When the debtor completes payments pursuant to the terms of the plan, the court formally grant the debtor a discharge of the debts provided for in the plan. However, if the debtor fails to make the agreed upon payments or fails to seek or gain court approval of a modified plan, a bankruptcy court will normally dismiss the case on the motion of the trustee. After a dismissal, creditors may resume pursuit of state law remedies to recover the unpaid debt.
In Chapter 7, a debtor surrenders non-exempt property to a bankruptcy trustee, who then liquidates the property and distributes the proceeds to the debtor's unsecured creditors. In exchange, the debtor is entitled to a discharge of some debt. However, the debtor is not granted a discharge if guilty of certain types of inappropriate behavior (e.g., concealing records relating to financial condition) and certain debts (e.g., spousal and child support and most student loans). Some taxes are not discharged even though the debtor is generally discharged from debt. Many individuals in financial distress own only exempt property (e.g., clothes, household goods, an older car, or the tools of their trade or profession) and do not have to surrender any property to the trustee. The amount of property that a debtor may exempt varies from state to state (as noted above, Virginia and Maryland have a $1,000 difference.) Chapter 7 relief is available only once in any eight-year period. Generally, the rights of secured creditors to their collateral continues, even though their debt is discharged. For example, absent some arrangement by a debtor to surrender a car or "reaffirm" a debt, the creditor with a security interest in the debtor's car may repossess the car even if the debt to the creditor is discharged.
All bankruptcy cases in the United States are handled through federal courts. Any decisions over federal bankruptcy cases are made by a bankruptcy judge, including whether a debtor is eligible to file or whether he should be discharged of his debts. Administration over bankruptcy cases is often handled by a trustee, an officer appointed by the United States Trustee Program of the Department of Justice, to represent the debtor's estate in the proceeding. There is usually very little direct contact between the debtor and the judge unless there is some objection made in the case by a creditor.
Bankruptcy filings in the United States fall under one of several chapters of the Bankruptcy Code: Chapter 7, which involves liquidation of assets; Chapter 11, which deals with company or individual reorganizations, and Chapter 13, which is debt repayment with lowered debt covenants or specific payment plans. Bankruptcy filing specifications vary among states, leading to higher or lower filing fees depending on how easily a person or company can complete the process.