NEW YORK (MainStreet) — How tough have recent times really been? Financially difficult enough that nearly a quarter of American households (23%) have considered filing for bankruptcy. And 18% of households surveyed by YouGov have done so.

It may be considered "shameful" by 26% of those surveyed, but more than half (55%) say that the main benefit of a bankruptcy is the fact that it allows for a fresh start. Americans making less than $40,000 a year are most likely to consider filing for bankruptcy.

But that "fresh start" may not be all that Americans believe it to be. According to the research, only 28% of those surveyed are aware that alimony debt cannot be discharged through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the most common form of bankruptcy in the U.S. Just one third (33%) knew that outstanding federal taxes cannot be cancelled through a Chapter 7 filing.

And under the pressure of owing over $1 trillion in student loans, less than a third of Americans (31%) knew that student loan debt is not usually a slate wiped clean by bankruptcy. Most education loans are insured by the United States Department of Education, or other governmental sponsored entities such as Sallie Mae, which are generally excluded from bankruptcy discharges.

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A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can cancel debt owed to credit card companies, as well as medical bills and personal loans. But only 14% of those surveyed knew that a bankruptcy can only be filed once in every eight years. Just over a quarter (26%) were aware that a Chapter 7 filing remains on a consumer's credit history for up to ten years.

Among the disadvantages perceived of a bankruptcy filing were: loss of credit rating (62%), some businesses will refuse to work again with those filing for bankruptcy (41%), and people "get away with being irresponsible" (29%). Just over one quarter (26%) said that bankruptcy was "shameful" and "hurt creditors."

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet