One of the major concerns with filing bankruptcy is how it affects credit scores. Typically people are worried that if file bankruptcy their credit score will be damaged beyond repair. For many cases this fear is unjustified. In fact, for a large portion of debtors, filing bankruptcy may be the quickest way to repair their credit rating.
Bankruptcy does stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. However, the impact on credit scores varies greatly. This is because many people who file have already fallen behind in payments to creditors. “In virtually every instance, the consumer will already have repayment problems such as late payments, very high balances, charged-off accounts or collection accounts,” says Rod Griffin, a spokesman for Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. In light of this, many consumers may even see a boost in their credit scores after filing bankruptcy, according to John Ulzheimer, president of Credit.com Educational Services, a consumer credit education group.
Why? To start with, your credit report is largely wiped clean when you declare bankruptcy. Your high balances are removed as are any late payments or records of unpaid debts. Instead, the accounts included in the bankruptcy will be marked as “Included in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy” or “Included in Chapter 13 Wage Earner Plan,” depending on which type of bankruptcy you filed. Both types of bankruptcy affect your credit score in the same way, according to Ulzheimer. Granted, you aren’t likely to see a big jump but if you’ve just been scraping by, your score isn’t likely to fall much further.
That said, a bankruptcy could help your score over the long term, as well. Here’s why: When calculating scores, the formulas developed by Fair Isaac (the company that calculates the most widely used credit score, known as the FICO score) are set up to grade someone’s credit standing as compared with that of consumers in a similar financial position. To do that, Fair Isaac divides consumers into 10 groups, using what it calls “score cards.” It then ranks the consumers in each group based on the others in the group. One of these score cards is bankruptcy filers. (For competitive reasons, Fair Isaac doesn’t release what constitutes all 10 groups.)
As a result, credit scores can run the gamut among bankruptcy filers. “In that population, you’ll find some consumers who have very good FICO scores, some who have very bad FICO scores, and in between,” Watts says. (Fair Isaac doesn’t have statistics on the average FICO score for bankruptcy filers.) Granted, you won’t be able to bring your score up to the perfect 850 as long as your bankruptcy stays in your report, but with good credit management after filing, a score in the 700s isn’t impossible.In other words, when you file bankruptcy your score is determined based on how you do compared with other bankruptcy filers, explains Fair Isaac spokesman Craig Watts. The reason? Fair Isaac has found this to predict credit risk better. “It’s a much fairer comparison,” he says. “You’re not compared with people with rosy, perfect reports.