Answer: The automatic stay is a federal court order that prohibits of any attempts by creditors to contact you or to collect a debt. It goes into effect the moment you bankruptcy petition is filed with the court.
Creditors cannot call you, sue you, garnish your wages, repo your car, foreclose on your house, take money out of your bank account or engage in any other efforts to collect the debt. The automatic stay gives you a little "breathing room" while the court processes your bankruptcy. Some creditors like a home lender might have the right to continue foreclosure on your home if you continue to miss payments, but the lender must file an appropriate motion with the court to get permission before proceeding with the foreclosure.
When your case is over, the automatic stay is lifted. If you receive a discharge, however, that acts as a permanent court order against future efforts to collect a discharged debt.
About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.