How Much Will My Chapter 13 Payments Be?
Determining how much your Chapter 13 payments will be is a complicated process that involves several components. Your bankruptcy attorney will gather numerous pieces of information from you in order to accurately propose a Chapter 13 plan to the court. If approved, your Chapter 13 payment will be set by an Order confirming the plan.
Your Payment Starts With Your Ability To Pay
Chapter 13 is distinguishable from Chapter 7 in that when you file Chapter 13 you are being asked to pay something back to your creditors over a 3 or 5 year period. If your current monthly income is greater than the applicable state median, you will have a 5-year plan. Most plans are 5 years. The burning question is HOW MUCH do I have to pay my creditors?
One premise of Chapter 13 is that the debtor must pay creditors whatever amount they are able to pay. More specifically, after the debtor takes their monthly income and subtracts all ongoing monthly expenses, the remainder is known as Net Disposable Income. This is the amount you should commit to creditors in your Chapter 13 plan. Your bankruptcy attorney will work with you to make sure you’ve taken all allowable expenses and deductions against income. This serves to lower the Net Disposable Income and in turn lowers the portion of your Chapter 13 payment going to unsecured creditors.
Items Which May Increase Your Chapter 13 Payment
Once you have calculated your Net Disposable Income, you have determined the floor or the lowest amount you can propose to repay to creditors. However, you must also consider assets and certain other priority debts, in order to complete the analysis. A debtor is only allowed a certain dollar amount of equity in particular assets (Home, Vehicle, etc.). If the debtor’s equity exceeds the allowable amount, then the debtor must propose a plan which accounts for that amount. The allowable amount of equity in the property is excluded from the bankruptcy estate by claiming your bankruptcy exemptions.
Example: Debtor owns a home worth $200,000.00. The debtor’s mortgage balance at the time of filing is $160,000.00. The debtor has $40,000.00 of equity. The allowable Homestead Exemption in North Carolina is $35,000.00. In this case, the debtor exceeds the allowable exemption by $5,000.00. As a result, the debtor must propose a plan that pays at least that amount to unsecured creditors, spread out over the 5 year plan period. $5,000.00/60 months = $83/mo. If the debtor’s Net Disposable Income is already $83/mo or higher, no adjustments need to be made. However, if Net Disposable Income is only $53/mo, the debtor would have to increase it to $83/mo.
In this instance, the ‘floor’ set by Net Disposable Income may need to be raised to accommodate the excess equity in the home. Below is an example where the debtor has a priority debt that must be paid in full. This can also affect the minimum monthly plan payment. Priority debts include but are not limited to: back child support owed, IRS debt less than 3 years old, NC Department of Revenue debt less than 3 years old, back property taxes owed, HOA dues owed at the time of filing.) The answer to the question “How much will my chapter 13 payments be” changes, depending upon the factors below.
Example: Example: Debtor has Net Disposable Income of $100/mo. However, the debtor also owes the IRS $5,000 from taxes less than 3 years old at the time of filing. As such, those taxes are priority debt and must be paid in full over the life of the plan. For a 5 year plan, the monthly payment on the IRS debt would come to roughly $83/mo. As the debtor already has Net Disposable Income exceeding $83/mo, the plan is fine at $100/mo. The bankruptcy trustee will send roughly $83/mo to the IRS and the remaining $17/mo to the unsecured creditors.
In a situation where the debtor has BOTH excess equities in property AND priority debt, you must apply both rules. The minimum monthly payment proposed must be enough to pay a) the excess equity over 5 years, AND in addition, must include enough money to pay the priority debt.
Example: Combining both examples above, the debtor has $5,000 in excess equity and an additional $5,000 in priority debt. As such, the plan must pay a total of $10,000 over the 5 year period. $10,000/60 months = $166/mo. As a result, no matter the Net Disposable Income of the debtor, it would be inappropriate to propose a monthly plan payment of less than $166/mo.
Other Factors Which Affect A Chapter 13 Plan Calculation
Vehicle Loan Balance–Typically, the balance on your vehicle loan will be scheduled to be paid evenly over the 60 month plan period. If you only have 2 years remaining on your vehicle when you file Chapter 13, this will result in a decrease in your car payment (spreading it out over 5 years instead of 2) which will help to absorb some of the potential increases discussed above.
Age Of Vehicle Loan–If your vehicle loan is older than 910 days at the time of filing, you can reduce the balance of the loan down to the Fair Market Value of the vehicle, and pay that entire balance over the 60 month plan period. This often results in a substantial “win” for the debtor and can make a Chapter 13 plan feasible.
Remaining Attorney Payments–The Western District of North Carolina sets the base fee for attorneys in Chapter 13 at $4,500 as of the writing of this article. If you pay your attorney $4,500 prior to filing, you will not have any attorney payments built into your payment. However, this is not an option for most clients. Supposing instead you pay $3,500 to your attorney prior to filing, this would leave $1,000 to be paid throughout the 60 month plan period.
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