Harmon and Gorove often works with clients who are looking to retire but are facing the prospect of retiring with overwhelming debt. It often make sense for people who have significant debts to file bankruptcy before or during retirement but before you file there are many factors you need to take into consideration.
If you are a senior citizen who is looking to retire and who doesn’t have any assets you might consider stopping payments to your creditors. If you don’t own anything and your income is derived from social security, disability or other government program then creditors can’t garnish this money. While this will work for many people who do not have any recoverable assets keep in mind that doing nothing and just stopping your payments to creditors doesn’t actually eliminate your debt. The people you owe may still choose to send you letters, call you, and ultimately sue you. While it is possible for your creditors to obtain a judgement from you if your sole source of income is from social security or some other government disability the creditor can’t enforce the judgement against your income.
If you want to try to end the collection calls you can always reach out to your creditors and let them know you’d like to settle your debts for an amount less than you actually owe. In certain circumstances letting your creditors know you are on a fixed income and have little to no ability to repay them will cause them to negotiate with you to accept less than you owe just so they can actually get something out of you. There are certain tax implications to debt forgiveness that can pop up so this isn’t the best option for everyone and every debt.
If negotiations fail or your creditor threatens you with a 1099-C your next step may be to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. In filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy you will discharge most, if not all, of your unsecured debt. You should always review your finances with an experienced bankruptcy attorney in your area to ensure that there are no other issues that could have an impact on your bankruptcy. Much like social security and disability payments, most retirement accounts are protected from recovery by the trustee in your bankruptcy. This means that you can rid yourself of all your unsecured debt and still keep the money you may have stashed away in your IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and Keogh plans.
If you are a senior citizen that has assets it is imperative that you meet with a competent bankruptcy attorney that can determine if a Chapter 7 will work for you or if you need to file a Chapter 13 case. Debtors with assets must proceed with extreme caution when filing for Chapter 7 protection since certain assets can be liquidated and sold to repay your creditors by the Chapter 7 Trustee. Additionally, once you file a Chapter 7 you are not allowed to simply dismiss the case in the event you discover that you have assets that can’t be protected and that you may lose. A competent bankruptcy attorney can go over what you have that is unprotected and review exemptions with you. Using this information you and your attorney can decide which path is best for you.
If you are like the nearly 80% of middle income seniors that are looking to retire and still maintain a significant debt load, DO NOT under any circumstances start pulling money out of your retirement accounts to satisfy your debts until meeting with a bankruptcy attorney. We see people making this mistake all the time and once that money is gone, you’re not going to get it back. We often find that many senior citizens deplete their retirement savings trying to pay back debts that could have otherwise been taken care of completely in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or reduced significantly in a Chapter 13. Don’t make a $500,000 mistake and put off your ability to retire any longer by depleting your savings to pay unscrupulous creditors. Contact the friendly attorneys at Harmon and Gorove for a free consultation to see what we can do to help make your retirement dreams come true.