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Each year, more than 1 billion people file bankruptcy according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. While some are credit abusers trying to escape their responsibilities, most are normal, everyday, hard working people who have hit upon hard times. The loss of a job, medical bills, or a divorce may be all it takes to tip the scales. Bankruptcy does give debt relief by wiping your debt slate clean, but it is not something to be done lightly. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is used by most individuals. Bankruptcy is a federal court proceeding. From start to finish, it can take anywhere from four to six months. It is almost always necessary to hire a lawyer and may cost you as much as $1,000 in legal fees and other fees. Once you start the process, you may not be able to stop it. While the law does allow you to keep certain basic rights to property in most cases, you may lose the right to keep or use your car, your home, or other personal property depending on your circumstances. Also, if anyone co-signed your loan or credit card, they remain responsible for the debt and will become the target of collection efforts if they haven't already become so. To learn more about bankruptcy and whether it is right for you, visit the American Bankruptcy Institute Web site's consumer education center.