If you've filed for bankruptcy in the past, you might be wondering how often you can file for bankruptcy. The simple answer? You can receive a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge every eight years. But you won't need to wait that long if you filed a different chapter before, such as Chapter 13, or if you plan to file another chapter. Your waiting period depends on the chapter you filed previously and the chapter you'll file next. You'll calculate the waiting period using your last bankruptcy's "filing" date, not the "discharge" date.
We also explain why you must wait before wiping out debts in another Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 and warn you about problems you could face when filing for bankruptcy too often. If you want to find your answer fast, the "How Often You Can File for Bankruptcy" chart will help determine the waiting period.
You can file for bankruptcy as many times as you like. Bankruptcy laws don't limit people to a particular number of bankruptcies and don't set a minimum period you must wait before filing again.
However, there's a catch.
If you file too soon after wiping out debt in your old case, you won't be eligible for another "debt discharge" in your new case. The waiting period must expire before you'll qualify for more debt forgiveness.
Although it can make sense to file for bankruptcy without receiving a discharge, such situations are rare. Learn about timing your bankruptcy filing to avoid wasting time and money.
Here's how long you'll wait before qualifying for another bankruptcy discharge. Use your previous bankruptcy filing date as the starting point, not the discharge date.
Plan to File Chapter 7
Plan to File Chapter 13
|Previously Filed Chapter 7
|Previously Filed Chapter 13
Six years or less
These are the same timeframes in the chart above, but here, you'll find examples to help you calculate when you'll qualify for another discharge.
You'll use these if the bankruptcy chapter you intend to file differs from the previous one. Again, the waiting periods mirror those in the chart, but we explain an exception that applies if you initially filed for Chapter 13.
Chapter 13 exception. People who previously filed a Chapter 13 case and fully paid "unsecured creditors" or, in other words, paid everything other than what was owed on houses, cars, and other collateralized property won't wait as long before filing for Chapter 7. The same is true for Chapter 13 filers who paid at least 70% of unsecured claims, proposed a plan in good faith, and made their best effort to pay creditors. Talk with a local bankruptcy attorney for more information.
Sometimes, you don't need a discharge because filing for bankruptcy solves another problem. For instance, businesses (except sole proprietors) are never entitled to a Chapter 7 discharge, yet closing companies sometimes file for Chapter 7.
It's tempting for a company's interest holders to hide assets instead of using them to pay creditors as they should when winding down a business. Because liquidating assets transparently can help minimize wrongdoing accusations from creditors, having a court-appointed trustee sell business assets and distribute funds to creditors can be helpful.
Although it isn't used much, the same approach is available to individual filers, and it's one of the ways to benefit from bankruptcy without receiving a discharge.
More often, individuals not entitled to a discharge turn to Chapter 13 to force a creditor into a repayment plan. For instance, suppose you have a creditor threatening to take your home or file a wage garnishment. If you didn't have the cash to pay the entire debt but could make smaller payments, you'd need time, not a discharge. Filing Chapter 13 would be a viable solution.
A "Chapter 20" bankruptcy is similar and starts when a filer discharges all qualifying debts in Chapter 7. Immediately afterward, the debtor uses a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan to pay nondischargeable debts not erased in Chapter 7.
Keep in mind that some courts don't allow Chapter 20 filings. Also, they can be tricky because your income would need to be low enough to qualify for Chapter 7 yet high enough to afford a Chapter 13 plan. Talk with a local bankruptcy lawyer before attempting to use Chapter 20 as a debt relief strategy.
In most situations, if you didn't receive a bankruptcy discharge the first time, you can file again and receive a discharge. But not always.
Also, you should know that you lose the full benefits of the automatic stay order that stops creditors from collecting when you file multiple bankruptcies quickly. The stay would last 30 days if you filed one previous time during the past year. The court wouldn't issue the stay if you had already filed twice in the past year.
Learn more about repeat filings and the automatic stay.
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 inappropriately using the bankruptcy process, for instance, to evade a creditor or buy time in 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 these tactics, such as losing the automatic stay discussed or a discharge.
Learn why the court might dismiss your bankruptcy case.
Did you know Nolo has made the law accessible 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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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.