A federally authorized procedure by which a debtor—an individual, corporation, or municipality—is relieved of total liability for its debts by making court-approved arrangements for their partial repayment.

Federal bankruptcy law provides two distinct forms of relief: liquidation and rehabilitation, also known as reorganization. The vast majority of bankruptcy filings in the United States involve liquidation, governed by chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. In a chapter 7 liquidation case, a trustee collects the debtor's nonexempt assets and converts them into cash. The trustee then distributes the resulting fund to the creditors in order of priority described in the Bankruptcy Code. Creditors frequently receive only a portion, and sometimes none, of the money owed to them by the bankrupt debtor.