11 Things Business Owners Should Know About Chapter 11

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It’s not uncommon for business owners to worry about paying creditors, especially if the business is relatively new and needs help with day-to-day operational costs. But when your business is struggling with debt to the point that it can barely stay afloat, it might be time to consider filing for bankruptcy.

Several different types of bankruptcy exist, according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a special type that’s primarily used by businesses that are trying to remain open but need some time to reorganize. Read on to learn how Chapter 11 can work as a solution to potentially allow your company to move forward after bankruptcy.

What You Need to Know About Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Generally used by businesses, Chapter 11 can be an effective financial strategy. Before committing to this option, first understand some important facts. Here are 11 things business owners should know about Chapter 11 bankruptcy:

1. Bankruptcy Doesn’t Have to Be the End of the Business

Many people might think of a business declaring bankruptcy as the end of the line for that company — but it doesn’t have to be. The purpose of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for a business is to have time to create a plan to repay some of its debts without having to deal with a constant barrage of debt collection efforts.

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Related: The Top 10 Free Resources and Tools for Small Business Owners

2. You Don’t Always Have to Close Shop During the Process

Filing Chapter 11 doesn’t mean that the company automatically must be shut down for a period of time or that you will lose control of the company. In many Chapter 11 cases, you will be a “debtor in possession,” which means you can remain in possession of the company and all of its assets and continue to operate your business during the bankruptcy proceeding.

In some cases, however, the court will appoint a bankruptcy trustee to oversee the business if it has a good reason, such as fraud or gross mismanagement of your business.

3. Court Approval Is Required for Major Decisions

As a debtor in possession, you don’t have quite the same level of control as you did before the bankruptcy filing: The bankruptcy court must approve all major decisions, such as selling assets, making or breaking leases and retaining outside professionals like lawyers.

To grant you more operating capital for your business, the court might approve a lender to make a loan and give that lender “superiority,” which means that new lender would be paid before other unsecured creditors.

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4. Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Can Be Voluntary

A Chapter 11 filing can be voluntary or involuntary, depending on the circumstances. In a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the debtor is the one who files the petition.

In an involuntary situation, three or more creditors file a petition. Although a debtor can contest an involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the proceeding will restrict the company’s ability to continue to do business as it has in the past.

5. You Don’t Create a Reorganization Plan

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the debtor has the first chance to propose a plan of reorganization. Unless the court intervenes, the debtor typically has 120 days to propose a plan. The court can shorten or extend this period under special circumstances.

To be confirmed, the reorganization plan must have a reasonable chance of success and be in the best interest of the creditors. Each creditor must receive as much or more as it would if the bankruptcy proceeding were converted to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is when the company is immediately liquidated.

Learn: 10 US Cities That Have Gone Bankrupt

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6. Creditors Are Treated Differently

Under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, different types of creditors can be treated differently in the reorganization plan. Secured creditors — that is, creditors who have a security interest in collateral — must be paid at least the value of the collateral under any plan of reorganization.

For example, if the creditor is owed $60,000, but has a security interest in collateral valued at $50,000, the creditor must receive at least $50,000 from the business under the reorganization plan. Unsecured creditors have no collateral and take lower priority under the debt reorganization plan, which means that they might get much less than what they are owed, depending on what assets are left after the secured debts are paid.

7. Chapter 11 Doesn’t Require a Creditor’s Committee

When a debtor is a small business engaged in commercial or business activities and the total non-contingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts are $2,566,050 or less, the court doesn’t have to appoint a creditor’s committee. This can make the process less expensive for the debtor.

Learn: 15 Companies That Failed Big Before Getting It Right

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8. Declaring Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Doesn’t Guarantee Cash Flow

When you file bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect that prevents almost all creditors from taking action against you for a limited period of time. The intent is that the business, as the debtor, will have a short period of time to create a plan of reorganization free from harassment and legal actions against it by creditors.

The stay remains in effect until the end of the proceeding or until the court modifies it. Although an automatic stay limits creditor actions against your business, it doesn’t mean creditors are required to continue to lend additional money to the company, which can create a cash flow problem.

9. Declaring Bankruptcy Costs Money

Courts are required to charge you $1,167 as a case filing fee and $550 as a miscellaneous administrative fee when you file for bankruptcy. The court can permit you to pay both the case filing fee and the miscellaneous administrative fee over time if you can’t pay it all at once. You’re limited to no more than four installments per fee, the last of which must be paid no later than 120 days after you file.

10. You’ll Need a Lawyer

Filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy for your business isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, and you should make sure to get good advice throughout the process.

“In order to make the best choice, you should hire a lawyer or attorney with specific experience in this area,” said David Bakke of Money Crashers. “It can be expensive but might be your only option if you want to continue to do business throughout the process. There are also some special circumstances which exist when choosing this option that can potentially be beneficial to the small business owner.”

11. Owners Get Paid Last

Equity owners in the company cannot retain any assets or profits until all of the creditors, including unsecured creditors, are paid in full. For example, you can’t say that you’ll pay creditors 30 cents for every dollar you owe them and sell business assets to pay the debt — but then keep the $30,000 cash that’s in the company’s bank account. When you don’t pay your creditors, you can’t cash out, either.

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