Rethinking Chapter 13

As was true of its predecessor under the Bankruptcy Act of 1898, chapter 13 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code has never worked out as well as Congress hoped. Intended to be a superior vehicle to liquidation that allows a debtor to retain her nonexempt property and some measure of self-respect, debtors have instead overwhelmingly chosen to eschew chapter 13 in favor of obtaining a chapter 7 discharge and moving along with their fresh start. This Article adopts the position that the concept of individual debt adjustment has merit; it has just not been constructed properly and, in recent years, Congress’s efforts in the field have been a step in the wrong direction. This Article maintains that by employing the conceptual model of settlement, with its entailments of cooperation and reasonable accommodation, many of the current issues plaguing chapter 13 can be resolved. Furthermore, future reform can produce a vibrant and useful facility for individual debt adjustment that redounds to the benefit of not only system participants, but also the aggregate social good.