Bankruptcy vs insolvency: What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between bankruptcy and insolvency?Bankruptcy and insolvency are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Bankruptcy is a legal process that allows debtors to discharge their debts and restart their financial lives. Insolvency, on the other hand, refers to the state of being unable to pay one’s debts.

A business can be insolvent without being bankrupt, and vice versa. However, if a business is declared bankrupt, it will automatically be deemed insolvent.

In the United Kingdom, businesses can declare insolvency under The Insolvency Act 1986. Each type of bankruptcy has different effects on the debtor’s assets and liabilities.

Whether a business decides to declare insolvency or not is a decision that should be made with the assistance of legal and financial advisers who are qualified to act.

Difference between bankruptcy and insolvency?

The difference between both bankruptcy and insolvency are that they are two distinct financial processes in the UK. Bankruptcy is a legal process initiated by the debtor, often due to failure to pay debts or meet other obligations.

The bankrupt individual or organisation has no or limited access to credit and must stop trading unless permitted by the court. Insolvency on the other hand is a financial state where liabilities exceed assets and an individual or business can no longer pay its debts when they fall due.

Insolvency does not necessarily lead to bankruptcy but, if it cannot be rectified through negotiation with creditors, it can result in bankruptcy proceedings being forced upon the insolvent element.

What is bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy is an important legal term in the UK that has a significant financial and legal impact on someone’s life. It is a process whereby individuals or organisations who are unable to meet their financial obligations and have debts they are unable to pay are declared as insolvent.

During this process, any assets will be sold off in order to pay their creditors. Bankruptcy can be voluntary or imposed through the courts with assistance from an Insolvency Practitioner. Money owed may need to be written off completely, but some creditors may provide a repayment arrangement plan depending on the situation.

This is why it’s important for anyone facing financial struggles to seek professional help in order to make informed decisions about how best to deal with them.

An example of bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a legal process that allows people or businesses who are unable to repay their debts to have their assets sold and the proceeds used to pay creditors. In the United Kingdom, bankruptcy is governed by the Insolvency Act 1986 (as amended by the Enterprise Act 2002).

Under the Act, a person may be declared bankrupt if they owe more than £5,000 and are unable to pay their debts as they fall due. Once a bankruptcy order is made, the person’s assets will vest in the Official Receiver (a civil servant who is part of the Insolvency Service) and their debts will be discharged.

The side effect of bankruptcy is that it will remain on a person’s credit file for six years, making it difficult to obtain credit in the future. However, it should be noted that bankruptcy is not always the best option for people with debt problems.

There are alternatives to bankruptcy, such as informal arrangements with creditors or debt management plans. These options should always be considered before bankruptcy is pursued.

When should I apply for bankruptcy?

While the decision to file for bankruptcy is never easy, there are certain circumstances when it may be the best option. If you are struggling to keep up with your debts, and have exhausted all other options, bankruptcy may be a way to get a fresh start. Another common reason to file for bankruptcy is if you are facing foreclosure on your home.

By filing for bankruptcy, you can temporarily halt the foreclosure process and give yourself some time to catch up on your payments. However, it is important to note that bankruptcy should only be considered as a last resort. Before you make the decision to file, be sure to speak with an experienced financial advisor who can help you explore all of your options.

What is insolvency?

Insolvency is a legal term used to describe when an entity, either an individual or a business, cannot pay its debts as they become due. Insolvency can occur from mismanagement and other financial problems, such as over-leveraging, undercapitalization, market downturns and persistent losses.

When insolvency occurs, the entity must seek professional advice from financial experts who specialize in this field to ensure all legal obligations are followed in order to restore balance. Companies experiencing insolvency may need to restructure debt or file for bankruptcy protection in order to reorganise operations, while individuals may be able to work with a credit counselor and creditors through debt negotiations or restructuring agreements.

Examples of insolvency

Insolvency can happen quicker than you think. Common signs of debt can start with:

  • A cash flow crisis, e.g. you find that customers are late paying or you have not budgeted enough
  • Loss of a business contract: you are depended on one major client and they suddenly change suppliers
  • Spent customer base: customers may switch to a different product, or your service kept with changing needs and markets

Unexpected costs, such as repairs to machinery or one of your clients have failed to pay you, can also lead to insolvency. If your business is involved in court action and you fail to win, you could be crippling with the other parties costs if you don’t have the appropriate insurance cover.

What’s the difference between bankruptcy and insolvency?

Bankruptcy and insolvency are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but there are actually some key differences between the two. Bankruptcy is a legal status that is assigned to an individual or business that is unable to repay its debts. In the UK, bankruptcy can be enforced by a court order or it can be voluntary.

On the other hand, insolvency is a financial term that refers to the inability of a business to pay its debts as they come due. This means that a business is technically insolvent long before it actually files for bankruptcy.

While both bankruptcy and insolvency can have serious consequences, insolvency is often seen as being more serious because it indicates that a business is in danger of collapse.

As a result, businesses that are facing insolvency often take steps to avoid bankruptcy, such as negotiating with creditors or selling off assets.

What preventative measures can I take to avoid bankruptcy and insolvency?

There are a number of preventative measures you can take to avoid bankruptcy and insolvency in the UK. First and foremost, it is important to keep on top of your finances and make sure you are not overspending. It is also crucial to have a good understanding of your financial situation and be realistic about your ability to repay debts.

If you are struggling to make ends meet, it may be worth considering debt consolidation or entering into an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA). Additionally, it is important to ensure that you are keeping up with tax payments and other financial obligations. If you are self-employed, it is also worth making sure that you have adequate business insurance in place. By taking these preventative measures, you can reduce the risk of becoming insolvent or bankrupt.

How can I save my business from the brink of either bankruptcy or insolvency?

If your business is on the brink of bankruptcy or insolvency, it is important to take action immediately. The first step is to assess the financial situation of your business and determine where the problems are. Once you have a clear understanding of the financial position of your business, you can begin to put together a plan to improve the situation.

This may involve cutting costs, increasing revenues, or both. It is also important to negotiate with creditors to try to reduce the amount of debt that your business owes.

If your business is able to avoid bankruptcy or insolvency, it will be in a much better position to recover and continue operating. However, if these measures are not successful, it may be necessary to consider more drastic options such as liquidation, your first action should be to speak to your accountant or contact an insolvency professional.

Read more: My company is going bankrupt


Insolvency and bankruptcy are two distinct financial expressions that describe a person’s or a company’s inability to pay their debts. Insolvency is the inability to pay obligations when they are due, whereas bankruptcy is a legal process that entails the liquidation of assets to pay off creditors.

It is important to understand the differences between these two terms, as they can have significant consequences for individuals and businesses. If you are struggling with debt and are unsure of the best course of action, it is advisable to seek the advice of a financial professional or legal expert to help you understand your options and make the best decision for your situation.

Read more: How to avoid bankruptcy in business

Steve Jones Profile
Insolvency & Restructuring Expert at Business Insolvency Helpline

With over three decades of experience in the business and turnaround sector, Steve Jones is one of the founders of Business Insolvency Helpline. With specialist knowledge of Insolvency, Liquidations, Administration, Pre-packs, CVA, MVL, Restructuring Advice and Company investment.