A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common and frequently referred to as a straight or liquidation bankruptcy. Chapter 7 can eliminate most unsecured debts by surrendering your assets in order to repay creditors. Unsecured debts are debts not secured with collateral, including most personal loans and credit cards.
Not only can families and individuals qualify for Chapter 7, but certain businesses with assets that can be liquidated to cover debts also qualify. Liquidation involves the sale of your assets to pay your creditors for the debt owed. Some assets are exempt, but all nonexempt assets may be included in the liquidation process.
When filing a request for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, normally all collection actions against you come to a halt. This means creditors shouldn’t be able to garnish your wages, demand payment, or begin a lawsuit against you. Roughly 40 days after filing your petition, a meeting with your creditors take place, and you must agree to answer all questions under oath. Once a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is successful, you receive a discharge that releases you from personal liability for your debts.
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court places an automatic temporary stay on your current debts. This stops creditors from collecting payments, garnishing your wages, foreclosing on your home, repossessing property, evicting you or turning off your utilities. The court will take legal possession of your property and appoint a bankruptcy trustee to your case.
The trustee’s job is to review your finances and assets and oversee your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. They will sell certain property the bankruptcy won’t let you keep (nonexempt property) and use the proceeds to repay your creditors. The trustee will also arrange and run a meeting between you and your creditors—called a creditor meeting—where you’ll go to a courthouse and answer questions about your filing.
The list of property you don’t have to sell or turn over to creditors (exempt property), and the total value that you can exempt, varies by state. Some states let you choose between their exemption list and the federal exemptions. But most Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases are “no asset” cases, meaning all of the person’s property is either exempt or there’s a valid lien against the property.
At the end of the process, approximately four to six months from your initial filing, the court will discharge your remaining debts (meaning you don’t need to pay them anymore). However, some types of debts generally aren’t dischargeable through bankruptcy, including child support, alimony, court fees, some tax debts and most student loans.
There are a few requirements you’ll need to meet to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy:
Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are the two common types of bankruptcy that affect consumers. Either could help when you don’t have the means to pay all your bills, but there are important differences between the two.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can wipe out certain debts within several months, but a court-appointed trustee can sell your nonexempt property to pay your creditors. You also must have a low income to qualify.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to keep your stuff and get on a more affordable repayment plan with your creditors. You’ll need to have enough income to afford the payments and be below the maximum total debt limits (currently nearly $400,000 for unsecured debts and $1 million-plus for secured debts).
A court will approve the Chapter 13 repayment plan, which usually lasts three to five years, and your trustee will collect your payments and disburse them to your creditors. Once you finish the plan, the remainder of the unsecured debts is discharged.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will generally discharge your unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, medical bills and unsecured personal loans. The court will discharge these debts at the end of the process, generally about four to six months after you start.
Some types of unsecured debts usually aren’t discharged through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, including:
Your creditor could also object and keep certain debts from getting discharged. For example, a credit card company could object to the debt from recent luxury goods purchases or cash advances, and the court may decide you still need to repay this portion of the credit card’s balance.
Additionally, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy may discharge the debt you owe on secured loans. Secured loans are those backed by collateral, such as your home for a mortgage, or when a creditor has a lien on your property. However, even if the debt is discharged, the creditor may still have the right to foreclose on or repossess your property.
If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may lose your nonexempt belongings, property that has a lien on it and property you offered as collateral for a loan.
Examples of exempt property based on current federal limits for an individual include:
Double these amounts if you’re married and file a joint tax return. Keep in mind that states may have different exemptions and limits that you can (or must) use when filing bankruptcy. For example, the homestead exemption for a single homeowner living in California starts at $75,000, but is unlimited in some other states.
A trustee can’t take property when its value is less than the exempt amount, which means you may be able to keep your home and vehicle.
For example, if your house is worth $400,000 and you still owe the lender $350,000, you have $50,000 worth of equity in the home. If your state has a homestead exemption higher than the $50,000 of equity you have, then the trustee can’t take your home. But if your homestead exemption is $25,150, the trustee could take and sell your home, pay off your mortgage, give you the $25,150 exempt amount and use any remaining funds to repay other creditors.
A similar scenario could play out with other forms of secured debts, such as an auto loan. However, just because the trustee can’t take and sell these assets doesn’t mean you’ll get to keep them in the long run.
When you’re behind on your payments, your creditors can still foreclose on your home or repossess your vehicle once you complete the bankruptcy process. If you want to keep possessions that are securing your debts, you may have to continue making payments on the loan (if you’re not already behind) or pay the full price to purchase the item.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a major derogatory mark that can hurt your credit for years to come. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy record can stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years from the filing date, and a completed Chapter 13 bankruptcy can remain on your credit report for seven years from the filing date.
Chapter 7 is generally a more affordable option when compared to Chapters 13 and provides a relatively quick way to get out from under your debts. Filing Chapter 7 might be a good option if you:
When you have debts that won’t be discharged, such as unpaid income taxes, domestic support obligations or student loans, Chapter 13 may be the better option. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also typically used when you want to save your home from foreclosure. If you have a high income that disqualifies you for Chapter 7 and you can afford to pay some of your debt, Chapter 13 may be your only option.
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, consult our attorneys. They can help you decide which Chapter of bankruptcy is right for your situation.
The biggest difference between Chapter 11 and Chapter 7 is Chapter 11 is a reorganization bankruptcy and Chapter 7 is a liquidation bankruptcy. This means that, in Chapter 7, you’re required to sell your assets to pay as many creditors as possible.
Chapter 11 lets you negotiate with your creditors to modify the terms of your debts and create a repayment plan without having to sell your assets. While individuals and businesses can utilize either type of bankruptcy, Chapter 7 is typically favored by individuals. Chapter 11 is geared more towards business owners.
Whether you file Chapter 7, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13, your credit score will suffer. Legally, credit report agencies can leave all three types of bankruptcies on your credit reports for 10 years from your filing date. However, they usually remove completed Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases in seven years.
If you file for bankruptcy, find out how it’s affecting your credit by getting copies of your free credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. Your credit reports are a snapshot of your financial habits, so there are many ways to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy. As you rebuild your credit profile, monitor the changes by viewing your credit scores.
Deciding whether bankruptcy is right for you really comes down to the nature of your debt and how vulnerable you may be to your creditors. Remember, not all your debts may be discharged during bankruptcy. Student loans typically can’t be discharged, except in cases of extreme hardship. Past due income taxes and child support may also not be eligible for discharge or a debt repayment plan. Also keep in mind that you will have to pay a filing fee–the price depends on which chapter you file for.
Filing bankruptcy can be financially, physically and emotionally draining. However, it may be your best option when bills keep piling up and you don’t have the means to pay your creditors. It’s also possible to recover from bankruptcy and rebuild your finances and credit, but it will take time.
You can choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own or hire an attorney to help. Some legal aid centers and nonprofit credit counseling agencies may also be able to offer you free assistance. Once you determine that you’re eligible, the process will be largely the same:
Generally, the entire Chapter 7 process from the initial credit counseling to the point when the court discharges your remaining debts takes about four to six months.
Your case could take longer, however, such as when the trustee asks you to submit additional documents or if they have to sell your property to repay creditors. Or, perhaps you want to try to get your student loans discharged in bankruptcy. It’s possible, but difficult, and can require a lengthy trial.