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Chapter 13 Process

A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy case begins with filing a petition, related schedules and documents, and a Chapter 13 plan. A debtor must also:

  • Complete a credit counseling course before filing
  • Complete a debtor education course during the bankruptcy
  • Provide the case trustee with all pay stubs received 60 days before the filing
  • Provide the case trustee with the most recent income tax return or transcript
  • Provide the case trustee with tax returns for prior years that had not been filed when the case began
  • Even if filing jointly, a husband and wife are subject to all the document filing requirements of individual debtors.

In order for the attorney to complete the forms that make up the petition, statement of financial affairs, and schedules, the debtor must provide the following information:

  1. A list of all creditors and the amount and nature of their claims;
  2. The source, amount, and frequency of the debtor’s income;
  3. A list of all of the debtor’s property; and
  4. A detailed list of the debtor’s monthly living expenses, i.e., food, clothing, shelter, utilities, taxes, transportation, medicine, etc.

Married individuals must gather this information for their spouse regardless of whether they are filing a joint petition, separate individual petitions, or even if only one spouse files. In a situation where only one spouse files, the income and expenses of the non-filing spouse is required so that the court, the trustee, and the creditors can evaluate the household’s income and financial situation.

A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. When an individual files a Chapter 13 petition, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case. The Chapter 13 trustee both evaluates the case and serves as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from the debtor and making distributions to creditors. Filing the petition under Chapter 13 “automatically stays” (stops) most collection actions against the debtor or the debtor’s property.

Filing the petition does not, however, stay certain types of actions and the stay may be effective only for a short time in some situations. The automatic stay arises by operation of law (automatically) and requires no judicial action. As long as the automatic stay is in effect, creditors generally may not initiate or continue lawsuits, wage garnishments, or even make telephone calls demanding payments.

The bankruptcy clerk gives notice of the bankruptcy case to all creditors whose names and addresses are provided by the debtor.Chapter 13 also contains a special automatic stay provision that protects co-debtors. Unless the bankruptcy court authorizes otherwise, a creditor may not seek to collect a “consumer debt” from any individual who is liable along with the debtor. Consumer debts are those incurred by an individual primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose.

Individuals may use a Chapter 13 proceeding to save their home from foreclosure. The automatic stay stops the foreclosure proceeding as soon as the individual files the Chapter 13 petition. The individual may then bring the past-due payments current over a reasonable period of time (3-5 years). However, the debtor may still lose the home if the mortgage company completes the foreclosure sale under state law before the bankruptcy petition is filed. The debtor may also lose the home if he or she fails to make not only the regular mortgage payments that come due, but also the past-due payments.

Between 20 and 50 days after the debtor files the Chapter 13 petition, the Chapter 13 trustee will hold a meeting of creditors. During this meeting, the trustee places the debtor under oath, and both the trustee and creditors (if present) may ask questions. The debtor must attend the meeting and answer questions regarding his or her financial affairs and the proposed terms of the Chapter 13 plan. If a husband and wife file a joint petition, they both must attend the creditors’ meeting and answer questions.

In order to preserve their independent judgment, bankruptcy judges are prohibited from attending the creditors’ meeting. The parties typically resolve problems with the plan either during or shortly after the creditors’ meeting. Generally, the debtor can avoid problems by making sure that the petition and plan are complete and accurate, and by consulting with the trustee prior to the meeting.

In a Chapter 13 case, to participate in distributions from the bankruptcy estate, unsecured creditors must file their claims with the court within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. A governmental unit, however, has 180 days from the date the case is filed file a proof of claim. After the meeting of creditors, the debtor, the Chapter 13 trustee, and those creditors who wish to attend will come to court for a hearing on the debtor’s Chapter 13 repayment plan. If the plan is confirmed by the court, the debtor will make or continue to make all plan payments.

Unfortunately, many plans fail because debtors are unable to make all plan payments. If a plan fails your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case will most likely be dismissed. case