Debt Limits in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

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For most people, the word bankruptcy doesn’t incite a positive response, especially if it’s a personal obstacle that you’ve faced. Despite its often negative reputation, bankruptcy does provide a second chance to start fresh. It’s not the easiest monetary maze to navigate, but in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a significant emphasis is placed on devising a repayment plan, which offers direction to a financially divergent individual.

When a debtor files a petition through the bankruptcy court, the bankruptcy case is initiated. Though there are various types/chapters of bankruptcy, Chapter 13 can only be filed by individuals. In order for you to qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, your total debt cannot exceed a specific limit according to the bankruptcy law. At first glance, if your debt exceeds the set amount, don’t panic. It’s still possible to qualify for Chapter 13, and we’ll explain what that looks like.

Some parts of debts can be contingent, disputed, or not yet liquidated and therefore will not be combined with the rest of your debt. Unliquidated debt occurs when the amount that you may be required to pay has not yet been determined or cannot easily be determined. This can be a common occurrence in personal injury or auto accident claims. A debt that you are not mandated to pay unless a specific event takes place is known as contingency debt. If the event never occurs, you will not be obligated to pay the debt.

Every 3 years, the Chapter 13 debt limits are altered. Set on April 1, 2016, if your secured debts, such as mortgages and liens, amount to more than $1,184,200 or unsecured debt totals more than $394,725, you may not be eligible for Chapter 13. These amounts are not negotiable, but there are steps you can take in order to get your debt total below the limits.

Review and Separate Types of Debt

1.      Distinguish which debts are not counted into the debt limit.

You are not obligated to pay contingency debts unless the contingency event occurs. Be careful; cosigned debts are not contingent.
Example: You cosign on your sister’s car loan with the assumption that she will repay the debt. Legally, you are just as responsible for the debt, even if you and your sister are in agreement that she will be responsible for repayment.

Unliquidated debts are easy to understand, but know that breach of contract claims are not normally deemed unliquidated.

2.      Separate debt into unsecured and secured categories.

What is the difference between unsecured and secured debt? Connected to a property, mortgages and car loans are standard examples of secured debt. Since the borrower has an incorporated motivation to make payments, the property linked to the debt is said to “secure” the loan. If the individual ceases to make payments, the lender can take hold of the property that is associated with the loan.

Unsecured debt includes credit card debt and student loans. In other words, it’s debt that is unattached to property. The creditor can take action against the debtor, but they are not able to seize property to make up for ignored payments.

If you have secured property in bankruptcy, it’s possible to strip down a lien or part of a lien. Any portion that is removed turns into unsecured debt. The conversion of some secured debt to unsecured debt can assist you in remaining beneath the debt limit.

Other Filing Requirements

In order to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it’s not only necessary that you meet the debt limits; there are a few additional requirements. It’s suggested that you have a steady, reliable income. This is crucial because a repayment plan occurs over the course of 3 to 5 years and you need to be sure that you will have a paying job throughout the life of your plan.

A credit counseling session is also mandated before an individual can file for Chapter 13. You’ll be required to submit a certificate that states that the counseling was completed before your bankruptcy case can be opened.

If you find that you do not meet the debt limits for Chapter 13 bankruptcy even after taking our suggested steps, there are other options that you can pursue. Chapter 11 bankruptcy offers reorganization and many of the benefits of Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but it’s typically less stream-lined. Chapter 7 would also be an option, but it only provides liquidation.

If you’re considering filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and have questions about the process or even more specifically, debt limits, be sure to contact our office. We offer all new clients a free, holistic debt evaluation, which will help you determine what action(s) will help your financial situation the most.