The word “bankruptcy” may conjure images in your mind of auctioneers selling all your property except the clothes on your back. The reality is that Chapter 7 bankruptcy isn’t anything like that. The three most common reasons that people file bankruptcy are divorce, job loss, and medical bills. It’s very likely that you have friends, family or co-workers who have gone through bankruptcy and that you never heard a word about it.
So how does Chapter 7 bankruptcy work? We offer a 30-minute free phone consultation where we can review your options with you. We collect information about your income, expenses, debt and assets. After this initial evaluation we help you figure out whether you qualify for Chapter 7 (this will depend on income, family size, etc. though most folks who come see us do qualify). Next, we discuss whether the debts can be wiped out in bankruptcy. Taxes can be dischargeable sometimes, same with student loans. Alimony/child support are dischargeable. Credit cards, personal loans, utility bills and medical bills can be wiped out.
If the client qualifies for Chapter 7, we discuss the ramifications of bankruptcy. It may be more difficult to get a mortgage for the next few years and any car loan you take out will likely be at a higher interest rate than someone who hadn’t filed might qualify for, but in general, you can overcome these disadvantages by building credit after bankruptcy. Job seekers and people who might be looking to rent an apartment should know that only a very small percentage of employers and landlords will run credit checks.
Next, the conversation turns to assets. People want to know what property they can keep in a bankruptcy. The short answer is that you would only have to surrender property which is not “exempt.” The bankruptcy code is full of exemptions. Your clothes, furniture, household goods are safe unless you’re a Kardashian or something. You can generally keep your house and car, though some people use bankruptcy to get rid of underwater houses or cars.
If a client decides to file, we get started putting together all the required paperwork and filling out schedules. Then we file the case with the court. This filing begins what is called the “automatic stay.” During the automatic stay no creditors can contact you, either by telephone or by mail. If they do, we may be able to sue them and collect money damages.
Approximately one month after filing, you’ll meet with a bankruptcy trustee. This is called a 341 meeting. It’s the trustee’s job to make sure you aren’t hiding assets anywhere. It usually takes less than five minutes.
About sixty days after the 341 hearing, if all goes well, the bankruptcy is confirmed and all your dischargeable debts are eliminated. This means that the creditors can never attempt to collect the debts again, and you get a fresh start.