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Help! I Need to File Bankruptcy But Already Did One a Few Years Ago

If you need bankruptcy protection but already filed a bankruptcy case within the last few years, you may still be able to file a new one now.

There are some strict rules about when you can file a bankruptcy case after having filed a previous one. But as with so many other areas of law, there are opportunities when we look more closely.

Previous Bankruptcy Filing vs. Discharge

It’s not necessarily previously FILED bankruptcy cases that count, but only ones in which you received a DISCHARGE of your debts. All the timing rules in the Bankruptcy Code dealing with when you can file a new case refer to the length of time since “the debtor has been granted a discharge” or “has received a discharge” in the previous bankruptcy case.

In other words, if your previous case was not successfully completed—it was dismissed before you finished it—that case would not prevent you from filing a case now, no matter how long or short of a time since that previous case was filed.

So make sure—absolutely sure—that you got a discharge in your earlier bankruptcy case. If you distinctly remember that your case finished the way it was supposed to, you very likely DID get a discharge. But you definitely want to make sure. Find out from your former attorney. Or dig up the discharge order issued by the Bankruptcy Court from your old paperwork, or we can likely find out for you when you come in for your initial consultation.  

The Timing Rules

If you’ve heard that you have to wait 8 years between bankruptcy filings, be aware that only applies to one of a number of possible scenarios: the length of time from the previous discharged Chapter 7 case to the filing of a new Chapter 7 case. (See Section 727(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code.)

If your previous case was a Chapter 7 one and you now want to file a Chapter 13 case, the applicable length of time is only 4 years. (That’s also the rule if your previous case was a Chapter 11 or 12 one—usually filed by business owners, farmers, ranchers, and fishermen.) (See Section 1328(f)(1).)

If your previous case was a Chapter 13 one and you now want to file a Chapter 7 case, the length of time is only 6 years. And in fact if that previous Chapter 13 case was one in which your unsecured creditors were paid at least 70% of their debts, then there is NO limitation on filing a Chapter 7 case afterwards.  (See Section 727(a)(9).)

And if your previous case was a Chapter 13 one and you now want to file a Chapter 13 case, the applicable length of time is only 2 years. (See Section 1328(f)(2).)

And very important: on all of these the clock starts running NOT at the time of discharge—generally at the end of a case—but rather earlier, at the date of filing at the very beginning of the prior case. So what count is the date of filing of the prior case to the date of filing the new case. For example, if your previous case was a Chapter 13 one that was filed on October 1, 2006, and it took five years to complete so that the discharge was entered on October 1, 2011, you would be able to file a Chapter 7 case starting October 1, 2012.

Why File a Bankruptcy Case If You Can’t Get a Discharge?

So if you need bankruptcy protection but not enough time has passed, you can still file the case but you just won’t receive a discharge of your debts. Why would you ever want to do that?

Probably never for a Chapter 7 case, since almost always the main benefit of a Chapter 7 case is the discharge of your debts.

But Chapter 13 provides a number of other benefits distinct from the discharge of debts. For example, it stops a foreclosure and gives you years to catch up on your mortgage arrears. It also stops extremely aggressive collection of unpaid support payments, including the suspension of professional/occupational/driver’s licenses, again giving you years to bring it current. It may be able to significantly reduce what you pay for your vehicle through a “cram down.” For these and other reasons it can make a lot of sense to file a Chapter 13 case while knowing that you’ll not get a discharge of any of your debts. You may not even have any debts to discharge, but just need one or more of those other powerful benefits.

In fact that’s usually the situation with the so-called “Chapter 20.” This usually involves, first, the filing of a Chapter 7 case, which results in the discharge of most of the debtor’s debts. Then, second, immediately after that’s done, a Chapter 13 is filed to use one or more of its benefits. (Chapter 7 + 13 = 20.) Since most of the debts were discharged in the prior Chapter 7, the debtor doesn’t need a discharge in the Chapter 13 case.


This blog should make it clear that a simple rule—8 years from one bankruptcy to the next one—is often woefully incomplete and misleading.  This is another good argument that you truly need to talk with an attorney who focuses on bankruptcy instead of making misassumptions that could cause you lots of unnecessary grief.

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