What Is the Difference Between Chapter 7, 11, and 13 Bankruptcies?

filing for bankruptcy

If you decide to file for bankruptcy, you must next decide which type of bankruptcy is right for you. Most individuals have three options, and understanding Chapter 11 vs. Chapter 13 vs. Chapter 7 is important in making the right decision. 

Bankruptcy can be complex, and even a small mistake in how you file can substantially change the outcome of your case. It’s typically a good idea to consult an experienced bankruptcy lawyer before you file a bankruptcy petition. However, we’ve provided some basic answers below to the question, “What is the difference between Chapter 7, 11, and 13 when it comes to bankruptcy?”

In This Piece

Understand the Types of Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a way to reorganize your debts or get your debts dismissed because you’re insolvent. “Insolvent” is simply a financial state where you can’t pay your bills—usually because your debts outpace your income. 

People can end up in this situation for a number of reasons. It may be that you lost your job or had reduced income—job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic are just one example of when this can happen. In other cases, people have unplanned expenses such as medical bills that can put them over the edge financially. Bankruptcy does have some benefits, such as potentially putting a stop to wage garnishments or foreclosures

Regardless of how you ended up in this position, it’s important not to jump immediately to bankruptcy. Consider all of your options and speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to understand whether bankruptcy will help you.

How Do You Know Which Bankruptcy Type is Right for You?

This is a complex personal or business finance question. Consider talking to an attorney to understand your financial and legal situation. An experienced attorney can quickly apply means tests and other information to your case to help you understand what your options are.

What Is Chapter 11 Bankruptcy?

According to the United States Courts, individuals and business entities can enter into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Typically, this type of bankruptcy is a reorganization of a business. Through the bankruptcy, the debtor restructures and then creates and implements a plan to pay back creditors.

The plan must be approved by a Trustee appointed by the court. The Trustee is typically in charge of implementing and overseeing the plan, ensuring that the business has the income and resources to follow through with it. Once the plan is completed and confirmed, any remaining debts under the bankruptcy are discharged.

This is an extremely simple summary of how a Chapter 11 bankruptcy works. In reality, they can take years and involve numerous legal proceedings on behalf of the person or business filing as well as the Trustee and creditors. 

What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

The main difference when it comes to Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is that Chapter 7 is a liquidation plan. That means there’s no repayment plan associated with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

When you file Chapter 7, you typically agree to liquidate your assets to pay off as much of your debt as you can. The remaining debts that are part of your bankruptcy are dismissed. 

Whether or not you can file for this type of bankruptcy is determined by income. If your income is below the median for the state you’re filing in, you can probably choose Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your income is above the state minimum, you must pass a “means test.” A bankruptcy attorney can quickly apply these tests to help you understand whether you meet eligibility for Chapter 7. 

You don’t have to give up everything you own in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, though. You may be able to keep exempt assets, which can include certain personal belongings. You may also be able to keep your home, a car, and other items, even if you owe money on them, if you can continue to make timely payments on those debts. 

Again, bankruptcy is a complex process and what you can keep and how your proceeding goes is based on a variety of factors. Consult an experienced bankruptcy attorney to find out more about your individual situation.

What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy may sound similar to Chapter 11 because these both involve repayment plans. But when it comes to Chapter 11 vs. Chapter 13, the biggest difference is that Chapter 13 allows someone with regular income to make an adjustment to how they pay back some debts.

Chapter 13 may be an option for individuals who fail the means test for Chapter 7. Typically, Chapter 13 bankruptcy works for people who have stable income to make some payments on debts but they don’t have enough income to pay all the debts as currently structured.

The individual submits a repayment plan to the court. This plan must be approved by a bankruptcy court Trustee. The Trustee is also typically tasked with making payments under the plan, so the individual pays the Trustee. The Trustee’s office then pays various creditors.

Usually during a Chapter 13 you only pay off part of your debts. Priority and secured debts, such as taxes or auto loans, are paid in full. But unsecured, nonpriority debts, such as medical bills and credit card debt, are only partially paid. If you work through your Chapter 13 repayment plan successfully, the remaining debts are dismissed at the end of the repayment plan. That can take three to five years. 

Should You File for Bankruptcy?

Only you can decide if bankruptcy is the right choice for you. In most cases, you should consider all your other options and ensure there really is no way to feasibly pay your debts as you agreed. Consider the factors below to determine which type of bankruptcy might be right for you. Then, talk to an attorney to find out more about each option.

Should You File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

  • What is your income? Not everyone qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You have to pass what’s called a “means” test, and you usually don’t pass it if you make more than the median income of same-size households in your state. 
  • Have you filed for bankruptcy before? If it hasn’t been long enough since the last time, you may not be able to file.
  • What type of debt are you dealing with? Most, but not all, debt can be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you’re trying to deal with debt that isn’t dischargeable, it may not be worth filing Chapter 7.
  • Do you want to keep your property? Some property may be exempt, such as your home or a car you need, but you may not be able to keep the same property in a Chapter 7 that you could keep in a Chapter 13, for example. Definitely talk to your bankruptcy lawyer about which property you want to keep and whether it’s possible.

Should You File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

You’ll need to ask all the same questions you’d ask when considering Chapter 7 bankruptcy to find out if Chapter 13 is right for you. You also need to consider whether you have enough income to make some repayment toward your debt. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you restructure your debts and pay some of them over 3 to 5 years before the rest are discharged.

You should also ask yourself if you have the discipline to make the monthly payments to the trustee and follow other rules set by the court. You typically can’t apply for most types of credit, including a mortgage, auto loan or significant personal loan, without getting the court’s approval if you’re in the middle of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, for example.

Should You File for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy?

Do you have your own business and need to include business debts in your bankruptcy? You might want to consider a Chapter 11 over a Chapter 13. Chapter 11 may also be an option for individuals or couples who have too much debt to qualify for a Chapter 13. Otherwise, all the other questions above apply here, too.

The Main Differences Between the Types of Bankruptcy

To better understand the main differences between Chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcy, consider the table below.

Chapter 7Chapter 13Chapter 11
Type of bankruptcyLiquidationReorganizationReorganization
Income requirementsYes — can’t make above the median for same-size households within the stateYes — must have enough income to make the repayment plan viableYes — must have enough income to make the repayment plan viable
Can individuals file?YesYesYes
Can businesses file?NoOnly sole proprietorsYes
How long does it take?A few months3 to 5 years1.5 to 5 years
Debt limitationsn/aCombined secured and unsecured debts must be less than $2,750,000n/a

Who Can File for Each Type of Bankruptcy?

In addition to income and debt requirements, each type of bankruptcy has limitations on which individuals or entities can file. 

Chapter 7Chapter 13Chapter 11
– Individuals
– Married couples
– Individuals
– Married couples
– Sole proprietors
– Individuals
– Married couples
– Sole proprietors
– LLCs
– Partnerships
– Corporations

What Happens After You File for Bankruptcy

The first thing that happens when you file for bankruptcy is that the automatic stay goes into place. This is a protection that requires creditors to cease all collection efforts until the bankruptcy process can be completed. It’s a powerful protection. For example, even if you’re in the middle of a home foreclosure, the automatic stay can stop that process so you can work through bankruptcy to keep your home.

Once the petition is filed with the court, hearings are set and all creditors included in the bankruptcy are notified. They do have the option of responding to the bankruptcy if desired. You’ll also need to attend the first hearing in your case to testify, under oath, to the truth of everything documented in your petition.

If you’re filing a Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you’ll need to file a repayment plan, get approval for it and follow through on it. Once the bankruptcy process is completed successfully, your remaining debts can be discharged. 

How Does Bankruptcy Impact Your Credit?

Any type of bankruptcy can impact your credit. It’s a negative item that stays on your credit report and drop your credit score for up to 10 years, depending on which type of bankruptcy you file.

But the truth is that by the time most people get to bankruptcy, they’ve already missed numerous payments and may be in collections with one or more accounts. If this is the case, bankruptcy doesn’t usually drive your credit score much lower than it already is. And there’s a chance that you may see your credit score begin to climb again after bankruptcy as you make timely payments on debts and are better able to manage your finances.

Chapter 11, Chapter 7, or Chapter 13—these are all huge financial and legal decisions. Each comes with its own pros and cons, and it’s important to handle a bankruptcy correctly if you do decide this is the way you want to go. So, talk to a lawyer and get the information you need to make the best decision in your case.

  • Chapter 7 is removed 10 years after the date the petition was filed.
  • Chapter 13 is removed 7 years after the date the petition was filed.
  • Chapter 11 is removed 10 years after the date the petition was filed.

Want to keep an eye on your credit report to understand when negative items fall off it as you’re working to rebuild? Consider signing up for ExtraCredit.

Options Other Than Bankruptcy

Before considering bankruptcy, research other options to help manage your debt. You might find other avenues that are less complex and not as impactful to your credit reports. They can include:

  • Debt consolidation that reduces how many bills you deal with each month and may create a monthly payment situation that works better for your budget
  • Debt counseling that brings in professionals who can help you negotiate with your creditors for better terms and manage your money better to make ends meet
  • Selling property so you can pay off debts that are beyond your current budget
  • Increasing your income with a second job or side hustles so you have more money to pay your debts

Ultimately, whether bankruptcy is right for you is a decision you must make yourself. Start with the information above to gain a brief understanding of your options, and reach out to an attorney to help you understand how these details might apply to your case.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Bankruptcies

Bankruptcies are still proceeding in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. You may find that hearings related to cases are being handled via phone or web conferencing and not in person.

If you’re making payments on a Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 case and have been impacted financially by the pandemic, you should contact your attorney as soon as possible. They can help you understand the best next steps, which might include filing motions in your case to alter your payments temporarily.

The CARES Act also provides some modifications to how certain elements of bankruptcies are handled. It ensures federal stimulus payments aren’t considered disposable income, for example, and provides Chapter 13 debtors a path to seek modified payment plans if their income is impacted. 

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