Chapter 7 Trustees are Wolverines

03 Jul Chapter 7 Trustees are Wolverines

Explaining the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be difficult. There are the obvious ones: Chapter 7 doesn’t involve payments to creditors, and Chapter 13 does. And you can cure your mortgage arrears in Chapter 13 but not in Chapter 7.

And there are many others.

But what about the differences in the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees?

chapter 7 trustees wolverinesI found myself explaining this to a client the other day, and it just came out: “A Chapter 7 trustee is like a hungry wolverine,” I said. “He only gets paid $60 a case, which might be enough to pay a staff member’s salary and nothing more. To make money, he’s got to find assets so he can get a commission when those assets are distributed. If he doesn’t he can’t make any money.”

The Chapter 7 trustee: The Wolverine

My wolverine metaphor sprang from watching the National Geographic documentary, “The Phantom Wolverine.” The wolverine covers a large territory–up to 15 miles in a day–can kill animals several times its size, and has the ability to smell food through several feet of snow. Yep, that’s our Chapter 7 trustee. He’s paid by the case, and if he doesn’t find assets, he starves.

This underscores the need to do your homework before you are in sight of the wolverine–err, I mean Chapter 7 trustee. Once you file, it’s sort of like the mob, there’s (almost) no gettin’ out. And this hungry animal will be all over your case. Sniff, sniff.

The Chapter 13 trustee: The Koala?

I wanted to have this nailed down prior to writing this post, but I don’t–hence, the question mark. So far, though, I’m leaning toward the Koala as the Chapter 13 trustee. He stays in place, feeds off eucalyptus leaves, and doesn’t need to roam around for his food. In short, he stays in his office and is fed a diet of close to $200,000 regardless of how many cases he administers or whether he finds assets. His job is the dream job of the bankruptcy system. (I’m now day dreaming about it…)

But of course he can bite, so don’t play games with him, either. Ever seen an angry Koala?

Why do I care?

You care because you might have a case where you have more assets than you can exempt (keep). In Chapter 13, as long as you pay in that amount, less administrative costs of sale and the hypothetical Chapter 7 trustee’s fees and commissions, you can keep your kill–your assets, that is. Chapter 7 offers no similar option. Pay up or the wolverine is going to take it from you.

And then there’s the practical aspect of dealing with the Chapter 13 trustee. She doesn’t have any personal stake in your assets. She’s not getting a commission or attorneys fees when she finds them or administers them. She wants you to pay in what’s required, and she’ll leave you alone. Most importantly, if you don’t like the deal she’s proposing, you can get out–dismiss your case. (See “Chapter 13 Bankruptcy and the ‘Mulligan Rule'” for more information this.)

Being in bankruptcy for five months instead of three to five years is appealing, but you need to keep in mind the differences between the chapters and, perhaps most importantly in many cases, the difference between the trustees.


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Russell A. DeMott is a Charleston, South Carolina bankruptcy lawyer who represents consumer debtors in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. He is the author of the Charleston Bankruptcy Blog. He is also a member of the South Carolina Bankruptcy Blog. He files bankruptcy cases for clients in the Charleston, South Carolina division, which runs from Myrtle Beach to Beaufort. The DeMott Law Firm also represents clients in foreclosure defense and mortgage modification. You can also connect with Russ on Google Plus Russell DeMott. Russ can be contacted directly at (843) 695-0830 or by email at
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