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Bankruptcy is a legally declared inability or impairment of ability of an individual or organization to pay their creditors. A declared state of bankruptcy can be requested by creditors in an effort to recoup a portion of what they are owed; however, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the bankruptcy is initiated by the bankrupt individual or organization.
The primary purpose of the laws of bankruptcy are: (1) to give an honest debtor a "fresh start" in life by relieving the debtor of most debts, and (2) to repay creditors in an orderly manner to the extent that the debtor has the means available for payment.
Bankruptcy allows debtors to resolve debts through the division of non-exempt assets among creditors. Additionally the declaration of bankruptcy allows debtors to be discharged of most of the financial obligations, after their non-exempt assets are distributed, even if their debts have not been paid in full. During the pendency of a bankruptcy proceeding, the "debtor" is protected from extra-bankruptcy action by creditors by a legally imposed "stay."
This word is formed from the ancient Latin bancus (a bench or table), and ruptus (broken). Bank originally signified a bench, which the first bankers had in the public places, in markets, fairs, etc. on which they tolled their money, wrote their bills of exchange, etc. Hence, when a banker failed, he broke his bank, to advertise to the public that the person to whom the bank belonged was no longer in a condition to continue his business. As this practice was very frequent in Italy, it is said the term bankrupt is derived from the Italian banco rotto, broken bench (see e.g. Ponte Vecchio). Others rather choose to deduce the word from the French banque, table, and route, vestigium, trace, by metaphor from the sign left in the ground, of a table once fastened to it and now gone. On this principle they trace the origin of bankrupts from the ancient Roman mensarii or argentarii, who had their tabernae or mensae in certain public places; and who, when they fled, or made off with the money that had been entrusted to them, left only the sign or shadow of their former station behind them.
Bankruptcy fraud is a business crime of filing for bankruptcy with criminal intent, that is with the intention of evading payment for goods even though the buyer has funds that could be used to pay for them, or accepting payment for goods or services but not supplying them. Common types of bankruptcy fraud include petition mills, false oath, concealment of assets, and fraudulent conveyance. Multiple filings are not per se fraudulent; as with all things in the law, it depends on the circumstances. Bankruptcy fraud should be distinguished from strategic bankruptcy, which is not a criminal act (but may prejudice a judge against the filer if there is evidence that bankruptcy is being used strategically).
Bankruptcy in the United States is a matter placed under Federal jurisdiction by the United States Constitution (in Article 1, Section 8), which allows Congress to enact "uniform laws on the subject of Bankruptcy throughout the United States." Its implementation, however, is found in statute law. The relevant statutes are incorporated within the Bankruptcy Code, located at Title 11 of the United States Code, and amplified by state law in the many places where Federal law either fails to speak or defers expressly to state law.
While bankruptcy cases are always filed in United States Bankruptcy Court (an adjunct to the U.S. District Courts), bankruptcy cases, particularly with respect to the validity of claims and exemptions, are often highly dependent upon State law. State law therefore plays a major role in many bankruptcy cases, and it is often quite unwise to generalize bankruptcy issues across state lines.