There is no question that the U.S. has a financial problem. The statistics are indisputable. Americans carry an average personal debt of over $90,000. Many times, it’s through no real fault of their own. There are so many factors to consider. The cost of living continues to rise, and as it does so it is becoming easier for people to get credit when they may not have the means to cover their bills.
Additionally, with the unemployment rate skyrocketing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, times are difficult for many people, and that includes the struggle with finances. We’ve all seen the headlines about looming eviction rates and bankruptcy surges, but what those headlines won’t tell you is that for many, these issues are not on the horizon, but rather on their doorstep.
While some people tend to shy away from bankruptcy or think it is a negative thing, that isn’t the case at all – when it’s processed the correct way.
What is Personal Bankruptcy?
Personal bankruptcy is a legal process in which a debtor files with their local court system. As a result, the debtor’s personal assets are evaluated, and some may be sold in order to offer creditors a portion of what they are owed.
The process of filing for bankruptcy also creates something called an “automatic stay,” which means creditors are blocked from collecting your debts until the court proceedings are over. This can give you a bit of breathing room while your case is being reviewed.
Bankruptcy works differently depending on an individual’s financial situation and how the court sees it. In some cases, a financial plan may be worked out that better fits with your income and needs, so you can pay back your creditors at a different rate. Other times, your debt will be completely eliminated.
In the case of Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtor will develop a plan based on their personal finances to repay their creditors over a fixed period of time.
Chapter 7 or Chapter 13?
Consumers generally file either a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Some people believe that a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best way to go, but that is not always the case. Everyone has their own unique situation which should be analyzed by a professional to determine whether a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is more appropriate. For example, if you do not have a lot of unsecured debt such as credit card debt or medical bills, but you have a home worth $200,000, a first mortgage of $210,000 and $75,000 on your second mortgage, and you want to keep your house, filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy may be appropriate for you because you may be able to “lien strip” the second mortgage.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of unsecured debt such as medical bills and/or credit card debt, then Chapter 7 may be more appropriate for you. However, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 made changes to the Bankruptcy Code, which makes filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy more complicated. To be eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy there is a 2-part test. First, there is the “means test”. This subjects debtors to an income-based test. But if the debtor’s income is below the state’s median income, then the debtor is not subject to the means test. Additionally, debtors with primarily (more than 51%) business debts (including investment properties used as rental properties) may file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy regardless.
However, even if you pass the means test, you still have to pass a second test known as the “abusive test”. The United States Trustee or any creditor can move to have your case dismissed. The bankruptcy Court could dismiss your case if the Court finds that you have the ability to pay back a significant portion of your unsecured debts.
If you are eligible to file a Chapter 7 you are looking to liquidate your debt. You are able to keep some property and may have to let other property go. You can keep exempt property.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a form of reorganization. The debtor proposes a plan to pay his creditors over a 3 to 5-year period. Generally, the debtor keeps property and the creditors get less money than they are owed. However, the unsecured creditors must receive at least as much through the Chapter 13 plan as they would have received in a Chapter 7 liquidation.
The Benefits of Filing for Bankruptcy
One of the biggest benefits to working with a bankruptcy lawyer well before filing is the knowledge about the process that professional counsel can share. Because there are time restrictions on how often you can file for bankruptcy, you’ll want to make sure you are in a position to get rid of the maximum amount of debt.
Also, it is essential to consider what might happen if your financial position changes between now and filing for bankruptcy. If your situation improves, should you back out of filing? If it worsens, should you file more quickly?
Working with an experienced attorney will help clarify the answers to those questions and give you peace of mind as you move forward.
Is Bankruptcy Right for You?
Unfortunately, bankruptcy has been stereotyped in a negative light over the last several years. While it certainly is something that should be used as a last resort to get out of debt, it doesn’t mean your credit will be ruined forever, and it isn’t something you should be embarrassed about. Bankruptcy exists for a reason – to help you get back on your feet.
If you are buried in debt, no matter the reason, and you’re not sure what else to do, bankruptcy could be your best option to get a fresh start with your finances.
Feel free to contact the Orlando Law Group for more information on our bankruptcy services and how we can go to work for you to start the process. Our years of expertise with bankruptcy law will make the entire experience as easy on you as possible, so you can focus on eliminating the debt from your life and starting over with your finances in a healthy and responsible way.