What Are the Differences Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Check out our handy table listing the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

If you aren't sure how Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy differ, you're not alone, and this article can help you learn about the benefits of each bankruptcy chapter. We've arranged the article into three sections. Start with the table highlighting key differences between Chapters 7 and 13, then read the brief bankruptcy chapter descriptions that follow for more detailed information. The Chapter 7 and 13 frequently asked questions sections provide answers to common bankruptcy questions.

Differences Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7

Chapter 13

Type of Bankruptcy



Who Can File?

Individuals and Business Entities

Individuals Only, Including Sole Proprietors

Eligibility Restrictions

Disposable Income Must Be Low Enough to Pass the Chapter 7 Means Test

Debt Cannot Exceed $2,750,000 (as of February 5, 2024)

How Long Does It Take to Receive a Discharge?

Typically About Four Months

Upon Completion of All Plan Payments

What Happens to Property in Bankruptcy?

Trustee Can Sell All Nonexempt Property to Pay Creditors

Debtors Keep All Property But Must Pay Unsecured Creditors an Amount Equal to Value of Nonexempt Assets

Allows Removal of Junior Liens from Real Property Through Lien Stripping?


Yes, If Requirements Are Satisfied

(Learn about lien stripping.)

Allows Reduction of Principal Loan Balance on Secured Debts?

Yes, but on Tangible Personal Property Only, not Real Estate

(Learn about redemption.)

Yes, If Requirements Are Satisfied

(Learn about cramdowns in bankruptcy.)


Allows Debtors to Discharge Qualifying Debts and Get a Fresh Start Quickly

Allows Debtors to Keep Their Property and Catch Up on Missed Mortgage, Car, and Nondischargeable Priority Debt Payments


Trustee Can Sell Nonexempt Property. Does Not Provide a Way to Catch Up on Missed Payments to Avoid Foreclosure or Repossession.

Must Make Monthly Payments to the Trustee for Three to Five Years. May Have to Pay Back a Portion of General Unsecured Debts.

If you're a small business owner, you'll want to understand how each bankruptcy chapter will affect your company. Find out how Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy can help you unwind a closed company or help a struggling business thrive.

How Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Works

The "automatic stay" order stops most creditors from pursuing collection efforts as soon as you file. Three to four months after filing, Chapter 7 bankruptcy "discharges" or erases qualifying debts, such as credit card balances, medical bills, and personal loans.

One of the most significant benefits of Chapter 7 is that you won't repay creditors through a repayment plan. Instead, the court appoints a bankruptcy trustee to sell your nonexempt property, property you can't protect with a bankruptcy exemption, for the benefit of your creditors.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy works well for low-income debtors with little or no assets or those who can protect all household belongings. If you don't have any assets to sell, creditors receive nothing.

But even if you'd lose property, Chapter 7 might still be worthwhile. Just figure out whether the amount of debt you'd erase would exceed the value of the property you'd lose.

Also, losing property isn't necessarily bad if you have nondischargeable debt, such as child support arrearages or back taxes. The trustee will first apply the sales proceeds to nondischargeable debt in most cases (but not student loans). After the case ends, the amount you'd owe would be lower.

However, not everyone qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you make too much money to meet income requirements, explore filing under Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find out whether I'd qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

You'll take the two-part Chapter 7 means test. If your household income is lower than the median household income in your state, you'll pass. However, if you don't qualify after the first part, you'll have another chance. The second portion of the means test lets you subtract some monthly expenses from your income. If you don't have enough remaining to pay a meaningful amount to creditors through a Chapter 13 repayment plan, you'll qualify for Chapter 7.

Will I lose property in Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Your state decides whether you can use federal bankruptcy exemptions or state exemption laws. Although exemption laws differ, you'll typically be able to keep these types of property in bankruptcy:

  • Home equity. A "homestead" exemption protects home equity. You can exempt up to $27,900 (April 1, 2022, through March 31, 2025) under federal exemptions. Most states allow debtors to protect some home equity, although a few states don't have a homestead exemption. Find out more about your home in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
  • Insurance. You usually get to keep the cash value of your policies.
  • Retirement plans. ERISA-qualified plans receive protection in bankruptcy. Find out more about your retirement plan.
  • Personal property. You can usually keep a modest car and most household goods, furniture, furnishings, clothing, appliances, books, and musical instruments. Luxury items aren't protected, and jewelry is often limited to around $1,000. Most states let you keep a vehicle as long as your equity doesn't exceed several thousand dollars. Many states have a "wildcard" exemption you can apply toward any property. Learn more about what happens to your automobile in your car in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
  • Public benefits. Welfare, Social Security benefits, unemployment insurance, and the like are protected.
  • Tools used on the job. Most states allow filers to keep up to a few thousand dollars worth of the tools used in a trade or profession.

This list represents a snapshot of common exemptions. Many more exist, so check your state exemption laws.

Which should I use—Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Most people who file for bankruptcy choose Chapter 7 if they meet the eligibility requirements. Chapter 7 is a popular choice because, unlike Chapter 13, it doesn't require filers to pay back debts. Learn if it is better for you to file Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 will make more sense if you're behind on your mortgage and want to keep your house. You can repay the missed payments over time using the Chapter 13 repayment plan. You can also force a creditor to allow you to repay nondischargeable debts, like back taxes or support arrearages, over three to five years.

How Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Works

Chapter 13 is a reorganization bankruptcy designed for debtors with regular income who have enough left each month to pay back at least a portion of their debts. The amount you'll repay will depend on how much you earn, your debt, and how much property you own.

Typically, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is for debtors who:

  • don't qualify for Chapter 7 but need debt relief to lower credit card payments, stop litigation, prevent a wage garnishment
  • have nondischargeable debts such as alimony or child support arrears that they'd like to pay off over three to five years, or
  • have fallen behind on a house or car payment and want to catch up on missed payments and keep the property.

Other benefits exist, too, such as the ability to "cram down" the amount owed on a vehicle or investment property to the property's value. Some filers can also strip wholly unsecured junior liens from your residence.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the trustee doesn't sell your property. However, you must pay creditors an amount equal to the nonexempt property value. But that's not all you'll pay. The total amount of your repayment plan will depend on your income, expenses, and debt type.

Chapter 13 Frequently Asked Questions

How much of my debt will I repay if I file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

It will depend on the type of debt you have. Here are the general guidelines:

  • Bankruptcy fees. You must pay 100% of the bankruptcy filing fees, trustee commissions, and your bankruptcy attorney's fees.
  • Priority debts. You must pay 100% of the following obligations: child and spousal support arrears owed to the parent or child; most tax debts except those first due at least three years before your bankruptcy filing; wages, salaries, or commissions you owe to employees up to a specific limit; and contributions owed to an employee benefit fund.
  • Secured debts. If you want to keep your home, car, or other secured property, you'll have to pay 100% of the arrearage amount, 100% of debt secured by a tax lien, and remain current on the monthly payment.
  • Unsecured nonpriority debts. You'll pay anywhere between 0% and 100% of the amount you owe, depending on your disposable income, the length of your repayment plan, and the total value of your nonexempt property (you'll have to pay for it). Learn more about your obligations under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan.

How long will my repayment plan last if I file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

If your gross household income exceeds the median yearly income for a household of your size in your state, your plan must last five years—unless you can pay 100% of your unsecured debt in a shorter period. If your income is less than your state's median yearly income, you can propose a three-year plan. Learn whether you're eligible for Chapter 13.

We're facing foreclosure. If we file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, can we keep our home?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy will be a good option if you're trying to save your home from foreclosure. You can pay off a mortgage "arrearage" (late, unpaid payments) over the length of a three- to five-year repayment plan. You'll need enough income to meet your current mortgage payment while paying off the arrearage and other required debts for this to work.

Once you file your Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, the "automatic stay" stops foreclosure proceedings until the court approves your repayment plan. If approved, the mortgage lender must accept payments towards the arrearage over the length of your repayment period. If you make all the required payments and stay current on your monthly mortgage payments, you'll avoid foreclosure and keep your home. Learn more about your home in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

My only income is from retirement benefits. Can I use those to fund a Chapter 13 repayment plan?

An essential part of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan is proving to the judge that you have enough reliable income to meet your payment obligations. Courts allow debtors to use income from many sources to fund their plan, retirement benefit income included. Find out if you're eligible for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

I owe back taxes to the IRS—can Chapter 13 bankruptcy help?

Yes. Although you must repay 100% of your tax debt (unless it qualifies for discharge because of its age), you can do so over three to five years.

Need More Bankruptcy Help?

Did you know Nolo has made the law easy 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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Options If You Can't Afford a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Helpful Bankruptcy Sites

Department of Justice U.S. Trustee Program

United States Courts Bankruptcy Forms

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.

Updated February 5, 2024

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