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How to Get Approved for a Credit Card After Bankruptcy

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While filing for bankruptcy can discharge your debt burden or provide you with a more manageable repayment plan allowing you to start fresh, it can have serious negative effects on your credit score. The better your credit, the worse the damage could be, according to myFICO:

“Someone that had spotless credit and a very high FICO score could expect a huge drop in their score. On the other hand, someone with many negative items already listed on their credit report might only see a modest drop in their score.”
Understandably, some lenders are hesitant to approve borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy in the past. And it can take 7 to 10 years for that bad mark to disappear from your credit history.

But there is life after bankruptcy, even if your credit score has suffered.

In this post, we’ll explain a few options you have if you filed for bankruptcy but still want to get approved for a new credit card.

Set realistic expectations

When you’re ready to take on new credit after a bankruptcy, your credit score will be more fragile than ever. It’s not exactly the best time to apply for a bunch of different cards and hit your credit file with a bunch of hard inquiries.

The good news is that you can do your homework ahead of time and avoid applying for cards that are bound to deny you. All credit card issuers have their own policies and protocol they follow when it comes to considering applicants who have filed for bankruptcy in the past.

Some banks and credit card issuers clearly state on their website that they will not approve applicants who filed for bankruptcy and have not yet received a formal discharge, meaning it is still unresolved or not finalized.

In other cases, you can tell you probably won’t qualify if the credit card details state that you need excellent credit to qualify. A bankruptcy will bring your credit score down or you may have even had low credit before you filed if you were missing payments and struggling to pay your debt off for some time beforehand.

Therefore, it’s clear that you won’t qualify for credit cards that offer low interest rates and competitive rewards.

Make sure your delinquent accounts are scrubbed from your credit report

One of the first things you want to do before you consider applying for a credit card is to check your credit report with all three credit bureaus. You should do this to make sure your delinquent accounts are discharged from the bankruptcy as well as to clear up any inaccuracies.

If you still have delinquent accounts open, there’s a slim chance you’ll qualify for a new credit card since your score will just continue to go down. Once your bankruptcy is finalized, you’ll have a chance to start rebuilding your credit.

You can get a free copy of your full credit report annually at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Rebuild your credit with a secured card

If you’ve recently filed for bankruptcy and you’re not even close to the 7- or 10-year mark, you may want to consider trying a secured credit card instead of an unsecured credit card. A secured credit card works just like a traditional unsecured credit card only you need to put down a cash collateral deposit that becomes your credit limit.

Secured credit cards are a great option if you need to rebuild bad credit, and if you use your card wisely, you can establish some positive credit history post-bankruptcy, which will help you qualify for unsecured cards in the future.

With secured credit cards and other credit cards for those with bad credit, you’ll want to watch out for the fees, which are likely to be higher.

Below are some options to consider for secured credit cards post-bankruptcy.

Recommended Secured Cards

Capital One Secured MasterCard

This card is for people with limited or bad credit. It has no annual fee and a variable interest rate of 24.99%. There is a required security deposit of $49, $99, or $200 depending on your creditworthiness, and you’ll receive an initial credit limit of $200.

After five months of making your monthly payments on time, you’ll have access to a higher credit line without having to put up another deposit. Card users will also be able to have unlimited access to their credit score and tools to help monitor their credit with Capital One’s free CreditWise service.

First Progress Platinum Secured MasterCard

The First Progress Platinum secured card is for people with bad or no credit. This card has an annual fee of $44 and a variable 11.99% APR. You must deposit at least $200, but you can deposit at much as $2,000 and your cash deposit will determine your starting credit limit.

The minimum interest charge for this card is $1.50, and there’s a late payment fee of up to $38 if you fail to make at least your minimum monthly payment on time.

Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee

The Discover it® Secured Card has no annual fee, has a variable 23.99% APR, and requires only a minimum security deposit of $200. You can also still qualify for this card if you’ve filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the past.

Discover also mentions on their website that this card is geared toward people who are new to credit or looking to rebuild their credit. They determine eligibility based on the information you provide on the application, your credit report, and other information they may have about your creditworthiness.

If you don’t happen to be approved, they provide you with the score they obtained, which credit reporting agency it was obtained from, and the reasons why they couldn’t approve your application.

This card allows you to earn 2% at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 of spending each quarter) and unlimited 1% on everything else. Discover also matches the cash back you earn during the first year only. You can redeem rewards at any time.

In addition, cardholders receive their free FICO score and can qualify for a higher credit limit after seven months. Most secured credit cards don’t offer rewards, but this one does.

Final word

While at first it may be more difficult to get a new credit card after filing for bankruptcy, it’s not impossible.

Before anything, you need to make sure you’re ready to use a new credit card properly. Make sure your finances are in order and you have a handle on any existing debt you owe especially if you have a payment plan set up as a result of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Also, make sure you can control your spending and can afford to make credit card payments each month. Then, check your full report and start by comparing options for secured credit cards that will allow you to rebuild your credit.

Watch out for fees like monthly maintenance fees, annual fees, and high interest rates to make sure you’re not losing any money as well.

Chonce Maddox
Chonce Maddox |

Chonce Maddox is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Chonce at chonce@magnifymoney.com

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Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

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Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

It’s no secret that financial education is sorely lacking in the U.S. However, this does not mean that you can’t seek financial education from reputable sources. If you have little to no knowledge on the topic of personal finance and are struggling with your finances, then you may consider credit counseling.

Credit counseling can involve a variety of services including educational materials and real-world application to your finances. Credit counselors can help you to set a budget and advise you on how to manage debt and your money in general.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reputable credit counseling organizations have certified counselors who are trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Credit counselors will work with you to come up with an individualized plan to address the money issues you are facing.

Seeking credit counseling is typically voluntary but can be required when filing for bankruptcy. In this guide, we’ll answer some key questions you might have about credit counseling and whether it’s right for you.

How Do You Find a Credit Counselor?

Before settling on a credit counseling organization, do your homework to make sure they are not only reputable but will also be the most helpful for your particular financial circumstances. Check with your state’s attorney general and the consumer protection agency present in your state to see if there have been any complaints filed.

When looking for a good credit counseling agency, first ask about what information or educational materials they provide for free. Organizations that charge for information are typically more interested in their bottom line than helping you. Also, ask about the types of services they offer. Limited services can be a red flag. The fewer services they offer, the fewer solutions they may provide you.

You do not want to be pushed into a debt management plan simply because that is their top service. And make sure you understand the organization’s fee system, not only how much services will cost but also how employees are paid. If employees make more based on the number of services you receive, look for another credit counseling organization.

MagnifyMoney has come up with a list of some of the best credit counseling options, which are a great place to start. If you are looking for credit counseling as a pre-bankruptcy measure, the U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit counseling agencies that can provide pre-bankruptcy counseling.

How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?

Credit counseling can involve both start-up and monthly maintenance costs. The Department of Justice has said that $50 per month is a reasonable fee. Further, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has suggested that a start-up fee should not exceed $75 and monthly maintenance fees should not be more than $50 per month.

Credit counseling agencies may offer fee waivers or fee reductions, depending on your income levels. Where credit counseling is required, the DOJ requires that if the household income is less than 150% of the poverty line, then the client is entitled to a fee waiver or reduction. While the poverty line varies depending on household size, it ranges from $11,880 for a single person family household to $24,300 for a family of four.

Other regulations, such as when fees can be collected and circumstances that would warrant fee reduction or waiver, may also be set forth by your state.

How Long Does Credit Counseling Last?

While the length of your credit counseling session depends on the complexity of your financial problems, sessions typically last 60 minutes. After the initial session, credit counselors will then follow up to ensure you understand the actions you needed to take and that you have been able to get started on the plan they developed. Another session may be necessary if you see a significant change to your financial situation.

What Do You Accomplish with Credit Counseling?

According to the NFCC, reputable counseling involves three things. First, a review of a client’s current financial situation. You cannot move forward unless you know where you are starting. Second, an analysis of the factors that contributed to the financial situation. You don’t want bad habits to undermine your progress. Lastly, a plan to address the situation without incurring negative amortization of debt. This gives you a place to start in improving your financial situation.

What Is the Difference Between Credit Counseling and Debt Management Programs?

A debt management plan is just one solution a credit counselor may recommend based on your financial situation. Having a debt management plan is not the same as credit counseling.

A debt management plan involves the credit counseling organization acting as an intermediary between you and your creditors. Each month you will deposit an agreed upon amount of money to your credit counseling agency, which will, in turn, apply it to your debts. The credit counseling agency works with your creditors to determine how the amount will be applied each month as well as negotiates interest rates and any fee waivers. It’s important to call your creditors directly to check whether they are open to negotiating interest rates or offering waivers for fees. In some cases, a credit counseling firm may promise to negotiate those things for you but be stonewalled when they discover a creditor isn’t even open to the discussion.

Before agreeing to a debt management plan, make sure you understand any fees associated with the debt management plan and any choices you might be giving up. For example, some debt management plans may have you agree to give up opening up new lines of credit for a specified period of time. Remember that a debt management plan is just one of many solutions a credit counselor may advise you to consider.

How Does Credit Counseling Impact Your Credit Score?

Not directly. While the fact you are in credit counseling may show up on a credit report, that fact does not affect your score. The actions you take as a result of credit counseling can impact your score. For example, if you don’t choose a reputable credit counseling agency, the agency may submit the payment on your behalf late to your creditors, which can damage your credit score. So even though you submitted your payment on time to the credit counseling agency, it is possible that the credit counseling agency will issue a late payment on your behalf. This is why it is important to make sure you use a reputable credit counseling agency.

Who Should Consider Credit Counseling and When?

While credit counseling is sometimes required, like in instances of bankruptcy, you always have an ability to seek credit counseling. Bankruptcy attorney Julie Franklin, based in Boston, Mass., explains, “For bankruptcy purposes, there are two course requirements — a debtor must complete the first credit counseling course prior to filing and obtain a certificate that is filed with the court in their initial bankruptcy petition documents. Post bankruptcy filing, the debtor is required to take a second course, and upon completion, the certificate that is issued must be filed with the court in order for the debtor to obtain an order of discharge.”

Anyone struggling with personal finance should consider credit counseling as a viable option so long as they use a reputable credit counseling agency. Franklin also notes that “the first credit counseling course is a tool for debtors as it compels the individual taking the course to closely examine the household assets, income, liabilities, and spending habits to determine if there’s a way to ‘save’ the debtor from having to file bankruptcy.” If you are considering bankruptcy, you will have to attend some credit counseling anyway, but it could also help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

Voluntary credit counseling might not help if you are already being sued to have a debt collected. However, you may be able to negotiate terms with the debt collector that result in a withdrawal of the suit if you agree to enroll in credit counseling and possibly a debt management program. Not all creditors will agree to such terms, but it is possible.

Liz Stapleton
Liz Stapleton |

Liz Stapleton is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Liz here

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Practical Advice For Those Facing Bankruptcy, From Someone Who Has Been There

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Mixed Race Young Female Agonizing Over Financial Calculations in Her Kitchen.

My journey to bankruptcy began in 2003 after I was in a major car accident that left me unable to work for several months. Injured and unemployed I was forced to move back home with my mother, younger brother and three foster brothers. As I slowly began to regain my financial independence our family was dealt another blow.

In December of 2004, after what should have been a routine knee replacement surgery, my mother contracted a MERSA staff infection and became gravely ill. Needing around the clock care and help with my four younger brothers, I became a full-time caretaker while my mother fought for her life. It took her over a year to win back hear health. Unfortunately Murphy’s Law was not done with its assault on our family just yet.

In the spring of 2006 I had just gone back to nursing school when I had an emergency appendectomy, which left me with an additional $15,000 of debt. Having no insurance I was responsible for the entire amount due. This surgery was the tipping point in which my debt became too much for me to handle and I had to begin looking for a different solution.

I spent the next several months educating myself on how to handle harassing debt collectors, ways to work with your creditors and how to rebuild your credit score. After struggling to send my creditors every spare penny I had I finally came to the conclusion that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy was the best solution for my situation.

Walking into bankruptcy court was one of the most nerve-racking things I had ever gone through, but I am so glad that I did.

If you find yourself at a crossroads contemplating bankruptcy there are a few important things you need to take into consideration in regards to your own situation.

Evaluate Your Financial Habits

Before you file for bankruptcy you need to take a long hard look at your finances, your spending habits, and any other situations your currently facing that is causing you financial hardship. Until you know how you wound up in the situation you can’t have a clear plan on how to fix it. This is also the time to decide if going bankrupt is really the right thing for you to do.

[When Should You Consider Bankruptcy?]

Gather All Your Information

Once you have decided to move forward you need to spend some time gathering all of your information. This will include: all of your bank accounts, retirement accounts, your personal property and other assets. Having this information will help you figure out which type of bankruptcy for which you qualify.

Know Your Options

It is very important to know your bankruptcy option and what each will mean for you.

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy does not wipe out your debt. Instead the court will calculate your disposable income and use that number to make a payment plan for you. Over the course of three to five years you will be required to make payments on your debt until it is paid in full or to the agreed upon amount.

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes out your debt completely. There are however a few specific debts that cannot or rarely can be eliminated with a Chapter 7 including back taxes and student loans. It is also important to note that you must qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You must prove that you are unable to pay off your debt either because your income level is below the state median or your living expenses are so high that you simply cannot repay your debt.

[8 Steps for Discharging Student Loans Through Bankruptcy]

Find A Reputable Lawyer

There are many websites out there suggesting that you can file for bankruptcy on your own, and that there is no reason to pay a lawyer. What those sites fail to mention is if you make a mistake on your paperwork you may have to start the process over. You may even find that some of your debt was not included in your bankruptcy leaving you responsible for the payments regardless of what type of bankruptcy you filed.

While hiring a lawyer does increase the expense of filing for bankruptcy it is his or her job to make sure that everything is in order and goes as smoothly as possible. Speaking from personal experience having a lawyer by your side during your proceeding can also help you feel more confident when facing the judge.

Have an After Bankruptcy Game Plan

There is a life after bankruptcy, while it may not feel like it in the moment things will get better. You however need to have a plan for how you will handle your finances from this point on. If you do not make a conscious decision to change the way you have been handing your money you will find yourself right back in the financial mess you have just escaped.

Going bankrupt can seem like the end of your financial life, and you may be wondering how you will ever recover from it. The good news is that you can. If you learn from your mistakes and make the decision to move forward with good money habits it is possible. I went from being financially devastated to a credit score of 740 in just a few short years. It took hard work and dedication to my financial health but I did it and so can you!

Tennille Flowers |

Tennille Flowers is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Tennille at tennille@magnifymoney.com


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8 Steps for Possibly Discharging Your Student Loans Through Bankruptcy

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Students throwing graduation hats

Student loans are the one type of debt you can never discharge through bankruptcy. Or are they?

For years that’s been the case, largely because of a court ruling from 1987 that set an almost impossible standard for student loan borrowers to meet. But the student loan landscape has changed dramatically since then, and in recent years there have been some signs that borrowers in tough spots may in fact be able to find some relief.

If you’re struggling under the weight of your student loans, read on. In this post you will learn:

  • What the current (and strict) criteria are for having student loans discharged through bankruptcy.
  • Commonalities from recent cases where individuals were successful at having their student loans discharged.
  • A step-by-step process for getting on track with your student loans and improving your chances at discharge.

The Current Standard

Individuals hoping to have their student loans discharged through bankruptcy typically have to show “undue hardship” by passing the three-part Brunner test. This test was born from a court ruling in 1987 and it requires the individual to:

  1. Show that he or she has made a good faith effort to repay the loans.
  2. Show that he or she cannot maintain a reasonable minimum standard of living while paying back the loans.
  3. Show that this condition is expected to last for most of the repayment period.

It’s that third criteria in particular that has made student loans so difficult to discharge. After all, how can you convincingly demonstrate that your prospects aren’t likely to improve, especially when student loan repayment periods can extend for as many as 30 years?

It’s proven challenging, but a few recent rulings can give borrowers hope and may even provide a road map for at least opening up the possibility of discharging your student loans through bankruptcy.

Two Commonalities Between Successful Student Loan Discharges

Looking at a few high-profile stories of borrowers who successfully discharged their student loans, there appear to be two big commonalities that may show the path forward for others:

Time: In two cases of successful discharges from 2013, the student loans were 10 and 15 years old. Clearly these were not recent grads at the beginning of their repayment journey.

Significant current hardship: One woman had been unemployed for almost a decade and was caring for her elderly mother. Another woman was 64, on Social Security, working multiple jobs, and cited mental and physical ailments.

In other words, they seemed to be struggling with some of the same factors you might consider when filing bankruptcy for any reason. Which means that if you’re struggling with your student loans and your financial situation in general, it may in fact be possible to have them discharged through bankruptcy as a last resort.

With that in mind, here are some steps you could take to put you in the best situation to either repay your student loans or to successfully have them discharged so you can hit the reset button.

Step 1: Get Organized

Get a complete list of all your debt, both student loan and otherwise, in one place so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with. The most important information you need to know for each type of loan is:

  • The amount you owe
  • The interest rate
  • The minimum payment

For student loans specifically, you will also want to know the type of loan and when it was issued, as that information may impact your repayment options.

You can collect your student loan information from the national student loan data system, and information on your other debts from annualcreditreport.com.

Step 2: Pay the Minimums on All Debts

This one is for both you and the courts.

For you, this will keep your credit history in good shape and keep your debt from spiraling out of control.

For the courts, this is one step towards showing a good faith effort at repayment.

Step 3: Look into Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Just like the previous step, this will both help you immediately and help if you eventually move to bankruptcy.

In the short-term, income-driven repayment plans may help to lessen the burden of your student loans by decreasing your monthly payment. They can even provide a path to eventual discharge without bankruptcy.

And if you do end up in traditional bankruptcy, this will serve as more evidence that you have made reasonable efforts to repay.

Step 4: Track Your Expenses

Tools like mint.com and You Need a Budget will help you stay on top of where your money is going now so that you can make more informed decisions about how you want to use it going forward.

Many of my clients, when they sign up for a tool like this for the first time, are shocked to find out how much they’re spending in certain categories and can quickly find some big ways to cut down on their monthly expenses. If you can find one or two of those big wins, you may find that your loans become a little easier to handle.

Step 5: Create a Repayment Plan

Creating a repayment plan for your student loans will not only give you a better shot at repaying them in full, but will give you another thing to point to if the courts want to see that you’ve made a strong effort to repay.

Hopefully you’re able to enroll in one of the income-driven repayment plans mentioned above, but if you have any extra money available you should consider how you want to prioritize it. That is, which loans should you put your extra money towards first? A thoughtful strategy could save you a lot of money in the long-term.

Don’t forget to keep other financial goals in mind here. For example, taking advantage of a 401(k) employer match or setting up a starter emergency fund could be better uses of your extra money, depending on your situation.

Step 6: Find Ways to Free up Cash

There may be some relatively easy ways to free up cash that could either help with your regular living expenses or help you pay down your loans even faster.

Things like switching to a lower cost cell phone provider, cutting cable, or even bringing lunch to work are relatively small changes that could reduce a significant amount of financial burden.

Step 7: Find Ways to Earn More Money

It doesn’t have to be all about cutting costs. Could you negotiate a raise at your job? Could you start a side hustle? Even a small amount of extra income could give you a lot more breathing room.

Step 8: Consider Bankruptcy

If you’ve been doing all of the above for a number of years and your student loan debt still feels like too much to overcome, it may be worth considering bankruptcy.

Keep in mind that there are some real, negative consequences to bankruptcy, so it’s not a cure-all. And it’s likely still a long shot that you could get your student loans discharged.

But for many it can be a huge relief to hit the reset button on their financial situation, and as recent court cases have shown it is possible to have your student loans discharged. If you’ve been diligently taking the steps above, you’ll have a strong history of attempting to pay them back that the courts may look favorably upon and it may be worth giving it a shot.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt at matt@magnifymoney.com


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Getting a Mortgage After Bankruptcy

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Purchase agreement for house

Whether you’re drowning in loans, unemployed, racking up medical bills, or guilty of too much online shopping, one thing’s for certain — we all hate debt. And when debt becomes impossible to pay back, bankruptcy may seem like the only way to escape.

While filing for bankruptcy may be the right solution, it can negatively affect your finances for years to come. But, fortunately, life moves on. And despite this financial setback, you may want access to credit in the future. Without it, large purchases like a home can be difficult. It’s not impossible, but applying for a mortgage post-bankruptcy means working through a particular set of challenges. Prepare yourself by knowing these important guidelines.

Know the Difference: Chapter 7, 11, & 13 Bankruptcies

We constantly hear about bankruptcies in the media, but what does filing for one actually mean? Bankruptcy is a legal procedure that can help you wipe out or repay debt under the protection of the United States bankruptcy court.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are the main types of consumer bankruptcies. But what are the key differences?

Chapter 7 is typically the preferred type of bankruptcy because involves liquidation and eliminates all your eligible debt. This means your nonexempt property will be sold and the proceeds will be distributed to your creditors. Exempt property varies from state-to-state, but part of your property may be subject to liens or mortgages, promising it to other creditors. It’s important to know Chapter 7 bankruptcies may, but not frequently, result in a loss of your property. You may lose your home outside of bankruptcy to foreclosure if you fall behind on your mortgage payments.

It is much harder to be eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your income is above the median in your state and you prove you have sufficient cash flow to service some of the debt, then you’ll likely be forced to file Chapter 13.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to keep property, adjust debt, and to pay it back over time. This is a long process as the repayment period is typically three to five years. If you’re behind on mortgage payments, it may be easier to keep your home in Chapter 13 because you may be able to make up payments in your repayment plan.

What about Chapter 11 bankruptcies? If your business is a corporation, partnership, or you own a small business, Chapter 11 may give you a chance to reorganize. Chapter 11 also can help restructure debt so it can be paid back over time.

Unfortunately, bankruptcies may stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. Because of this, many people incorrectly assume bankruptcies ruin your chance at homeownership. This definitely isn’t the case, but it does mean the path to purchasing a home will take more time. 

The Waiting Period After Bankruptcy

Even if bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, you’re not expected to wait that long before trying to buy a home. However, Fannie Mae knows a bankruptcy increases your likelihood of a mortgage default. Despite this red flag, Fannie Mae encourages lenders to investigate the cause of these issues, make sure sufficient time has passed, and verify an acceptable credit history has been re-established. So, how long do you have to wait? The waiting periods begin upon the completion, discharge, or dismissal date of your bankruptcy.

Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 require a four-year waiting period. However, if you have documented extenuating circumstances, it’s possible it may be reduced to two years.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires either a two-year or four-year waiting period, depending on what step of the procedure you’re on (discharge or dismissal). If you’ve had more than one bankruptcy within seven years, a five-year waiting period is required. But remember, this time period kicks in after the Chapter 13 bankruptcy is complete, so that’s two to four years on top of the original three to five years working your repayment plan. It could be up to nine years total before you’re eligible.

If you’re anxious to start the home buying process, these waiting periods may feel inconvenient. But they offer a fantastic opportunity to clean up your credit and reduce your debt-to-income ratio before re-applying for a mortgage.

The Importance of Your Credit Score and Debt-To-Income Ratio

As soon as your bankruptcy case has been discharged and closed, it’s time to take a detailed look at your finances. Chances are, you have a lot of room for improvement. Luckily, Fannie Mae’s mandatory waiting period gives you the chance to prepare.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Improve your credit score. First, get a copy of your credit report and a view of your credit score to see what work needs to be done. AnnualCreditReport.com offers a free report every year, but this does not come with a credit score. You can find more information about how to access your score here. Do you know what steps to take next? 35% of your score is based on payment history. That means you need to pay every single bill on time. If you no longer have access to any lines of credit, then consider getting a secured credit card in order to rehabilitate your credit. Start doing this right away and you’ll see improvements. Going forward, you need to monitor your credit report regularly. Remember, your credit score will also affect what interest rate you’ll be able to secure, and consequently, which mortgages you’ll be able to afford.
  • Pay down outstanding debts. After the dust settles from your bankruptcy, do you still owe any money? Try to repay these debts as quickly as possible. Debt-to-income ratio is the single most important factor in getting approved for a mortgage. Looking for your best chance at approval? Aim for a debt-to-income ratio of 40% or less. Also, make sure you don’t take on any additional loans during this period of time.
  • Stick with your Chapter 13 repayment plan. Did you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy? If so, don’t miss any of your court-ordered repayment requirements. Diligently follow exactly what you’ve agreed to.
  • Save as much as you can. Do you have an emergency fund? A health stash of cash reserves can help keep your debt repayment plan on track as unexpected expenses pop up. Don’t forget, you’re also going to need a chunk of change for your mortgage down payment.

Bankruptcy doesn’t have to create a barrier to homeownership. But bouncing back may take time. Whether you’ve filed for Chapter 7, 11, or 13, Fannie Mae’s mandatory waiting periods offer an opportunity to get your finances back on track. Use this time wisely by committing to improve your credit score and reduce your debt-to-income ratio. Save as much as you can. And when the time comes to reapply for a mortgage, be upfront with your lender. Be honest about your setbacks, show how much progress you’ve made, and explain how you’ve learned from past mistakes. Remember, bankruptcy was never meant to be a life-long penance; it’s a chance for you to start over.

Kate Dore
Kate Dore |

Kate Dore is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at kate@magnifymoney.com


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When Should You Consider Bankruptcy?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Young couple calculating their domestic bills

If you’re drowning in debt and having trouble keeping up with your payments while still handling your living expenses, you may have at least begun to consider filing for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy certainly has its benefits, potentially allowing you to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

But there are a lot of things to consider before making a decision, from the negative consequences of filing to whether bankruptcy would even provide relief for your specific situation.

This is a big decision that requires a significant amount of due diligence before moving forward, and in this post we’ll go over some of the key points to help you get started.

Are You Eligible?

There are two types of bankruptcy for individuals: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

There are some significant differences between the two programs, but here’s a high-level summary:

  • Chapter 7 allows you to completely discharge your debts, with some exceptions (such as student loans, certain tax obligations, and child support). But you may be obligated to sell some of your property to settle some of your debt obligation.
  • Chapter 13 allows you to create a payment plan to repay some or all of your debts over a 3-5 year period. So your debts are not discharged, but you will also not be obligated to sell any property in order to make your payments.

Either one could be more or less beneficial depending on the specifics of your situation. But the very first question is whether you qualify for either one, and each has its own set of criteria.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy has what’s called the “means test”, which is meant to ensure that only people who truly can’t afford their debt payments are allowed to file. There are two different wants to pass it, and therefore qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy:

  1. If your monthly income is less than the median monthly income in your state for your family size, you pass. You can find current median income numbers by family size here.
  2. If you don’t pass #1, you’ll have to go through a complex calculation to see whether your disposable income after subtracting out certain expenses is enough to satisfy your debt obligations. At this stage it would probably be best to talk to a professional who could help you navigate the process.

Eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a little more straightforward. Here’s how it works:

  1. As opposed to Chapter 7, you need to prove that your disposable income is high enough to afford a reasonable repayment plan.
  2. Your secured debt (mortgage, auto loan) can’t exceed $1,149,525, and your unsecured debt (credit cards, medical bills, etc.) can’t exceed $383,175.
  3. You must have filed both federal and state income taxes each of the last four years.

There are some other requirements for each, but those are the major ones. Assuming you qualify for at least one of them, there are a few other things to consider.

What Kinds of Assets and Liabilities Do You Have?

Depending on the specifics of your financial situation, one type of bankruptcy may be preferable to the other. Or it may be that neither would actually be particularly helpful.

As an example, neither type of bankruptcy would likely help you all that much if your primary debts are student loans. They wouldn’t be discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And while your required payments might be reduced over the 3-5 year repayment period in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, once that was over you would have to continue paying them back as usual.

The type of assets you own and their value also matters, particularly if you’re going through Chapter 7 bankruptcy. During that process your bankruptcy trustee is allowed to sell your property in order to settle your debts, but certain property is protected.

For example, your house and car are protected up to certain limits. Employer retirement accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s are fully protected, while IRAs are protected up to about $1 million. But other accounts, such as checking, savings, and regular investment accounts may not have the same protections.

The rules here vary by state, and having a strong understanding of which assets you might be able to keep and which you might end up losing will help you make your decision.

What Are Your Alternatives?

Bankruptcy can have the big advantage of erasing your debts and allowing you to start anew. But there are also some serious consequences, such as a hit to your credit score and a mark on your credit report for up to 10 years. So it makes sense to evaluate your other options before making a decision.

One option may be to call up your lenders and see if you negotiate a lower interest rate, a reasonable payment plan, or a settlement for a smaller amount.

You could also work on making some changes to your spending habits, cutting out certain expenses and possibly selling certain possessions to make room for your debt payments.

If you have student loans, you should look into income-driven repayment plans as a way to decrease your monthly obligation and potentially have some of your debt forgiven down the line.

You could also look into getting some 1-on-1 help from a credit counseling company. Just make sure to stick with reputable companies like The National Foundation for Credit Counseling and to avoid the late-night infomercials promising to wipe your debt away.

Make the Best Decision for You

Filing for bankruptcy is a big decision, and in the end you’re the only one who will know what’s right for you.

Do your research, evaluate all of your options, and then make the decision that most helps you reach your personal goals.


Matt Becker
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Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt at matt@magnifymoney.com


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Can You Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Students throwing graduation hats

Student loans have been a hot topic in recent news and for good reason. The level of student loan debt in the United States has grown substantially over the past several decades. As of 2014, the balance of student loan debt reached $1.2 trillion. Students burdened with debt have one option when it comes to repayment: pay the debt. However, in extreme circumstances, it may be possible to completely discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy.

How to Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy

The U.S. Department of Education website provides four cases in which federal student loans may be discharged. Those include:

  1. Closed school discharge
  2. Total and permanent disability discharge
  3. Death discharge
  4. Bankruptcy discharge

There are a few more options for partial discharge with qualifications. The website lists bankruptcy as an option in rare cases.

“If you file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you may have your loan discharged in bankruptcy only if the bankruptcy court finds that repayment would impose undue hardship on you and your dependents. This must be decided in an adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court. Your creditors may be present to challenge the request.”

The U.S. bankruptcy court will use the three-part Brunner test to determine if the student loans are eligible for discharge in bankruptcy. To show hardship you must show that:

  1. If you were forced to repay the loan, you would not be able to maintain a minimal standard of living.
  2. There is evidence that this hardship will continue for a significant portion of the loan repayment period.
  3. You made good-faith efforts to repay the loan before filing bankruptcy (usually this means you have been in repayment for a minimum of five years).

If you are unable to satisfy any of the three requirements, the loan will not be discharged. However in a study published in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal by Jason Iuliano, 39% of those who applied were granted at least some discharge.

For example, if you are 30 and your student loan payments make up a significant portion of your total income, and you can prove that this hardship will continue for many years you might be able to have your student loans included in your bankruptcy.

But if you just started making payments and have not attempted to use available programs such as income-based repayment, then you may have a harder time discharging your student loans.

If you feel that bankruptcy is for you, consult a lawyer and consider including your student loans.

[Struggling to pay back private student loans? Learn about loan modification here.]

Ramifications of Bankruptcy

Choosing to eliminate your student loans using bankruptcy is a difficult path. Moreover, you will mark your credit report for 7 or 10 years with a bankruptcy filing. This could prevent you from purchasing a home, opening new lines of credit, and benefiting from the best rates to borrow money. It could also prevent you from getting a job with credit pre-screening.

Options So You Can Avoid Bankruptcy

If you would rather avoid bankruptcy, here are more ways to eliminate your student loan debt.

Reduce or Halt Your Current Payment

Determine if you are eligible for deferment or forbearance. A deferment is a period during which repayment of the principal and interest of your loan is temporarily delayed. Depending on the type of loan you have, the federal government may pay the interest on your loan during this period.

If you can’t make your scheduled student loan payments, but don’t qualify for deferment, a forbearance may allow you to stop making payments or reduce your monthly payment for up to 12 months.

[Miss a student loan payment? Learn how to find help here.]

Choose a Reduced Payment Plan

For federal loans, there are a few repayment plans that can help you manage your student loan repayment. Choose one of the following:

  • Income Based Repayment Plan – Payments are calculated based on your discretionary income and can extend up to 25 years of repayment.
  • Graduated Repayment Plan – Payments start off small then increase every two years for a maximum of 10 years of repayment.
  • Extended Repayment Plan – Payments can extend up to 25 years of repayment.
  • Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan – Payments are calculated based on your discretionary income and can extend up to 20 years of repayment.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan – Payments are based on your adjusted gross income and can extend up to 25 years of repayment.
  • Income Sensitive Repayment Plan – Payments are based on your annual income and last for a maximum of 10 years; however, you will pay more over time versus the standard 10-year repayment plan.

[Read about Student Loan Forgiveness Programs Here.]

Career Based Discharged

You can also have your student loans discharged if you take a certain career path and your loans are: Direct, FFEL Program, or Federal Perkins loans. Private loans are often not eligible for forgiveness programs. As an eligible public service employee you can have 100% of your loan balance forgiven after 120 consecutive payments; this assumes that you maintain your status as an eligible public service employee while making those payments. If combined with one of the reduced payment plan options that could mean a substantial reduction in total repayment balance.

Check out our Student Loan Refinance table to compare your options.


LaTisha Styles
LaTisha Styles |

LaTisha Styles is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email LaTisha at LaTisha@magnifymoney.com


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Mortgage, News

Supreme Court Case Has Big Implications For Mortgage Debt

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On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard a case, Bank of America vs. Caulkett, that could have huge implications for the mortgage market. At stake is whether or not a judge can forgive mortgage debt completely in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if a home is underwater. The practice is often referred to as “lien stripping.”

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, almost all unsecured debt is completely forgiven. For example, credit card debt is typically written off completely, providing a fresh start for borrowers and an immediate credit loss for banks. Mortgages, however, have been kept out of Chapter 7 completely. Even if your house is underwater, most states treat your mortgage as secured debt and exclude it from the filing. Because the bank has a lien on your home, the mortgage debt remains after the bankruptcy.

However, three states (Florida, Georgia and Alabama) allow second mortgages that are completely underwater to be considered unsecured and have the debt eliminated in bankruptcy.

Imagine a home is worth $100,000.

There is a first mortgage for $100,000 and a second mortgage for $50,000. The second mortgage is completely underwater because the home is only worth $100,000.

In Florida, Georgia, and Alabama you could have the second mortgage lien stripped, which means the second mortgage would no longer be attached to the property. The debt would then be treated like any other form of unsecured debt in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and would be completely forgiven.

Outside of these three states, the only way to reduce your second mortgage debt is through a different kind of bankruptcy called Chapter 13.

In Chapter 13, the court determines how much you can afford to pay towards your debt, and creates a repayment plan. The repayment plan lasts three years (if your income is below the median) or five years. At the end of the repayment plan, any remaining debt is forgiven.

Clearly, second mortgage lenders much prefer Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where the borrower must pay back a portion of the loan based upon affordability. In Chapter 7, the entire balance is wiped out, leaving a lender with nothing.

Details Of The Case

The case focuses on the travails of David Caulkett, a Florida homeowner who used the equity in his home to borrow. By the time of the foreclosure, Mr. Caulkett had a first mortgage balance of $183,000 and a second mortgage balance of $47,855.

Although the home had been worth $300,000 at its peak, the price had dropped dramatically and the home was only worth about $98,000 at the time of the foreclosure.

Mr. Caulkett wanted to avoid foreclosure and stay in his home. He decided to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

And in his case, the judge stripped the lien from the second mortgage and treated the debt as fully unsecured. The full $47,855 second mortgage was written off in the bankruptcy.

Bank of America was not happy with the outcome, and sued.

They used a 1992 case (Dewsnup) to make their case. In Dewsnup, it was ruled that judges are not permitted to reduce the principal of first mortgage balances to the current value of the home. The ruling implied that mortgages are protected up to the contract value, not the market value of the property.

Underwater homeowners could get more relief

After the 2008 mortgage crisis, property prices declined dramatically and many homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages. If Chapter 7 bankruptcy becomes an option for homeowners with large underwater second mortgage balances, banks fear a rapid increase in the filings would follow.

Chapter 7 would provide an easy way for consumers to eliminate second mortgage debt completely and quickly, while remaining in their homes.

There are really only two ways to eliminate second mortgage debt completely (outside of Florida, Georgia and Alabama).

One way is to agree a short sale with the lender.

Alternatively, the borrower can go through the foreclosure process and then file Chapter 7 bankruptcy after the foreclosure is complete. The deficiency balance (the remaining balance after a foreclosure is complete) would be treated as unsecured debt in a future Chapter 7 filing. Both of these require a significant amount of time, and result in a foreclosure.

Banks argue that easier lien stripping would restrict access to credit and drive up the cost of borrowing.

However, the lawyers arguing for Mr. Caulkett pointed out that mortgage borrowing is not more expensive in the three states that allow the lien stripping practice.

The entire argument comes down to a relatively simple question.

Are mortgages immune to bankruptcy up to the contract (mortgage) value, or the market value of the property?

The decision, which will be made later in the year, will have massive implications for anyone who is underwater on their property today. If it is upheld many more people will be able to more quickly escape an underwater home and leave a bad mortgage behind.

And it could also have big implications for anyone who wants to take out a mortgage in the future if banks decide to tighten lending criteria.

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erin@magnifymoney.com


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When Bankruptcy Makes Sense

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The word “bankruptcy” usually gets an emotional response from anyone who hears it. Lawyers, advertising it on television, sell bankruptcy like it is a flat-screen television. Radio talk show hosts often call it immoral, telling you to live on beans and toast for 10 years before you break your vow of repayment and walk away from debt.

At MagnifyMoney, we think the truth lies somewhere in between. For certain situations, bankruptcy is the single best solution. For others, it can’t help them. And for some, who can actually afford to repay their debt, it does raise serious ethical questions.

And this isn’t just our opinion. The Fed just recently released a report, showing that bankruptcy can be an excellent solution for some people. And it also showed that the 2005 reform, which made it harder to file bankruptcy, has harmed individuals who stopped filing for bankruptcy. Not filing has condemned them to a life of chronic debt, with daily calls from collection agencies, low credit scores and reliance upon payday lenders for any future emergencies.

In this article, we will:

  • Help you figure out if you should consider bankruptcy
  • Explain how it works
  • Show the cost of not filing for bankruptcy
  • Talk about how to avoid filing again

Is Bankruptcy for Me?

Bankruptcy should only be considered if you are in financial crisis. Although financial crisis can have different meanings to different people, we think the following can be a good way to answer the question:

  • Do you find it impossible to make all of your basic monthly payments? Do you struggle to cover mortgage/rent payment, auto payment, insurance payments and credit card minimums?
  • Is your total debt (excluding mortgage) more than 50% of your gross annual income?

If you answered yes to either (or probably both) of those questions, you are likely in an unsustainable situation. For example, someone who makes $40,000 before tax and has $30,000 of credit card debt in addition to a mortgage will likely never get out of debt, unless he is able to significantly increase his income. That person has a net monthly income of about $2,000 (may vary by state and cost of healthcare and other deductions). Just the minimum due on $30,000 of credit card debt would be over $1,000.

In our example, that individual would work incredibly hard to stay in debt for over 30 years. During those 30 years, he would pay over $50,000 of interest alone to the credit card company. In addition, because of the high credit card balances (and the high likelihood of missing payments whenever there is an emergency), his credit score will remain incredibly low, making everything else in life much more expensive. A low credit score will result in more expensive auto loans, auto insurance, mortgage re-finance and every other type of borrowing.

It makes no sense for that individual to just keep paying the minimum due. He will be stuck in a life of poverty, unless he can increase his income.

Bankruptcy is not for you if:

  • All of your debt is in student loans. It is virtually impossible to discharge your student loan debt in a bankruptcy.
  • All of your debt is with your mortgage or your auto loan. Secured debt is not considered as part of the bankruptcy. (However, you may have the opportunity to get your auto loan balance reduced as part of a bankruptcy. The process is called a cram-down, and the amount of the loan that is greater than the value of your car can be forgiven if you negotiate properly).
  • You can afford to repay the debt. Beyond the moral issues of walking away from debt, there is now a means test and you may not be able to file bankruptcy if you have sufficient assets or income to service the debt.

How does Bankruptcy Work?

There are 2 types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

Chapter 7 is a true “fresh start.” In most cases, all of your unsecured debt (credit cards, personal loans) will be discharged. That means creditors will no longer be able to do any form of collections. The phone calls stop. The wage garnishment stops. The lawsuits stop. There is a record of the debt discharge on your credit report, and it will stay there for 10 years. However, for most people the recovery from bankruptcy is remarkably rapid. If you are in debt crisis (as we defined above), a bankruptcy can help you recover in as few as 2-3 years, compared to a lifetime sentence of poverty. 70% of all bankruptcy filings are Chapter 7. We should warn you: for the full 10 years, you will still have some limitations. Some lenders will never lend to someone with a bankruptcy on their credit report. Some employers will not hire employees with former bankruptcy. And, in the military, filing bankruptcy can result in the loss of intelligence clearance, which could cost you your career. All of these factors need to be considered before filing.

In Chapter 13, you do not have all of your debt discharged. Instead, a portion of your debt is written off, and a payment plan is created for the remainder of the debt. It takes longer to recover from a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and for most individuals a Chapter 7 is preferable. The main reason people end up in Chapter 13 is because they fail to qualify for Chapter 7 (because they have too many assets or too much income relative to their debt to qualify for Chapter 7).

You should speak to your lawyer, but in most cases for people in debt crisis, a Chapter 7 makes the most sense and will certainly lead to the fastest recovery.

Just remember: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 generally can not help you with mortgage, auto and other secured debt or student loans.  The only way it will help is by eliminating other debt, helping you to make payments on your mortgage.

The Cost of Not Filing for Bankruptcy

In 2005, bankruptcy “reform” was passed. It did 3 big things:

  • Introduced a means test. If you household income is above the median, you have much higher hurdles to cross before having your bankruptcy petition approved
  • Increased the cost of filing. The cost of filing for bankruptcy has increased by 44%, from an average of $697 to an average of $975. As you can imagine, higher costs make it more difficult for those with the least amount of money to afford the filing.
  • Made student loans off limit. Student loan debt is now a protected bubble, and it is virtually impossible to have that debt discharged.

As a result of these changes, the number of people filing for bankruptcy declined significantly. The Fed has looked at the impact of this decline in bankruptcy filings, and the results are startling. They clearly show that many people would have been much better off had they filed. Here are the findings:

Because bankruptcy now costs more, the poorest people are least likely to file. (And they need it the most)

The Federal Reserve tracked the likelihood of people to file for bankruptcy before and after the change to the law. People with higher incomes continued to file for bankruptcy, whereas those with the lowest incomes filed at a much slower rate. The Fed concludes that “liquidity constraints” kept people from filing. In other words, people were too poor to file for bankruptcy.

People who file for bankruptcy recover much quicker than people who don’t file.

People who file for bankruptcy see a much quicker improvement in their credit score than those who don’t. Why? People who don’t file bankruptcy (but are in financial crisis) continue to struggle to make minimum payments. They continue to deal with accounts in questions. They continue a life of chronic debt.

The table below (from the Fed) shows that people who file bankruptcy could get a score of 620 within a year of filing.

BK score

The top 2 lines show people filing for bankruptcy (3 months and 12 months after filing). The lines at the bottom show people who remain in chronic collections, but don’t file for bankruptcy. Their credit scores stay in the low 500s.

In addition, the ability to open new credit accounts (like an auto loan or mortgage) is severely restricted for people who can not file bankruptcy, but remain in collections. The chart below shows the number of new accounts opened by those stuck in default, versus those who filed bankruptcy:


You can see on the red line that people who don’t file bankruptcy, but stay in collections, are unable to open any new form of credit. If they do need to borrow, they will be forced to payday lenders, title loan companies or worse.

How to Prevent Future Bankruptcies

There are 2 criticisms against bankruptcy that we agree with at MagnifyMoney. First, some people have abused the system historically. They enjoy spending the money that they borrow, they can afford to repay, but they use bankruptcy as a way to walk away from debt. In addition to the moral questions, it also drives up the cost of borrowing for responsible people (because they have to pay for the people who don’t pay back through higher interest rates).

Second, people use bankruptcy as an easy way out of debt, but they never fix the core problem. As a result, 5-7 years later they are back in the same situation.

The bankruptcy reforms of 2005 did introduce a means test. If you income is below the national medium, you can file for bankruptcy easily. If, however, you income is above the median, you will have to pass a means test. That makes it difficult for people who have assets and income to walk away from debt.

The second issue is trickier. We believe that before filing for bankruptcy, everyone should truly understand why the problem happened, and deal with the root cause. In the Self-Assessment chapter of our free ebook (which you can download here), we dig deep into your budget. You should look to understand:

  • Are your fixed expenses too high? When mortgage and car payments eat up a big chunk of your monthly income, you can very quickly end up borrowing on credit cards to get through the month. Although difficult, selling your home or car and downsizing could be the difference between avoiding debt, or ending up back in the same place you started.
  • Can you control your discretionary expenses? Can you actually live within a budget? Do you even have one?
  • Do you have health insurance? So many big medical expenses were the result of no health insurance. With Obamacare, most Americans can find a health policy that can at least protect against massive medical bills.

If your fixed expenses are too high, and you can’t live within a budget, you will likely end up in bankruptcy again. You should do the hard work now to make sure bankruptcy is a tool that you only use once.

Final Thoughts

For many people, bankruptcy is the fresh start that they deserve. Too many people stay in a chronic state of debt, when bankruptcy would be the right answer. However, the decision should not be taken lightly. And everyone (whether you have filed for bankruptcy or not) should be taking the necessary steps to build a secure financial future.


Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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Debt Guide: When to File Bankruptcy

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Below is an excerpt from our Debt Free Forever Guide. Be sure to download the free guide to help dump debt for good.

For some people, bankruptcy may be an appropriate option. In a bankruptcy, you may be able to eliminate some or all of your debts. However, debt forgiveness does not come lightly. Chapter 7 (where all eligible debt is eliminated) stays on your record for 10 years. Chapter 13 stays on your report for 7 years. And, during that time (especially in the first 3-5 years), you may find it virtually impossible to apply for any new credit. And credit is not limited to mortgages and auto loans. It can even include pay-as-you- go mobile phone packages. If you work in the financial services sector, you may find that bankruptcy will make it impossible to get a job. So, this decision should not be taken lightly.

However, for some people, this may be the only option. I will give a few examples of people whom I have met, where bankruptcy made complete sense:

  • A hardworking man had a medical emergency. Unfortunately, he did not have medical insurance. The total bill was over $500,000. And his annual salary was $40,000. There was no chance that he would ever pay off that debt. Bankruptcy made perfect sense.
  • A married couple unfortunately did not plan for the future. They had no life insurance, no savings and credit card debt. The husband was a professional, and the wife stayed at home with the children. The husband died unexpectedly. Between the funeral, the credit card debt from before the marriage and the costs of the transition, the widow had over $75,000 of debt. She was able to get a secretarial job for $25,000. It made sense to eliminate the debt with bankruptcy.

The biggest reasons for bankruptcy are medical and divorce. We always try to work with people to help them prepare for the worst. Everyone should have medical insurance, even if that means paying for a high deductible (low premium) policy that at least insures against bankruptcy. If someone depends upon you (like the husband in the story above), term life insurance is necessity, and it doesn’t cost much. In medicine, it is always better to prevent (via a good diet and exercise) than to fix after something goes wrong. The same is true in financial matters. However, if you are now in the emergency room, a bankruptcy may be the right option.

What can a bankruptcy do for me?

A bankruptcy gives you the opportunity to eliminate a significant portion of your debt. The bank has to write off the debt, and is no longer able to collect on the debt.

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all of the eligible debt is eliminated. It takes about 3-6 months to have the bankruptcy discharged.

  • Most or all of your unsecured debt will be erased. Unsecured debt would include things like credit card debt, personal loan debt, medical bills, mobile phone bills and other debt.
  • Certain types of debt are usually excluded from bankruptcy. These include student loan debt, tax obligations, spousal support, child support and some other types of debt can not be eliminated.
  • Some of your property may have to be sold to pay off your debt. However, in most cases, your primary property is exempt.
  • For secured property (like an auto loan), you will be given a choice. You can continue to pay, you can have the property repossessed, or you can make a lump sum payment (at the replacement value).

If your problem is with credit card debt and/or medical debt, than Chapter 7 makes sense. All of that debt will be wiped out. You continue to pay (and keep) your mortgage and auto loan.

In a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, you are not able to eliminate all of your debt. Instead, you will be forced to make regular monthly payments towards your debt before it is completely eliminated.

Chapter 7 or Chapter 13?

If given the choice, most people would choose Chapter 7. From a credit score perspective, they both have equal (negative) impact on your score. In fact, here is what FICO says:

The formula considers these two forms of bankruptcy as having the same level of severity and, for both types, uses the filing date to determine how long ago the bankruptcy took place. As with other negative credit information, the negative effect of a bankruptcy to one’s FICO score will diminish over time.

So, if you get the same penalty, but in one form of bankruptcy all of your debt is wiped out, and you still have to pay back some debt in the other form, then you would probably choose Chapter 7. And most people did, until the law was changed in 2005.

Note: there may be some instances when you will want to file Chapter 13 instead of Chapter 7. For example, if you are behind on your house payments and want to keep your house, Chapter 13 may make more sense. Why? In Chapter 13, you can put your past due mortgage payments into your repayment plan, and pay them back over time. In Chapter 7, your past due mortgage payments may be due right away.

However, in the majority of cases, Chapter 7 is more favorable to the borrower than Chapter 13.

There are now some “means tests” required to see if you can file for Chapter 7. Here are some very basic rules:

  • If your family income is below the median income of your state, you will probably be able to file Chapter 7. The income used is the average of your last 6 months income. You can find the median incomes here.
  • If your income is above the median, you may still be able to file bankruptcy. However, you will have to pass a means test. Your income and expenditures will be looked at, to see if you have the ability to make payments towards a payment plan over 5 years towards the accumulated debt.

In addition, if you tried to be clever, you will likely be caught. Any recent cash advances on your credit card, and any recent luxury purchases can be exempt from the bankruptcy completely.

It used to be very easy to file for Chapter 7 and have all of your unsecured debt eliminated. That is no longer the case. But, if you have low income, you can still proceed. And, if you have a very difficult situation, you can still find a path towards eliminating a significant portion of your debt.

How to Proceed

As part of the bankruptcy legislation, you need to meet with a non-profit debt counselor before you are allowed to file for bankruptcy. So, whether you are thinking about negotiating settlements or filing for ?bankruptcy, it makes sense to meet with a counselor. You can find a list of the approved agencies here.

For further reading on bankruptcy, we recommend this website (NOLO) – they have an excellent library of information.

In Summary

If you are in too deep, bankruptcy may be the only remaining viable option. I have met many people who filed bankruptcy, and went on to live very fulfilling and prosperous lives. Companies file bankruptcy all the time – and I believe that people should have the same legal protections that companies have.

You just need to be realistic about what bankruptcy can and cannot do. If you have student loans, tax liens, spousal support or child support – you will not be able to use this tool. You need to find a way to pay back your debt.

But, if you have been hit with a big medical bill, or your credit card debt is just too large relative to your income, bankruptcy could be the best option. It will be a very difficult 2 years. By Year 3, things will look a lot better. And, 7 years later, your score will reflect the person you have been in the last 7 years. A very good friend of mine had filed bankruptcy. He now has a home (purchased with a mortgage at a low rate). He has a car (purchased with a 0% car loan). And he has a rewards credit card (that he pays off in full every month). His score is high. It was a rough couple of years, but it made sense. Otherwise, he would have been making minimum payments for 30 years and still wouldn’t be out of debt.

Weigh your options carefully. Meet with a non-profit counselor. We are always available at MagnifyMoney to talk as well (just email us at info@magnifymoney.com).

Good luck with your decision.

Download our Debt Free Forever Guide! It’s FREE and will help get you back on track.


Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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