The purpose of filing bankruptcy is to rid yourself of damaging debt and allow you to get back on your feet. Often times, people find themselves back in stressful financial situations and may need to file bankruptcy again. The bankruptcy laws, however, restrict how often you can file bankruptcy.
The first determination to make is whether your previous bankruptcy case was dismissed or discharged. A bankruptcy case is dismissed if you failed to comply with all the requirements of the bankruptcy laws or the requirements of the court. Your case could be dismissed for failing to pay your filing fee, not providing all of your documents to your bankruptcy Trustee, or not taking your credit counseling courses. If your previous bankruptcy case was dismissed, you will need the order from the court dismissing your case to determine if there are any prohibitions as to when you can file next. Sometimes, people who file many cases incorrectly are prohibited from filing with certain time periods. This means your order of dismissal may prevent you from filing another bankruptcy case for one year. It is also possible that your dismissal does not prevent you from filing a case. You may want to consider reviewing your dismissal with an attorney to be sure.
If your bankruptcy case was discharged, this means the bankruptcy court wiped out the debt that could be wiped out and you received the financial relief people hope to get when they file bankruptcy. The second determination to make is to see which chapter of bankruptcy you filed. Most individuals or couples file a Chapter 7 case or a Chapter 13 case. Your Discharge of Debtor document in your previous case will identify which chapter you filed. A good way to also determine which chapter you filed is how quick the case was over or if you made payments to a trustee over time. If your case was completed within four to six months, chances are you filed a Chapter 7. If you made monthly payments to a bankruptcy trustee over a 3 year or 5 year period, chances are you filed a Chapter 13. If you cannot locate your Discharge of Debtor or if you are unsure, an attorney will be able to determine the chapter for you.
Depending on which chapter of bankruptcy you previously filed determines when you can file again.
If you previously filed a Chapter 7 case and received a discharge, you may file bankruptcy again after 8 years. The 8 years is counted from the date you filed the previous Chapter 7 case to the date you file the new Chapter 7 case.
If you previously filed a Chapter 13 case and received a discharge, you may file bankruptcy again after 6 years. The 6 years is counted from the date you filed the previous Chapter 13 case to the date you file the new case. There are also exceptions to this timing depending on how high of a percentage of your debts you paid to the trustee over time. It may be worth meeting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to determine if an exception applies to you.
The short answer to how often you can file is “it depends”. You may be able to file tomorrow, or in 6 years, or in 8 years. It depends on how the previous bankruptcy case ended and which chapter you filed. Bring your paperwork to an experienced bankruptcy attorney to make sure you can get the full benefit of filing again. If bankruptcy is worth doing, it is worth doing right.