This past week, I had a number of different people ask me questions about Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 that revealed just how misunderstood these two options are. Here are a few of those misunderstandings:
A senior who owns a house with no mortgage can file Chapter 7 and get rid of credit card debt.
This came about in a conversation where we were discussing seniors and financial stress. We are seeing an increasing number of seniors who have overwhelming debt and do not have the monthly income to support the debt payments. However, if there is a house with equity, a Chapter 7 becomes much more complicated and less likely. In a Chapter 7, a trustee is appointed to review assets and sell any that are not exempt.
In California, a senior can exempt up to a maximum of $175,000 (and this varies some, depending on age and circumstances, but this is the maximum). If there is more than $175,000 in equity, the first thing a Chapter 7 trustee is going to do is list the house for sale. While Chapter 7 may not be the best option in this particular situation, there are often other options such as downsizing, reverse mortgage, settlement, or possibly Chapter 13.
Chapter 13 requires all debts to be repaid.
The next misunderstanding of the week happened when I was talking with a client about options for reorganizing a lot of debt that included business debt, unsecured debt like credit cards, car loans, a mortgage in the early stages of foreclosure, and a decent amount of tax debt. When I brought up Chapter 13 to deal with all of these things at once, she was confused because she thought it meant that she had to pay back all debts over five years and there was no way the business could support that kind of monthly payment.
On the contrary, Chapter 13 is very powerful because it allows you to pay back debts secured by items you want to keep (like a house, car, etc.), along with priority debt, like income taxes over five years. However, the unsecured debt often does not have to be repaid in full and sometimes none of the unsecured debt has to be repaid and it is discharged at the end of the five years.
You can’t have any assets and file for Chapter 7 (or you’ll lose everything).
This is a variation of the misunderstanding above about the house and Chapter 7. Yes, you can have assets and file for Chapter 7, but it’s important to correctly value and exempt your assets. In California, there are two different ways to exempt assets, depending on if you own a home or not. Most people who file for Chapter 7 keep all of their assets and nothing is sold. That is why it is very important to make sure you know what your rights are and how to protect the assets you do have.
All of these misunderstandings go to show that people really need to find out what their rights and options are before making life-changing decisions. Also, it’s very important to understand the different options and what your future looks like after each one.
This is just a basic overview and is not legal advice specific to your situation. If you have questions about your rights when it comes to debt and credit, you should speak with an attorney in your area for legal advice. If you live in California or North Dakota and would like to speak with Jen Lee Law regarding your situation, please schedule an appointment.