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What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy? Chapter 7 is the bankruptcy provision most frequently used by individuals. It involves the complete liquidation of a debtor's property to pay creditors and wipes out the remaining debts, giving the debtor what's known as a "fresh start". However, the debtor can retain certain property that is specifically "exempt" under his choice of Federal law or her State's law such as tools of one's trade, limited equity in a car and house, and some personal effects. If you use Chapter 7 you may lose your home (depending on your state) but it does enable you to get out from under the burden of debt more quickly.

The post-October 17, 2005, Bankruptcy Code made major changes in this chapter, making the process longer and more expensive and undeniability harder for consumers to shed debts than under the old law. Under one of the key changes, a means test determines whether a debtor can use a Chapter 7 filing or be forced to file a Chapter 13 and repay some of their debts over five years.

A chapter 7 bankruptcy case does not involve the filing of a plan of repayment as in chapter 13. Instead, the bankruptcy trustee gathers and sells the debtor's nonexempt assets and uses the proceeds of such assets to pay holders of claims (creditors) in accordance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. Part of the debtor's property may be subject to liens and mortgages that pledge the property to other creditors. In addition, the Bankruptcy Code will allow the debtor to keep certain "exempt" property; but a trustee will liquidate the debtor's remaining assets. Accordingly, potential debtors should realize that the filing of a petition under chapter 7 may result in the loss of property.

Chapter 7 Eligibility

To qualify for relief under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, the debtor may be an individual, a partnership, or a corporation or other business entity. 11 U.S.C. //101(41), 109(b). Subject to the means test described above for individual debtors, relief is available under chapter 7 irrespective of the amount of the debtor's debts or whether the debtor is solvent or insolvent. An individual cannot file under chapter 7 or any other chapter, however, if during the preceding 180 days a prior bankruptcy petition was dismissed due to the debtor's willful failure to appear before the court or comply with orders of the court, or the debtor voluntarily dismissed the previous case after creditors sought relief from the bankruptcy court to recover property upon which they hold liens. 11 U.S.C. //109(g), 362(d) and (e). In addition, no individual may be a debtor under chapter 7 or any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code unless he or she has, within 180 days before filing, received credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency either in an individual or group briefing. 11 U.S.C. //109, 111. There are exceptions in emergency situations or where the U.S. trustee (or bankruptcy administrator) has determined that there are insufficient approved agencies to provide the required counseling. If a debt management plan is developed during required credit counseling, it must be filed with the court.

One of the primary purposes of bankruptcy is to discharge certain debts to give an honest individual debtor a "fresh start." The debtor has no liability for discharged debts. In a chapter 7 case, however, a discharge is only available to individual debtors, not to partnerships or corporations. 11 U.S.C. / 727(a)(1). Although an individual chapter 7 case usually results in a discharge of debts, the right to a discharge is not absolute, and some types of debts are not discharged. Moreover, a bankruptcy discharge does not extinguish a lien on property.

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