You can look at this question in two ways. Some people may view this question as asking if they lose property by filing bankruptcy. Other people may take a broader approach when answering the question. Let’s look at it both ways.
What Do You Want to Lose When You File Bankruptcy?
The goal of filing bankruptcy is to eliminate debts you cannot pay. In other words, you “lose” the legal liability to repay those debts. The bankruptcy discharge forgives those debts so that you never need to worry about the debts again. Of course, some debts are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so how much debt you stand to “lose” depends on the types of debts you owe.
Another thing that you might want to lose when filing bankruptcy is the stress of dealing with debt problems. Debt problems can cause health problems, arguments between partners, and other negative consequences. Bankruptcy can wipe the slate clean and give you a fresh start, which is a huge emotional relief.
Believe it or not, some people want to “lose” their homes or cars in bankruptcy. They are upside down on their mortgage or car loans. If they tried to sell their home or car to get out from under the death, they would have to pay money to get rid of the property.
Through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, they can surrender the home or car to the creditor without fear of a deficiency judgment. They will not have to pay one more cent on the loan, regardless of how much money is owed on the account after the home or car is liquidated (sold by the creditor).
What Do You Not Want to Lose When You File Bankruptcy?
Losing property is one of the biggest fears most people have before filing bankruptcy, especially a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. However, the vast majority of bankruptcy cases filed throughout the United States do not result in the loss of property. Losing a piece of property can happen, but it is not the norm.
As discussed above, some individuals voluntarily surrender property through their bankruptcy case to avoid paying the debt payments. This scenario of losing property when you file bankruptcy is far more common than the Chapter 7 trustee seizing property to sell at a bankruptcy auction.
Why Would You Lose Property When You File Bankruptcy?
In a bankruptcy case, you protect your property with bankruptcy exemptions. When Congress created the Bankruptcy Code, it understood that a person needs to have basic necessities to survive.
If you strip a debtor of all of his or her property, you make it impossible for that person to recover after a financial hardship. The purpose of bankruptcy is to forgive debts so that the person has a fresh start to rebuild finances. Ensuring that the person has basic needs is part of that fresh start.
Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions vs. State Bankruptcy Exemptions
Most of the federal bankruptcy exemptions are listed in 11 USC §522. The code section lists the property that is exempt from being used to repay debts in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. Some property has unlimited exemptions, meaning that the property is protected regardless of its value. An example would be funds held in most retirement accounts and pension funds.
Other property has maximum amounts for exemptions. For example, the maximum exemption for a motor vehicle is $4,000, and the maximum exemption for jewelry is $1,700. NCLC has a list of some of the most common federal bankruptcy exemptions on its website. The federal bankruptcy exemptions are revised for inflation every three years. The next revision is scheduled for April 1, 2022.
Most states also have bankruptcy exemptions. You must reside in a state for at least 730 days before filing bankruptcy to be eligible to use state bankruptcy exemptions. Some states give debtors in bankruptcy the option to choose between federal and state bankruptcy exemptions. Other states require debtors who have lived in the state for at least two years to use state bankruptcy exemptions.
While most states have better exemptions than the federal exemptions, that is not always the case. A bankruptcy lawyer can help you evaluate your property to make sure that you maximize the available bankruptcy exemptions to protect property in bankruptcy.
How Do Bankruptcy Exemptions Protect My Property?
The exempt equity in the property cannot be used to pay your creditors in a bankruptcy case. Let’s use a vehicle as an example.
Your car is worth $25,000. However, you owe $21,000 on your car loan. Therefore, the net equity in the vehicle is $4,000. The federal bankruptcy exemption is $4,000. Therefore, there is no equity in the car for the trustee to use to pay your creditors.
The above example is a quick, straightforward example of how bankruptcy exemptions prevent you from losing property when you file bankruptcy. We have articles that explain bankruptcy exemptions in greater detail available free of charge on our website. For more information about bankruptcy exemptions, consider reading:
- How Does the Bankruptcy Homestead Exemption Work?
- How Much Cash Can You Keep in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13
- Keeping Your House in Bankruptcy
- How To Keep Your Car After Filing Bankruptcy
- Should I Use My 401 (k) or IRA To Pay Off Debt?
States may adjust bankruptcy exemptions periodically for inflation as well. If you are concerned about losing property in bankruptcy, talk with a bankruptcy lawyer near you about your situation.
Do You Want to Talk to a Bankruptcy Lawyer Free of Charge?
Ascend can help you locate a lawyer close to you that offers free bankruptcy consultations. You can get answers to your bankruptcy questions and find out if your property would be covered by bankruptcy exemptions free of charge. Get started now to request your free bankruptcy consultation.
If you have questions about debt relief or want to talk with someone now, contact Ascend by calling 833-272-3631. We want to help you choose the best debt relief option for your situation so that you can get started on the road to financial wellbeing.