When do I need a chapter 13 bankruptcy instead of a chapter 7?

Chapter 13 bankruptcies and chapter 7s are very different bankruptcies bur both have advantages and disadvantages.  A chapter 7 is good because it is clean and fast.  It discharges debts quickly.  It is all over in 90 days and you can then go on with your life if you qualify for the chapter 7.  Not everyone does qualify though.

Some people are “means tested” out of a chapter 7 because they make too much money to file one.  They have disposable income and thus bankruptcy law says that they must therefore file a chapter 13 bankruptcy if they want to file one at all.  (They would also qualify for a chapter 11 but that is another story).

Others don’t qualify if there is too much equity in their home.  In a chapter 13 they could then keep the home and continue to make payments on it in the 13.  One must always be careful that you do not violate the “best interests of creditors test”.  This is where the creditors have the right to demand that they get as much in a chapter 13 as they would in a chapter 7 liquidation.

The 13 differs from the 7 in that it is a payback plan where the debtor makes payments to the trustee for from 3 to 5 years.  In this period the debtor pays back some or all of his debts.  Most plans pay only a percentage of the debts but some do pay back 100%.  After the payback period is over then the unpaid debts (if there are any) will be discharged.

But why pay back the debts if you can discharge and escape them?  There are many reasons and one is the income limits of a 7 discussed above.  If you exceed these income limits then you cannot file a 7.  Debtors also file chapter 13s to take advantage of the lien strip and the cramdown.  See here for a blog on what is a cramdown?

The cramdown allows you to write down loans to the value of the property and is useful if you have property that is underwater.  The lien strip allows you to strip off or eliminate a second mortgage on a home if it is completely unsecured.  So if you have a home that is worth less than the first mortgage then the entire second mortgage can be eliminated after the 5 year payment plan is over.

Both of these cannot be done in a chapter 7 and if you want a cramdown or a lien strip then the chapter 13 is your chapter.  If your income is too high then a chapter 13 also makes sense.  There is one more advantage though to a chapter 13.  It can be dismissed by the debtor at any time.  Once you file one you are not locked in like you are with a chapter 7.

The disadvantage though is that you are locked into paying a trustee for a period of five years if you want to complete the plan and get a discharge.  Most chapter 13 fail because people can’t make these regular payments for five years to a trustee.  According to one article I read as many as 92% of them fail and are dismissed or converted to a chapter 7.  This is a very high fail rate and this is the reason why most people file chapter 7s.

You can pay a chapter 13 bankrupty off early though if you have the money.  So if you payments are $300 per month and you are three years in you could pay off the remaining two years early and get out of the 13.  Most people though don’t have the money to do this.

You should consult a bankruptcy attorney to see which chapter is right for you.

I am a San Diego bankruptcy attorney.  For further questions please visit my websites at www.farquharlaw.com or www.freshstartsandiego.com.  Or call my office for a free consultation or for any other advice about bankruptcy or debt at (619) 702-5015.  Call now for free credit report and analysis! 

For a free e-book on “13 things to do to prepare for your bankruptcy filing” please e-mail me at farquharesq@yahoo.com.

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