Qualifying for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy[yoast-breadcrumb]
Qualifying for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Filing for bankruptcy can be super stressful and confusing. But Chapter 7 bankruptcy can give you a fresh start if you qualify. This article will explain everything you need to know about qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also called straight or liquidation bankruptcy, wipes out many types of unsecured debt like credit cards, medical bills, personal loans etc. Basically it discharges you from having to pay back certain debts. A court trustee sells off your assets that are not exempt, and uses that money to pay back as much debt as possible. Any remaining unpaid debt is discharged. So you get a fresh start financially.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years. But it can be worth it to get rid of crushing debt and start rebuilding your credit.
Who Qualifies for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
You have to meet certain requirements to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Here’s an overview:
- Your income is below the median level for your state
- You have not filed Chapter 7 in the past 8 years
- You have not filed Chapter 13 in the past 6 years
- You complete a credit counseling course no more than 180 days before filing
Let’s break these down in more detail:
Whether you qualify for Chapter 7 is partly based on your income. You have to pass something called the “means test.” This compares your average monthly income over the past 6 months to the median income in your state for the same household size.
If your income is below the median, you automatically qualify. If it’s above, you have to calculate whether you have enough disposable income left over after expenses to repay some debt. This part of the means test is complicated!
You can earn a decent income and still qualify if you have high expenses like mortgage, car loans, childcare, medical bills, etc. The means test allows reasonable expenses.
No Previous Bankruptcy
You cannot have received a Chapter 7 discharge in the past 8 years. And you cannot have received a Chapter 13 discharge in the past 6 years. The court wants to make sure you’re not abusing bankruptcy to wipe out debt again and again.
Credit Counseling Course
Before filing, you have to complete a credit counseling course with an approved agency. This course will explain your options and alternative to bankruptcy. You must complete it no more than 180 days before filing.
How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves several steps:
- Complete the credit counseling course mentioned above
- Gather your financial records to fill out the bankruptcy forms
- Hire a bankruptcy lawyer – they help with the process and forms
- File the bankruptcy petition and other forms
- Attend the meeting of creditors – you answer questions under oath
- Let the trustee liquidate your nonexempt assets to pay creditors
- Get discharge of remaining eligible debt
This process takes 3-6 months. Having an experienced bankruptcy lawyer makes it much smoother. Though hiring one costs more upfront, they help maximize the debt you can discharge.
Pros and Cons of Filing Chapter 7
Like any major decision, Chapter 7 bankruptcy has both pros and cons:
- Wipe out eligible unsecured debt like credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, etc.
- Stop wage garnishment, lawsuits, foreclosure, repossession etc.
- Get a fresh start financially after discharge
- Keep exempt assets like home, car, retirement accounts
- Stop accruing interest and fees on discharged debt
- Bankruptcy stays on credit report for 10 years
- Lose nonexempt assets like second car, rental property, valuable collections
- Pay more upfront with lawyer and filing fees
- Possibility of conversion to Chapter 13
- Required credit counseling course
As you can see, Chapter 7 bankruptcy offers powerful debt relief. But it comes at a cost, mainly to your credit score. It’s best for those drowning in debt with little income to repay it.
Alternatives to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Other options besides Chapter 7 include:
- Chapter 13 bankruptcy – Repay debts over 3-5 years. Better for homeowners.
- Debt management plan – Work with credit counselor to repay debt over time.
- Debt settlement – Get creditors to agree to settle for less than you owe.
- Debt consolidation loan – Combine debts into one payment. Doesn’t reduce total debt.
Be sure to consider all your options before deciding if Chapter 7 bankruptcy is best for your situation. I hope this overview helps explain the requirements and process! Let me know if you have any other questions.