Do you have a small business in your own name that would be successful if it only got a break from its debts? A Chapter 13 case would likely greatly reduce both your business and personal monthly debt service while you continue to run your business.
Although Chapter 13 is sometimes called the “wage earner plan,” it is not at all restricted to wage-earning employees. In the Bankruptcy Code Chapter 13 is actually titled “Adjustment of Debts of an Individual with Regular Income.” That word “Individual” makes clear that a corporation cannot file under Chapter 13. But if you are a person who owns a business that is operated in your own name, or that of you and your spouse, then you and business are treated as a single legal entity. The business’ assets are just part of your personal assets; its debts are just part of your debts. This is true regardless if your business is operated under an assumed business name, as long as you have not gone through the formalities of creating a corporation, a limited liability company, or other separate legal entity for your business.
Here’s how Chapter 13 works to help your sole proprietorship business:
1) Chapter 13 deals with your business and personal financial problems in one package. In a sole proprietorship you are individually liable for all debts of your business, along with your personal debts. So as long as you qualify for Chapter 13 otherwise, you can simultaneously resolve both business and personal debts with that one option.
2) Stop both business and personal creditors from suing you and shutting down your business. The “automatic stay” imposed by the filing of your Chapter 13 case stops ALL your creditors from pursuing you, including both business and personal ones. Your bankruptcy case will stop personal creditors from hurting your business, and business creditors from taking your personal assets.
3) Keep whatever your business assets you need to keep operating. If you do not file a bankruptcy, and one of either your business or personal creditors gets a judgment against you, it could try to seize your business assets. Also, if you filed a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy,” under most circumstances you could not continue operating your business. However, Chapter 13 is designed to allow you to keep what you need and continue operating your business.
4) Keep critical business and personal collateral. If you are behind either on business or personal loans secured by either business or personal collateral, Chapter 13 will at least temporarily stop the repossession of the collateral, and often give you an opportunity to either lower the payments or at least have some time to catch up on your late payments. In certain limited situations—such as some judgment liens and some 2nd/3rd mortgages—the liens can be gotten rid of altogether. Overall, through Chapter 13 you are provided ways to keep collateral that you would otherwise lose, and often do so under much better payment terms.
5) Solve both business and personal tax problems. Business owners in financial trouble are often in tax trouble, which Chapter 13 addresses well. The program is designed so that at the end of a successful Chapter 13 case, you will have either discharged or paid off all your tax debts and will be tax free.
Conclusion: Chapter 13 can be an incredibly effective tool for keeping your business alive by reducing your business and personal debt, IF you operate your business as a sole proprietorship. But this tool is not the best one in every situation. It comes with some disadvantages: its rules are not very flexible, some business relationships may be harmed when your case is filed, they usually take three to five years to complete, and you generally cannot use or incur credit during that time. You need someone deeply experienced in business bankruptcies who will take the time to understand your business and advise you about all your alternatives, including Chapter 13.