Bankruptcy Balderdash Basics: Know the Lingo

bankruptcyNew Jersey is a great place to live. We have mountains and beaches and lakes, great sports teams, attraction such as Six Flags and Atlantic City, and we are conveniently close to Manhattan and Philadelphia. That being said, we also have one of the highest costs of living in the nation. That amounts to our residents having more debt than most of the country. Average credit card debt is the second highest in the US, and don’t forget student loan debt, higher property taxes and longer commutes. All of these factors contributed to nearly 27,000 NJ residents filing for bankruptcy between October 2017 and September 2018.

 


Just the word BANKRUPTCY can loom large. It’s without a doubt a very overwhelming concept to contemplate.


 

Ultimately, though, the process can provide help on many fronts such as relief from hounding creditors, stress, and uncertainty. Bankruptcy is a complicated process, and you should avoid trying to navigate it without a consummate professional by your side.

 

Going into your first consultation with a debt management attorney can feel almost as daunting as the bankruptcy process itself. Chapter 7, Chapter 13, Chapter what?! Trustees, claim forms …. before you know it, you’re swimming in jargon. Veitengruber Law wants you to feel at ease from the very beginning. Alleviate some of that apprehension by understanding the bankruptcy balderdash and get to know the lingo.

 

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy – Also known as a straight bankruptcy, it provides protection from creditors to individuals (or companies) who legally file for bankruptcy, providing for sale of certain assets to pay debts. Only certain possessions, up to specific dollar limits, can be kept when you file for Chapter 7. It’s an option for people with limited income. Chapter 7 is basically a liquidation of most of your assets – the proceeds of which are divided up among your creditors. Then, any remaining debt is “forgiven,” and you financially start anew with a clean slate. Keep in mind that you will be debt free at the end of the process, but the bankruptcy will remain on your credit report, making you a high credit risk for the next 10 years. That may be a more desirable outcome than drowning in debt, but you have to consult with legal counsel to have your personal circumstance evaluated.

 

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy – a reorganization bankruptcy, similar to Chapter 13, but used primarily by businesses and corporations.

 

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – This option allows you to keep key assets such as your primary residence and your vehicle. Under this plan, the court gives you a repayment plan to satisfy your debts.  You’ll have between 3 and 5 years to pay off that debt by sticking to the plan. You are expected to keep to the repayment plan and be current with all of your debts through the end of the plan. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 7 years.

 

Exemption rules – New Jersey has its own set of exemptions that you may use when filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Exemptions determine what property (such as a residence, vehicle, retirement accounts, etc.) you may keep in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and how much you must pay to certain creditors in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You may use either the NJ state exemptions or the federal bankruptcy exemptions. You are not allowed to mix and match from both lists. If you choose to use the New Jersey state exemptions, you may also use any applicable amounts in the federal non-bankruptcy exemptions. Unless noted otherwise, if a couple is married and filing jointly in New Jersey, each spouse may claim the full amount of each exemption. The lingo for that is “doubling.” (You can see how it gets complicated quickly, and why it is vital to have expert counsel to guide you.)

 

Examples of New Jersey exemptions: burial plots, household goods up to $1,000, stocks valued up to $1,000, pensions, certain life insurance proceeds, some disability and health benefits.

 

Examples of Federal exemptions: homestead, jewelry up to $1,600, health aids, lost earnings payments, public benefits, alimony and child support.

 


This is by no means an exhaustive list, and each exemption has caveats, so be sure to discuss the best option for you with your legal counsel.


 

Proof of Claim – a form that creditors file with the court to prove that they have a valid claim against the bankruptcy estate. Before a creditor can get paid through your bankruptcy, they must file a proof of claim. When you file for bankruptcy, all creditors listed in your schedules receive notice of your case as well as a deadline to file their proof of claim. If a creditor doesn’t file a proof of claim, they can’t get paid through your bankruptcy. The debtor can also file a proof of claim on behalf of a creditor who has not done so on their own. This usually happens if the debtor specifically wants to pay that creditor through the bankruptcy. (Proof of claims must contain certain requirements, and are not always required in certain types of Chapter 7, so if you are in doubt, consult with an expert.)

 

Repayment Plan (Chapter 13 only) – a plan which lasts from three to five years, whereby you pay off some debts in full; other types of debts are paid in full or part depending on how much disposable income you have. Putting together a plan that the court will confirm, with the assistance of counsel, is key to your Chapter 13 bankruptcy’s success.

 

Trustee – a person appointed by the court to administer and oversee your case. The trustee reviews your bankruptcy paperwork (and supporting documents) to gauge accuracy in your petition. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, the trustee’s primary responsibility is to find and sell your nonexempt property to pay back your creditors. In a Chapter 13, the trustee does not sell your assets but reviews your repayment plan to make sure it is both realistic for you and fair to your creditors. After approval by both the trustee and the court, you make one monthly payment to the trustee, and he or she distributes your monthly payments to your creditors pursuant to your plan. Depending on your situation and the type of bankruptcy you file, you may also be required to attend certain hearings, in which your trustee will preside, before your case is completed. These can include: Confirmation Hearing, Meeting of Creditors, Reaffirmation Hearing, Hearing on Creditor’s Motion, and others.

 

Automatic Stay – the simple request for bankruptcy protection automatically halts most lawsuits, repossessions, foreclosures, evictions, garnishments, attachments, utility shut-offs, and debt collection activity, by way of injunction. There are numerous provisions and exceptions to the automatic stay.

 

Credit Counseling – required before a debtor may obtain bankruptcy relief under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. It involves education in personal financial management, and an overall assessment of your financial situation to see if bankruptcy is your only option. The process is used to help individual debtors with debt settlement through education, budgeting and the use of a variety of tools with the goal to reduce and ultimately eliminate debt, rather than discharge it through the court.

 

As you can see, there are a lot of choices to be made, and even more questions to answer. Don’t risk a misstep that could affect your entire financial future.  Call Veitengruber Law today for your free consultation.

 

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