Bankruptcy is a drastic step. A successfully completed Chapter 7 bankruptcy can wipe out most debts.
On the other hand, a person can usually file a Chapter 7 only once every 8 years. The fact that you filed
for bankruptcy can stay on your credit history for up to 10 years. For these reasons, it is important to
learn about the bankruptcy process before filing a bankruptcy case.
The bankruptcy court will not complete your bankruptcy case until you have attended two creditcounseling
classes. Before filing for bankruptcy, you must take a credit counseling class. Before the
bankruptcy case is over, you must take a second credit counseling class. If you cannot afford to pay for
credit counseling, you can request a fee waiver.
In most cases, you can only file one of two kinds of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. The type of
bankruptcy that is right for you depends on your income and what property you would like to keep after
TYPES OF DEBT
When you owe a debt, you owe it to someone else, called a creditor. The bankruptcy court
decides whether to discharge (wipe out) the creditor’s right to collect this debt from you. This depends
on whether your creditor’s right to collect from you is secured or unsecured.
A secured creditor has the right to get the property back if the creditor is not receiving payment.
Examples of secured debts include a mortgage on a house, or car loans. Even in a bankruptcy, these
creditors have a right to get their property back if they are not paid.
An unsecured creditor has no right to the get your property, no matter how much you owe.
Examples of unsecured debts include credit cards, payday loans, medical bills and utility bills.
CHAPTER 7 Bankruptcy
The purpose of a Chapter 7 is to discharge most debts and allow the debtor a “fresh start.” This
means that most secured and unsecured debts are dischargeable in Chapter 7. You can usually file a
Chapter 7 only once every 8 years.
When you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must tell the Court what you owe AND what you
own. This is because you can only keep certain property in a Chapter 7. To keep certain property in a
Chapter 7, you must “claim exemptions” to say that you need that property to avoid hardship. State and
federal law creates exemptions limited by dollar amount.
Exemptions refer to the value or “equity” that you may keep when you file bankruptcy. Equity is the
difference between the value of the property and what you still owe on it. For example, if your house is
worth $35,000 and you owe $30,000, you have “equity” of $5,000.
The most common exemptions are (these are the exemptions for IL, please check with your local
bankruptcy attorney for the allowable equity in a Chapter 7):
Up to $15,000 worth of equity in your primary residence.
Up to $2,400 worth of equity in one motor vehicle.
Up to $4,000 worth of personal property of any kind. This is called your “wild card” exemption because
it includes any personal property and can include money in a bank account.
Chapter 7 does not wipe out all debts. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the following debts are
usually non-dischargeable: alimony, child support, certain taxes, and student loans (except in very rare
cases). You must tell the bankruptcy court about these debts even if you do not think that they are
If a debtor has assets (owns anything) above the allowed exemption limits, those assets may be
taken by the bankruptcy trustee, sold, and the money used to pay back your creditors. If the equity in
those assets are below the equity exemptions, you can keep the asset and reaffirm the debt.
CHAPTER 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 13 is sometimes called the “Wage Earner’s Plan” because you must be able to make
payments on your debts to qualify for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
You can keep more property in a Chapter 13 than in a Chapter 7. If you want to keep certain
property, then you must pay your “secured” creditors what you owe them. For example, if you want to
keep your car in a Chapter 13, you may be able to get the car loan balance reduced. If you are behind on
your home mortgage, you can use Chapter 13 to catch up on the mortgage. Still, you will have to make
payments on the loan balance. Unsecured creditors generally receive very little payment, but that
depends on your income.
In order to pay your “secured” creditors what you owe them, and pay your “unsecured
creditors” what you can, you have to make a payment plan. Then the Court must decide that it is
reasonable. The Court will only confirm your payment plan if it is convinced that you can meet your
monthly living expenses AND make payments toward your debts using your regular monthly income. It
does not matter what the source of your income is, as long as it is stable and regular.
Once the bankruptcy court confirms your payment plan, you make payments to the Chapter 13
Trustee. Then the Trustee sends that money to your creditors. A Chapter 13 plan can last as long as 60
months (5 years). If you have filed bankruptcy before, you might have to wait another 2 years or more
to file again.
Financial Coaches and Bankruptcy
Steps to Address the Issue:
1. Coaches should not be making bankruptcy advice or decisions – we are not lawyers and should
not be giving legal advice. All clients thinking about filing bankruptcy need to consult with a
2. After gathering information about income, budget, and credit report ask clients what their
financial goals are? Are they being garnished by any of the their debts? Are they judgment
3. Review credit report and budget to see how much debt that client owes and how much of it
could potentially be discharged in a bankruptcy. If a client has $50,000 in student loan debt
that’s in collections but only $1,000 in other collections, bankruptcy probably shouldn’t be an
option. If a client has $15,000 in collection debt from a repossessed car and makes $10/hour,
Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be an option (as long as they are low income and meet the
4. Educate clients on how long a bankruptcy will stay on the credit report, how it can affect their
ability to obtain assets in the future (2 years from discharge before they can purchase a house)
and how to re-build credit after a Chapter 7 bankruptcy (most importantly be careful about car
loan and credit card solicitations post bankruptcy).
5. Stress that bankruptcy cases are complex – to be weary of lawyers that claim they will file your
bankruptcy for $99. Bankruptcy is a major decision and you want to make sure it is done