Where does my discharged debt go when I file for bankruptcy? Do my creditors get paid for my debts?

Answer: your debt is gone; no one pays your creditors.

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It’s a good question and one that I had when I was first introduced to bankruptcy law. This is a question that many of my clients ask me. Often they ask “who pays my creditors after bankruptcy?” It makes sense that people would think that someone, whether it’s the government or the trustee, will pay the creditors the debt that is owed to them.

Unfortunately for creditors (but fortunately for debtors) if the case is a “no-asset” chapter 7 (where the trustee does not take and sell any of your property), that debt is money they will never see again. Legally your debts are discharged at the end of a bankruptcy and the creditor cannot try to collect that debt ever again.

If there are assets that are sold in the bankruptcy case then the trustee will return to creditors a pro rata share of whatever is collected. This amount is always less than the original amount that is owed.

In many cases the debt being discharged is owed to a company, often times a credit card company or a hospital. These companies build into their business models the reality that they will not collect some debts. And despite having hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to credit card companies being discharged every day, everyone still gets credit card offers from credit card companies in the mail.

I don’t want to diminish the pain that many creditors feel, particularly individuals. While these big companies are able to absorb these losses, individuals feel the hurt a lot more when a debt is discharged. Not infrequently, these creditors had sympathy for someone and lent them money to help them overcome a problem.

Lesson to creditors: be careful who you lend to. If you cannot afford to lose that money, then don’t lend it. There is a good chance if a debtor files a bankruptcy you are not going to see that money again.

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