Glossary of Bankruptcy Terms

The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be a legal opinion, legal advice or a complete discussion of the issues related to the area of consumer bankruptcy. Every individual’s factual situation is different and you should seek independent legal advice from an attorney familiar with the laws of your state or locality regarding specific information. Bankruptcy lawyers, judges and trustees sometimes seem to be speaking a different language. There are many “terms of art" that you need to know to be able to understand what’s going on in your case. Here are some of the more common terms you’ll hear:

What you’re behind on in making payments. If your monthly payment is $500, and you’re three payments behind, your arrearages are $1,500. ASSETS: Things that you own or have a legal interest in that have value. Your house, car, bank accounts, cash, household goods and furnishings, are all considered assets, even if you are making payments on them.

As soon as a bankruptcy is filed, the Bankruptcy Court enters an Order that immediately stays, or stops, all collection actions against you. This means that foreclosures, garnishments, attachments, lawsuits, collection calls and letters, and even regular monthly bills are stopped.

Legal papers filed with the Court that start a bankruptcy case.

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, a Debtor’s unsecured debts (usually credit cards, doctors bills and personal loans) are wiped out. Most people can keep their car and all of their belongings, but if you can’t bring your mortgage current quickly, you may lose your house.

The Chapter of the Bankruptcy Code that deals with business reorganizations and individual reorganizations of people who have too much debt to qualify for Chapter 13.

A special type of bankruptcy offering protections for farmers.

A typical Chapter 13 bankruptcy sets up a five year payment plan for your Debts. A Chapter 13 usually saves your home and car, and you keep everything you have. You need to restart your regular monthly mortgage after the case is filed. CHAPTER 13 PLAN: When you file for Chapter 13, you propose a plan to the Court to repay your creditors some or all of the money you owe. This is the Chapter 13 Plan, which is approved by the Court at the Chapter 13 Confirmation Hearing.

In bankruptcy cases, a Creditor, someone you owe money to, files a Proof of Claim to tell the Court how much you owe them.

Property that is security for a loan. An example is a car loan. If you don’t make the monthly payments, they can repossess the car, because the car is collateral for the loan.

In a Chapter 13 case, this is a Court hearing for the Judge to approve your Chapter 13 Plan. In many cases, it is not necessary for you to appear for this meeting; your attorney works things out in advance with the Chapter 13 Trustee.

CREDITOR: Someone you owe money to.

What the Court calls someone who files for bankruptcy. DEBTS: Money you owe.

The legal term for wiping out your debt through bankruptcy. When a debt is discharged, it cannot be legally collected, although a lien that secures the debt is not automatically wiped out.

If an asset of yours would sell for more than it would cost to pay any Liens and the costs of sale, it probably has Equity. For example, if your car would sell for $10,000, you have a car loan of $8,000, and it would cost $1,000 to sell the car, you have $1,000 in Equity. Most household goods and furnishings and clothing, since they bring in very little if sold, have little Equity.

Each state has different lists of assets you can keep in bankruptcy. These are called “Exemptions." In a Chapter 7 case, you generally need to exempt assets that have Equity in them to keep them.

When your home is sold because you get behind on your mortgage.

The legal document that lets a Creditor use Collateral for a loan. A car loan is a lien on the car, and a mortgage is a lien on a house. In some cases, you can reduce or eliminate a lien in bankruptcy.

Debt that cannot be discharged through a bankruptcy. Non-dischargeable debts can be enforced by the creditor after the bankruptcy case is over. Some examples of non-dischargeable debts are alimony, child support, student loans (in most cases) and taxes (in some cases, depending on how old they are).

A hearing all Debtors are required to attend, usually scheduled 3-6 weeks after a case is filed. A better name for this hearing (which is also called the “341 Meeting") would be the Trustee’s Meeting, since creditors very rarely appear. Most 341’s last 3-5 minutes, and consist of the Trustee verifying you are who you say you are, asking a series of standard questions, and going into detail about anything unusual that appears on your Schedules.

Everything that isn’t real estate, such as cars, cash, furniture, etc. PETITION: The document that, when filed with the Bankruptcy Court, starts the bankruptcy case. Events that happen before the Petition is filed are called “Pre-Petition," and events that happen after the Petition is filed are called “Post-Petition."

A debt that has to be paid in full through a Chapter 13 Plan. Some taxes and domestic support obligations are typical priority debts. Priority debts are not dischargeable unless they are paid in full.

The document that creditors file with the Bankruptcy Court stating how much the creditor is owed. If a creditor doesn’t file a Proof of Claim, it generally doesn’t get paid through the bankruptcy.

An agreement with your mortgage lender letting you pay off your Arrearages over time.

The documents filed with your Bankruptcy Petition that list your assets, debts, income and expenses.

A Creditor whose loan is secured by Collateral. If you don’t pay, the Creditor can take the Collateral. Most mortgages and car loans are Secured, because if you don’t make the payments, they can foreclose on the house or repossess the car.

In a Chapter 7 case, the Trustee is the person who conducts the Meeting of Creditors and is responsible for recovering any assets that aren’t Exempt. In a Chapter 13 case, in addition to conducting the Meeting of Creditors, the Trustee receives payments under the Chapter 13 Plan and pays your creditors.

A Creditor whose loan isn’t secured by Collateral. Most credit cards, doctors bills and personal loans are Unsecured.

Bankruptcy is a complex and confusing area of the law. You need legal advice you can count on to guide you through the process. Lee Ringler Law Offices is experienced in helping you through your financial difficulties. If you have any questions, please contact us to set up an appointment. We are required to inform you under BAPCPA that we are a federally-designated debt relief agency, proudly helping people file for bankruptcy since 1979.