It is not uncommon for a new client to come into my office and tell me, “I need to file for a Chapter 7.” My first question to such a statement is always “Why?” The response varies, but has a common theme: “Because I can’t pay my bills.”
Not being able to pay your bills is, of course, a factor in making the difficult decision of filing for bankruptcy. Once making that decision, however, the next decision is whether to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 (other chapters also exist, but they are not relevant to most consumers). While this decision may be made for you — based on, for example, the amount of debt you have — often you will qualify for both chapters. In that case, you must decide which will be more beneficial to you.
The major and most basic difference between these two varieties of bankruptcy protection available to most consumers is that, in a Chapter 7, you effectively “raise your hands and quit,” informing your creditors that you simply have nothing left. If you do not own a house or other property, and your income is just enough to make ends meet but not enough to save each month, then a Chapter 7 will probably be the right choice for you.
In a Chapter 13, on the other hand, you essentially tell your creditors that, while you do have some limited means to pay, you cannot pay all of them everything you owe. In filing a bankruptcy under Chapter 13, you propose a payment Plan, under which you promise to pay a certain amount each month to the Chapter 13 Trustee (assigned by the court and an employee of the Department of Justice), who then will distribute these funds to creditors. You will do so for 3 to 5 years and each of your creditors will get a portion of its debt paid off. At the conclusion of the Plan, any remaining
debts are wiped out.
So which chapter is right for you? While you should not decide the answer to this questions without speaking to a qualified bankruptcy attorney, the simple answer is that if you have no assets and
little income, you would probably end up in a Chapter 7. On the other hand, if you have assets, or your income is above the qualifying maximum income for a Chapter 7, a Chapter 13 may be right for
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