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Legal Library - Bankruptcy Articles

Alternatives to Bankruptcy

Learn when an alternative may be better than Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

In many situations, filing for bankruptcy is the best remedy for debt problems. In others, however, another course of action makes more sense. This article outlines your main alternatives.

Stop Harassment from Creditors

If your main concern is that creditors are harassing you, bankruptcy is not necessarily the best way to stop the abuse. You can get creditors off your back by taking advantage of federal and state debt collection laws that protect you from abusive and harassing debt collector conduct. For more information, see What to Do If a Bill Collector Crosses the Line.

Negotiate With Your Creditors

If you have some income, or you have assets you're willing to sell, you may be a lot better off negotiating with your creditors than filing for bankruptcy. Negotiation may buy you some time to get back on your feet, or your creditors may agree to settle your debts for less than you owe.

Design a Repayment Plan With Outside Help

Many people aren't comfortable negotiating with their creditors or with collection agencies. Perhaps you aren't confident with your negotiation skills, or the creditors and collectors are so hard-nosed that the process is too unpleasant to stomach.

If you don't want to negotiate on your own, you can seek help from a nonprofit credit or debt counseling agency. These agencies can work with you to help you repay your debts and improve your financial picture. (To find out about agencies in your area, go to the website of the United States Trustee, at www.usdoj.gov/ust, and click "Credit Counseling and Debtor Education"; this will lead you to a state-by-state list of agencies that the Trustee has approved to provide the credit counseling that debtors are now required to complete before filing for bankruptcy.)

Debt Counseling vs. Chapter 13 Repayment Plans

Participating in a credit or debt counseling agency's debt management program is a little bit like filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The agency will help you come up with a plan to pay back your creditors over time, somewhat like a Chapter 13 plan. But working with a credit or debt counseling agency has one advantage: No bankruptcy will appear on your credit record.

However, a debt management program also has some disadvantages when compared to Chapter 13 bankruptcy. First, if you miss a payment, Chapter 13 protects you from creditors who would start collection actions. A debt management program has no such protection: Any one creditor can pull the plug on your plan. Also, a debt management program usually requires you to repay your debts in full. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you often pay only a small fraction of your unsecured debts.

Consumer advocates have also raised concerns about credit counseling agencies, because these agencies receive most of their funding from creditors. As a result, critics say, these agencies could face a conflict between the interests of their funders and the interests of their clients.

Do Nothing

Surprisingly, the best approach for some people deeply in debt is to take no action at all. If you're living simply, with little income and property, and look forward to a similar life in the future, you may be what's known as "judgment proof." This means that anyone who sues you and obtains a court judgment won't be able to collect from you simply because you don't have anything they can legally take. (As a famous song of the 1970s said, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.")

Except in unusual situations (for example, if you refuse to pay taxes as a protest against government policies or you willfully fail to pay child support), you can't be thrown in jail for not paying your debts. Nor can a creditor take away such essentials as basic clothing, ordinary household furnishings, personal effects, food, or Social Security, unemployment, or public assistance benefits.

So, if you don't anticipate having a steady income or property a creditor could grab, bankruptcy is probably not necessary. Your creditors probably won't sue you, because it's unlikely they could collect the judgment. Instead, they'll simply write off your debt and treat it as a deductible business loss for income tax purposes. In several years, the debt will become legally uncollectible. And in seven years, the debt will come off your credit record.

For a Confidential Consultation Call Attorney Timothy L. Dave at: (321) 281- 5814

 
Legal Library - Bankruptcy Articles

Filing bankruptcy is a stressful time in a person's life. Along with discharging your debts and gaining a fresh start, you may wonder if you will be able to buy a home after a bankruptcy. The answer is yes! Mortgage companies and online lenders are now offering home loans for those who have a bankruptcy on their credit report. Some lenders will even approve your loan as soon as one day after your bankruptcy has been discharged.
Buying a home after bankruptcy is no longer impossible. There are many reasons a person chooses to file bankruptcy. The loss of a job, unexpected medical bills, and overwhelming credit card debt are just a few of the factors that can lead to filing bankruptcy. The mortgage lending industry has created special loan packages and terms for those who have filed bankruptcy in the past. Lenders have little to lose in approving a home loan after bankruptcy. With your home serving as collateral for the loan, the lender can feel confident in approving you for a home loan, often soon after your bankruptcy has been discharged.


Filing bankruptcy and buying a home are no longer mutually exclusive terms. Both traditional and online lenders can give you a good interest rate and payments you can afford, even after filing bankruptcy. If you have filed Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy and are wondering if you can obtain a home loan, contact a lender today who specializes in approving mortgages after bankruptcy. Interest rates are currently lower that they have been in decades. Even after filing bankruptcy you can get your new home loan approved and receive a great interest rate. Online lenders and mortgage companies are competing for your business. Do not let a past bankruptcy prevent you from purchasing the new home of your dreams.


If you have filed bankruptcy in the past and would like to purchase a home, there are numerous programs and loan products that will suit your needs. Lenders will approve your loan quickly and give you excellent terms on your mortgage. Some lenders will require that a certain amount of time pass before approving a new home loan after a bankruptcy while other lenders can approve your loan in a little as one day after your bankruptcy has been discharged. Now is the perfect time to apply for a mortgage, even if you have filed for bankruptcy in the past.
To view our list of recommended mortgage lenders for buying a home after bankruptcy visit this page: <a target='_blank' href="http://www.abcloanguide.com/lessthanperfectcredit.html">Recommended After Bankruptcy Mortgage Lenders</a>.

 
Legal Library - Bankruptcy Articles

Eliminating Tax Debts in Bankruptcy

Most taxes can't be eliminated in bankruptcy, but some can.

You may hear radio commercials offering the hope of eliminating tax debts in bankruptcy. But it's not as simple as it sounds. Most tax debts can't be wiped out in bankruptcy -- you'll continue to owe them at the end of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, or you'll have to repay them in full in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan.

If you need to discharge tax debts, Chapter 7 bankruptcy will probably be the better option -- but only if your debts qualify for discharge (see below) and you are eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy .

When You Can Discharge a Tax Debt

You can discharge (wipe out) debts for federal income taxes in Chapter 7 bankruptcy only if all of the following conditions are true:

  • The taxes are income taxes. Taxes other than income, such as payroll taxes or fraud penalties, can never be eliminated in bankruptcy.
  • You did not commit fraud or willful evasion. If you filed a fraudulent tax return or otherwise willfully attempted to evade paying taxes, such as using a false Social Security number on your tax return, bankruptcy can't help.
  • The debt is at least three years old. To eliminate a tax debt, the tax return must have been originally due at least three years before you filed for bankruptcy.
  • You filed a tax return. You must have filed a tax return for the debt you wish to discharge at least two years before filing for bankruptcy.
  • You pass the "240-day rule." The income tax debt must have been assessed by the IRS at least 240 days before you file your bankruptcy petition, or must not have been assessed yet. (This time limit may be extended if the IRS suspended collection activity because of an offer in compromise or a previous bankruptcy filing.)

You Can't Discharge a Federal Tax Lien

If your taxes qualify for discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, your victory may be bittersweet. This is because bankruptcy will not wipe out prior recorded tax liens. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will wipe out your personal obligation to pay the debt, and prevent the IRS from going after your bank account or wages, but if the IRS recorded a tax lien on your property before you file for bankruptcy, the lien will remain on the property. In effect, this means you'll have to pay off the tax lien in order to sell the property.

Timothy L. Dave, Central Florida Bankruptcy Attorney

The Law Office of Timothy L. Dave, P.A., practicing in the area of bankruptcy law serves clients in the Central Florida area; including the cities of Orlando, Sanford, Lake Mary, Kissimmee, Altamonte Springs, Oviedo, St. Cloud, and the surrounding areas of Brevard, Duval, Volusia, and Hillsborough counties.

Republished with Permission © 2009 Nolo.

 
Legal Library - Bankruptcy Articles

How Bankruptcy Can Help With Foreclosures

Avoid or delay foreclosure of your home by seeking bankruptcy protection.

If you are facing foreclosure and cannot work out a deal or other alternative with the lender, bankruptcy may help.

If you get behind on your mortgage payments, a lender may take steps to foreclose -- that is, enforce the terms of the loan by selling the house at a public auction and taking payment of your loan out of the auction.

This won’t happen overnight. The foreclosure process typically starts after you fall behind on your payments for at least two months, and often three or four. That gives you time to try some alternate measures, such as loan forbearance, a short sale, or a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

But if you've already tried and failed with these measures, now is a good time to consider bankruptcy as a possibility for avoiding or stalling foreclosure. Here are some ways that filing for bankruptcy can help you.

The Automatic Stay: Delaying Foreclosure

When you file either a Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court automatically issues an order (called the Order for Relief) that includes a wonderful thing known as the “automatic stay.” The automatic stay directs your creditors to cease their collection activities immediately, no excuses. If your home is scheduled for a foreclosure sale, the sale will be legally postponed while the bankruptcy is pending—typically for three to four months. However, there are two exceptions to this general rule:

Motion to lift the stay. If the lender obtains the bankruptcy court’s permission to proceed with the sale (by filing a “motion to lift the stay”), you may not get the full three to four months. But even then, the bankruptcy will typically postpone the sale by at least two months, or even more if the lender is slow in pursuing the motion to lift the automatic stay.

Foreclosure notice already filed. Unfortunately, bankruptcy’s automatic stay won’t stop the clock on the advance notice that most states require before a foreclosure sale can be held (or a motion to lift the stay can be filed). For example, before selling a home in California , a lender has to give the owner at least three months’ notice. If you receive a three-month notice of default, and then file for bankruptcy after two months have passed, the three-month period would elapse after you’d been in bankruptcy for only one month. At that time the lender could file a motion to lift the stay and ask the court for permission to schedule the foreclosure sale.

How Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Can Help

Many people will do whatever they can to stay in their home for the indefinite future. If that describes you, and you’re behind on your mortgage payments with no feasible way to get current, the only way to keep your home is to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

How Chapter 13 works. Chapter 13 bankruptcy lets you pay off the “arrearage” (late, unpaid payments) over the length of a repayment plan you propose—five years in some cases. But you’ll need enough income to at least meet your current mortgage payment at the same time you’re paying off the arrearage. Assuming you make all the required payments up to the end of the repayment plan, you’ll avoid foreclosure and keep your home.

2nd and 3rd mortgage payments. Chapter 13 may also help you eliminate the payments on your second or third mortgage. That’s because, if your first mortgage is secured by the entire value of your home (which is possible if the home has dropped in value), you may no longer have any equity with which to secure the later mortgages. That allows the Chapter 13 court to “strip off” the second and third mortgages and recategorize them as unsecured debt – which, under Chapter 13, takes last priority and often does not have to be paid back at all.

Canceling debt. Chapter 7 bankruptcy will also cancel all the debt that is secured by your home, including the mortgage, as well as any second mortgages and home equity loans.

Canceling tax liability for certain property loans. Thanks to a new law, you no longer face tax liability for losses your mortgage or home-improvement lender incurs as a result of your default, whether you file for bankruptcy or not. This new law applies to the 2007 tax year and the following two years. (See New Tax Break for People Who Default on Their Mortgage.)

However, the new tax law doesn’t shield you from tax liability for losses the lender incurs after the foreclosure sale if:

  • the loan is not a mortgage or was not used for home improvements (such as a home equity loan used to pay for a car or vacation), or
  • the mortgage or home equity loan is secured by property other than your principal residence (for example, a vacation home or rental property).

This is where Chapter 7 bankruptcy helps. It will exempt you from tax liability on losses the lender incurs if you default on these other loans.

Chapter 7 Cannot Cancel the Foreclosure

With all this debt being cancelled, you may be wondering why the foreclosure on your home won’t be cancelled too. The trouble is, when you bought your home you probably signed two documents (at least) — a promissory note to repay the mortgage loan, and a security agreement that could be recorded as a lien to enforce performance on the promissory note.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy gets rid of your personal liability under the promissory note, but it doesn’t remove the lien. That’s the way Chapter 7 works. It gets rid of debt but not liens – you’ll still probably have to give up the house under the lien since that’s what provided collateral for the loan.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy May Not Be Right For You

Not everyone can or should use Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Here’s why:

You could lose property you want to keep. Chapter 7 might cause you to lose property you don’t want to give up. As an example, if your wedding ring is particularly valuable, it may exceed the dollar amount of jewelry you’re allowed to keep in a bankruptcy (under something called the "jewelry exemption"). In that case, the bankruptcy trustee could order you to turn the ring over to be sold for the benefit of your creditors.

You may not be eligible. Even if Chapter 7 bankruptcy would work for you, you may not be eligible. Under the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, you are not eligible if your average gross income for the six-month period preceding the bankruptcy filing exceeds the state median income for the same size household. Nor are you eligible if your current income provides enough excess over your living expenses to fund a reasonable Chapter 13 repayment plan.

Bankruptcy’s Effect on Your Credit Score

Both bankruptcy and foreclosure will damage your credit score. However, sometimes bankruptcy is the preferable option when trying to rebuild credit. Here’s why:

A foreclosure will damage your credit score for many years, will not get rid of your other debt, and is particularly harmful if you are house shopping.

In contrast, discharging your debts in bankruptcy will harm your credit score, but can help you rebuild your score quicker than after a foreclosure. This is because bankruptcy will leave you solvent and debt-free – and therefore able to start rebuilding good credit sooner.

Keep in mind that the current mortgage meltdown and credit crunch (which are prevalent at the time this article is being written) may change the way bankruptcy and foreclosure affect credit ratings.

If All Else Fails: Relief From Debt and Tax Liability

If you’re certain you won’t be able to propose a Chapter 13 repayment plan that a bankruptcy judge will approve, and Chapter 7 will provide only a temporary delay from the foreclosure sale, then what’s the point of either?

If you have to lose your home -- a bitter result to be sure, but sometimes unavoidable -- you can at least view bankruptcy as the best way to get out from under your mortgage debt and tax liability. Bankruptcy also offers a way to save some money, which will help you find new shelter and weather the psychological and economic shocks that lie ahead.

Timothy L. Dave, Central Florida Bankruptcy Attorney

The Law Office of Timothy L. Dave, P.A., practicing in the area of bankruptcy law serves clients in the Central Florida area; including the cities of Orlando, Sanford, Lake Mary, Kissimmee, Altamonte Springs, Oviedo, St. Cloud, and the surrounding areas of Brevard, Duval, Volusia, and Hillsborough counties.

For a Confidential Consultation Call the Central Florida Law Office at: (321) 281-5814

To learn more about Chapter 13 bankruptcy and how it can help you avoid foreclosure, get Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Repay Your Debts, by attorneys Robin Leonard and Stephen Elias (Nolo). For information on Chapter 7 bankruptcy, including forms and instructions for filing yourself, get How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, by attorneys Stephen R. Elias, Albin Renauer, and Robin Leonard (Nolo).

 
Legal Library - Bankruptcy Articles

How Bankruptcy Stops Your Creditors

After you file for bankruptcy, the automatic stay offers potent legal protection against bill collectors.

 

When you file for bankruptcy, something called the automatic stay immediately stops any lawsuit filed against you and most actions against your property by a creditor, collection agency, or government entity. Especially if you are at risk of being evicted, being foreclosed on, being found in contempt for failure to pay child support, or losing such basic resources as utility services, welfare, unemployment benefits, or your job (because of a raft of wage garnishments), the automatic stay may provide a powerful reason to file for bankruptcy.

What the Automatic Stay Can Prevent

Here is how the automatic stay affects some common emergencies:

  • Utility disconnections. If you're behind on a utility bill and the company is threatening to disconnect your water, electric, gas, or telephone service, the automatic stay will prevent the disconnection for at least 20 days. Although the amount of a utility bill itself rarely justifies a bankruptcy filing, preventing electrical service cutoff in January in New England might be justification enough.
  • Foreclosure. If your home mortgage is being foreclosed on, the automatic stay temporarily stops the proceedings, but the creditor will often be able to proceed with the foreclosure sooner or later. If you are facing foreclosure, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is usually a better remedy than Chapter 7 bankruptcy, if you want to keep your house.
  • Eviction. If you are being evicted from your home, the automatic stay may provide some help -- but the new bankruptcy law makes it easier for landlords to proceed with evictions. If your landlord already has a judgment of possession against you when you file, the automatic stay won't affect these eviction proceedings; the landlord can continue just as if you hadn't filed for bankruptcy. And if the landlord alleges that you've been endangering the property or using controlled substances there, the automatic stay won't do you much good, either. In other cases, the automatic stay might buy you a few days or weeks, but the landlord will probably ask the court to lift the stay and allow the eviction -- and the court will probably agree to do so.
  • Collection of overpayments of public benefits. If you receive public benefits and were overpaid, normally the agency is entitled to collect the overpayment out of your future checks. The automatic stay prevents this collection. However, if you become ineligible for benefits, the automatic stay doesn't prevent the agency from denying or terminating benefits for that reason.
  • Multiple wage garnishments. Filing for bankruptcy stops garnishments dead in their tracks. (And not only will you take home a full salary, but you also may be able to discharge the debt in bankruptcy.) Although no more than 25% of your wages may be taken to satisfy court judgments (up to 50% for child support and alimony), many people file for bankruptcy if more than one wage garnishment is threatened.

What the Automatic Stay Cannot Prevent

In a few instances, the automatic stay won't help you.

  • Certain tax proceedings. The IRS can still audit you, issue a tax deficiency notice, demand a tax return (which often leads to an audit), issue a tax assessment, or demand payment of such an assessment. However, the automatic stay does stop the IRS from issuing a tax lien or seizing your property or income.
  • Support actions. A lawsuit against you seeking to establish paternity or to establish, modify, or collect child support or alimony isn't stopped by your filing for bankruptcy.
  • Criminal proceedings. A criminal proceeding that can be broken down into criminal and debt components will be divided, and the criminal component won't be stopped by the automatic stay. For example, if you were convicted of writing a bad check, sentenced to community service, and ordered to pay a fine, your obligation to do community service won't be stopped by your filing for bankruptcy.
  • Loans from a pension. Despite the automatic stay, money can be withheld from your income to repay a loan from certain types of pensions (including most job-related pensions and IRAs).
  • Multiple filings. If you had a bankruptcy case pending during the previous year, then the stay will automatically terminate after 30 days unless you, the trustee, the U.S. Trustee, or a creditor asks for the stay to continue and proves that the current case was filed in good faith. If a creditor had a motion to lift the stay pending during the previous case, the court will presume that you acted in bad faith, and you'll have to overcome this presumption to get the protection of the stay in your current case.

How Creditors Can Get Around the Automatic Stay

Usually, a creditor can get around the automatic stay by asking the bankruptcy court to remove ("lift") the stay, if it is not serving its intended purpose. For example, say you file for bankruptcy the day before your house is to be sold in foreclosure. You have no equity in the house, you can't pay your mortgage arrears, and you have no way of keeping the property. The foreclosing creditor is apt to go to court soon after you file for bankruptcy and ask for permission to proceed with the foreclosure -- and that permission is likely to be granted.

For More Information

For more information on the automatic stay and how it might apply in your situation, call the Law Office of Timothy L. Dave, P.A., practicing in the area of bankruptcy law serves clients in the Central Florida area; including the cities of Orlando, Sanford, Lake Mary, Kissimmee, Altamonte Springs, Oviedo, St. Cloud, and the surrounding areas of Brevard, Duval, Volusia, and Hillsborough counties.

For a Confidential Consultation Call Timothy Dave's Lake Mary Law Office at: (321) 281-5814

 
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