Bills for utilities such as gas, electric, water, sewer and phone are what we call unsecured debts, and they are dischargeable under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The only exception is fraud, such as where you hooked up the gas illegally.
In order to make it worthwhile to list a utility bill, calculate the average month utility bill, and multiply by three. So if your average electric bill is 140, three times is $420. So if you list a $420 past due electric bill in a chapter 7, you won’t have to pay it, but you’ll most likely have to put up a deposit of three times the average bill, or $420, and now you’re back to square one.
So the three times an average bill rule applies for gas and electric. And you’ll have to put up a deposit.
Filing on gas and electric doesn’t make much sense unless you have run up a huge bill, and by now you have been shut off. What happens in cold states like Wisconsin, where they don’t shut off your winter gas until April, and then we get a rush of bankruptcies because it’s still cold enough to need gas and its off.
We also get a rush with people who have lived without gas all summer, and when it gets to be Halloween I need the gas back on. Those bills are usually several thousand, so putting up of $420 deposit isn’t too bad. Filing either Chapter 7 or 13 will require the utility to turn your electric or gas back on after you put up the deposit.
Water and sewer bills are a little bit different. They usually aren’t very high, and in most cities, they are a lien on the real estate. So if you have a single-family home or multi-unit that you own, and you don’t pay the water and sewer bill, not only can they shut off the water, but there is a lien on the real estate. We don’t see too many water and sewer bills in bankruptcy but there treated pretty much the same as gas and electric.
Cable and phone bills are a little different. Since so many people are disconnecting from cable TV, it’s not a real big issue if you’re three months behind on the $200 cable bill, and don’t particularly care for the service anyway. Otherwise they don’t have to give you credit again. Nobody has a land-line, so you’re talking about a cell phone bill, and those bills are never included in a bankruptcy because they cut you off after two months and now you have no cell phone service, which is something we rarely see.
So in a nutshell, for gas or electric that is more than three months behind throw it in there, and as far as water and sewer pay it. Cable and telephone, either get a cell phone with a different carrier and a different cable service, or pay them to continue service.