If you have debts that can’t be written off (“discharged”) in a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy,” such as back child support or recent income taxes, Chapter 13 can be a much better alternative.
In my last blog I wrote about the discharge of debts under Chapter 7. I ended by saying that if you have debts that can’t be discharged in Chapter 7, “Chapter 13 is often a decent way to keep those under control.” Here’s how.
The best way to show this is with an example. So let’s say you owe $6,000 in IRS debt for 2009 and 2010, $4,000 in back child support, $15,000 in credit cards, and $3,000 in medical bills. You had lost your job in 2009, tried to run a business during 2009 and 2010 that made a little money but not enough to pay its taxes and to make all your support payments. Then you got a new job a few months ago that pays less than the one you’d lost in 2009, but at least you now make enough to pay your ongoing taxes and support, and your living expenses. However, you’re left with only about $400 left over to pay ALL of your debts. That would not be enough to pay the minimums on just the credit cards, much less anything on the rest of the debts.
A Chapter 7 case would discharge the $12,000 in credit cards and the $3,000 in medical bills, but would leave you with $6,000 owed to the IRS and $4,000 in back support—so you’d still be $10,000 in debt. Although the IRS would likely be willing to accept payments of $400 per month, the problem is that the state support enforcement agency is about to garnish your wages for the back support, trashing any possible arrangement with the IRS. Also, you’re still in the probationary period at your new job and the last thing you want is for the payroll office to get a garnishment order for back child support. Filing Chapter 7 would not stop that kind of garnishment.
But Chapter 13 would. So you file a Chapter 13 case, keep up your ongoing regular child support payments, and put together a plan to pay to the Chapter 13 trustee $400 per month for 36 months. During that period of time neither the IRS, nor the support agency, nor your ex-spouse—nor any of your other creditors—would be able to take any action against you or any of your assets. That is they couldn’t as long as you consistently made your $400 payments, and kept current on your ongoing tax and support obligations. Over those three years you’d pay to the trustee $14,400 ($400 X 36 months), which would pay all the $4,000 of back support and the $6,000 in taxes—usually without any additional interest or penalties from the date of the filing of your Chapter 13 case. The Chapter 13 trustee would also get paid, usually about 5-to-10% of what you’re paying into the plan, as would any attorney fees you did not pay to your attorney at the beginning of your case. If there is still any money left over (not likely very much in this example), that gets divided pro rata among the credit card and medical debts. After the 36 months of payments, any remaining balances on those debts are discharged, leaving you owing nothing to any of your creditors, and current on your taxes and support payments.
So that’s how a simple Chapter 13 case works.