Multiple Bankruptcy Filings: When Can You File Again?

If you file bankruptcy too soon after you have received a previous bankruptcy discharge, you cannot receive another discharge.

If you've filed for bankruptcy in the past, you might be wondering how soon you can file for bankruptcy again. Read on to learn about the time limitations for wiping out debts after receiving a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy discharge.

Time Limits Apply to Discharges, Not Bankruptcy Filings

Bankruptcy law doesn't set a minimum period that you must wait before filing for bankruptcy a second time. However, there's a catch. If you file too soon after wiping out debt in a previous case, you won't be eligible for another debt discharge (forgiveness).

Although there are times that it makes sense to file for bankruptcy even though you won't receive a discharge, these situations are rare (more below). Because a bankruptcy filed too soon will end up being a waste of time and money in most cases, it's essential to know how to time your bankruptcy filing.

Filing Under the Same Bankruptcy Chapter: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13

Here are the timeframes if you plan to file the same bankruptcy chapter that you filed the first time:

Successive Chapter 7 cases

  • You'll have to wait eight years after the first Chapter 7 case filing date before filing the second case.

Successive Chapter 13 cases

  • Two years must elapse between filing dates before you'll be entitled to receive a second Chapter 13 discharge.

Filing Under Different Chapters: The Order Matters

Here are the waiting periods when a second bankruptcy case is a different chapter than the one you received your first discharge in.

Chapter 13 before Chapter 7

  • If the court granted your first discharge under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you'd need to wait six years (from the Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing date) before filing for a Chapter 7 discharge. You won't have to wait that long; however, if you paid unsecured creditors in full in the Chapter 13 case, or if you paid at least 70% of the claims, the plan was proposed in good faith and was represented your best effort.

Chapter 7 before Chapter 13

  • If the court granted your first discharge under Chapter 7, you'd have to wait four years from the Chapter 7 filing date before filing a Chapter 13 case.

When a Second Filing Might be Beneficial Even Without a Discharge

Sometimes you don't need a discharge—you need time to pay off a debt. For instance, suppose that you owed federal taxes that you couldn't discharge in bankruptcy, and you could not work out a reasonable payment plan. Rather than have your wages garnished, you could file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and stretch out the payments over a five-year Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan.

A similar approach is to file a Chapter 13 case immediately after receiving a Chapter 7 discharge (a procedure informally referred to as a Chapter 20 bankruptcy). Again, all you might need is time to pay off nondischargeable debts, such as domestic support arrearages—not a discharge.

However, not all courts allow the process, and it can be tricky to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and then demonstrate that you have sufficient available income to pay into a Chapter 13 plan. It's possible, though, after taking into account the debts wiped out. In any case, it would be wise to consult with a local bankruptcy lawyer before attempting to go this route.

What If You Didn't Receive a Discharge in the First Case?

In most situations, you can file again and receive a discharge in the second bankruptcy if you didn't receive one in the first matter. But that's not always the case. Also, you lose the full benefits of the automatic stay—the order that stops creditors from collecting—when you file multiple bankruptcies in quick succession.

The court dismissed the first case

  • Unless the court orders otherwise, you can file again. A 180-day waiting period may apply if you failed to obey a court order or appear in the case, or you voluntarily dismissed the case after a creditor filed a motion for relief from the bankruptcy stay.

The court denied your discharge

  • You might be able to file again, but you probably won't be entitled to a discharge of the debts listed in your first case. This is another unusual circumstance wherein you would be wise to seek the advice of an experienced bankruptcy lawyer.

When Are Multiple Bankruptcy Filings Abusive?

The term abusive bankruptcy filing can refer to a Chapter 7 filing that doesn't meet the means test—the qualification standard that determines a filer's right to a debt discharge. But it can also describe a case filed by someone who inappropriately uses the bankruptcy process to evade a creditor or buy time in a collection action, such as a foreclosure or lawsuit.

Simply put, the court frowns on debtors who file with no intention of following through with the case. Repeat filers face the consequences for using such tactics, such as a lack of protection from collections (the automatic stay won't go into effect after multiple filings) or the denial of a discharge.

Learn why the court might dismiss your bankruptcy case.

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