If you file bankruptcy, it’s okay to voluntarily repay any debt. But there can be unexpected consequences.
The Bankruptcy Code says “[n]othing… prevents a debtor from voluntarily repaying any debt.” Section 524(f).
But that doesn’t mean that repaying a debt won’t have consequences, including sometimes some highly unexpected ones. So what are those consequences?
To start off let’s be clear that we’re NOT talking about a creditor which you want to pay because it has a right to repossess collateral that you want to keep. Nor is this about paying a debt because the law does not let you to discharge (write off) it. Those two categories of debts—secured debts and non-dischargeable ones—have their own sets of rules governing them. We’re talking here about voluntary repayment, paying a debt even though you’re not legally required to.
And let’s also make a big distinction about the timing of those voluntary payments. We’re NOT talking here about payments made to creditors BEFORE the filing of bankruptcy. That was covered in the last blog. Be sure to check that out because the consequences of paying certain creditors at certain times before bankruptcy can be very surprising and frustrating, seemly going against common sense.
Instead, today’s blog is about paying creditors AFTER filing your bankruptcy case. The straightforward rule here is that you can pay your special creditor after filing a “straight” Chapter 7 case, but can’t do so in a “payment plan’ Chapter 13 case. For that you must wait until the case is completed, which is usually three to five years after it starts. So, if you would absolutely want to start making payments to a special creditor—such as a relative who lent you money on a personal loan—right after filing your bankruptcy case, you would have to file a Chapter 7 case instead of a Chapter 13 one.
Why is there such a difference between Chapter 7 and 13 for this? Basically because Chapter 7 fixates for most purposes on your financial life as of the day your case is filed, while Chapter 13 cares about your financial life throughout the length of the payment plan. You can play favorites with one of your creditors right after your Chapter 7 is filed because doing so doesn’t affect your other creditors. In contrast, in a Chapter 13 case your payment plan is designed so that you are paying all you can afford in monthly payments to the trustee to distribute to the creditors in a legally appropriate fashion. Here the law does not allow you to favor one creditor over the other ones just because you have a special personal or moral reason to do so. You can only favor a creditor AFTER the case is completed, again usually three to five years after filing.
So what would the consequences be of paying your special creditor “on the side” during an ongoing Chapter 13 case? The simple answer is that it’s illegal so don’t do it. Beyond that it’s difficult to answer because it would depend on the circumstances of the case (such as how much you paid inappropriately) and would depend on the discretion of the Chapter 13 trustee and of the bankruptcy judge. You’d be risking having your entire Chapter 13 case be thrown out. You would be wasting a tremendous investment of time and money, risking years of your financial life. Clearly, things you want to avoid.
Instead, talk very candidly with your attorney about your special debt and why you are so committed to paying it. There are usually sensible ways for dealing with these kinds of situations once it’s all out on the table. Your attorney’s job is to present options to you for meeting your goals, including that of paying this special creditor. He or she will only be able to do that for you if you make clear that you want to pay off this creditor and explain why.