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

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 Bankruptcy's Automatic Stay Stop Wage Garnishment?
If you can’t repay your debts and you’re getting nonstop calls from debt collectors, or a creditor filed a lawsuit against you and is garnishing your wages, bankruptcy could be the answer. The automatic stay order put in place when you file for bankruptcy stops most collection actions, including wage garnishments.
What If I Lose My Job After I File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you commit paying job earnings into a three- or five-year repayment plan. Chapter 13 filers who lose their job have a few bankruptcy options. Depending on your creditors, property, and the amount paid into the plan, the bankruptcy court might reduce your Chapter 13 payment or end your Chapter 13 with a hardship discharge. You could also explore converting to Chapter 7 bankruptcy or dismissing your Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Timing Your Bankruptcy Filing: When to Delay or Avoid Bankruptcy Altogether
Sometimes it’s a good idea to delay filing for bankruptcy. For instance, waiting for your income to drop might help you qualify for Chapter 7. It’s also a good idea to wait until you finalize a mortgage modification. On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid some transactions altogether before filing for bankruptcy. For instance, charging purchases, paying relatives, and transferring property before filing for bankruptcy can wind up costing you money.
Can I use my credit card before I file for bankruptcy?
Wiping out credit card debt is a primary reason for filing for bankruptcy, and many people consider maxing out charge cards before filing for bankruptcy. However, you should be aware of the problems associated with using credit cards shortly before bankruptcy. For instance, if you use your credit card for a cash advance or buy luxury items and other things not needed for your support, the credit card company might ask the court to force you to pay it back.
Deficiency After Car Repossession: Will I Still Owe Money?
If your car lender repossesses your car, truck, van, motorcycle, or another vehicle, you might still owe on your vehicle loan if the lender took reasonable steps to sell the car for what you owe. The money owed after a car repossession is known as a “deficiency.” If a court issues a deficiency judgment, the lender can collect the money you owe for the car repossession deficiency using a wage garnishment, bank levy, or property seizure.
Debt Discharge in Bankruptcy: Nondischargeable Debts
You can wipe out or “discharge” most debt types in Chapters 7 and 13, including credit card balances, medical and utility bills, home and car loan payments (if you return the house or vehicle to the lender), and personal loans. But bankruptcy doesn’t discharge all obligations. Nondischargeable debts include most student loans and taxes; fines, penalties, and criminal restitution; and domestic support obligations. Debts incurred through fraud; obligations the filer didn’t list correctly; some loans owed to stock, bonus, profit-sharing, and retirement plans; and debts related to operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol also are nondischargeable in bankruptcy.
Can I file bankruptcy and then start a new job?
You’ll want to consider a couple of issues before filing for bankruptcy if you’re looking for a new job. First, you should understand how a bankruptcy filing could affect your ability to find a new job. And second, you’ll want to know how a new job could affect qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and your repayment plan amount in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
How to File Bankruptcy Without Losing a 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.
Your Car in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
You won’t lose your car in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Filers making vehicle payments can reduce the loan interest and pay off the car loan through a repayment plan. Filers can even catch up on late payments and, in some cases, pay less by reducing the principal balance to the vehicle’s value using a “cramdown” procedure.