Is it Smart to Declare Bankruptcy After Retirement?

by Jim Thomas

    It can be a good move to file for bankruptcy after retirement, depending on your particular financial situation. Although many older people, in particular, associate bankruptcy with personal failure, the stigma has greatly lessened in recent years as more and more people confront insurmountable debt.

    Money Crunch

    Retirement puts some people in a financial bind. Your income often is fixed, but at the same time, your expenses for necessities such as rent, food and medical costs -- those not covered by Medicare -- continue to increase. As a result, you may have turned to credit cards to cover living expenses. But if you've lived off your credit cards for six months or more, you might consider bankruptcy protection, which generally erases any credit card debt, as well as bills you owe for medical expenses.

    Protecting Your Assets

    Bankruptcy doesn't result in financial devastation. Your Social Security payments and usually pension plans are off-limits from creditors after a bankruptcy proceeding. In addition, you might be able to keep your house, and you definitely can keep your car and other personal possessions. Most states offer homestead exemptions in varying amounts, which can protect your house from creditors. For example, the homestead exemption in Massachusetts is $500,000, so if your house is worth less than that amount, you'll keep it after bankruptcy. However, if the homestead exemption in your state isn't sufficient to protect your house from your creditors, filing for bankruptcy -- especially Chapter 7 -- could further complicate your financial situation.

    Enjoying Your Retirement

    Filing for bankruptcy can be as beneficial to your psychological and physical health as it is to your financial health. Your golden years will be filled with stress and anxiety if creditors are calling every day and harassing you for money. If credit card or other debts are reducing your income to such as extent you can't eat healthy meals or afford prescription drugs, bankruptcy could be a life-saver.

    Food for Thought

    To protect your Social Security and pension payments, put them in a separate bank account and notify your creditors that this account contains assets that can't be legally seized by them. If you have substantial assets in addition to debts, it's advisable to hire an attorney to guide you through the bankruptcy process. If you have few assets and are essentially judgment proof, you won't benefit by filing for bankruptcy. But it stops any harassment by your creditors, which might enable you to sleep better at night.

    About the Author

    Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.

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