Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Wage Earner’s Plan, Debt Repayment Plan

This guide offers a detailed overview of Chapter 13 bankruptcy, explaining its purpose, eligibility requirements, filing process, and effects on both debtors and creditors.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as the Wage Earner’s Plan, is a legal process that allows individuals with a regular income to develop a plan to repay all or part of their debts. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of Chapter 13 bankruptcy, including its purpose, eligibility requirements, the filing process, and the implications for debtors and creditors.

Introduction to Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

What is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a type of bankruptcy that enables individuals with a regular income to create a plan to repay their debts over a period of three to five years. Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which involves liquidating assets to pay off debts, Chapter 13 allows debtors to keep their property and repay creditors through a court-approved repayment plan.

Purpose of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

The primary purpose of Chapter 13 bankruptcy is to provide individuals with an opportunity to reorganize their financial affairs and repay their debts in a manageable way. It offers a structured repayment plan that can help debtors avoid foreclosure on their homes, catch up on missed mortgage or car payments, and discharge certain unsecured debts.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is governed by federal law, specifically Title 11 of the United States Code (U.S.C.). The relevant statutes and regulations can be found in 11 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1330. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code outlines the procedures, requirements, and protections associated with Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Official Links: - Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Basics - U.S. Courts - 11 U.S.C. Chapter 13 - U.S. Code - Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – IRS

Eligibility for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Who Can File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

To be eligible for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, an individual must meet certain criteria:

  1. Regular Income: The debtor must have a regular source of income, which can include wages, salary, self-employment income, Social Security benefits, or other consistent income sources.
  2. Debt Limits: The debtor's secured debts (e.g., mortgage, car loan) must not exceed $1,257,850, and unsecured debts (e.g., credit card debt, medical bills) must not exceed $419,275. These limits are subject to periodic adjustments.
  3. Previous Bankruptcy Filings: The debtor must not have had a bankruptcy petition dismissed within the previous 180 days due to willful failure to appear before the court or comply with court orders.

Credit Counseling Requirement

Before filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtor must complete a credit counseling course from an approved agency. This requirement ensures that the debtor has explored all available options for managing their debts before resorting to bankruptcy.

Filing the Petition

The debtor initiates the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process by filing a petition with the bankruptcy court. The petition must include detailed information about the debtor's financial situation, including income, expenses, assets, liabilities, and a proposed repayment plan.

Official Links: - Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Petition Package - District of Utah - Credit Counseling Requirement - U.S. Courts

The Chapter 13 Repayment Plan

Developing the Repayment Plan

The core component of Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the repayment plan, which outlines how the debtor will repay their debts over a period of three to five years. The plan must be feasible, meaning the debtor must have sufficient income to make the proposed payments.

Contents of the Plan

The repayment plan must include the following elements:

  1. Priority Debts: These are debts that must be paid in full, such as taxes, child support, and alimony.
  2. Secured Debts: The plan must address how the debtor will catch up on missed payments for secured debts, such as mortgages and car loans. The debtor may also propose to pay off the remaining balance of the secured debt through the plan.
  3. Unsecured Debts: The plan must provide for the repayment of a portion of unsecured debts, such as credit card debt and medical bills. The amount repaid depends on the debtor's disposable income and the value of their non-exempt assets.

Confirmation of the Plan

The bankruptcy court must approve (confirm) the repayment plan. Creditors have the opportunity to object to the plan, and the court will hold a confirmation hearing to determine whether the plan meets the requirements of the Bankruptcy Code.

Official Links: - 11 U.S.C. § 1322 - Contents of Plan - Chapter 13 - U.S. Bankruptcy Court Southern District of Alabama

The Role of the Bankruptcy Trustee

Appointment of the Trustee

Upon filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a bankruptcy trustee is appointed to oversee the case. The trustee's role is to review the debtor's repayment plan, collect payments from the debtor, and distribute the funds to creditors.

Trustee's Responsibilities

The trustee has several key responsibilities, including:

  1. Reviewing the Plan: The trustee reviews the proposed repayment plan to ensure it complies with the Bankruptcy Code and is feasible.
  2. Collecting Payments: The debtor makes regular payments to the trustee, who then distributes the funds to creditors according to the terms of the confirmed plan.
  3. Monitoring Compliance: The trustee monitors the debtor's compliance with the repayment plan and may take action if the debtor fails to make payments or otherwise violates the plan's terms.

Official Links: - U.S. Trustee Program - Department of Justice - U.S. Trustee Program | Region 12: Frequently Asked Questions

The Automatic Stay

Protection from Creditors

When a debtor files for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect. The automatic stay is a legal injunction that temporarily halts most collection actions by creditors, including:

  1. Foreclosure: The automatic stay stops foreclosure proceedings, allowing the debtor to catch up on missed mortgage payments through the repayment plan.
  2. Repossession: The stay prevents creditors from repossessing the debtor's property, such as a car, while the bankruptcy case is pending.
  3. Lawsuits: The stay halts most lawsuits and collection actions, giving the debtor breathing room to reorganize their finances.

Exceptions to the Automatic Stay

There are certain exceptions to the automatic stay. For example, the stay does not apply to certain criminal proceedings, actions to collect child support or alimony, and certain tax-related actions.

Official Links: - Automatic Stay - U.S. Courts

Modifying the Repayment Plan

Circumstances for Modification

During the course of the Chapter 13 repayment plan, the debtor's financial situation may change. If the debtor experiences a significant change in income or expenses, they may request a modification of the repayment plan. Common reasons for modification include:

  1. Job Loss: If the debtor loses their job or experiences a significant reduction in income, they may need to modify the plan to reduce the payment amount.
  2. Medical Expenses: Unexpected medical expenses can impact the debtor's ability to make payments, necessitating a plan modification.
  3. Increased Income: If the debtor's income increases, creditors may request a modification to increase the payment amount.

Process for Modification

To modify the repayment plan, the debtor must file a motion with the bankruptcy court and provide evidence of the changed circumstances. The court will hold a hearing to determine whether the modification is warranted and whether the modified plan meets the requirements of the Bankruptcy Code.

Official Links: - Modification of Chapter 13 Plan - U.S. Courts

Discharge of Debts

Completion of the Repayment Plan

Upon successful completion of the Chapter 13 repayment plan, the debtor is eligible for a discharge of remaining eligible debts. The discharge releases the debtor from personal liability for certain debts, meaning they are no longer legally obligated to pay them.

Debts Discharged in Chapter 13

The discharge in Chapter 13 bankruptcy typically includes:

  1. Unsecured Debts: Most unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, medical bills, and personal loans, are discharged.
  2. Secured Debts: Any remaining balance on secured debts that were paid through the plan may also be discharged.

Exceptions to Discharge

Certain debts are not dischargeable in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, including:

  1. Domestic Support Obligations: Child support and alimony are not dischargeable.
  2. Certain Taxes: Some tax debts are not dischargeable.
  3. Student Loans: Most student loans are not dischargeable unless the debtor can demonstrate undue hardship.

Official Links: - Discharge in Chapter 13 - U.S. Courts

Implications for Debtors and Creditors

Benefits for Debtors

Chapter 13 bankruptcy offers several benefits for debtors, including:

  1. Avoiding Foreclosure: The automatic stay and repayment plan can help debtors avoid foreclosure on their homes.
  2. Retaining Property: Debtors can keep their property while repaying their debts through the plan.
  3. Debt Discharge: Successful completion of the plan results in the discharge of eligible debts.

Impact on Creditors

Creditors are also affected by Chapter 13 bankruptcy:

  1. Repayment: Creditors receive payments through the repayment plan, which may be more than they would receive in a Chapter 7 liquidation.
  2. Automatic Stay: The automatic stay temporarily halts collection actions, but creditors can request relief from the stay in certain circumstances.
  3. Discharge: Creditors must accept the discharge of eligible debts upon completion of the plan.

Official Links: - Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – IRS

Conclusion

Chapter 13 bankruptcy provides a structured and manageable way for individuals with regular income to repay their debts and regain financial stability. By understanding the eligibility requirements, the repayment plan process, and the implications for both debtors and creditors, individuals can make informed decisions about whether Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the right option for their financial situation.

For more detailed information and resources, please refer to the official links provided throughout this guide.

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Von Wooding

Von Wooding

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