Filing a Chapter 7 or 13 case both stop creditor collection actions against you just the same. But after that the differences are huge.
Last time we focused on how you can use the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 options to your time advantage. Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is very fast. If all or most of your debts can be discharged (written off), that quickness can be an important advantage. But its speed can be a downside. If you are behind on a secured debt, Chapter 13’s 3-to-5-year-long duration can be a crucial advantage. It not only buys you time but gives your protection and flexibility for dealing with such special debts.
So, both bankruptcy options provide protection, but of different kinds. Let’s see how these work to see which would be better for you.
The Immediate Protection
With either kind of bankruptcy you get immediate relief from almost all creditor collection actions.
The “automatic stay” kicks in simultaneously with the filing of your Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy petition. Its power is in how fast it works and how strongly it prevents creditors from taking further collection action against you. (See Section 362(a) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)
How Long the Protection Lasts
The automatic stay lasts as long as your case does. So, it expires about 3-4 months after you and your bankruptcy lawyer file a Chapter 7 case. On the other hand, it expires about 3-to-5-years after filing a Chapter 13 case. (See Section 362(c) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)
However, a creditor may be able to end that protection as applicable to that creditor. Creditors usually can’t prevent the automatic stay from going into immediate effect at the beginning of your case. However creditors CAN ask for “relief from the automatic stay.” That is, AFTER the automatic stay goes into effect a creditor can ask the bankruptcy court to make an exception for that creditor and let it pursue you or its collateral. (See Section 362(d) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)
How does all this all works in practice under Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13?
Chapter 7 Is Not Designed for Ongoing Protection
As we’ve said, the automatic stay protection lasts just 3-4 months at best under Chapter 7. But in addition, certain important creditors have more reason to ask for “relief from stay” to make that even shorter.
Chapter 7 provides no mechanism for dealing with important debts that you want or need to pay. Consider debts backed by collateral you want to keep, such as a home mortgage or vehicle loan. If you’ve fallen behind there’s no tool under Chapter 7 for catching up. You have to make arrangements directly with the creditor. If you (through your lawyer) and the creditor can agree, that’s fine. But if not, the creditor can file a motion asking for permission to foreclose on or repossess the collateral. It may even do so right after you file your case, before you’ve even started any negotiation. It’s signaling that you better meet its terms or else it wants to take back the home or vehicle.
Chapter 13 IS for Ongoing Protection
Chapter 13 starts with the fact that the automatic stay lasts SO much longer. It lasts a few years instead of a few months. But just as with Chapter 7, under Chapter 13 a creditor with collateral can file a motion asking for permission to foreclose on or repossess the collateral.
The big difference is that Chapter 13 provides a mechanism for catching up on such debts. If you’re behind on a mortgage or loan with collateral, your Chapter 13 payment plan will specify how much you’ll pay each month to catch up. Assuming your proposed terms are sensible, the creditor will likely go along.
A key difference is that Chapter 13 gives you an efficient and effective way to take the initiative. Because creditors know that bankruptcy judges will approve reasonable terms, they don’t object. And they don’t waste their time and money asking for “relief from stay” knowing it would have no effect. Then once your proposed payment plan is formally approved by the judge, creditors must live with your terms.
Be aware that if a creditor thinks your catch-up terms are not reasonable it can object or file a motion. Then usually a compromise can be worked out.
Of course you have to comply with the terms of your plan as approved by the bankruptcy judge. If you don’t, the affected creditor can then file a motion asking to be allowed to pursue the collateral. Depending on the facts you may be given another chance or you may not.
The relatively short period of protection under Chapter 7 may be just fine if you have no surviving debts. Chapter 7 may also be fine if the surviving debt can be handled reasonably through simple negotiation. But Chapter 13 provides longer and stronger protection for you regarding past-due debts secured by collateral you want to keep.