Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Bankruptcy is a legal process that lets you restructure your debts or have them discharged. The details of how your bankruptcy plays out depend on your overall financial situation and what type of bankruptcy you file, but the goal of bankruptcy is to help debtors who can’t pay all their debts create a path toward a better financial future while paying as much as they can. To determine how much you pay, consider Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

It’s important to note that bankruptcy should be a last resort. It has serious consequences for your credit and immediate financial future, which means you may want to consider all other options first. Find out more about Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 bankruptcy below and then talk to a lawyer about what might be best for you—many bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations for this purpose.

What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is sometimes referred to as liquidation bankruptcy or the fresh start bankruptcy.  While every situation is handled according to the details of the case, the basic concept of Chapter 7 is that your non-exempt assets are liquidated to repay creditors and any remaining debt not covered is discharged in the bankruptcy.  It should be noted that many families have no non-exempt assets, or very few non-exempt assets.

How It Works

First, you go through a pre-filing credit counseling course and obtain a certificate that you file when you file a petition with the court for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Before filing chapter 7 you must perform the “means test” to determine whether you qualify for chapter 7 at all. 

The means test considers your income for the preceding six months, your family size, and some other factors.  If you qualify for chapter 7 you can prepare and file your chapter 7 papers yourself, but most experts recommend working with a bankruptcy lawyer, as the process is complex.

You must also submit records including lists of all your assets and debts, your current income and expenses, tax returns and other documents related to your financial status, including contracts like leases that might be in play.

You’ll also be required to go through credit counseling after your bankruptcy is filed, and submit a certificate that you did so—if you work with a bankruptcy attorney, they usually help facilitate this.

Most creditor activities against you, such as lawsuits, foreclosures and wage garnishments, must be halted as soon as you file the petition and the creditor finds out about it. This is known as the automatic stay.

Within a few weeks, the bankruptcy trustee holds what is called a meeting of creditors. This is a hearing you must attend. You are placed under oath and the trustee, along with any present creditors, asks you questions. The trustee uses this information to determine whether you have any non-exempt assets or transactions that can be reversed. 

The trustee is looking to see if s/he can obtain any money for your creditors. The trustee is also looking to insure that debtors are truthful and fully disclosing of their situation. 

Once the case proceeds past this point, your debts are discharged as agreed upon after liquidation of non-exempt assets (if any) occurs and funds are disbursed to various creditors by the trustee. Some of your assets are protected by exclusions, including certain personal items and clothing.

You may also be able to keep a vehicle for the purpose of travel to and from work as well as your home, depending on how much equity you have in it.

Eligibility Rules

Eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends on income and the application of a means test.

You may be eligible for a Chapter 7 filing if you pass the rigorous requirements of the means test, a test which looks at your income for the last six months, your family size, and other items, and compares you to other persons of the same family size in your area to determine whether you qualify.

Unsecured debt refers to debt that isn’t secured by property. Vehicle and home loans are secured by property, meaning the bank can take that property if you don’t pay to mitigate some of their losses. Credit cards are not usually secured, but may be in some instances. Priority unsecured debt refers to amounts you owe on taxes or child support.

Nonpriority unsecured debts are items such as credit card debt, personal loans and medical debt.

This is a lot of information, and it does sometimes get complex. But the bottom line is that if you have too much income, you may not be able to file Chapter 7. That’s because the court assumes you have enough income to pay at least some of your creditors.

Pros

If you qualify for Chapter 7, it can help you start fresh with debt. In some circumstances, you may leave the bankruptcy with no debt at all. It’s also faster than other forms of bankruptcy because there’s no repayment plan period.

Cons

Chapter 7 is looked at by future creditors as worse than Chapter 13 because it shows no effort to make any payment on debt owned. The Chapter 7 negative listing on your credit report will also show up for 10 years after you file the petition.

What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a restructuring plan. You work through the bankruptcy trustee to pay some, but usually not all, of your debts over three to five years. If you meet all the requirements of the plan, your remaining debt may be discharged at the end of the bankruptcy.

How It Works

Many of the processes associated with filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy are the same as when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You take the pre-filing credit counseling course, file the petition, an automatic stay goes into place, you attend the meeting of creditors and then you work with the trustee via your attorney to make the appropriate payments every month.

You pay the trustee as dictated by your bankruptcy plan.  Once the plan is approved by the court, the trustee then disburses that money to your creditors. If you miss your Chapter 13 bankruptcy payments, the trustee can file a motion to dismiss your case, and you would then owe all the debts and creditors could begin collections actions against you again.

Once you complete the Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan, you are typically entitled to a discharge of all remaining debts under the bankruptcy.

Eligibility Rules

Eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy depends on the amount of your debts as well as your ability to make payments as planned in your repayment plan.

  • Unsecured debts must be less than $ 419,275. (As on October, 2020 –this number increases periodically with inflation.)
  • Secured debts, including any mortgages, must be less than $1,257.850. (As of October, 2020 –this number increases periodically with inflation.)
  • For your repayment plan to be confirmed, the trustee has to deem it possible for you to make the payments. If, for example, you agree to make a payment that totals your monthly income and leaves no room for living expenses, the trustee is likely to reject the plan.

Pros

Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit for less time than a Chapter 7—up to seven years from the filing date. Future creditors might also look more favorably upon it because it shows that you made some effort to repay debts. In a Chapter 13, you are typically able to keep all your belongings and don’t have to liquidate them.

Cons

You do have to make some payments toward debts, which can mean a hefty monthly payment to the trustee. You also agree to submit certain financial decisions, such as whether you take on new debt, to the court during the repayment plan.

Which Kind of Bankruptcy Is Best for Me?

Chapter 7 may be a good choice if your income is low or if you are struggling to make any payment on debts. Chapter 13 may be the right choice if you do have some ability to pay but you’re simply overwhelmed with your current debt load.

The decision can be complex, so it’s important to consult a bankruptcy attorney to find out what your options are and what might be right for you.

How Do I Apply for Bankruptcy?

You apply for a bankruptcy by filing a bankruptcy petition. You can file on your own or through an attorney.

How Does Bankruptcy Affect My Credit?

Depending on how you file, bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to seven to 10 years. Bankruptcy appears on your credit report as a negative public record item, and it can bring your score down substantially. How much your score drops depends on what it was before you entered bankruptcy and other factors, but it’s typically enough to drop you down to a different range—such as moving you from good to fair or poor credit.

Typically, by the time someone makes the decision to file for bankruptcy, their credit score is already suffering because of late payments or delinquent accounts in collections. A bankruptcy is a big hit, but it’s not a death knell for your good credit. In fact, if you’re responsible with debt following your bankruptcy, you can work toward a better credit future.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit as you move through the bankruptcy process. Address inaccurate information as soon as possible to keep your score from dropping any lower. Find out more about Lexington Law credit repair services and how they might help you continue to positively impact your credit as you move past your bankruptcy.


Reviewed by Vince R. Mayr, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Vince has considerable expertise in the field of bankruptcy law. He has represented clients in more than 3,000 bankruptcy matters under chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Vince earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Government from the University of Maryland. His Masters of Public Administration degree was earned from Golden Gate University School of Public Administration. His Juris Doctor was earned at Golden Gate University School of Law, San Francisco, California. Vince is licensed to practice law in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.