When you file for bankruptcy, you have to submit a petition to a federal bankruptcy court providing detailed information about your financial life. Since court records are public, everything you submit to the court is available for public dissemination. Bankruptcy information can pop up in some unexpected places, but for the most part you'd have to search to find specifics about your case.
Filing bankruptcy has a huge negative impact on your credit. Bankruptcy cases remain on your credit report for seven years in the case of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and 10 years for a Chapter 7. During that time, any potential creditors can see that you filed bankruptcy. This can be particularly damaging if you're looking for a car loan, a home mortgage or a new credit card. While the effect of your bankruptcy case on your credit score will diminish over time, the record that you filed will not be lifted until the seven- or 10-year period has elapsed. Typically, a credit report will only show the date of your bankruptcy, the type of case you filed and the case number rather than any actual court documents from your case.
All creditors listed in a bankruptcy petition are required by law to receive notice of the case. Shortly after you turn in your petition to the court, everyone you owe money to will know that you filed. This includes friends and family members, no matter how small the amount you owe or how lenient your payback terms are. All creditors will receive a notice from the court with your case number and the address of the court where your bankruptcy hearing will take place.
The most detailed information about your bankruptcy case can usually be found on a computer system known as Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER. Every court case filed across the country is posted to the PACER system. Registered users can search information on any case at a cost of 10 cents per page. If someone wants to look up your bankruptcy case, she can search by your name, Social Security number, case number or other identifying information. Every page filed in your case, from the exact bankruptcy petition you filed to documents submitted by the court, can be searched in this manner.
Since bankruptcy is a public record, the fact that you filed can turn up in simple Internet searches. While your case documents are typically locked behind the PACER system, the fact that you filed, and often your case number, can be located through an Internet search engine. Numerous websites now list public information about individuals in an effort to get users to pay for their services. If you file bankruptcy and search your name on one of those sites, it may show that you have a bankruptcy case filed, although access to further information about the case will usually require payment.