NEW YORK (MainStreet) After graduating with a master's degree from a state university in Oregon five years ago, Angela Durand needed to pay back $15,000 in credit card charges she had wracked up while studying.
"I used cash advances from my credit cards to pay for books, food, tuition, clothes and lots of other student sundries," said Durand, who hails from San Diego.
When she accepted a job that paid $35,000 a year, Durand purchased a brand new Hyundai worth $10,000 in order to have transportation to and from work every day, but the additional debt burden proved to be too much.
"Between the car payment, paying monthly credit card bills and daily expenses, I started slipping," she said.
Durand got so far behind in her credit card payments with 14% interest and late fees that she sought assistance from a bankruptcy attorney after losing her job. "Before I knew it,my credit card balance had ballooned to $20,000 just from late fees and interest alone," Durand said.
An Avvo.com study found that 32% cite credit card debt as the reason they filed for bankruptcy, 13% blamed home foreclosure and 12% job loss.
"Decreased income or stagnant incomes that have become so common in this new economy as well as large amounts of credit card debt are primary reasons my clients file for bankruptcy," said California bankruptcy attorney Kelly Zinser.
Largely 64% of consumers file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to Avvo.com.
"I meet with many clients who have been trying to pay off their credit card debt for years, sometimes five years or more," Zinser said. "Bankruptcy filing is relative for each person but most of my clients have at least $30,000 in debt and many have more than $100,000 in debt."
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is preferred because unsecured debts are completely discharged without a payment plan whereas under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, the consumer is required to pay back unsecured debts over a three- to five-year period.
"A good determinant when contemplating bankruptcy is taking an inventory of all liquid assets and compare it to your outgoing cash flow. If the value of debt highly exceeds the value of assets, bankruptcy may be a very viable option," said Kevin Chern, a managing partner and bankruptcy attorney with Law Solutions.
About 20% equally cited impact on their credit rating and uncertainty about the outcome as their principal bankruptcy concern.
"Although one's credit will take a hit after filing for bankruptcy, rebuilding can happen relatively quickly," Chern said. "With a good payment history after a Chapter 7, one can qualify for an FHA home loan as soon as two years. Prepaid and secured credit cards can also help rebuild credit."
Largely, 83% hired an attorney to handle their bankruptcy, 14% handled the bankruptcy on their own, and only 2% hired a credit counselor.
"The fees to file for bankruptcy are also less in a Chapter 7 case since you are hiring an attorney for a 5 to 6 month period, which amounts to $1,500 or more plus fees," Chern said. "In a Chapter 13 case you are hiring an attorney for up to 5 years so the cost can go up to $4,000 or more."
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet