The most common reason for a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is if you have debts that can’t be written off in a “straight” Chapter 7 case.
When Chapter 7 Does Not Discharge Your Debts
My last blog post was about the discharge (legal write-off) of debts under Chapter 7. I concluded with the comment that if you have debts that Chapter 7 doesn’t discharge, Chapter 13 may be the way to go. It provides what is often the safest and most convenient method to deal with debts that you have to pay, while also discharging those debts that would be discharged under Chapter 7. The much longer time that Chapter 13 takes—3 to 5 years instead of as short as 3 to 4 months for most Chapter 7 cases—can be highly worthwhile under the right circumstances.
Let’s show you one example of the right circumstances. Imagine someone owing $7,000 in IRS debt for 2011 and 2012, $3,000 in back child support, $20,000 in credit cards, and $5,000 in medical bills. The person lost his or her job in late 2010 and used the situation to try to run a one-person business during 2011 and 2012. It made a little money but only barely enough to pay living expenses. There was absolutely no money available to set aside for income taxes. During that period the person also fell behind on child support payments. Then this person found a new job a few months ago that pays less than the one lost in 2010, but at least enough to pay ongoing taxes and support, in addition to living expenses. But the person’s budget leaves only about $400 to pay ALL debts, not nearly enough to pay the minimum amounts on the credit cards, much less anything towards the rest of the debts including the taxes and back support.
What Chapter 7 Would and Would NOT Accomplish
A regular Chapter 7 case would likely discharge the $20,000 in credit cards and the $5,000 in medical bills, but would leave owing the $7,000 to the IRS and the $3,000 in back support. Although discharging $25,000, the person would come out of bankruptcy still $10,000 in debt, owed to two creditors who can be extremely aggressive—the IRS and your ex-spouse or the local support enforcement agency.
Although the IRS might be willing to accept payments of $400 per month, there’s a good chance that your ex-spouse or the support enforcement agency would be able to garnish your wages for the back support, and that would negate any possible arrangement with the IRS. Plus the last thing this person would want at his or her new job is for the payroll office to get a garnishment order for back child support. A previously filed Chapter 7 case would have no power to stop that kind of garnishment.
What Chapter 13 Would Accomplish
In contrast Chapter 13 would be able to stop your ex-spouse or support agency from garnishing for back support—as well as from any action the IRS or any state taxing entity, or virtually any other creditor, could take.
So the person in our example would file a Chapter 13 case, start or continue paying any ongoing monthly child support payments, and would also be sure to have withheld an adequate amount for ongoing income taxes. Then his or her attorney would put together a plan to pay the Chapter 13 trustee $400 per month (based on what is available in his or her budget) for 36 months.
During that period of time neither the IRS, nor the support agency or ex-spouse, nor any other creditors would be able to take any action against the person or any of his or her assets as long as he or she complied with the Chapter 13 plan. That means that he or she kept up the $400 plan payments, and kept current on ongoing tax and support obligations (as provided for in the budget).
Over those three years the trustee would be paid $14,400 ($400 X 36 months), which would pay all the $3,000 in back support and the $7,000 in taxes—usually without any additional interest or penalties from the date of the filing of the Chapter 13 case. The Chapter 13 trustee would also get paid, usually about 5-to-10% of what is being paid into the plan, as would any attorney fees that weren’t paid to the attorney at the beginning of your case. If there would be any money left over (little or none in this example), that would be divided pro rata among the credit card and medical debts. After the 36 months of payments, any remaining balances on those debts would be discharged. That would leave the person at the end of the Chapter 13 case owing nothing to anyone. The back taxes and support would have been paid off, and he or she would be current on any ongoing income taxes and child support.
So that’s what a simple Chapter 13 case would accomplish and would look like.