Chapter 11 Bankruptcy -“ A Possible Alternative for Individuals? Skip to main content

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Chapter 11 Bankruptcy -“ A Possible Alternative for Individuals?


Chapter 11 bankruptcy is in the news a lot these days. Like individuals, more and more large corporations are struggling to weather the current economic downturn. Just think of GM, Chrysler, Lehman Brothers, and the like. Chapter 11 bankruptcy essentially does for corporations what Chapter 13 does for individuals: it allows them to reorganize their debts into an affordable repayment plan.

With all the talk about large corporations, you may think Chapter 11 bankruptcy is reserved just for them. But individuals and small business owners can also file under this chapter. You might be wondering why someone would ever do so. Well, in most cases, it's because there's no other choice.

Chapter 7 "liquidation- bankruptcy is a powerful tool for individuals, because it lets you completely wipe out a host of unsecured debts. But you have to satisfy the "means test- to qualify, which means your income can't exceed a certain level -- typically, the median income for a family of your size in your state.

If you can't satisfy the means test under Chapter 7, or you want to keep certain property that would otherwise be subject to liquidation in a Chapter 7 case, Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be a great alternative. You can reorganize your debts into an affordable repayment plan and, at the end of the plan, the remaining amount on the debts is generally discharged. But there are limits to the amount of debt that can be included in a Chapter 13 plan. The figures change every few years, but right now there is a cap of $336,900 for unsecured debts and $1,010,650 for secured debts. (As of 5/23/09)

These limits don't pose a problem for most people. For some debtors, though, the ceiling just isn't high enough. Think of people of high net worth who suffer a major financial blow, or people carrying substantial debts tied to a small business on the verge of collapse. These individuals probably make too much to qualify under Chapter 7 and owe too much to qualify under Chapter 13. While these cases have been historically rare, with the boom-bust economic cycle we've experienced over the last several years, this scenario is likely to become more and more common.

This is where Chapter 11 bankruptcy can help. In Chapter 11, the debt limits of Chapter 13 go out the window. There are other advantages too. Unlike under Chapter 13, there is no five-year time limit for the repayment plan. Also, instead of having to make monthly payments like you would under Chapter 13, you can make the payments at different intervals -- such as quarterly or biannually -- if that would be more convenient. In addition, the court does not appoint a trustee to represent the creditors; the creditors deal directly with you. This can give you a greater degree of control over the process. On the downside, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is generally more complicated -“ often requiring a lot of time and effort on the debtor's part -- and significantly more costly.

The gist is, if you think you might not qualify for bankruptcy because of too much debt, or too high of income, it is crucial to seek the advice of an experienced bankruptcy attorney before ruling out bankruptcy. It could be that you really do qualify under Chapter 7 or 13 and it's just a matter of understanding exactly what goes into the calculation when determining your income and your debts.

Call a bankruptcy attorney today to discuss your options. In North Carolina, contact The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt, with convenient office locations in Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, and Wilson.

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