Learn about the Chapter 7 bankruptcy income limits including how you may still be eligible for Chapter 7 relief under the bankruptcy means test even if your average income exceeds the median income.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated June 27, 2022
The Chapter 7 income limits were added in 2005 when Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA). Since Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t involve a repayment plan of any kind, Congress worried about an abuse of the bankruptcy process by filers who could afford to pay their debts.
To prevent this, Congress added a credit counseling requirement for anyone filing any type of bankruptcy and set income limits for Chapter 7 relief. The bankruptcy means test calculation determines whether someone can afford to pay a portion of their consumer debts as part of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
The Chapter 7 Income Limits and the Bankruptcy Means Test
The bankruptcy means test is a calculation laid out in the Bankruptcy Code. The starting point for this calculation is your state’s median household income. Median income can be part of the Chapter 7 income limits. If your household income is less than the median household income for the same household size of the state you’re filing in, you make less than the income limit. This means you pass the Chapter 7 means test and qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
If your household income is greater than the median, you may still qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if your household expenses under the means test calculation don’t leave you with any disposable income. More on that in Part 2, below.
Part 1: Comparing Your Household Income to the Median Income
The first part of the means test compares your average income to the median household income for the same household size in your state.
Determining the Median Income for Your Household Size
The income limit for your state and household size is based on data from the Census Bureau, and it changes multiple times per year.
To find the most up-to-date information, go to the means testing page from the United States Trustee (UST) and choose the current option in the drop-down menu titled “Data Required for Completing the 122A Forms and the 122C Forms.” This will bring you to a new page on the Justice Department’s website that provides a link titled “Median Family Income Based on State/Territory and Family Size” provided by the Census Bureau. From there, you can pull up a table showing median incomes by household size, for each state.
Calculating Your Current Monthly Income
Your current monthly income under the means test is based on your monthly income in the six months before your bankruptcy filing. This doesn’t include the month your bankruptcy case is filed in. For example, if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July, calculate your current monthly income based on how much you earned from January 1 to June 30.
Step 1: Add up all income from the last six months.
Your monthly income is calculated by adding up all countable gross income you received in the six-month period you’re using for your means test. Gross income is not the same as your take-home income. Gross income is the amount you make before taxes and other deductions are taken out.
Countable income includes income from wages, alimony, child support, rental income, and any other money you receive on a regular basis. Social Security income (SSI or SSDI) is not added when calculating your current monthly income. If your only source of household income is SSI or SSDI, you pass the Chapter 7 means test without having to do any math.
Step 2: Divide the result by six.
Once it’s all added together, divide the total by six. The result is your current monthly income under the bankruptcy means test. If your income fluctuates each month, your current monthly income under the means test may surprise you. Remember, it’s an average taken over the last six months.
If you received significant overtime pay, income from extra gigs, or a bonus during the six months, your average monthly income will be higher than what you’re actually earning now. Similarly, if you were out of work for four out of the last six months before finding a new job, your average income under the means test will be much lower than what you’re making now.
Step 3: Use your current monthly income to determine your annual income.
Take your current monthly income as calculated and multiply it by 12. This is your annual income according to the means test calculation. Compare that number to the annual income for your household size in your state.
If your annual income is less than the median, you pass the Chapter 7 means test. If your income is greater than the median household income, you’ve failed the first part of the means test. But you may still be eligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy based on the second part of the means test.
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Part 2: Comparing Your Current Monthly Income to Your Household Expenses
The second part of the means test calculation determines whether you have any money left over after paying your monthly living expenses. If the answer is yes, you have disposable income. If you have a high disposable income, the Bankruptcy Code requires that you use it to pay down your debts in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy before you can get a bankruptcy discharge.
Only Certain Expenses Are Considered
This is where things get very technical, as only some types of monthly expenses are taken into consideration. So hiring a bankruptcy lawyer can be useful. The purpose of this part of the test is to determine whether your income is enough to cover your living expenses and repayment of your debts. A bankruptcy lawyer can give you legal advice on what’s an allowed monthly expense and what isn’t.
Expenses Are Forward-Looking
Your average monthly income is calculated by looking at the past. Your expenses, on the other hand, are forward-looking and based on your actual monthly expenses. If your old healthcare plan cost $600/month but you were able to switch to a cheaper plan for $300/month, the means test calculation will show this as a $300 monthly expense.
Paycheck deductions for income taxes, Social Security, health insurance, disability insurance, term life insurance, and health savings account expenses are considered allowed monthly expenses. The same is true for deductions you didn’t really have a choice over that are required as part of your employment. Examples include mandatory retirement contributions, union dues, and uniform costs.
While it’s probably an involuntary deduction, wage garnishments aren’t automatically allowed as an expense in the means test calculation. If the wage garnishment is the result of a lawsuit filed by a credit card company for an unsecured debt, the automatic stay stops that garnishment once you file your petition for bankruptcy relief. And since the unsecured debt will be discharged, it’s not going to be an expense for you going forward.
The only exceptions are garnishment orders in place to make monthly payments for ongoing child support or alimony obligations. These domestic support obligations aren’t dischargeable and will continue to be deducted from the filer’s paycheck. They are an allowed monthly expense.
Regular Living Expenses Are Based on National Standards
To make sure things are as fair as possible to everyone filing bankruptcy, there are limits to the amounts for regular living expenses. To account for regional differences, some of these expenses are based on national standards, while others are based on local standards. Monthly expense allowances under these standards vary by household size and are broken down as follows:
Food (groceries and eating out)
Clothing and services (think dry cleaning)
Personal care (haircuts)
Utilities and housing maintenance
Mortgage or rent expenses
Transportation expenses, including public transportation
Vehicle operating costs
Actual Necessary Expenses
These are expenses that you actually pay every month that aren’t already accounted for in the local or national standards. If the United States Trustee in your district picks your case for an audit, you’ll be required to show documentation that you’re making these monthly payments.
They include the following:
Term life insurance for yourself
Education for employment that is a condition of your employment
Expenses incurred for the health or welfare of physically or mentally challenged child
Child care expenses, like babysitting, daycare, and preschool
Medical bills exceeding the national standards for healthcare expenses
Certain insurance premiums
Charitable contributions (up to 15% of gross income)
Ongoing Debt Payments: Secured and Priority Debts
If you have a car or house that you plan on keeping after filing bankruptcy, you’ll also keep the monthly payment on your car loan or mortgage. You can deduct the monthly payments for these secured debts, at least to the extent that they exceed the local and national standards.
What’s Left After Allowed Monthly Expenses Determines Chapter 7 Eligibility
When you subtract your allowed living expenses from your monthly income, if the number is negative you don’t exceed the Chapter 7 income limits. You pass the means test and can proceed with filing for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7.
If the result is a positive number, you have disposable monthly income because your income exceeds the allowed expenses. In this case, you may not qualify for Chapter 7, but you can file Chapter 13. Keep in mind that Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 provide different types of debt relief, and there are pros and cons to each.
If your disposable monthly income is less than a certain amount (adjusted every three years) when multiplied by 60, you meet the income limits. The means test calculation has determined that you don’t have the ability to repay a meaningful amount of your unsecured debts and you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you exceed the limit, it’s assumed that filing a Chapter 7 would be an abuse of the bankruptcy process. Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief may still be possible, but only if special circumstances exist.
Not Everyone Is Subject to the Chapter 7 Income Limits
If the majority of your debt is business debto or if you’re part of the military, you may be excpeted from the Chapter 7 income limits.
Exception for Non-Consumer Debt: If more than 50% of your debt is considered non-consumer debt, you’re automatically exempt from the means test calculation. Non-consumer debt is also called business debt because it’s incurred with a business or profit motive. If you’re not sure if you have business debt, consider speaking to a bankruptcy attorney about your situation and the types of debt you have.
Exception for Qualifying Service Members and Veterans: Disabled veterans, reservists called to active duty, and members of the national guard don't have to count compensation connected to their service as part of the bankruptcy means test. This protection was recently expanded when the HAVEN Act was passed by Congress.
Anyone who qualifies for one of these exceptions to the bankruptcy income limits has to file a Statement of Exemption from Presumption of Abuse Under § 707(b)(2) instead of their bankruptcy means test form. This form lets the bankruptcy court know that you’re not subject to the income limits.
The means test is one of the most complicated bankruptcy forms. If the bankruptcy means test shows that your household income is less than the median household in your state, you pass the Chapter 7 means test. If your average income exceeds the median income, you may still be eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy based on the extended means test calculation.
If you’re below the median income, hiring a bankruptcy lawyer may not be affordable. If you need bankruptcy relief through Chapter 7, see if you’re eligible to use Upsolve’s web app to prepare your bankruptcy forms. It’s completely free and has already helped thousands file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer.
Check out the video below ⬇️ for more!