Bankruptcy allows a person who owes more money than they can repay to either repay a portion of the money over time or have the entire debt forgiven. Bankruptcy is also available to businesses, corporations, and partnerships. Once a person has filed bankruptcy, creditors must stop all collection efforts against the debtor, unless they get permission from the bankruptcy court to continue. The Bankruptcy Code and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure determine which chapter a person is eligible to file, which debts can be eliminated, how long repayment must continue, and which possessions can be kept.
After a petition for bankruptcy is filed
The commencement of a bankruptcy case creates an “estate.” The estate technically becomes the temporary legal owner of all of the Debtor’s property. The estate consists of all legal or equitable interests of the Debtor in property as of the date the case is filed, including property owned or held by another person if the Debtor has an interest in the property. Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code governs the applicability of the "automatic stay" to the facts and circumstances of your bankruptcy case. If it applies, it prohibits creditors from taking collection action against the Debtor or the Debtor’s property without Bankruptcy Court approval. The Court issues a notice of commencement advising all interested parties of the filing of the bankruptcy case. This notice provides the case number, trustee, date of the meeting of creditors, deadline to file a proof of claim (if applicable), and deadline to file an objection to the discharge (if applicable).
Filing fees can be found on the Filing Fees page or by clicking here.
Appropriate bankruptcy chapter
Your decision whether to file bankruptcy and under which chapter to file depends on your particular circumstances. In general, Chapter 7 is appropriate when the Debtor has insufficient income to pay a portion of his/her debts, and the Debtor is not seeking to keep non-exempt property. Otherwise, if the Debtor has an income or property and can afford to repay at least some of his/her debts, Chapter 11, 12 or 13 may be appropriate, depending on whether the Debtor is an individual, partnership, corporation, or family farmer. The decision whether to file a bankruptcy case and under which chapter is an extremely important decision and has tremendous financial impact. Your counsel will discuss with you the best option for your circumstances.
Pursuant to section 109(h)(1) you must complete and obtain a certificate from an approved non-profit credit counseling agency during the 180-day period preceding the date of filing. A list of approved Credit Counseling Agencies can be located on the U.S. Trustee’s website at www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
Chapter 7, 13, and 11
Chapter 7 – In a Chapter 7, Debtors are permitted to retain certain “exempt” property, while the remaining assets are liquidated by the trustee. The trustee will distribute the funds from the liquidation to holders of claims (creditors) in accordance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. Accordingly, potential Debtors should realize that the filing of a petition under chapter 7 might result in the loss of non-exempt property.
Chapter 13 – Chapter 13 is designed for individuals with regular income to repay a portion or all of their debt over an extended period of time. Chapter 13 may be appropriate for Debtors who seek to retain certain assets through a repayment plan.
Chapter 11 – Chapter 11 allows corporations, partnerships, and certain individuals who do not qualify under Chapter 13, to reorganize without having to liquidate all assets. As in a Chapter 13, the Debtor (called the “debtor-in-possession” because a trustee is not normally assigned) is required to present a repayment plan. If the plan is accepted by the creditors and subsequently approved (“confirmed”) by the Court, this allows the Debtor to reorganize his/her/or its personal, financial, or business affairs.
Debt: Secured, Unsecured, Priority, and Administrative
A secured debt is a debt that is collateralized by property. A creditor whose debt is “secured” has a right to foreclose or take property to satisfy a “secured debt.” For example, a mortgage loan is likely “secured” by a Debtor’s home. This means that the lender has the right to foreclose upon and take the home if the Debtor fails to make the loan payments.
An unsecured debt arises when you promise to repay someone a sum of money at a particular time, but you have not pledged any property as collateral for the debt.
A priority debt is a debt entitled to priority in payment, ahead of other debts. Please refer to 11 U.S.C. §507 of the Bankruptcy Code for a listing of such priority claims.
An administrative debt is a category of priority debt. Generally, it is created when someone provides goods or services to your bankruptcy estate after you file your petition. An example of an administrative debt is the fee charged by an attorney or other authorized professional for services rendered after the bankruptcy case has been filed.
Discharge releases the Debtor from personal liability for discharged debts. Thus, it prevents the creditors owed those debts from taking any action against the Debtor to collect the debts. Most, but not all, types of debts are discharged if they existed on the date the bankruptcy case was filed and were listed on the schedules. Some of the debts that are not discharged are discussed in question 15. Bankruptcy law regarding the scope of a discharge is complex, and Debtors should consult competent legal counsel prior to filing.
Timing of Discharge
The Notice of the Section §341 Meeting of Creditors reflects a date by which all complaints objecting to discharge or dischargability of debts must be filed. If the debtor has complied with all of the filing requirements, paid the filing fee in full and pursuant to section 727(a) (10) completed an instructional course concerning personal financial management, and has filed the proper certification reflecting completion, your discharge will be entered in due course after the expiration of the date stated earlier.
Debts than can be discharged
Generally, all debts listed on the petition are dischargeable. However, certain types of debt listed in 11 U.S.C. §523 are not dischargeable. The non-dischargeable debts listed in §523 include, but are not limited to:
a. Certain taxes and fines;
b. Debts arising from certain fraudulent conduct;
c. Debts not listed in your bankruptcy petition;
d. Alimony, child maintenance or support, and certain other related debts arising out of a divorce decree or separation agreement;
e. Debts caused by the Debtor’s willful and malicious injury to another;
f. Government guaranteed student loans;
g. Debts caused by a death or personal injury related to your operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated; and
h. Post-bankruptcy condominium or cooperative owner’s association fees.
This list includes only examples of non-dischargeable debts; see 11 U.S.C. § 523 for a complete list. Under § 523, a creditor or party in interest may also file a complaint to have their debt declared nondischargeable.
In a chapter 13 case, the discharge is broader under 11 U.S.C. § 1328(a).
Denial of Discharge
Under certain circumstances, 11 U.S.C. § 727 provides the Debtor’s discharge may be denied in a chapter 7 case. Grounds for denial exist when the Debtor: (1) failed to keep or produce adequate books or financial records, (2) failed to satisfactorily explain any loss of assets, (3) committed a bankruptcy crime such as perjury, (4) failed to obey a lawful order of the bankruptcy court, or (5) fraudulently transferred, concealed, or destroyed property that would have become property of the estate. Refer to § 727 for a complete list.
Discharge denial v. Non-dischargeable
The court can deny the Debtor’s discharge of all debts, or determine that a particular debt or debts are non-dischargeable. If the court denies the discharge of all debts, then the Debtor will still be legally responsible for all the debts as if no bankruptcy petition had ever been filed. If only certain debts are ruled non-dischargeable, the Debtor will still receive a discharge order. However, the Debtor will remain legally responsible for those non-dischargeable debts. For a discharge to be denied, either as to a particular debt or as to all debts, someone must file an adversary proceeding (lawsuit) with the court. That party must then prove one of the grounds for denial of the discharge or for a debt to be declared non-dischargeable. See Question No. 19 (for discharge) and Question No. 15 (for dischargeability of a particular debt). If your discharge is not withheld or none of your debts is declared to be non-dischargeable, then all the debts listed in your petition will be discharged upon the entry of the order granting your discharge (meaning your personal liability for the debts will be eliminated).
Role of a Trustee – Chapter 7 or 13
Under Chapter 7, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case by collecting and liquidating the Debtor’s non-exempt assets in a manner that maximizes the return to the Debtor’s unsecured creditors.
Under Chapter 13, an impartial trustee is also appointed to administer the case. The primary roles of the chapter 13 trustee are to determine the feasibility of a Debtor’s repayment plan for the court and to serve as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from Debtors and making distributions to creditors.
Function of a Trustee
The office of the U. S. Trustee is an agency of the Department of Justice, with responsibilities that include monitoring the administration of bankruptcy cases and detecting bankruptcy fraud. It is also responsible for appointing and supervising interim trustees to administer Chapter 7 cases, overseeing the Debtor-in-Possession, and appointing a standing Trustee in Chapter 13 cases.
341 meeting or Meeting of creditors
This meeting is referred to as the “meeting of creditors.” All creditors are notified so that they may attend, but their attendance is not required. Debtors have a duty to appear and testify under oath and answer questions by creditors. This meeting is presided over by the trustee assigned to the case and is held approximately 40 days after the petition is filed. Debtors are required to provide photo identification and proof of social security number to the assigned trustee. A Debtor’s failure to appear may result in dismissal of the case. If a continuance or change in the hearing date is sought, the trustee assigned to the case must be contacted.
Bankruptcy’s effect on a credit report
A Bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for a maximum of ten years under provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Bankruptcy Court has no jurisdiction over credit reporting agencies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, 6 U.S.C. § 605, is the law that controls credit-reporting agencies. The law states that credit reporting agencies may not report a bankruptcy case on a person’s credit report after ten years from the date the bankruptcy case is filed. You may contact the Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Education Division, Washington, D.C. 20580; their phone number is (202) 326-2222. That agency can provide further information on reestablishing credit and addressing credit problems. You can also directly contact the credit bureau(s) reporting the information – e.g., Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
A reaffirmation agreement is an agreement between the Debtor and a creditor that the Debtor will pay all or a portion of the money owed, even though the Debtor has filed bankruptcy. In return, the creditor promises that, as long as payments are made, the creditor will not repossess or take back its collateral. This means that the Debtor will remain personally liable on that debt.
* Nothing contained in this page is intended to be legal advice.
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