Frequently Asked Questions About Bankruptcy
Below are a few answers to some of the commonly asked Bankruptcy questions. If you do not see your question listed below, please contact the Bankruptcy Clinic, to speak with a knowledgeable lawyer. You can call our Rockford office at 815-962-7084.
Q: What Is Bankruptcy?
A: Bankruptcy is a legal vehicle that provides relief to individuals and businesses in serious financial trouble and protects their creditors to the extent possible. Generally, the bankruptcy process assesses the debtor’s assets and liabilities and provides a structure within which the debtor is allowed to keep some, and in most cases, all property and ordered to satisfy as many eligible debts as possible, according to an order of priority established by law. Remaining debts are discharged, except those of certain types, like domestic support orders, debt obtained by fraud and most tax debt.
The traditional stigma of bankruptcy has faded and been replaced by the view that it is a fresh start after a time of trouble. Most bankruptcy debtors have experienced unexpected and extreme financial shock, such as that caused by sudden events such as job loss, business failure, death, divorce or illness.
In such cases, filing bankruptcy may be the right answer. If you are facing serious financial challenges, an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help you assess your legal options.
Bankruptcy law is primarily federal and administered by the federal courts. However, the various states’ consumer and commercial laws do play important roles in certain bankruptcy issues and some circumstances.
Bankruptcy is an available option for individual consumers, businesses, farmers and municipalities. There are two major bankruptcy types: liquidation and reorganization. For practical purposes, many debtors have so-called no-asset cases where all of the debtors’ property is exempt from the liquidation requirement and eligible debt is discharged without any property being sold.
Q: What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
A: Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs liquidation bankruptcy, available to individuals and businesses. Upon the filing of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, the bankruptcy court issues an “automatic stay” that stops most collection proceedings against the debtor. A bankruptcy trustee is responsible for gathering the debtor’s nonexempt property, if any, liquidating it and distributing the proceeds to the creditors in order of legal preference. This process often leaves some creditors’ debts unpaid when there are not enough assets to cover liabilities.
For an individual consumer debtor, these remaining debts are discharged and no longer the responsibility of the debtor; however, certain types of debt are nondischargeable and survive the bankruptcy, such as alimony or child support. For a business debtor, the liquidated business does not survive the bankruptcy.
Q: What Is A Reorganization Bankruptcy?
A: A reorganization bankruptcy is more appropriate where there is ongoing income that can be used to pay creditors, at least in part. Reorganizations are governed by several chapters of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 11 generally controls reorganizations for individual debtors with high debts or for larger business entities. Chapter 13, on the other hand, generally covers individual consumer debtors with lower debts. Farmers can file for reorganization under Chapter 12 and municipalities under Chapter 9.
Filing for reorganization also generates an automatic stay of most collection activity. The debtor then develops a repayment plan to pay debts over a three- to five-year period through a bankruptcy trustee. At the successful conclusion of the payment plan, if certain conditions are met, remaining dischargeable debt is cancelled. If the debtor fails to make payments under the plan or fails to make alimony, child support or certain tax payments, however, the court may either dismiss the case or convert the reorganization to liquidation.
Q: What Is Involuntary Bankruptcy?
A: In addition to bankruptcies filed voluntarily by debtors, creditors have a legal remedy through “involuntary bankruptcy” petitions under Chapters 7 or 11. If either a minimum level of debt is present or a minimum number of creditors, creditors can file a bankruptcy petition against a debtor to ensure that assets are distributed fairly among creditors through the bankruptcy process. Creditors must take care only to file meritorious involuntary petitions, however. Penalties for filing improper involuntary petitions can be steep.
Q: Why Are So Many Consumers Filing Bankruptcy?
A: Many Americans with excess debt have acquired their debts over long periods of time. While they intend to repay the debts, they may find themselves unable to do so because of unanticipated changes in circumstances such as medical emergencies, job losses or failed businesses, disability, divorce or loss of spouse. Any of these circumstances, combined with late fees, over limit fees and the extraordinarily high interest rates that creditors now charge can result in insurmountable debt.
Q: What alternative courses of action are there to filing bankruptcy?
A: Short of bankruptcy, a debtor may attempt to mediate with creditors or negotiate workout agreements to extend due dates, lower interest rates, partially forgive debt or alter other terms. A debtor may execute an assignment of property for the benefit of creditors (ABC), wherein the debtor puts assets in the trust of a neutral third party to pay creditors. A business debtor can sell the business, negotiating the satisfaction of debt as part of the deal. Other creative options to bankruptcy exist. Many debtors, however, find that their creditors are unwilling to agree to reasonable terms or are completely unwilling to negotiate.
Q: What types of bankruptcy are there?
A: Consumers usually file Chapter 7 “liquidation” or Chapter 13 “reorganization” bankruptcies. In practice, most persons considering Chapter 7 only own property exempt from liquidation under the law and most of their debt is cancelled (discharged) without actually losing any of their property. Under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtor repays certain debts over time (from three to five years).
Q: Can bankruptcy free me from my student loans?
A: In some instances you can include student loans and taxes in a Chapter 13 repayment plan and pay them off over time. In many cases, this will save debtors money. Also, in rare instances, these debts may be dischargeable.
Q: Are spousal maintenance/alimony and child support obligations dischargeable in bankruptcy?
A: Domestic support obligations like alimony and child support are not dischargeable, nor does the filing of a bankruptcy petition stay most court proceedings dealing with family law issues. Under Chapter 7, but probably not under Chapter 13, other obligations to a spouse or child incurred in a divorce, separation or by court or government order are also not dischargeable, such as property settlement obligations.
Q: Can I stop paying my alimony and child support during my bankruptcy?
A: A debtor is required to remain current on all domestic support obligations such as alimony/spousal maintenance and child support throughout the duration of the bankruptcy. If a debtor falls behind on his or her domestic support obligations during bankruptcy, the bankruptcy could be dismissed or converted from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7 proceeding.
Q: How long may credit bureaus include bankruptcy information on a credit report?
A: Consumer credit reports may reveal Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases for 10 years from filing. Chapter 13 information can be included for seven years from discharge or 10 years from filing if there is no discharge. Account information for debts discharged under either chapter may be included in credit reports for seven years after the accounts go inactive.
Q: Should I consult a lawyer for legal advice about bankruptcy?
A: Yes. If you are contemplating bankruptcy or have questions about bankruptcy, you should contact a bankruptcy attorney immediately. As you will likely only file for bankruptcy once in your life, you should hire an experienced bankruptcy lawyer for this very important job.
Get Answers To All Of Your Questions In A Free Consultation
If you do not see the answer to your question, please reach out to our office to schedule your free consultation. In your consultation, our skilled lawyer will answer your questions and give you a free assessment of your potential bankruptcy filing. Call us at 815-962-7084 or send us an email to schedule your free consultation.