New York families sometimes scramble for months or even years to pay down overwhelming debt before turning to professionals for help. Bankruptcy seems like an extreme move, but the legal process provides solutions that ultimately can lead to a fresh start. The more informed consumers are about personal bankruptcy the better they can compare the process against other forms of debt relief.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is designed to help individuals and married couples pay off debts through court-approved repayment plans.People with the ability to repay reduced debts over three to five years can retain property they might otherwise lose to repossession or foreclosure. A bankruptcy court can also discharge certain debts to release a debtor from liability.

Bankruptcy probably has crossed your mind if you’ve been struggling to make payments on time or have been hit with sudden financial hardships like enormous, unexpected medical bills. You may be concerned about loan defaults damaging your credit rating and affecting the ability to keep a vehicle or home. Chapter 13 can give you the chance to catch up on debts and keep property you’ve worked hard to acquire.

Consumers must undergo financial counseling within 180 days of filing a personal bankruptcy petition. Credit counseling agencies must be government authorized, although there’s no assurance that an approved agency will offer the right solution for your particular financial situation. It is advisable to meet with a bankruptcy attorney so you understand the options agencies typically offer, like debt management plans. These may or may not help avoid bankruptcy.

A lawyer can outline bankruptcy-related costs including fees for filing petitions, possible fee waivers, legal expenses and methods of payment before you decide whether the process is right for you. Additionally, a legal consultation can help clear up false assumptions and concerns about Chapter 13 bankruptcy, like the immediate and long-term effects on your property, credit and creditor relationships.

Source: NYC Bankruptcy Assistance Project, “Answers to Common Bankruptcy Questions,” accessed July 22, 2015