10 Things You Must Know About Chapter 13 If You Do Not Qualify for Chapter 7

So, Attorney Gandalf has told you that “You Shall NOT Pass!”

That’s what Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings told the Demon-Balrog as it attempted to cross a narrow bridge deep in the Mines of Moria. So now you’ve been told by another attorney that you don’t qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You’ve failed the Means Test. Perhaps based on your own research you think your income might be too high. But it’s not like you’re wealthy and or made of money. You’re struggling just like everyone else, just at a higher level of income. At the end of the month, you have the same amount left over as everyone else; nothing.

What now?

Get a 2nd Opinion About the Means Test

I’ve seen cases where a client’s initial consultation with another attorney missed a couple of key items that made all the difference. When you come in for your free consultation, we’ll go over them together. Attorneys are not supermen, we’re fallible.

Okay, I’m not but some are. Some of the lawyers who are newer in the field of bankruptcy might not know all the ins and outs yet. I’ve filed several Chapter 7 cases where the first attorney thought that the clients didn’t pass the Chapter 7 Qualification Test called the Means Test.

Let me have a look at it if you’re in California, maybe I can help you. I’ve been a bankruptcy attorney since 1994 and I’m located in Murrieta conveniently close to Temecula, Riverside, Wildomar, Menifee, Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake, Santa Ana and San Diego.

Sometimes Your Only Bankruptcy Option is Chapter 13

There are worse things, just ask Gandalf, more importantly ask the Balrog.  But if you have to file a Chapter 13, there are things you must know.  Here are the first 10 that come to mind off the top of my head.
First: It’s not the end of the world.  The sky will not fall. The police will not show up and arrest you (there is no debtor’s prison). Your friends will not laugh at you. In fact more of them have filed or are about to than you might imagine. You won’t walk around with a watermark of a B on your forehead. Frankly, if you make too much money to file a chapter 7 then that’s a good problem to have. You’re going to get to do what you promised to do in the first place; pay your debts.

Second: A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a bankruptcy with a payment plan attached. If you don’t qualify for a chapter 7, your payment plan must be 60 months unless you’re able to pay it off earlier. You might even be able to strip your 2nd mortgage lien off of your house.

Third: If you don’t qualify for a chapter 7, your chapter 13 bankruptcy has a version of the Means Test too and it is used to determine, at least in part, how much of your unsecured non-priority debts you must pay back through your chapter 13 payment plan.

The definition of unsecured is any debt that is not attached to something that can be repossessed if you don’t make the payments. Priority debts, roughly speaking, are debts that either you owe directly to the government or that the government must pay if you don’t. So for instance, credit cards and medical bills are unsecured. So are student loans. Recent taxes are priority debts, which you do owe directly to the government. Child support is a priority debt too because if you don’t pay, then the custodial parent may be forced to go on welfare. But student loans on the other hand are not priority debts because if they were a lot of people would never qualify for Chapter 13. But that’s a whole nuther ball o’ wax!

Fourth: You may not have to pay all your credit cards, medical bills, student loans, old taxes (under the right circumstances and conditions of which there are many) and so on in full. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able pay off lates on your mortgage, back child support and recent taxes in full while paying only what you can afford to on your credit cards, medical bills, student loans, and old taxes.  Of course, you will still owe any unpaid student loans after your chapter 13 payment plan is over.

So, “it puts a book mark in the student loan.”  ~Anna.

Fifth: The other thing that determines how much of your unsecured non-priority debt is how much stuff you own. If you have accumulated a lot of stuff or a lot of unprotected savings, you may have to buy it back again. So, never ever have unprotected savings. Basically if you could protect only $50,000 worth of stuff but you have $75,000 then you must pay at least $25,000 into your chapter 13 bankruptcy. So, whichever requires you to pay more is the one that you go with.

Sixth:  Even if you have to pay everything in full, 100% of the principal on your unsecured non-priority debts, but if you can do it with 0% interest, then you will most likely have a lower payment than if you go to a debt consolidation program outside of a bankruptcy.

Seventh:  If you pay less than 100% of the principal they will take your tax refunds away from you every year you are in your chapter 13 bankruptcy so sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet do a 100% payment plan.

Eighth: If you owe more than $1,149,525 to secured debts such as your houses and cars, you can’t file a chapter 13.  Or if your credit cards and medical bills and other unsecured non-priority debts come to more than $383,175 then you cannot file a chapter 13. In those circumstances your options are consolidate your debts outside of bankruptcy, settle some of the debt and then file the 13 or try a 7 anyway and hope they don’t try to force you into a chapter 11 where you will have to pay more than $20K in attorney’s fees (and that’s just the beginning).

Ninth: If you’ve been behind on your payments to your houses and cars then in some jurisdictions your bankruptcy judge will require that you pay your regular monthly payment on your mortgage to your bankruptcy trustee rather than directly to your mortgage bank.  In the Central District of California in the Riverside Division, there is one judge that does require this.  Called a conduit payment, it helps to insure that you don’t get into any further trouble with your mortgage payments.  However, if you haven’t been behind in your house payments, then you are still allowed to pay directly even in that Judge’s Court.

Tenth:  A Chapter 13 bankruptcy has a qualification test too, it’s called the feasibility test, which means what it basically sounds like.  You have to be able to pay the payment plan.  If you can’t, then they dismiss your case or suggest that you convert to a chapter 7 bankruptcy.  So, if at a later date you lose a job, or your spouse loses their job or that second job, then maybe you can request that the judge assigned to your chapter 13 reduce your plan payment based on the new lower income or even request a conversion to chapter 7.

I’ll be expanding the list, so if there’s something you think should be on the MUST KNOW List, please put it in a comment below.  I look forward to your thoughts.

About David Nelson

I love to get people out of trouble and out of debt. In Temecula and Murrieta Call 951-200-3613 for a consultation. Connect with me on Google Plus. Bankruptcy Attorney David Nelson on Google+
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