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Understanding Bankruptcy


How the Different Types of
Bankruptcy Are Named

U.S. Federal law provides for six different types of bankruptcy, of which three types are the most common: Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are used by individuals. Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 are used by companies.

Before we discuss the details, I'd like to explain why we use such odd names. In order to do so, however, I need to digress for a moment to explain how U.S. federal laws are organized. (Actually, you may find this interesting in its own right.)

The sheer number of federal laws is so large as to defy understanding. Not only are countless laws already on the books, but there are many changes every year. In fact, every time Congress passes a new law, modifies an existing law, or repeals an old law, someone has to keep track of the changes. This job is so important that there exists an entire government department devoted to this task. This organization is the OFFICE OF THE LAW REVISION COUNSEL OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (usually referred to as the LRC).

The job of the LRC is to compile and publish all "general and permanent" U.S. federal laws. It does so by organizing and consolidating the text of all the laws into a huge compilation called "The Code of Laws of the United States of America", commonly known as UNITED STATES CODE or, more simply, the U.S. CODE.

As you would imagine, the U.S. Code in its entirety is large and complex beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, it does need to be organized, and it has been since 1926. The current version of the U.S. Code is divided into 51 broad subject areas, referred to as TITLES. (You can think of a Title as being a volume of an encyclopedia.) Each Title, in turn, is subdivided into CHAPTERS, which themselves are divided into even smaller units.

The part of the U.S. Code that contains the bankruptcy laws is Title 11. Within Title 11, there are nine different Chapters. The first three Chapters of Title 11 describe the rules of bankruptcy:

Chapter 1: General Provisions

Chapter 3: Case Administration

Chapter 5: Creditors, the Debtor, and the Estate

The next six Chapters describe, in detail, the different types of bankruptcy:

Chapter 7: Liquidation

Chapter 9: Adjustment of Debts of a Municipality

Chapter 11: Reorganization

Chapter 12: Adjustment of Debts of a Family Farmer or Fisherman With Regular Annual Income

Chapter 13: Adjustment of Debts of an Individual With Regular Income

Chapter 15: Ancillary and Other Cross-Border Cases

As we will discuss in a moment, the most commonly used types of bankruptcy are:

  • For individuals: Chapter 7 or Chapter 13
  • For companies: Chapter 7 or Chapter 11

Other, less common types of bankruptcy, which we won't discuss, are:

  • For municipalities: Chapter 9
  • For family farmers or fishermen: Chapter 7 or Chapter 12
  • For a foreign bankruptcy: Chapter 15

Now, you will notice that, in the list above, Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 14 are missing. Why? Because when a law becomes obsolete or is repealed, the LRC deletes it from the U.S. Code. However, to avoid confusion, the LRC does not change any of the existing numbers. Thus, at one time, Title 11 of the U.S. Code did indeed contain the six missing chapters, which have since been deleted.

The nomenclature of the U.S. Code is important because, when we talk about bankruptcy in the United States, we use the Chapter number to refer to the specific type of bankruptcy. Thus, you might hear someone say:

"I lost my job when the company I was working for liquidated by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy."

In fact, these nicknames are so well known that you will notice that the word "bankruptcy" is often omitted. For example:

"My brother-in-law used Chapter 13 to reorganize his finances and reduce his debts."

The same naming convention holds for other, more unusual types of bankruptcy, for example:

"The three largest U.S. municipalities to use Chapter 9 to restructure their debts were: the city of Detroit, Michigan, in 2013; Jefferson County, Alabama, in 2011; and Orange County, California, in 1994."

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