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How Often Can You File Bankruptcy? (Updated 2020)

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In a Nutshell

You can file more than one bankruptcy in a lifetime. How many times depends on how long it's been since your last bankruptcy case and what type of bankruptcy you filed. We'll break it down for you.

Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.  
Updated September 23, 2020


Have you filed bankruptcy in the past but are faced with a financial situation that you can’t resolve despite your best efforts? If you’re facing a possible wage garnishment due to unexpected medical bills, unpaid tax debts, or any other type of debt you’re no longer able to pay, you can ask the court for bankruptcy protection a second time. 

Know that you’re not alone. A 2006 paper on a found that 8% of bankruptcy filers end up filing bankruptcy again. [1] The 2005 changes to the Bankruptcy Code, intended to reduce overall filings, have not had much of an impact on this number. [2]

In this article, we’ll look at just how many times someone can file bankruptcy depending on the type of bankruptcy and the amount of time that has passed since the first case. We'll also take a look at what other debt-relief options are available if filing bankruptcy is not an option and whether a bankruptcy attorney can help you file a second bankruptcy sooner.

Bankruptcy is a legal way for individuals who can no longer afford to pay their debts to get permanent debt relief through a bankruptcy discharge. The Bankruptcy Code provides for three types of consumer bankruptcies known as Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Different Types of Bankruptcy Explained 

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy eliminates most debt, including credit card debt, without requiring repayment of any kind. Instead of a repayment plan, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process liquidates your non-exempt assets to partially repay your debts. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to keep all of your property as long as the monthly repayment plan pays for the value of your assets. The debts that don’t get paid as part of the repayment plan are discharged once the plan has been completed. The discharge of your debts gives you the fresh start you need. 

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy process provides similar relief to that provided in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, but is generally reserved for filers with businesses or significant assets and is a lot more expensive than even a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This article will focus specifically on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

How it works

There is no limit to how many times someone can seek bankruptcy protection. To prevent an abuse of the bankruptcy process, the Bankruptcy Code requires a certain amount of time to pass between cases that result in a discharge. This prevents people from running up high credit card balances and other types of debt and filing bankruptcy every few years. 

What are the Time Limits

The type of bankruptcy filed in the previous case determines the time limit between cases. The time starts to run on the date the prior case is filed with the bankruptcy court. The date the discharge was entered doesn’t matter. 

Chapter 7 bankruptcy ➡️ Chapter 7 bankruptcy: 8 years

This is the longest amount of time between cases required by the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 7 provides the quickest form of debt relief through a bankruptcy filing and doesn’t require the filer to complete a repayment plan before getting their bankruptcy discharge.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy ➡️ Chapter 13 bankruptcy: 4 years

It is possible to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy soon after receiving a Chapter 7 discharge, the filer just won’t be eligible to receive a Chapter 13 discharge in the second case. So, someone who successfully discharges their unsecured debts through Chapter 7 can file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to pay off tax debts or other types of debt that survived the prior case. 

Chapter 13 bankruptcy ➡️ Chapter 7 bankruptcy: 6 years

This waiting period can be waived if you paid back 100% to your unsecured creditors in your Chapter 13 plan (or in some cases where you paid back 70% of your total debts) and the original case was found to be in good faith. Plus, since a Chapter 13 repayment plan can take up to 5 years to complete before resulting in a discharge, it’s possible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy about 1 year after receiving a Chapter 13 discharge. 

Chapter 13 bankruptcy ➡️ Chapter 13 bankruptcy: 2 years

If you previously filed a Chapter 13 case and received a discharge and are looking to file a Chapter 13 case again, you have to wait at least two years from the filing date of the first case before filing the second case. This is pretty rare. The minimum length of a Chapter 13 repayment plan is 3 years. Receiving a discharge before completing a 3 year plan is possible only if an unexpected hardship makes completing the plan impossible. 

Repeat Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings are sometimes used to keep the payments on the filer’s student loans or tax debts manageable. Since these types of debts can’t be discharged, the time limit between cases is less important. 

Can a bankruptcy attorney help me file bankruptcy sooner? 

A bankruptcy attorney can’t help you get around the time limits, but they may be able to help you file a different type of bankruptcy than the one you filed before and confirm the earliest date your second case can be filed. This is especially true if you filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy but didn’t get a discharge. Only a  bankruptcy lawyer can give you legal advice about how soon your second bankruptcy can be filed. They can also help you get a court order to make sure your automatic stay doesn’t expire before your discharge is entered. 

Do I have other debt-relief options?

If you are in between bankruptcy filings and unable to file another bankruptcy, you may have to consider other debt-relief options like debt consolidation or debt settlement. These alternatives can be tricky to navigate, so start by getting a free evaluation of your financial situation through credit counseling. Also, remember that most law firms handling bankruptcy matters offer free consultations

Let’s Summarize...

In short, you can file more than one bankruptcy in a lifetime. How many times depends on how long it's been since your last bankruptcy case. If you previously filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and want to file Chapter 7 again, the time period is eight years from when you last filed. If you filed Chapter 7 and want to file a Chapter 13, the time period is four years from when you filed Chapter 7. If you filed a Chapter 13 and want to file another Chapter 13, the time period is two years from when you last filed. And, if you filed a Chapter 13 and want to file a Chapter 7 the time period is six years from when you filed.

If you’re eligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but can’t afford to hire a bankruptcy attorney, Upsolve’s free tool can help you prepare your bankruptcy forms and complete the bankruptcy process on your own. 

Person at desk getting information organized.

Sources:

  1. American Bankruptcy Institute. (2006). Bankruptcy Repeat Filings. Law Review, 14(1), 169-200.

Written By:

Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team full time in August 2019. While in private practice, Andrea ha... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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