From filing to discharge (wiping out debts), Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases typically take 4-6 months. As far as personal bankruptcies go, Chapter 7 is the fastest. By comparison, Chapter 13 can take up to five years because a repayment plan is involved. If you file Chapter 7, the timeline for discharge will depend on how complicated your case is, what kind of debt you have, and how quickly you complete the requirements like the financial management course.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated July 12, 2023
Most Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases take between 4 - 6 months to complete after filing the case with the court. The order erasing eligible debts can be granted as early as 90 days from the date the case was filed. No-asset cases are typically closed a couple of weeks after the discharge date.
What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
It’s a type of bankruptcy that erases your debts, to give you a fresh start. To file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the United States Bankruptcy Code you have to pass the means test. The means test shows the bankruptcy court that you’re eligible for debt relief because your monthly income isn't enough to pay your unsecured debts in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Unsecured debt includes credit card debt, medical bills, and personal loans. Not all unsecured debts are dischargeable. Filing Chapter 7 does not erase child support or alimony. Student loans are only dischargeable if an undue hardship exists. If you own nonexempt property, the Chapter 7 trustee sells it and uses the funds to pay your creditors.
Most people’s belongings are fully protected by state or federal bankruptcy exemptions. Nothing is sold and no money is paid to creditors. That’s called a no-asset case.
How Long Does It Take To File a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case?
There are a few things you’ll have to do before you can file bankruptcy. How long this takes depends entirely on how quickly you move through the steps. Some people take weeks or even months to get ready; others get the necessary steps done in the span of a week or two. The timing is entirely up to you.
What Happens on the Day the Case Is Filed?
First, the clerk’s office assigns a case number, a judge, and a bankruptcy trustee to the case. Then it schedules the 341 meeting of creditors. The date of the 341 meeting determines a number of important deadlines for the bankruptcy case.
The day you submit your bankruptcy forms to the court, sometimes called the filing date or the petition date, sets a few things in motion. For one, the automatic stay is triggered. This stops creditors from trying to collect a debt from you and even stops a garnishment.
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Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case - A Timeline
Once the case is filed, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process can be broken into 3 phases:
Phase 1: Filing Date ➡️ 341 Meeting of Creditors
The 341 meeting is scheduled about 30 days after the petition date. The meeting itself typically takes less than 10 minutes to complete.
While waiting for your 341 meeting, you’ll likely hear from your trustee. They’ll let you know what documents they need from you to prepare for your 341 meeting. As long as you’ve kept the documents you used when preparing your bankruptcy forms, doing this shouldn’t take very long.
Most filers also get the financial management course out of the way while they wait for their 341 meeting. Bankruptcy law requires every person filing bankruptcy to complete this education course. It tends to be a little longer than the first course, usually around 2 hours.
Phase 2: 341 Meeting ➡️ Date of Discharge
Remember how the date of the 341 meeting determines a lot of deadlines (read: important dates) for the rest of the case? Here is how it works:
341 meeting + 30 days = Deadline for the trustee (or creditors) to object to an exemption you claimed. This deadline starts when the 341 meeting is “concluded” which can be delayed if the trustee schedules a follow up meeting.
341 meeting + 60 days = Deadline for creditors to object to having their debt discharged. Creditor objections are not very common in typical Chapter 7 cases, but they do happen.
341 meeting + 45 days = Deadline to deal with secured debts, like car loans (if you want to keep the car).
Once the deadline to object to the discharge has passed, the court will enter the discharge order.
Can the Discharge Date Be Delayed?
Yes. If you don’t take your financial management course after filing and submit a certificate of completion, the bankruptcy court can’t grant your discharge. If too much time passes, the court can close your case.
Other Things That Can Delay The Entry Of The Discharge
Someone objects to the discharge. This doesn’t happen at the 341 meeting (creditors rarely show up for those) but when the creditor files a written objection with the court. Objections from creditors can happen if the filer used their credit cards or took on new debt shortly before filing their bankruptcy case. The trustee can also object to the entry of the discharge (or at least request a delay). This typically happens if the filer is not providing the trustee with the information they requested.
A reaffirmation hearing is scheduled. The United States Bankruptcy Code requires the court to review and approve reaffirmation agreements that are not signed by a bankruptcy attorney. Since hearings are set based on availability by the judge and a number of other factors, this hearing may not happen until after the 60-day objection deadline has passed. The discharge can’t be granted until after the reaffirmation hearing has been completed.
Phase 3: Discharge ➡️ Case Closed
Once the bankruptcy trustee has determined that there’s no property they can sell for the benefit of creditors, they’ll file a Report of No Distribution. This lets everyone know that it’s a no-asset case and can happen anytime after the 341 meeting. No asset cases are typically closed by the court within 1–2 weeks or so.
If the trustee hasn’t filed a Report of No Distribution, the case will stay open until the trustee signals to the court that they’ve completed their work on the case. How long this process takes can vary greatly, as it depends on what kind of property the trustee is selling and what else is going on in the case.
In some cases, all the trustee is waiting for is the filer's tax return for the year their bankruptcy case is filed in. If no specific exemption for a tax refund exists, a portion of the refund may be used by the trustee to pay creditors.
Usually, not much else is required from the filer during this process. But, if the trustee asks for additional information or otherwise requests assistance with the sale of property, the filer has a duty to help.
How Long Does a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Take?
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves a repayment plan, so it takes quite a bit longer to complete. Typical Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases last 3 to 5 years. As part of the repayment plan, secured debts, like car loans are paid off. Depending on the type of debt you have, this type of bankruptcy may provide more debt relief than a Chapter 7 filing. It’s always best to speak to a bankruptcy attorney about a Chapter 13 filing, as there are many moving parts in the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process.
Once filed, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy typically takes about 4–6 months to complete. The bankruptcy discharge order that provides you with permanent debt relief is granted 3–4 months after the case is filed.
If you’re struggling to make ends meet and just can’t make a dent in your credit card debt, keep learning more about your bankruptcy options. While it’s not right for everyone, Chapter 7 bankruptcy helps thousands of families clean up their credit report and get back on their feet every year. It’s a myth that your credit score will be doomed forever. Most people are able to rebuild their credit to better than it was within 1 - 2 years of the discharge. Check out the video below ⬇️ for more!