Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a chapter 13 bankruptcy case and how does it work?
A chapter 13 bankruptcy case is a proceeding under federal law in which the debtor seeks relief under chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 is the chapter of the Bankruptcy Code, which allows a person to repay all or a portion of his or her debts under the supervision and protection of the bankruptcy court. The Bankruptcy Code is the federal law that deals with bankruptcy. A person who files a chapter 13 case is called a debtor. In a chapter 13 case, the debtor must submit to the court a plan for the repayment of all or a portion of his or her debts. The plan must be approved by the court to become effective. If the court approves the debtor’s plan, most creditors will be prohibited from collecting their claims from the debtor. The debtor must make regular payments to a person called the chapter 13 trustee, who collects the money paid by the debtor and disburses it to creditors in the manner called for in the plan. Upon completion of the payments called for in the plan, the debtor is released from liability for the remainder of his or her dischargeable debts.
- How does a chapter 13 case differ from a chapter 7 case?
The basic difference between a chapter 7 case and a chapter 13 case is that in a chapter 7 case the debtor’s nonexempt property (if any exists) is liquidated to pay as much as possible of the debtor’s debts, while in chapter 13 cases a portion of the debtor’s future income is used to pay as much of the debtor’s debts as is feasible under the debtor’s circumstances. As a practical matter, in a chapter 7 case the debtor loses all or most of his or her nonexempt property and receives a chapter 7 discharge, which releases the debtor from liability for most debts. In a chapter 13 case, the debtor usually retains his or her nonexempt property, but must pay off as much of his or her debts as the court deems feasible and receives a chapter 13 discharge, which is slightly broader than a chapter 7 discharge and releases the debtor from liability for a few types of debts that are not dischargeable under chapter 7. However, a chapter 13 case normally lasts much longer than a chapter 7 case and is usually more expensive for the debtor.
- How does a chapter 13 case differ from a private debt consolidation service?
In a chapter 13 case, the bankruptcy court can provide relief to the debtor that a private debt consolidation service cannot provide. For example, the court has the authority to prohibit creditors from attaching or foreclosing on the debtor’s property, to force unsecured creditors to accept a chapter 13 plan that pays only a portion of their claims, and to discharge a debtor from unpaid portions of debts. Private debt consolidation services have none of these powers.
- What is a chapter 13 discharge?
It is a court order releasing a debtor from all of his or her dischargeable debts and ordering creditors not to collect them from the debtor. A debt that is discharged is one that the debtor is released from and does not have to pay. There are two types of chapter 13 discharges: (1) a full or successful plan discharge, which is granted to a debtor who completes all payments called for in the plan, and (2) a partial or unsuccessful plan discharge, which is granted to a debtor who is unable to complete the payments called for in the plan due to circumstances for which the debtor should not be held accountable. A full chapter 13 discharge discharges a few more debts than a chapter 7 discharge, while a partial chapter 13 discharge is similar to a chapter 7 discharge.
- What is a chapter 13 plan?
It is a written plan presented to the bankruptcy court by a debtor that states how much money or property the debtor will pay to the chapter 13 trustee, how long the debtor’s payments to the chapter 13 trustee will continue, how much will be paid to each of the debtor’s creditors, and certain other matters.
- What is a chapter 13 trustee?
A chapter 13 trustee is a person appointed by the United States trustee to collect payments from the debtor, make payments to creditors in the manner set forth in the debtor’s plan, and administer the debtor’s chapter 13 case until it is closed. In some cases the chapter 13 trustee is required to perform certain other duties. The debtor is required to cooperate with the chapter 13 trustee.
- Must all debts be paid in full under a chapter 13 plan?
No. While priority debts, such as debts for domestic support obligations and taxes, and fully secured debts must be paid in full under a chapter 13 plan, only an amount that the debtor can reasonably afford must be paid on most debts. The unpaid balances of most debts that are not paid in full under a chapter 13 plan are discharged upon the completion or termination of the plan.
- How much of a debtor’s income must be paid to the chapter 13 trustee under a chapter 13 plan?
Usually all of the disposable income of the debtor and the debtor’s spouse for a 3 or 5 year period must be paid to the chapter 13 trustee. Disposable income is income received by the debtor and his or her spouse that is not deemed to be necessary for the support of the debtor and his or her dependents.
- When must the debtor begin making payments to the chapter 13 trustee and how are the payments made?
The debtor must begin making payments to the chapter 13 trustee within 30 days after the chapter 13 case is filed with the court. The payments must be made regularly, usually on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. If the debtor is employed, some courts require that the payments to be made directly to the chapter 13 trustee by the debtor’s employer.
- How long does a chapter 13 plan last?
The required length of a chapter 13 plan depends on the debtor’s income. If the debtor’s annual income is less than the median family income for the debtor’s state and family size, the length of the plan must be 3 years, unless the debtor can justify a longer period, which may not exceed 5 years. If the debtor’s annual income exceeds the median family income, the length of the plan must be 5 years unless all unsecured claims can be paid off in a shorter period. The debtor’s annual income is his or her current monthly income multiplied by 12.
- How are cosigned or guaranteed debts handled in chapter 13 cases?
A cosigned or guaranteed debt is a debt of the debtor that has been cosigned or guaranteed by another person. If a cosigned or guaranteed consumer debt is being paid in full under a chapter 13 plan, the creditor may not collect the debt from the cosigner or guarantor. However, if a consumer debt is not being paid in full under the plan, the creditor may collect the unpaid portion of the debt from the cosigner or guarantor. A consumer debt is a nonbusiness debt. Creditors may collect business debts from cosigners or guarantors even if the debts are to be paid in full under the debtor’s plan.
- May a self-employed person file a chapter 13 case?
Yes. A debtor engaged in business may continue to operate the business during his or her chapter 13 case.
- May a chapter 7 case be converted to a chapter 13 case?
Yes. An existing chapter 7 case may be converted to a chapter 13 case at any time at the request of the debtor if the case has not previously been converted from chapter 13 to chapter 7.
- What fees are charged in a chapter 13 case?
There is a filing fee charged when the case is filed, which may be paid in installments if necessary. In addition, the chapter 13 trustee assesses a fee of generally about 10 percent on all payments made by the debtor under the plan. These fees are in addition to the fee charged by the debtor’s attorney.
- Will a person lose any property if he or she files a chapter 13 case?
Usually not. In a chapter 13 case, creditors are usually paid out of the debtor’s income and not from the debtor’s property. However, if a debtor has valuable nonexempt property and has insufficient income to pay enough to creditors to satisfy the court, some of the debtor’s property may have to be used to pay creditors.
- How does the filing of a chapter 13 case affect collection proceedings and foreclosures that are filed against the debtor?
The filing of a chapter 13 case automatically stays (stops) all lawsuits, attachments, garnishments, foreclosures, and other actions by creditors against the debtor or the debtor’s property. This stay is called the automatic stay. A few days after the case is filed, the court will mail a notice to all creditors advising them of the automatic stay. Certain creditors may be notified sooner, if necessary. Most creditors are prohibited from proceeding against the debtor during the entire course of the chapter 13 case. If the debtor is later granted a chapter 13 discharge, the creditors will then be prohibited from collecting the discharged debts from the debtor after the case is closed. If the debtor has had a prior bankruptcy case dismissed within the past year, he or she may be denied the protection of the automatic stay.
- How does filing a chapter 13 case affect a person’s credit rating?
It may worsen it, at least temporarily. However, if most of a person’s debts are ultimately paid off under a chapter 13 plan, that fact may be taken into account by credit reporting agencies. If very little is paid on most debts, the effect of a chapter 13 case on a person’s credit rating may be similar to that of a chapter 7 case.
- Are the names of persons who file chapter 13 cases published?
When a chapter 13 case is filed, it becomes a public record and the name of the debtor may be published by some credit reporting agencies. However, newspapers do not usually publish the names of persons who file chapter 13 cases.
- Is a person’s employer notified when he or she files a chapter 13 case?
In most cases, yes. Many courts require a debtor’s employer to make payments to the chapter 13 trustee on the debtor’s behalf. Also, the chapter 13 trustee may contact an employer to verify the debtor’s income. However, if there are compelling reasons for not informing an employer in a particular case, it may be possible to make other arrangements for the required information and payments.
- May employers or government agencies discriminate against persons who file chapter 13 cases?
No. It is illegal for either private or governmental employers to discriminate against a person as to employment because that person has filed a chapter 13 case. It is also illegal for local, state, or federal governmental agencies to discriminate against a person as to the granting of licenses, permits, student loans, and similar grants because that person has filed a chapter 13 case.
- When does the debtor have to appear in court in a chapter 13 case?
Most debtors have to appear in court at least twice: once for a hearing called the meeting of creditors, and once for a hearing on the confirmation of the debtor’s chapter 13 plan. The meeting of creditors is usually held about a month after the case is filed. The confirmation hearing may be held on the same day as the meeting of creditors or at a later date, depending on the scheduling practices in the local court. If difficulties or unusual circumstances arise during the course of a case, additional court appearances may be necessary.
*Remember: The law often changes and each case is different. The above is meant to give you general information and is not legal advice. You should contact a bankruptcy attorney to obtain answers regarding your specific situation.