In a bankruptcy case under chapter 7, you file a petition asking the court to discharge your debts. The basic idea in a chapter 7 bankruptcy is to wipe out (discharge) your debts in exchange for your giving up property, except for ‘‘exempt’’property which the law allows you to keep. In most cases, all of your property will be exempt. But property which is not exempt is sold, with the money distributed to creditors. If you want to keep property like a home or a car and are behind on the mortgage or car loan payments, a chapter 7 case probably will not be the right choice for you. That is because chapter 7 bankruptcy does not eliminate the right of mortgage holders or car loan creditors to take your property to cover your debt. If your income is above the median family income in the state, you may have to file a chapter 13 case. Median family income is different in each state. In California, the median income for a family of four is $79,194. Higher-income consumers must fill out ‘‘means test’’ forms requiring detailed information about their income and expenses. If the forms show, based on standards in the law, that they have a certain amount left over that could be paid to unsecured creditors, the bankruptcy court may decide that they can not file a chapter 7 case, unless there are special extenuating circumstances.
Chapter 13 (Reorganization)
In a chapter 13 case you file a ‘‘plan’’ showing how you will pay off some of your past-due and current debts over three to five years. The most important thing about a chapter13 case is that it will allow you to keep valuable property—especially your home and car—which might otherwise be lost, if you can make the payments which the bankruptcy law requires to be made to your creditors. In most cases, these payments will be at least as much as your regular monthly payments on your mortgage or car loan, with some extra payment to get caught up on the amount you have fallen behind. You should consider filing a chapter 13 plan if you:
- Own your home and are in danger of losing it because of money problems;
- Are behind on debt payments, but can catch up if givensome time;
- Have valuable property which is not exempt, but youcan afford to pay creditors from your income over time.You will need to have enough income during your chapter13 case to pay for your necessities and to keep up with the required payments as they come due.