Bankruptcy Info / Bankruptcy
Public Information Series of the Bankruptcy Judges Division
Administrative Office of the United States Courts
While the information presented herein is
accurate as of the date of publication, it should not be cited or relied upon as legal
authority.This information should not be used as a substitute for
reference to the United
States Bankruptcy Code (title 11, United States Code) and the Federal
Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, both of which may be reviewed at local
law libraries, or to local rules of practice adopted by each bankruptcy
court. Finally, this pamphlet should not
substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.
Most debtors who file a bankruptcy petition, and many of their creditors, know
very little about the bankruptcy process. Bankruptcy Basics is designed to provide debtors, creditors, judiciary employees, and the
general public with a basic explanation of bankruptcy and how it works. This glossary of bankruptcy terminology explains, in layman's terms, many of the legal terms that are
used in cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code.
adversary proceeding A lawsuit arising in or related to a bankruptcy case that is commenced by
filing a complaint with the court. A non-exclusive list of adversary proceedings is set forth in Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7001.
assume An agreement
to continue performing duties under a contract or lease.
An injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosure, garnishments, and all
collection activity against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed.
legal procedure for dealing with debt problems of individuals and businesses;
specifically, a case filed under one of the chapters of title 11 of the United States Code
(the Bankruptcy Code).
An officer of the judiciary serving in the judicial districts of Alabama and North Carolina who, like the U.S. trustee, is responsible for supervising the administration of bankruptcy cases, estates, and trustees; monitoring plans and disclosure statements; monitoring creditors' committees; monitoring fee applications; and performing other statutory duties. Compare U.S. trustee.
Bankruptcy CodeThe informal name for title 11 of the United States Code (11 U.S.C. § 101 - 1330), the
federal bankruptcy law.
bankruptcy court The bankruptcy judges in regular active service in each district; a unit of the district court.
All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property at the time of the bankruptcy
filing. (The estate includes all property in which the debtor has an interest, even if it
is owned or held by another person.)
bankruptcy judge A judicial officer of the United States district court who is the court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases.
The document filed by the debtor (in a voluntary case) or by creditors (in an involuntary case) by which opens the bankruptcy case. (There are official forms for bankruptcy petitions)
chapter 7 The
chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for liquidation, i.e., the
sale of a debtor's nonexempt property and the distribution of the proceeds to creditors.
chapter 9The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for reorganization of municipalities (which includes cities and towns, as well as villages, counties, taxing districts, municipal utilities, and school districts).
chapter 11 The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing (generally) for reorganization, usually involving a corporation or partnership. (A chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. People in business or individuals can also seek relief in chapter 11.)
chapter 12 The
chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for adjustment of debts of a family
farmer," or a "family fisherman" as those terms are defined in the Bankruptcy Code.
chapter 13 The chapter
of the Bankruptcy Code providing for adjustment of debts of an individual with regular
income. (Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually
three to five years.)
chapter 13 trustee
A person appointed to administer a chapter 13 case. (A chapter 13 trustee's
responsibilities are similar to those of a chapter 7 trustee; however, a chapter 13
trustee has the additional responsibilities of overseeing the debtor's plan, receiving
payments from debtors, and disbursing plan payments to creditors.)
chapter 15 The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency.
claim A creditor's
assertion of a right to payment from the debtor or the debtor's property.
The first or initiatory document in a lawsuit that notifies the court and the defendant of
the grounds claimed by the plaintiff for an award of money or other relief against the
Bankruptcy judge's approval of a plan of reorganization or liquidation in chapter 11, or payment plan in chapter 12 or 13.
consumer bankruptcyA bankruptcy case filed to reduce or eliminate debts that are primarily
Debts incurred for personal, as opposed to business, needs.
contested matter Those matters, other than objections to claims, that are disputed but are not within the definition of adversary proceeding contained in Rule 7001.
A claim that may be owed by the debtor under certain circumstances, for example, where the
debtor is a cosigner on another person's loan and that person fails to pay.
creditor One to whom the debtor owes money or who claims to be owed money
by the debtor.
credit counseling Generally refers to two events in individual bankruptcy cases: (1) the "individual or group briefing" from a nonprofit budget and credit counseling agency that individual debtors must attend prior to filing under any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code; and (2) the "instructional course in personal financial management" in chapters 7 and 13 that an individual debtor must complete before a discharge is entered. There are exceptions to both requirements for certain categories of debtors, exigent circumstances, or if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator have determined that there are insufficient approved credit counseling agencies available to provide the necessary counseling.
creditors' meeting see 341 meeting
current monthly income The average monthly income received by the debtor over the six calendar months before commencement of the bankruptcy case, including regular contributions to household expenses from nondebtors and income from the debtor's spouse if the petition is a joint petition, but not including social security income and certain other payments made because the debtor is the victim of certain crimes. 11 U.S.C. § 101(10A).
person who has filed a petition for relief under the Bankruptcy Code.
debtor education see credit counseling
An individual (or business) against whom a lawsuit is filed.
A release of a debtor from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. (A
discharge releases a debtor from personal liability for certain debts known as
dischargeable debts (defined below) and prevents the creditors owed those debts from
taking any action against the debtor to collect the debts. The
discharge also prohibits creditors from communicating with the debtor regarding the debt,
including telephone calls, letters, and personal contact.)
dischargeable debt A debt for which the Bankruptcy Code allows the debtor's personal
liability to be eliminated.
disclosure statement A
written document prepared by a chapter 11 debtor or other plan proponent
designed to provide "adequate information" to creditors
to enable them to evaluate the chapter 11 plan of reorganization.
value of a debtor's interest in property that remains after liens and other creditors'
interests are considered. (Example: If a house valued at $100,000 is subject to a $80,000
mortgage, there is $20,000 of equity.)
executory contract or lease Generally includes contracts or leases under which both parties to
the agreement have duties remaining to be performed. (If a contract or lease is executory,
a debtor may assume it or reject it.)
description of any property that a debtor may prevent creditors from recovering.
exemption, exempt property Certain property owned by an individual debtor that the Bankruptcy Code or applicable state law permits the debtor to keep from unsecured creditors. For example, in some states the debtor may be able to exempt all or a portion of the equity in the debtor's primary residence (homestead exemption), or some or all "tools of the trade" used by the debtor to make a living (i.e., auto tools for an auto mechanic or dental tools for a dentist). The availability and amount of property the debtor may exempt depends on the state the debtor lives in.
family farmer or family fisherman
An individual, individual and spouse, corporation, or partnership engaged in a farming
or fishing operation that meets certain debt limits and other statutory criteria for filing a petition
under chapter 12.
A transfer of a debtor's property made with intent to defraud or for which the debtor
receives less than the transferred property's value.
fresh start The
characterization of a debtor's status after bankruptcy, i.e., free of most debts.
(Giving debtors a fresh start is one purpose of the Bankruptcy Code.)
insider (of individual
debtor) Any relative of the debtor or of a general partner of the
debtor; partnership in which the debtor is a general partner; general partner of the
debtor; or corporation of which the debtor is a director, officer, or person in control.
insider (of corporate
debtor) A director, officer, or person in control of the debtor; a
partnership in which the debtor is a general partner; a general partner of the debtor; or
a relative of a general partner, director, officer, or person in control of the debtor.
joint administration A court-approved mechanism under which two or more cases can be
administered together. (Assuming no conflicts of interest, these separate businesses or
individuals can pool their resources, hire the same professionals, etc.)
One bankruptcy petition filed by a husband and wife together.
lien The right to take and hold or sell the property of a debtor as security or payment for a debt or duty.
liquidation A sale of
a debtor's property with the proceeds to be used for the benefit of creditors.
A creditor's claim for a fixed amount of money.
means test Section 707(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code applies a "means test" to determine whether an individual debtor's chapter 7 filing is presumed to be an abuse of the Bankruptcy Code requiring dismissal or conversion of the case (generally to chapter 13). Abuse is presumed if the debtor's aggregate current monthly income (see definition above) over 5 years, net of certain statutorily allowed expenses is more than (i) $11,725, or (ii) 25% of the debtor's nonpriority unsecured debt, as long as that amount is at least $7,025. The debtor may rebut a presumption of abuse only by a showing of special circumstances that justify additional expenses or adjustments of current monthly income.
motion to lift the automatic stay
A request by a creditor to allow the creditor to take an
action against a debtor or the debtor's property that would otherwise be prohibited by the
A chapter 7 case where there are no assets available to satisfy any portion of the
creditors' unsecured claims.
nondischargeable debt A debt that cannot be eliminated in bankruptcy. Examples include a home mortgage, debts for alimony or child support, certain taxes, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts arising from death or personal injury caused by driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and debts for restitution or a criminal fine included in a sentence on the debtor's conviction of a crime. Some debts, such as debts for money or property obtained by false pretenses and debts for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity may be declared nondischargeable only if a creditor timely files and prevails in a nondischargeability action.
objection to dischargability A trustee's or creditor's objection to the debtor's being released
from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. Common reasons include allegations that the debt to be discharged was incurred by false pretenses or that debt arose because of the debtor's fraud while acting as a fiduciary.
objection to exemptions A trustee's or creditor's objection to a debtor's attempt to claim
certain property as exempt from liquidation by the trustee to creditors.
party in interest A party who has standing to be heard by the court in a matter to be decided in the bankruptcy case. The debtor, the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator, the case trustee and creditors are parties in interest for most matters.
personal identifier Personal Identifiers include:
- Social Security Numbers
- Financial Account Numbers
- Dates of birth
- Names of minor children
- Home addresses (in criminal cases only)
petition preparer A business not authorized to practice law that prepares bankruptcy petitions.
plan A debtor's
detailed description of how the debtor proposes to pay creditors' claims over a fixed
period of time.
person or business that files a formal complaint with the court.
postpetition transfer A transfer of a debtor's property made after the commencement
of the case.
prebankruptcy planning The arrangement (or rearrangement) of a debtor's property to allow
the debtor to take maximum advantage of exemptions. (Prebankruptcy planning typically
includes converting nonexempt assets into exempt assets.)
preferential debt payment A debt payment made to a creditor in the 90-day period before
a debtor files bankruptcy (or within one year if the creditor was an insider) that gives
the creditor more than the creditor would receive in the debtor's chapter 7 case.
presumption of abuse see means test
Bankruptcy Code's statutory ranking of unsecured claims that determines the order in which
unsecured claims will be paid if there is not enough money to pay all unsecured claims in
full. For example, under the Bankruptcy Code's priority scheme, money owed to the case trustee or for prepetition alimony and/or child support must be paid in full before any general unsecured debt (i.e. trade debt or credit card debt) is paid.
An unsecured claim that is entitled to be paid ahead of other unsecured claims that are
not entitled to priority status. Priority refers to the order in which these unsecured
claims are to be paid.
proof of claim
A written statement and verifying document filed by a creditor that describes the reason the debtor owes the creditor money. (There is an
official form for this purpose.)
property of the estate All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as
of the commencement of the case.
reaffirmation agreement An agreement by a chapter 7 debtor to continue paying a dischargeable debt (such as an auto loan) after
the bankruptcy, usually for the purpose of keeping collateral (ie. the car) that
would otherwise be subject to repossession.
redact The process of blacking-out personal identifiers is known as redaction. Guidelines for redacting or blacking-out Personal Identifiers are as follows:
- Social Security Numbers: only the last four digits should be visible
123-45-6789 should be redacted to xxx-xx-6789
- Financial account numbers: only the last four digits should be visible
12 3456789 10 11 should be redacted to xx xxxxxxx 10 11
- Dates of birth: only the year of the date of birth should be visible
1/23/45 should be redacted to x/xx/45
- Names of minor children: only the initials should be visible
John Doe should be redacted to J.D.
- Home addresses (in criminal cases only): only the city and state should be visible
1234 Main Street, Madison, Wisconsin should be redacted to Madison, Wisconsin
Note: The Advisory Committee Note accompanying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2 states, "The clerk is not required to review documents filed with the court for compliance with this rule. The responsibility to redact filings rests with counsel and the party or non-party making the filing.
secured creditor An
creditor holding a claim against the debtor who has the right to take and hold or sell certain property of the debtor in satisfaction of some or all of the claim.
Debt backed by a mortgage, pledge of collateral, or other lien; debt for which the
creditor has the right to pursue specific pledged property upon default. Examples include home mortgages, auto loans and tax liens.
Detailed lists filed by the debtor along with (or shortly after filing) the petition showing the
debtor's assets, liabilities, and other financial information. (There are official forms a
debtor must use.)
small business case A special type of chapter 11 case in which there is no creditors' committee (or the creditors' committee is deemed inactive by the court) and in which the debtor is subject to more oversight by the U.S. trustee than other chapter 11 debtors. The Bankruptcy Code contains certain provisions designed to reduce the time a small business debtor is in bankruptcy.
statement of financial affairs A series of questions the debtor must answer in writing concerning
sources of income, transfers of property, lawsuits by creditors, etc. (There are
official forms a debtor must use.)
statement of intention A declaration made by a chapter 7 debtor concerning plans for
dealing with consumer debts that are secured by property of the estate.
substantive consolidation Putting the assets and liabilities of two or more related debtors into a
single pool to pay creditors. (Courts are reluctant to allow substantive consolidation
since the action must not only justify the benefit that one set of creditors receives, but
also the harm that other creditors suffer as a result.)
341 meeting A
meeting of creditors required by section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code at which the debtor is questioned under oath by creditors, a trustee,
examiner, or the United States trustee about his/her financial affairs. Also called creditors' meeting.
transfer Any mode or
means by which a debtor disposes of or parts with his/her property.
trustee The representative of the
bankruptcy estate who exercises statutory powers, principally for the
benefit of the unsecured creditors, under the general supervision of the
court and the direct supervision of the United States trustee or
Bankruptcy Administrator. The trustee is a private individual or corporation appointed in all chapter 7, chapter 12, and chapter 13 cases and some chapter 11 cases. The trustee's responsibilities include reviewing the debtor's petition and schedules and bringing actions against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate. In chapter 7, the trustee liquidates property of the estate, and makes distributions to creditors. Trustees in chapter 12 and 13 have similar duties to a chapter 7 trustee and the additional responsibilities of overseeing the debtor's plan, receiving payments from debtors, and disbursing plan payments to creditors.
United States trustee An officer of the Justice Department responsible for supervising
the administration of bankruptcy cases, estates, and trustees, monitoring plans and
disclosure statements, monitoring creditors' committees, monitoring fee applications, and
performing other statutory duties. Compare, bankruptcy administrator
A debt secured by property that is worth
less than the amount of the debt.
A claim for which a specific value has not been determined.
A debt that should have been listed by a debtor in the schedules filed with the court but
was not. (Depending on the circumstances, an unscheduled debt may or may not be
A claim or debt for which a creditor holds no special assurance of payment, such as a
mortgage or lien; a debt for which credit was extended based solely upon the creditor's
assessment of the debtor's future ability to pay.
voluntary transfer A transfer of a debtor's property with the debtor's consent.
Doran, Personal Bankruptcy and Debt Adjustment 135-139 (199l);
Griffin, Personal Bankruptcy: What You Should Know 145-149 (1994)