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Correcting Common Misconceptions About Bankruptcy

When You File Bankruptcy Typically You Will Lose Little or None of Your Property. People are wrong who believe that a bankruptcy filing results in the loss of most of their property. Everyone who files bankruptcy gets to keep some of their possessions, and most people get to keep all of them.

No matter the type of bankruptcy you file, unless property is collateral for a loan, you get to keep all your property that is protected by “exemption” laws. Exemption laws typically protect clothes, appliances, furniture, jewelry, and often even your car and home.

An exemption law may state that you get to keep property that is worth less than a certain amount. What that property is worth is based not on how much the property cost, but rather on your “equity” in the property: the amount that the property is worth in its present condition minus how much you owe on a loan for that property.

For example, if an exemption law protects a $2,000 motor vehicle, this dollar amount applies to $2,000 of your equity in the car, not to the total value of the car. If your car has a total value of $7,000 today with a $5,000 car loan balance, you have $2,000 in equity in the car. In this scenario, you can fully protect a $7,000 car with the $2,000 exemption. Thus you will not lose the car in the bankruptcy process In the above example, you still owe $5,000 on the car loan or the auto lender will take the car because the auto lender has a secured loan. You will still have to repay the $5,000 car loan in the bankruptcy or the auto lender will take the car, but you won’t lose the car to pay your other creditors.

What property and the amount of that property that is exempt varies widely from state to state and the application of exemptions in bankruptcy can be complex, particularly if you have moved within the last two years to a different state or bought a home within the last 40 months. You should discuss what property is exempt with a bankruptcy attorney, but the general rule of thumb is that, for most consumers filing bankruptcy, much of their property is exempt.

What property you keep also depends on the type of bankruptcy you choose—a chapter 7 or a chapter 13. In a chapter 7 case, you keep your exempt possessions, but other property may be sold, with the money distributed to pay your creditors. In a chapter 13 case, you keep all your property by paying their value over time from future income under a plan approved by the bankruptcy court. You do not have to repay for property to the extent that it is exempt. If you have very valuable property, it might be sold in a chapter 7 bankruptcy, but you keep it if you pay its value to your creditors over a number of years in a chapter 13 plan.

The Effect of Bankruptcy on Your Credit Report. The effect of a bankruptcy on your credit report is of understandable concern. Most often, you should not worry about bankruptcy making it harder for you to obtain credit. If you are delinquent on a number of debts, this already appears on your credit record. A bankruptcy is unlikely to make your credit rating any worse, but instead may make it easier for you to obtain future credit.

New creditors will see that old obligations have been discharged in the bankruptcy and that you have fewer other creditors competing with them for payment. Creditors also recognize that you cannot receive a second chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge for another eight years. After bankruptcy, your credit file will also list the outstanding balance as zero dollars for each of your debts.

The credit file will list the fact that you filed bankruptcy and that certain debts at one time were delinquent, but creditors are most interested in what you owe now on each debt. That your credit report shows that you owe nothing on a debt improves your credit standing.

After your bankruptcy is complete, check your credit report to make sure all the debts you discharged in bankruptcy are listed as now owing zero dollars. File a dispute with the credit bureaus if your discharged debts continue to be listed as having a balance owed.

Bankruptcy also often will enhance the stability of your employment and income. Wage garnishments, continuous collection calls, car repossessions, telephone disconnections, and other consequences of an unaffordable debt burden are eliminated, and this should help you find and hold steady employment. Steady income is key to creditworthiness.

Bankruptcy will make it more difficult for you to obtain a new conventional mortgage to purchase a home. Even then, most lenders will not hold the bankruptcy against you if you re-establish a good credit reputation for two to four years after your bankruptcy.

After bankruptcy, some new lenders may demand collateral as security, ask for a cosigner, or want to know why bankruptcy was filed. Other creditors, such as some local retailers, may not even check your credit report.

Bankruptcies stay on your credit record for ten years from the bankruptcy filing, while your debts are usually only reported for seven years from their delinquency. If delinquencies on your debts are five or six years old, bankruptcy will not help your credit record. The debts will be deleted from your credit report within a year or two, while the bankruptcy will stay on your record for ten years.

If You File Bankruptcy, You Usually Do Not Need to Go to Court, unless something out of the ordinary occurs. You will have to attend one meeting with the bankruptcy trustee (not with a judge). Creditors are invited to that meeting but rarely attend. In the rare case that you do receive a notice to go to court, it is important that you go and also check with your attorney if you have an attorney. Before your case is closed, you must also take a course in personal finances, which will last for approximately two hours.

The Effect of Bankruptcy on Your Reputation in the Community. Most people find their reputations do not suffer from filing bankruptcy. Bankruptcies are not generally announced publicly, although they are a matter of public record. It is unlikely that your friends and neighbors will know that you filed bankruptcy unless you tell them.

However, especially in a small town, where debts are owed to local people, reputational issues connected with filing bankruptcy may arise. In such a situation, weigh possible embarrassment and damage to reputation against bankruptcy’s potential advantages. If you believe that your reputation in a small town is a concern, you may choose to voluntarily pay selected debts after bankruptcy, but you cannot leave selected creditors out of the bankruptcy process entirely.

Feelings of Moral Obligation. Most people want to pay their debts and make every effort to do so if payment is possible. If bankruptcy is the right solution to your financial problems, you should balance these feelings of obligation with the importance of protecting your family.

Bankruptcy is a legal right. A provision concerning bankruptcy is even contained in the United States Constitution. Big corporations like Kmart, American Airlines, Chrysler, and Macy’s, and famous people like Toni Braxton, Tammy Wynette, Larry King, Mickey Rooney, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney have all chosen to file bankruptcy. The book of Deuteronomy states:

At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release that which he has lent unto his neighbor and his brother; because the Lord’s release hath been proclaimed. (Deut. 15:1–2.)

Most importantly, during hard times, bankruptcy may be the only way to provide your family with food, clothing, and shelter. This book explores alternatives to bankruptcy, and these should be considered carefully. But it may be that bankruptcy is your best or only realistic alternative.

Potential Discrimination After Bankruptcy. The federal bankruptcy law offers you protection against being discriminated against because you have filed for bankruptcy. Government agencies, such as housing authorities and licensing departments, cannot deny you benefits because of a previous bankruptcy, including debts discharged in bankruptcy that were owed to those agencies. Government agencies and private entities involved in student loan programs also cannot discriminate against you based upon a bankruptcy filing.

Employers are not permitted to discriminate against you for filing bankruptcy. However, for some sensitive jobs which involve money or security, your bankruptcy may be considered evidence of financial problems which could be detrimental to your work. Bankruptcy law does not prevent discrimination by others, including private creditors, deciding whether to grant you any new loans.