While it is very rare for lightning to strike the same place twice, in the world of bankruptcy there can be situations where a person who has previously filed for bankruptcy once again find themselves with too much debt and too little cash flow to service the debt payments. For that person, the burning question is, “Can I file for bankruptcy more than once and, if so, how often?”
As is the case of most questions concerning the field of law, the answer is “It depends.” The reason for such a seemingly nebulous response is because there are certain conditions that must be established before a clear and qualified answer can be given about how often you can file for bankruptcy.
Basic Conditions for Filing a New Bankruptcy
The standard rule is that there are no limits for a person filing for bankruptcy, unless a bankruptcy court has previously ordered that no additional bankruptcies may be filed. However, if a previous bankruptcy discharged debts, there will be a waiting period (which varies depending upon other factors) that must be passed before being granted another discharge of debts.
Other factors taken into account at the time a new bankruptcy filing is made include:
- Which chapter (chapter 7 vs chapter 13 bankruptcy) you filed under before and which bankruptcy chapter you intend to file this time
- How long ago you filed your previous bankruptcy case
- What final ruling was made on your previous bankruptcy case, which can be either discharged, dismissed, or dismissed with prejudice
Time Restrictions For a New Bankruptcy Filing
Because individuals can file either a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it must be determined the kind of bankruptcy that was previously filed and which type will be filed this time. There are four possible scenarios, each with different criteria to assess: Chapter 7 followed by Chapter 7, Chapter 13 followed by Chapter 13, Chapter 7 followed by Chapter 13, and Chapter 13 followed by Chapter 7.
If you previously filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 7 and received a discharge and want to file another Chapter 7 case, there is a minimum waiting period of 8 years from the date of filing the previous case before filing a new Chapter 7 case and receiving a discharge.
If you previously filed for bankruptcy protection using Chapter 13 and debts were discharged and plan to file another Chapter 13 case with a request for another discharge of debts, it can only be filed two years after the date the first case was filed. Because a Chapter 13 bankruptcy contains a repayment plan which often takes 3 to 5 years to discharge, the new filing, if approved, will be eligible for discharge as soon as the previous case has been closed.
If your previous bankruptcy filing was discharged under Chapter 7 and you now wish to file under Chapter 13 (this is also known as filing for Chapter 20), you need to wait at least 4 years from the date of the previous filing if you wish to qualify for a discharge. This can be useful to stave off collection demands and catch up on past mortgage and auto loan payments, even if a discharge is not granted.
If you previously filed under Chapter 13 and received a discharge, there is a six-year waiting period from the date of the Chapter 13 filing before you can file a Chapter 7 case and be granted a discharge. This six-year ruling is waived under the following circumstances:
- 100% of all unsecured debts have been paid off, or
- you have paid back a minimum of 70% of your unsecured debts and were deemed to have proposed your plan in good faith using your best effort
Previous Bankruptcies Dismissed With Prejudice
If your previous bankruptcy case was dismissed with prejudice, you need to deal with a whole new kettle of fish as the court will decide how long before you can file another bankruptcy case. Usual reasons for having your case dismissed with prejudice can include any of the following:
- You failed or refused to follow court orders
- You filed more than one case in an attempt to delay your creditors
- You attempted to abuse the bankruptcy system in any other way or manner
If a creditor files a motion for relief from the automatic stay and you then voluntarily dismiss your previous bankruptcy, or if you refuse to obey court orders, it is typical for a 180-day bar to refiling be imposed.
Finally, if it has been determined that you committed bankruptcy fraud, the bankruptcy court can arbitrarily set a longer period of time for filing another bankruptcy case and could even disallow a discharge of debts that had requested relief in the dismissed case. Examples of bankruptcy fraud include any of the following:
- Hiding assets
- Falsifying the information on your bankruptcy papers
- Filing your case in bad faith
Automatic Stay Limitations
An automatic stay is put into place during bankruptcy with the intention of protecting you against the collection efforts of your creditors. If your previous bankruptcy case was dismissed and you file another case within one year of dismissal, the automatic stay lasts only 30 days. If you have had more than one dismissal within one year of your new filing, no automatic stay will be granted.
If you have had multiple bankruptcy filings within the past year, you can file a motion to impose or extend the automatic stay in your new case.
As you can see, navigating through the murky waters of bankruptcy is not for the inexperienced or faint of heart. By working with experienced experts who understand the bankruptcy process inside out, you can be assured that all appropriate options will be laid out on the table for you. For instance, instead of filing a new bankruptcy, a qualified bankruptcy attorney can also explain other alternatives to bankruptcy and review with you the bankruptcy means test to see how it applies to your specific situation.
For Florida residents, it is not that difficult to find a reputable and trustworthy Tampa bankruptcy attorney, as Florida Law Advisors consistently stands out from the crowd. People who have previously filed for bankruptcy and are yet again facing tough times find that we can uncover the best debt consolidation solution for your situation. Contact us today and see how we can help take the pain out of another bankruptcy and get you back on your financial feet!