Under Chapter 13, consumers keep all of their property, both exempt and non-exempt, as long as they resume making the regular payments on secured debt and keep current under the bankruptcy repayment plan. A repayment plan can last for up to five years. After finishing the plan's payments, most of the consumer's unsecured debts are discharged.
Chapter 7 is designed for people who are having financial difficulties and are not able to repay their debts. Consumers can usually qualify for Chapter 7 if their average gross monthly income for the last 6 months is below the state’s Median Income, or their gross income less certain expenses is below the state’s Median Income, or they can show special circumstances that would allow them to qualify for Chapter 7. The filing fee paid to the bankruptcy court for filing Chapter 7 is $335.
Under Chapter 7, consumers can usually exempt, or keep, most or all of their assets under California law, or, if they have not lived in California for the past 2 years, under the exemption laws of the state that applies to their case. Most retirement accounts and pensions are also exempt. Secured property, normally the consumer's car and house, may not have any net equity, in which case the consumer can keep it as well.
Once the Chapter 7 case is over, the consumer receives a Discharge. The discharge prevents creditors from taking any steps to try to collect their claim against the consumer personally. Creditors cannot call, write, sue, or take any steps that could be considered an attempt to collect the debt. If a consumer wants to keep property that has a lien on it, the consumer must keep payments current, and may be required to reaffirm the debt. Some debts cannot be discharged. Typical examples are child support, alimony, and other domestic support obligations, some taxes, student loans, criminal restitution, and debts for death or personal injury caused by operating vehicles while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs.
Originally posted August 2011; updated June 2014
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