What is “Median Family Income,” and If You’re Making More Than That Can You Still File a Chapter 7 Case?

If your family income is more than the “median family income,” you may still be able to file under Chapter 7.

The “median family income” within a particular state is the dollar amount at which half of the families in that state make less, and half make more than that amount. “Median family income” amounts are calculated for different size families within each state. This information, which originates from the U.S. Census, is available on a table downloadable at the U.S. Trustee’s website. Make sure you’re looking at the right table: the most recent one is for cases filed on or after May 1, 2012.

Let’s be clear: if your income is at or less than the “median family income” for your size family,  in your state, then you are eligible to file under Chapter 7. (Other separate hurdles may need to be addressed but those go beyond today’s blog.)

It only gets complicated if your income is more than the applicable “median family income.” As stated in the very first sentence above, you still may be able to file a Chapter 7 case. Here what you need to know to help make sense of this:

A. Simply figuring out your own family income to find out if you are above or below the “median family income” is much harder than you’d think. It’s not last year’s gross taxable income, or anything commonsensical like that.  It’s instead based on a much broader understanding of income—basically every dollar that comes to you from all sources, with some very limited exceptions. And it’s based only on the income received during the last 6 full calendar months before filing, and then converting that into an annual amount. And that’s the easy part!

B. If your family income is higher than the applicable “median family income,” then you still have a number of ways that you can file a Chapter 7 case:


1.Deduct your living expenses from your monthly income to see if your “monthly disposable income” is low enough. The problem is that figuring out what expenses are allowed to be deducted involves understanding a tremendously unclear and complicated set of rules. In any event, after your attorney applies those rules, if the amount left over—the “monthly disposable income”—is no more than $117, then it is low enough so that you can still file Chapter 7.

2. If after deducting your allowed living expenses, your “monthly disposable income” is more than $195, then you can’t file under Chapter 7, except by showing “special circumstances.”

3. And what happens if your “monthly disposable income” is between $117 and $195? That’s where the real fun begins. Multiply your specific “monthly disposable income” by 60. Compare that amount to the total amount of your regular (non-priority) unsecured debts. If the multiplied amount is not enough to pay at least 25% of those debts, then you can file Chapter 7.

So to go back to the question in the title of this blog, you can see that even if your income is higher than your state and family size’s “median family income,” you can still file Chapter 7 under a number of different financial conditions. You can also see that the law is convoluted. This is definitely an area where you need to get solid legal advice.   

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