By Chris Kramer
Bankruptcy protection is often cited as a crucial part of the fabric of American capitalism – with the safety net of bankruptcy available, entrepreneurs and risk-takers can proceed without worrying that following their dreams will have devastating financial consequences.
Recognizing the important role bankruptcy plays in our economy, two bankruptcy analysts have developed a color-coded system to help consumers gauge their level of financial health and help them figure out whether they should be seriously considering a bankruptcy filing to protect their financial future.
Financial Warning Signs that You Might Need Bankruptcy Protection
The various colors in this code, much like those in the code used by the feds to communicate the current level of threat of a terrorist attack, work like this:
- Green zone (no need to file bankruptcy): If you're in this category, you have no real need for bankruptcy protection. You probably make more than you spend, pay your bills on time, have assets and insurance, have no credit card debt and save money regularly.
- Blue zone (financial changes might be needed): Here, you don't quite need bankruptcy protection, but your financial habits, if continued, may lead you to a place where you will. People in this zone may be worried about losing their job, have trouble paying bills in full each month, have credit card debt and secured debt, and may not by able to save money regularly.
- Yellow zone (bankruptcy is an option): At this level, you need to evaluate your situation and consider your debt-relief options, bankruptcy being chief among them. People in the yellow zone are often experiencing some financially difficult life change (like divorce, injury or layoff), have begun to miss payments on both unsecured and secured debts, have few or no assets, are getting calls from debt collectors and may not have insurance. If you're in the yellow zone, you need to take some sort of action, whether that's negotiating with your creditors or consulting with a bankruptcy lawyer.
- Orange zone (bankruptcy should be seriously considered): Here, your debt is getting out of control. People in the orange zone tend to be delinquent (more than 60 days late) on at least one bill, use one credit card to pay off another, owe serious tax or medical debts but cannot afford them, have been out of work more than three months and may have had creditors initiate lawsuits against them. While there are still alternatives to bankruptcy available at this stage, it's generally a good idea to consult with a lawyer to see what the best option for your finances and legal status is.
- Red zone (file for bankruptcy right away): At this stage, you're no longer in a position to negotiate and need the protection of the court to prevent having your assets repossessed, your wages garnished, your home foreclosed or similar actions taken. Many people in this phase are unemployed and may have run out of unemployment benefits. Under these circumstances, filing for bankruptcy is often helpful because it may halt all collection action.