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Debt Management Guide 2008
Bad credit
Bad credit can hurt a consumer in many ways. Understand how debt negotiation and bankruptcy work.
Bad credit
Can bankruptcy help you?

Bankruptcy is a tough road, best reserved for those who don't have any other options.

But it's there if you need it.

"It needs to be used as the last resort," says Janet Garkey, special materials editor for the Credit Union National Association's Center for Personal Finance. Remember, the need for bankruptcy isn't confined to those with lower incomes, she says. Even middle income families have problems financially, especially with medical debt.

Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer Action, a D.C.-based advocacy group, agrees. Bankruptcy is only "for folks who are down to the wire and can't take the debt load," she says.

While the rules have changed in recent years, bankruptcy is still a financial option and consumers are using it.

The rule changes "have made it more expensive," says Sherry. "Attorneys are under so much more scrutiny about what they report to the courts -- there is more due diligence than before."

But if you need bankruptcy to overcome financial problems, you should be able to get one, according to several consumer finance and bankruptcy experts.

"The sad thing is that many people think they can't file," says Henry Sommer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and author of "Consumer Bankruptcy: The Complete Guide to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Personal Bankruptcy."

The reality is that people who need bankruptcy can still get it, even if they have to pay a little more, he says.

Costs of bankruptcy
If you're considering bankruptcy, you need to be realistic -- before you file -- about how it will affect the next few years of your life. Because it shows up on your credit history (and stays there for at least seven years), it could be visible to everyone from potential employers to creditors to your insurance agent.

"It's a black mark," says Garkey, who worries that many bankruptcy attorneys don't put enough emphasis on the long-term effects.

"You will be denied credit or only be able to get it at much higher rates," she says.

It could also put you out of the running for certain jobs, depending on the company and your field of employment. And while some mortgage and auto lenders will look past a bankruptcy, these days many others will not.

Not only is credit more expensive, you will have a much smaller pool of lenders who are willing to work with you. You probably won't be able to borrow as much money as someone with clean credit.

Many times, people who have been through a Chapter 7 -- a debt liquidation -- will get credit card offers not very long after the discharge, Garkey says. The reason: Creditors know that you can't file for bankruptcy again for at least 10 years. But the rates you'll be offered will be much higher than if you hadn't been through bankruptcy. The credit lines are likely to be much lower.

-- Updated: June 16, 2008
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