Are You Eligible to File Chapter 7 in Altamonte Springs, FL?
When you are overwhelmed with debt, it can feel like there’s nowhere to turn. Bankruptcy may be a good option for you if you feel as though your debts have become unmanageable. However, it is essential to understand the process and determine if you qualify for bankruptcy eligibility. Our eligibility assessment attorney at Fresh-Start.Law, P.A., can help you make this decision.
Here’s a brief overview of important points to know about about bankruptcy eligibility and Chapter 7:
- Chapter 7 bankruptcy or “liquidation bankruptcy” discharges certain debts in exchange for liquidating non-exempt assets.
- Eligibility for Chapter 7 involves passing a means test, which considers income, household size, and expenses.
- The means test helps determine if you can pay off your debts or qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
- Exempt and non-exempt assets are explained, highlighting which assets are protected from liquidation.
- The article also discusses common mistakes to avoid when filing for Chapter 7 and the role of credit counseling courses.
- Alternatives to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, such as Chapter 13, debt consolidation, and debt settlement, are mentioned.
- An eligibility assessment attorney can help with the means test, proper calculations, documentation, and representing your interests.
At Fresh-Start.Law, P.A., we are dedicated to helping you make the best decision for your financial future. Our legal team can help you determine whether bankruptcy is viable or if you pass Altamonte Springs, FL bankruptcy eligibility. We understand the stress and confusion of bankruptcy, so we strive to make the process as easy and understandable as possible.
Call us today to schedule a free consultation with our experienced team. Discover how we can help you achieve a free start!
What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy, often called “liquidation bankruptcy,” is a legal process under the United States Bankruptcy Code that allows individuals to discharge certain types of debts in exchange for the liquidation of non-exempt assets. It is one of the most common forms of bankruptcy filed by individuals facing overwhelming debt.
Chapter 7 is a valuable tool for individuals overwhelmed by debt and lack the means to repay it. However, it is essential to understand bankruptcy eligibility requirements, consequences, and alternatives before proceeding.
What is Involved in the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Eligibility Assessment in Florida?
Qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves a means test. This test determines if you can pay off your debts or are eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
The means test considers your income level, the number of people in your household, and any potential expenses you have. It compares your current monthly income to the median monthly income for a family of the same size in Florida. If your monthly household income is lower than the median, you pass the means test and qualify for bankruptcy.
Suppose your current household income is higher than the median, you still may be eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you have enough deductible expenses that cause your income to fall below the median. Furthermore, some forms of income are excluded from consideration in the means test. That includes certain disability payments and veterans’ benefits, among others.
How to Calculate Income For Chapter 7 Means Test
Calculating your income for the Chapter 7 means test is crucial in determining your eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We list below how to calculate your income for the Chapter 7 means test:
Determine Your Household Size
Start by identifying the number of people in your household. That includes yourself, your spouse (if married and filing jointly), and any dependents living with you. The number of household members will impact the median income thresholds.
Gather Income Information
Collect information on all sources of income for the past six months. That typically includes:
- Your gross wages, salary, and bonuses (before any deductions)
- Self-employment income
- Rental income
- Interest, dividends, and royalties
- Retirement income, such as pensions or Social Security benefits
- Unemployment benefits
- Alimony or child support received
- Income from investments or other sources
Calculate Monthly Income
Once you have the income information for the past six months, calculate your average monthly income. That is usually done by adding the income for six months and dividing by six.
Annualize Your Monthly Income
To get an annual income figure, multiply your average monthly income by 12.
Compare to Median Income
Check your calculated annual income against the median income for your state and household size. Find the median income figures on the U.S. Trustee Program’s website.
If your income is below the median income for your state and household size, you generally qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without further means testing.
Complete the Full Means Test (If Necessary)
If your income exceeds the median income for your state and household size, you must complete the means test. That involves deducting certain allowable expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, and other necessary living expenses, from your monthly income to determine your disposable income.
If your disposable income, after allowable deductions, falls below a certain threshold, you may still be eligible for Chapter 7. If it’s above the threshold, you might be required to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead.
Consult our bankruptcy attorney when calculating your income and completing the means test. We can help you ensure accuracy and provide guidance to position yourself for a successful bankruptcy filing. Additionally, bankruptcy laws and median income figures can change, so it’s crucial to use the most up-to-date information available at the time of your filing.
Exempt and Non-Exempt Assets in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 bankruptcy has certain assets considered exempt, meaning they are protected from liquidation (sale) to pay off your creditors, and there are non-exempt assets that may be subject to sale to satisfy your debts. Florida has specific exemptions defined under state law but also allows filers to choose between state and federal exemptions provided in the bankruptcy code.
Here are some common exempt and non-exempt assets in Florida Chapter 7 bankruptcy:
Exempt Assets in Florida Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- Homestead Exemption: One of the most generous exemptions in Florida is the homestead exemption, which can protect your primary residence. There is no dollar limit to this exemption, provided the property does not exceed half an acre within a municipality or up to 160 acres outside a municipality.
- Personal Property: Florida offers exemptions for personal property, including:
- Household goods and furnishings (up to a specific value)
- Clothing, jewelry, and other personal items (up to a particular value)
- Motor vehicles (up to a specific value)
- Tools of the trade (up to a particular value) for those who use them in their profession
- Retirement Accounts: Retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and pensions, are generally exempt in Florida without a specific dollar limit.
- Life Insurance: The cash surrender value of life insurance policies is typically exempt from creditors’ claims.
- Public Benefits: Certain public benefits, such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, and disability benefits, are exempt.
- Alimony and Child Support: Payments received as alimony or child support are usually exempt.
- Wildcard Exemption: Florida offers a wildcard exemption that can be applied to any property, allowing you to protect additional assets of your choice up to a certain dollar amount.
Non-Exempt Assets in Florida Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- Vacation Homes and Investment Properties: Properties that do not qualify for the homestead exemption, such as vacation homes or rental properties, may be considered non-exempt.
- Luxury Items: High-value items (e.g., expensive artwork, collectibles, or luxury vehicles that exceed the allowed exemption limits) may be non-exempt.
- Cash and Bank Accounts: Cash on hand and funds in bank accounts beyond the protected amounts can be subject to liquidation.
- Second Vehicles: Additional vehicles beyond the allowed exemption limit may be non-exempt.
- Valuable Jewelry and Assets: Valuables exceeding personal property exemption limits may be non-exempt.
- Non-ERISA Qualified Retirement Plans: While all ERISA or employer-sponsored employee benefit plans such as pension plans, health insurance, and other welfare benefit plans are generally exempt, non-ERISA-qualified plans may not be exempt.
What Are Some Common Mistakes an Altamonte Springs Eligibility Assessment Attorney Could Help You Avoid?
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida can be intimidating, and it is easy to make mistakes. Fortunately, our legal team can help you avoid common mistakes during filing. Here are some of the most important ones:
Incomplete or Inaccurate Documentation
Gathering all documents related to your bankruptcy filing is essential, including tax returns, bank statements, and more. Without these forms, you could face delays in processing or a denial of your bankruptcy petition.
Not Following the Means Test Requirements
The means test is essential to Chapter 7 eligibility. It helps calculate your disposable income to determine whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or have to file for Chapter 13. Not fulfilling the means test requirements could lead to an incorrect determination of your eligibility.
Not Being Aware of Exemptions
If you are filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you should be aware of all available exemptions that may apply in your case. Knowing what assets are exempt can help ensure maximum protection during the bankruptcy filing.
Many programs and applications have strict deadlines. Failing to submit your application on time can result in denial. Seeking professional support can help you understand and meet these deadlines to prevent delays or rejections.
Failure to Address Past Issues
If you have a history of legal issues, such as a criminal record or prior immigration violations, addressing these issues is crucial in your application.
Not Seeking Legal Advice for Appeals
You may have the right to appeal the decision if your application is denied. Failing to seek legal advice promptly can result in missed opportunities to challenge the denial.
With the help of our eligibility assessment attorney in Altamonte Springs, FL, you can avoid common mistakes when filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and boost the chances of your desired outcome.
What is a Credit Counseling Course, and How Does it Relate to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
A credit counseling course is integral to the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. This course is mandatory in most states and provides information about budgeting, financial management, and debt relief options. The primary purpose of the course is to help you understand your financial situation and make better decisions about your finances.
Under Florida law, you must complete a credit counseling course to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The course must be taken from an approved Florida credit counseling agency and completed before you file for bankruptcy.
Moreover, a debtor must complete a debtor education course after filing for bankruptcy. You will receive a certificate you must file with the court upon completion. This certificate verifies that you have completed both courses.
What If I Do Not Qualify For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Alternative debt relief options may better suit your financial situation if you do not qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Here are some alternatives to consider:
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
If your income exceeds the Chapter 7 means test thresholds, you may still be eligible for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 involves creating a court-approved repayment plan to pay off your debts over three to five years. It allows you to retain your assets while catching up on missed payments on secured debts like mortgages or car loans. Chapter 13 is often a viable option for individuals with a regular income who can make manageable monthly payments.
Debt consolidation involves combining multiple debts into a single, more manageable loan or credit card with a lower interest rate. That can simplify your payments and potentially reduce your monthly expenses.
Debt Management Plans
A credit counseling agency can help you create a debt management plan (DMP). With a DMP, the agency negotiates with creditors to lower interest rates and create an affordable repayment plan. You make one monthly payment to the agency, which then distributes the funds to your creditors.
Debt settlement involves negotiating with creditors to settle your debts for less than the complete amount owed. That can be an option if you have a lump sum of money to make settlement offers. Be cautious with debt settlement companies, as there are risks involved, and it can negatively impact your credit.
Credit counseling agencies offer financial counseling and education to help you manage your debts and create a budget. They can guide you in improving your financial situation and may assist in negotiating with creditors.
Negotiation with Creditors
Contacting your creditors directly and explaining your financial hardship may lead to more favorable terms, such as lower interest rates, extended payment terms, or temporary relief.
How Can an Eligibility Assessment Attorney Help Me with the Means Test?
The means test is the most crucial step in qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida and is complicated. Our eligibility assessment lawyer at Fresh-Start.Law, P.A., can help you navigate the means test and provide invaluable advice for your bankruptcy case.
Our Altamonte Springs bankruptcy attorney can help you pass the means test in several ways, including:
- Properly calculate your monthly household income. That includes identifying all sources of income that are included and excluded in the means test.
- Calculate your deductible expenses as accurately as possible, including any particular circumstances or exemptions.
- Provide necessary documentation to support your calculation of current monthly income and deductible expenses.
- Represent your best interests when dealing with creditors, the courts, and other parties involved in your bankruptcy case.
- Provide personalized advice and guidance to ensure you are making the right decisions for your financial future.
Get Relief from Debt with Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Today!
If you are considering filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida, it is essential to understand the eligibility requirements. While some debtors may qualify without help, many others need assistance from a qualified eligibility assessment lawyer in Florida to ensure they meet the eligibility requirements.
Our team can guide you through the process, from determining whether you qualify to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to obtaining relief from debt. We can also assist you in understanding wage garnishment, repossession, foreclosure, or other bankruptcy-related concerns where you may need legal guidance.
Contact our eligibility assessment lawyers today to learn how we can help you with Altamonte Springs, FL bankruptcy eligibility or pursue Chapter 7 bankruptcy.