Chapter 13 cases put a great deal of stress on your family’s finances. Sometimes you may come to the conclusion that your Chapter 13 is not feasible and that you are ready to dismiss your case, convert it to Chapter 7 or file a motion for a “hardship discharge” of your Chapter 13 case.
Converting your case from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 can be an option but you will need to prepare yourself by gathering a great deal of financial information and recognizing that you may need to give up your home or your vehicles.
Why Did You File Chapter 13 Instead of Chapter 7
In my practice, I generally start my evaluation of my client’s case by considering whether Chapter 7 is feasible. In my opinion, Chapter 7 offers many advantages over Chapter 13, namely:
Chapter 7 cases are usually completed in about 5 months, whereas Chapter 13 cases usually take 5 years to complete
Chapter 7 cases wipe out debt, whereas Chapter 13 cases usually require you to pay back part or all of your debt
Chapter 7 cases usually cost less in attorney’s fees
If a Chapter 7 is not feasible or workable, however, the next option becomes a Chapter 13. As you think back about your situation, you may recall the reason why we chose to file a Chapter 13 in your case:
- you were behind on a house payment or car payment and needed the payment plan of Chapter 13 to keep your property and pay back your secured debt
- you had too much equity in property and did not want to surrender non-exempt assets to a Chapter 7 trustee
- your household income put you over the median income test and the means test required you to file Chapter 13
- your monthly budget showed disposable income and the law does not allow a debtor to file Chapter 7 if his budget leaves money available at the end of the month
- you had tax debt or co-signed debt that had to be paid in full and you needed the 5 year term of a Chapter 13 to pay that debt off
Usually, Chapter 13 clients who want to convert to Chapter 7 contact me because their budgets no longer work – perhaps there has been a divorce, job loss or other disruption in income, or perhaps household expenses jumped unexpectedly.
Documents Needed to Support Your Conversion from 13 to 7
If you want to convert, you will need to provide evidence to the United States trustee, the Chapter 13 trustee and possibly to your judge that you now qualify for Chapter 7. As noted above, it has been my experience that Chapter 7 is faster, cheaper and more effective in wiping out debt.
The United States trustee, however, has a stated policy to discourage Chapter 7 cases in favor of Chapter 13 cases. The Bankruptcy Code gives the United States trustee the responsibility and power to investigate all Chapter 7 filers (including filers who want to convert). The United States trustee’s staff will carefully review all Chapter 7 filings and object if they believe that you should remain in Chapter 13.
To put this another way, you cannot simply decide that you have had enough of your Chapter 13 and now you want to convert to Chapter 7. You will need to provide documentation showing that your income has decreased or that your permitted expenses have increased so that you now qualify for Chapter 7. As far as the United States trustee is concerned, if you did not qualify for Chapter 7 at the time you filed your Chapter 13, you bear the burden to prove that you qualify now.
Information Needed Prior to Attorney Meeting
As your attorney, I am happy to review your budget and advise you regarding a possible conversion (or dismissal or motion for hardship discharge). However, I cannot help you until you provide me with necessary documentation:
- you will need to produce an updated budget showing what has changed since your filed your Chapter 13 case – the best way to do this is to print out a copy of Schedules I and J from your Chapter 13 petition and hand write in red or blue ink on these papers the updated figures
- you will need to provide pay stubs for yourself, your spouse and/or anyone else who is working in your household and contributing to the household budget. You will need pay stubs for the current month as well as the past 6 months
- you will need the most recent year’s tax returns
Once you gather this information, please mail, fax or deliver to my office then arrange with my secretary to schedule a telephone or office appointment. I can then advise you if a conversion to Chapter 7 is feasible, and we can discuss your other options.