This discharge entered by the court in a bankruptcy case is the golden rod of every bankruptcy – the thing every debtor needs and/or wants in order to get their life back on track and enjoy their fresh start.  The discharge order is the court order that tells your creditors that they are prohibited by federal law from ever attempting to collect discharged debt from you again.  Getting a discharge is different from having the case dismissed – in fact – having the case dismissed is actually a bad thing.  It means that you did not get your discharge, and it may affect the automatic stay in a future filing.  So, to recap my point up to here: Dismissal is bad – discharge is good.  It is NOT however, the end all-be all of your case.

See, Congress actually had a little bit of foresight when the figured out this system:  They realized that the discharge is the order that protects the debtor, and they realized that the asset administration of the case can take quite some time. Under normal circumstances it would neither be fair, nor good for the debtor to have to wait for the trustee to finish up the case administration before a discharge is entered.

If you remember your Chapter 7 basics, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a ‘liquidation bankruptcy’ and it is the trustee’s job to review your schedules and statements to determine whether you have any assets that are not protected by law that he has to liquidate in order to pay your creditors.  Well, you can imagine that while that may be easy-breezy for most Chapter 7 debtors – it can take quite some time for others, and the same rules apply to all.  Furthermore, as part of the asset administration in your case, the trustee can keep the case open to wait for your tax return to be filed.

This is why there are two tracks and here they are:

  1. Discharge Track: If you fulfill all requirements to be eligible for a discharge (in short: pre-filing counseling, eligible for Chapter 7, post-filing counseling, attendance of 341 Meeting of Creditors) then the court will enter your discharge approximately 90 days after your creditors meeting has been concluded.
  2. Case Administration Track: Your trustee can make a determination that there are not assets in your case and file a “Report of No Distribution.”  If so, your case will be closed by the court shortly after the discharge has been entered.  However, if the trustee does not file this report, and he is working on liquidating your assets, or working on figuring out whether there are any assets, then you case will likely stay open for a little while longer after the discharge has been entered.  He may even ask you for some additional information during that time, and it is your duty to cooperate with the trustee.

The main things to keep in mind during case administration process are (a) the trustee has the power to ask the court to revoke your discharge if you are not cooperating with him; and (b) don’t forget the big picture:  Yes it may be temporarily painful to give up most or all of your tax refund, or to pay for the privilege of keeping a non-protected asset – but that is usually a small price to pay when compared to the tens or hundreds of thousands of $$$ you are discharging.

In summary, once your discharge is entered the main hurdles have been met, and the main goal has been reached, but your case is not yet closed.  The court will enter a separate case closed order at a later time and only then is your case truly and unequivocally “done.”

Advertisements