Multiple Bankruptcy Filings: When Can You File Again?

If you file for bankruptcy too soon after receiving a previous bankruptcy discharge, you won’t receive another bankruptcy discharge.

By , Attorney

If you've filed for bankruptcy in the past, you might be wondering how soon you can file for bankruptcy again. Read 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 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" or debt forgiveness in bankruptcy.

Although it can make 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

If you plan to file the same type of bankruptcy you filed before, here are the timeframes you'll use:

Multiple Chapter 7 cases

  • You'll wait eight years to file another Chapter 7 case. Start counting from the filing date of the first Chapter 7.

Multiple Chapter 13 cases

  • You'll wait two years to file another Chapter 13. Again, count two years from the filing date of the first Chapter 13.

Examples. Bella filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy for the first time on August 1, 2015. She'll qualify for another Chapter 7 discharge if she files on or after August 1, 2023. Les filed Chapter 13 for the first time on November 1, 2020. He'll qualify for another Chapter 13 discharge if he files on or after November 1, 2022.

Filing Again Under Different Bankruptcy Chapters: The Order Matters

Here are the waiting periods when the second bankruptcy case is different from 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 wait six years from the first Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing date before filing for Chapter 7.

However, you won't have to wait that long if you paid unsecured creditors in full in the Chapter 13 case or if you paid at least 70% of the claims. The plan will also need to have been proposed in good faith and have represented your best effort to pay creditors.

Chapter 7 before Chapter 13

  • If the court granted your first discharge under Chapter 7, you'd 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 you owed federal taxes you couldn't discharge in bankruptcy, and you couldn't work out a reasonable payment plan. You could file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and stretch out the payments over a five-year Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan to avoid wage garnishment.

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, this will work well if all you need is time to pay off nondischargeable debts, such as domestic support arrearages, and not a debt discharge.

Filing a Chapter 20 isn't always possible. Some courts don't allow the process. Plus, it can be tricky. Your income would need to be low enough to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy yet high enough to demonstrate you can afford a Chapter 13 plan. While it's possible after taking into account the debts wiped out in Chapter 7, it would be wise to consult with a local bankruptcy lawyer before adopting Chapter 20 bankruptcy into your debt relief strategy.

Learn who can't file bankruptcy chapter 7 and how to file bankruptcy chapter 13 instead.

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

In most situations, you can file again and receive a discharge in the second bankruptcy if you didn't receive a bankruptcy discharge in the first matter. But that's not always the case.

Also, you should know that 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 might apply if you failed to obey a court order or you voluntarily dismissed the case after a creditor filed a motion to lift the bankruptcy stay.

The court denied your discharge.

  • You might be able to file again, but you probably won't be entitled to discharge 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 determining 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 consequences for using such tactics, such as a lack of collection protection. The automatic stay won't apply after multiple filings or the denial of a discharge.

Learn why the court might dismiss your bankruptcy case.

Need More Bankruptcy Help?

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 need anything else!

Providing all information needed to file for bankruptcy is beyond the scope of this article. If you'd like to file without an attorney, a self-help book like How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill and Albin Renauer J.D. or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time, by Cara O'Neill (Nolo) can help you make well-informed decisions about your bankruptcy matter.

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