Chapter 13 Bankruptcy California: What You Need to Know

Understand the California Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan payment, cost, pros and cons, trustee, process and alternatives. Estimate your Chapter 13 payment to make the most informed decision.

You may have experienced a recent financial hardship and are researching whether Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California is the best option for you. You are not alone.  There are 45,831 bankruptcies filed in California in the year ending June 30th, 2021. In addition, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the second most common consumer bankruptcy file in the United States.

One of the most important things for you is to understand the affordability of your Chapter 13 plan payment. We will cover how you can estimate that in this article.

Many people consider Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the following scenarios,

  1. They make too much money to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California.
  2. They are at risk of losing belongings in Chapter 7 bankruptcy
  3. The debt settlement plan is too expensive
  4. There is a high lawsuit likelihood of their creditors in debt settlement

The purpose of this article is to explain Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California in understandable terms. The goal is to help you understand your options to make the most informed decision.

We will start by covering the following:

  1. Chapter 7 vs Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California
  2. Calculating your California Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan payment
  3. California Means Testing
  4. Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing process in California
  5. California bankruptcy exemptions
  6. Bankruptcy courts and trustees in California
  7. Common Questions About Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California

Chapter 7 vs Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California

There are key differences between Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy that you need to be aware of.

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy case requires that you pass the bankruptcy means test to receive a bankruptcy discharge (forgiveness). If your income exceeds the means test, you may not qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That said, you may still qualify if you have certain expenses or primarily have business debts. Chapter 7’s purpose is to provide debt relief to those who don’t have the means to pay back their debts.

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is designed for those who can repay at least a portion of their debts. That said, they may need help restructuring their debt into a payment plan. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtors propose a payment plan to repay some or all of their debts.

That said, your Chapter 13 plan payment is based on numerous factors that we will cover next.

Calculating your California Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan payment

Your Chapter 13 plan payment depends specifically on your finances. To estimate your plan payment, you can use Ascend’s free Chapter 13 bankruptcy calculator that mirrors the bankruptcy forms.

Let’s cover the factors that are included in your Chapter 13 plan payment

Disposable Income

The amount of your disposable income each month after you subtract your allowable expenses and deductions can have implications on your plan payment. The disposable income is subtracted from your monthly income before taxes.

Recent Purchases

Your recent financial purchases could have some implications on your Chapter 13 monthly payment.


The value of your assets could increase the amount of your monthly plan payment. For example, this can happen if you have a home that has a large amount of equity above the allowable California bankruptcy exemption.

We will cover the California bankruptcy exemptions below and how they can affect your Chapter 13 payment plan.


Some debt has to be paid through the Chapter 13 plan. These debts could include taxes, alimony, administrative costs, attorney fees, and child support. Many of these debts are considered priority unsecured debts.

You may also be responsible to pay back part or 100% of your unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, personal loans, and medical bills. For example, this can make your Chapter 13 plan payment very expensive, so you may want to estimate your plan payment with a free Chapter 13 bankruptcy calculator.

Finally, you may be able to catch up on back car payments and mortgage payments as well.

California Means Testing

The bankruptcy filing process in California requires that you come to a means test. The means test calculates your annual median income, disposable income, and your average monthly income.

These figures are important in your Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

How to Calculate Average Monthly Income

Your average monthly income (also known as AMI) is calculated by taking all the household income 6 months prior to filing your case. The total of your income is divided by 6. The output is considered your AMI.

For example, let’s say your household size is 4 and you made $24,000 in the past 6 months when adding it all together. Your AMI would be $4,000.

Next you multiple your AMI by 12. Using the example, your annual income is $48,000.

The annual median income is often used in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case to determine if you can do a 36 month or 60-month plan.

If your income exceeds the California median income level, you have to submit a 60-month plan instead of a 36-month plan. If your median income is below the median income in California, you may qualify for a 36-month plan.

Some may still choose a 60-month plan based on their specific needs.

So, what’s the median income for qualification in California?

The median income in California for bankruptcy cases is set by the Trustee’s office. The office revises the data, so you can check the means-testing website, and scroll down to the data required fields to select the most current month.

Using the example above, you would compare the $48,000 for a household size of 4 with the table below. If it’s higher, you may have to do a 60-month Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan.

Below are the California median income levels for cases filed on or after May 15th, 2021. You would add $9,000 per household member after a household size of 4.

# of People Annual Income

1 $62,938

2 $83,435

3 $92,735

4 $106,530

How to Calculate Disposable Income

The next part of the means test is designed for you to calculate your disposable income.

In most cases, 100% of your disposable income has to be put into your Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan payment to repay your unsecured creditors. Unsecured creditors such as credit cards and personal loans typically only receive a small portion of the money owed to them in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan.

Consequently, most unsecured debts are forgiven or discharged upon successful completion of your plan.

That said, there are only specific living expenses that may be deducted from your average monthly income. For example, many payroll deductions are allowed expenses. For more information, the US trustee’s office publishes a list of expenses that are allowed by household size. These expenses include household supplies, food, etc.

If your expenses exceed the maximum amount, you may have to get approval and provide proof of the expenses.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing process in California

You may want to understand the Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing process in California. Firstly, you should consider districts in California. Where you live determines which district you file your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. You also will be assigned a  California Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee who is the administer of the case.

Bankruptcy Districts in California

Northern District

  • Phillip Burton Federal Building
    & United States Courthouse
    450 Golden Gate Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94102
  • Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building
    & United States Courthouse
    1301 Clay Street
    Oakland, CA 94612
  • Robert F. Peckham Federal Building
    & United States Courthouse
    280 South 1st Street, Room 2112
    San Jose, CA 95113
  • United States Courthouse
    3140 Boeing Avenue
    McKinleyville, CA 95519


  • Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse
    2500 Tulare Street
    Fresno, CA 93721
  • Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
    501 "I" Street
    Sacramento, CA 95814


  • 350 W 1st Street, Suite 4311
    Los Angeles, CA 90012-4565
  • 255 East Temple Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012-3332
  • 3470 Twelfth Street
    Riverside, CA 92501-3801
  • 411 West 4th Street, Room 1053
    Santa Ana, CA 92701-4516


  • 221 West Broadway
    San Diego, CA 92101
  • 333 West Broadway
    San Diego, CA 92101
  • 2003 W. Adams Ave, Ste 220
    El Centro, CA 92243

The process to file your Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California is the same. Firstly, you need to understand whether Chapter 13 bankruptcy is right for you, decide whether to hire a Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney, fill out the bankruptcy form, and attend the appropriate meetings.

California Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustees

The Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustees manage the Chapter 13 process. You can find the list of trustees here or you can see the list below. Please note that the Chapter 13 trustee program do not administer bankruptcy in both Alabama and North Carolina.

Let’s go through the steps.

1. Decide whether Chapter 13 bankruptcy is right for you in California

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be expensive. For example, if your disposable income is high, your Chapter 13 plan payment may be too high.

Ascend’s free Chapter 13 calculator can help you estimate your Chapter 13 plan payment.

You may want to consider the following before making a decision:

  1. Are you able to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?
  2. If you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, would you lose any belongings?
  3. What would your debt settlement plan payment be compared to Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

You can also question whether your income would increase or decrease over the next 5 years. Is your income consistent?

2. Locate A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Attorney in California

Many people choose to hire a Chapter 13 attorney when filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California. Chapter 13 bankruptcy are often not simple. The Chapter 13 plan requires extensive experience and knowledge.

Someone who does not understand Chapter 13 bankruptcy law and local rules in California could pay much more to get them out of debt.

Here are some benefits of hiring a Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney in California:

  1. A legal advocate who understands federal and California bankruptcy laws
  2. Helps you determine differences between filing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy
  3. Can help calculate the lowest Chapter 13 plan payment
  4. Completes and files all required bankruptcy documentation
  5. Reminds you of the hearings and deadlines of the case
  6. Guides you through the process and supports you at the hearings
  7. Protects you from aggressive creditors.
  8. Helps you understand how to keep your property, including your automobile and home.

Finally, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help you avoid costly eros that could hurt your chances of the bankruptcy discharge.

3. Complete Your Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Forms

As part of the Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, you are often required to complete two bankruptcy courses. Many of these courses are available online for a small fee. The course may take 1-2 hours to complete.

Here’s the list of approved cases in California:

It’s a good idea to check to make sure that you are choosing one from an approved provider. The credit counseling course must be completed before you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California. You must complete the debtor education course after filing the Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition.

You may consider completing the second course soon after filing the Chapter 13 bankruptcy case to make sure you do not forget to do that.

4. File your California Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case may consist of over 100 pages. You have to complete the bankruptcy approved forms and any local California bankruptcy forms required by the course.

Your Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney often compiles and reviews these forms to ensure the accuracy of the case.

Here’s some example information included in your California Chapter 13 bankruptcy case:

  • Personal property
  • Income
  • Debts
  • Expenses
  • Exemptions
  • Real estate
  • Co-debtors
  • Leases and other contracts

You may also have to complete the statement of financial affairs that has two dozen questions about different financial transactions. Your bankruptcy attorney can assist you to gather the information for the bankruptcy forms.

California bankruptcy exemptions

In bankruptcy, there are two types of bankruptcy exemptions: 1) State bankruptcy exemptions 2) Federal bankruptcy exemptions. For your information, California is a place that does not allow you to utilize the federal exemptions.

Below are some of the bankruptcy exemptions in California. Please check the full list of exemptions for updates.

Homestead Exemption

In many states, the bankruptcy exemption is based on your age and whether you are married.

  • Single and under 65: $600,000
  • Married and under 65: $600,000
  • Single is 65 or older: $600,000
  • Married is 65 or older: $600,000

homestead exemption text California: "New Language as of January 1, 2021: Gavin Newsome signed into law the Assembly Bill CA 1885 that passed on September 18, 2020, the updated language: 704.730. (a) The amount of the homestead exemption is the greater of the following: (1) The countywide median sale price for a single-family home in the calendar year prior to the calendar year in which the judgment debtor claims the exemption, not to exceed six hundred thousand dollars ($600,000). (2) Three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000). (b) The amounts specified in this section shall adjust annually for inflation, beginning on January 1, 2022, based on the change in the annual California Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the prior fiscal year, published by the Department of Industrial Relations." (Source)

Automobile Exemption

The California automobile exemption is $3,325.

Tools of Trade Exemption

The California tools of the trade  exemption is $8,725.

Wildcard Exemption

The California wildcard bankruptcy exemption is $1,425.

Jewelry Exemption

The California jewelry exemption  is $8,725.

Please check the full list of exemptions to understand whether there may be special handling for the exemptions above.

FAQS of filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California

Let’s cover some of the most common questions of filing a California Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

How much does it cost to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California?

One of the most common questions is, "What is the average cost of bankruptcy attorney?".

There are 4 main costs of filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California. We will state with the most expensive to least expensive option.

1) Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney fees in California

The Chapter 13 bankruptcy fee is often the same throughout bankruptcy district(s) in California. For example, the attorney fee in Los Angeles may be the same as San Jose if they are in the same district.

The attorney fee is often based on the no-look fee, which is defined as the reasonable fee to do the service.

The Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney cost in California estimate between $3300 - $4800. This fee can depend on the district.

2) Chapter 13 filing fee

You are required to pay a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing fee. This fee is $313.00. You may have to pay certain miscellaneous fees.

3) Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Courses

You will be responsible for the credit counseling and debtor education course. These courses may cost between $10 - $50 each.

4) Miscellaneous Costs

You may have to pay miscellaneous costs such as travel to the 341 meeting of creditors. You may have to pay for postage and potentially a credit report if the attorney does not cover that cost for you.

How often can you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

There’s no limit to the number of bankruptcy cases a person can file, but there is a waiting time for getting a bankruptcy discharge, a legal order that forgives your debt. For example, a common question is: Can I file Chapter 13 after Chapter 7?

Here are the two times you need to know about filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy:

  1. 4 years - You have to wait 4 years after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
  2. 2 Years - You have to wait 2 years after filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to file another Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

You may want to speak with your bankruptcy attorney to ensure that you understand your specific situation.

What are the benefits of filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California?

Here are some benefits of filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California:

  1. Prevents foreclosure by allowing you to catch up on your mortgage payments in 3 or 5 years.
  2. Prevents repossession and allows you often to keep your vehicle.
  3. Stops garnishment, debt collection lawsuits, seizures and levies
  4. Stops creditor calls
  5. Allows you to catch up on alimony and child support arrears
  6. Can help resolve tax debt and IRS issues
  7. Allows you to sometimes get relief from unsecured debt
  8. Protects your property
  9. You may be able to get discharged from a second mortgage
  10. You may be able to pay less than owed for a secured lien on your automobile.

Lastly, you may also get peace of mind and git rid of stress and anxiety from dealing with the debt challenges by filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California. That said, before filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you may also want to consider your alternatives, which we will cover below.

Finally, you may want to consider the Chapter 13 disadvantages. For example, a common question is about getting a loan in bankruptcy. You may want to consider: Can you get a loan while in chapter 13.  Getting a loan or a mortgage can be difficult in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, so it's important to measure the pros and cons.

What Are alternatives to filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

There are 3 common alternatives to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California. Let’s cover each one of them.

Debt settlement

Debt settlement is one of the most common alternatives to Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This debt relief solution is a restructuring debt in a payment plan, similar to Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

It can last up to 5 years or as little as 1 year or less. The debt settlement company tries to negotiate to lower the total amount of your debt. For example, a debt settlement company may try to negotiate a $10,000 debt to $5,000, then take a $1,500 fee. You may save money in this case.

In debt settlement, you may have more payment flexibility and the plan payment may be cheaper than a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in some conditions. That said, you do not get court protection from creditors, wage garnishment, foreclosure, etc.

Debt management

Debt management, also known as credit counseling, is another common alternative to Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The purpose of a debt management plan is to reduce your interest rates. For example, you may see your interest rate reduction from 24% to 11%. Debt management is also often a 36 to 60-month plan.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often referred to as liquidation bankruptcy. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy is for those who cannot afford to repay their debts. You often have to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy by being below the means test for California. You may not be able to protect belongings above the exemption, but you often are able to get discharged in as little as 120 days. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often the least expensive debt relief option. For example, the estimated attorney fee in California is $900 - $2000. Finally, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years instead of the 7 years for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.


Hopefully, this guide can help you understand more about filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy in California. Feel free to reach out to us directly or check out our Chapter 13 bankruptcy tips and tricks or any of our other Chapter 13 bankruptcy resources.

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