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Can I file Chapter 13 after Chapter 7?

Court imposes time limits for debt discharge when Chapter 13 follows Chapter 7.

If financial difficulties continue past the discharge of an individual's debts in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor may seek court relief again through a Chapter 13 case.

However, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court has strict guidelines on how soon another petition can be filed and whether the discharge of debts will be granted in a second bankruptcy within a certain timeframe.

The debtor who has gone through a Chapter 7 case is allowed to file bankruptcy under Chapter 13 at any time after the first case's debts have been discharged. However, the individual's unsecured debt, such as credit cards or medical bills, will be discharged only if the Chapter 13 case was filed at least four years after the Chapter 7 case was filed.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtor is required to pay creditors through a court-ordered repayment plan over three to five years. If four years didn't elapse before the Chapter 13 bankruptcy was filed, the individual is still able to proceed knowing their unsecured debt will not be discharged.

"You may be thinking why would anyone file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy within four years if they will not get a full discharge," states the Southern California Law Associates website. "The reasons for doing this may include that you will have a low monthly payment plan to repay your creditors, you are protected from creditors during this time, you may need it to pay your past due taxes or student loans,or to remove a second mortgage from your home.

In Chapter 7 cases in which the debts were not discharged by the court, none of the time limits apply and the Chapter 13 discharge can occur once the repayment plan has run its course.

However, in cases in which the bankruptcy was dismissed and the debts remain, there are some limits on court protection when subsequent cases are filed within one year of the first petition.

According to NationalBankruptcyForum.com, if a debtor files a second bankruptcy case in one year, the automatic stay that halts collection efforts and lawsuits - which normally lasts until the case is decided - will be reduced to only 30 days of protection by the court. If a third case is filed in one year, the court doesn't grant an automatic stay against creditors.

Filing bankruptcy multiple times also could be seen by the court as repetitive filings that are an abuse of the legal system.

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