351 Pleasant Street, Suite B-348
Northampton, MA 01060

tel. (508)797-0200
fax (508)797-0201

Tag Archives: Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Debt Limits in Chapter 13

Chapter 13 is a valuable tool in the shed of a potential debtor.  In general it allows a debtor as much as five years to cure mortgage arrears (and thus stop a foreclosure by a bank), or to pay non-dischargeable tax debt.   If a debtor cannot qualify for Chapter 7 because, for example, she does not qualify for liquidation under the Means Test, Chapter 13 is very often the best option as well.  However, Chapter 13 has limits of its own. Specifically, Chapter 13 bars individuals with TOO MUCH debt from relief.

shackle dollar symbolCurrently a debtor is barred from seeking relief under Chapter 13 if either her unsecured debt is more than $383,175.00, or her secured debt is in excess of $1,149,525.00.  See Bankruptcy Code § 109(e). The limits were originally set at $250,000.00 (unsecured) and $750,000.00 (secured), and are adjusted every three years under the code to keep relatively current with inflation.  See Bankruptcy Code  § 104. These limits will next be reviewed in 2016.  If you do appear to be over the limit for either unsecured or secured debts, there may be some strategies available to allow you to still qualify.  An in-depth analysis of your debts should be undertaken by your bankruptcy attorney to determine if a portion of your debt may not count toward the limits, or if some of your debt can be re-categorized, in part or in whole, as secured or unsecured.

Strategies for meeting the threshold.

Bankruptcy Code § 109 specifically sets these limits for “noncontingent, liquidated unsecured debts” and “noncontingent, liquidated secured debts”.  So it follows that if the debts are contingent or un-liquidated in nature then they do not count toward the limits.

A contingent debt is a debt that one does not have a current obligation to pay; that is to say it is a debt that one only becomes liable for upon the happening of a “contingency” or event in the future.  A typical example is when one signs a personal guaranty for a loan to a business.  The individual guarantor in that situation is only liable to the lender upon the default of the borrower business. But be aware not all co-signed debts are really guaranties.  In many examples in the personal lending world, a “co-signer” is under the impression that she is only guarantying debts owed by another (such as a parent co-signing on a child’s student loan, or co-signing on your cousin’s car loan, etc.) when in reality the co-signer is jointly liable.  In that scenario, the co-signer is immediately obligated, so that the lender could demand payment from either obligor at any time. Accordingly, in that situation, the debt is non-contingent, and is necessarily included in the analysis of debts for the Chapter 13 limits.

An un-liquidated debt is a debt to which a debtor’s responsibility to pay has not yet been determined, or where the amount due cannot be easily determined.  A typical example of an un-liquidated debt is where a debtor is sued in tort (i.e., for an injury caused to another).  While the debtor has been sued — or threatened with suit — for a given dollar amount, either liability has not yet been determined by a court, or if liability has been determined the amount of damages has not yet been determined.  Another word of caution, not all lawsuits are created equal. Suits for breaches of contract (particularly for loans, lines of credit and other forms of lending) where there are no real defenses, and the amount of damages is easy to calculate, might not be considered to be un-liquidated.

Another strategy is to re-classify some or all of a particular debt.  In some situations, certain secured debts can be stripped or “crammed down”.  In Chapter 13 mortgages on the debtor’s principal residence cannot be crammed down (i.e., the mortgage is reduced to the value of the property), however real estate that does not constitute the debtor’s primary residence (such as investment property) is fair game for a cramdown. In addition, junior mortgages that are fully unsecured (i.e., where the balance due under the senior mortgage is more than the value of the real estate, the junior mortgage is considered to be “wholly unsecured”) can be stripped off entirely, even on the debtor’s residence.  In either of these situations the secured debt (or at least a portion of it in the case of the cramdown) would be re-classified as unsecured debt.  This might be helpful for a debtor attempting to qualify for Chapter 13 where the secured debt is over the threshold.  However, keep in mind that the amount by which the secured debt is reduced will be equal to the amount by which the unsecured debt is increased.

If all else fails, a “Chapter 20” might be the answer.

For those of you thumbing through your well worn copy of the bankruptcy code looking for Chapter 20, be aware that you won’t find it in the Code.  Chapter 20 just means that we are going through the process of two bankruptcy cases, Chapter 7 and then a Chapter 13 (7+13=20).  The initial filing is a Chapter 7 case to clear out unsecured debt, strip certain liens and then a Chapter 13 to deal with mortgage arrears and non-dischargable debts.  Beware, Chapter 20 is only available to a debtor who qualifies for Chapter 7.  Also, its important to understand that no discharge will be available in the Chapter 13 case, because you will have discharged your debts in the Chapter 7 that just happened, but it might help some to qualify.  You will have the benefits of a Chapter 13 in that you can stretch out repayment of mortgage arrears by up to five years.

If none of these strategies work, you may need to consider Chapter 11.  Chapter 11 is available to individuals and has no debt limitations.  It can be a bit of a cumbersome process and is often not cost effective for the average individual filer.  However, there are a number of benefits to Chapter 11 that are not available to individuals filing under any other Chapter of the Bankruptcy Code, such as cramming down a mortgage on the debtor’s primary residence, and extending plan payments beyond five years.

If you are facing a large amount of debt that makes a Chapter 13 questionable it is imperative that you talk to  experienced and qualified bankruptcy attorney immediately.  Call the Law Offices of James Wingfield at 508-797-0200, visit the contact page of our website or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation today.

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)


    Your Message


    Something Borrowed and the Blues: Marriage and Bankruptcy Part II

    There is no question in my mind that debt can and does put a major strain on a marriage. I often hear from people considering marriage with worries about how their future spouse’s debt will impact them, or from a fiancé struggling with debt who wonders whether he should file for bankruptcy before walking down…Continue Reading

    When is an IRA not a Retirement Account and Not Protected In Bankruptcy?

    Typically when reviewing a client’s asset situation in preparation for a bankruptcy filing I feel confident that retirement funds — those in a qualified pension, 401(k), 403(b), TSP or other ERISA qualified plans are safe from the grasp of a Chapter 7 trustee and do not need to be considered in the liquidation analysis for…Continue Reading

    Questions You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Lawyer

    I often find when I meet with new or potential clients they have a litany of questions about the process, the meaning of the law, and the issues that are relevant to their specific circumstances.  I generally attempt to anticipate and answer most of the important questions that a client might have without having to…Continue Reading

    Until Debt Do Us Part: Marriage and Bankruptcy, Part I

    Nearly every day in my practice someone asks me what impact a bankruptcy will have on a spouse, or whether both spouses are required to file when one does.  There seem to be a great number of people in Central Massachusetts that want to file a bankruptcy, but leave their wife (or husband) out of it.…Continue Reading

    Rebuilding Credit After Bankruptcy

    Most of my clients are not immediately concerned with their current credit rating. They have far more pressing issues, like keeping a roof over their heads, keeping their cars from being repossessed or sold at a sheriff”s sale or avoiding having their wages garnished by a judgment creditor. In fact, when people in my office…Continue Reading

    Student Debt in Bankruptcy, Part 2: Federal Loans vs. Private Loans

    More than full two-thirds (71%) of all students graduating college in the United States are doing so with some amount of student debt. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $1.2 Trillion. This debt is saddled upon the youngest of people, as they just begin to attempt to enter the workforce. There…Continue Reading

    Casinos, Gambling, Cash Advances and Bankruptcy

    I generally avoid political discourse in this space. Casino gambling, and legalized gambling in general, has been a hot button issue in Massachusetts these past few years. Many level headed people have vastly different opinions about the short and long term economic impact of gaming in Massachusetts. On the plus side there will most assuredly…Continue Reading

    Student Debt in Bankruptcy, Part 1: Debts Owed Directly to the Registrar

    In my practice I’m often faced with questions about college loans and other student debts. Typically in the business of being a bankruptcy lawyer we focus the bulk of our attention, when representing consumers, on credit cards, mortgages and medical bills.  The sad truth is, however, that the largest amount of unsecured consumer debt is not credit…Continue Reading

    Keeping the Power On: Utility Bills in Bankruptcy

    It is probably no surprise that my clients sometimes are struggling with their utility bills.  A New England winter (particularly this past one) can cause even those of us not in financial crisis to stress over the cost of heating our homes.  For those already struggling with medical bills, credit card debt or an out of control mortgage…Continue Reading

    The Law Offices of James Wingfield is proud to be a debt relief agency. We help the individuals, families and small businesses of the Worcester area file for bankruptcy relief under the United States Bankruptcy Code. The Law Offices of James Wingfield serves Central and Western Massachusetts clients in Worcester County, Hampden County, Hampshire County and Middlesex County including Worcester, Shrewsbury, Springfield, Westborough, Southborough, Framingham, Northampton, Natick, Amherst, Fitchburg, Leomister, Douglas, Uxbridge, Gardner, Belchertown, Holyoke, Wilbraham and Chicopee. The information contained and obtained in this website does not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Contacting us, be it through this website, via email of by telephone does not create an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only created upon execution of an engagement agreement or fee agreement.