What Does It Mean That a Bankruptcy Is Public Record?
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Bankruptcy cases are processed through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which is part of the federal court system. Like all other court documents, your bankruptcy petition becomes a public record. This means any member of the public can access the information on your bankruptcy forms either through PACER or by going to the courthouse.
Written by Attorney John Coble, Your Upsolve Team. Legally reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated March 21, 2022
Americans are private about money matters, and that extends to bankruptcy filings. There’s no shame in filing bankruptcy to get a fresh start from overwhelming debt. In fact, bankruptcy laws were established to help people get a fresh start. But that doesn’t mean you want your friends and family to know about your case.
Since bankruptcy proceedings happen in the federal court system, they’re public record. Your bankruptcy petition becomes part of the court’s electronic records, and your creditors are notified of your filing. While anyone can access the court electronic records system known as PACER, it’s unlikely that your friends and family or even potential employers will go looking for your bankruptcy information in PACER.
What Is a Public Record? Why Are Bankruptcies Part of It?
Public entities like government agencies and courts collect information that becomes public record. It’s called a public record because the public can access the information. Since your bankruptcy proceeding goes through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the information in your bankruptcy petition is part of the public record just like other court documents. Court proceedings are always matters of public record unless a judge orders the records to be sealed. This is rare in bankruptcy cases.
Is All the Information in My Bankruptcy Record Accessible?
Bankruptcy forms contain a lot of personal and financial information. Much of that information is public record, but not all of it.
Public information includes:
Case information like your case number, filing date, chapter number, and case status, which includes the date of your bankruptcy discharge. It will also list the judge’s name overseeing your case, the name of your bankruptcy trustee, and your 341 meeting information.
Debt, income, and asset information listed on your bankruptcy forms. This includes your list of creditors and how much you owe each creditor. It also includes a list of your income and any assets you own.
Contact information for you, your creditors, and your bankruptcy lawyer if you have one.
Information that’s excluded from the public record includes:
Your Social Security number as listed on Form B-21.
Your full financial account numbers. All but the last four digits of your account numbers will be redacted or blacked out.
Your birthday. Only your birth year will be shown.
Minor children’s names. These will appear as initials only.
How Does the Public Access My Records?
Anyone who wants to view court records must register with the PACER system (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). This is the federal court electronic case management and filing system. The majority of PACER users accessing bankruptcy information are bankruptcy attorneys and their employees. The three major credit bureaus also have PACER accounts.
While you can register to use PACER for free, you may have to pay a fee for court records, depending on how many documents you access each quarter. This makes it more unlikely that your friends, family, and others will go looking for your records online.
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Will All My Creditors Be Notified?
Yes. And this is to your advantage because as soon as you file bankruptcy, you get protection from the automatic stay. This stops all collection activity from your creditors, including serious measures like wage garnishment and foreclosure.
What About My Credit Report?
Your credit report isn’t a public record. Only you and the entities you authorize can view your credit report. For example, you might authorize a bank to check your credit report if you’re applying for a credit card. If you file for bankruptcy, it will become part of your credit report. The type of bankruptcy you file determines how long it stays on your credit report. Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on for up to 10 years, and Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on for seven years.
That said, lenders who view your credit report won’t see a copy of your bankruptcy petition. Your credit report includes your debt accounts, creditor information, and payment history. Accounts discharged in bankruptcy will be noted as such in your credit history. Prospective lenders and creditors will see this information if you authorize them to run your credit report.
How Does This Affect My Credit Score?
There’s a myth that filing bankruptcy ruins your credit forever, but this simply isn’t true. Your credit score may initially take a hit, but most filers rebuild their credit quickly. People who file bankruptcy often have a better credit score than those in a similar financial situation who don’t file bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy filings are matters of public record. Since your bankruptcy is public record, anyone can view most of the information on your bankruptcy petition. But that doesn’t mean they will. It’s unlikely your friends and family will ever see your bankruptcy record.
Bankruptcy records are kept electronically through a federal court system called PACER. Most PACER users are bankruptcy attorneys and their staff who view records for clients. Some of the sensitive information in your bankruptcy forms is redacted. This includes your Social Security number, full financial account information, and minors’ names.
Also, while your bankruptcy will appear on your credit history, your credit report isn’t a public record. Only you and those you authorize can view it. Your bankruptcy information on your credit report is limited to information about your debts discharged in your bankruptcy case.