The two most common types of consumer bankruptcies are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. In a Chapter 7 all of the debtor’s property is placed into an estate which is controlled by the bankruptcy trustee. While no property physically changes hands (at least not at the beginning of the case), the trustee and bankruptcy court have broad legal power over your property. If you have money in a bank account on the day you file, your bank account and money are assets of the bankruptcy estate. You are no longer free to transfer funds or assets as they now belong to the bankruptcy estate.
Take for example that you have $5,000 sitting in your checking account on the day you file bankruptcy. That money is property of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate and is no longer yours to control or use. If you take the $5,000 out of the bank the day after filing to pay your mortgage payment and other bills, the Chapter 7 trustee can seek to recover those funds, either from you or from the payee.
During a Chapter 13 bankruptcy the debtor retains possession and control over his or her property, and is free to use any funds in the debtor’s bank account. An accounting is performed and the debtor’s property is classified as either exempt or non-exempt. Non-exempt property is not taken from the debtor (as is often the case in a Chapter 7), but the Chapter 13 debtor is required to pay unsecured creditors a sum equal to the amount of non-exempt equity. For instance, if there is $5,000 in the debtor’s bank account, the debtor may only be able to exempt a portion of the entire sum. The non-exempt portion must be paid to the creditors through the debtor’s Chapter 13 plan (over three to five years).
Cash in a bank account can be a problematic issue for a debtor. Avoiding these problems is the joint responsibility of the debtor and the debtor’s bankruptcy attorney. Timing is critical to minimizing your financial exposure. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can help you maximize the benefits of the bankruptcy laws and navigate around any pitfalls.