Chapter 13 is for individuals or sole proprietors who have an income and can repay some level of debt over three to five years.

Learn how Chapter 13 works, why it may be your only option for bankruptcy relief, and what to expect if you file a Chapter 13 petition.

Basic Chapter 13 Requirements

To use this type of bankruptcy, you’ll need a stable income with disposable income. Disposable income is income left over after you pay for basic life requirements, such as food and utilities. Some people don’t qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy based on income and debt type and must use Chapter 13.

You can’t have more than $1,081,400 in secured debt (property or other assets a creditor might take if you don’t make payments) and $360,475 in unsecured debt. These amounts change sometimes to reflect Consumer Price Index adjustments.

The center focus in a Chapter 13 case is the payment plan for debts. The court decides on the plan length based on your income. If your income is more than your state’s median income, the repayment period will most likely be five years. No plan exceeds five years. People who have the following often file Chapter 13 bankruptcy:

  • Mortgages or other loans they would like to bring current, so they don’t lose their homes or other property
  • Taxes, child support or student loans that can’t be wiped out by Chapter 7 bankruptcy
  • Moral convictions that all debts should be paid no matter how long it takes

Starting Steps in Chapter 13

Filing the Petition and Supporting Documents

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy starts when you file a petition with the bankruptcy court, and pay the required filing fee. You must bring a list of creditors, assets and liabilities and current income and expenses. You must also file a “Statement of Financial Affairs.” It must provide the following:

  • Income from employment or business operations including amounts and sources
  • Other income
  • Payments made to the creditors within 90 days of the filing
  • Payments made within one year of filing to creditors who were “insiders” – relatives, partners and corporations where you’re an officer of the company
  • A list of lawsuits that you were a party to within a year of filing
  • All property, including that which was garnished or seized
  • Property repossessed within one year before filing
  • Assignment of property for benefit of creditors within 120 days before filing
  • Gifts and charitable contributions made within one year of filing
  • Losses from fire, theft, gambling, etc., within one year or since the beginning of the case
  • Payments made for debt counseling or bankruptcy, including attorney fees
  • Transfers of property made within two years before filing
  • Property transferred to a trust within 10 years prior to filing
  • Financial accounts that were closed within one year
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Setoffs to creditors
  • Property held for another person
  • All premises occupied within the last 3 years.
  • The names and addresses of spouses and former spouses if the debtor lived in a community property state
  • Any businesses owned

Petition Must Be Accurate and Truthful

It’s important that all forms and information provided is accurate. Debts not listed won’t be canceled. Failing to list assets may look like you’re trying to hide them. This could result in serious fines, fraud charges or denial of bankruptcy relief.

Payment Plan Proposal and Approval

Your petition must be accompanied by a proposed payment plan. The plan must provide for payment of all “priority claims” in full unless the creditor agrees to a different plan. Priority claims are given a special status under bankruptcy law, such as taxes and filing fees.

If the claim is for domestic support (child support or alimony), you must agree to contribute all of your disposable income to a five-year plan. There are limits on modifying payments due on home mortgages.

An appointed trustee must review the proposed plan for accuracy and feasibility. The plan is given to creditors, and they have the right to object if the plan is unreasonable.

If the plan is approved, you keep all assets during the plan’s duration. You make monthly payments to the trustee, who in turn pays your creditors. When the plan is completed as approved, the rest of the debts are discharged, ending your obligation to pay.

Payment Plan Incomplete

What happens if you can’t complete the payment plan? The outcome depends on why the plan wasn’t completed.

In some cases, your plan can be changed, or you can receive a discharge anyway. For example, the bankruptcy trustee may support a change to the plan if circumstances are beyond your control, and your creditors have received as much as they would have in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You can apply for a hardship discharge if you’ve lost your job or had a serious illness.

If the plan wasn’t completed for other reasons, creditors may apply to the court to terminate Chapter 13. When this happens, collection efforts against you may resume as before.