In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you propose a repayment plan to pay back some or all of your debts over a three to five-year period. This article explains how the monthly payment is determined.
To get an estimate of what the minimum payment could be in your case, see our Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Payment Calculator.
In general, unless you are paying back all of your debts (including nonpriority unsecured claims) in a shorter amount of time, your Chapter 13 plan must be at least 36 months (three years) long. But it can't exceed 60 months (five years). Whether you can propose a three-year plan or if you must be in Chapter 13 bankruptcy for five years depends on whether your average income for the six-month period preceding your bankruptcy is above or below your state's median income for a similar household.
If your income is below median, your plan can usually be anywhere from 36 to 60 months long. Keep in mind that proposing a 60-month plan can reduce your monthly payment amount by stretching your payments over a longer period of time. If you have above median income, you typically have to be in a 60-month plan (but some courts allow above median debtors to propose a shorter plan if they have no disposable income).
You can find the median income in your state on the U.S. Trustee's website at www.justice.gov/ust (Choose "Means Testing Information," choose the correct date range, and then choose "Median Family Income Based on State/Territory and Family Size.")
Certain debts must be paid back in full through your repayment plan. This means that you must propose a plan that pays off all of these debts within 60 months regardless of your income and expenses. These debts include:
Congress has decided that certain obligations, called priority debts, are too important to be discharged in bankruptcy. Common examples of priority debts include back child support, alimony, and certain taxes. If you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must pay off these debts in full through your repayment plan. Enter the amount of all your priority debts in the calculator where indicated.
If you are behind on your mortgage and you want to keep your house, you must pay off all your arrears (existing at the time of your filing) through your repayment plan. Enter all applicable mortgage arrears in the calculator where indicated.
If you plan to surrender your house, you don't have to pay back the arrears in your bankruptcy. In addition, if you are only behind on your second mortgage (or other junior lien) and you intend to eliminate that lien in your Chapter 13 through lien stripping, don't include those arrears in your payment calculation.
Be aware that certain jurisdictions require you to make your regular mortgage payment through your Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In these jurisdictions, your plan payment may be very large but you would not have to make a separate mortgage payment directly to the lender.
To learn more, see How Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Affects Mortgages and Foreclosure.
In most jurisdictions, if you are behind on your car loan (or another secured debt other than your mortgage) and want to catch up on your missed payments, you typically have to pay off the entire loan (not just the arrears) through your plan. Keep in mind that in certain jurisdictions, you may be required to pay off your car loans through your Chapter 13 plan regardless of whether you are behind on your payments or not.
Unless you intend to surrender the property or pay off these secured debts outside of bankruptcy (and your jurisdiction allows you to do so), enter the amount of your car loans and other secured debts in the calculator where indicated.
If you qualify to cram down your car loan or other secured debt, you only need to pay the lender the replacement value of the property through your repayment plan (not the entire loan balance). So include only the value of the vehicle (or other property) in your calculation for all secured debts you intend to cram down.
Chapter 13 trustees get paid by taking a percentage of all amounts they distribute to creditors through your repayment plan. This percentage varies depending on where you live but can be up to 10%. In addition, you typically have to pay interest on secured claims you are paying off through your plan. The required interest rate can vary depending on the type of claim and the rules in your jurisdiction. But in general, you can expect to pay the national prime rate plus 1% to 3%.
Keep in mind that if you want to keep your home, car, or other secured debts, you'll have to keep making your regular monthly payments during your plan period (unless the court requires you to pay off the entire balance through your plan). As mentioned above, some courts might require you to make these monthly payments through your plan.
So far we have only discussed debts you are required to pay off in your repayment plan regardless of your income, expenses, and nonexempt property. The debts discussed above are used in calculating your minimum Chapter 13 plan payment.
However, if you have disposable income or nonexempt assets, you will also have to pay back some or all of your nonpriority unsecured debts such as credit cards and medical bills. Depending on how much you have to pay your nonpriority unsecured creditors, your monthly plan payment can be significantly higher than the minimum payment calculated above.
As part of your Chapter 13 paperwork, you must complete Form 22C -- Chapter 13 Statement of Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period and Disposable Income. This form is also referred to as the Chapter 13 means test and is used to determine how long your plan will last (discussed above) and how much you must pay nonpriority unsecured creditors in your bankruptcy. Visit the U.S. Court's website at www.uscourts.gov to find the most recent version of Form 22C.
If your average income for the six months preceding your bankruptcy is less than the median income for a similar household in your state, you are not required to fill out the entire form and will typically pay little or nothing to nonpriority unsecured creditors in your plan. However, if your income is above median, you must follow the instructions on the form to determine whether you have enough disposable income to pay back some of your nonpriority unsecured debts.
After completing the Chapter 13 means test, if you end up with a positive monthly disposable income figure, add that to your minimum plan payment calculated above because you must pay this amount towards your nonpriority unsecured debts each month.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires you to pay your nonpriority unsecured creditors at least as much as they would have received if you had filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This essentially means that you must pay an amount equal to the value of your nonexempt property. If you can't exempt all of your property, divide the value of the nonexempt portion by the number of months in your repayment plan and add it to the minimum monthly payment calculated above.
Calculating and proposing a feasible Chapter 13 repayment plan is a complicated process. As discussed, the purpose of this article is to provide a minimum monthly payment estimate based on generalized figures. To obtain more specific plan payment information, talk to a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney familiar with the rules in your particular jurisdiction.
For more information on how to find the right attorney, see our topic area on Hiring and Working With a Bankruptcy Lawyer.