The hallmark of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case is the repayment plan you'll propose to the bankruptcy trustee, creditors, and the court. To a significant degree, three factors will determine your Chapter 13 plan type and monthly payment amount:
A debtor whose income doesn't exceed the state's median income can submit a three-year plan. All others must last five years.
Most Chapter 13 filers pay into a five-year plan. However, if your gross income doesn't exceed your state's median income amount, you'll qualify for a three-year plan.
The calculations below apply to people using a five-year plan. People paying into a three-year plan have more flexibility because they can use actual monthly expenses.
If you're paying into a five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan because you don't qualify for a shorter three-year plan, you'll need to be able to pay your monthly living expenses, including your house and car payment if you plan to keep them.
You must also pay the following in full:
But that's not all. Most people must pay whatever amount remains after paying those amounts, known as "disposable income," toward any remaining debt, such as medical balances, utility bills, personal loans, and credit card bills. These creditors falling in the lowest payment category are known as nonpriority unsecured debts.
Recently incurred tax debt and domestic support obligations are examples of priority debt that you must pay in full through the plan. When people fall behind on these debts, they often accumulate quickly, leaving many filers to pay thousands of dollars in a Chapter 13 plan.
If you can't afford to do so, the judge won't "confirm" or approve your plan. This factor and the requirement to pay to keep nonexempt property (discussed below) often derail a filer's ability to propose a feasible Chapter 13 plan the judge will approve.
To determine your disposable income, you'll subtract actual and predetermined expenses from your income. In most cases, these deductions will include:
The remaining amount is disposable income you must pay to unsecured creditors. It's distributed on a pro-rata basis with each nonpriority unsecured creditor receiving a portion equal to its percentage of overall debt.
This is a simplified explanation. To determine your disposable income, you'll want to learn the differences between secured, priority, and unsecured debt and consider completing Chapter 13 Calculation of Your Disposable Income (Form 122C-2) or speak with a bankruptcy lawyer.
You don't lose property in Chapter 13. However, this benefit can be costly. To ensure your creditors receive equal treatment in Chapters 7 and 13, you must pay creditors at least as much as they would have received if you'd have filed for Chapter 7.
Determining how much that would be isn't as hard as it sounds. It's the value of your nonexempt property (assets that aren't protected by a bankruptcy exemption) minus the amount it would cost to sell the property.
Learn about keeping property in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
All bankruptcy filers can protect or "exempt" a certain amount of property in a bankruptcy case. The debtor's state decides the type and value of exempt property and maintains lists in its exemption statutes.
Nonexempt property, which is anything you can't protect in a bankruptcy case, must be either:
Example. Jesse's monthly payments on $50,000 of unsecured credit card debt were more than he could pay each month, so he wanted to file for bankruptcy. His primary asset was a vacation home worth $200,000 that he owned outright. He consulted with an attorney and found out that his state, like all others, didn't offer an exemption covering the property, leaving all $200,000 nonexempt.
If Jesse filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee would sell it, pay off all creditors, deduct the trustee's fee, and return the remaining balance to Jesse. Because all creditors would get paid fully in Chapter 7, if Jesse wanted to file for Chapter 13 and keep the property, he would have to repay all of his unsecured creditors in full over five years.
These three factors—your disposable income, nondischargeable debt, and the amount of your nonexempt property—will determine the Chapter 13 monthly amount you'd pay. You can come up with a close approximation using these factors, but you should consult with a bankruptcy lawyer for an accurate amount.
The percentage a debtor must pay unsecured creditors is often used as shorthand between bankruptcy attorneys and court staff to describe the plan. For example, "Ashley is paying into a 17% plan."
Most people exit Chapter 13 debt-free except for long-term debt that doesn't qualify for a discharge, such as a mortgage (if you keep your house) and student loans. Even though student loans get paid with other unsecured debt—which will likely reduce your payment during the plan period—you'll remain responsible for any remaining balance after the case closes.
Also, Chapter 13 could invalidate your income-contingent student loan plan, so be sure to explore the possible effects with a bankruptcy attorney and your student loan servicer.
This article's purpose is to provide general Chapter 13 plan information. Given that this bankruptcy chapter is especially complicated, potential filers are strongly encouraged to retain a bankruptcy lawyer.
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!
Our Editor's Picks for You
More Like This
Should I File Chapter 7 or 13 to Keep My House?
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Overview
Are You Eligible for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
Other Articles You Might Like
How to File for Bankruptcy in Your State
Gathering Your Documents for Bankruptcy
Helpful Bankruptcy Sites
Department of Justice U.S. Trustee Program
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.