A business Chapter 13 case does not have to be complicated. Here’s how it can work.
It’s true that if you own a business that usually means you have a more complicated financial picture than someone punching a time clock or getting a regular salary. So usually if does take more time for an attorney to determine whether and how bankruptcy could help you and your business. But saving a business in the right circumstances can be relatively straightforward and extremely effective.
A good way to demonstrate this is by walking through a realistic Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case.
Jeremy, a single 32-year old, started a handyman business when he lost his job a little more than three years ago. He had ten years steady experience before that in construction and maintenance work. A hard worker and self-starter, he’d been itching to run his own business. He’d slowly accumulated the tools and equipment he needed, and had taken some courses at the local community college in small business management. He had decent credit at the time, owing nothing except his modest mortgage that he had never been late on plus about $2,800 spread out on a number of credit cards. Jeremy had always lived in the same area along with most of his extended family, so he had tons of contacts, and had a great reputation as a responsible guy who could fix anything. He had begun to accumulate some money to get him past the start-up of his business, but then his employer ran into financial problems and he was reluctantly laid off. So Jeremy decided to take the risk of starting his business in spite of having very little working capital. He had $8,500 of credit available on his credit cards if he got desperate.
His business started off slowly, partly because he didn’t have the cash to invest in advertising. But he was creative in setting up a website and using social media, and worked very hard building a customer base and a good business reputation. His income crept steadily upwards, but way too slowly. Over the course of the first year Jeremy maxed out his credit cards to keep current on his mortgage, feed himself, and keeps the lights on. But he simply didn’t have enough money to pay any estimated quarterly income taxes to the IRS, falling behind $3,500 to them that year.
Then during the second year of his business, Jeremy managed to keep current on the increased payments on his credit card debts but couldn’t pay them down any. Plus he fell behind another $6,000 in income taxes. Then recently, towards the end of his third year of business, after again failing to pay any estimated quarterly income taxes and falling another $4,500 behind, the IRS required him to start making $400 monthly payments on his $14,000 debt, plus to pay his estimated quarterly payments going forward. As a result he started not being able to keep current on his credit card payments, leading to ratcheted-up interest rates, pushing him over the credit limits and into the vicious cycle of large extra fees piling up. And now he’s missed two payments on his mortgage, putting him $3,000 in arrears.
In spite of all these distractions Jeremy’s business now has reasonably steady income, which continues to increase, slowly but quite consistently. His accumulated debt problems ARE taking a toll on his ability to focus on growing his business. In spite of this he still very much likes his work and being his own boss, and realistically believes he can keep increasing his income, especially as the economy improves. He very much wants to keep his business going.
But his creditors have him in an impossible situation. If he misses a payment, the IRS could levy on his business equipment or even garnish his business customers—requiring them to pay the IRS instead of him and trashing his very hard-won reputation. A couple credit cards creditors are sending their accounts to collection agencies. He not too far behind on his mortgage but still doesn’t see how he could catch up on even just two missed mortgage payments considering his other financial pressures.
The Chapter 13 Solution
If Jeremy met with an experienced business bankruptcy attorney, this is likely what the attorney would tell him that a Chapter 13 case would accomplish:
- Cancel the $400 monthly payments to the IRS, giving him 5 years to pay that debt, with no additional ongoing interest or penalties during that whole time. This would significantly reduce the amount that he would need to pay each month and overall.
- Stop all collection efforts by the credit card creditors and any collection agencies. They would only receive any money after Jeremy caught up on the house arrearage and paid off the income taxes, and then only to the extent that Jeremy’s budget would allow.
- Immediately protect all his business and personal assets—tools and equipment, his business truck and/or personal vehicle, receivables owed by customers for prior work, and his business and personal bank and/or credit union accounts.
- Enable Jeremy to concentrate on his business by greatly relieving his month-by-month financial burden, as well as save him a lot of money in the long run.
- At the end of his 3-to-5 year Chapter 13 case, Jeremy will be current on his mortgage, he would owe nothing to the IRS, and he would have paid as much as he could afford on the credit cards, with any remaining amount discharged (legally written off).
As a result the business that he loves and in which he has invested so much hope and effort would be thriving and providing him a decent livelihood.