Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as a liquidation bankruptcy or “discharge”. Chapter 7 is designed to free the debtor of his unsecured consumer debt, and allow the debtor to decide whether to keep or dispose of secured debt. It is typically referred as a “fresh start”.
Unsecured consumer debt is often credit card debt or personal loans. The individual is typically relieved of these debts in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The debtor has the choice as to how to handle their secured debt. Secured debt is debt that is tied to an asset, like a car loan. If the debtor chooses to keep the asset, then the debtor must reaffirm the debt. When a debt is reaffirmed it is critically important that the debtor continue to make timely and consistent payments. In the alternative, the debtor can surrender the asset and be entirely relieved of the associated debt.
There are limits as to how much property a debtor can have and still be eligible to file Chapter 7. In Maryland an individual can have up to $12,000 of assets. If a couple is filing together, then the couple can have $24,000 of assets. However, if you have a car and have a loan against the car (secured debt), the value of the car is determined by subtracting the loan from the value. If you own a home, you can exempt up to $22,975 as a “homestead exemption.” Maryland also has a “wildcard” exemption that you can use to protect up to $6,000 in any property. You can combine the wildcard and homestead exemptions to protect up to $28,975 in your home. There is also an exemption for “tools of the trade.” So, if you own a landscaping business you will be able to keep your equipment.
If you are going to file Chapter 7, your credit score is likely already low. You can expect that the bankruptcy will remain part of your credit score for up to ten years. However, you can begin to improve your credit score immediately after filing bankruptcy. For example, if you reaffirmed your car loan, timely payments on secured debt will have a positive influence on your credit score. The reduction in the amount of debt that you owe will also improve your credit score.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires that you pass what is known as a “means test.” The means test is a formula for determining if your income is low enough for you to qualify for Chapter 7. The “means test” considers variables including income, reasonable and necessary expenses, the area of the country where the individual lives, etc. If the test concludes that the individual’s income is less than a certain threshold, which is adjusted for by allowed expenses, then it is likely that the debtor will qualify for a Chapter 7. While some sites give an approximation of a means test calculator, it is still best to meet with an attorney to avoid any errors. Once you qualify, there are no restrictions or limits on the amount of debts you have, however there are some forms of debt that are not dischargeable. These include outstanding child support payments, student loans, criminal fines, and tax debts that are less than three years old.