DROWNING IN A SEA OF DEBT (2) – BANKRUPTCY

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  • My wife and I climbed out of a near $60,000 credit card debt hole rather than declare ourselves bankrupt due to the impacts it would have had. It lasted 7 years and took 3 years of extremely focused discipline to accomplish it.

Focus and Discipline being the operative words.

My first blog on “Drowning in a Sea of Debt” discussed the depth of credit card debt – specifically in the USA – and the benefits / negatives of credit cards.

There are various ways to tackle overwhelming outstanding credit card debt which we will address in subsequent deliveries.

In this delivery I look at possibly the last alternative that some people may consider i.e. bankruptcy, because of its impact – financial, social and otherwise.

 

DIFFERENT COUNTRIES – DIFFERENT OUTCOMES

In this blog I briefly look at the impact in four countries i.e. the USA, Australia, the UK and Singapore.

Whilst the outcomes are mostly the same in different countries (i.e. debt forgiveness to some extent), the impacts differ – some more sever and longer-lasting.

  • The first impact will be on family situations and your relationship with your partner.

There might have been sleepless nights and differences in opinion about how money is being spent or has been spent. There might also have been difficult times to keep children in school or even to have food on the table.

  • The next impact is of an emotional nature.

You do not go to bed one night and wake up the next day to declare yourself bankrupt. There is normally a long walk-on period of increasing stress as the credit card bills pile up and the amounts increase, followed by demand letters and perhaps even a personal visit (in some countries).

  • It will impact social relationships.

I had to refuse many social invitations for lunch or after work gatherings because we were concentrating on repaying a large amount of money rather than to declare bankrupt. If you borrowed money from friends you may have to sort through some messy relationships.

  • It will impact a host of other things, including property ownership, control over your finances, current and future job opportunities and much more.

 

USA

Different states may approach matters differently but the impact is broadly the same.

There are three chapters under which to file for bankruptcy in the USA i.e. Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13.

Chapter 11 involves reorganizing a debtor’s business affairs and assets, and is normally filed by corporations to restructure their debts. We will ignore it in this blog.

 

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is a liquidation bankruptcy which provides for the liquidation of your non-exempt property to distribute the proceeds to the creditors and wipe out your unsecured debts – which also includes credit card debts and medical bills. You must have very little or no disposable income to qualify for this.

It promises a “fresh start” and there are a number of benefits and protective measures but we take a look here at some of the impacts:

  1. Your bankruptcy becomes public knowledge since it is published in the public domain.
  2. It may impact your ability to apply for jobs, definitely with any financial institutions.
  3. Bankruptcy does not erase all your debt. Recent taxes and student loans are not forgiven.
  4. Your bankruptcy will remain on your Credit Report for 10 years.
  5. It will be difficult to obtain a credit card in future and interest rates will be much higher.
  6. Home loans will become very expensive, up to 6% more than a normal loan, since your credit score will be very low.
  7. Chapter 7 (and 13) filing is not cheap since it requires a bankruptcy lawyer – $800 to $2,500 depending on where you live.

 

Chapter 13

Chapter 13 is a bankruptcy filing for debtors who have a regular income and are able to pay back at least a portion of their debt through a repayment plan. The benefits are therefore greater than Chapter 7 Bankruptcy as you are able to keep all your property, even non-exempt assets. There are, however, still a number of impacts and dangerous potholes:

  1. You must put all your disposable income towards creditor payments. That leaves you rather tight for money for 3 to 5 years.
  2. If you neglect a payment your creditors can request to change your Chapter 13 into a Chapter 7. This means your creditors can chase you for the full outstanding amounts and your properties may become subject to seizure and sell-off. This is a serious pothole.
  3. You are considered a credit risk and any loans or new credit cards will be at a premium. It may be difficult to obtain any mortgage for up to 2 years after your filing.
  4. It may impact your ability to apply for jobs, definitely with any financial institution.
  5. Your restricted personal income will definitely impact your lifestyle.
  6. It does not protect anyone who co-signed anything that you are in debt of. Your co-signatory is indebted and may be obliged to repay your debt(s). This will almost certainly impact your relationship with the co-signatory.
  7. Not all debts are erased i.e. alimony, child support, some debt acquired within 6 months of filing, some taxes, willful injuries to person and property, personal injury whilst driving intoxicated and a host more are not erased.

 

AUSTRALIA

Bankruptcy impacts many things including this short summary:

  1. Your house and car may be sold.
  2. Overseas travel may be restricted.
  3. You will have to pay contributions from your income to your trustee if your after-tax income exceeds a certain amount.
  4. Your superannuation before bankruptcy basically becomes the trustee’s money.
  5. You can keep up to $3,700 of the tools of your trade but the rest can be sold by the trustee/creditors.
  6. Your name will appear on the National Personal Insolvency Index forever as a discharged bankrupt and on credit reporting agencies for 2 years after discharge.

Read up on https://www.afsa.gov.au/debtors/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-overview. This site also includes a quick guide on assets – which are not complimentary in its action.

 

SINGAPORE

Singapore laws let you file for bankruptcy if you owe $10,000 or more and you have no way to repay the amount. The whole process may take between 4 – 6 weeks during which time the court will assess your situation and come to a conclusion.

On the other hand, your creditor(s) – such as a bank – can also file to have you declared bankrupt.

The results can be swift:

  1. Assets can be seized and divided amongst creditors for their use or to auction off. There is a silver lining: you will be able to keep the tools of your trade and items that are hold in trust for someone else is also off limits, as is any HDB apartment which has not been refinanced.
  2. Your bankruptcy will be made public. Your employer(s) will be informed and you may lose your job, more so If you work for a financial institution. It may be difficult to find work afterwards, especially with financial institutions.
  3. If you keep your work, a portion of your income will be shared with your creditors. You must carefully justify any expenses and provide a financial statement of affairs, supported by receipts and which is periodically checked. Life becomes rather inconvenient in every aspect that touches on money.
  4. Part of you income can be made available for creditors, but whatever you use to earn a living with cannot be attached.
  5. It will be difficult to obtain credit afterwards. Your credit rating will be affected and may take up to 7 years to rebuild a semblance of what it used to be.
  6. Overseas travel is also normally affected. You will have to inform the court if you want to travel overseas and unless it is for work purposes you may not be allowed. If you break the law you will be jailed (currently 2 years) and fined (currently $10,000).
  7. If you owe less than $100,000 you may be rehabilitated after three years – unless a creditor objects, in which case you remain a bankrupt until all your creditors have been paid off.

Though the benchmark is set low ($10,000) the consequences are severe when compared to other countries, especially since Singapore is a very small country compared to say the USA where work is perhaps easier to find with the ability to travel and move interstate.

 

UK

There is still a lot more stigma surrounding bankruptcy in Europe than in the USA.

  1. Available assets will be sold to pay off your debts. You can keeps the “tools of your trade” to make a living.
  2. Renters may be kicked out of their rental places.
  3. Bank accounts and cards will be frozen and handed over to the Official Receiver.
  4. You may lose your job and it may be difficult to find another one. The police and armed forces do not employ bankrupts.
  5. Any additional income will go to the creditors.
  6. You may lose part or all of your pension towards debt settlement.
  7. The bankruptcy stays on file for 6 years. Your name and details will be published in the Individual Insolvency Register and your name published in the local paper.
  8. It may affect your immigration status of you apply for British citizenship.
  9. If you own a business, it might be sold and your workers laid off, thus causing hardship to others.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Many people have had a fresh start with bankruptcy, but beware the financial, social, personal and other impacts it will have.

There are a lot to think of, so if you choose to pursue this path you will be best served to research and read everything regarding bankruptcy in your country and then engage the best insolvency lawyer you can afford – which in itself may be a hefty cost.

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