There is nothing in the bankruptcy laws that restricts how often you can file for bankruptcy. But, if you receive a discharge in a bankruptcy case, there are timing requirements if you want to get a discharge in a later case. The rules depend on the type of bankruptcy, when the earlier case was filed and whether the earlier case was discharged, dismissed or dismissed with prejudice.
How Often Can You Receive a Discharge?
The usual purpose for filing a bankruptcy is to receive a discharge of your debts. If you file another bankruptcy too soon, you may not be able to receive a discharge in the second case so timing is very important.
Chapter 7 After Chapter 7
In order to receive a discharge in a second Chapter 7 case, you must wait eight years from the date of filing of the first case.
Chapter 13 After Chapter 13
To receive a discharge in a second Chapter 13 case, you must wait two years from the date of filing of the first case. As a practical matter, you should be able to file a new Chapter 13 immediately after receiving a Chapter 13 discharge because a Chapter 13 usually lasts from three to five years, so the two year limitation between filing dates would have expired while the first case was still going on.
Chapter 13 After Chapter 7
A Chapter 13 after a Chapter 7 is commonly referred to as a “Chapter 20”. In order to receive a discharge in a later Chapter 13 case, you need to wait four years from the date of filing of the first case. Generally, a Chapter 20 would be filed when you owe debts that were not discharged in a Chapter 7, such as taxes or mortgage arrearages.
If you are paying the debts in the later Chapter 13 in full through the plan, you may not need a discharge in the later case so the timing of the filing won’t matter. The details are important and complicated. You should consult an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to help you avoid any unforeseen consequences.
Chapter 7 After Chapter 13
To receive a discharge in Chapter 7 filed after a Chapter 13, you need to wait six years from the date of filing of the Chapter 13, unless:
• all unsecured creditors were paid in full in the Chapter 13, or
• unsecured creditors were paid at least 70% in the Chapter 13, and the plan was proposed in good faith and represented your best efforts.
What If You Didn’t Receive a Discharge?
If you didn’t receive a discharge in your first bankruptcy case, then you can file a new bankruptcy case at any time and get a discharge in the second case. Your case may have been dismissed if you did not appear at court, or in a Chapter 13, if your plan was not confirmed.
If your case was dismissed with prejudice, then you will need to wait 180 days from the dismissal before you file a new case. The 180 day waiting period would apply if your case was voluntarily dismissed after a motion for relief from stay was filed by a creditor. The court can also order a 180 day waiting period when they find that you were trying to abuse the bankruptcy system with serial filings.
If your discharge was denied, you may be able to file again, but it is likely that the court will not allow you to discharge the debts from the earlier case. Trying to hide assets, lying on your bankruptcy papers, trying to defraud your creditors, or abusing the system, can result in the court preventing you from filing for whatever amount of time they deem appropriate. In these circumstances, you should seek legal advice from a knowledgeable attorney.
The Automatic Stay May Not Be Automatic
The automatic stay will only last for 30 days if your second bankruptcy case is filed within one year of the dismissal of a previous case. Your attorney will have to file a motion asking the court to extend the automatic stay in order for it to protect you the whole time you are in bankruptcy.
If you have had more than one bankruptcy in the last year, there is no automatic stay and your attorney will need to file a motion asking the court to impose the stay.