What Happens to Most of Your Debts under Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”?

In most Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” cases most debts are written off, so what happens to them in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts”?

 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Chapter 13

Chapter 13 comes with many, many tools not available under Chapter 7. Many of these tools are helpful particularly if you have special debts or issues not deal with well in a Chapter 7 case—if you are behind on your mortgage, vehicle loan, or child support, if you owe income or property taxes, or if you have non-exempt (unprotected) assets you want to keep.

But these advantages come with what can be a significant disadvantage: you would usually have to pay something on your “general unsecured” debts—your run-of-the-mill ones without any collateral. That’s instead of paying nothing, as you likely would in a Chapter 7 case.

In some rare Chapter 13 cases you have to pay your “general unsecured” creditors in full—a so-called 100% plan. But on the other extreme, you may not have to pay those creditors anything—a 0% plan. Most of the time you have to pay them something, but often very little—only a few cents on the dollar.

How Much Do You Need to Pay Your “General Unsecured” Debts?

You must pay these debts whatever money is left over and available based on your budget after paying certain secured debts (home mortgage and vehicle arrearage, for example) and “priority” debts (recent income taxes, for example). So how much you have to pay on the debts that in a Chapter 7 case would be just discharged (written off without any payment) depends on your income, allowed expenses, and other debts, and sometimes also on the value of assets that you are trying to protect.

Here is a list of considerations in greater detail about how this works under Chapter 13.

1. Debts that are legally the same are treated the same. So, in a Chapter 13 plan all “general unsecured” debts are paid the same percent of the debt as are other “general unsecured” debts.

2. For any creditor to get paid anything out of what you are paying into a Chapter 13 plan, it has to file a “proof of claim”—stating the amount and nature of the debt—with the bankruptcy court, and do so by the stated deadline. If a creditor with a “general unsecured” debt does not file a “proof of claim” it will receive nothing through the plan. The debt will then be discharged at the end of the completed case.

3. If, as is often the case, other creditors do not file proofs of claim that usually, but not always, means more money available for the other creditors.

4. “0% plans” are those in which all of the money paid by the debtor into the plan is earmarked to pay secured and “priority” debts, plus trustee and attorney fees, leaving nothing for the “general unsecured” ones. Some bankruptcy courts frown on “0% plans,” either in general or especially when there does not seem to be good reason to be in a Chapter 13 case instead of a Chapter 7 one.

5. “100% plans” are those in which all of the “general unsecured” debts are paid in full through the plan. These happen mostly for two reasons. The debtors:

a. have enough disposable income (income minus allowed expenses) over the course of the case to pay off their debts in full; or

b. own more non-exempt assets which they are protecting through their Chapter 13 case than they have debts, requiring them to pay off their debts in full in order to keep those assets.

6. How much “general unsecured” debts are paid depends in part on how long the debtors are required to pay into their Chapter 13 case. Generally, if debtors’ pre-filing income is less than the published “median income” for their applicable state and family size, then they pay for 3 years into their plan. If their income is more than that amount, they must pay for 5 years instead.

7. Payments on “general unsecured” debts can also be affected by changes that happen during the case, such as income increases or decreases affecting the monthly plan payment amount, and unexpected tax refunds and employee bonuses paid into the plan.

8. Once the “general unsecured” debts are paid whatever the Chapter 13 plan provides for them (and the rest of the plan requirements are met), the remaining balances of those debts are discharged.

 

Written by

A graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School by way of Kansas State University, David Richardson is a licensed member of the Oregon and Washington Bar Associations, the US District Court for Oregon and Western Washington, and the District of Oregon and Western Washington Bankruptcy Courts.