Today more people than ever are turning to personal "bankruptcy" as a way of solving their financial problems. Estimates indicate that 2005 will see nearly 1 in 60 Americans filing for bankruptcy. People owing as little as $6,000 are unknowingly filing, not knowing of alternative methods of eliminating their debt.
The reason people take this hasty action with such a low debt amount is the harassment and overwhelming pressure from impatient collectors trying to recover their money. In the case of Consumer Credit Counseling agencies, once they find that they are unable or unwilling to help, they will suggest "bankruptcy" as the answer - unconcerned of the effect it will have on your future.
In bankruptcy, a court order forces all commercial creditors to cease and desist from attempting to collect the debts you owe them. Depending on the bankruptcy declared (Chapter 7 or 13), it stops wage garnishment, reverses judgments, and generally wipes out debt.
For some people, bankruptcy is the only sensible option. If you have $60,000 in debts, and you'll never earn more than $1,200 per month, then you're broke! The sooner you eliminate the debt, the sooner you'll have a fresh start. With more than 1.4 million bankruptcy filings in 2000, Congress is passing legislation that will make it tougher to declare bankruptcy.
In "bankruptcy", certain personal property is treated as exempt. The banks and creditors cannot touch that property in attempting to recover the money owed to them. Your home, car and other personal effects like clothing, and other assets are considered exempt, but this varies from state to state. Any property that is not exempt is liquidated and distributed to the creditors under the supervision of the court. Since most people entering bankruptcy have only exempt property anyway, there's usually nothing left to distribute, so the creditors typically get nothing.
Seems like a good deal? Many people mistakenly see bankruptcy as a good, low cost way to rid themselves of debt. There are other costs associated with bankruptcy that make it a very bad solution for most people. The cost of filing bankruptcy itself is minimal. Depending on what state you live in, you can expect to pay anywhere from $400 on up to $1,600 for the whole process. That's just the beginning. The bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years - and on your court records for 20 years. The seemingly "low cost" method will cost you dearly as it will follow you for the rest of your life. If you ever apply for a loan, job, apartment or insurance, one of the first questions normally asked is "Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?" And, for the rest of your life, you'll have to answer "Yes."
You might be able to eliminate your debt, but the effects emotionally and the effect on your personal life will last for many years to come. Consider applying for a terrific job after you have filed bankruptcy. These days, employers will run a credit report to determine how you faired financially. This will effect whether the employer will give you that dream job or not. Even if you do get the job and your employer later runs a credit report on you, you will still have to explain the bankruptcy. While employers can't fire you because of a bad credit report, they can certainly limit your future promotions.
Future purchases are affected as well; after several years, you may opt to purchase a home. If you're in sufficient shape at that point to qualify for a mortgage, you'll pay a higher interest rate than the average consumer who has never filed for bankruptcy. Assume you want to purchase a $100,000 house a few years after filing bankruptcy. You make a $10,000 down payment. This will result in applying for an $80,000 mortgage. While your "good credit" neighbor would obtain an interest rate of 4.5%, you would get a rate of 7%. While it seems that the extra 2.5% difference is not bad for having filed bankruptcy in the past, it's what you will pay monthly where you will feel the pinch. That extra 2.5% on a mortgage will increase your monthly payment by $200 per month with the total of your payments reaching more than $70,000 over the 30-year life of the mortgage.
Besides being a devastating blow to your credit, a bankruptcy can also be a very stressful and embarrassing decision to continually have to explain to every potential lender. If you have no choice, then you should proceed, understanding the consequences. However, the majority of people who take this method of debt elimination don't know what they're getting themselves into or the consequences thereafter. They are desperate, and they get talked into filing bankruptcy by the collectors or attorney without understanding the impact on their financial future.
Keep in mind that personal bankruptcies are usually unnecessary as there are better options available. Many people are forced, against their wishes, to file bankruptcy to protect themselves from aggressive creditor tactics or attorney. Ultimately, bankruptcy still means failure to employers and creditors.
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