Cara O'Neill


Cara O'Neill is a legal editor at Nolo, focusing on bankruptcy and small claims. She also maintains a bankruptcy practice at the Law Office of Cara O’Neill and teaches criminal law and legal ethics as an adjunct professor. Cara has been quoted in bankruptcy, finance, small claims, and litigation articles by news outlets that include USA Today, CNBC, U.S. News & World Report, Nerd Wallet, and Yahoo Finance.

Cara received her law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, where she graduated a member of the Order of the Barristers—a highly-selective honor society that gives national recognition to top law school graduates demonstrating excellent skills in trial advocacy, oral advocacy, and brief writing.

Working at Nolo. Cara started writing for Nolo as a freelancer in 2014 and became a full-time legal editor in 2016. She has authored a number of Nolo self-help legal books, including How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, The New Bankruptcy, Everybody's Guide to Small Claims (national version), and Everybody's Guide to Small Claims in California. She also co-authors and edits Solve Your Money Troubles and Credit Repair and has written hundreds of articles for,,, and

Early legal career. Before joining Nolo, Cara spent 20 years working as a trial attorney litigating criminal and civil cases. She also served as an administrative law judge mediating disputes between auto manufacturers and dealerships and began teaching law as an adjunct professor in 2004. She added bankruptcy to her practice after the 2008 financial downturn.

Origins of litigation and writing career. Thanks to her mother, Cara’s advocacy training began early and involuntarily. In junior high school, she took second place two years running in the local Optimist Club speaking competition. She also successfully competed on her high school speech and debate team for several years, eventually serving as president of the same. During law school, she competed on a nationally ranked ABA moot court team for two years (and was recruited for a third, but declined) and served as a law journal editor.

Articles By Cara O'Neill

Will My Debt Get Discharged If I Forget To List it in My Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
I have a question. I forgot to list a debt on my Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition and schedules and I'm worried about what will happen. Will my Chapter 7 discharge wipe out the unlisted debt or will I still owe it? The answer will depend on whether the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee distributes money to your creditors and the court's discharge rules where you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.
Can the Bankruptcy Court Take Life Insurance Funds?
When you file for bankruptcy, you can keep property needed to live, such as furnishings, clothing, a modest car, and some portion of home equity. You might be able to protect the value of a life insurance policy or funds received as a beneficiary under another person’s policy. But it will depend on whether a bankruptcy exemption covers the value of the life insurance or the life insurance funds.
Can You Keep Your Retirement Accounts in Bankruptcy?
Under most circumstances, you can keep your retirement accounts, such as 401ks and IRAs, if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, for some accounts, the protected amount may be capped.
Converting Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
When you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you enter into a repayment plan to pay back some or all of your debts over three to five years. If your income drops and you can’t pay your Chapter 13 payment, it’s possible to convert to Chapter 7 bankruptcy and discharge qualifying debts quickly. But because converting from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 isn’t always possible, you’ll want to explore other options as well.
Car Repossession: Notices the Lender Must Provide
Learn what notices your auto loan lender must provide during the car repossession process.
Student Loans in Bankruptcy: The Brunner Test
Getting student loans discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is very difficult. For the most part, you must show that repayment would cause you "undue hardship."
What Can I Do If I Can't Afford a Bankruptcy Lawyer?
It's tough coming up with legal fees when you're broke and need to file for bankruptcy. But even if you can’t afford an attorney, help might be available through friends and family, legal aid societies, free legal clinics, or pro bono (free of charge) attorneys.
How to File Bankruptcy and Keep Your Car
No one wants to lose a car in bankruptcy. Keeping your vehicle in bankruptcy will depend on the following: whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, if you’re behind on your car payment, and whether you can protect all of the vehicle equity with a bankruptcy exemption.
Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions
Some states allow bankruptcy filers to use the federal bankruptcy exemptions to protect property in bankruptcy instead of state bankruptcy exemptions. You can use federal bankruptcy exemptions if you live in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, or Wisconsin. Compare your state exemptions to the federal bankruptcy exemptions and decide whether the federal bankruptcy exemptions would be best for you.
Will I Lose All My Property If I File for Bankruptcy?
What happens to your property in bankruptcy, including your house and car, will depend on whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. In Chapter 7, you'll lose your house or other property that isn't protected by an exemption. In Chapter 13, you'll keep all of your property, including your house, but you'll pay for nonexempt property that isn't covered by a bankruptcy exemption through the Chapter 13 repayment plan.