Bankruptcy – Which Chapter Should I File Under?

It can happen to the best of us. Perhaps you suffer a prolonged or serious illness and have run up large medical bills or perhaps you are laid off and are forced to use your credit cards to pay the monthly bills. No matter how it happens, you are looking at a debt load that you are unable to pay or are getting more and more behind on each month. If you find yourself in this difficult position, you might want to consider filing for bankruptcy.

Personal bankruptcy can be filed either as a Chapter 7 or as Chapter 13. Each are designed to give you a clean slate so that you can build a new life without being hampered by pre-existing debt.

Chapter 7 is what most people call to mind when thinking about bankruptcy. At the end of approximately six months, all of your debt is wiped away with just a few exceptions including student loans and taxes. These debts will survive the bankruptcy and you still be required to pay on them. However, Chapter 7 does eliminate debt where people are most likely to be in trouble such as credit cards and medical bills. The debt is simply discharged and you are no longer liable no matter what happens subsequent to your bankruptcy. Unfortunately, not everyone can qualify for Chapter 7.

Every six months the state’s median income is reevaluated and your income must fall below this number in order to automatically qualify for Chapter 7. If your income is above the median, you can still qualify by satisfying a secondary test called the means test that involves digging into your financial situation a bit more.

Additionally, in order to keep your home or car under Chapter 7, your payments must be current. If you are not able to qualify for Chapter 7 as a result of your higher income or being behind on auto or home payments, you would be forced to file Chapter 13.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is designed for people who have sufficient resources to pay back some of their debt but are simply a few months behind on payments. Payback is facilitated by developing a court approved plan to repay creditors over the course of three to five years. In short, your “important” creditors – mortgage, auto loan, and taxes – are paid in full during the plan and the less important creditors are paid what you are able to pay based on your financial situation. Any remaining unsecured debt such as credit card debts are generally discharged at the completion of the plan.

A bankruptcy is not a decision to take lightly because it will remain on your credit history for up to ten years. Only file for bankruptcy as a last resort since it can make getting loans more difficult and often force you to accept a higher interest rate on loans you are able to obtain.

Additionally, after completing either form of bankruptcy, it is advisable to sit down with a financial planner. A planner will be able to develop a strategy to keep you on sound monetary ground and help you develop good fiscal habits. Take the breathing room the bankruptcy has provided and build a solid financial foundation to last for the remainder of your life.

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