Are You Thinking about Bankruptcy?
Are You Thinking about Bankruptcy?
You might not need it.
Are you having trouble paying your bills? You’re not alone. Many people fall behind at some point in their lives. Don’t worry….you will not go to jail -- owing money is not a criminal matter.
You might think that bankruptcy is the answer to your problems. But, whether you need it and how much it can help you depend on your situation. For some people it is the best choice, but for many others, it is not. Bankruptcy is a legal process that can get rid of certain debts and give you a chance for a fresh start. It does not get rid of all debts. You will still have to pay child support, alimony, unpaid taxes, and other bills like student loans. You cannot get rid of your mortgage for your house in bankruptcy. If you are thinking about bankruptcy, talk to a lawyer soon to find out about your choices.
Is bankruptcy the best choice for me?
Bankruptcy is a serious step that is not right for every person. Here are some things to think about as you make your decision.
- Do I need to file bankruptcy?
- Am I already protected?
- How does being judgment proof protect me?
- How can a creditor collect money from me?
- Is money in my bank account "protected"?
- Are there times when I should file for bankruptcy?
- How can bankruptcy help me?
- What debts CAN be erased?
- What debts CANNOT be erased?
- What happens to my credit rating?
- What happens if someone signed the loan with me?
- More about the bankruptcy process
- Where can I get help?
- For more information
|This booklet talks about certain types of debts, such as|
The rules are different for other debts, such as
These debts are "private unsecured debts."
|For an explanation of secured and unsecured debt, see "Types of Debt" below.|
If your income is very low and you have few assets, you might not need to file bankruptcy. Why? Well, chances are your creditors cannot collect money from you because you are already protected. (You do not have money or property that the collector can legally take.) So, the first thing to find out is, "Are you already protected?" You may hear the words "judgment proof" which is the legal term for being protected after a court has entered a decision (judgment) stating you owe money to someone.
|• You do not own a house, or||You are already protected.|
You probably do not need to file bankruptcy right now.
You are judgment proof.
|• You do not have a car worth more than $3,500, o|
|• You take home less than $330 a week, or|
• Your income is from Social Security, public benefits, disability, etc.
Judgment proof means your creditors cannot take your money from you. You can be sued, but you will not have to pay the debt as long as your situation stays the same. If it changes (for example, you go back to work and make enough money), you may have to pay the debt. This type of judgment can last 10 - 20 years.
Note: A judgment is a court order. If the creditor wins the case, the judgment will say you owe your creditor a certain amount of money. A judgment does not require that you pay anything. A court can still enter a judgment against you even if you are judgment proof, but creditors cannot collect money from you.
Until a creditor sues you and wins, he has only one way to collect from you - ask you to pay. He can call you and send you letters. But, once the creditor sues you and wins (gets a judgment), the creditor has three ways to try to collect from you:
- Take money from your pay,
- Take your property,
- Take money from your bank account.
But, if you are protected (judgment proof), a creditor cannot do any of these three things.
Even if a creditor sues you and wins, he can only collect from you if
- You take home more than $330 a week, or
- You have a house or other property or assets, or
- You have money in a bank account that is not protected.
What can a creditor do if he sues me and wins?
|Can a creditor||NO, not if...||YES, if...|
|Take money from your pay?||• You take home less than $330 a week.||• You take home more than $330 a week now or when you go back to work.|
|Take your property?||• You rent so you don’t have any property to take.||• You have a house or other assets.|
|Take money from your bank account?||• Your money is protected (see below).||• Your money is not protected.|
|You probably do not need to go bankrupt now.|
Some of the money in your bank account may be safe. But, you may have to file certain papers in court to protect it.
Creditors CANNOT take money from your bank account if it is a direct deposit and comes from...
- Social Security benefits (retirement, disability, survivor)
- Unemployment benefits
- State welfare
- Child support
- Disability benefits (SSI and SSD)
Limit on Amount of Money Protected
Two months’ worth of your direct deposits of child support, alimony, pension or government benefits or $1000 -- whichever is higher -- is automatically protected. Do not keep more than this protected amount in your bank account. If you do, the creditor may try to take that money. However, you will be able to get that money back after a court hearing.
Direct Deposit of Paychecks
Be careful if you have your paychecks directly deposited. A creditor CAN take that money from your bank account even if you make less than $330 a week. However, if you take home less than $330 a week, you will be able to get the money back after a court hearing. TIP: Instead of getting your pay directly deposited, it might be a good idea to get a paper paycheck.
You might want to think about bankruptcy if:
- Your income or assets change (then the creditors have something to take).
- You are too worried and stressed about your debts.
- You are about to get a job and creditors will be able to take money from your paycheck.
You might be able to:
- Get rid of certain debts. They are legally erased ("discharged") so you do not have to pay them.
- Stop collection calls.
- Stop most wage attachments (money taken from your pay to repay the debt).
- Let you keep any wages, money, or property you get in the future.
- Keep utility service -- either turn service back on or stop a shut off (if it was because you did not pay your bills).
- Stop foreclosure of your home (for some types of bankruptcy).
Secured and Unsecured
Is there something the creditor can take back or repossess?
• No - then it is an unsecured debt and can be erased by bankruptcy.
• Yes - then it is a secured debt and cannot be erased by bankruptcy.
Example: Your creditor can take back your car if you don't make your payments.
Bankruptcy can get rid of unsecured debts, such as:
- Medical bills
- Credit card bills
- Utility bills
- Personal loans
You will still need to pay debts, such as:
- Child support
- Most student loans
- Most taxes
- Secured debts (car loan, mortgage, etc.)
- Debts not listed on your bankruptcy papers (includes debts you get after filing bankruptcy)
- Debts where you were dishonest
- Drunk driving fines, criminal fines, traffic tickets, etc.
Can I keep my car?
It depends. If you owe money on your car, but you are not making payments, the lender can repossess (take back) your car. If you don’t owe money on your car, you can usually keep it if it is worth less than $3,500.
Note: You can keep your clothing, household items, and at least $10,775 in property and cash. (If you own a home, you also can keep up to 75,000 ($150,000 for couples) in equity.
Bankruptcy will stay on your credit history for 10 years. You probably can still get a credit card or loan after bankruptcy, but it is up to the lender. It might be harder to rent an apartment or get certain jobs.
The other person (the co-signer) is still responsible for paying the debt - even if bankruptcy erased it for you.
You may hear the words "file for bankruptcy" or "declare bankruptcy" - they both mean start the legal bankruptcy process. It usually takes at least six months to finish the process. Chapter 7 is the most common type of bankruptcy.
It will cost you around $300 to file the papers in court. If you can’t afford the fee, you can apply to have the fee waived or to make payments. You can get the forms at the Connecticut Bankruptcy Court clerk’s office or online www.ctb.uscourts.gov.
Before you file for bankruptcy...
- You must complete credit counseling BEFORE filing for bankruptcy. To get a list of approved Credit Counseling Agencies, go online to Connecticut Bankruptcy Court www.ctb.uscourts.gov or ask the court clerk. The counseling is $50. If you can’t afford the fee, ask the agency for a fee waiver before the counseling begins.
- Do not sign up for any counseling until you have talked to a lawyer about whether bankruptcy is the best choice for you. Bankruptcy is a complicated legal process.
- Statewide Legal Services: 1-800-453-3320
- Consumer Law Project for Elders: Free legal assistance to seniors 60 and over. 1-800-296-1467.
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court: Free legal representation may be available. Contact the Clerk's Office shown below and ask for an application for the pro bono panel.
- New Haven County: 157 Church Street, New Haven. Telephone: 203-773-2009
- Fairfield County: 915 Lafayette Boulevard, Bridgeport. Telephone: 203-579-5808.
Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Connecticut.
305 Skiff St., North Haven. 203-407-3161
Approved credit counseling agencies - get a list from U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
See our other booklets in our Consumer Law series.
- Creditor: Someone you owe money to.
- Debt: Money you owe (unpaid bills).
- Debtor: Someone who owes money.
- Discharge: The legal word for erasing or getting rid of your debt through bankruptcy.
- Judgment proof: Creditors cannot collect from you. As long as your situation remains the same, it will be impossible for creditors to collect on the debt. However, as soon as your situation improves, creditors can take action.
Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).
Not from Connecticut?
Most of the information on this web site is for Connecticut residents only. Visit LawHelp.org to find a legal services program and/or a legal information web site in your area.