What Is Bankruptcy?

bankruptcy counseling

Bankruptcy explained: ACCC offers bankruptcy counseling with their certified counselors.

Bankruptcy is a legal procedure that allows individuals, businesses, or other organizations with overwhelming debt to seek relief from their creditors.

The primary goal of bankruptcy is to provide debtors with a fresh financial start while ensuring fair treatment for creditors.

Bankruptcy proceedings are governed by federal law, specifically the United States Bankruptcy Code, and are conducted in specialized bankruptcy courts. The first step of bankruptcy is to complete a credit counseling course with an approved agency. This mandatory step is required by law for individuals considering filing for bankruptcy. The credit counseling session aims to educate individuals about the bankruptcy process, evaluate their financial situation, and explore possible alternatives to bankruptcy. Upon completion of the counseling session, the debtor will receive a certificate, which is necessary when filing the bankruptcy petition.

The Bankruptcy Process

Bankruptcy is a complex legal process designed to provide relief to individuals and businesses struggling with overwhelming debt. It offers different types of bankruptcy tailored to specific financial situations and has several implications for both debtors and creditors. The bankruptcy process consists of several stages, including:

Credit counseling: Before filing for bankruptcy, debtors must complete a credit counseling course from an approved agency to explore alternative debt relief options.

Filing a bankruptcy petition: Debtors must file a petition with the bankruptcy court, providing detailed information about their income, expenses, assets, and liabilities.

Automatic stay: Upon filing, an automatic stay goes into effect, temporarily preventing creditors from pursuing collection efforts.

Meeting of creditors: The debtor must attend a meeting of creditors, where the trustee and creditors can ask questions about the debtor’s financial situation and the proposed repayment plan.

Repayment or liquidation: Depending on the type of bankruptcy, the debtor will either create a repayment plan (Chapter 13) or have their non-exempt assets liquidated by the trustee (Chapter 7) to repay their creditors.

Financial management course: Before receiving a discharge, debtors must complete a financial management course to improve their financial literacy.

Discharge: After completing the bankruptcy process, eligible debts are discharged, releasing the debtor from their obligation to repay them.

Key Insights

  • Bankruptcy represents a legal process designed to relieve individuals or businesses of their debt obligations.

  • The bankruptcy process allows creditors a chance to recover some repayments.

  • Federal courts manage bankruptcy proceedings, following regulations established in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

  • A bankruptcy record remains on credit reports for several years, making future borrowing more challenging.

Types of Bankruptcy Filing

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Also known as “liquidation bankruptcy,” Chapter 7 is designed for individuals or businesses with limited income and assets. In this process, a court-appointed trustee sells the debtor’s non-exempt assets to pay off creditors. Remaining unsecured debts are typically discharged, and the debtor is no longer legally obligated to pay them.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy:

This is when your debt is reorganized into a single monthly payment. In no case may a plan provide for payments over a period longer than five years. You do not have to repay all your debt. You pay only as much as you can afford, but the minimum payment may be affected by property you want to keep. When you complete the payments, debt not paid is discharged. Suitable for individuals with regular income, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a repayment plan that allows debtors to consolidate their debts and repay them over a period of three to five years. This type of bankruptcy can help debtors save their homes from foreclosure and catch up on missed payments.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy:

Primarily used by businesses, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a reorganization process that allows the debtor to restructure their debts and develop a repayment plan. This type of bankruptcy enables businesses to continue operations while repaying their creditors over time.

Other Types of Bankruptcy

While Chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcies are widely known, there are other chapters in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that cater to specific entities and situations. This article examines Chapter 9, 10, 12, and 15 bankruptcies, their purpose, eligibility criteria, and the processes involved.

Chapter 9: Municipal Bankruptcy

The process involves filing a petition, followed by the appointment of a bankruptcy judge who oversees the case. The municipality must propose a debt adjustment plan that is in the best interests of its creditors, and the court must confirm it. Creditors are not allowed to seize the municipality’s assets during the process.

Chapter 10: Corporate Bankruptcy (Repealed)

This chapter allowed for the appointment of a trustee to oversee the reorganization process. However, Chapter 10 was repealed in 1978 when the Bankruptcy Reform Act was enacted. Chapter 11 bankruptcy now serves the purpose of corporate reorganization.

Chapter 12: Family Farmer or Family Fisherman Bankruptcy

The debtor must propose a repayment plan lasting 3-5 years. The plan must detail how the debtor will repay creditors over time while continuing their farming or fishing operations. A trustee is appointed to oversee the case and ensure the debtor makes the scheduled payments to creditors.

Chapter 15: Ancillary and Cross-Border Cases

A foreign representative can file a petition for recognition of a foreign proceeding under Chapter 15. Once recognized, the foreign proceeding may benefit from various reliefs and protections under U.S. bankruptcy law. The U.S. court may also provide assistance to the foreign court handling the primary bankruptcy case.

Tip: There is a bankruptcy court for each judicial district in the country. Each state has one or more districts. There are 90 bankruptcy districts across the country. The bankruptcy courts generally have their own clerk’s offices. (Source: www.uscourts.gov)

Implications of Bankruptcy

While bankruptcy can provide relief to debtors, it also has several implications:

  1. Credit score impact: Filing for bankruptcy can severely impact a debtor’s credit score, making it difficult to obtain credit, loans, or even employment in the future.
  2. Public record: Bankruptcy becomes part of the debtor’s public record, and future lenders or employers may consider it when making decisions.
  3. Loss of assets: In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor may lose non-exempt assets during the liquidation process.
  4. Stigma: Some individuals may feel social stigma or embarrassment associated with filing for bankruptcy.

Alternatives to Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is often viewed as a last resort for individuals and businesses facing financial distress. However, it can have long-lasting effects on one’s credit rating, making it difficult to secure loans or credit in the future. Fortunately, there are alternatives to bankruptcy that can help individuals and businesses regain control of their finances without the stigma or lasting consequences.

  1. Debt Management Plans

Debt management plans (DMPs) are structured repayment plans negotiated with creditors, typically through a credit counseling agency. The agency negotiates lower interest rates and fees, making it easier for the debtor to pay off their outstanding balances over time. DMPs are an excellent option for individuals with a steady income who need assistance in managing their debts but do not wish to file for bankruptcy.

Get Credit Counseling Help Today!

2. Debt Consolidation Loan

Debt consolidation involves taking out a new loan to pay off multiple existing debts, effectively combining them into one monthly payment. This can simplify the repayment process, reduce the overall interest rate, and extend the repayment period. Debt consolidation can be an effective strategy for those with good credit scores who can secure a lower interest rate on the new loan. However, keep in mind taking out a new loan otherwise will not be beneficial for your current financial situation.

3. Debt Settlement

Debt settlement is a negotiation process in which the debtor and creditor agree to a reduced balance that will be considered paid in full. This often requires a lump-sum payment but can result in significant debt reduction. Debt settlement is best for those who have access to a large sum of money to negotiate a one-time payment, but it may have negative effects on credit scores, as settled debts are typically reported as “settled” rather than “paid in full.”

4. Credit Counseling

Credit counseling services  provide financial education and guidance to help individuals develop a personalized plan to address their financial difficulties. They may assist with budgeting, negotiating with creditors, and exploring debt management options. Credit counseling is an excellent first step for those experiencing financial distress, as it can provide valuable insights and resources without the lasting impact of bankruptcy.

5. Informal Negotiations with Creditors

In some cases, debtors can negotiate directly with their creditors to develop a repayment plan. This may involve lowering interest rates, extending repayment terms, or temporarily pausing payments. Informal negotiations can be successful for individuals with a manageable amount of debt and a willingness to communicate openly with their creditors.

6. Asset Liquidation

For businesses facing financial distress, selling assets to pay off debts can be a viable alternative to bankruptcy. This allows the business to generate cash to satisfy its obligations without going through the bankruptcy process. Asset liquidation can be a difficult decision, as it may require selling valuable property or equipment, but it can help a struggling business avoid bankruptcy and continue operating.