In bankruptcy, are you allowed to favor: 1) creditors with collateral, so that you can keep the collateral; 2) creditors toward whom you have special loyalty; and 3) creditors who have extraordinary leverage against you?
When clients first talk with me about filing bankruptcy, they are often very concerned about what will happen to debts that they want to keep paying. In fact sometimes people believe that bankruptcy is not a serious option for them because they are afraid of what will happen with these debts that are so important to them. As their legal counselor, my job is to respect and understand these fears. Then I can make recommendations about how to best deal with these debts.
These special debts fall into three categories.
1. Debts You Care About Because of Crucial Collateral
Before getting to the point of seriously considering bankruptcy, you may have been doing everything possible to keep current on your home or vehicle. You may have made the decision that holding on to your home for the sake of your family is your absolutely highest priority. Or you may feel the same way toward your vehicle, because you need to be able to get to work and/or to keep your family or personal life sane.
Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 both have ways that you can help keep your home and vehicles. Sometimes these involve not paying other creditors so that you can pay the mortgage or vehicle loan. In other situations you may be able to keep your home and vehicle while paying significantly less to do so. Overall, bankruptcy usually allows you to focus your limited financial resources on these kinds of debts if they are your highest priority.
2. Debts You Care About Because of Moral Obligation
Many of my clients feel different levels of loyalty to different creditors. Some even feel guilty about feeling that way. But it is perfectly human to feel differently about a personal loan owed to a family member than about a credit card balance owed to a national bank. Or how you feel towards a medical debt owed directly to your long-time family doctor compared to how you feel towards a debt that is now at a second or third collection agency and you don’t even know which medical provider they are collecting for.
If you feel an absolute moral obligation to pay a debt regardless whether or not you file bankruptcy, there are safe ways to do so and very dangerous ones. I’ll tell you about this in an upcoming blog. In any event, be sure you tell your attorney about this because it can effect whether you file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 case, and sometimes also the timing of your filing.
3. Debts You Care About Because of Extra Creditor Powers
Although one of the most basic principles of bankruptcy law is that your creditors must be treated equally, the more accurate version of that principle is that legally equal creditors must be treated equally. And because the law is filled with legal distinctions among creditors, some debts are more dangerous than others, both inside and outside of bankruptcy. You may well have heard about or directly experienced the extraordinary collection powers of the taxing authorities, support enforcement agencies, or student loan creditors, for example. You may also be aware that some debts cannot or might not be written off in bankruptcy. Understandably you’re concerned what will happen with these debts if a bankruptcy won’t help you with them.
The reality is that usually a bankruptcy will help you with even the most aggressive creditors, even those whose debts will not be discharged. Almost always there are sensible ways to deal with these special creditors. Sometimes it involves using the bankruptcy system’s own substantial powers to gain important advantages over these creditors. Sometimes it involves reasonable payment arrangements after completing a Chapter 7 case, when you have no other debts. Sometimes it involves directly favoring these creditors by paying them before or instead of other creditors in a Chapter 13 case, while under continuous protection from the bankruptcy court. Overall, usually bankruptcy provides you a manageable way to handle these legally favored creditors.
The next few blogs will give you specific information on how bankruptcy can help you keep valuable collateral, satisfy your moral obligations, and deal with your most aggressive creditors.