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The latest bankruptcy and insolvency figures make for gloomy reading. In the first three months of 2009 19,062 people went bankrupt and another 10,713 took on individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs) according to the government's Insolvency Service. Those are the highest ever figures as personal debt, rising unemployment and business failures take their toll. The number of companies going out of business fell but the figure was still half as many again as a year ago.

You are insolvent when you can’t pay your debts. There are various options for handling that situation. IVAs, Debt Relief Orders, Administration Orders and Bankruptcy are possibilities for individuals in financial trouble. Get advice from Citizens Advice (look for details of your nearest one in the phone book or online at National Debtline on 0808 8084000, CCCS on 0800 1381111 or 

IVA - Individual Voluntary Arrangement: This is a formal agreement through the county court. You agree to pay a certain amount off your debts each month for a specified length of time such as five years. The amount that you still owe at the end of that time is written off. Your IVA is set up by an Insolvency Practitioner. The downside is that you need a reasonable amount of money each month to make your payments, people you owe money to can stop the IVA by refusing to agree to it and the Insolvency Practitioner’s fees can be high.

Debt Relief Orders are alternatives to IVAs or bankruptcy. They are for people with less than £300 worth of assets, less than £15,000 in unsecured debts, who can only afford to pay up to £50 a month towards those debts and don’t own their own homes. Not many people will qualify as most will have assets worth more than £300.(You can own a car worth up to £1,000.) You pay £90 to your local Citizens Advice Bureau or other advice agency. The application form is filled in online. If you do get a Debt Relief Order it lasts for 12 months and at the end of that time you are no longer liable for the debts included in the order.

Administration Orders: If someone you owe money to has already taken legal proceedings against you in the county court you might be able to apply for an administration order. But your total debts must be less than £5,000. All your debts are added together and you make one payment a month to the court which then shares it out among your creditors. If the court grants you an order your creditors can’t take any further action against you.

Bankruptcy is the last resort. You can apply to the court to be made bankrupt if you owe at least £750. Someone you owe at least £750 to can apply to have you declared bankrupt. If you apply to be made bankrupt you pay the court fees which amount to several hundred pounds. If someone else petitions to have you declared bankrupt they pay the fees. The idea is that your assets are taken and sold to repay your debts. It may seem like a good way out as you are usually bankrupt for just a year, at the end of which time you are discharged from bankruptcy. But think about it carefully and get advice as you lose some of your assets which could include your home if you own it. You may have to go on making monthly payments for up to three years after you are discharged, or even longer if the court decides on a longer period. You can’t be a company director or hold high office such as a politician or Lord Mayor while you are bankrupt and you can’t get credit. It can be a good solution if you have no assets, owe a lot of money and can’t see any way of paying it off. Once you are bankrupt your creditors can’t take any further action against you.

Get advice before taking any action. There may be other options such as getting creditors to agree to write off your debts, making a lump sum payment in ‘full and final settlement’ of a debt, or persuading all your creditors to accept small, regular payments to clear the arrears if you can afford them. If you do have at least £100 a month to pay towards your debts and you owe at least £5,000 you may be able to set up a Debt Management Plan. The advice agencies above may be able to help you do this for free.

Businesses that are insolvent may go into administration, liquidation, bankruptcy or be wound up. Call Business Debtline for advice on 0800 197 6026. 

You can find more information about insolvency, bankruptcy and the alternatives at

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