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What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

September 16, 2009

A chapter 13 bankruptcy is also called a “reorganization plan” or a “wage earner’s plan.” A debtor who files a chapter 13 bankruptcy intends to repay all or part of her debts in installments to creditors over three to five years. The individual’s repayment plan term cannot exceed five years.

There are a number of advantages that chapter 13 affords to debtors. The most significant is the ability to stop a home foreclosure and force the creditor to accept payments for any delinquent mortgage payments. The bankruptcy automatic stay stops foreclosure proceedings immediately upon the debtor’s bankruptcy filing with the court. However, this temporary relief may be lost if the debtor fails to make the regular mortgage payments that come due after the chapter 13 filing.

Another advantage of chapter 13 bankruptcy is that a debtor may modify a secured loan and repay it over the plan term. This usually lowers the monthly payment. In certain circumstances the debtor can also “cram-down” the secured loan by stripping away the unsecured portion of a debt. For example, a debtor may owe $20,000 on a car that is only worth $10,000. Chapter 13 may allow the debtor to modify this loan and only pay the creditor the value of the car, or $10,000. There are special qualifying rules for this type of modification, so be sure to discuss your situation with your attorney.

Within 15 days of the filing of the chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, the debtor must file a proposed repayment plan with the court. The plan is also sent to the U.S. trustee and all creditors for review and opportunity to object. The plan must provide for regular fixed payments to the trustee who then distributes the funds to creditors according to the terms of the plan (which may be less than full payment on their claims). It is common for a chapter 13 plan to propose to pay secured creditors in full and nothing to unsecured creditors. This largely depends on whether there is “extra” money at the end of the month after the debtor’s secured creditors and monthly expenses are paid.

Occasionally circumstances change after confirmation of the chapter 13 plan that prevents the debtor from completing the repayment plan. The debtor may ask the court to allow the debtor to modify the plan, or to grant a “hardship discharge” and end the case early. Otherwise, at the end of the three to five year repayment period the court will discharge the debtor’s remaining debts that are not “non-dischargeable” by law. The chapter 13 bankruptcy discharge prevents those creditors from seeking payment from the debtor.   

If you are over-burdened with secured debts and are in need of relief, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney about your rights under chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code.




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