It now costs $335 to file for Bankruptcy under Chapter 7 and $310 to file for Bankruptcy under Chapter 13, whether for one person or a married couple. The court may allow you to pay this filing fee in installments if you can not pay it all at once. If you hire an attorney, you will also have to pay the attorney fees you agree to.
You must receive budget and credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency within 180 days before your bankruptcy case is filed. The agency will review possible options available to you in credit counseling, and assist you in reviewing your budget. Different agencies provide the counseling in-person, by telephone, or over the Internet. If you decide to file bankruptcy, you must have a certificate from the agency showing that you received the counseling before your bankruptcy case was filed.
Most approved agencies charge between $40–$60 for the pre-filing counseling. However, the law requires approved agencies to provide bankruptcy counseling and the necessary certificates without considering an individual’s ability to pay. If you can not afford the fee, you should ask the agency to provide the counseling free of charge or at a reduced fee.
If you decide to go ahead with bankruptcy, you should be very careful in choosing an agency for the required counseling. It is extremely difficult to sort out the good counseling agencies from the bad ones. Many agencies are legitimate, but many are simply rip-offs. And being an “approved” agency for bankruptcy counseling is no guarantee that the agency is good. It is also important to understand that even good agencies won’t be able to help you much if you’re already too deep in financial trouble.
Some of the approved agencies offer debt management plans (also called DMPs). A DMP is a plan to repay some or all of your debts in which you send the counseling agency a monthly payment that it then distributes to your creditors. Debt management plans can be helpful for some consumers. For others, they are a terrible idea. The problem is that many counseling agencies will pressure you into a debt management plan as a way of avoiding bankruptcy whether it makes sense for you or not. You should not consider a debt management plan if making the monthly plan payment will mean you will not have money to pay your rent, mortgage, utilities, food, prescriptions, and other necessities. It is important to keep in mind these important points:
•Bankruptcy is not necessarily to be avoided at all costs. In many cases, bankruptcy may actually be the best choice for you.
•If you sign up for a debt management plan that you can’t afford, you may end up in bankruptcy anyway (and a copy of the plan must also be filed in your bankruptcy case).
•There are approved agencies for bankruptcy counseling that do not offer debt management plans.
It is usually a good idea for you to meet with an attorney before you receive the required credit counseling. Unlike a credit counselor, who can not give legal advice, an attorney can provide counseling on whether bankruptcy is the best option. If bankruptcy is not the right answer for you, a good attorney will offer a range of other suggestions. The attorney can also provide you with a list of approved credit counseling agencies, or you can check the website for the United States Trustee Program office at www.usdoj.gov/ust.
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In a Chapter 7 case, you can keep all property which the law says is “exempt” from the claims of creditors. It is important to check the exemptions that are available in the state where you live. (If you moved to your current state from a different state within two years before your bankruptcy filing, you may be required to use the exemptions from the state where you lived just before the two-year period.) In some states, you are given a choice when you file bankruptcy between using either the state exemptions or using the federal bankruptcy exemptions. If your state has “opted” out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions, you will be required to chose exemptions mostly under your state law. However, even in an “opt-out” state, you may use a special federal bankruptcy exemption that protects retirement funds in pension plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
In Oklahoma, the following, among other things, are exempt:
•Single, primary residence, located on 1 acre or less (in city), or 160 acres (country);
•All household and kitchen furniture;
•Things you need for your job (tools, books, etc.), not to exceed $10,000;
•All books, portraits, and pictures that are held for personal, family use;
•Wearing apparel for the family, not to exceed $4,000;
•Wedding and anniversary rings, not to exceed $3,000;
•Interest in one motor vehicle, not to exceed $7,500;
•Guns, not to exceed $2,000;
•Seventy-five percent (75%) of all current wages or earnings for professional services;
•Right to receive alimony, support, separate maintenance orchid support payments to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of such person and any dependent of such person;
•Interest in 401K, IRA, and most retirement plans;
•Your right to receive certain benefits such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, veteran’s benefits, public assistance, and pensions–regardless of the amount.
In determining whether property is exempt, you must keep a few things in mind. The value of property is not the amount you paid for it, but what it is worth when your bankruptcy case is filed. Especially for furniture and cars, this may be a lot less than what you paid or what it would cost to buy a replacement.
You also only need to look at your equity in property. That means you count your exemptions against the full value minus any money that you owe on mortgages or liens. For example, if you own a $50,000 house with a $40,000 mortgage, you have only $10,000 in equity. You can fully protect the $50,000 home with a $10,000 exemption.
While your exemptions allow you to keep property even in a Chapter 7 case, your exemptions do not make any difference to the right of a mortgage holder or car loan creditor to take the property to cover the debt if you are behind. In a Chapter 13 case, you can keep all of your property if your plan meets the requirements of the bankruptcy law. In most cases, you will have to pay the mortgages or liens as you would if you didn’t file bankruptcy.
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In most cases, you will not lose your home or car during your bankruptcy case as long as your equity in the property is fully exempt. Even if your property is not fully exempt, you will be able to keep it, if you pay its non-exempt value to creditors in Chapter 13.
However, some of your creditors may have a “security interest” in your home, automobile, or other personal property. This means that you gave that creditor a mortgage on the home or put your other property up as collateral for the debt. Bankruptcy does not make these security interests go away. If you don’t make your payments on that debt, the creditor may be able to take and sell the home or the property, during or after the bankruptcy case.
In a Chapter 13 case, you may be able to keep certain secured property by paying the creditor the value of the property rather than the full amount owed on the debt. Or you can use Chapter 13 to catch up on back payments and get current on the loan.
There are also several ways that you can keep collateral or mortgaged property after you file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. You can agree to keep making your payments on the debt until it is paid in full. Or you can pay the creditor the amount that the property you want to keep is worth. In some cases involving fraud or other improper conduct by the creditor, you may be able to challenge the debt. If you put up your household goods as collateral for a loan (other than a loan to purchase the goods), you can usually keep your property without making any more payments on that debt.
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