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Personal Bankruptcy: Chapter 7

Bankruptcy is a legal procedure which can give people who cannot pay their bills a fresh start. A decision to file for bankruptcy is a serious step. You should make it only if it is the best way to deal with financial problems.

There are two types of bankruptcy available to most individuals. Chapter 13 (reorganization) allows debtors to keep property which they might otherwise lose, such as a mortgaged house or car. Reorganizations may allow debtors to pay off or cure a default over a period of three to five years, rather than surrender property.

Chapter 7 (straight bankruptcy) involves liquidation of all assets that are not exempt in
your state. The exempt property may include items such as clothing and basic human needs, work-related tools and basic household furnishings, among others. Some of your property may be sold by a court-appointed official or turned over to your creditors. You can file for Chapter 7 only once every six years.

Both types of bankruptcy may get rid of unsecured debts (those where creditors have no rights to specific property), and stop foreclosures, repossessions, garnishments, utility shutoffs, and debt collection activities. Both types also provide exemptions that permit most individual debtors to keep most of their assets, though these "exemption" amounts vary greatly from state to state.

Bankruptcy cannot clean up a bad credit record and may be part of this record for up to ten years. It can, for example, make it more difficult to get a mortgage to buy a house. It usually does not wipe out child support, alimony, fines, taxes, and some student loan obligations. Also, unless under Chapter 13 you have an acceptable plan to catch up on your debt, bankruptcy usually does not permit you to keep property when the creditor has an unpaid mortgage or lien on it.

Bankruptcy cases must be filed in federal court. The filing fee is $160, which sometimes may be paid in installments. This fee does not include the fees of your bankruptcy lawyer.

Choosing a bankruptcy lawyer may be difficult. Some of the least reputable lawyers make easy money by handling hundreds of bankruptcy cases without adequately considering individual needs. Recommendations from those you know and trust, and from employee assistance programs, are most useful.

Some public-funded legal services programs handle bankruptcy cases without charging attorney fees. Or these programs may provide referrals to private bankruptcy lawyers. Keep in mind that the fees of these attorneys may vary widely.


 
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