Are You Eligible for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Learn about Chapter 13 qualifications.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

Many debtors wonder about Chapter 13 requirements and how to qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, an individual with enough income to repay creditors some or all of what they owe can pay into a plan for three to five years and potentially keep all assets, including houses and cars.

However, not everyone meets Chapter 13 eligibility. Learn about the Chapter 13 bankruptcy requirements and how to determine if you qualify.

What Qualifies You for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

The benefit of this chapter is that you repay some of your debts, but usually not all, through a three- to five-year repayment plan. But before the court "confirms" (approves) your plan, you must fill out the official bankruptcy paperwork and prove that you are:

  • up-to-date on tax filings
  • within debt amount limitations
  • employed and have enough income to cover the required monthly payment, and
  • an individual, not a business (however, all financial aspects of a sole proprietor's business get included in the bankruptcy).

Your Income Tax Filings Must Be Current

To file for Chapter 13, you must submit proof that you filed your federal and state income tax returns for the four tax years before your bankruptcy filing date. If you need time to get current on your filings, the court can postpone the proceedings (but you don't want to count on this). Ultimately, however, if you don't produce your returns or transcripts of the returns for those four years, your Chapter 13 case will be dismissed. Learn about reasons the court might dismiss your case.

You Must Have Sufficient Disposable Income

To qualify for Chapter 13, you must show the bankruptcy court that you will have enough income after subtracting certain allowed expenses and required payments on secured debts (such as a car loan or mortgage) to meet your repayment obligations. Your plan must pay back certain debts in full, or the judge will not confirm it and allow you to proceed.

You can use the income from the following sources to fund a Chapter 13 plan:

  • regular wages or salary
  • income from self-employment
  • wages from seasonal work
  • commissions from sales or other work
  • pension payments
  • Social Security benefits
  • disability or workers' compensation benefits
  • unemployment benefits, strike benefits, and the like
  • public benefits (welfare payments)
  • child support or alimony you receive
  • royalties and rents, and
  • proceeds from selling property, especially if selling property is part of your primary business property.

If you are married, your income does not necessarily have to be "yours." A non-working spouse can file alone and use money from a working spouse as a source of income. An unemployed spouse can file jointly with a working spouse. Learn more about the Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan.

More Chapter 13 Requirements

Sufficient income is an important part of Chapter 13 eligibility, but you must also meet other Chapter 13 qualifications.

Your Debts Can't Be Too High

You won't qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy if your secured and unsecured debts exceed certain amounts. Start by learning about the current Chapter 13 debt limits and strategies to meet them. You can verify the amounts on the U.S. Courts Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Basics webpage.

A debt is secured if you stand to lose specific property (the property you pledged as collateral) if you don't pay the creditor. Home loans and car loans are the most common examples of secured debts. But a debt might also be secured if a creditor—such as the IRS—has filed a lien (notice of claim) against your property.

An unsecured debt doesn't give the creditor a right to take a particular property. Most debts are unsecured, including credit card debts, medical and legal bills, back utility bills, and department store charges. Learn more by reading Types of Creditor Claims in Bankruptcy: Secured, Unsecured & Priority.

Businesses Not Allowed in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

A business can't file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the name of that business. Instead, businesses are steered toward Chapter 11 bankruptcy when they need help reorganizing their debts. An exception exists, however: Although a sole proprietor cannot file in the business's name, business and personal debts are the individual's responsibility and, therefore, are included in the bankruptcy filing. So Chapter 13 can effectively help reorganize a sole proprietor's business.

You can, however, file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy as an individual, even if you own a business. You'll include business-related debts for which you are personally liable in your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. But, the business will remain liable for the debt. (Again, the result is different if you're a sole proprietor—both the individual and business debt liability will be handled by the bankruptcy.)

How to File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

You'll disclose all aspects of your financial condition, including your income and expenses, assets, creditors, and previous transactions in the official bankruptcy paperwork. The case will start once you file your forms and other necessary items, such as a filing fee and proof that you completed a credit counseling class. You'll have fourteen days to submit your Chapter 13 repayment plan unless you receive an extension from the court.

Speak With an Attorney

This article provides a general overview of Chapter 13 bankruptcy. For more information on Chapter 13's eligibility requirements, see Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time, by Attorney Cara O'Neill. Because of the complicated nature of this chapter, you're strongly encouraged to meet with bankruptcy counsel.

Need More Bankruptcy Help?

Did you know Nolo has made the law easy for over fifty years? It's true, and we want to ensure you find what you need. Below you'll find more articles explaining how bankruptcy works. And don't forget that our bankruptcy homepage is the best place to start if you have other questions!

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Helpful Bankruptcy Sites

Department of Justice U.S. Trustee Program

United States Courts Bankruptcy Forms

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Updated April 15, 2024

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