What stops people from filing for bankruptcy? Is it fear, pride or a belief that declaring bankruptcy is in some way unethical? If you stopped and asked 10 people on the street for the number one reason not to file bankruptcy, most would mention damage to their credit.
How Bad is Bankruptcy For Your Credit?
There is a common public perception that playing the “bankruptcy card” creates a ripple effect that reaches every aspect of your life in a negative way. After all, bankruptcy does show up on your credit report for 10 years and no one wants to start a job interview by discussing a past chapter 7 case. Filing for bankruptcy certainly won’t make it easier to rent an apartment or lock in a good rate on a mortgage. However, it won’t disqualify you from future credit either.
The Toothpaste is Already Out of the Tube
To be sure, filing bankruptcy is not something that is to be entered into lightly, however, there is more than a hint of irony in the reasons people commonly give for not filing bankruptcy. Perhaps the most commonly cited: that bankruptcy will ruin your credit (and by extension your life). Unfortunately, bad credit is a scenario that has already unfolded for a good number of people who find themselves in financial distress. For many people, the biggest reason not to file bankruptcy (damage to credit) has already happened by the time the thought of bankruptcy pops in their head. Maybe a series of financial missteps or the loss of a job have caused charge-offs, liens, foreclosures, missed payments and a whole host of other negative credit events to appear on your credit score, is a bankruptcy really going to make much of a difference? Sure, bankruptcy will add another negative mark on your credit report, and you’d like to avoid it if possible, but in the long run it may actually give you greater access to credit. Taking your unsecured debts to zero and using the momentum to start over will help you build a stronger credit score. Waiting around with the phone off the hook won’t.
Bankruptcy vs. Other Negative Credit Events
Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, whereas a foreclosure will usually stay on your credit report for 7 years. However, don’t assume that foreclosure is preferable to bankruptcy simply because it stays on your credit for a shorter period of time. Many credit counselors report foreclosure as having twice the negative impact on your credit score as a bankruptcy. According to Ray Hooper, Education and Housing Director for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas:
“A foreclosure is very serious to mortgage lenders. They’re going look at a foreclosure more seriously than they will a bankruptcy that doesn’t include the house.”
According to FICO estimates, bankruptcy will cause a reduction in the filer’s FICO score of between 130-240 points, whereas a foreclosure, deed in lieu or short sale will cause a reduction in the 85-160 range.
Tax liens, judgments and bankruptcies are all listed under the “Public Records” section of your credit report. Any reported Public Record will damage you credit, however it’s important to understand that bankruptcy filings don’t have their own section on a credit report. They are lumped in with other government initiated events. If you’ve already had a tax lien or judgment reported on your credit, the negative impact of a bankruptcy will be decreased and the benefits of filing may outweigh the additional credit damage.
Even missing payments on credit card accounts can drop a credit score by 75 points or more. The point is not to make light of the seriousness of a bankruptcy filing, but merely to point out that, viewed in light of a series of negative credit events, bankruptcy becomes more and more attractive when a consumer’s debts have spiraled out of control.
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Rob Cohen, the Managing Partner of Cohen & Cohen P.C., is a bankruptcy attorney that practices in Colorado and Wyoming. He serves as a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Panel Trustee, and has to date administered over 8,000 Chapter 7 bankruptcy estates. Rob is a Certified Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist, and was nominated for Denver Business Journal’s 40 under 40 in both 2014 and 2016.