Bankruptcy Glossary

Short definitions of frequently encountered bankruptcy terms. Select a term for more information and links to other pages discussing the subject.

Click one of the letters above to advance the page to terms beginning with that letter.


Release of property from the bankruptcy estate by the trustee due to its inconsequential value or burdensome nature. Abandoned property may return to the debtor.
Above Median Income Debtors
Debtors filing bankruptcy whose household income over the prior 6 months was higher than the state median for families of the same size. This concept is part of means testing.
Adequate Protection
Adequate protection is the concept that secured creditors deserve assurances that their interest in collateral is protected in bankruptcy from loss of value. Lack of adequate protection can be grounds for relief from the automatic stay.
Adequate Protection Payment
In chapter 13 bankruptcy, an adequate protection payment is a small disbursement by the trustee of funds early in the bankruptcy case to compensate a secured creditor for depreciation of collateral.
Adversary Proceeding
An adversary proceeding is a bankruptcy court lawsuit. The name comes from the fact that unlike a bankruptcy case such as one generated by filing a chapter 7 petition, an adversary proceeding has adversarial parties: plaintiff(s) and defendant(s). Usually at least one party is a debtor, creditor, or bankruptcy trustee.
The amount of loan that is overdue for payment. Most frequently refers to a mortgage arrearage, which is paid explicitly in some chapter 13 plan where a mortgage default is being cured.

Synonyms: Arrears

In bankruptcy, assets are valuable things that the debtor owns. Assets include physical items like houses and cars, financial assets like accounts and stocks, and even contingent asset like unasserted possible lawsuits. If it is owned and has value, might have value, or may generate value, it is probably an asset.
Automatic Stay
On filing a bankruptcy case, a injunction against collection activity is automatically entered, preventing creditors from taking the debtor's property. Creditors may seek relief from the stay to terminate the injunction.


Bankruptcy Administrator
In North Carolina, each judicial district has a Bankruptcy Administrator or BA who fulfill the duties typical of the United States Trustee, including administrative and oversight functions. Unlike the US Trustee in the Department of Justice, the Bankruptcy Administrator is an independent official within the federal judiciary.
Bankruptcy Eligibility
Rules concerning income, debt, and previous bankruptcies that influence what sort of bankruptcy relief is available to a debtor.
Bankruptcy Estate
Filing bankruptcy creates an estate holding all legal and equitable interests of the debtor. Some property may be exempt from the estate, and in chapter 13 the debtor typically retains use of the property of the estate.
Bankruptcy Judge
Bankruptcy Judges are federal judges appointed by the circuit court of appeals for 14 year terms. Each case will be assigned to one judge within the district the case has been filed in.
The best interests of creditors or "liquidation test" is a requirement in reorganization bankruptcy, such as chapter 13, that creditors are not worse of than they would have been in chapter 7. In short, if a debtor's property would have provided money for creditors when sold in chapter 7, the debtor must propose to pay the same amount to creditors over the life of a chapter 13 plan.

Synonyms: liquidation test


Chapter 13 Debt Limit
Requirement of 11 USC 109(e) concerning the maximum debt of a chapter 13 debtor. As of April 2010, this was $360,475 unsecured debt and $1,081,400 secured debt. These limits only apply to noncontingent liquidated debts, and are periodically adjusted for inflation.
Chapter 13 Disbursement
The debtor pays a chapter 13 plan payment to the standing trustee. From the funds on hand, the trustee makes disbursements to creditors according the plan, rule, and statute.
Chapter 13 Plan
The plan is a central document in a chapter 13 bankruptcy, which, among other thing, provides the amount to paid by the debtor and the amount to be received by creditors. A debtor proposes the plan, which must meet the requirements of the bankruptcy code and be confirmed by a bankruptcy judge.
Chapter 20 Bankruptcy
There is no Chapter 20 of the Bankruptcy Code. Instead, "Chapter 20" is a nickname for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy followed shortly by a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. The subsequent Chapter 13 case is used to clean up issues left unaddressed or arising after the Chapter 7, frequently with a secured debt.
Charitable Contribution
Cash or financial instruments given to charity by an individual debtor. The scope is otherwise similar to tax-deductable charitable gifts, and the bankruptcy code permits certain amounts of charitable giving prior to and during bankruptcy.
Claim Bifurcation
A process under section 506 of the bankruptcy code where a claim from a creditor is separated into a secured claim and unsecured claim. The value of the collateral property determines the extent of the secured portion of the claim. Not all claims can be bifurcated.
Classification of Claims
A chapter 13 plan may provide for multiple classes of unsecured claims, which may be treated or paid differently. Most commonly encountered for debts where an non-debtor has co-signed and in joint petitions where a husband and wife have significantly different individual assets.
Co-debtor Stay
Special to Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the co-debtor stay of section 1301 stays collection activity against individuals who are jointly obligated on non-business debts together with the bankruptcy debtor.
College Savings Exemption
An exemption under North Carolina law providing limited protection for section 529 qualified educational savings accounts.
Confirmation is the process where a proposed bankruptcy plan (in chapter 13 and other chapters) is approved by the bankruptcy court and becomes binding on all parties, including the debtor and the creditors.
A bankruptcy case may be converted from one chapter to another. The most common conversions are from chapter 13 to chapter 7 and from chapter 7 to chapter 13. Conversion may be initiated by the debtor or by other parties, and particular rules exist as to when and how certain conversions may proceed.
Cram-down refers to a creditor being forced to accept bankruptcy plan treatment of its claim. While the term best refers to chapter 11 bankruptcy where creditors have explicit votes, it is also sometimes used to refer to chapter 13 plans forcing secured creditors to modify their claims.
Credit card
Credit cards are one of the most common forms of unsecured debt. They are revolving lines of credit, where money is borrowed and repaid on an ongoing basis. Oftentimes, a combination of extraordinarily high interest charges and many fees will result in debtors having credit card balance far greater than the amount they originally borrowed. Occasionally, the age of the credit card debt and what was purchased will matter in bankruptcy proceeding.
Creditor Misconduct
In the context of bankruptcy, the most common creditor misconduct is violation of the automatic stay--improper collection during the case, and violation of the discharge injunction--acts to collect discharged debts after the bankruptcy. Creditors may have also violated fair debt collection laws prior to bankruptcy.
Cure and Maintain
For long-term debts, where payments would still be due after the 3 to 5 years of a chapter 13 bankruptcy, section 1322(b)(5) offers debtors the option to cure any default, i.e. pay back a past due balance, and maintain the regular monthly payment. This is an exception to the general rule that secured creditors' claims are paid off by the chapter 13 plan, and is most commonly used for mortgage type debts.
Current monthly income
A term of art in bankruptcy, current monthly income is a 6-month average of a debtor's income, with some exclusions, the most notable being social security benefits. Current monthly income is a part of means testing.


Debt Buyer
A debt buyer is a creditor who as purchased an account and right collect from an original creditor. The term usually refers to collections companies that have purchased an unsecured debt from a lender or service provider.
Deficiency Balance
A deficiency balance exists when a secured creditor liquidates their collateral (e.g. forecloses a house or repossesses and sells a car), but the proceeds of the sale bring less than the debt owed. In many cases, the creditor can seek to recover the balance of the debt as a deficiency. A deficiency balance is one major type of unsecured debt, generally subject to discharge.

Synonyms: Deficiency

The discharge is an order of the bankruptcy court ending personal liability on certain debts. The discharge is the instrument that erases debt and provides a fresh start to individual debtors.
Discharge Injunction
One effect of a bankruptcy discharge is the discharge injunction under 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(2). This injunction broadly prevents creditors from taking formal or informal action to collect on the personal liability of a pre-bankruptcy debt.
Dischargeability concerns whether any given claim can be discharged in the bankruptcy. When a claim is non-dischargable, it will survive the bankruptcy process intact.
A dismissal is a termination of a bankruptcy case without discharge. The debtor and his or her creditors have the same rights after dismissal as they had before the case was filed. Dismissal occurs for several reasons, including failure to comply with requirements of the bankruptcy code.
Disposable Income
In chapter 13, disposable income is the amount of income remaining after the deduction of reasonable expenses. For above median income debtors, the means test deductions provide what expenses are reasonable. A chapter 13 plan must pay the projected amount of disposable income to unsecured creditors.
Dividend to Unsecured Creditors
In chapter 13 plan, the proposed payment to unsecured creditors is sometimes expressed as a percentage dividend, namely a percentage of the amount of the creditor's allowed unsecured claim. For a plan that pays nothing to unsecured creditors, the dividend is 0%, while a pay-in-full plan provides a 100% dividend.

Synonyms: Unsecured Dividend

Domestic Support Obligation
In bankruptcy, a domestic support obligation is a debtor's obligation to pay either alimony or child support. Claims for domestic support obligations are priority claims and are non-dischargable in bankruptcy. They are either paid in bankruptcy or survive it as a debt of the debtor.


The net value of an asset to the debtor is often called the debtor's equity. For example, if a car is worth $10,000 and a car lender is owed $8,000, the debtor has $2,000 equity in the car. When the debt exceeds the value of the asset, this is referred to as "negative equity" or being "underwater".
Exemption Planning
The exercise of financial decision-making prior to bankruptcy to maximize how the exemption laws protect the debtor's property.
In bankruptcy, exemptions function as property allowances. The various statutory exemptions allow debtors to keep property up to a particular value instead of turning the property over to creditors.


In chapter 13 bankruptcy, feasibility is whether the plan is financially viable. Most often, the term refers to whether the debtor has sufficient income to make the proposed payments. Sometimes, the term is used in reference to whether the plan payment is large enough to pay out the claims provided for in the plan.
Filing Fee
The bankruptcy filing fee is paid to bankruptcy court at the time the bankruptcy case is opened. The fee varies based on the chapter of bankruptcy filed. There are also filing fees for miscellaneous items such as adding creditors to a bankruptcy case and converting from chapter 13 to chapter 7.
First Mortgage
It is possible to have more than one mortgage debt associated with a particular property. In that event, one mortgage lender has first-dibs on the property via foreclosure, typically due to it being an earlier lender. Such lender is termed more senior than the other more junior mortgage lender(s). If the first mortgage holder forecloses, the foreclosure wipes out the junior mortgages along with the debtor's interest in the property.

Synonyms: Senior Mortgage

Fraudulent Transfer
A transfer before bankruptcy that deplete or shelters the debtor's assets, done with either actual fraudulent intent or under circumstances that the law implies fraud. Particular statutory rules determine if a transfer is fraudulent and might be avoided by a bankruptcy trustee.


General Unsecured Debt
A general unsecured claim is an unsecured claim, i.e. a claim without any associated collateral, which is not entitled to priority treatment under the bankruptcy code. Means testing for chapter 13 is largely concerned with what payments, if any, the general unsecured creditors are to receive.
Gross Income
Gross income is income before taxes and other withholdings, in contrast to net income, which is "take-home pay."


Hardship Discharge
A hardship discharge is a particular type chapter 13 discharge, granted under 1328(b). Unlike the standard discharge, a hardship discharge does not require completion of the chapter 13 plan. A hardship discharge can not be used if plan modification is practicable, if the debtor is accountable for the circumstances that caused failure of the plan, of if the plan has not paid to unsecured creditors at least what they would have received in a chapter 7.
Health Aides Exemption
The health aides exemption is an exemption under North Carolina law allowing a debtor to keep certainly professionally prescribed health aides through a bankruptcy.
Homestead Exemption
Via a homestead exemption, a debtor may keep his or her residential property through bankruptcy. If the North Carolina homestead exemption is applicable for a debtor, he or she can protect up to $35,000 of value in his or her share of the residence.
Household Property Exemption
North Carolina law allows debtors to exempt and keep through a bankruptcy a certain amount of household and personal property. Almost all debtors claiming North Carolina exemptions use this exemption to protect their clothing, personal effects, and household items such as televisions.
Household Size
In individual bankruptcy cases, household size influences the outcome of means testing. Larger households must have higher amounts of income before the means test applies. Means test expense allowances also increase with household size.


An inheritance received by a bankruptcy debtor is often property of the estate and turned over to creditors. Inheritances and "heir property" needs to be disclosed in the bankruptcy process.
A person or business entity with a close relationship to the debtor. Common examples of insider relationships include relative-to-relative, partner-to-partnership, director/officer-to-corporation, or partner-to-partner. The full scope of insider is defined in section 101(31) of the bankruptcy code.
Involuntary Bankruptcy
An involuntary bankruptcy is commenced by creditors against a debtor. If the court grants an order for relief, the case proceeds in most respects like a normal voluntary bankruptcy. There is significant liability risk to petitioning creditors, so involuntary cases are quite rare, particularly against individual persons.


Joint debt
Usually, the term joint debt refers to debts owed by both husband and wife in a joint bankruptcy petition.
Joint Petition
A joint petition is a bankruptcy petition filed by both a husband and a wife.
A judgment (or judgement) is final order of a court granting relief in favor of one party against another. A money judgment is a determination that a defendant owes an amount of money to the plaintiff. A holder of a judgment is entitled to use legal process to obtain property from the defendant/judgment debtor.
Judgment Lien
A judgment lien covers all real estate owned by a debtor in a county where the judgment is of record. The lien also includes property purchased after the judgment was entered. The creditor may foreclose upon the property to seek payment of the judgment debt. In some cases, bankruptcy may be used to remove judgment liens from property.
Judicial Estoppel
A common law doctrine that prevents a party from taking a position in one case that is different than one he or she maintained and benefited from in an earlier proceeding. Frequently arises when bankruptcy debtors fail to disclose an asset and then post-bankruptcy assert in court they own it.


Lien Avoidance
Avoidance of liens refers to using bankruptcy powers to remove a lien from property so that the former lienholder loses rights to sell that collateral to pay the debt.
When a claim is liquidated, there has been a legal determination of how much is owed.
Look-back Period
A look-back period is a window of time into the past where facts or transactions are relevant to application of a particular law. Most commonly refers to the periods of time prior to filing bankruptcy where transfers can be scrutinized as preferential or fraudulent, but may refer to any of the numerous time periods computed into the past based upon the petition date.
Luxury Goods
Luxury goods are non-essential items of property. What exactly is a luxury item may be different from person-to-person based on the context of the item. In bankruptcy, purchases of luxury goods on credit within 90 days of filing may result in a nondischargable debt for those items that survives bankruptcy.


Means Testing
Under the 2005 bankruptcy law, a statutory means test is used to determine what income the debtor should devote to repaying debts. Applicable both to chapter 7 and chapter 13, the means test first compares a debtor's household gross income to the North Carolina median, and if above that median, then applies series of expense allowances loosely associated with the debtor's actual expenses.
Median Income
The means test compares a debtor's gross income to that of the state's median income. This figure, as published by the United States Trustee, represents the income level of a household what would fall in the middle of a ranked list of households by income. If you have exactly the median household income, the same number of households have more income than you as the number of households that have less income than you. Median income does not account for county-to-county variation in income levels.
Meeting of Creditors
A 341 meeting of creditors occurs early in an bankruptcy case and is an opportunity for the bankruptcy trustee and creditors to inquire into the financial affairs of the debtor.

Synonyms: First Meeting 341 meeting

Mortgage Debt
Debt secured by either a mortgage or deed of trust on real property, such as a house and land. Foreclosure and sale of the property is a remedy available to the lender. Mortgage debt is a debt that was voluntarily incurred by the owner of the property, either for purchase of the property or at a later point, such as with a home equity line of credit.
Motor Vehicle Exemption
An exemption allowing a debtor to protect their ownership interest in a car through bankruptcy. If North Carolina exemptions apply for a debtor, he or she may exempt up to $3,500 in value in a single car via this exemption.


No-asset Chapter 7
When a chapter 7 bankruptcy case has no property available to pay unsecured creditors, it is referred to as a no-asset case. When exemptions are available to protect all of a debtor's property, this typically results in a no-asset chapter 7. In these cases, creditors may not even be asked to file claims.
Non-dischargeable Debt
A non-dischargeable debt is one unaffected by the bankruptcy discharge. The debtor continues to owe a non-dischargeable debt after bankruptcy has concluded.
When a claim is noncontigent, there are no remaining triggering events before liability exists. An example of a contingent claim would be one that the debtor is responsible for if and only if another party fails to pay, such as certain types of co-signed loans.


Petition Date
The date on which the bankruptcy petition is filed is commonly called the petition date. This date has important implications on what is in the bankruptcy estate and the details of creditor's claims, among other things. Many look-back periods concerning pre-bankruptcy activity are keyed to the petition date. In a voluntary bankruptcy, the debtor has control of the petition date and can use this ability to time the bankruptcy most advantageously.
Plan Modification
After confirmation, a chapter 13 plan may be modified to account for new circumstances. Modifications may affect plan payments, duration, and distributions. Modifications are typically initiated by the debtor or the standing trustee, although unsecured creditors may do so as well.
Plan Payment
In chapter 13, the plan payment is the amount the debtor pays to the trustee periodically to fund the chapter 13 plan. Typically, the payment is expressed in monthly terms, although some debtors pay on other frequencies, particularly those electing to have the payment withheld from their paychecks. The debtor proposes the initial plan payment, in an amount adequate to pay the debts proposed to be paid under the chapter 13 plan.
Preferential Transfer
A transfer to a creditor before bankruptcy that enhances the creditor's position compared to bankruptcy without the transfer. Particular statutory rules determine if a transfer is preferential and might be avoided by a bankruptcy trustee.
Presumption of Abuse
In chapter 7 bankruptcy, the means test is used to compare a debtor's recent income to certain expense allowances, and arrive at a statutory "disposable income". If this calculation shows disposable income over 60 months above $11,725, a presumption of abuse arises; if less than $7,025, a presumption does not arise. If between these two totals, the presumption arises only if the disposable income equals or exceeds 25% of general unsecured debt. A presumption can be rebutted by showing special circumstances; however, absent such showing a presumption of abuse will likely result in dismissal of the chapter 7 case.
Priority Claim
A priority claim is one entitled to special treatment under the bankruptcy code. Priority claims must be paid in full within chapter 13, and are paid first in chapter 7, before general unsecured debts. Taxes, child support, and alimony are common priority claims. Several priority claims are also nondischargable.
Pro Se Debtor
A debtor who has filed bankruptcy without the assistance of an attorney.
Proof of Claim
In bankruptcy, creditors file proofs of claim to establish their entitlement to be paid on a claim by the bankruptcy estate. Proofs of claim are presumed valid unless objected to by the trustee or another interested party (including the debtor).


When a debtor reaffirms a debt, they have voluntarily decided to waive the bankruptcy discharge for that debt and responsibility for payment of the debt will continue unchanged after bankruptcy. Reaffirmation agreements are most often used for car loans in chapter 7 bankruptcy.
In chapter 7, a debtor may redeem personal property from a secured creditor by paying the amount owed or the value of the property, whichever is less. The act of redeeming is a redemption. Statutory redemption does not apply to business property or business debts.

Synonyms: Redemption

Regular Income
Regular income is a statutory requirement for chapter 13 eligibility. Today, few constraints exist on the source of this income. Most common are wages, self employment income, social security, and unemployment compensation.
Bankruptcy cases are closed after the process has run its course. After such time, a case must be reopened before any matters would be considered by the Bankruptcy Judge, including matters concerned the enforcement and scope of the bankruptcy discharge.
Repossession is when a secured creditor exercises a contractual right to take possession of collateral following a default on a loan contract. Most frequently cars are the subject of repossession, but other sorts of collateral personal property can also be repossessed. The bankruptcy automatic stay prevents repossession.
Retirement Exemption
There is no single retirement exemption, but a multitude of exemptions and exclusions for a variety of different retirement plans or entitlements. North Carolina has an exemption for individual retirement accounts that comply with certain federal tax laws, or is a plan treated in the same fashion. Employer-sponsered retirement and public retirement benefits are often protected by other laws.
Retirement Funds
Debtors may have rights in several kinds of retirement funds, such as 401(k) plans; individual retirement accounts (IRAs); federal, state or private pensions; and social security.


Secured Debt
A secured debt or secured claim is one where the lender has some sort of collateral. A car loan or home mortgage would be the most common examples, but other debts may be secured as well, especially in business settings.
Short Sale
Sale of real property for less than the amount owed to the lender(s) secured by the property, with the lender agreeing to accept the short sale price to release its lien.
Social Security
Benefits under the Social Security Act receive protection and favorable treatment in bankruptcy. Retirement benefits and disability benefits are the most common benefits received by bankruptcy debtors.
Social Security Exemption
Federal non-bankruptcy law exempts social security benefits from most sorts of collection activity, including bankruptcy proceedings. This should not be confused with the statutory exclusion of social security benefits from current monthly income, which protects social security recipients from the means test.
Standing Trustee
The trustee in a chapter 13 case is a standing trustee who has been appointed to handle a large number of chapter 13 cases in a district, typically in one geographic area. The standing trustee is deeply involved in a chapter 13 case, including collecting the debtor's plan payments and distributing the proceeds to creditors.

Synonyms: Chapter 13 Trustee

Strip Off
A strip-off in bankruptcy is the removal of a lien on property due the associated loan being unsecured, i.e. that other more senior liens are for more than the property is worth. Strip-offs are routinely applied to underwater second and third mortgages in chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Student Loan
A student loan is one made for educational purposes, including both federal loans and most private educational loans. Student loans are not ordinarily discharged in bankruptcy.
A debtor surrenders property in bankruptcy when he or she releases it to a secured creditor to exercise its state law rights. In both chapter 7 and chapter 13, a debtor can surrender collateral. In most cases, surrendering collateral in bankruptcy does not change ownership of the property; foreclosure or other actions are still required.

Synonyms: Release Collateral


Tenancy by the entirety
A form of joint ownership of property by spouses. Neither spouse may sell the property or encumber it with liens, and the surviving spouse automatically gains the deceased spouse's share of the property. Creditors of only one spouse cannot satisfy their debts from property owned as tenants by the entireties.
Till Rate
The Till Rate, or Trustee's rate, is a presumptive interest rate used in chapter 13 cases paying off secured debts over the life of the chapter 13 plan. The rate takes its name from the Supreme Court case Till v. SCS Credit Corp., which affirmed the notion that interest in chapter 13 was combination of a risk factor and the prime rate. Currently, as of 2014, the Till Rate in Raleigh NC is 5.25%.

Synonyms: Trustee's Rate

Tools of the Trade Exemption
An exemption allowing debtors to keep tools of their trade or professional books in bankruptcy. North Carolina's exemption provides an allowance for $2,000 in value.
A transfer is broadly defined to include every mode of disposing of or parting with property or an interest in property. Transfers includes creating liens and other acts that do less that change outright ownership.
A trustee is appointed in each case to administer the bankruptcy estate. The chapter 7 trustee gathers and sells property, while the chapter 13 standing trustee collects plan payments. Trustees are private individuals, not government officials.


Uniform Commercial Code
The Uniform Commercial Code is state law governing a variety of commercial transactions and affairs. The North Carolina UCC is codified in Chapter 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Article 9 of the UCC provides important laws on secured debts.
United States Trustee
The United States Trustee (UST) program is a unit of the US Department of Justice, responsible for a number of administrative and oversight functions within the bankruptcy system. There is no US Trustee in North Carolina, which instead has Bankruptcy Administrators.
Unliquidated Claim
An unliquidated claim is one where there has not been a legal determination of how much is owed. Despite this uncertainty, such are still claims in bankruptcy under section 101(5) of the code.
When a secured loan is unperfected, the creditor has failed to properly take one or more steps to make its interest in the collateral safe from later third parties. Lack of perfection doesn't prevent repossession from the borrower, but may allow the bankruptcy trustee to avoid the lien for benefit of all creditors.
An unsecured debt or unsecured claim is one where the creditor does not have any rights in collateral. Strictly speaking, unsecured debt includes both general unsecured debt such as most credit cards, personal loans, unpaid bills, and student loans, as well as priority unsecured debt such as tax claims and alimony, although the term is sometimes used as a synonym for general unsecured debt.


In bankruptcy, venue refers to the particular federal judicial district or districts where it is proper for a bankruptcy case to heard. Federal statute (28 USC 1408) sets proper venue based on residence, domicile, principal place of business or place of principal assets in the 180 prior to the case being filed.


Wage Garnishment
A mechanism for forcing payment of a debt by withhold a portion of a paycheck. For most debts and judgments, North Carolina law does not permit wage garnishment.
Wild Card Exemption
A catch-all exemption debtors use to exempt property that does not fit within the limits or requirements of other exemption statutes. North Carolina exemptions provide a $5,000 wildcard if the debtor has left unused at least $5,000 of homestead exemption.