You can file an unlimited number of bankruptcy cases unless a bankruptcy court orders otherwise. However, you’ll only be entitled to an additional discharge—the order that wipes out qualifying debt—if a certain amount of time has passed.
You’ll qualify for another discharge if you meet the waiting period rules for the new chapter you’d like to file. Here’s how it works.
Chapter 7 to Chapter 7. If you received a Chapter 7 discharge previously, eight years must elapse between the first Chapter 7 filing date and the new filing date.
Chapter 13 to Chapter 13. If you want to receive a discharge in Chapter 13 after previously filing for Chapter 13, two years must elapse between the two filing dates. Because a Chapter 13 repayment plan usually takes three to five years to complete, you’ll likely be eligible for a second discharge immediately after completing the first case.
Chapter 7 to Chapter 13. If your initial discharge were under a Chapter 7, you'd be eligible for a Chapter 13 discharge four years after the filing date of the initial Chapter 7. Filing for Chapter 13 without a discharge has its benefits, too. For instance, you can pay off priority debts, such as recent taxes or domestic support arrearages. Or, you can get caught up on missed mortgage or car loan payments. Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy following 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. The six-year rule won’t apply if, in the previous Chapter 13, you paid back:
All of these rules are conditional. The bankruptcy court can prohibit you from filing another bankruptcy case for a specific amount of time by dismissing your case “with prejudice.”
Failing to obey a court order will likely result in the court dismissing the case with prejudice. You’ll also run into problems if you file multiple matters with the intent to delay creditors, or otherwise try to abuse the bankruptcy system. You can expect a 180-day bar to refiling in these situations.
The bar will also apply if you voluntarily dismissed a bankruptcy after a creditor filed a motion for relief from the automatic stay. The automatic stay stops a creditor from collecting against you. Moving to dismiss a case after the court allows a creditor to pursue collections suggests the intent was to delay collections, not to wipe out debt.
Also, automatic stay penalties exist, 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 longer period or prevent you from wiping out any of the debts listed in the current case.
The automatic stay protects you against collection efforts by creditors during bankruptcy. However, if the court dismisses your first bankruptcy 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.
In either situation, the remedy is to file a motion asking the court to order or extend the automatic stay in your current case. You’ll need to explain why doing so would be fair in the present matter.