The ultimate goal of bankruptcy is to get a discharge order, which wipes out debts like credit cards and medical bills. Along with your bankruptcy case number, keep your discharge date handy in case you’re contacted about a debt that was discharged.
At some point, if you can’t pay your debts and need to find debt relief, bankruptcy may be your best option. The primary purpose of filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, or almost any bankruptcy case, is to get a discharge. This is the court order that forever eliminates your legal obligation to repay any dischargeable debts. The “discharge date” is the date that your debts will be officially eliminated.
How Do I Find My Discharge Date?
A discharge releases you from personal liability for certain types of debts called unsecured debts. This is laid out in the Bankruptcy Code. In effect, you’re no longer legally required to pay any debts that are discharged. The discharge order also permanently prohibits the creditors for these debts from taking any collection action. This includes legal action and contact, such as telephone calls, letters, and electronic correspondence.
The date of your discharge is the date that the assigned bankruptcy judge signs the discharge order. The court will mail you a copy of the order after the judge signs it. The discharge date is next to the judge’s signature on the discharge. Always keep a copy of your discharge order close by in case a creditor contacts you. The creditor will want to know the date of your discharge and your case number.
If you file bankruptcy on your own, you can sign up to receive notices electronically. If you do, you’ll get an email any time that the trustee or any of your creditors files a document in your case. You’ll also receive a link to the document. You must register with PACER to access a PDF of the document.
What Is PACER?
PACER stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. It’s a service that provides electronic public access to federal court records. PACER provides access to any document filed in a federal court. You can’ access documents filed in state courts through PACER. Every document filed in your bankruptcy case, including your discharge order with your discharge date, is available through PACER. You can download a PDF of any document for a small fee — 10 cents per page with a cap of $3.00 for any document.
I Just Filed Chapter 7. When Will I Get My Discharge?
After filing a bankruptcy petition for a Chapter 7 case, you must meet certain requirements before the court will grant a discharge.
After You Complete Required Courses
All individuals who file bankruptcy must complete pre-bankruptcy credit counseling and pre-discharge debtor education courses. You must take the credit counseling course before you file your bankruptcy case. You must take the debtor education after you file but before you receive your discharge. The judge won’t sign your discharge order unless and until you complete both courses.
Only credit counseling organizations and debtor education course providers approved by the U.S. Trustee Program may issue completion certificates. Because the U.S. Trustee Program doesn’t operate in Alabama and North Carolina, state bankruptcy administrators instead approve pre-bankruptcy credit counseling organizations and pre-discharge debtor education course providers in these states. You can find providers online.
After Your Creditors’ Meeting
Federal law also requires the trustee assigned to your case to hold a meeting of creditors within a reasonable time after you file your bankruptcy case. Bankruptcy lawyers, trustees, and judges typically refer to this as a 341 meeting after the Bankruptcy Code statute that addresses this requirement. You must attend this meeting or the trustee will dismiss your case. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many 341 meetings are being conducted remotely.
The trustee will ask you questions to confirm your eligibility as well as any questions they have about the bankruptcy documents you filed. Your creditors are invited to appear at this meeting and ask any relevant questions. In truth, creditors rarely appear at these meetings since it costs them time and money. If a creditor knows that its debt will be discharged, it won’t waste any more money trying to collect it.
The bankruptcy trustee or any of your creditors have 60 days from your meeting of creditors to file an objection to the discharge of your bankruptcy case. Objections are usually based on some fraudulent conduct by a filer or the failure to qualify for a discharge. Objections are rare in consumer cases.
In effect, the 61st day after your meeting of creditors is the earliest that the court can enter your discharge order. It may take anywhere from a few days to a week for processing before the court grants the discharge.
What Can Delay the Entry of My Discharge?
Other events can delay a discharge order. For example, failing to take the financial management course after your bankruptcy filing or failing to submit a certificate of completion to the court will delay your discharge.
Also, your discharge will be delayed if you reaffirm any of your debts, and the reaffirmation hearing is scheduled after the date that the discharge is first possible. A reaffirmation means that you’ve elected and agreed not to discharge a particular debt in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Instead, you “reaffirm” that you’ll continue paying it. Because the court won’t enter a discharge until it rules on a reaffirmation, this can delay a discharge.
The court must also address any objections to discharge by any of your lenders before granting a discharge. If no objections are filed, the discharge is entered automatically, and you’re not required to take any further action.
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What’s the Discharge Date in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
The discharge date in a Chapter 13 case is the same as in a Chapter 7 case. It’s the date that the discharge is entered, which is the date that the judge signs the discharge order. Next, your case closes, which is simply an administrative act. One difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 is that a Chapter 13 discharge occurs much later than a Chapter 7 discharge. In a Chapter 13 case, the filer has to complete a 3-5-year repayment before their debts are discharged. In a Chapter 7 case, the discharge occurs about three to five months after the filing date.
What if Creditors Still Contact Me After My Discharge Date?
No creditor for any of your discharged debts should contact you after you receive your discharge. The discharge contains a section that states creditors can’t collect discharged debts. The court typically includes this section using a form that explains the effect of the discharge order.
So if a creditor for one of your discharged debts like a credit card contacts you, they’re violating a court order. It’s quite possible that the person on the phone, whether they’re representing the original creditor or a collection agency, doesn’t know about the bankruptcy or the discharge. This may occur even if you sent the creditor notice of your bankruptcy.
Tell them the date of the discharge, your bankruptcy case number, and the specific bankruptcy court where you filed it, such as “the District of Arizona.” Also, tell them if it was a Chapter 7 or 13 case and the filing date. This should be enough information for them to realize that they should never contact you.
If a creditor makes further attempts to collect a discharged debt after your bankruptcy case is closed even though you’ve given them all the necessary information about the bankruptcy case, you may want to get legal help. You can talk to a bankruptcy attorney about filing a claim that this creditor violated the order of discharge under the Bankruptcy Code.
Keep in mind that some debts like child support, alimony, and student loans are non-dischargeable. That means they won’t be erased in your bankruptcy case. If you’re behind on any of these debts or a real estate mortgage with a secured creditor, you still have to repay these debts.
If a creditor contacts you because the debt was non-dischargeable, this may be a good opportunity to negotiate and set up a payment plan that resolves the debt. This will help you move forward and focus on improving your credit without the negative information from this creditor affecting your credit report and credit score.
The discharge date for a bankruptcy case is the date that the judge in your case signs the order finalizing your bankruptcy, which wipes out all your dischargeable debts. You can find the date of the discharge next to the judge's signature.
If a creditor files an objection to the discharge or you fail to take the required financial management course, you may delay your discharge. It’s illegal for a creditor for any of your discharged debts to contact you after you receive your discharge order. If this happens, you may need to seek legal advice.