Bankruptcy Non-Dischargeable Debts: Non-Erasable Debts, Bankruptcy Exclusions

This guide explores the types of non-dischargeable debts under U.S. bankruptcy law, the legal framework governing them, and their implications for debtors, helping individuals make informed decisions about managing their financial obligations.


Bankruptcy is a legal process designed to help individuals and businesses eliminate or repay their debts under the protection of the bankruptcy court. While bankruptcy can provide a fresh start for many, not all debts are dischargeable. Certain debts are considered non-dischargeable, meaning they cannot be erased through bankruptcy proceedings. This guide explores the various types of non-dischargeable debts, the legal framework governing them, and the implications for debtors.

Bankruptcy Code

The primary source of bankruptcy law in the United States is the Bankruptcy Code, codified in Title 11 of the United States Code. The Bankruptcy Code outlines the different types of bankruptcy, the procedures for filing, and the types of debts that can and cannot be discharged.

Bankruptcy Courts

Bankruptcy cases are handled by specialized federal courts known as bankruptcy courts. Each federal judicial district has a bankruptcy court, which operates under the jurisdiction of the district court.

Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure

The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure govern the procedural aspects of bankruptcy cases. These rules ensure that bankruptcy proceedings are conducted fairly and efficiently.

Types of Non-Dischargeable Debts

Domestic Support Obligations

Domestic support obligations include alimony, child support, and other family-related debts. These obligations are non-dischargeable under Section 523(a)(5) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Certain Taxes

Certain tax debts are non-dischargeable, including:

  • Income taxes for which a return was due within three years before the bankruptcy filing.
  • Taxes for which a return was not filed or was filed late.
  • Taxes for which a fraudulent return was filed.

These are outlined in Section 523(a)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Student Loans

Student loans are generally non-dischargeable unless the debtor can prove that repaying the loan would cause undue hardship. This is a high standard to meet and is governed by Section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Debts Incurred Through Fraud

Debts incurred through fraudulent activities, including false pretenses, false representations, or actual fraud, are non-dischargeable under Section 523(a)(2).

Debts for Willful and Malicious Injury

Debts resulting from willful and malicious injury to another person or property are non-dischargeable under Section 523(a)(6).

Fines and Penalties

Fines and penalties owed to governmental units are non-dischargeable under Section 523(a)(7).

Debts arising from personal injury or death caused by the debtor's operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated are non-dischargeable under Section 523(a)(9).

Filing a Complaint

Creditors must file a complaint to determine the dischargeability of certain debts. This complaint initiates an adversary proceeding within the bankruptcy case.

Adversary Proceedings

An adversary proceeding is a lawsuit within the bankruptcy case. It involves the creditor and the debtor presenting evidence and arguments to the bankruptcy court.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof in adversary proceedings typically lies with the creditor. The creditor must prove that the debt meets the criteria for non-dischargeability under the Bankruptcy Code.

Case Law and Precedents

Brunner Test for Student Loans

The Brunner Test is a widely used standard for determining undue hardship in student loan discharge cases. It requires the debtor to prove:

  1. They cannot maintain a minimal standard of living if forced to repay the loans.
  2. Additional circumstances indicate that this state of affairs is likely to persist.
  3. They have made good faith efforts to repay the loans.
  4. Brunner v. New York State Higher Education Services Corp.

Fraudulent Debts

In cases involving fraudulent debts, courts examine the debtor's intent and the creditor's reliance on the debtor's false representations. Key cases include:

Implications for Debtors

Financial Consequences

Non-dischargeable debts remain the debtor's responsibility even after bankruptcy. This can significantly impact the debtor's financial situation and ability to achieve a fresh start.

Failure to pay non-dischargeable debts can result in legal actions, including wage garnishment, liens, and other collection efforts.

Strategies for Managing Non-Dischargeable Debts

Debtors should explore alternative strategies for managing non-dischargeable debts, such as:

  • Negotiating payment plans with creditors.
  • Seeking financial counseling.
  • Exploring income-driven repayment plans for student loans.


Understanding non-dischargeable debts is crucial for anyone considering bankruptcy. While bankruptcy can provide significant relief, it is essential to recognize that certain debts will survive the process. By understanding the legal framework and implications of non-dischargeable debts, debtors can make informed decisions and develop strategies to manage their financial obligations effectively.


  1. U.S. Bankruptcy Code
  2. U.S. Courts - Bankruptcy Basics
  3. Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure
  4. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(5)
  5. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)
  6. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8)
  7. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2)
  8. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6)
  9. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7)
  10. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9)
  11. Brunner v. New York State Higher Education Services Corp.
  12. Field v. Mans
  13. Grogan v. Garner
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Von Wooding

Von Wooding

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