (foreclosure) of the asset to pay back the loan. The risk to the lender is reduced so the interest rate offered is lower.
Sometimes, debt consolidation companies can discount the amount of the loan. When the debtor is in danger of bankruptcy, the debt consolidator will buy the loan at a discount. A prudent debtor can shop around for consolidators who will pass along some of the savings. Consolidation can affect the ability of the debtor to discharge debts in bankruptcy, so the decision to consolidate must be weighed carefully.
Debt consolidation is often advisable in theory when someone is paying credit card debt. Credit cards can carry a much larger interest rate than even an unsecured loan from a bank. Debtors with property such as a home or car may get a lower rate through a secured loan using their property as collateral. Then the total interest and the total cash flow paid towards the debt is lower allowing the debt to be paid off sooner, incurring less interest.
Debt settlement, also known as debt arbitration, debt negotiation or credit settlement, is an approach to debt reduction in which the debtor and creditor agree on a reduced balance that will be regarded as payment in full.
Debt settlement is often confused with debt consolidation. In debt consolidation, the consumer makes monthly payments to the debt consolidator, who takes a small fee and passes the rest on to the creditors; this way, creditors continue to receive payments each month. In debt settlement, the consumer makes monthly payments, out of which the debt settlement company takes its fees; the remainder is put into a “trust” or “special purpose” account. The creditors get nothing until they decide to settle. Furthermore, the debt settlement company usually instructs the consumer not to make any payments to creditors. The intended effect is to scare creditors into settling the debt for less than the full amount. Typically, however, creditors simply begin collection procedures, which can include filing suit against the consumer in court. As long as consumers continue to make minimum monthly payments, creditors will not negotiate a reduced balance. However, when payments stop, balances continue to grow because of late fees and ongoing interest.
Consumers can arrange their own settlements by using advice found on web sites, hire a lawyer to act for them, or use debt settlement companies. In a New York Times article Cyndi Geerdes, an associate professor at the University of Illinois law school, states “Done correctly, (debt settlement) can absolutely help people”. However, some settlement companies may charge a large fee up front; or take a monthly fee from customer bank accounts for their service, possibly reducing the incentive to settle with creditors quickly. One expert advises consumers to look for companies that charge only after a settlement is made, and charge about 20 percent of the amount by which the outstanding balance is reduced.