Bankruptcy 101: It is 2006, Stay Informed Consumer Information

The Basics

I know most of you know about bankruptcy, for those of you that do not, here are some basics. Generally, filing bankruptcy allows people who are having financial difficulties to wipe out their debts, which can provide them with a fresh financial start. There are several events that can take place to force people to take the path of filing for bankruptcy. Some events may include divorce, unemployment, lawsuits, foreclosures and credit card debt.

Bankruptcy serves two main purposes. It gives creditors a fair share of the money that debtors can afford to pay back and it gives debtors a fresh start. There are two ways in which bankruptcy can provide for payments to creditors and discharge for debtors: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

Chapter 7

Under this chapter, all unsecured debts are wiped out. These debts include credit card bills, medical and legal fees, utility bills and deficiency balances. Debtors can lose certain properties which the courts can sell and pay the proceeds to the creditors. There are some debts that cannot be discharged through this process. These debts include alimony, child support, some student loans, most taxes and debts resulting from fraud, larceny, debts and fines.

Chapter 13

This chapter is designed for people with regular income that want to pay their debts but are unable to do so. The purpose of this chapter is to help people, under court supervision, to work out a repayment plan with their creditors in which the creditors are repaid under a prolonged period of time.

Credit Card Solicitations

According to an article recently published in The New York Times by Timothy Egan, there is a woman who is a nurse and a single mother of two. She filed for bankruptcy before the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 because of her bad use of credit cards after her cancer surgery. As soon as she filed, she began to get two to three pre-approved credit cards in the mail daily. Now ask yourself, why would banking institutions and credit card companies want to attract consumers that have trouble paying off their debts? Bankers say it gives them a perfect opportunity to rebuild their credit. On the other hand, it also keeps consumers in a repetitive downward spiral of debt. Banks already know the risks of soliciting recently bankrupt consumers with a clean slate. That is why they offer them extremely high interest rates and even require a cash deposit on the card. This is why these consumers are an attractive market for credit lenders.

According to an article published in The Washington Post by Caroline E. Mayer, there is a yet-to-be-released survey of 356 debtors who filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2001, 96 percent reported that they received offers for credit cards, car loans, mortgages and other credit the year after their debts were discharged. Half of the 96 percent received at least ten solicitations a month.

New Requirements

As of October 17, 2005, the new law also known as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 makes it much more difficult for consumers to file for bankruptcy. This new law mandates enrolling in a credit counseling session before bankruptcy can be filed. People also have to complete a financial management seminar before bankruptcy is complete. The curriculum that consumers should be learning at these seminars is budget development, money management, using credit wisely and consumer information. Most of these classes will have a fee. Another critical change is “means testing.” According to an article written by David A. Skeel Jr. on Bankrate.com, the means test is an effort to force more debtors to choose Chapter 13. Currently, roughly 70 percent choose Chapter 7. Any person with debt who is capable of repaying either $10,000 or 25 percent of what they owe to ordinary creditors, whichever is less, would be prohibited from filing Chapter 7. If a debtor has the means to repay a significant portion of his or her obligations within the next five years, the reasoning goes, he or she should be required to do so. The main effect of the means test is to raise the cost and bureaucracy of bankruptcy.

In addition, a few credit counseling agencies want to go above the requirements for credit counseling. “We want to go the extra step by offering free educational seminars, a financial literacy program and ongoing educational materials,” says Jason Athas, Manager of Special Programs at Debt Management Credit Counseling Corp (DMCC). “We want our clients and potential clients to understand their mistakes and learn how to stay out of debt in the future.” You can find out more information of the benefits DMCC offers at dmcccorp.org.

Conclusion

Most experts advise against filing for bankruptcy and recommend finding alternative ways to pay off debt. Consumers should try paying off their debts through a repayment program before choosing bankruptcy. These types of programs will teach the consumer the need to reduce expenses and save money.

Copyright 2006 Debt Management Credit Counseling Corp.