Bankruptcy law is primarily federal law and varies little from state to state. The United States Constitution grants to Congress the power to establish uniform bankruptcy laws throughout the United States, which ensures uniformity in how bankruptcy proceedings are conducted, encourages interstate commerce, and promotes national economic security. The individual states do, however, retain jurisdiction over certain debtor-creditor issues that are not addressed by or do not conflict with federal bankruptcy law, such as which property remains exempt from creditors' claims.
Bankruptcy law provides two basic forms of relief: (1) liquidation and (2) rehabilitation, also known as reorganization.
Debtors must meet a means test to determine if they are financially eligible for straight Chapter 7 liquidation. In brief, if a debtor can repay out of his adjusted current monthly income $1000 each month to unsecured creditors, over a span of 60 months, he may not avail himself of Chapter 7 and must go into Chapter 13.
In most instances, the bankruptcy case is filed by the debtor, which is considered a voluntary bankruptcy. Once the debtor files the bankruptcy petition, he or she is immediately entitled to relief from creditors through the bankruptcy procedure known as the automatic stay. The automatic stay freezes all debt-collection activity and forces the creditors to allow the bankruptcy proceeding to determine how payment will be made.
Under Chapters 7 and 11, creditors, too, have the option of filing for relief against the debtor, which is known as an involuntary bankruptcy. Involuntary bankruptcies are allowed only when there are a minimum number of creditors and a minimum amount of debt. The debtor has the right to file a response, after which the court determines whether the creditors are entitled to relief. If the court dismisses the involuntary bankruptcy filing, finding that it has no merit, the creditors may have to pay the debtor's attorneys' fees, damages for any losses the debtor experienced because of the bankruptcy, and even punitive damages to punish the creditors for the frivolous or abusive filing of a petition.
Lawyers specializing in bankruptcy law can help both debtors and creditors overcome obstacles to the repayment of debt. Their expertise often extends beyond bankruptcy to include debt repayment and collection options that can circumvent the need for a bankruptcy filing. The following are just some of the areas in which bankruptcy lawyers can assist their clients.
Remedies sought by creditors against debtors who have defaulted on their obligations. Collections include any technique to get the debtor to make up the remaining debt, including use of a collection agency or the courts. Creditors may also have outstanding debts legally recognized, and then enforced against a debtor's property involuntarily with garnishments, liens, or levies. Repossession of collateral is another technique used when property is pledged to secure a debt.
A remedy available to businesses that are unable to pay their debts. Options include liquidation, in which many of the business's assets are sold and the proceeds are divided among the creditors, and reorganization or restructuring, in which the business continues to operate according to a plan that allows for at least partial payment to creditors.
A method through which individuals may be able to get out from under insurmountable debt and make a fresh start, albeit with a negative impact on their credit ratings. As in commercial bankruptcy, there are two options: liquidate assets to pay off creditors, or file a wage-earner plan that allows the debtor to retain more assets while working to pay off his or her debts.
Include a full range of options available to creditors to collect unpaid debts. These rights include collection actions, repossession, foreclosure, garnishment, replevin, attachment, obtaining a court judgment, liens, and forcing the debtor into involuntary bankruptcy.
The bankruptcy term for wiping out many of the debtor's remaining debts at the conclusion of the bankruptcy proceeding. A discharge is available to only certain debtors, however, and only certain debts are dischargeable.
The actions taken when a mortgagor fails to make the required mortgage payments on time and the lender, or mortgagee, forces the sale of the property — often the debtor's home — to pay off the debt. Foreclosures can be either judicial, which requires court involvement, or pursuant to a clause in the mortgage that allows for such sales.
A creditor's remedy aimed not directly at the debtor but rather at a third party who owes money to the debtor or holds some of the debtor's property. The garnishment process notifies the third party that the creditor intends to apply the third party's property to satisfy the debtor's debt. Typical garnishees, as the third parties are called, include the debtor's employer and the bank in which the debtor has his or her accounts.
Methods by which a bankrupt business may reorganize itself in order to keep operating and pay off creditors at least part of what it owes. This commercial bankruptcy option has many advantages over liquidation, which requires selling off many assets and after which the business ceases to exist.
Non-bankruptcy agreements between debtors and creditors in which the creditors agree to take less money than the full amount owed or accept payments over a longer period of time than originally anticipated. Workouts have the advantages of being voluntary, less complicated, and less negatively perceived than bankruptcy.
Often called the "liquidation" or "straight" bankruptcy, chapter 7 is primarily used by individuals who wish to free themselves of debt simply and inexpensively, but may also be used by businesses that wish to liquidate and terminate their business.
When an individual with a regular income who is overcome by debts, but believes such debt can be repaid in full or part within a reasonable period of time, files under chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 permits the debtor to file a plan in which the debtor agrees to pay a certain percentage of future income to the Bankruptcy Court for payment to creditors. If the Court approves the plan, the debtor will be under the Court's protection while repaying such debts.
The legal proceeding in which a bank or other secured creditor sells or repossesses a piece of real property due to the owner's default on its promissory note. When the process is complete, it is typically said that "the lender has foreclosed its mortgage or lien."
Debt is generally resolved, or eliminated, with bankruptcy. But some people wish to avoid bankruptcy. If you wish to avoid bankruptcy, contact us to discuss other options. In certain cases we can settle your debt for less than the original amount owed. In other cases, we can reorganize your debt.
A lawsuit arising in or related to a bankruptcy case that is commenced by filing a complaint with the court. A nonexclusive list of adversary proceedings is set forth in Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7001.
An injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, and all collection activity against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed.
A legal procedure for dealing with debt problems of individuals and businesses; specifically, a case filed under one of the chapters of title 11 of the United States Code (the Bankruptcy Code).
The informal name for title 11 of the United States Code (11 U.S.C. §§ 101-1330), the federal bankruptcy law.
The bankruptcy judges in regular active service in each district; a unit of the district court.
All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property at the time of the bankruptcy filing. (The estate includes all property in which the debtor has an interest, even if it is owned or held by another person.)
A judicial officer of the United States district court who is the court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases.
The document filed by the debtor (in a voluntary case) or by creditors (in an involuntary case) by which opens the bankruptcy case. (There are official forms for bankruptcy petitions.)
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for "liquidation,"(i.e., the sale of a debtor's nonexempt property and the distribution of the proceeds to creditors.)
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for reorganization of municipalities (which includes cities and towns, as well as villages, counties, taxing districts, municipal utilities, and school districts).
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing (generally) for reorganization, usually involving a corporation or partnership. (A chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. People in business or individuals can also seek relief in chapter 11.)
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for adjustment of debts of a "family farmer," or a "family fisherman" as those terms are defined in the Bankruptcy Code.
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income. (Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually three to five years.)
The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency.
A creditor's assertion of a right to payment from the debtor or the debtor's property.
Bankruptcy judge's approval of a plan of reorganization or liquidation in chapter 11, or payment plan in chapter 12 or 13.
A debtor whose debts are primarily consumer debts.
Debts incurred for personal, as opposed to business, needs.
One to whom the debtor owes money or who claims to be owed money by the debtor.
The average monthly income received by the debtor over the six calendar months before commencement of the bankruptcy case, including regular contributions to household expenses from nondebtors and income from the debtor's spouse if the petition is a joint petition, but not including social security income and certain other payments made because the debtor is the victim of certain crimes. 11 U.S.C. § 101(10A).
A person who has filed a petition for relief under the Bankruptcy Code.
An individual (or business) against whom a lawsuit is filed.
A release of a debtor from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. (A discharge releases a debtor from personal liability for certain debts known as dischargeable debts and prevents the creditors owed those debts from taking any action against the debtor to collect the debts. The discharge also prohibits creditors from communicating with the debtor regarding the debt, including telephone calls, letters, and personal contact.)
A debt for which the Bankruptcy Code allows the debtor's personal liability to be eliminated.
The value of a debtor's interest in property that remains after liens and other creditors' interests are considered. (Example: If a house valued at $100,000 is subject to a $80,000 mortgage, there is $20,000 of equity.)
Generally includes contracts or leases under which both parties to the agreement have duties remaining to be performed. (If a contract or lease is executory, a debtor may assume it or reject it.)
Certain property owned by an individual debtor that the Bankruptcy Code or applicable state law permits the debtor to keep from unsecured creditors. For example, in some states the debtor may be able to exempt all or a portion of the equity in the debtor's primary residence (homestead exemption) or some or all "tools of the trade" used by the debtor to make a living (i.e., auto tools for an auto mechanic or dental tools for a dentist). The availability and amount of property the debtor may exempt depends on the state the debtor lives in.
A transfer of a debtor's property made with intent to defraud or for which the debtor receives less than the transferred property's value.
The characterization of a debtor's status after bankruptcy, i.e., free of most debts. (Giving debtors a fresh start is one purpose of the Bankruptcy Code.)
Any relative of the debtor or of a general partner of the debtor; partnership in which the debtor is a general partner; general partner of the debtor; or a corporation of which the debtor is a director, officer, or person in control.
A director, officer, or person in control of the debtor; a partnership in which the debtor is a general partner; a general partner of the debtor; or a relative of a general partner, director, officer, or person in control of the debtor.
One bankruptcy petition filed by a husband and wife together.
The right to take and hold or sell the property of a debtor as security or payment for a debt or duty.
A sale of a debtor's property with the proceeds to be used for the benefit of creditors.
A creditor's claim for a fixed amount of money.
Section 707(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code applies a "means test" to determine whether an individual debtor's chapter 7 filing is presumed to be an abuse of the Bankruptcy Code requiring dismissal or conversion of the case (generally to chapter 13). Abuse is presumed if the debtor's aggregate current monthly income (see definition above) over 5 years, net of certain statutorily allowed expenses is more than (i) $10,000, or (ii) 25% of the debtor's nonpriority unsecured debt, as long as that amount is at least $6,000. The debtor may rebut a presumption of abuse only by a showing of special circumstances that justify additional expenses or adjustments of current monthly income.
A request by a creditor to allow the creditor to take action against the debtor or the debtor's property that would otherwise be prohibited by the automatic stay.
A chapter 7 case where there are no assets available to satisfy any portion of the creditors' unsecured claims.
A debt that cannot be eliminated in bankruptcy. Examples include a home mortgage, debts for alimony or child support, certain taxes, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts arising from death or personal injury caused by driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and debts for restitution or a criminal fine included in a sentence on the debtor's conviction of a crime. Some debts, such as debts for money or property obtained by false pretenses and debts for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity may be declared nondischargeable only if a creditor timely files and prevails in a nondischargeability action.
A trustee's or creditor's objection to the debtor being released from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. Common reasons include allegations that the debt to be discharged was incurred by false pretenses or that debt arose because of the debtor's fraud while acting as a fiduciary.
A trustee's or creditor's objection to the debtor's attempt to claim certain property as exempt from liquidation by the trustee to creditors.
A business not authorized to practice law that prepares bankruptcy petitions.
A debtor's detailed description of how the debtor proposes to pay creditors' claims over a fixed period of time.
A transfer of the debtor's property made after the commencement of the case.
The arrangement (or rearrangement) of a debtor's property to allow the debtor to take maximum advantage of exemptions. (Prebankruptcy planning typically includes converting nonexempt assets into exempt assets.)
A debt payment made to a creditor in the 90-day period before a debtor files bankruptcy (or within one year if the creditor was an insider) that gives the creditor more than the creditor would receive in the debtor's chapter 7 case.
An unsecured claim that is entitled to be paid ahead of other unsecured claims that are not entitled to priority status. Priority refers to the order in which these unsecured claims are to be paid.
A written statement and verifying documentation filed by a creditor that describes the reason the debtor owes the creditor money. (There is an official form for this purpose.)
All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case.
An agreement by a chapter 7 debtor to continue paying a dischargeable debt (such as an auto loan) after the bankruptcy, usually for the purpose of keeping collateral (i.e. the car) that would otherwise be subject to repossession.
Detailed lists filed by the debtor along with (or shortly after filing) the petition showing the debtor's assets, liabilities, and other financial information. (There are official forms a debtor must use.)
A creditor holding a claim against the debtor who has the right to take and hold or sell certain property of the debtor in satisfaction of some or all of the claim.
Debt backed by a mortgage, pledge of collateral, or other lien; debt for which the creditor has the right to pursue specific pledged property upon default. Examples include home mortgages, auto loans and tax liens.
A series of questions the debtor must answer in writing concerning sources of income, transfers of property, lawsuits by creditors, etc. (There is an official form a debtor must use.)
A declaration made by a chapter 7 debtor concerning plans for dealing with consumer debts that are secured by property of the estate.
The meeting of creditors required by section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code at which the debtor is questioned under oath by creditors, a trustee, examiner, or the U.S. trustee about his/her financial affairs. Also called meeting of creditors
Any mode or means by which a debtor disposes of or parts with his/her property.
The representative of the bankruptcy estate who exercises statutory powers, principally for the benefit of the unsecured creditors, under the general supervision of the court and the direct supervision of the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator. The trustee is a private individual or corporation appointed in all chapter 7, chapter 12, and chapter 13 cases and some chapter 11 cases. The trustee's responsibilities include reviewing the debtor's petition and schedules and bringing actions against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate. In chapter 7, the trustee liquidates property of the estate, and makes distributions to creditors. Trustees in chapter 12 and 13 have similar duties to a chapter 7 trustee and the additional responsibilities of overseeing the debtor's plan, receiving payments from debtors, and disbursing plan payments to creditors.
An officer of the Justice Department responsible for supervising the administration of bankruptcy cases, estates, and trustees; monitoring plans and disclosure statements; monitoring creditors' committees; monitoring fee applications; and performing other statutory duties.
A debt secured by property that is worth less than the full amount of the debt.
A claim for which a specific value has not been determined.
A debt that should have been listed by the debtor in the schedules filed with the court but was not. (Depending on the circumstances, an unscheduled debt may or may not be discharged.)
A claim or debt for which a creditor holds no special assurance of payment, such as a mortgage or lien; a debt for which credit was extended based solely upon the creditor's assessment of the debtor's future ability to pay.
A transfer of a debtor's property with the debtor's consent.
Bold labels are required