Posted On: December 15, 2017
Posted by: National Bankruptcy Forum
Oklahoma’s median household income, at $49,176, is significantly below the national average, but that’s not necessarily bad news for Sooner State residents. Lower costs in key areas balance out lower incomes. The median Oklahoma home sale price, as reported by RealtyTrac, is $85,000 lower than the national median. These lower costs have drawn attention and new residents to Oklahoma. In the past few years, Kiplinger has rated Oklahoma City the number one place in the country to start a business, and listed the city among the 10 most affordable cities in the United States.
However, the state unemployment rate is slightly higher than the national rate, and has increased from its post-recession low point in 2014. That means some Oklahoma residents are still faced with difficult economic times. In the year ending June 30, 2017, there were 9,452 bankruptcy cases filed in Oklahoma’s three federal districts. Most of these cases were Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases filed by individuals or married couples.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Questions
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a legal means for people who are overwhelmed by debt to get a fresh start. The U.S. legislature created this opportunity to wipe the financial slate clean, to benefit both those struggling with debt and the economy as a whole. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the debtor can usually discharge, or eliminate the obligation to pay, most unsecured debt.
Common examples of unsecured debt include:
- Credit card debt
- Medical bills
- Payday loans
- Unsecured personal loans
- Past-due rent and utilities
This type of debt can typically be eliminated even if the creditor has already filed a lawsuit, or has obtained a judgment and is garnishing your wages. In fact, in most cases, an order called the “automatic stay” stops garnishment, lawsuits, and other collection efforts as soon as the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is filed.
Are there risks with Chapter 7?
Some people who are considering filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection are uneasy about creditor claims. However, most Chapter 7 cases don’t involve any creditor objections.
Similarly, many people are concerned about losing property in Chapter 7, because they may have heard that the bankruptcy trustee can sell non-exempt property to make partial payment to creditors. Those fears are also usually unfounded. Most people who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy don’t have any non-exempt property. Even when the debtor has some non-exempt property, the value is often low enough that it is not worthwhile for the trustee to pursue a sale.
An experienced bankruptcy attorney can assess the listed debts and assets and fully advise the potential Chapter 7 petitioner about any risks or downsides before the debtor makes a decision about filing.
See also: How Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Works
Who files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Oklahoma?
People file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy for many different reasons. Some simply make mistakes, such as running up too much credit card debt or making a bad investment. Others have their financial stability disrupted by an unexpected event, such as an illness, serious injury, or job loss.
With very limited exceptions, it doesn’t matter how debt spiraled out of control. What matters is taking steps to regain control and build a more stable financial future. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is most likely to help people who:
- Have a high level of debt in relation to their income;
- Are mostly concerned with eliminating unsecured debt;
- Do not have significant assets.
Eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is determined through a complex formula involving income, allowable living expenses, and debt. However, if the debtor’s household income is below the state median for a comparable family size, he or she will typically qualify.
The median income figures used for this calculation are updated regularly. As of December 2017, the applicable Oklahoma median incomes are:
- One-earner household: $45,206
- Two-person: $57,207
- Three-person: $63,622
- Four-person: $70,144
For larger households, add $8,400 per additional household member.
Some debtors whose income is above the median may still qualify, depending on other factors. If you’re not sure whether or not Chapter 7 bankruptcy is an option for you, a local bankruptcy lawyer can be your best source of information.
Oklahoma Bankruptcy Exemptions: What property can I keep?
While some states allow bankruptcy petitioners to choose between Oklahoma state exemptions and federal bankruptcy exemptions, Oklahoma does not. Only the state exemptions are available. However, certain federal non-bankruptcy exemptions may apply, to the extent that they provide greater protection than the corresponding state exemption.
Here are some of the most popular exemptions for Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Bankruptcy ExemptionsThe top 5 exemptions under Oklahoma state law.
|Type of exemption||Oklahoma law|
|Homestead||Unlimited up to 160 acres outside of a city or town, or 1 acre inside city limits|
|Personal property||Furniture, a personal computer, tools of the trade up to $10,000, apparel up to $4,000, books and pictures, $3,000 in wedding rings, livestock (with some limits)|
|Vehicle||$7,500; doubled for married couples filing jointly|
|Wages||75% earned in the 90 days before filing|
Oklahoma Homestead Exemption
Oklahoma is one of a handful of states offering an unlimited homestead exemption — at least, in monetary terms. There are some restrictions on the homestead property. For example, the property cannot exceed 160 acres in an unincorporated area, or one acre if located in a “city or town.” And, the exemption may be significantly reduced if more than 25% of the property is used for business purposes.
Oklahoma Motor Vehicle Exemption
Oklahoma law exempts up to $7,500 in equity in a motor vehicle. This amount is doubled, to $15,000, for a married couple filing jointly.
Oklahoma Personal Property Exemption
Personal property exemptions in Oklahoma include:
- All household furniture and appliances, including a personal computer;
- Burial plots;
- Certain farm implements and tools of the trade, up to an aggregate $10,000;
- Books, portraits, and pictures;
- Wearing apparel up to an aggregate $4,000 in value;
- Up to $3,000 aggregate value in wedding and anniversary rings;
- Professionally prescribed health aids;
- Guns, not to exceed $2,000 in aggregate value;
- Livestock up to:
- Two horses, two bridles, and two saddles
- Five milk cows and their calves up to six months of age
- 10 hogs
- 20 head of sheep
Oklahoma Wage Exemption
Oklahoma exemptions protect 75% of wages earned in the 90 days preceding the bankruptcy filing.
Oklahoma Retirement Account Exemptions
Oklahoma law broadly exempts “any interest in a retirement plan or arrangement qualified for tax exemption or deferment purposes under present or future Acts of Congress.”
Oklahoma Bankruptcy Court Locations
While most debtors won’t have to go to court and instead will attend a 341 meeting of creditors, there are a few instances where you may have to step inside a courtroom. If so, Oklahoma has three bankruptcy court locations. They are:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Western District of Oklahoma, 215 Dean A. McGee Ave., Suite 147, Oklahoma City, OK 73102, (405) 609-5700
United States Bankruptcy Court Northern District of Oklahoma, 224 S. Boulder Ave., Suite 105, Tulsa, OK 74103, (918) 699-4000
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of Oklahoma, 111 W. Fourth St., 2nd Floor, Okmulgee, OK 74447, (918) 549-7200
If you’re struggling to get out of debt and feel like you just can’t get ahead, Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be the answer. Scheduling a free consultation with a local bankruptcy attorney could be the first step toward a brighter future for you and your family.