Chapter 13 bankruptcy has an important limitation.  If the debtor’s debts are too large, Chapter 13 is unavailable:

Only an individual with regular income that owes, on the date of the filing of the petition, noncontingent, liquidated, unsecured debts of less than $383,175 and noncontingent, liquidated, secured debts of less than $1,149,525, or an individual with regular income and such individual’s spouse, except a stockbroker or a commodity broker, that owe, on the date of the filing of the petition, noncontingent, liquidated, unsecured debts that aggregate less than $383,175  and noncontingent, liquidated, secured debts of less than $1,149,525 may be a debtor under chapter 13 of this title.

11 U.S.C. § 109(e).

By the way, the numbers at the Cornell Law School site to which this links haven’t been updated for some time.  I corrected them in the quote above.  The modified quote is correct as of September 2014.

If either debt ceiling — either the secured, or unsecured — is exceeded, the debtor is ineligible for Chapter 13 protection, and must consider Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  This leads to the following question that was posed by a fellow bankruptcy attorney:

Question:

Suppose a debtor has a mortgage — for simplicity let’s say a first mortgage — that is undersecured, i.e., the value of the house is less than the current balance on the mortgage.  Does the unsecured portion of the mortgage count toward the $383,175 unsecured debt ceiling?

My answer was:  It depends on whether or not the house is the debtor’s principal residence.  But it’s a bit more complicated than you might imagine.  Let’s start with the simpler “nonprincipal residence” scenario.
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