Tampa Bankruptcy Attorneys
How to File for Bankruptcy in Florida
Individuals or business owners who have accrued a significant amount of debt and/or who recently lost their jobs may wish to file for bankruptcy to offset their financial burdens. Understanding how different types of bankruptcy filings will affect your life or business is crucial so you can ensure your bankruptcy filing benefits your current situation.
At Four Rivers Law Firm, we understand the ins and outs of filing for bankruptcy in Florida. Whether you're a small business owner or an individual, our committed, knowledgeable attorneys will work with you to navigate the bankruptcy filing process successfully.
How Does Bankruptcy Work in Florida?
Fortunately, Florida is one of the most debtor-friendly states in the US. Individuals who file for bankruptcy in Florida can either choose to file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and businesses can file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy to resolve their debts. Each chapter has different attributes. A trusted bankruptcy law attorney can help you understand what kind of bankruptcy filing is most applicable to your situation.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Florida
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a panel of bankruptcy trustees (individual contractors not affiliated with the court appointed to oversee the bankruptcy) oversee your bankruptcy case. The trustees are responsible for canceling your debts. Depending on the case, trustees may also sell (liquidate) assets like property to repay creditors who won't forgive a debt. Low- and medium-income individuals typically find Chapter 7 bankruptcy more applicable to their situations than Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Chapter 7 bankruptcies typically take around four to six months to resolve. Filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a relatively simple process that involves filling out a petition and a number of forms with information such as:
- Any property or assets you own
- Your income and living expenses
- Your debts
- Property you claim as exempt from your bankruptcy filing (property the trustee cannot sell to creditors). To identify exempt property, you should work with a bankruptcy lawyer.
- Property you own or gave away in the two years prior to the bankruptcy filing
- Money you spent in the two years prior to the bankruptcy filing
Once you file your Chapter 7 petition and forms, you receive an automatic stay, and creditors can no longer try to collect debts or garnish your income or assets for debt repayment. However, you also place your assets in the hands of the bankruptcy court.
When you file for bankruptcy, the trustees set up a creditors meeting with your creditors, which acts as a court hearing for your bankruptcy case. You will be asked questions by the trustee to verify the information on Chapter 7 forms you filled out.
Depending on the results of the creditors meeting, your trustees will designate which assets must be sold to repay creditors. At the end of the process, most of your debts will be wiped, with the exceptions of:
- specific bankruptcy-exempt debts, such as child support payments, and
- debts declared nondischargeable by the creditor. Typically, nondischargeable debts are incurred as a result of criminal activity like fraud.
A bankruptcy attorney can help you make the most of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy and secure a majority of your debts.
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Florida
Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy protects an individual's property from being sold to repay creditors. Instead, Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires individuals to formulate a payment plan for their debts. Because of this requirement, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is more suited to high-income individuals who can set aside a portion of their income to debt repayment. There are a few important requirements for filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy:
- Debts cannot exceed a certain limit. If your debt burden is too high, you can either file an individual Chapter 11 bankruptcy (usually reserved for businesses) or a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
- You must provide proof of a steady income. Individuals with low or irregular incomes won't qualify for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
- You can't file for (or as) a business. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is restricted to individuals. If you run a business, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy will be more applicable to your situation. However, individuals who have taken on business debt as a personal financial burden can file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you'll work with your creditors, an individual bankruptcy trustee, and ideally a lawyer to arrange a repayment schedule for debts you can afford to repay in a creditors meeting. There are a few kinds of debt you should be aware of:
- Priority debts, which cover items like child support or tax obligations, must be paid.
- Secured debts must be paid to retain certain assets, such as property.
- Unsecured debts will be paid using disposable income after priority and secured debts are paid for.
Debts you cannot afford to pay that are forgiven by creditors are wiped. As a benefit of Chapter 13 bankruptcy, your personal property is protected from creditors. When your arranged payment plan is complete and you can show to a bankruptcy court you have paid your debts and can continue to pay for priority debts in the future, your case will be settled.
Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in Florida
Chapter 11 bankruptcies are filed by businesses or high-income individuals who fail to qualify for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, businesses work with creditors to either restructure the business or liquidate assets to repay debts. Business owners considering a Chapter 11 bankruptcy should work with an attorney to ensure they reach the best outcome for their business.
An attorney will help the business owner file first-day motions, which must be submitted alongside or directly after a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and forms. Various trustees from the US Trustee's Office oversee the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing process. Typically, first-day motions are heard in the first week after bankruptcy is filed. First-day motions help bankruptcy courts coordinate with businesses so that a business can continue to operate during the bankruptcy filing process.
Like Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, a creditors meeting is held to determine how the business will pay off its debts to creditors. Most Chapter 11 bankruptcies result in one of two outcomes:
- If the business owner and leadership were responsible for the debt through poor financial planning or criminal activities such as fraud, creditors typically require the business to restructure its leadership to continue operating. In these situations, the business owner and leadership are typically asked to step down from the company, and creditors may have input in appointing new individuals to fill those roles.
- If creditors do not wish to restructure the business, they'll work with the bankruptcy lawyer and trustee to arrange a repayment plan for the business. This may involve liquidating assets the business has to repay creditors, or garnishing revenue to resolve debts.
Whether you're an individual interested in settling your debts or a business looking for a new plan of action, understanding what kind of Florida bankruptcy you should for can help you achieve your goals. An experienced bankruptcy law attorney will help you understand how filing for bankruptcy will impact your life.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation
At Four Rivers Law Firm, our experienced bankruptcy lawyers can help you understand bankruptcy and resolve your debts. To receive a free consultation, contact us online, or via phone at (813) 331-5056.
Note: our office remains open for business through our virtual legal platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter what happens, we will be here for our clients. We hope everyone stays safe, and smart. We are here for you.