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BANKRUPTCY FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS by Attorney Deadra Woods Stokes

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***If I file for bankruptcy, will it ruin my credit forever?

Bankruptcy will remain on your credit for up to ten years in most cases.  However, if you establish sound financial practices and rebuild your credit responsibly, you will be able to purchase a car, obtain new credit lines, and even purchase or refinance your home in as little as one year after filing bankruptcy (you can obtain an FHA mortgage one year after filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy).   You must remain committed to your financial growth.  Live below your means.  Use credit wisely.  Do not obtain excessive and/or unnecessary credit and avoid unnecessary debt.

 

If I file for bankruptcy, can I keep my car and/or house?

In some cases, yes.  If you are behind on your payments and you cannot catch up – but you can afford your payments if given a fresh start —  then you may be able to keep your house and car with the Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Wage Earner plan.

 

I just want to get rid of all of my debt.  How can I do that?

Filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will result in a discharge of most debts.  You cannot discharge student loans, IRS debt, or municipal debt in most cases.  However, if you meet certain requirements, you may be able to discharge most or all of your debt and get a fresh start.

 

If I file for bankruptcy, how do I deal with the embarrassment and shame?

Bankruptcy is a legal code in the United States of America, and ultimately, it is a business decision for you and your family.  While the circumstances that led you to this point may be painful, if you make the decision that bankruptcy is the best choice to rebuild your financial future, there should be no shame involved.  The important thing is to learn from the past so you can make more informed choices in the future.

 

What is a discharge in bankruptcy?

A bankruptcy discharge releases the debtor from personal liability for certain specified types of debts. In other words, the debtor is no longer legally required to pay any debts that are discharged. The discharge is a permanent order prohibiting the creditors of the debtor from taking any form of collection action on discharged debts, including legal action and communications with the debtor, such as telephone calls, letters, and personal contacts.

Although a debtor is not personally liable for discharged debts, a valid lien (i.e., a charge upon specific property to secure payment of a debt) that has not been avoided (i.e., made unenforceable) in the bankruptcy case will remain after the bankruptcy case. Therefore, a secured creditor may enforce the lien to recover the property secured by the lien.

 

When does the discharge occur?

The timing of the discharge varies, depending on the chapter under which the case is filed. In a chapter 7 (liquidation) case, for example, the court usually grants the discharge promptly on expiration of the time fixed for filing a complaint objecting to discharge and the time fixed for filing a motion to dismiss the case for substantial abuse (60 days following the first date set for the 341 meeting). Typically, this occurs about four months after the date the debtor files the petition with the clerk of the bankruptcy court. In individual chapter 11 cases, and in cases under chapter 12 (adjustment of debts of a family farmer or fisherman) and 13 (adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income), the court generally grants the discharge as soon as practicable after the debtor completes all payments under the plan. Since a chapter 12 or chapter 13 plan may provide for payments to be made over three to five years, the discharge typically occurs about four years after the date of filing. The court may deny an individual debtor’s discharge in a chapter 7 or 13 case if the debtor fails to complete “an instructional course concerning financial management.” The Bankruptcy Code provides limited exceptions to the “financial management” requirement if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator determines there are inadequate educational programs available, or if the debtor is disabled or incapacitated or on active military duty in a combat zone.

 

How does the debtor get a discharge?

Unless there is litigation involving objections to the discharge, the debtor will usually automatically receive a discharge. The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure provide for the clerk of the bankruptcy court to mail a copy of the order of discharge to all creditors, the U.S. trustee, the trustee in the case, and the trustee’s attorney, if any. The debtor and the debtor’s attorney also receive copies of the discharge order. The notice, which is simply a copy of the final order of discharge, is not specific as to those debts determined by the court to be non-dischargeable, i.e., not covered by the discharge. The notice informs creditors generally that the debts owed to them have been discharged and that they should not attempt any further collection. They are cautioned in the notice that continuing collection efforts could subject them to punishment for contempt. Any inadvertent failure on the part of the clerk to send the debtor or any creditor a copy of the discharge order promptly within the time required by the rules does not affect the validity of the order granting the discharge.

 

Are all of the debtor’s debts discharged or only some?

Not all debts are discharged. The debts discharged vary under each chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Section 523(a) of the Code specifically excepts various categories of debts from the discharge granted to individual debtors. Therefore, the debtor must still repay those debts after bankruptcy. Congress has determined that these types of debts are not dischargeable for public policy reasons (based either on the nature of the debt or the fact that the debts were incurred due to improper behavior of the debtor, such as the debtor’s drunken driving).

There are 19 categories of debt excepted from discharge under chapters 7, 11, and 12. A more limited list of exceptions applies to cases under chapter 13.

Generally speaking, the exceptions to discharge apply automatically if the language prescribed by section 523(a) applies. The most common types of nondischargeable debts are certain types of tax claims, debts not set forth by the debtor on the lists and schedules the debtor must file with the court, debts for spousal or child support or alimony, debts for willful and malicious injuries to person or property, debts to governmental units for fines and penalties, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts for personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, debts owed to certain tax-advantaged retirement plans, and debts for certain condominium or cooperative housing fees.

The types of debts described in sections 523(a)(2), (4) and(6) (obligations affected by fraud or maliciousness) are not automatically excepted from discharge. Creditors must ask the court to determine that these debts are excepted from discharge. In the absence of an affirmative request by the creditor and the granting of the request by the court, the types of debts set out in sections 523(a)(2), (4) and (6) will be discharged.

A slightly broader discharge of debts is available to a debtor in a chapter 13 case than in a chapter 7 case. Debts dischargeable in a chapter 13, but not in chapter 7, include debts for willful and malicious injury to property, debts incurred to pay non-dischargeable tax obligations, and debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings. Although a chapter 13 debtor generally receives a discharge only after completing all payments required by the court-approved (i.e., “confirmed”) repayment plan, there are some limited circumstances under which the debtor may request the court to grant a “hardship discharge” even though the debtor has failed to complete plan payments. Such a discharge is available only to a debtor whose failure to complete plan payments is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control. The scope of a chapter 13 “hardship discharge” is similar to that in a chapter 7 case with regard to the types of debts that are excepted from the discharge. A hardship discharge also is available in chapter 12 if the failure to complete plan payments is due to “circumstances for which the debtor should not justly be held accountable.”

 

Does the debtor have the right to a discharge or can creditors object to the discharge?

In chapter 7 cases, the debtor does not have an absolute right to a discharge. An objection to the debtor’s discharge may be filed by a creditor, by the trustee in the case, or by the U.S. trustee. Creditors receive a notice shortly after the case is filed that sets forth much important information, including the deadline for objecting to the discharge. To object to the debtor’s discharge, a creditor must file a complaint in the bankruptcy court before the deadline set out in the notice. Filing a complaint starts a lawsuit referred to in bankruptcy as an “adversary proceeding.”

The court may deny a chapter 7 discharge for any of the reasons described in section 727(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, including failure to provide requested tax documents; failure to complete a course on personal financial management; transfer or concealment of property with intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors; destruction or concealment of books or records; perjury and other fraudulent acts; failure to account for the loss of assets; violation of a court order or an earlier discharge in an earlier case commenced within certain time frames (discussed below) before the date the petition was filed. If the issue of the debtor’s right to a discharge goes to trial, the objecting party has the burden of proving all the facts essential to the objection.

In chapter 12 and chapter 13 cases, the debtor is usually entitled to a discharge upon completion of all payments under the plan. As in chapter 7, however, discharge may not occur in chapter 13 if the debtor fails to complete a required course on personal financial management. A debtor is also ineligible for a discharge in chapter 13 if he or she received a prior discharge in another case commenced within time frames discussed the next paragraph. Unlike chapter 7, creditors do not have standing to object to the discharge of a chapter 12 or chapter 13 debtor. Creditors can object to confirmation of the repayment plan, but cannot object to the discharge if the debtor has completed making plan payments.

 

Can a debtor receive a second discharge in a later chapter 7 case?

The court will deny a discharge in a later chapter 7 case if the debtor received a discharge under chapter 7 or chapter 11 in a case filed within eight years before the second petition is filed. The court will also deny a chapter 7 discharge if the debtor previously received a discharge in a chapter 12 or chapter 13 case filed within six years before the date of the filing of the second case unless (1) the debtor paid all “allowed unsecured” claims in the earlier case in full, or (2) the debtor made payments under the plan in the earlier case totaling at least 70 percent of the allowed unsecured claims and the debtor’s plan was proposed in good faith and the payments represented the debtor’s best effort. A debtor is ineligible for discharge under chapter 13 if he or she received a prior discharge in a chapter 7, 11, or 12 case filed four years before the current case or in a chapter 13 case filed two years before the current case.

 

Can the discharge be revoked?

The court may revoke a discharge under certain circumstances. For example, a trustee, creditor, or the U.S. trustee may request that the court revoke the debtor’s discharge in a chapter 7 case based on allegations that the debtor: obtained the discharge fraudulently; failed to disclose the fact that he or she acquired or became entitled to acquire property that would constitute property of the bankruptcy estate; committed one of several acts of impropriety described in section 727(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code; or failed to explain any misstatements discovered in an audit of the case or fails to provide documents or information requested in an audit of the case. Typically, a request to revoke the debtor’s discharge must be filed within one year of the discharge or, in some cases, before the date that the case is closed. The court will decide whether such allegations are true and, if so, whether to revoke the discharge.

In a chapter 11, 12 and 13 cases, if confirmation of a plan or the discharge is obtained through fraud, the court can revoke the order of confirmation or discharge.

 

May the debtor pay a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case has been concluded?

A debtor who has received a discharge may voluntarily repay any discharged debt. A debtor may repay a discharged debt even though it can no longer be legally enforced. Sometimes a debtor agrees to repay a debt because it is owed to a family member or because it represents an obligation to an individual for whom the debtor’s reputation is important, such as a family doctor.

 

What can the debtor do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the case is concluded?

If a creditor attempts collection efforts on a discharged debt, the debtor can file a motion with the court, reporting the action and asking that the case be reopened to address the matter. The bankruptcy court will often do so to ensure that the discharge is not violated. The discharge constitutes a permanent statutory injunction prohibiting creditors from taking any action, including the filing of a lawsuit, designed to collect a discharged debt. A creditor can be sanctioned by the court for violating the discharge injunction. The normal sanction for violating the discharge injunction is civil contempt, which is often punishable by a fine.

 

May an employer terminate a debtor’s employment solely because the person was a debtor or failed to pay a discharged debt?

The law provides express prohibitions against discriminatory treatment of debtors by both governmental units and private employers. A governmental unit or private employer may not discriminate against a person solely because the person was a debtor, was insolvent before or during the case, or has not paid a debt that was discharged in the case. The law prohibits the following forms of governmental discrimination: terminating an employee; discriminating with respect to hiring; or denying, revoking, suspending, or declining to renew a license, franchise, or similar privilege. A private employer may not discriminate with respect to employment if the discrimination is based solely upon the bankruptcy filing.

 

How can the Debtor obtain another Copy of the Discharge Order?

If the debtor loses or misplaces the discharge order, another copy can be obtained by contacting the clerk of the bankruptcy court that entered the order. The clerk will charge a fee for searching the court records and there will be additional fees for making and certifying copies. If the case has been closed and archived there will also be a retrieval fee, and obtaining the copy will take longer.

The discharge order may be available electronically. The PACER system provides the public with electronic access to selected case information through a personal computer located in many clerk’s offices. The debtor can also access PACER. Users must set up an account to acquire access to PACER, and must pay a per-page fee to download and copy documents filed electronically.

 

BANKRUPTCY OVERVIEW

  1. There is a bankruptcy court for each judicial district in the country. Each state has one or more districts. There are 90 bankruptcy districts across the country. The bankruptcy courts generally have their own clerk’s offices.

 

  1. The court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases is the United States bankruptcy judge, a judicial officer of the United States district court. The bankruptcy judge may decide any matter connected with a bankruptcy case, such as eligibility to file or whether a debtor should receive a discharge of debts. Much of the bankruptcy process is administrative, however, and is conducted away from the courthouse. In cases under chapters 7, 12, or 13, and sometimes in chapter 11 cases, this administrative process is carried out by a trustee who is appointed to oversee the case.

 

  1. A debtor’s involvement with the bankruptcy judge is usually very limited. A typical chapter 7 debtor will not appear in court and will not see the bankruptcy judge unless an objection is raised in the case. A chapter 13 debtor may only have to appear before the bankruptcy judge at a plan confirmation hearing. Usually, the only formal proceeding at which a debtor must appear is the meeting of creditors, which is usually held at the offices of the U.S. trustee. This meeting is informally called a “341 meeting” because section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code requires that the debtor attend this meeting so that creditors can question the debtor about debts and property.

 

  1. A fundamental goal of the federal bankruptcy laws enacted by Congress is to give debtors a financial “fresh start” from burdensome debts. The Supreme Court made this point about the purpose of the bankruptcy law in a 1934 decision:

 

  1. [I]t gives to the honest but unfortunate debtor…a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt.

 

  1. Local Loan Co. v. Hunt, 292 U.S. 234, 244 (1934). This goal is accomplished through the bankruptcy discharge, which releases debtors from personal liability from specific debts and prohibits creditors from ever taking any action against the debtor to collect those debts. This publication describes the bankruptcy discharge in a question and answer format, discussing the timing of the discharge, the scope of the discharge (what debts are discharged and what debts are not discharged), objections to discharge, and revocation of the discharge. It also describes what a debtor can do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case is concluded.

 

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

 

A

adversary proceeding 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.

 

assume An agreement to continue performing duties under a contract or lease.

 

automatic stay An injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, and all collection activity against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed.

 

B

 

bankruptcy 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).

 

bankruptcy administrator An officer of the judiciary serving in the judicial districts of Alabama and North Carolina who, like the U.S. trustee, is 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. Compare U.S. trustee.

 

Bankruptcy Code The informal name for title 11 of the United States Code (11 U.S.C. §§ 101-1330), the federal bankruptcy law.


bankruptcy court
The bankruptcy judges in regular active service in each district; a unit of the district court.


bankruptcy estate
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.)


bankruptcy judge
A judicial officer of the United States district court who is the court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases.


bankruptcy petition
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.)

 

C

 

chapter 7 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.)

 

chapter 9 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).

 

chapter 11 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.)

 

chapter 12 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.

 

chapter 13 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.)

 

chapter 15 The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency.

 

claim A creditor’s assertion of a right to payment from the debtor or the debtor’s property.

 

confirmation Bankruptcy judges’s approval of a plan of reorganization or liquidation in chapter 11, or payment plan in chapter 12 or 13.

 

consumer debtor A debtor whose debts are primarily consumer debts.

 

consumer debts Debts incurred for personal, as opposed to business, needs.

 

contested matter Those matters, other than objections to claims, that are disputed but are not within the definition of adversary proceeding contained in Rule 7001.

 

contingent claim A claim that may be owed by the debtor under certain circumstances, e.g., where the debtor is a cosigner on another person’s loan and that person fails to pay.

 

creditor One to whom the debtor owes money or who claims to be owed money by the debtor.

 

credit counseling Generally refers to two events in individual bankruptcy cases: (1) the “individual or group briefing” from a nonprofit budget and credit counseling agency that individual debtors must attend prior to filing under any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code; and (2) the “instructional course in personal financial management” in chapters 7 and 13 that an individual debtor must complete before a discharge is entered. There are exceptions to both requirements for certain categories of debtors, exigent circumstances, or if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator have determined that there are insufficient approved credit counseling agencies available to provide the necessary counseling.

 

creditors’ meeting see 341 meeting

 

current monthly income 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).

 

D

 

debtor A person who has filed a petition for relief under the Bankruptcy Code.

 

debtor education see credit counseling

 

defendant An individual (or business) against whom a lawsuit is filed.

 

discharge 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.)

 

dischargeable debt A debt for which the Bankruptcy Code allows the debtor’s personal liability to be eliminated.

 

disclosure statement A written document prepared by the chapter 11 debtor or other plan proponent that is designed to provide “adequate information” to creditors to enable them to evaluate the chapter 11 plan of reorganization.

 

E

 

equity 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.)

 

executory contract or lease 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.)

 

exemptions, exempt property 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.

 

F

 

family farmer or family fisherman An individual, individual and spouse, corporation, or partnership engaged in a farming or fishing operation that meets certain debt limits and other statutory criteria for filing a petition under chapter 12.

 

fraudulent transfer 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.

 

fresh start 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.)

 

I

 

insider (of individual debtor) 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.

 

insider (of corporate debtor) 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.

 

J

 

joint administration A court-approved mechanism under which two or more cases can be administered together. (Assuming no conflicts of interest, these separate businesses or individuals can pool their resources, hire the same professionals, etc.)

joint petition One bankruptcy petition filed by a husband and wife together.

 

L

 

lien The right to take and hold or sell the property of a debtor as security or payment for a debt or duty.

 

liquidation A sale of a debtor’s property with the proceeds to be used for the benefit of creditors.

 

liquidated claim A creditor’s claim for a fixed amount of money.

 

M

 

means test 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) $10,950, or (ii) 25% of the debtor’s nonpriority unsecured debt, as long as that amount is at least $6,575. 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.

 

motion to lift the automatic stay 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.

 

N

 

no-asset case A chapter 7 case where there are no assets available to satisfy any portion of the creditors’ unsecured claims.

 

nondischargeable debt 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.

 

O

 

objection to dischargeability 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.

 

objection to exemptions 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.

 

P

 

party in interest A party who has standing to be heard by the court in a matter to be decided in the bankruptcy case. The debtor, the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator, the case trustee and creditors are parties in interest for most matters.

 

petition preparer
A business not authorized to practice law that prepares bankruptcy petitions.


plan
A debtor’s detailed description of how the debtor proposes to pay creditors’ claims over a fixed period of time.


plaintiff
A person or business that files a formal complaint with the court.


postpetition transfer
A transfer of the debtor’s property made after the commencement of the case.

 

prebankruptcy planning 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.)

 

preference or preferential debt payment 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.


presumption of abuse
see means test

 

priority The Bankruptcy Code’s statutory ranking of unsecured claims that determines the order in which unsecured claims will be paid if there is not enough money to pay all unsecured claims in full. For example, under the Bankruptcy Code’s priority scheme, money owed to the case trustee or for prepetition alimony and/or child support must be paid in full before any general unsecured debt (i.e. trade debt or credit card debt) is paid.

 

priority claim 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.

 

proof of claim 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.)

 

property of the estate All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case.

 

R

 

reaffirmation agreement 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.

 

S

 

schedules 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.)

secured creditor 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.

secured debtDebt 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.

small business case
A special type of chapter 11 case in which there is no creditors’ committee (or the creditors’ committee is deemed inactive by the court) and in which the debtor is subject to more oversight by the U.S. trustee than other chapter 11 debtors. The Bankruptcy Code contains certain provisions designed to reduce the time a small business debtor is in bankruptcy.


statement of financial affairs
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.)

 

statement of intention A declaration made by a chapter 7 debtor concerning plans for dealing with consumer debts that are secured by property of the estate.


substantive consolidation
Putting the assets and liabilities of two or more related debtors into a single pool to pay creditors. (Courts are reluctant to allow substantive consolidation since the action must not only justify the benefit that one set of creditors receives, but also the harm that other creditors suffer as a result.)


341 meeting
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 creditors’ meeting.

 

T

 

transfer Any mode or means by which a debtor disposes of or parts with his/her property.


trustee
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.

 

U

 

U.S. trustee 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. Compare, bankruptcy administrator.


undersecured claim
A debt secured by property that is worth less than the full amount of the debt.


unliquidated claim
A claim for which a specific value has not been determined.

 

unscheduled debt 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.)


unsecured claim
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.

 

V

 

Voluntary transfer A transfer of a debtor’s property with the debtor’s consent.

 

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