Why Chapter 13 Bankruptcies Sometimes Don't Work Out and How to Make Sure Yours Does Skip to main content

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Why Chapter 13 Bankruptcies Sometimes Don't Work Out and How to Make Sure Yours Does


Tight fit

Chapter 13 repayment plans can be a tight fit on your budget

Image source: Flickr Creative Commons User U.S. Army

The Midwestern Bankruptcy Institute conducted a study on Chapter 13 bankruptcies to examine how many filings succeeded, how many didn't make it to completion and what drove either the success or failure to make it all the way through. According to data in the study, one in three Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings makes it all the way to discharge. But even knowing that two-thirds of debtors don't complete the process doesn't necessarily mean that those filings didn't meet the debtor's financial needs. They may have served their purpose without completion, so it's not fair to label them failures.

The study was conducted by Harvard Law Professor Katherine Porter and she decided to dig in and examine why Chapter 13s didn't reach completion and if not, whether they were in fact a “failure” or a “success.” Here are some of Porter's findings:

#1 For some, plan payments weren't affordable. Chapter 13 repayment plans are financially strict, but they are doable for many debtors that are willing to commit to three to five years on a tight budget in order to keep their home or accomplish some other goal.

#2 For most, it was a change in financial circumstances that made what started out as an affordable repayment plan become unaffordable at some point in the process either due to a loss of unemployment, medical crisis, lessened income or increased expenses.

#3 For about 30% of debtors that had their cases dismissed without discharge, they still saw their Chapter 13 experience as positive because they were able to pay off some debts, buy time to make other arrangements or negotiate with creditors to restructure their debt.

#4 Another percentage of debtors felt their goals were accomplished without receiving a discharge because they were able to negotiate direct repayment plans with their creditors after suspending their Chapter 13.

#5 A significant factor in debtor experience with their Chapter 13 was associated with their choice of attorney. Those that had a good relationship with their attorney and experienced open communication reported a better outcome and process.

#6 There were three recurring recommendations that Chapter 13 filers had for those in debt – to go ahead and file sooner rather than later before things got worse, to try and work things out with your creditors instead of filing Chapter 13 or to go ahead and opt for Chapter 7 and get rid of as many debts as possible rather than taking the longer road of Chapter 13.

The bottom line is that Chapter 13 is a better fit for some people and Chapter 7 for others. Statistically, more bankruptcy filers do opt for Chapter 13, even when their attorney recommends that a Chapter 7 will offer better results for their circumstances. For some, they're trying to hang onto their home or buy more time to move. For others, they just don't like the idea of calling it quits on debt they've accumulated. If you are in a Chapter 13 and realize you can't afford it, it's also possible to convert to a Chapter 7.

One important take-away from the study is how important your choice of attorney can be to your outcome. You want a reputable and experienced attorney that specializes in bankruptcy, is local and is in a smaller sized firm so that you know you'll get the personal attention you deserve. Contact the law offices of John T Orcutt for an immediate consultation with one of our expert staff. We care about our clients, will answer all your questions and take care of you throughout your Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 process.

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