Can bankruptcy stop a wage garnishment?

If your wages are being garnished for a judgment entered against you on behalf of a creditor that you owe, yes, filing for bankruptcy will prevent that. If the garnishment has not begun before your case is filed, then the bankruptcy will prevent the garnishment from beginning at all; if the garnishment starts before your case is filed, then the garnishment will stop immediately after your case is filed. To ensure that the proper parties are notified to stop the garnishment in a timely manner, you should give your attorney contact information (such as an e-mail or fax number) for your employer’s payroll department, or alternatively, obtain a copy of the notice of filing from your attorney and present it to your payroll department yourself.
There are a few exceptions to all of this. Bankruptcy will not stop withholdings for income taxes nor child support. If you do not receive a discharge for any reason, the garnishment will only be suspended for so long as the stay applies in your pending bankruptcy case, after which time, the creditor can reapply for the garnishment to resume. Finally, if you have filed multiple bankruptcy petitions within 12 months, the stay might only be temporary or it might not kick in at all unless your attorney files a successful motion with the court to extend or implement the stay.

What was the fuss I had been hearing about a “mortgage cram-down” bill?

In recent years, various incarnations of a bill have been submitted into Congress, died, and revived. One such version that came close to passing earlier this year was the “Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act”.
The common theme lobbied for in these bills by consumer right’s groups was the inclusion of mortgage cramdown provisions. Under current law, Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases (under certain circumstances) can reduce the principal balance of a secured loan to the fair market value of the collateral securing the loan, having the effect of eliminating loans that are “upside down” or “under water”. The biggest caveat to the cramdown provision is that it does not apply to a secured loan which is secured by the debtor’s primary residence.
This legislation, which was passed by the House of Representatives last spring, but defeated in the Senate, would have allowed some mortgages on primary homes to modified.

Can bankruptcy stop foreclosure?

Yes, filing bankruptcy can stop your home from going into foreclosure, if you file under Chapter 13.
The bankruptcy code allows for the curing of arrears (past-due amounts owed on secured debts) under Chapter 13. This provides the creditor with adequate protection – meaning that they can rely on the arrears being paid without the need to recover their losses by foreclosing. Chapter 7 does not offer this protection, and so you risk foreclosure if you have arrears and file under Chapter 7, even if the foreclosure action has not begun.
To save your home from foreclosure, your bankruptcy case needs to be filed ideally before the sheriff’s sale, but if you miss that deadline, there is still a small window of opportunity if you can file before the confirmation of sale. In Wisconsin, creditors typically file foreclosure actions in state court after about two months of missed mortgage payments. After the case is filed, it takes about 4-6 weeks before a judgment of foreclosure is entered. In the current housing market crisis, a backlog of foreclosures has created an even longer time before the foreclosure judgment is entered, and that’s assuming the matter is uncontested. After the judgment is entered, there is a statutory six month redemption period (12 months if the creditor elects to not waive a deficiency judgment) in which time you can attempt to catch-up on your payments, renegotiate the mortgage, refinance, or file Chapter 13 to save your home. Sometime after the redemption period, the sheriff’s auction is held. Two weeks later is the confirmation of sale.
Each state’s foreclosure process is different, so be sure you check with your attorney. For example, in Michigan, where I also practice, the redemption period is only two weeks, not six months.
Technically, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can also prevent a vehicle from being repossessed or other secured collateral, such as furniture, appliances, and jewelry. However, I discourage clients from filing under Chapter 13 solely to prevent auto or other small repossessions. Chapter 13s require a strict and disciplined budget, and can be volatile for a number of reasons. Cars and other small property are relatively disposable items in our society and are frequently replaced in the course of a three to five year bankruptcy plan. Also, repossessions occur much faster in Wisconsin than foreclosures do, with very little notice. In short, if you have multiple reasons to file under Chapter 13, preventing a repossession makes sense. But it is rarely worth the hassle of filing Chapter 13 solely for that purpose.

Can I be fired from my job for filing for bankruptcy?

No. The bankruptcy code provides that no governmental entity may discriminate against you for filing for bankruptcy. Therefore, they cannot terminate you from present employment or refuse to hire you for new employment based on having filed for bankruptcy. Neither are they allowed to deny licenses of any kind.
Private entities are also prohibited from terminating present employees on account of their bankruptcy, but they are permitted to deny new employment based on bankruptcy. In my experience, this practice is rare. In fact, I’ve had some extreme examples of people not only being hired immediately after bankruptcy, but even promoted because of it – and both instances were in the banking industry.
It is important, however, that you understand that most people are at-will employees, and can be terminated at any time for any reason, or really no reason at all. While you can’t be discriminated against because of bankruptcy, race, gender, religion, etc., the employer hardly needs a reason to terminate employment. For this reason, proving that you were terminated for illegal discriminatory reasons is difficult.
These discrimination statutes are also the basis of why utilities and hospitals cannot deny you service after bankruptcy, because they are regarded as public entities (even though they are usually privately owned). Utility companies have their own statutes which permit them to collect a security deposit from debtors and then refuse future services based on the security deposit.
Similarly, private entities such as individual doctors can refuse future service, except of course, to the extent that they are prohibited by their own professional rules from denying emergency medical care.