The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.
Bankruptcy is a legal process that lets you restructure your debts or have them discharged. The details of how your bankruptcy plays out depend on your overall financial situation and what type of bankruptcy you file, but the goal of bankruptcy is to help debtors who can’t pay all their debts create a path toward a better financial future while paying as much as they can. To determine how much you pay, consider Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
It’s important to note that bankruptcy should be a last resort. It has serious consequences for your credit and immediate financial future, which means you may want to consider all other options first. Find out more about Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 bankruptcy below and then talk to a lawyer about what might be best for you—many bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations for this purpose.
What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is sometimes referred to as liquidation bankruptcy or the fresh start bankruptcy. While every situation is handled according to the details of the case, the basic concept of Chapter 7 is that your non-exempt assets are liquidated to repay creditors and any remaining debt not covered is discharged in the bankruptcy. It should be noted that many families have no non-exempt assets, or very few non-exempt assets.
How It Works
First, you go through a pre-filing credit counseling course and obtain a certificate that you file when you file a petition with the court for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Before filing chapter 7 you must perform the “means test” to determine whether you qualify for chapter 7 at all.
The means test considers your income for the preceding six months, your family size, and some other factors. If you qualify for chapter 7 you can prepare and file your chapter 7 papers yourself, but most experts recommend working with a bankruptcy lawyer, as the process is complex.
You must also submit records including lists of all your assets and debts, your current income and expenses, tax returns and other documents related to your financial status, including contracts like leases that might be in play.
You’ll also be required to go through credit counseling after your bankruptcy is filed, and submit a certificate that you did so—if you work with a bankruptcy attorney, they usually help facilitate this.
Most creditor activities against you, such as lawsuits, foreclosures and wage garnishments, must be halted as soon as you file the petition and the creditor finds out about it. This is known as the automatic stay.
Within a few weeks, the bankruptcy trustee holds what is called a meeting of creditors. This is a hearing you must attend. You are placed under oath and the trustee, along with any present creditors, asks you questions. The trustee uses this information to determine whether you have any non-exempt assets or transactions that can be reversed.
The trustee is looking to see if s/he can obtain any money for your creditors. The trustee is also looking to insure that debtors are truthful and fully disclosing of their situation.
Once the case proceeds past this point, your debts are discharged as agreed upon after liquidation of non-exempt assets (if any) occurs and funds are disbursed to various creditors by the trustee. Some of your assets are protected by exclusions, including certain personal items and clothing.
You may also be able to keep a vehicle for the purpose of travel to and from work as well as your home, depending on how much equity you have in it.
Eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends on income and the application of a means test.
You may be eligible for a Chapter 7 filing if you pass the rigorous requirements of the means test, a test which looks at your income for the last six months, your family size, and other items, and compares you to other persons of the same family size in your area to determine whether you qualify.
Unsecured debt refers to debt that isn’t secured by property. Vehicle and home loans are secured by property, meaning the bank can take that property if you don’t pay to mitigate some of their losses. Credit cards are not usually secured, but may be in some instances. Priority unsecured debt refers to amounts you owe on taxes or child support.
Nonpriority unsecured debts are items such as credit card debt, personal loans and medical debt.
This is a lot of information, and it does sometimes get complex. But the bottom line is that if you have too much income, you may not be able to file Chapter 7. That’s because the court assumes you have enough income to pay at least some of your creditors.
If you qualify for Chapter 7, it can help you start fresh with debt. In some circumstances, you may leave the bankruptcy with no debt at all. It’s also faster than other forms of bankruptcy because there’s no repayment plan period.
Chapter 7 is looked at by future creditors as worse than Chapter 13 because it shows no effort to make any payment on debt owned. The Chapter 7 negative listing on your credit report will also show up for 10 years after you file the petition.
What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a restructuring plan. You work through the bankruptcy trustee to pay some, but usually not all, of your debts over three to five years. If you meet all the requirements of the plan, your remaining debt may be discharged at the end of the bankruptcy.
How It Works
Many of the processes associated with filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy are the same as when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You take the pre-filing credit counseling course, file the petition, an automatic stay goes into place, you attend the meeting of creditors and then you work with the trustee via your attorney to make the appropriate payments every month.
You pay the trustee as dictated by your bankruptcy plan. Once the plan is approved by the court, the trustee then disburses that money to your creditors. If you miss your Chapter 13 bankruptcy payments, the trustee can file a motion to dismiss your case, and you would then owe all the debts and creditors could begin collections actions against you again.
Once you complete the Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan, you are typically entitled to a discharge of all remaining debts under the bankruptcy.
Eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy depends on the amount of your debts as well as your ability to make payments as planned in your repayment plan.
- Unsecured debts must be less than $ 419,275. (As on October, 2020 –this number increases periodically with inflation.)
- Secured debts, including any mortgages, must be less than $1,257.850. (As of October, 2020 –this number increases periodically with inflation.)
- For your repayment plan to be confirmed, the trustee has to deem it possible for you to make the payments. If, for example, you agree to make a payment that totals your monthly income and leaves no room for living expenses, the trustee is likely to reject the plan.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit for less time than a Chapter 7—up to seven years from the filing date. Future creditors might also look more favorably upon it because it shows that you made some effort to repay debts. In a Chapter 13, you are typically able to keep all your belongings and don’t have to liquidate them.
You do have to make some payments toward debts, which can mean a hefty monthly payment to the trustee. You also agree to submit certain financial decisions, such as whether you take on new debt, to the court during the repayment plan.
Which Kind of Bankruptcy Is Best for Me?
Chapter 7 may be a good choice if your income is low or if you are struggling to make any payment on debts. Chapter 13 may be the right choice if you do have some ability to pay but you’re simply overwhelmed with your current debt load.
The decision can be complex, so it’s important to consult a bankruptcy attorney to find out what your options are and what might be right for you.
How Do I Apply for Bankruptcy?
You apply for a bankruptcy by filing a bankruptcy petition. You can file on your own or through an attorney.
How Does Bankruptcy Affect My Credit?
Depending on how you file, bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to seven to 10 years. Bankruptcy appears on your credit report as a negative public record item, and it can bring your score down substantially. How much your score drops depends on what it was before you entered bankruptcy and other factors, but it’s typically enough to drop you down to a different range—such as moving you from good to fair or poor credit.
Typically, by the time someone makes the decision to file for bankruptcy, their credit score is already suffering because of late payments or delinquent accounts in collections. A bankruptcy is a big hit, but it’s not a death knell for your good credit. In fact, if you’re responsible with debt following your bankruptcy, you can work toward a better credit future.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit as you move through the bankruptcy process. Address inaccurate information as soon as possible to keep your score from dropping any lower. Find out more about Lexington Law credit repair services and how they might help you continue to positively impact your credit as you move past your bankruptcy.
Reviewed by Vince R. Mayr, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.
Vince has considerable expertise in the field of bankruptcy law. He has represented clients in more than 3,000 bankruptcy matters under chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Vince earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Government from the University of Maryland. His Masters of Public Administration degree was earned from Golden Gate University School of Public Administration. His Juris Doctor was earned at Golden Gate University School of Law, San Francisco, California. Vince is licensed to practice law in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. He is located in the Phoenix office.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.
Does Getting Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Both Spouses’ Credit?
While marriage can help you improve your financial situation, it does not automatically mean that you and your spouse will share a credit report. Your credit records will remain separate, and any joint accounts or joint loans that you open will appear on both of your reports. While this can be advantageous, it’s critical to remember that joint account activity can effect both of your credit scores positively or negatively, just as separate accounts do.
Users Who Are Authorized
An authorized user is a user who has been added to an existing credit account and has been granted the authority to make purchases. Authorized users are typically issued a card bearing their name, and any purchases made by them will appear on your statement. The primary distinction between an authorized user and a shared account owner is that the account’s original owner is solely responsible for debt repayment. Authorized users, on the other hand, can always opt-out of their authorized status, although the principal joint account owner cannot.
If your credit score is better than your spouse’s as an authorized user, he or she may benefit from a credit score raise upon account addition. This is contingent upon your creditor notifying the credit bureaus of permitted user activity. If your lender does report authorized users, the activity on your account may have an effect on both you and your spouse. However, some lenders report only positive authorized user information, which means that late payment or poor usage may not have a negative effect on someone else’s credit. Consult your lender to determine how authorized users on your account are treated.
Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Your Credit Score
Opening a joint credit account or obtaining joint financing binds both of you legally to the debt’s repayment. This is critical to remember if you divorce or separate and your spouse refuses to make payments, even if previously agreed upon. It makes no difference who is “responsible,” the shared duty will result in both partners’ credit histories being badly impacted by late payments. Regardless of changes in relationship status or divorce order, the creditor considers both parties to be liable for the debt until the account is paid in full.
Whether you’re happily married or divorced, you and your spouse may decide to open separate credit accounts. Most creditors will enable you to transfer an account that was previously joint to one of your names if both of you agree. However, if there is a debt on the account, your lender may refuse to remove your spouse’s name unless you can qualify for the same credit on your own. Depending on your financial status, qualifying for financing and credit on a single income may be tough.
While creating the majority of your accounts jointly with your spouse may make it easier to obtain financing (two salaries are preferable to one), reestablishing credit independently following a divorce or separation is not always straightforward. To make matters worse, your spouse may wind up causing significant damage to your credit rating following the separation, either intentionally or through irresponsibility – making the financial situation much more difficult.
Before you rush in and open accounts with your spouse, take some time to discuss the shared responsibility of these accounts and what you and your husband would do in the event of a worst-case situation. These types of financial discussions can be difficult, especially when you rely on items lasting a long time, but a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s credit can go a long way toward keeping your score when sharing an account.
Should you pay down debt or save for retirement?
While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.
Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.
If you have high-interest debt, pay it down
When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).
In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.
High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.
To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.
If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.
Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.
If you’re nearing retirement, start to save
The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).
Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.
Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.
Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.
Aim for both goals by improving income
As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.
The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.
If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.
For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.
While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).
How does a loan default affect my credit?
Nobody takes out a loan expecting to default on it. Despite their best intentions, people sometimes find themselves struggling to pay off their loans. These types of struggles happen for many reasons, including job loss, significant debt, or a medical or personal crisis.
Making late payments or having a loan fall into default can add pressure to other personal struggles. Before finding yourself in a desperate situation, understanding how a loan default can impact your credit is necessary to avoid negative consequences.
30 days late
Missing one payment can further lower your credit score. If you can pay the past due amount plus applicable late fees, you may be able to mitigate the damage to your credit, if you make all other payments as expected.
The trouble starts when you (1) miss a payment, (2) do not pay it at all, and (3) continue to miss subsequent payments. If those actions happen, the loan falls into default.
More than 30 days late
Payments that are more than 30 days past due can trigger increasingly serious consequences:
- The loan default may appear on your credit reports. It will likely lower your credit score, which most creditors and lenders use to review credit applications.
- You may receive phone calls and letters from creditors demanding payment.
- If you still do not pay, the account could be sent to collections. The debt collector seeks payment from you, sometimes using aggressive measures.
Then, the collection account can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. This action can damage your creditworthiness for future loan or credit card applications. Also, it may be a deciding factor when obtaining basic necessities, such as utilities or a mobile phone.
Other ways a default can hurt you
Hurting your credit score is reason enough to avoid a loan default. Some of the other actions creditors can take to collect payment or claim collateral are also quite serious:
- If you default on a car loan, the creditor can repossess your car.
- If you default on a mortgage, you could be forced to foreclose on your home.
- In some cases, you could be sued for payment and have a court judgment entered against you.
- You could face bankruptcy.
Any of these additional consequences can plague your credit score for years and hinder your efforts to secure your financial future.
How to avoid a loan default
Your options to avoid a loan default depend upon the type of loan you have and the nature of your personal circumstances. For example:
- For student loans, research deferment or forbearance options. Both options permit you to temporarily stop making payments or pay a lesser amount per month.
- For a mortgage, ask the lender if a loan modification is available. Changing the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or extend the life of the loan so your monthly payments are smaller.
Generally, you can avoid a loan default by exercising common sense: buy only what you need and can afford, keep a steady job that earns enough income to cover your expenses, and keep the rest of your debts low.
Clean up your credit
The hard reality is that defaulting on a loan is unpleasant. It can negatively affect your credit profile for years. Through patience and perseverance, you can repair the damage to your credit and improve your standing over time.
Consulting with a credit repair law firm can help you address these issues and get your credit back on track. At Lexington Law, we offer a free credit report summary and consultation. Call us today at 1-855-255-0139.
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