How Often Can You File Bankruptcy?

Find out how much time must pass between bankruptcy filings to qualify for debt discharge again.

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.

How Often Can You Receive a Discharge?

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:

  • Filing Chapter 7 after Chapter 7. Eight years.
  • Chapter 13 after Chapter 13. Two years.
  • Chapter 13 after Chapter 7. Four years.
  • Chapter 7 after Chapter 13. Six years. However, the waiting period won’t apply if all of the unsecured creditors (such as credit card balances, medical bills, and personal loans) were paid in full, or if the unsecured creditors received at least 70% and you proposed a good faith plan that represented your best efforts.

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 You Didn’t Receive a Discharge

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.

  • Court dismisses your case without prejudice. If the court dismissed your bankruptcy matter because you failed to complete a requirement, you'd likely be able to file right away and receive a discharge. For instance, the court might have dismissed your case because you didn’t file your financial management certificate (the second course all individual filers must take) or it could have been that the court didn’t confirm your Chapter 13 plan because you couldn’t show you had enough income to make the required payments.
  • Court dismisses your case with prejudice. In this case, you’ll need to wait 180 days from the time of the dismissal before filing a new matter. The 180-day waiting period would apply if you voluntarily dismissed your case after a creditor filed a motion for relief from stay (for instance, the creditor asked the court to allow it to pursue a foreclosure or repossession). The court can also order a 180-day waiting period after finding that you tried to abuse the bankruptcy system with serial filings.
  • Court denies your discharge. You might be able to file again, but it’s likely that the court won’t allow you to discharge the debts from the earlier case. Trying to hide assets, lying on your bankruptcy papers, trying to defraud your creditors, or abusing the system, can result in the court preventing you from filing for whatever amount of time it deems appropriate.

Under most circumstances, you’ll likely want to seek legal advice before filing a second time.

The Automatic Stay Isn’t Always Automatic

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.

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