Bankruptcy Timeline: How Long Does It Take?

by fihguide   ·  7 months ago  

Most people struggling under mountains of debt just want to be free. That’s because paying down high-interest credit cards and loans is almost impossible on monthly minimum payments alone. But how long does it take to complete the process from start to finish once you declare bankruptcy? Like most things, the answer is: It depends. We’ll explain how the bankruptcy timeline works below, depending on whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Related: Which Debts Do Most Americans Discharge Through Bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy Timeline: Steps to Complete Before Your Filing Date

Federal law requires you to complete a credit counseling course in the six-month period before filing bankruptcy. But you have other prep work to do before your bankruptcy timeline officially starts, such as:  

  • Find the right bankruptcy attorney to help you. Professional legal assistance is key if you’re serious about discharging unsecured debt. Plus, a lawyer can provide a realistic bankruptcy timeline for your unique situation. This includes finding an approved agency where you can complete both required training courses. If you choose to file on your own, you can download the forms from uscourts.gov.
  • Gather all necessary financial paperwork and review everything to make sure it’s accurate as well as complete. This includes things like tax returns, pay stubs, banking, mortgage and 401k/IRA records, deeds, etc. An attorney can provide a checklist of documents that show all your income, assets, debts and expenses. You must certify these records are accurate and complete when you file, so review everything first! If you leave things out, lie on purpose or find mistakes later, it may be a felony offense.  
  • Save up enough money to pay the $335 flat filing fee and your lawyer’s legal fees (if applicable). If you can’t cover the whole amount, most courts provide an application to pay filing fees in installments. If you cannot afford your filing fee, many courts provide a fee waiver application for you to fill out. Since a judge must approve your waiver request, don’t assume you can avoid paying to file.

Important: You must complete all above tasks in the 180 days before your filing date. This is true regardless of whether you file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Related: How to Prepare for Your Free Bankruptcy Consultation

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Timeline: About 100 Days-6 Months Total

Your own Chapter 7 bankruptcy timeline may vary. However, in most cases, it takes just over three months to complete. Some complicating factors that could affect how long it takes to resolve your case may include:

  • Which state you’re in and how long you’ve lived there
  • How long it takes you to gather all relevant financial documents required to file in court
  • When you can schedule and attend all required counseling courses, meetings, etc.
  • Whether you can pay all legal and filing fees up front, or over time using a payment plan (if approved)

Chapter 7 Timeline: Required Milestones & Deadlines To Meet Once You File

See all required deadlines and milestones after filing your Chapter 7 petition in bankruptcy court below.

Your bankruptcy timeline ends once the court discharges your unsecured debts (about 4-6 months from your filing date).

From Your Filing Date

Milestone to Reach

Within 1-14 days

File Certificate of Credit Counseling showing you completed the required training course as well as all financial forms and documents, including your Schedules of Assets and Liabilities, Income and Expenditures, and Statement of Financial Affairs.  

Within 13-33 days

Give your Chapter 7 trustee copies of your most recent tax returns at least seven days before your 341 Meeting.

 Within 20-30 days

You must file your Statement of Intention with the court within 30 days after your filing date or before your scheduled 341 Meeting (whichever comes first).

Within 40-60 days

A 341 Meeting with your trustee must happen within 40-60 days from your filing date. It only lasts 10 minutes, but you must attend and testify under oath all your information’s accurate.

Within 50-70 days

Complete all Statement of Intention tasks within 30 days of your 341 Meeting. If you have secured debts you want to discharge (car loan, mortgage), you must surrender any property used as collateral at this time.

Within 80-100 days

Complete any Reaffirmation Agreements with your creditors within 60 days of your 341 Meeting. This deadline applies if you want to keep property used as collateral for secured debts (i.e., home, vehicle). In such cases, you must negotiate a repayment plan that you and your creditor both agree to first.  

Within 80-100 days

Complete your required financial management training course with an approved agency within 60 days of your 341 Meeting. If the agency doesn’t notify the court once you complete this course, you must do it yourself before the deadline passes.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Timeline: About 3-5 Years Total

Once you file your petition, meet the following required milestones and deadlines in our Chapter 13 bankruptcy timeline below.

From Your Filing DateChapter 13 Bankruptcy Tasks & Deadlines
Within 15 days In addition to all steps in our Chapter 7 bankruptcy timeline, your attorney must file a debt repayment schedule.
Within 30 days Start making payments to your Chapter 13 trustee according to the plan you filed with the court. If you fail to do this, a bankruptcy judge will automatically dismiss your case. You must then wait another 180 days after your dismissal to file another Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition.
Within 10-12 weeks Your Chapter 13 trustee meets with the court to approve or disapprove your submitted payment plan.
6 months later Your trustee and the court meet again to ensure you’re meeting your debt repayment plan obligations according to schedule.
Within 3-5 years Continue making payments and finish paying off your debts according to your bankruptcy court-approved plan.
After making the last scheduled debt payment on your plan Complete one final financial management course and file your certification form with the court.

Once you’ve done all tasks and met every deadline on the Chapter 13 bankruptcy timeline, court formally discharges your case.

Related: How Much Does A Bankruptcy Lawyer Charge?