A common emotion for most Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers is REGRET. Not regret for filing bankruptcy, but regret for not seeking legal help earlier for their financial struggles.
This may sound self-serving coming from someone who has helped more than 3,000 clients in Rhode Island file for bankruptcy relief, but ask anyone who has filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most debtors waste time and money on weak attempts to solve an unfixable mess.
Recently, I spoke to married client who hadn’t saved much for retirement. He sold his house a few years ago and put the $ 120,000 profit in the bank, hoping it would supplement the $ 40,000 kept in a 401k plan.
Over the years, he spent $ 80,000 of his precious savings and all of his 401k in order to pay substantial credit card debt. He still owes $ 37,000 and asked me if he could NOW file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to discharge the remaining debt.
Under federal bankruptcy protection laws, he would have difficulty protecting his remaining $ 40,000 in the bank. Because the account is joint, he may be able to protect half, but the rest is fair game for the bankruptcy trustee to go after. Now in his 70’s, there is no way this retired man could afford to lose $ 20,000.
What went wrong? What should he have done?
If he had called me years ago, I would have explained how under Rhode Island law, he could have exempted all the equity in his modest home and still file bankruptcy to discharge his considerable credit card debt. I would have also explained how it almost never makes sense to liquidate qualified retirement assets to pay credit card obligations. Instead of taking a 10% penalty on the early withdrawal, paying income tax on the gain, and forfeiting the future growth of the account, he should have known that bankruptcy exemption laws are quite generous in protecting retirement assets.
In other words, he could have kept his house and retirement account and discharged all his credit card debt . . . with ease!
It is unfortunate that he spent most of his life savings on debt that could have been eliminated with a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.
Here is my point. You may never want to, or need to, file for bankruptcy relief. But you should talk with a skilled bankruptcy lawyer who can explain all of your debt options.
So, when do you know its time to seek help? Do you have more than $10,000 in unsecured debt, are you robbing Peter to pay Paul, are debt collectors calling you at home or at work? If so, something is seriously wrong.
Bottom line: You would be surprised what you could learn from sitting with a qualified bankruptcy attorney. A good bankruptcy lawyer can offer a free consultation and patiently explain all of your debt-relief options.