Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer: Chapter 13 Issues

Special Chapter 13 issues for the Pro Se Bankruptcy Filer. Getty Images

Yes, it is possible to file bankruptcy without an attorney. In other articles we discuss how that happens and the pitfalls that a filer must look out for. Although it might not be too difficult filing a Chapter 7 case, Chapter 13 cases present even more challenges for the pro se filer. More forms, more calculations and a payment plan that must be approved by the Chapter 13 Trustee and the judge. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll face as a pro se Chapter 13 debtor.

Means Test Forms for Chapter 13

First of all, the Chapter 13 debtor must file two forms that together form the Means Test for a Chapter 13 case.

The first is the Chapter 13 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period, Official Form B122C-1. This form calculates your average monthly income and uses that to determine whether your case should last three years or as long as five years. In short, if your family income is less than the median for your state, your plan only needs to last three years. If your family income is more than the median, it needs to last five years. The median is the point at which 50 percent of families fall above and 50 percent fall below. For cases filed after November 1, 2015, the median incomes can be found here:  Median Family Income

The second form is the Chapter 13 Calculation of Your Disposable Income, Official Form B122C-2 This form calculates the difference between your income and your reasonable and necessary monthly expenses.

If your income is higher than your expenses, you have disposable income. At least a part of that disposable income will be included in your Chapter 13 payment, and will be used to pay allowed claims for unsecured debts like credit cards and medical bills.

While your income may be pretty easy to determine for the first form, there may be room for disagreement on whether certain expenses are reasonable or not on the second form.

Some are set out for you in the calculation, based on national or regional averages, but others can be customized based on your particular circumstances. Getting those amounts approved by the Chapter 13 trustee can be the trickiest part of a Chapter 13 case.

Chapter 13 Plans

Once the income and expense calculations have been made and the commitment period (three to five years) has been determined, the payment plan can be calculated. The payment plan will include amounts for

  • disposable income from Official Form B122C-2.
  • arrearages owed to mortgage creditors
  • house payment in conduit jurisdictions*
  • priority debts like back taxes
  • car payment** or arrearages owed to car creditors
  • attorneys fee, if being paid through the plan
  • administrative fee to the Chapter 13 trustee
  • value of non-exempt assets***

*In some districts, known as conduit jurisdictions, debtors are required to make their entire house payment through the Chapter 13 trustee, not just an amount to cover arrearages. Studies have shown that debtors who make house payments this way are more likely to have a successful Chapter 13 plan.

**It is possible to include your entire car payment in the plan and even adjust your interest rate or the amount of the principal you will repay if your car loan was at least 910 (2 ½) years old when you filed the bankruptcy case.

***If you have assets that cannot be exempted, the value of those assets will have to be added to your Chapter 13 plan. Learn more about that at Chapter 13: The Best Interest of Creditor’s Test.

Plan forms are usually specific to the jurisdiction in which the case is filed. Those can be found on the website for the court or the website for the Chapter 13 trustee to which the case has been assigned.

You can learn more about Chapter 13 plans at:

How Much Will My Chapter 13 Plan Payment Be?

To learn more about Chapter 13 in general, see

Living With a Chapter 13 Case, Part 1

Living With a Chapter 13 Case, Part 2

For more things to think about if you are considering filing bankruptcy on your own, see

Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer: Can or Should You?

Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer: Pitfalls for Pro Se Filers, Part 1

Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer: Pitfalls for Pro Se Filers, Part 2

Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer: Pitfalls for Pro Se Filers, Part 3

Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer: Resources for the Pro Se Filer