How Often Can You File for Bankruptcy?

If you've filed for bankruptcy before, you must wait several years before wiping out debt in a new case. Learn more about how many times you can file for bankruptcy.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

If you've filed for bankruptcy before and want to erase more debt, you'll have to wait two to eight years before filing again. However, if you don't need a debt discharge, you can file for bankruptcy as often as you'd like, as long as you're using bankruptcy in good faith and not to avoid paying creditors.

In this article, you'll learn how to:

  • check whether enough time has elapsed to receive a debt discharge
  • determine whether a court order will delay your filing further, and
  • know when you'll need to file a motion for an automatic stay order—the order that protects you from creditor collections during the bankruptcy case.

You can also skip directly to the "How Often You Can File Bankruptcy" chart. If enough time hasn't passed, keep reading. We explain how bankruptcy can help solve your financial problems even when it's too soon to discharge more debt.

Figuring Out How Many Times You Can File Bankruptcy and Get a Discharge

You'll qualify for another bankruptcy discharge if you meet the waiting period rules. But the amount of time you must wait will change depending on the bankruptcy chapter you filed previously and the chapter you'd like to file. For instance, you'll always wait longer to file Chapter 7 than Chapter 13, regardless of the chapter filed previously.

The easiest way to understand the timing rules is with a chart, so you'll find one immediately after the bankruptcy waiting period explanation, which is next.

How Often Can You File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

If you previously filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you'll wait eight years before being entitled to wipe out or "discharge" debts in another Chapter 7 bankruptcy. When counting your waiting period, you'll use the bankruptcy filing dates, not discharge dates.

If you previously filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you'll wait six years before being entitled to a debt discharge. However, you won't wait that long if you paid back all of your unsecured debts in the previous Chapter 7 or at least 70% of your unsecured debts in a plan proposed in good faith and implemented through your best efforts.

How Often Can You File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

If you previously filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you'll wait two years before being entitled to wipe out or "discharge" debts in another Chapter 13 bankruptcy. When counting your waiting period, you'll use the bankruptcy filing dates, not discharge dates.

If you previously filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you'll wait four years before being entitled to a debt discharge. The six-year rule won't apply if, in the previous Chapter 13, you paid back:

  • all of your unsecured debts, or
  • at least 70% of your unsecured debts in a plan proposed in good faith and implemented through your best efforts.

"How Often You Can File for Bankruptcy" Chart

This chart will help you determine the bankruptcy filing waiting period quickly. Remember to use the bankruptcy filing date, not the discharge date, when counting your waiting period.

Plan to File Chapter 7

Plan to File Chapter 13

Previously Filed

Chapter 7

Eight years

Four years

Previously Filed

Chapter 13

Two years Six years (exceptions above)

One last way to check your bankruptcy filing waiting period:

Chapter 7 to Chapter 7. If you received a Chapter 7 discharge previously, eight years must elapse between the old and new filing dates.

Chapter 13 to Chapter 13. Two years must elapse between the two filing dates to receive a discharge in Chapter 13. Because a Chapter 13 repayment plan usually takes three to five years to complete, you'll likely be eligible for a second discharge after finishing the first case.

Chapter 7 to Chapter 13. Four years must elapse between the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filing dates. Chapter 13 has its benefits even if you don't receive a discharge, however. For instance, you can pay off priority debts, such as newly-incurred taxes or domestic support arrearages. Or, you can catch up on missed mortgage or vehicle loan payments and keep a house or car. Filing for Chapter 13 immediately after receiving a Chapter 7 discharge is commonly referred to as a Chapter 20 bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 to Chapter 7. If you received a Chapter 13 discharge and you'd like to receive a Chapter 7 discharge, you'll have to wait six years between filing dates. But there is an exception to this rule.

You Can File for Bankruptcy Sooner If You Don't Need a Discharge

Most people file for bankruptcy because they want to erase at least some of their bills with a debt discharge. But if that's not the case, it's still possible to benefit from bankruptcy.

Here's when it's beneficial to file even though you won't get a discharge. And there's no waiting period. You can file immediately.

You're Using Chapter 7 Bankruptcy to Liquidate Property and Pay Creditors

Suppose you filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy five years ago and aren't entitled to another Chapter 7 debt discharge for three years. But you're in debt and want to pay creditors by selling property.

You could file for Chapter 7 and let the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee do the work. And creditors are less inclined to think you hid property fraudulently when you allow the trustee to research your property holdings first.

But this approach doesn't come without downsides. You have to pay the trustee a percentage of the sales proceeds, and the trustee might not work as hard to get top dollar for the property. Also, filing for bankruptcy gives creditors an accessible forum to file other litigation or "adversary proceedings." If you keep the matter out of court, a creditor might be less likely to do so.

You're Using Chapter 13 Bankruptcy to Stop Repossession or Foreclosure

If you've fallen behind on your mortgage or car loan and don't have other debts, filing for Chapter 13 can help even if you aren't entitled to a discharge. You'll continue to pay the monthly payment and pay back the arrearages through the plan.

However, because you won't be entitled to a debt discharge, you won't be able to use the "cramdown" procedure to lower a balance owed to the property's value or remove a junior lien on your residential property.

You're Using Chapter 13 Bankruptcy to Force Creditors Into a Repayment Plan

Some debts don't go away in bankruptcy, and you have to pay them, as simple as that. Creditors will be free to use collection efforts like wage garnishments, bank levies, and property seizures to force you to pay. But you can avoid outside collection actions by filing for Chapter 13 and agreeing to a Chapter 13 payment plan for up to five years.

This approach works well if you've already wiped out dischargeable debts in Chapter 7 but still have a nondischargeable obligation you have to pay. For instance, you could pay off a tax debt or support arrearages over five years in Chapter 13. This strategy is known as a "Chapter 20 bankruptcy."

Other Bankruptcy Filing Limitations

Even if you wait the appropriate amount of time to qualify for a discharge, you aren't necessarily in the clear. If the court dismisses your new case and you want to refile soon, you should expect penalties to attach.

When You've Taken Advantage of the Bankruptcy Process

If you do something wrong intentionally (as opposed to making an innocent mistake like forgetting to file a form), the bankruptcy court can punish you by prohibiting you from filing another bankruptcy case for a specific amount of time. In such cases, the court dismisses your case "with prejudice" (as opposed to "without prejudice.")

Failing to obey a court order will likely result in the court dismissing the case with prejudice. Filing multiple matters with the intent to delay creditors, voluntarily dismissing a bankruptcy after a creditor filed a motion for relief from the automatic stay, or otherwise trying to abuse the bankruptcy system will also be problematic. Expect the court to order you to wait 180 days before refiling another case in these situations.

When the Court Dismisses Your Bankruptcy for Other Reasons

If the court dismisses your bankruptcy case and you file another case within one year, the automatic stay in the new matter would be limited to 30 days. If you had two or more dismissals within one year of your new bankruptcy, you wouldn't receive the benefit of the automatic stay.

The remedy is to file a motion asking the court to order or extend the automatic stay in your current case in either situation. You'll need to explain why doing so would be fair in the present matter.

What Is the Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy?

The automatic stay is the cornerstone of bankruptcy. It protects you from collection actions while the bankruptcy court processes your case. For instance, the automatic stay prohibits creditors from calling or contacting you about collecting their debt and lawsuits and foreclosure actions. If a creditor harasses you or continues its collection efforts against you in violation of the automatic stay, you will typically have grounds to seek damages against it.

Also, automatic stay penalties exist for debtors. For instance, if you commit bankruptcy fraud by hiding assets, lying on your bankruptcy papers, or otherwise filing your case in bad faith. The bankruptcy court can prohibit you from filing another bankruptcy for a more extended period or prevent you from wiping out any of the debts listed in the current case.

How to File a Motion to Extend the Automatic Stay

If you want to extend the automatic stay, you must file a motion with the court. In your motion, you'll explain why your previous bankruptcy was dismissed and why the court should extend the stay in your current case. You'll have to prove that you filed the subsequent bankruptcy in good faith (not merely to delay or defraud creditors).

The specific procedures for filing a motion to extend the automatic stay depend on the rules in your jurisdiction. But the following are typically the most common steps you must take:

Find and complete the appropriate forms. Each bankruptcy district has forms for specific motions and notices. Check with your local bankruptcy court to find all paperwork related to motions to extend the automatic stay. But be aware that your jurisdiction may not have a standard form to fill out. In that case, you will have to create the motion and declarations. You can find your court's website using the Federal Court Finder tool.

Obtain a hearing date and file the motion. In most cases, you will need to obtain a hearing date from the court before filing the motion (the procedures will vary depending on where you live). Keep in mind that the filer must complete the hearing before the stay expires, so typically you must file your motion immediately after filing your case. You'll tell the court why the court dismissed your first bankruptcy and explain that you filed this case in good faith. Then you'll serve the bankruptcy trustee and your creditors the paperwork (most courts will have a standard notice form for motions to extend the stay).

Attend the hearing if necessary. If a creditor or other party in interest opposes your motion, be prepared to argue your case in front of the judge. However, if there is no opposition, the court may grant your motion through a tentative ruling and take the hearing off the calendar. Make sure to review all documents received from the court and attend the hearing unless the court excuses your appearance.

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by consulting with a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Get Professional Help
Get debt relief now.
We've helped 205 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you