Your “left-over debts”—those which are neither secured by collateral nor belong to any of the special “priority” categories—often don’t drive the decision about whether to file Chapter 7 or 13. But you still need to know how these “general unsecured debts” are handled under these two options.
Your secured debts often are tied to your most important possessions—home, vehicles, and sometimes business equipment. So it’s understandable that your bankruptcy decisions will focus on how you can hold on to the collateral you need. And your “priority” debts tend to involve your most aggressive creditors and often can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, so these also grab our attention. And yet, in the list of all your creditors you probably owe “general unsecured debt” to more of them than the other two categories combined. So what happens to these “left-over debts”?
I’ll cover this for Chapter 7 today, and then for Chapter 13 in my next blog.
What happens to your “general unsecured debts” in a Chapter 7 case depends on two very different considerations: 1) “dischargeability,” and 2) asset distribution.
This term refers to whether your creditor will dispute your ability to get a discharge–a legal write-off—of that debt. The vast, vast majority of “general unsecured debts” ARE NOT challenged and so they are in fact discharged. In the rare case that your discharge of the debt is challenged, you may have to pay some or all of that particular debt, depending on whether the creditor is able to show that you fit within some rather narrow grounds for “nondischargeability.” That would usually involving allegations of fraud, misrepresentation or other similar bad behavior on your part.
If everything you own is exempt, or protected, then your Chapter 7 trustee will not take any of your assets from you. This is commonly referred to as a “no asset” case. But if the trustee DOES take possession of any of your assets for distribution to your creditors—an “asset case”—that does not necessarily mean that your “general unsecured creditors” will receive any of it. The trustee must first pay off any and all of your “priority” debts, AND pay the trustee’s own fees and that of any liquidating agents or other professionals used. Only if any funds remain will the unsecured creditors get to share in these “leftovers.”
To summarize, in most Chapter 7 cases your “general unsecured debts” will all be discharged, preventing those creditors from ever being able to pursue you for them. Also in most cases, this category of creditors will receive nothing from you, as long as all your assets are exempt. Relatively rarely, a creditor may challenge the discharge of its debt. And if you have an “asset case,” the trustee may pay a part or—very rarely—all of the “general unsecured debts.” But these can happen only if the “priority” debts and trustee fees do not exhaust all the funds being distributed by the trustee.