If you are struggling with debt and have previously filed a bankruptcy case, you may be wondering how long you have to wait before you can file for bankruptcy again. The good news is that you can file for bankruptcy as often as you like. The bad news is that there are time limits on how often you can file if you want to discharge (wipe out) your debts. Read on to learn about the timing of repeat bankruptcy filings, whether you can refile after your case is dismissed, and why you might want to file for bankruptcy even if you cannot discharge your debts.
What Is the Bankruptcy Discharge?
The court grants you a discharge at the end of a successful bankruptcy case. The discharge wipes out all of your dischargeable debts (some types of debts cannot be wiped out in bankruptcy, these are called nondischargeable debts). Learn more in Nolo’s article The Bankruptcy Discharge.)
Because receiving a discharge of debts is the goal for most bankruptcy filers, the time limits on repeat discharges are important to understand. However, sometimes it makes sense to file for bankruptcy even if you cannot get a discharge (discussed below), so the ability to refile for bankruptcy at any time can be helpful in some cases.
Time Limits for Bankruptcy Discharges
Below are the time limits for receiving a second discharge. The limits vary depending on what type of bankruptcy you plan to file (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) and the type of bankruptcy in which you previously got a discharge.
Chapter 7 then Chapter 7—eight years. If you received a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you cannot get another Chapter 7 discharge unless the second case was filed more than eight years from the date you filed the first Chapter 7 case.
Chapter 13 then Chapter 13—two years. If you received a discharge in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you cannot get another Chapter 13 discharge unless the second case was filed more than two years from the date you filed the first Chapter 13 case.
Chapter 13 then Chapter 7—six years. If you received a discharge in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you cannot get a discharge in a Chapter 7 case unless you file the second case more than six years from the filing date of the Chapter 13. There is an exception. You can file right away if:
- you paid 100% of the debt owed to your unsecured creditors in the Chapter 13, or
- you paid at least 70% of the claims in the Chapter 13 case and you proposed the plan in good faith and used your best effort to repay creditors.
Chapter 7 then Chapter 13—four years. If you received a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you cannot get a discharge in a subsequent Chapter 13 case unless you file the Chapter 13 case more than four years from the filing date of the Chapter 7.
What If Your Bankruptcy Case Was Dismissed?
If the bankruptcy court dismisses your case, you may refile unless the court says otherwise. (The court will likely prohibit you from refiling if it dismissed your case due to fraud.) If you are allowed to refile, you may have to wait 180 days, depending on the reason for dismissal. Keep in mind that if you refile within a few years, the protection of the automatic stay may be limited.
If the court denied your discharge, you likely can file again, but you probably won’t be able to discharge any of the debts that were part of the first filing. In you are considering bankruptcy after either of these scenarios (dismissal or discharge), it’s best to talk to an attorney.
Why File for Bankruptcy If You Cannot Get a Discharge?
In some situations, it makes sense to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy even if you cannot get a discharge at the end. In Chapter 13, you make payments to the bankruptcy trustee under a payment plan that has been approved by the court. The bankruptcy trustee distributes those payments among your creditors. In most cases, the amount of your payment under the plan will be significantly less than what you’d have to pay your creditors outside of bankruptcy.
If you are not eligible for a discharge, once the Chapter 13 case is over, you’ll remain liable for the remaining debt. But while you are in bankruptcy, you get some breathing room. This can be advantageous. For example, it can provide an opportunity to catch up on back mortgage or car payments, while staving off foreclosure or repossession. Or it can help you repay a tax debt over time, without risk of wage garnishment or tax refund offset.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How will multiple bankruptcy filings affect my particular credit score?
- Are there other downsides of filing for bankruptcy more than once?
- Is there any lifetime limit on filing for bankruptcy?