How Often Can You File for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

How soon can you file for bankruptcy after a prior bankruptcy?  

There is no general restriction on how many times you can file for bankruptcy. However, statutory waiting periods apply if the debtor received a discharge in the prior case. These waiting periods depend on the Chapters filed, and there are some exceptions. However, if the prior case was dismissed without a discharge, the statutory waiting periods do not apply, although you may have to wait for a while under some circumstances. (See "Dismissed Cases" below.)  

Waiting Periods To Refile After a Previous Bankruptcy

Under the Bankruptcy Code you must wait for the following periods to run before filing a second bankruptcy:  

(See 11 USCS § 727 and 11 USCS § 1328.)

How to calculate the waiting periods

The wait time to file a new bankruptcy case runs from the date the prior case was filed and NOT from the date of discharge. The discharge date is not a factor in the calculation. (Even some attorneys get this wrong.)

Example: Deidre filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on May 31, 2020. She receives her discharge on December 31, 2025. There is a 6-year waiting period for Deidre to file under Chapter 7 because she received a discharge in her prior Chapter 13 case. When can she file her Chapter 7 case? Deidre can file under Chapter 7 on May 31, 2026, six years from the date she filed the previous case. Note that we do not consider her discharge date (December 31, 2025) when calculating the waiting period.
Quick Note: Be sure to calculate the date correctly. If you inadvertently file too early, it can have serious consequences and, at a minimum, waste your hard-earned money. Therefore, to avoid any miscalculation, consider waiting until at least the next month after the waiting period runs out unless there is an urgent reason to file sooner. In the example above, the next month would be June 2026.

Exceptions to the waiting period for filing a Chapter 7 case after certain Chapter 13 or Chapter 12 cases

There is no mandatory waiting period to file a Chapter 7 case after Chapter 13 or Chapter 12 if you were in a 100% plan and paid it in full. In other words, if 100% of the allowed unsecured claims were paid in the prior Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you do not need to wait to file under Chapter 7.  §727(a)(9)(A)     

Likewise, there is no mandatory waiting period if (a) 70% of the allowed claims were paid in the prior Chapter 13 bankruptcy and (b) the Chapter 13 Plan was proposed in good faith and was your best effort. §727(a)(9)(B) . (This situation usually arises with debtors who were under the median income when they filed.) Most Chapter 13 plans pay far less than 70% to creditors, so your attorney will need to review the payments and distributions on your old plan carefully. Unfortunately, you will have to wait if you paid less than 70% to the unsecured creditors.

Filing a Chapter 13 case before the waiting period runs out

You can file another Chapter 13 after a Chapter 7, 11, 12, or 13 discharge before the waiting period runs out. However, the debtor will not receive a discharge in the new case. 

Why would you want to file a case if you cannot receive a discharge? Filing a Chapter 13 case can still be useful, even if the debtor will not receive a discharge. For example, the debtor may file under Chapter 7 to discharge dischargeable debts and then file under Chapter 13 to pay any non-dischargeable debts over time. (This is sometimes called a "Chapter 20.")  

Dismissed Cases 

If the prior case was dismissed without a discharge, you do not have to wait to file. However, there are exceptions. If the case was dismissed for any of the following reasons, you will have to wait 180 days before refiling: 

  • The court dismissed the case with prejudice for any reason. 
  • The court dismissed the case for failing to appear or otherwise failing to comply with a court order (E.g., the debtor did not file documents, failed to attend hearings, etc.). 
  • The debtor voluntarily dismissed the case while a motion for relief from the stay was pending.

If you are in a Chapter 13 case and need to dismiss it, it is often better to allow it to be dismissed for nonpayment than to file a voluntary dismissal. However, you should discuss the matter with your attorney before stopping your payments.

The Automatic Stay in Subsequent Cases

If you refile within one year of the filing date of the previous bankruptcy filing, the automatic stay is limited to 30 days. You must file a motion to extend the automatic stay to prevent the stay from expiring. 

Quick Note: If you file the new case within a year of the filing date of the prior case, your attorney should file a motion to extend the automatic stay immediately after filing the new case. 

Serial Filers 

There is nothing wrong with filing more than one bankruptcy case., as long as the subsequent case is filed in good faith. However, debtors who file multiple cases, particularly over a relatively short period, may be considered "serial filers" by the bankruptcy trustee and court. The trustee may require the debtors to sign an agreement that they will not file another bankruptcy case without leave of the court. If they refuse, the trustee may seek to have the case dismissed for bad faith or refuse to recommend confirmation. 

What is a bad faith filing? If a debtor files a bankruptcy case intending to abuse the system, it is considered to be in bad faith. A typical example of bad faith is when a debtor files to stop a sheriff's sale, dismisses the case, and then refiles every time a new sale is scheduled. The key here is that the debtor made no effort to complete the case. If a court finds the filing in bad faith, it can dismiss the case, distribute the debtor's nonexempt property to the creditors, ban the debtor from filing again, or worse.

What should I do if I need to file for bankruptcy again?

Bankruptcy is a complex area that is only compounded by multiple filings. At the very least, speak to a bankruptcy attorney who understands the rules concerning multiple filings. Moreover, make sure your bankruptcy attorney knows that you have filed for bankruptcy before, no matter how long ago. Although a competent bankruptcy attorney will check for prior filings, withholding this information can lead to a host of problems.

Useful Links: 

11 USCS § 727 and Section 1328(f) 

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Philadelphia Bankruptcy Attorney is published by Harborstone Law. Harborstone Law represents clients in bankruptcy and debt relief cases throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding Pennsylvania counties.

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Dan Mueller is a bankruptcy attorney and partner at Philadelphia-based Harborstone Law. Dan helps people and small businesses resolve serious financial and legal issue through bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt solutions.
Paul Midzak focuses his practice on debtor defense, dispute resolution, consumer protection law, and Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. He also advises businesses on a variety of legal matters.
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Harborstone Law represents clients in bankruptcy, debt, consumer, and small business matters throughout Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, Bucks, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton Counties in Pennsylvania.
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