Since 2008, the Carr Law Group has filed more than 1,000 bankruptcy cases. During that time, we’ve answered nearly that many questions. Here are some of the most common questions we encounter. Filing for bankruptcy can feel overwhelming, but we hope this FAQ will guide you toward the solution right for you and your family or business. Want to learn even more about bankruptcy? We recommend the U.S. Court bankruptcy guide. And if you’re in Georgia, feel free to contact us for a free consultation. Don’t fight bankruptcy alone.
Do I qualify for bankruptcy?
There are certain qualifications you must meet to file bankruptcy. This question normally comes up in two areas: income and prior bankruptcies. To file a chapter 7, your disposable income must be below a certain level. Most people are surprised at how much money their family can make and still qualify for bankruptcy. If you have a higher-than-average income but unusually high expenses (insurance, childcare, child support, medical bills, etc.), you could still qualify. However, if you have filed for bankruptcy in the last eight years, you may have difficulty qualifying for certain types of bankruptcy. If you live in North Georgia, schedule a free consultation to see if bankruptcy is a good fit for you and your family.
Is there a minimum amount of debt required to file for bankruptcy?
There are no minimum debt requirements in bankruptcy. Nor do you have to be behind on your payments. You just have to be struggling—or anticipate struggling—to make ends meet. Know your options before you drain your 401k or liquidate your assets. At Carr Law Group, we have met too many clients who wished they had consulted with a bankruptcy attorney far earlier in their financial struggles. Often, we could have preserved our clients’ 401ks and substantive assets had they met with us sooner.
Can I obtain bankruptcy protection again if I have filed a bankruptcy in the past and am now falling behind in payments again?
Sometimes people are limited by past filings, but an experienced bankruptcy attorney can normally figure out some solution. It is rare that there is no bankruptcy solution.
How much does it cost to file for bankruptcy?
Fees are handled differently depending on whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Chapter 7’s are filed most frequently and they average about $1500-$2500 in attorney fees and $400 in costs (which includes a $338 filing fee to the court). We can assist with a payment arrangement.
Due to Chapter 13’s complexity, clients can expect bankruptcy and attorney fees to be about double that of Chapter 7. However, we only require $543 to be paid upfront if filing individually, or $573 if filing jointly with a spouse (these amounts include the $313 filing fee to the court). The remaining attorney fees will be paid and structured over the Chapter 13 plan period (36 or 60 months, depending on the case).
Some of my accounts are very old, and we don't get collection letters in the mail anymore. What if I don’t know all my creditors?
We create a comprehensive list of your creditors from two sources: first, we will ask you to gather a list of all known creditors, and second, we will pull a credit report from all three credit bureaus. Usually, the combination of your list and the credit report will let us know every debt If we learn of a creditor later, we can add that creditor to the bankruptcy for a small filing fee.
Do I have to file bankruptcy on all the accounts I owe, or can I keep some?
This question comes up often. Bankruptcy law requires that we tell the court about every debt you have – no exceptions. That also means that every creditor is to receive notice of your bankruptcy filing in the mail at the address you provide the court. However, there are some accounts you can keep, such as your car loan or mortgage. Some accounts you can simply agree to pay, such as your pediatrician bill, dentist bill, and/or general doctor or specialist.
The court never says that you can’t pay back a creditor, just that you don’t have to. There are some creditors who are too important not to pay, but it is ultimately your choice who you decide to pay.
Can I file bankruptcy on student loans?
Yes and no. The short answer is yes: you can file bankruptcy even if you have student loans. But what most people really want to know is whether student loans are dischargeable, that is, whether they will still owe the money after filing bankruptcy. For most people, student loans are not dischargeable and will still be owed, even after a bankruptcy discharge. However, filing bankruptcy can still help alleviate other debt problems that can, in turn, help you pay back your student loan debt. In extreme hardship cases, it may be possible to discharge your student loan debt, but it requires a special order and ruling from the bankruptcy court. Consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to discuss your unique situation.
How is debt consolidation different from bankruptcy?
Debt consolidation companies help you reach agreements with various creditors so that you can make a single payment to the debt consolidation company each month to address all the debts at once. Ideally, your payment to this company would be less than is required of you to meet your minimum obligation on each card collectively. This company will typically take out their fee from each payment.
Is debt consolidation better than bankruptcy? In our opinion, bankruptcy is better than debt consolidation, for a few reasons:
- Creditors do not have a choice in bankruptcy. In debt consolidation programs, creditors can change their minds, sell the debt, or decide not to participate at all.
- You may be able to build your credit faster after ch. 7 bankruptcy than with debt consolidation. Ch. 7 is short and sweet, whereas debt consolidation is usually based on a 36-month or longer repayment plan.
- Bankruptcy may mean that you pay 0% of your debt back. In a debt consolidation plan, you are usually paying the entire balance or a high percentage, though you may not have to pay interest.
Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
What is the difference between chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy usually takes about 3-4 months and helps you (1) keep the property you want to keep and (2) get rid of the debt you want to get rid of. Our goal is that you can keep your property and get rid of the credit card debt and medical bills that are piling up without paying a single dime (0%) towards this unsecured debt. About 70-80% of the cases we file are chapter 7.
Chapter 13 usually takes either 36 or 60 months (3 or 5 years), the latter being the most popular. During that time, you will make a monthly payment to a chapter 13 trustee, who then uses that money to pay back some of, if not all, your debts. People usually file a ch. 13 for three major reasons:
- Their income is higher than average for their family size or county. In this situation, the court may not allow you to file for Chapter 7.
- They are very far behind on their mortgage and/or car loans. In this scenario, we put you on the 3- or 5-year payment plan to catch up on your debt.
- They have substantial equity in real estate or some other asset that we won’t be protected under the bankruptcy exemptions. Bankruptcy exemptions are state laws that allow us to protect a certain amount of assets when you file bankruptcy.
Can I choose which type of bankruptcy to file? How do I choose the right one?
Many people do have a choice between which bankruptcy to file. Most of the time, it is clear which type will be most beneficial. On rare occasions, the pros and cons are about the same, and a client will have to decide after careful consideration.
However, there are situations in which clients do not have a choice. This may be due to circumstances, i.e., your income is too high; past filings, i.e., there are limits on how often you can file; or the client’s goals: at times, we can accomplish in one bankruptcy something we cannot in another.
Which type of bankruptcy should I file?
There are numerous factors to consider, and only after consulting an experienced bankruptcy attorney should you even try to determine which type of bankruptcy is right for you. We offer free bankruptcy consultations, during which is our goal is that you will be able to make an educated decision about how to move forward.
What is a reaffirmation agreement in bankruptcy?
By signing a reaffirmation agreement, you are agreeing to be held personally liable for repayment of the debt beyond your bankruptcy discharge and bankruptcy ending. These documents are only used in ch. 7 relief, not ch. 13. If you fail to make the payments beyond the bankruptcy, that specific lender could sue you for any remaining balance on the loan.
Reaffirmation agreements are usually only signed for car loans or mortgages when clients want to keep their property. The benefit of signing is that it will allow the loan to continue to report on your credit, which can aid in rebuilding your credit. It also allows you to have online access to your account, which is often shut down by lenders after bankruptcy is filed. If your income is not stable, we do not recommend that you sign a reaffirmation agreement.
Keeping Your Property with Bankruptcy
Which bankruptcy option will allow me to keep my property?
Both ch. 7 and ch. 13 can help you keep your property. In fact, one of the primary reasons to file for bankruptcy is to protect your assets.
Will I lose my home if I file for bankruptcy?
We hope not, but some people do. The reality is that you must be able to afford your home to keep it; if you cannot keep up with the regular mortgage payments, then it may be time to make the difficult decision to figure out another place to live. However, you may still want to file bankruptcy to buy more time in your home, especially if foreclosure is imminent.
All this being said, filing for bankruptcy can help people keep their homes! This is because it can help folks resolve unnecessary or low-priority debts, thereby allowing homeowners to focus on paying for what’s important. Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help people who have fallen behind temporarily (think temporary job loss or illness) and just need some time to make up the payments. It also allows the person 36 or 60 months to pay back whatever amount they are behind. Are you $6,000 behind? Divide that by 60 and you will see that for $100 a month, you can stay current on your mortgage.
Does filing for bankruptcy free businesses of their property tax burden?
A business will only have a property tax burden if it actually owns the property. If the business is surrendering the property, then the liability would move to the next owner of the property.
Can I sell my property before filing bankruptcy?
There are no restrictions on your actions before you file for bankruptcy. However, it is generally recommended to consult with a bankruptcy attorney prior to selling any property to make sure it will not negatively impact your case in any way.
Can filing bankruptcy prevent foreclosure? Does bankruptcy protect you from repossession?
By filing for bankruptcy, repossession and foreclosure are temporarily or permanently stopped. Ch. 7 only delays the foreclosure by a couple of months; to keep the property, you must figure out a way to get current or have the bank agree to modify the loan. With ch. 13 relief, you can permanently prevent foreclosure or repossession as long as you can keep up with the regular payments and pay back what you fell behind over the 36- or 60-month plan.
How much property can I keep after filing bankruptcy in Georgia?
More than you might think. The only property at risk when you file bankruptcy is a property that has equity. A car worth $10,000 that has $10,000 still owed on it—or a house worth $150,000 with a $150,000 loan balance—will not help the bankruptcy court pay back credit card debt by selling it.
If your property has equity, we either must protect all of it with bankruptcy exemptions or agree to pay back some, if not all, of your debts to keep the court from selling it. You can find more information about Georgia bankruptcy exemptions with a simple Google search. This is the only area of bankruptcy law that is governed by state and not federal law.
If you have lived in Georgia for the last two years, Georgia exemptions apply to you. If you just moved here from another state, it gets more complicated. Schedule a consultation and we will figure it out together.
Can I remove judgment liens (aka writ of Fi.Fa.) from my primary residence if I file bankruptcy? What about my second mortgage?
It is possible to do both. Judgment liens can be removed, but there are special requirements surrounding the amount of equity in your property beyond the balance of your first mortgage and allowed bankruptcy homestead exemption. This is something we look at in every case to determine whether we can use the tool to free up your property from any unwanted liens. Second mortgages can only be stripped from your primary residence in ch. 13, not ch. 7.
After Filing Bankruptcy
What happens after I file the bankruptcy?
After you file, all collection efforts—phone calls, letters, pending litigation, garnishments scheduled foreclosures, evictions, etc.—stop immediately! It will be quiet for about a month, which is when you will attend the meeting of creditors (i.e., your 341 hearing).
The meeting of creditors is an informal meeting with the trustee, whereby you answer some basic questions (your attorney should review those questions during one of your consultations). This meeting typically lasts less than 5 minutes. Only in the more complex cases (i.e., multiple businesses and/or real estate parcels) will you see it go longer.
Next, you have 60 days after your hearing before your case officially closes (in the case of chapter 7). During this time, you’ll have some paperwork to complete; otherwise, there is very little to be done.
What kinds of questions will the trustee ask me at the meeting of creditors (also known as a 341 hearing)?
After identifying yourself and being sworn in, you will be asked some variation of the following:
- Did you provide the information contained in your bankruptcy petition to your attorney?
- Is your petition still true and correct?
- Did you review it and sign it?
- Do you own real estate? When did you buy it? How much did you pay for it? Any major upgrades since purchase? Have you refinanced the loan or taken out a second mortgage? If so, when and did you pull any cash out? What was the new money, if any, used for? Do you plan on keeping or surrendering this property?
- Do you have any claims against anyone or are you currently suing anyone? Have you been injured in a car wreck or slip-and-fall accident where you could sue someone?
- Have you ever received an inheritance? Do you anticipate receiving an inheritance soon (i.e., has someone died recently, leaving you something)?
- If you have owned businesses in the last 5 years, you may be asked about those businesses and whether they own any assets.
- Have you owned any non-retirement stocks, bonds, or CDs in the last 5 years?
- Have you transferred any property valued at over $5,000 to anyone in the last 2 years, including your spouse, if any?
- Why are you filing for bankruptcy? (Often easily answered by stating that you simply could not afford to repay all your debts).
What are the long-term effects of bankruptcy? Can I get a loan after bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy is a negative mark on your credit. However, for most people facing bankruptcy, their credit has already taken or will take a hit soon. Think of bankruptcy as putting a period at the end of a negative sentence that has been going on and on: Once you file bankruptcy, especially if you file for chapter 7, you stop the negative information that has been chasing you (missed payments, foreclosures, lawsuits, repossession, collections, etc.) from continuing to report on your credit. Now you can finally distance yourself from these negatives.
As you move forward in life, it falls further behind, having less and less of an impact on your credit. In the meantime, you establish a few positive lines of credit and maybe even continue paying off your car and house loan beyond bankruptcy. Anything you can do to create positive reporting will help to rebuild your credit. You can do it!
Meet With an Experienced Bankruptcy Attorney
Need assistance filing bankruptcy? Let us help! The Carr Law Group is a family-owned firm serving clients in and around Clarkesville, Gainesville, and Cleveland, Georgia. Our bankruptcy team, led by attorney-at-law Quentin Carr, has extensive experience in filing bankruptcy (both chapter 7 and chapter 13) for individuals and businesses. Learn more about Quentin or contact us today for a free consultation.