What happens if I am contacted about a debt during or after bankruptcy?
One of the primary benefits of bankruptcy is the automatic stay. You may already know that the stay protects you against a whole host of collection attempts-everything from collection calls to foreclosure-during the time the bankruptcy process is ongoing.
Although the majority of creditors respect the automatic stay and refrain from attempting to collect debts from those in bankruptcy, there are some that do not. Also, sometimes creditors attempt to collect debts that were eliminated in bankruptcy after the bankruptcy has been completed. What happens if either of these two scenarios happens? Fortunately, as a bankruptcy filer, you have legal recourse in either case.
Your protections during bankruptcy
As mentioned earlier, the automatic stay protects you from collection attempts during bankruptcy. However, sometimes creditors intentionally or unintentionally continue the collections process against those in bankruptcy.
If the debt is secured (e.g. mortgages and car loans), one of the ways that a creditor may violate the stay is to repossess or take back the collateral that secured the debt (i.e. the house or car). However, upon request, the bankruptcy court has the power to order the return of your property that was wrongfully taken from you in violation of the stay.
In addition to having collateral returned, you are entitled to sue any creditor who violates the automatic stay. If the creditor knew or should have known that the stay was in effect and continued to attempt to collect the debt, you are entitled to recover all damages that you suffered as well as attorneys’ fees under the law. If the violations were particularly egregious, you may also recover punitive damages and compensation for emotional distress.
Since the automatic stay is a court order, any creditor who violates the stay also can face contempt of court sanctions. This may include the payment of fines and court costs.
How you are protected after bankruptcy
One of the main benefits of bankruptcy is the discharge, which relieves you of most of your pre-bankruptcy debts. Once the debt has been discharged, you are never again legally obligated to repay it. However, some creditors do not let discharged debts go after bankruptcy and continue to harass you about them.
If this happens, the creditor violates a court order. As a result, you have the right to ask the court to hold the creditor in contempt of court for the violation. Under the law, the court may order the creditor to obey the discharge as well as pay fines, attorneys’ fees, court costs and compensatory damages for any losses you suffer.
Speak to an attorney
If you believe that a creditor is illegally attempting to collect a debt during or after your bankruptcy, speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. An attorney can assert your rights under the law and recover any compensation you may be entitled to.