You'll find out whether you can qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy by taking the bankruptcy "means test." The Chapter 7 means test calculation determines whether your income is low enough to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you fail the means test, you won't be able to use Chapter 7 bankruptcy to wipe out debts. Instead, you might qualify to repay a portion of what you owe in Chapter 13 bankruptcy through a three- to five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan.
However, Chapter 7 bankruptcy isn't only for low-income filers. You can earn significant monthly income and qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you have a large family or considerable but reasonable expenses, such as a high mortgage and car loan payments, taxes, and other expenses.
Read on to learn:
Once you understand whether you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, consider getting targeted information about your case using our quick ten-question bankruptcy quiz. It will give you insight into your particular case and can help you spot potential bankruptcy issues fast.
The means test limits the use of Chapter 7 bankruptcy to those who can't pay their debts by testing whether you have enough income to repay creditors. If you don't, you'll pass. Here's how it works.
You'll start by determining if your "current monthly income" is more or less than your state's median income for your family's size. "Current monthly income" is your gross income earned over the six calendar months before filing for bankruptcy multiplied by two.
If you earn less than the median, you'll pass and won't need to do anything further. However, you won't automatically fail the means test if you make more than the median because you'll have a second chance to qualify.
The next step involves deducting allowed monthly expenses from your current monthly income to arrive at your monthly "disposable income." The higher your disposable income, the more likely Chapter 7 bankruptcy won't be an option. Instead, your bankruptcy option will be paying your disposable income to creditors through a Chapter 13 repayment plan, assuming you qualify.
Here's where you'll learn more about calculating your current monthly income for bankruptcy purposes.
The first step is simple: If your current monthly income is less than the median for a household of your size in your state, you pass. You're done and don't need to complete the rest of the means test. You can file for Chapter 7.
If your household income exceeds the state median, the means test computations will be more complicated. You must determine whether you have enough income remaining after paying your allowed monthly expenses or "disposable income" to pay off at least a portion of your unsecured debts, such as credit card bills.
However, don't expect to deduct your exact expense amounts. Different counties and metropolitan regions limit how much you can subtract for expenses like necessities, housing, and transportation.
Once you complete the means test calculation, you'll have your disposable income. If your disposable income is too high, you'll fail the means test and won't be able to discharge qualifying debts by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If it's too low, you'll pass the means test and can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
You can get more in-depth information on Chapter 7 Bankruptcy eligibility here.
If you're looking for a way to determine your eligibility under the Chapter 7 means test, try filling out the means test forms. Fillable, downloadable forms are available online on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court's website.
Follow the user-friendly instructions. Here's where you'll start:
Bankruptcy issues often require more in-depth information than what you find in one article. If you need help filling out the bankruptcy forms, it's a good idea to use a self-help book like How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill and Albin Renauer, J.D., or seek the advice of a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney. Most offer a free initial consultation.
You should be aware that passing the means test doesn't automatically qualify you to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Another step exists. The court will look at two additional forms: Schedule I: Your Income and Schedule J: Your Expenses. If these two forms show you have enough remaining to pay something to your creditors, the court might convert (switch) your Chapter 7 case to a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Also, just because you qualify under the means test doesn't necessarily mean you should file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy—only that you can. You'll want to consider many other factors not discussed in this article. For help, try The New Bankruptcy: Will It Work for You? By Attorney Cara O'Neill.
Consider using Chapter 13 bankruptcy. It requires you to make monthly payments over a three- to five-year period according to a strict budget monitored by the court. Although most people who file for bankruptcy prefer Chapter 7, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is still the best way to handle specific problems, like catching up on a mortgage payment so you don't lose your house, or repaying debts that won't go away in bankruptcy over time, such as most taxes and support arrearages. Learn more about when Chapter 13 is better than Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
But before you settle on Chapter 13 bankruptcy, be sure to talk to a lawyer. With expert legal advice, you might find that you're able to pass the means test after all.
Did you know Nolo has been making the law easy for over fifty years? It's true—and we want to make sure 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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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.