Chapter 7 is the most commonly filed chapter of bankruptcy — but it is very rarely filed by a Corporation, Partnership or LLC. We can all name lots of businesses that have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Traditionally, that has been a large, expensive, complex reorganization. Exxon, most of the Airlines, General Motors, Sears, J.Crew. It is a long list. I will bet, however, that you can’t name a single Corporation that has filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
The reason for that is actually quite simple. Lots of business owners would love to file a Chapter 7 for their wholly owned LLC and walk away from the business debt — except they can’t. You see only an individual (that means a human being) can get a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That means that if a corporation or an LLC files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it gets to turn over all of its assets to the Trustee to administer for the benefit of its creditors, but it doesn’t get out of its debt. Now, it comes out of the bankruptcy with no assets with which to pay any of its bills — but it still legally owes the money. So, you spend a lot of money, you turnover the business assets to the Trustee, you expose the owners and managers of the business to potential liability — and get absolutely nothing in return. Not generally a great plan.
Instead, what generally happens, is that the business owners liquidate the assets themselves. They have to stay within certain legal parameters, but they do have some control over how the assets are liquidated and how the proceeds are distributed. Also, they can pay themselves a reasonable amount of money for doing it. Then, they shut down the Corporation or the LLC. Of course, since most small business debt is guaranteed by the owners (one way or another) the owners may then need to file their own Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but they are eligible for a discharge. Also, this doesn’t mean that the owners inherit the unpaid business debts. If the owners weren’t originally liable for the debt, they don’t become liable for it. It is just rare for small businesses to incur any significant debt without a personal guaranty from someone.
Of course, since February of 2020 there is now a viable small business reorganization subchapter. So, it is now much more viable to reorganize a small business in a bankruptcy, if remaining in business is a viable option. If it isn’t, however, it is rare to shut down a small business in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. There are better ways to deal with the business entity outside of bankruptcy then inside.