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Options When You Can't Pay Your Business Debts

Having your business in the red can be scary. Here are some steps that you can take that may help protect you and your business in the long run.

If your company or business has been in the red for a while, and you cannot seem to be able to pay off your business debts, your creditors may start looking for money. They can do this by threatening legal action against you or your business. The way your business is set up, and whether you or your business guarantee any debts or repayments, will dictate how much your creditors will be able to get from you. In addition, whether you decide to file for bankruptcy may also change how much a creditor can obtain.

Taxes on Payroll

Unlike the scenario described above, the Internal Revenue Service does not care how your business is organized and holds all business owners personally liable for any unpaid payroll taxes.

General Partnerships and Sole Proprietors

The way a sole proprietorship works is that you and your business are the same entity, meaning that you are going to be personally responsible for your business debts. Creditors and others that have a claim for money against your business will be able to reach your personal assets, like your personal checking and savings accounts, in order to satisfy these obligations.

If your business is organized as a general partnership, this means that you and every other general partner can be held personally liable for all of the business debts of the partnership. This is especially tricky and worrisome because, in general, any partner can legally bind the partnership to a business deal that could potentially put the business further in debt. If the business does not have enough capital to satisfy its debts, the creditors can turn to you or any of the other general partners and seize personal assets to satisfy debts.

Limited Liability Companies and Corporations

Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations often do not have the problems regarding personal liability in general partnerships and sole proprietors. If your business has been organized as a LLC or a corporation, your personal assets are most likely protected from creditors and others making claims about your business. Even if you organized your business in one of these ways, however, you may have given up your personal asset protection at some point without realizing it. There are many ways that this happens, but some of the most common are when a bank refuses to loan you money for your business unless you make a personal guarantee, or a statement of personal liability is needed before a company will rent you premises for your business. By signing away your limited liability that comes from LLCs and corporations, you make yourself personally liable for the business debts of your organization.


Bankruptcy can always be considered when your business is deep in the red and you may be facing creditors coming after you. There needs to be a lot of thought before filing for bankruptcy, but it may be able to provide you with the time you need to get everything straightened out. There is no guarantee what property you will be able to keep after a bankruptcy (save for a few exceptions), so you have to prepare yourself.

Your Options for Bankruptcy

Because of the nature of a sole proprietorship, you have the option of either filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, assuming that you meet the requirements for both. Either of these options can be used to satisfy and wipe out your personal and business debts.

However, if you are a shareholder of a corporation, a general partner, or an owner of a LLC, and you have somehow waived your limited liability (e.g. personally guaranteeing a loan for the business), having your business go through a bankruptcy proceeding will not protect you. This is because you have waived your limited liability and have become personally liable for some, if not all, of the business debts of your company. The only way to protect your assets in this situation is to file for personal bankruptcy.

You can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, assuming you qualify. Under this type of bankruptcy, a bankruptcy trustee will liquidate, or sell off, all the eligible property in order to satisfy your personal debts, including those that were taken on behalf of the business. At the end of the bankruptcy process (the liquidation of your personal property), your debts may be wiped out by the discharging of your bankruptcy.

If, on the other hand, you decide to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will need to propose a repayment plan to the bankruptcy court. This plan is based off of your income and you will need to show the court how you plan on paying off your debts over a period of time. Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, none of your property will be sold under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Advantages of Bankruptcy -- What It Could Do for You

One of the main advantages that can come from filing for bankruptcy is time. Once you have filed for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court normally puts an automatic stay on all debt collection, meaning that none of your creditors can foreclose on or repossess your property.

In addition to getting more time to figure out what to do, many times bankruptcy can also wipe out certain debts. In general, bankruptcy can wipe out unsecured debt (debt that is not secured by property, like credit card debt). However, secured debts (e.g. home mortgages, car loans) are another story and must be considered separately. Because you put up property as a security for the loan, your creditor is still probably entitled to take it, even if you file for bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy might mean that you do not have to pay back what you owe on the loan, but you will still probably have to give back the property.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the better option for people that want to keep their property. By filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you are allowed to make a repayment plan, based on your income, and still get the protection of the court. In addition, you can include missed debt payments in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, meaning that you can pay off these debts over a longer period of time, up to 5 years. This can make it more likely that you will be able to satisfy all of your debts.

If your business debts are large and it is possible that you will be held responsible for them, you should talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney as soon as possible to figure out the best option for you.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you
navigate your business bankruptcy or debt.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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