Chapter 7

What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and How Does Chapter 7 Work?

Chapter 7 is designed for debtors in financial difficulty who do not have the ability to pay their existing debts. Debtors whose debts are primarily consumer debts are subject to a "means test" designed to determine whether the case should be permitted to proceed under chapter 7. If your income is greater than the median income for your state of residence and family size, in some cases, creditors have the right to file a motion requesting that the court dismiss your case under § 707(b) of the Code. It is up to the court to decide whether the case should be dismissed.

Under chapter 7, you may claim certain of your property as exempt under governing law. A trustee may have the right to take possession of and sell the remaining property that is not exempt and use the sale proceeds to pay your creditors.

The purpose of filing a chapter 7 case is to obtain a discharge of your existing debts. If, however, you are found to have committed certain kinds of improper conduct described in the Bankruptcy Code, the court may deny your discharge and, if it does, the purpose for which you filed the bankruptcy petition will be defeated.

Even if you receive a general discharge, some particular debts are not discharged under the law. Therefore, you may still be responsible for most taxes and student loans; debts incurred to pay non-dischargeable taxes; domestic support and property settlement obligations; most fines, penalties, forfeitures, and criminal restitution obligations; certain debts which are not properly listed in your bankruptcy papers; and debts for death or personal injury caused by operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft while intoxicated from alcohol or drugs. Also, if a creditor can prove that a debt arose from fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, or theft, or from a willful and malicious injury, the bankruptcy court may determine that the debt is not discharged.

Debtors in chapter 7 are required to give up “nonexempt” property that they own at the time of the filing; they are allowed to keep both “exempt” property that they own at the time of filing and any property that they receive a right to own after the bankruptcy filing. Exempt property is property that, according to the law, is necessary for the debtors’ support and the support of their dependents. The law that determines what property is exempt varies from state to state. If all of a debtor’s property is exempt, then the debtor does not have to give up any property in chapter 7, but may still obtain a discharge.

If a debtor is behind in house or car payments, can chapter 7 stop a foreclosure or repossession from taking place?

Whenever any bankruptcy case is filed, the creditors are stopped from taking action to collect the debts that were owed at the time of the bankruptcy. This feature of bankruptcy is called the “automatic stay.” The automatic stay stops a foreclosure or repossession from going forward. However, no bankruptcy filing allows a debtor to keep property that is security for a loan without making payments on the loan. For example, debtors with home mortgages and car loans, cannot keep their homes and cars without making payments. As soon as the bankruptcy case is closed, the automatic stay terminates, and the creditor can proceed with foreclosure or repossession. Moreover, if the debtor is not current on payments, creditors may ask the court to terminate the automatic stay while the bankruptcy is still pending, and, in chapter 7, creditors are usually able to terminate the automatic stay. In order to keep property that is security for a loan, a debtor often must enter into a “reaffirmation agreement” with the creditor who holds the lien on that property.

What is a reaffirmation agreement, and how does it work?

A reaffirmation agreement is an agreement by a debtor and a creditor about how to treat a particular debt that would otherwise be discharged in the debtor’s bankruptcy. Usually, the debt is secured by collateral that the creditor could repossess or foreclose on. In the reaffirmation agreement, the debtor agrees to pay some or all of the debt. In exchange, the creditor agrees not to repossess or foreclose on collateral that secures the debt, as long as the debtor makes the agreed-upon payments. A valid reaffirmation agreement puts the debtor under a legal obligation to pay back the entire amount agreed upon, even if this is more than the value of the collateral that the debtor is keeping. So if the debtor defaults on the payments required under the reaffirmation agreement, the creditor can repossess or foreclose, and then seek a personal judgment against the debtor if the sale of the collateral does not satisfy the debt.

The agreement must be voluntary; no one can force either the debtor or a creditor to enter into a reaffirmation.

Finally, debtors are given the right to change their minds: a debtor may cancel any reaffirmation agreement within 60 days after the agreement is filed with the court, or any time before discharge, whichever is later.

Can a chapter 7 debtor make payments on a discharged debt without a reaffirmation agreement?

Yes. Even though a debt has been discharged, the debtor can still make a voluntary payment of the debt. This often happens, for example, with debts that are owed to family members or friends. But the key to this kind of payment is that it must be entirely voluntary; the debtor has no legal obligation to pay a discharged debt, and the creditors can take no action to pressure or persuade the debtor into making payments. For more information on bankruptcy options please read bank Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Attorney. Please contact our Jackson, MS bankruptcy lawyers at Coxwell & Associates for a complimentary confidential consultation.