Debt Discharge in Bankruptcy: Nondischargeable Debts

Bankruptcy wipes the financial slate clean by discharging most debts, but not all. Learn what debts are not discharged in bankruptcy.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

Filing for bankruptcy works well to wipe out debt and lift the burden of financial stress off your shoulders. But it doesn't eliminate every type of bill. "Nondischargeable debts" are obligations that aren't erased in bankruptcy and include support obligations, newly-incurred tax bills, and student loans. To get the most out of bankruptcy, you'll want to know the following before you file:

  • if you can erase or "discharge" all of your debts, and
  • whether you have "nondischargeable" debt bankruptcy won't eliminate.

But this is just one of the things you should know about bankruptcy. Try our quick ten-question bankruptcy quiz to learn more about how bankruptcy works while getting information specifically addressing your case. It's a quick way to learn about issues you'll want to discuss with a bankruptcy lawyer.

What Debts Are Not Discharged in Bankruptcy?

The easiest way to explain nondischargeable debts is by showing you what you'll see on the bankruptcy court's discharge order. Have no fear—we've simplified the lists when possible.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge order lists the following nondischargeable debts:

  • domestic support obligations
  • student loans
  • most taxes
  • some unlisted or improperly listed debts
  • any debt ordered not discharged (usually because of fraud or presumptive fraud)
  • most fines, penalties, forfeitures, and criminal restitution obligations
  • some loans owed to pension, profit-sharing, stock bonus, or retirement plans
  • debts for death or personal injury caused by operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and
  • debts covered by a reaffirmation agreement.

The Chapter 13 bankruptcy discharge order is slightly different and lists the following nondischargeable debts (you can wipe out a few more things in Chapter 13):

  • domestic support obligations
  • most student loans
  • some unlisted or improperly listed debts
  • some taxes not paid in full under the plan
  • any debt ordered not discharged (usually because of fraud or presumptive fraud)
  • restitution or criminal fine included in a debtor's criminal conviction sentence
  • long-term obligations when the final payment is due after the plan ends (usually house payments and student loans)
  • most consumer purchases made after the bankruptcy filing
  • civil restitution or damages awarded for personal injury or death caused by the debtor's malicious or willful acts, and
  • debts for death or personal injury caused by operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Which Debts Can I Discharge in Bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy law doesn't explain which bills can be erased in bankruptcy—it only lists nondischargeable debts. But because it's easier to wrap your head around the bills you can wipe out, we've listed the things you can almost always get rid of—your bankruptcy lawyer will help you identify any other dischargeable debts you might have.

In Chapters 7 and 13, you can eliminate:

  • credit card balances
  • medical and utility bills
  • personal and payday loans
  • promissory notes
  • most car accident-related debts
  • leases and contracts
  • lawsuit judgments (judgment liens don't go away without a successful bankruptcy motion), and
  • house, car, and other secured loans (if you return the property purchased with the loan).

If you file for Chapter 13, you can erase these debts, too:

  • some civil fines and penalties
  • debt incurred to pay a nondischargeable tax debt
  • debts you couldn't discharge in a previous bankruptcy, and
  • property settlement debts in a marital settlement agreement.

Nondischargeable Debts Don't Go Away in Bankruptcy, But Dischargeable Debts Do

One of the nice things about bankruptcy is that erasing dischargeable debt is automatic. The bankruptcy court will discharge your qualifying debts after you fulfill your chapter's bankruptcy requirements. What will happen to your nondischargeable debt will depend on the bankruptcy chapter you file.

Nondischargeable Debt in Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you'll pay your nondischargeable debt after the court removes the automatic stay that stops creditor collections. You'll likely owe the same amount owed before filing. However, you could owe less if the Chapter 7 trustee sold property and used the funds to pay "priority" debts, like support obligations and back taxes. Learn more about the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process.

Nondischargeable Debt in Chapter 13

If you choose Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you'll pay most nondischargeable debts in full in your plan. Typical exceptions include long-term obligations such as a house payment if you keep the house and student loans. Except for these two debts, most filers emerge from Chapter 13 debt-free.

The Court's Discharge Order Erases Debt in Bankruptcy

Most people assume they'll receive a list of the debts discharged at the end of their case. But that's not what happens. Instead, the bankruptcy court uses a more straightforward approach. The "Order of Discharge" form you'll receive by mail will list debts that don't go away in bankruptcy and won't reference any obligations listed in your bankruptcy paperwork.

So how does the order work?

After your case ends, if a creditor tries to collect a dischargeable debt, give the creditor the court location, case number, and discharge date listed at the top of the order. Creditors almost always stop calling because they know which debts get discharged and that continuing their collection attempts could result in a fine.

You'll find links to discharge orders in the "Bankruptcy Forms" box at the end of the article.

Other Bankruptcy Debt Discharge Rules

Wouldn't it be nice to stop with two lists and be done with this topic? Unfortunately, bankruptcy doesn't work that way. Every topic has a curveball or two that makes it difficult to apply simple commonsense, if not downright impossible. Because of that, it's best to retain a bankruptcy lawyer when possible.

Don't let these things take you by surprise.

Some Debts Might Be Dischargeable in Bankruptcy but Might Not

You'll remain responsible for student loans in most situations. However, filers who can convince a bankruptcy judge that they'd never be able to repay their student loans can get them discharged. You'll find student loan discharge standards here—but keep in mind that as of January 2022, reports have surfaced suggesting that some courts are beginning to take a more liberal stance on private student loan debt.

Also, the court won't discharge other debts unless you meet legal requirements. For instance, discharging income taxes won't happen until a particular time has elapsed and you meet other conditions.

Sometimes a Creditor Must Ask for a Nondischargeable Debt Order in Bankruptcy

Some debts get wiped out unless a creditor convinces the court that you should remain obligated to repay the debt. These debts arise from:

  • willful and malicious acts
  • embezzlement, larceny, or breach of fiduciary duty
  • failing or incorrectly listing creditors, and
  • fraud and presumptive fraud.

Presumptive fraud usually occurs when you use a credit card to purchase luxuries of more than $800 from a single creditor within 90 days of filing for bankruptcy. Presumptive fraud applies to cash advances of more than $1,100 taken from a single creditor within 70 days of filing, as well (figures are current for cases filed between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2025).

The creditor would ask the court to find the debt nondischargeable using an adversarial proceeding in bankruptcy.

Navigating Your Bankruptcy Case

Bankruptcy is essentially a qualification process. The laws provide instructions for completing a 50- to 60-page bankruptcy petition, and because the rules apply to every case, you can't skip a step. We want to help.

Below is the bankruptcy form for this topic and other resources we think you'll enjoy. For more easy-to-understand articles, go to TheBankruptcySite.

More Bankruptcy Information

Bankruptcy Forms and Document Checklist

Schedule D: Creditors Who Hold Claims Secured By Property

Schedule E/F: Creditors Who Have Unsecured Claims

Schedule G: Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases

Chapter 7 Order of Discharge

Chapter 13 Order of Discharge

Chapter 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Form List

Bankruptcy Document Checklist

More You Might Like

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How Much Debt Do You Have to Have to File Bankruptcy?

Will I Lose All My Property If I File for Bankruptcy?

How Long Before Filing for Bankruptcy Are You Supposed to Stop Using Credit Cards?

Running Up Credit Card Debt Before Bankruptcy: Is It Fraud?

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Updated April 25, 2022

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