Understanding Your Bankruptcy Discharge

April 29, 2011

 Individuals file bankruptcy cases for many reasons. For many Chapter 13 debtors and nearly all Chapter 7 filers, the primary goal is to receive a bankruptcy discharge. The bankruptcy discharge is a court order which discharges your legal obligation to pay a creditor for a debt incurred before your bankruptcy filing. Your discharge is a permanent injunction prohibiting creditors from collecting pre-bankruptcy debts from your personally. The bankruptcy discharge is very powerful and is the cornerstone of the financial fresh start promised by the federal bankruptcy laws.

It is important to recognize that the bankruptcy court’s discharge order only discharges your legal responsibility to pay a creditor. The debt is not forgiven, eliminated, or otherwise erased. It still exists, but is no longer legally enforceable against you. The creditor is forbidden from suing you, or contacting you in any way. The discharge injunction also applies to any subsequent collection agency or attorney who purchases or is assigned the discharged debt.

While the discharged creditor cannot get its money from you, the creditor is not prevented from collecting from any other person legally responsible for the debt. For instance, if your mother co-signed for a personal loan, and the debt is discharged during your bankruptcy case, the creditor may still collect from your mother.

Likewise, a discharged creditor may be able to collect from property subject to a legal lien. For instance, if you discharge a car loan, the lien holder may repossess the vehicle after the bankruptcy case. This collection action is against the property, not against you individually.

Some debts are excluded from your bankruptcy discharge. Certain types of obligations are excluded from the discharge, like child support; and other debts, like taxes, can only be discharged under certain conditions. Debts that arise after your bankruptcy is filed are called “post-petition debts” and are not included in the discharge.

While your bankruptcy discharge is a powerful legal protection, it is important to understand the extent of the discharge order. Be sure to have your attorney identify any debt that is not discharged and your continuing financial obligation.

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