Many of the clients I meet with believe that if they file bankruptcy, they will lose all their stuff, i.e. cars, house, etc. About the same number of clients believe that if they file bankruptcy they can keep the stuff they owe on without paying for it. Neither of these beliefs are true.
First, the great majority of people who file bankruptcy can keep the stuff they want to keep. If you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must continue to pay for the stuff as per your original agreement with the lender. If you file a Chapter 13, you can pay for the stuff through a plan and many times reduce your interest rate, payments, and sometimes even the balance to be paid back. A Chapter 13 will also take care of payments you have missed prior to filing.
Even though a bankruptcy can sometimes help with payments, you still must pay for most property for which you owe. The most common exception to this rule is for what the bankruptcy law call "non-purchase money security interest in household goods." These are debts where when you borrow money, normally from a finance company, the lender asks you about appliances, furniture, electronics, or tools you already own and lists these items as collateral for the loan. The bankruptcy law allows you to avoid these liens in many circumstances, and thereby keep this type of stuff without having to pay the debt on it.
Yes. All collection attempts by creditors are to stop as soon as your bankruptcy is filed. When your bankruptcy is filed the "automatic stay" goes into place. This prohibits debt collectors from making any effort to collect any debt against you. It stops phone calls, letters, lawsuits, garnishments, foreclosures, and repossessions.
The automatic stay remains in effect during the pendency of your bankruptcy. It can be lifted by secured creditors to whom you are collateral to or to secured creditors to whom you were supposed to make payments to during the bankruptcy, but have not.
Although the automatic stay goes into effect immediately when your bankruptcy is filed, in reality creditors will not receive notice from the bankruptcy court for 7 - 10 days. For this reason you or your attorney should inform creditors who are threatening to take actions such as foreclosure or garnishment that you have filed bankruptcy and provide the creditor with a case number.
Creditors who knowingly violate the automatic stay will be required to reverse any adverse action they took after the automatic stay went into effect (such as foreclosure or repossession) and may be subject to paying fines and debtor's attorney's fees.
If you are being harassed by collections efforts of creditors and debt collectors, contact me by clicking here or another qualified bankruptcy attorney in Alabama. The initial bankruptcy consultation is free.
YES. I have been getting a lot of questions about garnishments lately. Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings in Alabama will stop garnishments. This is accomplished in a two step process. First, we must file your bankruptcy with the bankruptcy court and thereby obtain a case number for your bankruptcy.
Second, in the Court which issued the garnishment (normally your county’s Small Claims Court, District Court, or Circuit Court) we file a Motion to Quash Writ of Garnishment. In this motion we ask the Court that issued the garnishment to enter an order stopping the garnishment and to return to you any money the Court is holding or receives in the future from the garnishment. This means that if we can catch it in time, we may be able to get some of your money back.
Having said this, I would strongly recommend filing a bankruptcy prior to a garnishment going into effect. I say this only because I know a garnishment taking 25% of your wages is not going to leave much to live on, much less enough to save to pay for a bankruptcy.
Please note that a bankruptcy will not stop a garnishment or income withholding order related to child support.
Many people have been convinced that the bankruptcy reforms that went into effect in October of 2005 have made it impossible for most people to file Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there is now a “Means Test” which was intended to screen out people with “too much income.” But, in my experience almost everyone whom I have counseled with regarding filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy who could have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy before the 2005 reforms still qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Alabama after the reforms. Nationwide studies have confirmed this -- Porter Study Finds Bankruptcy Law Reform Has Hurt the Poor Most and Bankruptcy Reform’s Impact: Where Are All the “Deadbeats”?
How does the “Means Test” work? First you see if you are over or under the median income for a family of your size in Alabama. For a quick check click here. If your household income is under the median income for the same size household in Alabama, then you have passed the “Means Test” and qualify to file a Chapter 7.
If you are over the median income, it DOES NOT mean you are disqualified from filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most people can still file. There is just more paperwork to do. With the additional paperwork you are allowed to deduct taxes, housing costs, transportation costs, secured debt payments, medical costs, and many other costs. After deducting these costs, most people have very little income that could be used to pay unsecured creditors; and therefore, can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The bottom line is, if you are having financial problems, do not let the “Means Test” scare you away from seeking good legal advice from a qualified bankruptcy attorney. The qualifications to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Alabama are still fairly low. Despite anything you may have heard, there is a very high chance you can still file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And, if you are one of the few who cannot file a Chapter 7, you can probably file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and still be protected from creditors.
I am continuously amazed at the depths some debt collectors will go to in order to scare unwary debtors into making payments they cannot afford at the time. The statement “We will garnish your next paycheck” is probably a lie.
In Alabama in order for a creditor to obtain a writ of garnishment against your employer to withhold money from your paycheck, that creditor must have a judgment against you. In order to have a judgment against you, that creditor must have filed a lawsuit against you and won either after a trial or by default, that is, because you did not file a response.
Normally when this threat is being made, a lawsuit has yet to be filed. How do you know if you have been sued? First, if suit has been filed against you, you should have been served with a Summons and Complaint by either the sheriff’s department of your county or by certified mail. However, if you cannot be found by the creditor, the creditor may have you served by publication, that is, by running a notice in the newspaper in the county of your last known address. If you are still unsure, you may call the clerk of court of your county.
What if I have been sued? See a lawyer immediately. Depending on which court, Small Claims/District or Circuit, you have either 14 or 30 days respectively from the day you were served to file an answer. Filing an answer generally denying the allegations in the lawsuit will prevent the creditor from obtaining a default judgment against you and will lead to your case being set for court after a few months. This will give you time to save money and/or get your bankruptcy filed.
What if I already have a judgment and/or garnishment against me? If you already have a judgment and/or garnishment against you, I would again suggest you see an attorney immediately. You may be able to have the judgment set aside or appealed, but only if you act very quickly. This may also be a good time to take a strong and hard look at bankruptcy. With a bankruptcy you should be able to discharge the judgment prior to garnishment and stop any garnishment that is already in place. Upon filing a bankruptcy, you may even be able to have a portion of any money garnished from your check returned to you.
The bottom line is do not let harassing calls from creditors or debt collectors scare you into giving them money you cannot afford to give them. Many will say anything they think will frighten you. If a debt collector says anything that worries you, make an appointment with an attorney and see what your rights are. It’s probably a good time to take a look at your financial situation anyway.
Please email me with any questions regarding the topic of garnisments or any other bankruptcy or debt related topic.
Filing for bankruptcy is a heart wrenching decision. On the one hand you want to do what you promised your creditors you would do, but on the other hand you have to house, feed, and clothe your family and yourself. There is no question that bankruptcy should be the last resort, but as to whether you should file or not, my classic lawyer answer is “It depends.”
First, we need to look at why you are considering filing bankruptcy. The most common reasons are the following:
If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes”, then it may be a good time to see an Alabama bankruptcy attorney. This does not necessarily mean you should file bankruptcy, but it does mean you may need some legal advice. The attorney may suggest some of the following alternatives to bankruptcy:
If any of these alternatives allow the possibility of a LONG TERM solution, then they should be greatly considered even though it may call for tough decisions and hard work. Why? Although bankruptcy can be a “quick fix”, it comes with some serious long term consequences to your financial future.
The bottom line is I and many other Alabama bankruptcy attorneys offer free initial consultations, so it will not cost you anything to see what your options are. If after talking to an attorney, you think you can dig yourself out of the hole you are in without bankruptcy then definitely try that. But, if it does not work out you will be prepared and should have a plan.
If you have further questions regarding this or other Alabama bankruptcy, debt, or budgeting questions please email me.
Here is a brief overview of a bankruptcy.
There may come a point in a person's life, whether its due to health problems, spending problems, employments problems, etc., where a person owes more money than even the tightest budget will allow him to pay. When this happens and monthly payments begin to be missed, the people and businesses who are owed the money (the creditors) start calling and sending letters. Eventually, if the creditors are not satisfied, there are foreclosures and repossessions of vehicles and/or lawsuits getting filed which will then lead to judgments, garnishments and liens.
A bankruptcy can stop most of these bad things from happening. A bankruptcy can immediately stop the phone calls, letters, lawsuits, garnishments, foreclosures, and repossessions. This is called the Automatic Stay and it "stays" all collection efforts. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will wipe out almost all unsecured debt, like credit cards and medical bills. Most of the time under a Chapter 7 you will be able to keep your house and vehicles if you are current or almost current on those payments and continue to make your payments to those creditors as agreed to in your contract.
A Chapter 13 allows you to create a plan to pay some or all your debt back to the creditors. A Chapter 13 can stop your house from being foreclosed on or your car from being repossessed by allowing you to pay back your arrearage over time. It will also protect a house or vehicle in which you may have too much equity under the State of Alabama's exemption laws. Alabama's exemptions are very low, so this comes in handy frequently. The amount you pay back is based on your income and expenses and the amount of debt you need or want to pay back over the length of the plan. Most plans last for five (5) years which is the maximum length of the plan.
So, the bottom line is a bankruptcy can stop collections of debt by creditors, wipe out all or part of your debt, and/or create a plan to pay back some or all of your debt while normally letting you keep the real and personal property you want to keep.
It is not all rosy though. There are issues that can make filing bankruptcy very tough. Bankruptcy also has long term effects on your credit. I will deal with these issues in later posts.
If you are having financial difficulties, find out the truth about how bankruptcy may be able to help. Request my free book and/or call attorney Richard L. Collins or another experienced bankruptcy attorney.
I am an attorney located in Cullman, AL. I practice extensively in the area of consumer bankruptcy law, that is, I file Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies for individuals. I handle cases all over North Alabama and have helped hundreds of clients through the bankruptcy process., I receive many referrals from former clients and their families and other attorneys. Why? Unlike other firms, I have a local office. If you are from out of town, we have the technology available to keep your traveling to a minimum. Also, unlike many firms, you will meet personally with an attorney, not a paralegal. An attorney will handle your case from start to finish. ,