Should I File For Bankruptcy or Try Debt Relief?

3,339 families filed bankruptcy using Upsolve.

Written by Jonathan Petts, Esq.  
Updated October 25, 2019

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Many people struggle with debts they cannot pay each day. For some individuals, debt relief seems impossible. They cannot afford to hire a bankruptcy attorney, pay their debts, get a debt consolidation loan, or pursue other debt relief options.

We understand how frustrating and frightening it can be when you find yourself with too much debt and no solution in sight. The phone calls from credit card companies and their collection agencies never stop, your credit score is quickly heading in the wrong direction, and your savings account has become nothing but a placeholder reminding you of better days. Add a fear of falling victim to one of the many national debt relief scams that are out there, and it's no wonder you're worried about how to get your personal finances back on track.

Upsolve is a non-profit organization that provides no-cost bankruptcy assistance to individuals who can't afford to pay a bankruptcy lawyer to help them get the relief they need. 

Why People Choose Between Debt Relief and Bankruptcy

When a person can’t pay their debts, creditors can become extremely demanding in their attempts to collect debts. In some cases, debt collectors may harass individuals for payment of debts. However, if you don't have enough income to make all of your monthly payments then no matter the amount of debt you have or the solutions the debt collector that is calling you may suggest, your financial situation may simply preclude you from entering into a payment plan to get back on track.

Some debt collectors and creditors may push you toward a specific debt relief option. However, that debt relief option may not be in your best interest (especially if it deals with only a small part of your total debt), but it could be in the best interest of the creditor.

Before you decide to use any debt relief program, you need to carefully review all of your options to get out of debt. Some debt settlement programs could cause you to get into additional debt problems if you are not careful.

You should only make a decision about how to get out of debt after weighing the pros and cons of each debt relief option.

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Chapter 7 Bankruptcy vs. Other Debt Relief Options

Both Chapter 7 and other debt relief options as credit counseling, debt settlement companies, or debt settlement services have pros and cons that you need to consider. For some individuals, filing Chapter 7 may be the best way to get rid of debt. However, there may be situations in which another kind of debt management plan might provide the same or better benefits.

Let’s compare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case to other debt relief options to help you decide if filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a better option compared to other kinds of debt settlement plans.

Debt Relief Options to Consider

There are many different types of debt relief. Many people base their decisions on how bad their situation is and if they think they can climb out of it. If you think debt relief is the right decision for you, it’s important to choose the option that sets the most achievable goals, so you can get debt free.

Debt Consolidation Loans

A debt collector may urge you to apply for a debt consolidation loan to catch up your bills or repay old debts. A debt consolidation loan is a loan that covers all of the debts you owe so that you so that you combine what you owe into one monthly payment. For many people all they need is to be able to focus on one bill.

Even though it might make your payments more manageable, a debt consolidation loan may not solve your debt problem. For many individuals, a debt consolidation loan places their property at risk and simply shifts debts they cannot afford to pay to another type of debt they can't afford to pay. After all, if making the minimum payments is a financial hardship before you enter into a debt settlement program, making a minimum payment on a debt consolidation loan only helps if the total amount you're paying per month is less than all of your minimum payments combined. Without first reducing your total debt amount or getting a lower interest rate, a debt consolidation loan may not move the needle at all when it comes to making your minimum payments.

Most lenders require that you use your property as collateral to obtain a debt consolidation loan. This means that your creditor can the property that you pledge if you miss a payment. Popular debt consolidation loans involve using a car or a home to secure the loan.

If you can't pay your unsecured creditors, those creditors may only have one recourse — filing a debt collection lawsuit. If you can't afford the payment on the debt consolidation loan, you could lose your home, your vehicles, or other assets you pledged as collateral for it. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy case can get rid of a debt collection lawsuit.

Debt Consolidation Companies

Instead of applying for a debt consolidation loan, some people hire a debt consolidation company. The debt consolidation company promises to negotiate with your creditors to lower your payments. However, many of these companies do not tell you several important things about their services.

  • Some debt consolidation companies are expensive. A majority of your monthly payment may go to the debt consolidation company instead of your creditors. Sometimes the payments are structured in a way that you pay the debt relief company's upfront fees first, while your credit report gets hit with a missed payment notification every month. This drives down your credit score even while you're trying to settle your debts.

  • Your creditors are not legally required to work with the company. Some creditors may refuse to negotiate a payment arrangement.

  • Creditors can cancel the agreement at any time. Sometimes creditors change their minds and decide to pursue other legal remedies to collect the debt, even if you are current on your payments to the debt consolidation company.

  • “Lowering” your payments often means more time in debt. By extending the term to repay the debt, you are paying more money in interest to the creditors, and it takes you much longer to get out of debt.

Debt Settlement with Lump Sum Payments

Another popular debt relief option is to negotiate with your creditors to accept a lump sum payment to satisfy the debt. You offer to pay a percentage of the debt instead of paying the debt in full. The creditor agrees to cancel the debt for an amount that is less than the total amount owed on the account.

Debt negotiations may appear to be a good idea. You can get out of debt for less than you owe to your creditors. However, there are some drawbacks to debt negotiations.

Potential drawbacks include:

  • You must have a large sum of money available to pay the debts once the creditor agrees to the payment. Many people do not have access to large sums of money without using their home or other assets as collateral.

  • You Might Put Your Property at Risk. As with a debt consolidation loan, you often transfer unsecured debts to secured debts. Therefore, you are risking your home if you cannot afford to pay the loan.

  • Your creditors are not required to negotiate the debt. Some creditors might demand full payment, or they will pursue legal action.

  • You Can Still Get Sued. As with the debt consolidation company, you could do a lot of work and pay a lot of money only to have one or more creditors sue you for the full amount owed on the account.

  • It Might Increase Your Taxes. Negotiating your debt may increase your tax liability next year. When a creditor writes off bad debt, the creditor reports the debt to the IRS and sends you a 1099 form. You are required to report the debt as “income” on your tax return. Reporting the debt on your tax return could increase the amount of taxes you will owe next year.

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Is Chapter 7 Better Than Other Debt Relief Options?

We mentioned a couple of ways that Chapter 7 would be better than other debt relief options in the debt relief discussions above. Even though some people consider bankruptcy more of a last resort, you should not think of it that way. Ways that filing Chapter 7 may be the best debt relief option for you include:

  • Usually takes less than 6 months. Chapter 7 can eliminate all your unsecured debts within four to six months without any payments to the creditors.

  • Creditors must obey bankruptcy laws. The creditor cannot continue collection efforts after you file your Chapter 7 petition without court approval. This means all the phone calls have to stop!

  • Stop collections and harassment. Creditors are not permitted to collect discharged debts. A creditor may face severe penalties for violating the discharge order.

  • Stops wage garnishment. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy case stops wage garnishment, debt collection lawsuits, and other forms of debt collection.

  • Erases deficiency judgments. If you choose to surrender your car or house because you can't afford the payments, a creditor can't obtain a deficiency judgment. (If you already have a deficiency judgment against you, the Chapter 7 case discharges the debt.)

  • Doesn’t have to be expensive. Your costs for filing a Chapter 7 case may be very low if you qualify for Upsolve’s free bankruptcy assistance for those who want to file on their own.

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What is a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is referred to as the “liquidation” chapter of bankruptcy because a Chapter 7 trustee can sell some property to pay debts. Instead of proposing a bankruptcy repayment plan, the debtor surrenders any property that can’t be protected by the bankruptcy exemptions to the bankruptcy estate.

However, federal bankruptcy exemptions or state bankruptcy exemptions protect most of your day-to-day property. Exempt property cannot be used to pay unsecured creditors.

Most Chapter 7 cases filed in the United States are no-asset Chapter 7 cases. In a no-asset case, the debtor keeps all his or her property while becoming debt-free. Many no-asset cases can be done on your own through a free bankruptcy nonprofit, Upsolve, or with the help of a legal aid attorney.

What Debts Are Discharged in Chapter 7?

A majority of unsecured debts are eligible for a discharge under Chapter 7. Examples of unsecured debts that you can discharge in a Chapter 7 case include:

  • Credit card debts

  • Personal loans

  • Medical bills and expenses

  • Personal judgments

  • Some old income tax debt

  • Old utility, rent, and lease payments

However, some unsecured debts are not eligible for a discharge. Most income taxes are not dischargeable. You can only discharge income taxes that meet very specific requirements. In addition, most student loans are not eligible for a discharge unless the debtor qualifies for a hardship discharge of the student loans.

Also, alimony and child support are not dischargeable. You cannot get out of paying your domestic support payments by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.

What Happens To Secured Debts?

Creditors who have collateral to secure their debts are referred to as secured creditors. You must continue to pay secured debts to keep the property. Therefore, if you want to keep your home or car, you must pay the loan payments even though you file a Chapter 7 case.

However, if you want to surrender the collateral, you can do so without fear of a deficiency judgment. In many cases, once a debtor gets rid of unsecured debts, the debtor may be in a better position to make the secured debt payments.

I Want to File Chapter 7, But I Cannot Afford to Pay a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Attorney?

Bankruptcy attorneys help people file for bankruptcy relief to get out of debt. Unfortunately, some people cannot afford to pay the average cost to hire a Chapter 7 attorney. For those individuals, there may seem like there is no hope to get out of debt through bankruptcy.

However, you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case without an attorney. Bankruptcy laws do not require a person to hire a lawyer to file a bankruptcy case. Therefore, even though you may not be able to afford a Chapter 7 attorney, you may still be able to file Chapter 7 to get out of debt quickly.

You Can File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Without an Attorney!

Upsolve provides Chapter 7 bankruptcy services at no cost to low-income individuals who qualify for our services. Watch videos of people who have used our services in the past to file a Chapter 7 case.

We make the process of filing a Chapter 7 case as easy for you as possible. Our unique bankruptcy software guides you through the process of qualifying for Chapter 7, completing your Chapter 7 forms, and filing your Chapter 7 case with the Bankruptcy Court.

You do not need to struggle with debts for another day without help. Read more about our services on our website and learn how filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case can help you take control of your finances and debt problems.

You can answer 10 questions through our online Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Screener to help you decide if Chapter 7 and Upsolve are right for you.

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Choosing a Debt Option That is Right for You

As we discussed above, there are several debt options that you can explore, including filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, consolidating your debts by borrowing money, using a debt consolidation company, or negotiating a one-time lump sum payment. It's always a good idea to check in with the Better Business Bureau before making any final decision on how to reach the freedom debt relief provides.

You can find more information on our website under Learning Resources or by using our bankruptcy screening tool. If you meet the income requirements, a Chapter 7 case may be the best way for you to get out of debt. If you are still unsure, you may want to consult with an attorney.

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Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families who cannot afford lawyers file bankruptcy for free, using an online web app. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations. It's one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our time that low-income families can’t access their basic rights when they can’t afford to pay for help. Combining direct services and advocacy, we’re fighting this injustice.

To learn more, read why we started Upsolve in 2016, our reviews from past users, and our press coverage from places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

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