How bankruptcy can help save your small business

Bankruptcy isn’t just for winding up after the end of a business.  It can help keep your business around for longer.

Bankruptcy saves a lot of companies.  Companies can get out of a lot of debt, restructure their operations, and save a lot of jobs.  If you own and run a small business, bankruptcy may be able to save your job, too.

Let’s assume you have a small, simple business.  One so simple that you did not form a corporation or any other kind of legal entity when you set it up.  And let’s assume that you don’t have any partners – that is, you have a sole proprietorship.

In a sole proprietorship, you and your small business are treated as a single unit—unlike a corporation, which is legally separate from you and which owns its own assets and has its own debts.  In the right circumstances, a sole proprietorship can be easier to handle in a bankruptcy.

A Chapter 7 liquidation is seldom a good option if you own a business that you want to keep operating during and after the bankruptcy.  You can discharge your debts in return for liquidation—the surrender of your assets to the trustee to sell and distribute to your creditors. Except that in most Chapter 7 cases everything you own is protected–“exempt”—so that you lose nothing or very little. But if you own an ongoing business, you are likely to have some non-exempt assets.  So the Chapter 7 trustee could take some important parts of your business to sell off or otherwise shut down.

Instead, a Chapter 13 case— sometimes called a “wage-earner plan”—is much better designed to enable you keep your personal and business assets.  You get immediate relief from your creditors under the automatic stay, and for a much longer period of time, usually with a significant reduction in the amount of debt to be repaid.  So Chapter 13 can help both your immediate cash flow and your long-term prospects.  It is also a good way to address tax debt, which is often an issue for struggling businesses.  Overall, it can be a relatively inexpensive tool that combines the discipline of a court-approved payment plan with the flexibility of continuing the operation of your business.

Please understand that when you own ANY kind of business, solving your financial problems will be more complicated.  This is because you are  not dealing merely with the size and timing of a paycheck, but instead with all the financial and practical aspects of running a business.  In addition,  timing issues are often more important in business bankruptcy cases and they require more pre-bankruptcy planning to plot out the best path for you.  So, no matter how small your business, be sure to get thorough legal advice as soon as possible.

Photo by Ruben Schade.

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