Bankruptcy’s Means Test

October 5, 2011

In 2005, Congress changed the Bankruptcy Code and added a means test to prevent wealthy debtors from filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. The means test is a calculation designed to identify debtors who can afford to pay some of their unsecured debts (for instance, credit card debt) and encourage repayment of these debts through a Chapter 13 repayment plan.

The test is composed of two parts: first, the debtor’s household income is compared to his state’s median income for a household of the same size. If the debtor’s income is less than his state’s median income, there is no other testing required. The debtor may file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case or a Chapter 13 case that may last between three to five years of repayment.

On the other hand, if the debtor’s household income is more than his state’s median income, the debtor is required to supply more information to complete the means test. The debtor must list expenses and financial obligations to determine whether there is money to repay unsecured creditors. In the end if there is enough money to pay a significant portion of the debtor’s unsecured debt, the debtor is ineligible to file a Chapter 7 case and a Chapter 13 case must last five years. Means test information and the current median income figures for each state can be obtained from the U.S. Trustee’s website.

Most bankruptcy debtors are below their state’s median income level for their household size. Many others are able to qualify for Chapter 7 after a skilled bankruptcy attorney has examined income information and made legal and allowed adjustments to the means test calculations. A skilled bankruptcy attorney can discuss options and strategies for qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy under the means test, including timing aspects, income issues, and household number.

The means test is quite complex. Anyone considering bankruptcy with a significant income should consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. You attorney can guide you through the means test to reach the best possible result.

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