Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Basics – A Brief Tutorial

When your income is too high to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or if you’ve got property that you can’t protect in Chapter 7, you may want to look into Chapter 13 bankruptcy as a way to reorganize your finances and regain control.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you get to keep your property, but pay back a portion of your debts over a three to five-year period.

Your payments are sent to the bankruptcy trustee, who then distributes the funds among your creditors.

Chapter 13 Or Debt Consolidation?

You can think of this type of case as being like debt consolidation. In both solutions, your bills are put into a big bucket and your payments go to whittle down each one little by little. There are, however, a few differences:

  • Debt consolidation will cover only your credit card and store card debts; in bankruptcy, every kind of debt is included and dealt with
  • Debt consolidation requires your creditors to agree to repayment amounts; in Chapter 13, the bankruptcy judge decides
  • Debt consolidation ends when you’ve paid the debts in full, whereas Chapter 13 may involve repaying only a portion of your debts over time

Who Can File For Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

In order to qualify, you need to have a regular source of income. That means you’ve got to have a job or some other steady stream of money coming into your household.

For some, that may mean a pension check or rental income from real estate you own. I’ve worked with people who are unemployed but married to someone who has a job.

In any event, there’s got to be money on the table to fund a repayment plan.

You also need to have debts within certain limits. Those limits are adjusted every two years; until April 1, 2012 those limits are $360,475 of unsecured debt and $1,081,400 of secured debt.

See Also:

The Chapter 13 Plan

The Chapter 13 Plan is the document showing how much of your debt you will be paying, over what period of time, and how you’ll be funding the Plan.

Though the U.S. Bankruptcy Code is loose about the requirements of a Plan (yes, that word is properly capitalized), many courts and bankruptcy trustees use their own forms to make things easier.

For example:

How Much You’ll Need To Pay, And Over What Time Period

The amount you’ll need to pay, as well as the length of your Plan, depends on your household income as well as a mixture of your debt load, whether you own any property that would be taken if you were in a Chapter 7, and how your income compares to the state median income for a household of your size.

In other words, and to borrow phrase from Facebook, it’s complicated.

When we sit down and talk, I’ll do some fairly detailed number-crunching to give you a sense of how much you’ll be paying and over what period of time.

Those numbers are fluid, though; until the case is filed, the final figures may be higher or lower. It’s like when you take your W-2 forms to the accountant at the end of the year. He can give you a vague idea of your refund (or how much you’ll owe), but he can’t be sure until he’s done the tax forms.

In addition, once the case is filed we may realize your payments need to be higher or lower depending on how much money you owe at the moment your documents hit the courthouse steps.

We’ll have to tinker until things are perfect, but no promises will be made unless and until you approve them. After all, this is your case – and your life.

Filing For Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Without Your Spouse

There’s no requirement that you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy with your spouse.  In fact, lots of people file on their own for various reasons.  We’ll talk about it together, and decide if it makes sense for you to file with or without your spouse.

Regardless, we will need your spouse’s income and expense information.  If your spouse does not file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy with you, we still need his or her information so we can calculate your household income and expenses.

Find Out If Chapter 13 Is Right For You

There’s only so much information you can get online, even from a site as complete at this one.   To get all your questions answered, call my office and set up a time for us to talk.

The evaluation is free, and there’s no obligation on your part at all.

In fact, you won’t even need to come to the office.  We’ll talk by phone, so you can remain in the comfort of your own home or office.

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