My husband and I are facing bankruptcy primarily due to our insurmountable medical debt. Will these charges be forgiven? Or will we still owe a portion of the outstanding balances?
Medical debt is one of the hallmark dischargeable debts in Chapter 7 consumer bankruptcy – and may be totally erased by a successful bankruptcy filing. According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the federal bankruptcy courts, medical debt remains the reigning number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Fortunately, bankruptcy laws consider medical debt to be a “nonpriority unsecured debt,” meaning it will more than likely disappear at the conclusion of the discharge process – a welcome relief for overburdened debtors, many of whom are dealing with significant health issues as well.
Understanding the debt hierarchy
During the bankruptcy process, the trustee assigned to the file will be required to evaluate the petitioner’s assets and pay off as many outstanding debts as possible. Once an asset profile is identified, the trustee will begin with secured debts, which are those attached to underlying collateral (e.g., home, vehicle, boat). Debtors may choose to walk away from these debts, reaffirm the debt, or redeem the debt. From there, the trustee will require payment of high priority unsecured debts, including taxes or child support obligations. These types of debts are generally not dischargeable, and must be paid regardless of the petitioner’s status in bankruptcy. Lastly, unsecured nonpriority debts are those that are dischargeable in the bankruptcy process, provided the debtor is unable to pay the outstanding balance – and, fortunately, this category includes medical debts.
Dealing with medical debt in bankruptcy
If a petitioner’s available assets are depleted to pay secured or high priority debts, he or she may be able to discharge medical debt in its entirety. If, however, assets remain to put toward an outstanding balance at a hospital or practitioner’s office, the trustee will ensure the petitioner pays as much as possible toward the balance. After all assets and available cash are depleted, remaining nonpriority unsecured debts will be discharged, allowing the petitioner to more on toward a brighter financial future.