What is Bankruptcy?

by Douglas Jacobs, Esq.

December 11, 2012

The term “bankruptcy,” according to Webster, means either “: the quality or state of being bankrupt or utter failure or impoverishment.”   In today’s modern parlance, to be bankrupt means you don’t have the money to pay your debts.

To file bankruptcy then is to accept that you can’t pay your debts and to take action to move forward by getting a “fresh start.”

Legally, Bankruptcy is actually a Federal program that allows companies or individuals (including married couples) to obtain a “fresh start” by reorganizing or discharging their debts.

For consumers, the two most common types of bankruptcies are Chapter 7s and Chapter 13s.  A chapter 7 bankruptcy generally wipes out or “discharges” your unsecured debts such as credit card bills, medical bills, etc.  A chapter 13 bankruptcy is a method of reorganizing or structuring your debts to allow you to discharge what you can and get caught up on debts that you want or need to keep paying, such as house payments, tax obligations, etc.

The theory behind bankruptcy starts with the basic concept that one shouldn’t spend the rest of their life trying to pay off a debt that they’ll never be able to be rid of.  Even without today’s egregious interest rates, a loss of employment or significant illness can create such a situation.

Bankruptcy is as old as when people first started lending money or commodities to each other.  Deuteronomy talks of forgiving one’s neighbor’s debts every 7 years, and there are numerous other biblical references to such a concept.

So, you should consider filing bankruptcy if:

1.    Your debts are overwhelming you and you see no way to pay them off in the next two years;
2.    You are behind in your house payment or a tax obligation and you see no way to get caught up; or
3.    You have just lost your job or recovered from a serious illness and don’t know how you will be able to pay your bills.

If any of these apply, consult a competent bankruptcy attorney in your area.

 

photo credit:  EJP Photo

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Douglas Jacobs is a California bankruptcy attorney and partner in the Chico law firm of Jacobs, Anderson, Potter & Chaplin. Since 1988, Mr. Jacobs has taught Constitutional law and Debtor-Creditor/Bankruptcy law at the Cal Northern School of Law. He has served as Dean of Students since 1994. He is a frequent lecturer on the subject of consumer bankruptcy law, and has spoken at both state and national levels.

Last modified: December 10, 2012