The Jurisdictional Limits in a Chapter 13

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the only chapter of bankruptcy that has limits on the amount of debt an individual can have to qualify.  Section 109(e) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code establishes specific debt limits and limits chapter 13 bankruptcy to certain types of debtors.  These debt limits are utilized to determine whether an individual qualifies for a chapter 13 bankruptcy.

As of April 1, 2013, the chapter 13 bankruptcy debt limits were as follows: unsecured debts need to be less than $383,175.00 and non-contingent, unliquidated secured debts need to be less than $1,149,525.00.  The debt limits are changed every three years and are scheduled to be updated again on April 1, 2016.

There are two distinctly different ways in which the bankruptcy courts handle this type of jurisdictional issue.  Some bankruptcy courts will look at the debt amounts listed by the debtor in his or her initial bankruptcy petition to determine the debt total.  However, others will look at the total amount of claims that have been filed once the claims bar date has expired and any objections to claims that have been filed are concluded before they determine the total amount of debt an individual has.  There are advantages to both of these approaches depending on the exact specifics of the case.

When the court uses the initial debt amounts that are listed on a bankruptcy petition to make their determination, it is decided early on if the debt limit has been exceeded.   The biggest advantage of this method is that the debtor knows the court’s determination almost immediately which can help them to explore more suitable alternatives.

The other method – waiting until the claims bar date has passed to make a determination allows the bankruptcy estate to stay alive for a longer period of time until the bankruptcy court can determine the total amount of claims that will be allowed.  The advantage to this method is that the debtors are able to benefit from the automatic stay which helps in situations where the initial petition includes claims that may or may not be allowed once the claims process has run.


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