Unless the court grants an extension, under Chapter 13 a bankruptcy debtor must file a repayment plan with the bankruptcy petition, or within 15 days after the petition is filed. A plan must be submitted for court approval and must provide for payments of fixed amounts to the trustee on a regular basis, typically biweekly or monthly. The trustee then distributes the funds to creditors according to the terms of the plan, which may offer creditors less than full payment on their claims.
Creditors' Claims and Repayment under the Plan
There are three types of claims:
Priority claims are those granted special status by the bankruptcy law, such as most taxes and the costs of bankruptcy proceeding. Secured claims are those for which the creditor has the right take back certain property (i.e., the collateral) if the debtor does not pay the underlying debt. In contrast to secured claims, unsecured claims are generally those for which the creditor has no special rights to collect against particular property owned by the debtor.
The plan must pay priority claims in full unless a particular priority creditor agrees to different treatment of the claim or, in the case of a domestic support obligation, unless the debtor contributes all "disposable income" - discussed below - to a five-year plan.
"Secured" Claims Under the Repayment Plan
If the debtor wants to keep the collateral securing a particular claim, the plan must provide that the holder of the secured claim receive at least the value of the collateral. If the obligation underlying the secured claim was used the buy the collateral (e.g., a car loan), and the debt was incurred within certain time frames before the bankruptcy filing, the plan must provide for full payment of the debt, not just the value of the collateral (which may be less due to depreciation). Payments to certain secured creditors (i.e., the home mortgage lender), may be made over the original loan repayment schedule (which may be longer than the plan) so long as any arrearage is made up during the plan.
"Unsecured" Claims Under the Repayment Plan
The plan need not pay unsecured claims in full as long it provides that the debtor will pay all projected "disposable income" over an "applicable commitment period," and as long as unsecured creditors receive at least as much under the plan as they would receive if the debtor's assets were liquidated under chapter 7. In chapter 13, "disposable income" is income (other than child support payments received by the debtor) less amounts reasonably necessary for the maintenance or support of the debtor or dependents and less charitable contributions up to 15% of the debtor's gross income. If the debtor operates a business, the definition of disposable income excludes those amounts which are necessary for ordinary operating expenses. The "applicable commitment period" depends on the debtor's current monthly income. The applicable commitment period must be three years if current monthly income is less than the state median for a family of the same size - and five years if the current monthly income is greater than a family of the same size. The plan may be less than the applicable commitment period (three or five years) only if unsecured debt is paid in full over a shorter period.
The Confirmation Hearing
No later than 45 days after the meeting of creditors, the bankruptcy judge must hold a confirmation hearing and decide whether the plan is feasible and meets the standards for confirmation set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. Creditors will receive 25 days' notice of the hearing and may object to confirmation.
If the court confirms the plan, the chapter 13 trustee will distribute funds received under the plan "as soon as is practicable." If the court declines to confirm the plan, the debtor may file a modified plan. The debtor may also convert the case to a liquidation case under chapter 7 (A fee of $15 is charged for converting a case under chapter 13 to a case under chapter 7).
Making the Repayment Plan Work
The provisions of a confirmed plan bind the debtor and each creditor. Once the court confirms the plan, the debtor must make the plan succeed. The debtor must make regular payments to the trustee either directly or through payroll deduction, which will require adjustment to living on a fixed budget for a prolonged period.
If the debtor fails to make the payments due under the confirmed plan, the court may dismiss the case or convert it to a liquidation case under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. The court may also dismiss or convert the debtor's case if the debtor fails to pay any post-filing domestic support obligations (i.e., child support, alimony), or fails to make required tax filings during the case.
Contact a qualified bankruptcy attorney to find out your options for navigating the best path forward.