Nothing in the bankruptcy laws restricts you from filing for bankruptcy whenever you’d like. But, if you want the court to wipe out qualifying debt by issuing a discharge (the order forgiving debt)—which most people do—timing requirements exist. How long you’ll have to wait will depend on the type of bankruptcy you intend to file, as well as the type you filed previously, when you filed it, and the outcome.
When you’ve received a bankruptcy discharge in the past, and you’re in need of debt relief again, timing is essential. Here’s how much time must elapse from the filing date of the previous case if you’d like a discharge in the current matter:
Sometimes a discharge isn’t needed. For instance, Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stop collection actions an allow the filer to spread out nondischargeable debt (debt you can’t wipe out), such as child support or unpaid taxes, over three to five years.
Also, attorneys informally call filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy immediately after a Chapter 7 case a “Chapter 20 bankruptcy.” Because all qualifying debt usually gets wiped out in the Chapter 7 case, there’s no need for a discharge in the Chapter 13 case. Instead, the filer uses the Chapter 13 matter to pay debt that wasn’t discharged in the earlier Chapter 7 bankruptcy over three to five years, such as taxes or mortgage arrearages. Determining the appropriateness of a Chapter 20 case is complicated—and some courts frown on the practice. If you plan to file without observing the four-year waiting period, consider consulting an experienced bankruptcy attorney so that you avoid any unforeseen consequences.
If your debts weren’t discharged in your first filing, then you might be eligible for a discharge immediately, but it will depend on why the court dismissed your case.
Under most circumstances, you’ll likely want to seek legal advice before filing a second time.
Filing a bankruptcy within one year of the dismissal of a previous case comes with consequences: The automatic stay—the order that stops collection activity—will last only for 30 days. Your attorney will need to file a motion asking the court to extend the automatic stay to protect you the entire time you’re in bankruptcy.
Also, if you’ve had more than one bankruptcy in the last year, the automatic stay won’t attach at all, and your attorney will need to file a motion asking the court to impose the stay on your creditors.