Many people assume that filing for bankruptcy is an option that is only available to a U.S. Citizens. The general belief is that only people who are U.S. Citizens or who are legally in the United States can file for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy laws do not limit the filing of a bankruptcy case only to U.S. citizens or legal residents. The bankruptcy code does not prohibit people who are not permanent residents or U.S. citizens from filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Under section 109 of the bankruptcy code a debtor can be any : "person that resides or has a domicile, a place of business, or property in the United States, or a municipality, may be a debtor under this title."
The code does not define a debtor as someone who has legal residence or citizenship. A debtor can be an undocumented immigrant, or even someone that does not reside in the United States. Attorney's have successfully filed cases where the debtor does not reside within the United States but has a business or an asset located in the United States. Having a bank account or some other personal asset in the United States may be sufficient to qualify you as debtor under the bankruptcy code.
The belief that you must be a U.S. Citizen or legally within the United States to file for bankruptcy, stems from the fact that credit is generally obtained on the basis of having a social security number. Bankruptcy forms generally request that you provide a social security number as part of filing for bankruptcy. If you do not have a valid social security number then you can apply for individual taxpayer identification number with the IRS. This number can be used to file your bankruptcy petition. In addition it is becoming more common for banks and credit unions to offer credit to clients using a ITIN. If you build a credit history using an ITIN number, this same number can be used in your bankruptcy petition.
Although there is no requirements that you be a U.S. citizen or have a valid social security to file for bankruptcy, you need to make sure to disclose to your bankruptcy attorney any use of another person's social security. For further information you can consult our local
riverside attorneys on how the issue is handled locally in the Central District.