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Should I Put My Business in Chapter 7?

Posted by Kevin on September 9, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

You wanted to follow the American dream and set up your own business.   Two years down the road, however, you realize that you are working 70 hours per week and the business is not making money.  You have exhausted all your savings and the business has incurred debt out the wazoo.  You just want out, and you have heard about Chapter 11 or Chapter 7.  What to do?

While you can liquidate your business in a Chapter 11 (liquidating plan), this is very expensive and time consuming.  Unless, the business is very large, this may not be the way to go.  But what about a Chapter 7?

The first question you have to answer is who (or what) is going into Chapter 7?  To a degree, it may depend on how your business was set up.  If you have a sole proprietorship (DBA), then under the law of New Jersey, you are the business.  So, if the business fails and you want out, you will have to file a Chapter 7.  A trustee will be appointed and will administer not only your business assets and liabilities, but also your personal assets and liabilities.

If the business is a corporation or LLC, then under the law, the business is considered an entity separate and apart from you.  So, now the issue is who files bankruptcy?  One of the primary reasons to file bankruptcy is to get a discharge of your debts.  However, the Bankruptcy Code states that a discharge in a Chapter 7 is limited to individuals.  The Code defines “individuals with regular income” but not “individuals”.  The Code also defines “persons” which includes people but also includes corporations and partnerships.  Well, without going into too much more detail, the bottomline is that people can get discharged in a Chapter 7 but corporations and partnerships and LLC’s cannot.  So, if you put your LLC into Chapter 7, it does not get a discharge.

But, the analysis does not end there.  Your LLC may be have sued by numerous creditors so you have lawsuits pending.  Also, these creditors have a penchant for not only suing the LLC but suing the principal and that is you.  You have other creditors who have not sued yet but are hounding you on phone.  You have inventory and accounts receivable.  You have the bank pressuring you on that line of credit which you guaranteed.

Even though the LLC does not get a discharge in Chapter 7, it may be worthwhile to file a Chapter 7 for the business.  First of all, because of the automatic stay, all pending lawsuits are put on hold, and your creditors cannot file any new actions unless they get the permission of the bankruptcy court (relief from automatic stay).  Also, the trustee takes over and chases the business’s creditors, deals with the landlord and liquidates the inventory.  You must cooperate, but the trustee does the heavy lifting.

If you cannot work a deal out with lenders on guarantees, or if the collection lawsuits naming you become too much of a hassle, then the owner should seriously consider an individual Chapter 7.

Bankruptcy issues involving a failing business are complicated.  You should seek experienced bankruptcy counsel work work you through the process.

Some General Guidance about Business Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on April 17, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

If your business needs bankruptcy relief, you have to start with basic questions about how your business was set up and its debt amount.

 Sole Proprietorship

The most straightforward business bankruptcies tend to be those in which the business is a sole proprietorship. Your business is operated through you under your name or under an assumed business name (“doing business as” or “DBA”).  So, for purposes of bankruptcy, if you operate a sole proprietorship, you file bankruptcy in your name and it will include your personal assets and liabilities and the assets and liabilities of the business.

Other Forms of Business

Basically, this includes corporations, partnerships and LLC’s (limited liability companies).  In these cases, the business entity is the debtor.  If  the owner of the business is liable under guaranties, the owner might also need to file an individual bankruptcy.

Purpose of Bankruptcy

Once you have established what type of business entity is involved, the basic question is whether you want to utilize bankruptcy as a tool to continue in business or as a tool to liquidate and shut down the business.

The General Guidance

Beyond these initial points, here are some basic rules. They will help you be a bit more prepared when you come to meet with an attorney.

1. A corporation, or LLC, or partnership cannot file a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”  Only an “individual” can.  So, if you operate a sole proprietorship, you and the business may be eligible for a Chapter 13 filing.

2. Chapter 13s are sometimes mislabeled “wage-earner plans,” but any source of “regular income” is allowed.” The requirement is simply “income sufficiently stable and regular to… make payments under a plan under Chapter 13.” So if your business income—combined with any other income—is even somewhat stable, you would likely qualify under this “regular income” requirement.

3.  But you and your sole proprietorship CAN’T file a Chapter 13 case if your total unsecured debt is $394,725 or more, or if your total secured debt is $1,184,200 or more. (Note: these limits are adjusted for inflation every three years.) While these may seem like relatively high maximums, be aware that they include BOTH personal and business debts (since you are personally liable for all the debts of a sole proprietorship). Also, the amount of unsecured debt can include that portion of your mortgages and other secured debts in excess of the value of the collateral. So a $750,000 debt secured by real estate now worth $550,000 adds $200,000 to the unsecured debt total.  In addition, if you want to file a Chapter 13 as an individual and you are the owner of a corporation, you may have to consider as your unsecured debts those debts of the corporation which you personally guaranteed.

4. If your debt totals are above one of the above debt limits, you can still file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case for the business, but that means, for all intents and purposes, the business will shut down.  Chapter 7 tends to be a better option for cleaning up after a closed business, whatever its legal form.

5. A corporation or LLC does not receive a discharge in a Chapter 7.

6. If your debt totals are above one of the Chapter 13 debt limits and you are trying to save the business, one option is a Chapter 11 “business reorganization.” for the corporation, LLC, or partnership.   The disadvantages of Chapter 11 are that it is a hugely more complicated than Chapter 13 which translates into substantially higher legal, filing  and Trustee fees, and the financial reporting requirements are more onerous.  Bankruptcy courts have tried to address these shortcomings with streamlined “small business” Chapter 11s, but they are still often prohibitively expensive.

7. If you do end up filing a personal Chapter 7 case when owing substantial business debt, you may have the advantage of being exempt from qualifying under the “means test” (a test based on your income and allowed expenses) if your business debts are more than half of your total debts.

If you are trying to save your financially struggling business, it is crucial to get competent business bankruptcy advice, and to do so just as soon as possible. You have no doubt been working extremely hard trying to keep your business alive. You will need a solid game plan for using the bankruptcy and other laws to your advantage.


If You Filed Bankruptcy Just Before the 2005 “Reform,” When Exactly Can You File Again?

Posted by Kevin on March 11, 2015 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

You can file a new case 8 years after filing before (so, now or very soon), or possibly only 6 or 4 or 2 years after, or maybe even with no delay.


The Bankruptcy Code underwent major amendments effective October 17, 2005.  Nearly two and a half million bankruptcies were filed in the year before that date, by far the most in any year-long period in history.

Today, we focus on the rules relating to the length of time required from a previous bankruptcy filing until a new one.

More precisely the timing rule refers to the amount of time from the filing of a previous bankruptcy case which resulted in the discharge of debts until the filing of another case also resulting in the discharge of debts.

“Discharge” is the legal write-off of debts provided by the bankruptcy law. It’s the main reason—but often not the only reason—for filing bankruptcy.

If you filed a previous personal bankruptcy—whether it was a Chapter 7 “straight” bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” payment plan—and your understanding is that you finished it successfully, almost certainly you received a discharge of your debts. Near the end of your case you should have received a copy of an order from the bankruptcy court granting you a discharge. If you do have your old bankruptcy documents, bring them to your present attorney. If you don’t, he or she should still be able to determine whether or not you received a discharge.

Finding this out is important because, in the unlikely event that you did not get a discharge, then you do not have to wait any period of time before you can file a new bankruptcy case. (The rare exception is if the bankruptcy court entered an order not allowing you to file a bankruptcy for a certain length of time, which only happens after serious abuse of the bankruptcy laws.)

The Timing Rules

Here is how long you must wait in between bankruptcy filings to receive a discharge of debts in a new bankruptcy case.

IF you want to now file a Chapter 7 case:

–and received a discharge in a previous Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 case, you must wait 8 years from the filing date of the previous case to the filing date of the new case;

–and received a discharge in a previous Chapter 13 case, you must wait 6 years from the filing date of the previous case to the filing date of the new case, BUT you don’t have to wait at all if in that Chapter 13 case you paid 100% of the allowed debts, or paid at least 70% and met some other conditions.

  IF you want to now file a Chapter 13 case:

–and received a discharge in a previous Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 or Chapter 12 case, you must wait 4 years from the filing date of the previous case to the filing date of the new case;

–and received a discharge in a previous Chapter 13 case, you must wait 2 years from the filing date of the previous case to the filing date of the new case.

IF you want to file a Chapter 11 case, the timing rules are the same as for Chapter 7 above.

(Note that Chapter 11 is usually for a business, or for a huge amount of debt; Chapter 12 is for farmers and fishermen.)

It’s important to understand that the date the discharge was entered in the previous case does not matter. It’s the filing date that starts the clock running here.

So You Can File Soon, or Possibly Now

So, under any  combination—7 to 7, 7 to 13, 13 to 7, 13 to 13, 7 to 11 etc.,  you can file now.

The Chapter 13 Debt Limits

Posted by Kevin on October 28, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Why Does Chapter 13 Have Debt Limits?

Chapter 7 has no debt limit. But the Bankruptcy Code does impose a limit on the amount of debt that person can owe when filing a Chapter 13 case. Why? Although in conventional consumer situations an average Chapter 7 case is much quicker and easier than an average Chapter 13 case, in fact Chapter 7 can be used with a wide variety of business and consumer arenas, including for corporations and partnerships, including those with many millions of dollars of debt. Chapter 13 is a tremendously flexible procedure, but it is still a relatively streamlined one—especially compared to Chapter 11 reorganization. It was specifically designed for individuals and married couples with relatively straightforward debts.

The primary way that the law tries to limit Chapter 13 to simpler cases is with debt limits. Currently the individual filing one, or the married couple filing together, must have less than $383,175 in total unsecured debts and ALSO less than $1,149,525 in secured debts.

What’s with the Odd Amounts?

These dollar limits do sound arbitrary, and to some extent they are, simply reflecting a Congressional compromise going back 34 years to the original passage of the Bankruptcy Code in 1978. The limits back then were only $100,000 unsecured debt and $350,000 secured debt. These didn’t change until more than doubling in 1994 to $250,000 and $750,000, respectively, with inflationary increases every three years thereafter. The current amounts have been in effect since  April 1, 2013.

What Are “Noncontingent, Liquidated Debts”?

The statute specifically says that you “may be a debtor under Chapter 13” only if you owe, “on the date of the filing of the petition, noncontingent, liquidated, unsecured debts of less than $383,175 and noncontingent, liquidated, secured debts of less than $1,149,525” (with the appropriate current amounts inserted).

To be a bit over simplistic, these two descriptive words are intended to make clear that only real debts count for these limits. “Noncontingent” means that you are presently liable on the debt, not liable only if some event does or does not occur. “Liquidated” means that you owe a specific and determinable amount. A contingent debt would include one that you would only owe if somebody else did not pay it. A noncontingent debt would be one which you owe jointly with someone else but the creditor has no obligation to first pursue the other debtor. An unliquidated debt would include a lawsuit against you for unspecified damages; a liquidated debt could be a lawsuit where the alleged debt amount can be determined, even if it might be disputed.


In most cases, you will either be clearly under both secured and unsecured debt limits or clearly over one of them. But if you are at all close, be aware that these “noncontingent, unliquidated” distinctions are not always clear. And even if you are over the limits, there may be other solutions if you really need the benefits of a Chapter 13. One possibility is filing a so-called “Chapter 20”—filing a Chapter 7 case to discharge much of your debts, followed immediately by filing a Chapter 13 (7 + 13 = 20). The Chapter 7 discharge should get you under the Chapter 13 debt limits, and then although the Chapter 13 cannot discharge any more debts, it could well protect you from your remaining creditors as you pay their debts—such as mortgage arrearage, back child support, or taxes—at your own schedule.

I Make Too Much for Chapter 7, Owe Too Much for Chapter 13, So Now What Do I Do?

Posted by Kevin on October 19, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

If you don’t qualify for either Chapter 7 or 13, do you have to do a very expensive Chapter 11 reorganization?

Chapter 11 is dreadfully expensive. That’s part of the reason why consumers seldom file them compared to Chapter 7 and 13.  The court filing fee alone is $1,233 . The attorney fees can be tens of thousands of dollars. Why so expensive?  Because Chapter 11 was designed for large corporate reorganizations, and, in spite of efforts to streamline it for smaller businesses and for individuals, it’s a cumbersome, attorney-intensive procedure. So it is usually sensible to avoid Chapter 11 if either Chapter 7 or 13 will serve your needs.

But what if you’re disqualified from those other two? If you really ARE disqualified, then you may have to file under Chapter 11. But you may not be disqualified even if at first you think you are. So let’s look more closely at the qualification rules, especially as they apply to situations where at first it may look like you don’t qualify. Today we’ll give a broad overview about this as to both Chapter 7 and 13, and then in the next two blogs we’ll look more closely at each one.

Chapter 7 and the “Means Test”

The point of the quite complicated means test is to make people pay a meaningful amount of their debts if they have the “means” to do so. So those who do not pass the means test cannot file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy,” or they can be forced out if. Instead they would usually have to proceed through Chapter 13, and be required to pay what they could afford to pay to their creditors over the following five years.

But the means test is often misunderstood. That’s not surprising given its multiple steps and odd combination of rigid formulas and discretionary enforcement. The following may help you understand it and potentially get around it:

  1. The means test may not even apply to you. It only applies to individuals with “primarily consumer debts,” meaning that you skip the means test altogether if half or more of your debts were incurred for business purposes instead of “primarily for a personal, family, or household purpose.”
  2. There’s a fixation on the first step of the means test—whether your income is above or below the “median family income” amount for your state and household size. Indeed a large majority of people who file Chapter 7 DO have lower income than the applicable median income. So they can skip the rest of the means test.
  3. The means test uses an odd and very specific definition of your income, one which focuses on the six-full-calendar-month prior to whatever date your Chapter 7 case is filed. This means that for many people their “income” shifts with each passing month, depending on the changes to their income of the past 6 or so months. So some careful tactical planning may enable you to fit under the median income amount by filing at the right time.
  4. Even if your income, as appropriately defined, is in fact over the applicable median income, that’s just the beginning of the analysis. There are a number of other steps to the means test, each with potential ways to pass the means test and qualify for Chapter 7. We’ll go through these additional steps in the next blog.

The Chapter 13 Debt Limits

At the time of filing a Chapter 13 case, your total unsecured debts must be less than $383,175, and your total secured debts must be less than $1,149,525.

As you can probably guess, there’s more to this than immediately meets the eye. For a start, the terms actually used by the statute for these limits are “noncontingent, liquidated secured debts” and “noncontingent, liquidated unsecured debts.”

Debtors with relatively high debt are often present or former business owners who signed personal guarantees for corporate debt. When are those guaranteed debts considered contingent and therefore would not count towards the debt limits, and when are they noncontingent so that they would count? And when is an unresolved claim against the debtor considered unliquidated so that they would not count towards the debt limits, and when are they liquidated so that they would count?

What these Chapter 13 debt limits really mean will be the topic two blogs from now.

Is Your Business Eligible to File Bankruptcy?

Posted by Kevin on November 15, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Question #1 for cleaning up financially after a failed business: can the business file a bankruptcy without you? Question #2: should it?

This blog is NOT intended to give you all you need to know about whether your no-longer-operating business (or “on its deathbed business”) or you should file bankruptcy. Many factors go into that decision. This blog addresses only the very beginning of this decision-making process: is your business ELIGIBLE to file bankruptcy?

Is Your Business Its Own “Person”?

Your business can only file its own bankruptcy if it is a legally recognized business entity, a legal “person” distinct from you. If you established and ran the business under a formally registered corporation, that corporation can file a bankruptcy. If you established and ran the business as a formal partnership, that business partnership can file a bankruptcy.

In contrast, if you operated the business under your own name, or under a “dba” (“doing business as”), that business is not legally separate from you as an individual, so it cannot file a bankruptcy. That’s true even if you legally registered that “dba” name with a state agency (usually with the “corporation division” of your secretary of state’s office), paid for a local business license, and/or had separate bank accounts for the business. That business is legally just a part of you as an individual and cannot file its own bankruptcy.

How about if your business was established as a corporation but over time you did not keep the corporation’s finances distinct from your own? How about if operated your business in fact as a partnership of three partners and kept distinct partnership books but never formalized the partnership through the state or local authorities?  Whether that corporation or that partnership can file a bankruptcy, and what the consequences would be of such a bankruptcy, depends on the circumstances, and requires a careful discussion with an experienced business bankruptcy attorney.

Corporations and Partnerships Cannot File Chapter 13

Chapter 13 is reserved for “individuals”—actual people, not corporations or business partnerships. Specifically “[o]nly an individual with regular income” and who does not owe more than certain amounts “may be a debtor under Chapter 13… .”

Corporations and Partnerships Can File Chapter 7, 11 and 12

Legal business entities like corporations and partnerships can file under Chapter 7, a straight bankruptcy, to help in the orderly liquidation of the business’ assets and the fair distribution of the proceeds to the business’ creditors. Such a Chapter 7 may not be necessary or helpful if the business does not have any of its own assets, other than those which are collateral on secured debts.

Under a Chapter 11 “business reorganization,” the business would continue to operate or be sold as a going concern. Although most bankruptcy courts make an effort to run small business Chapter 11 cases efficiently, they are still very expensive—seldom less than tens of thousands of dollars in court, U.S Trustee, and attorney fees. So Chapter 11 is seldom a practical solution for very small businesses.

Under a Chapter 12 “adjustment of debts of a family farmer or fisherman,” the family farming or fishing operation would continue operating. To qualify that operation must meet certain maximum debt limits, and other qualifications to show that it is sufficiently oriented towards farming or fishing and is sufficiently family-owned.

Whether a business CAN file its own bankruptcy leads to the question whether it SHOULD do so, to be covered in the next blog.

Chapter 11

Posted by Kevin on September 21, 2009 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Chapter 11 bankruptcy basically deals with the reorganization and/or liquidation of businesses. However, an individual may file under Chapter 11. For consumers, Chapter 11 is available when a debtor wants to retain assets, like her home, but does not qualify for Chapter 13. A prospective debtor does not qualify for Chapter 13 if her unsecured debt exceeds $336,900 and/or secured debt exceeds $1,010,000.

For further information, please refer to the following videos

The different types of bankruptcy

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