There are several different bankruptcy chapters. There are two common types of bankruptcy that are filed by individuals, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also called a liquidation bankruptcy because the individual’s property may be sold, or liquidated, in order to satisfy their debts. In order to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, an individual must be at or below the median income in their state. Each state has its own requirements regarding who is eligible to file for bankruptcy.

On the other hand, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also called a wage earner’s bankruptcy, allows an individual to retain some of their property while agreeing to a payment plan to repay their debts. It is important to note that in both types of bankruptcies there are certain debts which cannot be discharged.

Once the bankruptcy process is completed, the bankruptcy court enters a discharge order which releases the debtor from their debts. At that time, the debtor gains a clean financial slate. It is important to note, however, that the bankruptcy remains on the individual’s credit report for up to 10 years.

Why Would a Debtor Convert from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

As noted above, there are two main types of bankruptcy, reorganization and liquidation. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a reorganization type.

There are different factors which affect how the individual’s debt is reorganized and restructured, including:

  • The kind of debt the debtor includes in their bankruptcy petition, as some debts cannot be discharged such as: 
    • child support; 
    • student loans; 
    • taxes; and
    • other debts;
  • The type of relationship the debtor and the creditor have regarding the debt;
  • The debtor’s ability to pay off the amount owed within a reasonable period of time; and
  • The bankruptcy judge’s final determinations regarding the debt.

In some cases, a bankruptcy may be converted from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7, which may be necessary when:

  • The debtor’s financial situation has changed and they can no make the required payments in the Chapter 13 repayment plan; or
  • The debtor originally filed under Chapter 13 because they wanted to keep property, but now no longer want to keep that property.

In general, converting a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be requested at any time following the filing of the Chapter 13. The conversion process is similar to filing a new Chapter 7 claim.

It is important to note that the usual restrictions apply when converting from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7. For example, the debtor is required to wait at least 8 years from a prior Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

What is a Forced Conversion from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7?

In certain bankruptcy cases, the bankruptcy court requires a debtor to convert a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7 claim. This is called a forced conversion, which is backed by a court order allowing the conversion. 

If an individual fails to make the ordered conversion, it could result in legal penalties. A forced conversion may only be ordered if a court has good cause to do so. 

Examples of good cause to force a bankruptcy conversion include, but are not limited to:

  • The debtor failed to create a Chapter 13 plan within the required time frame;
  • The debtor failed to keep up with their required Chapter 13 payments; and/or
  • The debtor was involved in some unreasonable delay which resulted in harm to a creditor or creditors.

It is important to note that the bankruptcy court will not likely force a conversion if the debtor is  doing everything within their abilities to comply. Examples may include missing a payment because of unforeseen circumstances, such as an unanticipated medical emergency.

If, however, the debtor’s actions indicate to the bankruptcy court that they are attempting to take advantage of their creditors in some way, the court may force a conversion from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7.

What is Needed to Switch from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7?

There are a number of requirements that a debtor must meet prior to filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This includes a means test. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) prohibits a debtor with a higher income from filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The means test examines the debtor’s income in order to determine eligibility to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A debtor is required to submit either a Form 22A for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Form 22C in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The form must be submitted to a bankruptcy court prior to the court hearing the debtor’s case.

Courts are not in agreement as to whether the means test applies to a debtor who is converting to a Chapter 7. Some courts hold that the means test only applies to a debtor who initially files for Chapter 7.

There are certain elements that must be addressed when a debtor converts from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, including:

  • Petition and schedule;
  • Proof of claims;
  • Creditor meeting; and
  • Exemptions.

A petition must be filed with the bankruptcy court. When a bankruptcy is being converted, the original Chapter 13 petition typically carries over during the conversion process. However, a new schedule may need to be created.

The debtor will be required to obtain a proof of claims. This shows that the creditor has a valid claim on the debt. This may be carried over from the original Chapter 13 case.

When converting chapters, the debtor must attend another meeting with their creditor or creditors. This applies even if a meeting was held during the Chapter 13 proceedings.

Depending on the jurisdiction, the court may use the date of the Chapter 13 filing to determine exemptions. Other courts will use the Chapter 7 conversion date.

Many of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy requirements will be fulfilled automatically when the claim is converted from the Chapter 13 filing. A debtor, however, should consult with an attorney for assistance with other requirements. For example, some of the paperwork that will be carried over from the Chapter 13 petition may need to be amended or adjusted for the Chapter 7.

How Much Does It Cost to Switch from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

The costs of switching a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends on numerous factors. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The cost of the court appointed trustee;
  • Court costs; and
  • Attorney’s fees.

When a debtor’s bankruptcy is converted from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7, the court will assign a new bankruptcy trustee. In addition, a new 341 meeting of the creditors must be held.

In other words, there are various costs that will be incurred when switching from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7. Because the debtor must attend an additional meeting of the creditors, they may be charged additional attorney’s fees. However, the debtor will not be required to file and pay fees for a new bankruptcy petition.

How do COVID-19 Issues Affect Bankruptcy Conversions? 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act includes temporary modifications to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code.

One major component is that stimulus payments provided by the federal government as aid during the COVID-19 pandemic will not be counted as income or currently monthly income for the purposes of a bankruptcy. Debtors are also permitted to seek modifications and extensions of their payment plans if they are experiencing hardships related to COVID-19. 

The debtor is required to provide notice and attend a hearing to show that they are experiencing a material financial hardship that is directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans may be extended up to 7 years following the first payment due date.

Individuals should check with their local bankruptcy courts to determine how they are handling issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. They may also consult with a local attorney for advice.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Bankruptcy Conversion?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a bankruptcy lawyer when you are converting your Chapter 13 bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The conversion may be complex and the rules differ by state. An attorney can review your situation, ensure your conversion is completed accurately and correctly, and represent you during any court appearances.