Prioritizing Payments: Who Gets Paid First in a Corporate Bankruptcy?

Stakeholders often ask who gets paid first in a corporate bankruptcy when navigating it. This article cuts through the complexity, detailing the established order for creditor payout—from the secured to the equity holders—under bankruptcy law. Gain insight into how assets get distributed without breaking legal jargon.

Key Takeaways

  • Corporate bankruptcy in Canada, governed by the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA), can either lead to the liquidation of assets (as in Chapter 7) or allow for reorganization and rehabilitation of a business (as in Chapter 11).

  • In a corporate bankruptcy, secured creditors have top priority in payment, followed by unsecured creditors, with shareholders and equity holders being last and often receiving nothing.

  • A Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) is appointed to oversee the control and liquidation of the company’s assets to pay creditors according to the prescribed order under the BIA.

Understanding Corporate Bankruptcy

When the waters of debt rise too high, a company may find itself sinking into the abyss of corporate bankruptcy, while individuals may face personal bankruptcy. Governed by the sturdy vessel of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) in Canada, this legal bankruptcy process is initiated when a company or individual can no longer meet its financial obligations. Bankruptcy can come knocking at the door voluntarily, by the company’s director, or involuntarily through a creditor’s petition to the bankruptcy court.

Like ships on the ocean, each bankrupt company is unique, with its own cargo of assets, debts, and obligations. Some may continue to navigate the business seas even amidst bankruptcy proceedings. When a company declares bankruptcy, it doesn’t always mean the end of its journey. Company files can provide valuable insights into the business’s financial situation and potential future, including its assets.

Types of Corporate Bankruptcy

Corporate bankruptcy, which can sometimes include business bankruptcy, is navigated primarily through two channels: Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company’s assets are sold off in the former, and the proceeds are paid for administrative and legal expenses first. Secured creditors may reclaim their collateral, while unsecured creditors wait in line for what remains.

Chapter 11, however, is like throwing a lifeline to a floundering business, offering a chance to rehabilitate and reorganize. However, if the reorganization plan fails, the assets may still be sold to pay off creditors.

The Order of Priority in a Corporate Bankruptcy

Illustration of secured creditors being paid first in a corporate bankruptcy

In a corporate shipwreck, not all passengers are rescued equally. The BIA sets a strict rescue sequence, with secured creditors boarding the lifeboats first, bondholders and shareholders taking their chances last. This pecking order ensures that the distribution of a company’s remaining assets is orderly and fair, with no creditor receiving more than their due share.

Secured Creditors

Illustration of collateral representing secured creditors in bankruptcy

At the top of the payment hierarchy stand the secured creditors, including a secured creditor, their loans anchored by the company’s assets. Should the ship sink, they are the first to reclaim their collateral, much like passengers with priority access to lifeboats. Their secured status grants them the advantage of being paid before others, reflecting the lower risk they accepted by lending against tangible security.

Unsecured Creditors

Illustration of unsecured creditors in corporate bankruptcy

Unsecured creditors, however, lack collateral to cling to. They must await the distribution of assets after the secured creditors’ claims have been settled, often receiving only a fraction of the value of their claims. Their position in the payment queue reflects the greater risk they assumed and explains why they may only recover pennies on the dollar, depending on the assets left to distribute.

Shareholders and Equity Holders

Illustration of shareholders and equity holders in a bankruptcy scenario

Shareholders and equity holders are akin to the last group of survivors on a sinking ship, often left with nothing but hope. They are the last to be considered in the payment hierarchy, and only if all other claims have been satisfied. In many cases, they receive no compensation for their shares, and their investments are lost to the depths of the company’s financial failure.

The Role of a Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT)

Amid the corporate bankruptcy chaos, the Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) is the lighthouse guiding the distressed vessel. The LIT is appointed to take control of the bankrupt company’s assets, secure and liquidate them, and distribute the proceeds as dictated by the BIA.

Like the captain at a creditors’ meeting, the LIT interacts with appointed inspectors. It examines the validity of creditors’ claims, balancing the interests of both debtors and creditors with unwavering objectivity.

Alternatives to Bankruptcy

Is bankruptcy an inevitable storm, or can it be circumvented? Companies can steer towards alternatives like debt restructuring or corporate proposals, charting a course that may lead to calmer waters. By negotiating with creditors to pay a portion of their debts or extend payment deadlines, a business can keep its sails billowing and continue its journey.

Debt restructuring and consolidation could ease the financial burden, allowing the reorganized company to navigate difficult currents without sinking into bankruptcy.

Recovering from Corporate Bankruptcy

After weathering the storm of bankruptcy, charting a course for recovery is paramount. Crafting a solid recovery plan and adhering to a strict budget are the compass and map that guide a company back to profitable shores. Rebuilding credit is akin to repairing a damaged hull, with tools like secured credit cards, co-signers, and credit-builder loans helping to restore the company’s financial integrity.

Legal Aspects of Corporate Bankruptcy

The BIA serves as the maritime law of corporate bankruptcy, outlining the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved. Secured creditors, for instance, must navigate the specific sections of the BIA to ensure their entitlement to dividend distributions.

Unpaid suppliers, adrift in the sea of unsecured claims, have a lifeline in the form of rights to repossess goods, provided they act swiftly and within the prescribed time.

Impact on Investors

For investors, sinking a corporate ship can mean significant losses or the complete loss of their investment. Trading in the stocks of a company under Chapter 11 bankruptcy is fraught with risk, akin to betting on a vessel that may never reach port.

Deciding whether to hold on to their investment or sell to minimize losses requires careful navigation through murky financial waters.


We have navigated the complex waters of corporate bankruptcy, from understanding its legal underpinnings to dissecting the priority of payments and the role of a Licensed Insolvency Trustee. We’ve explored alternatives to bankruptcy, the measures for recovery, and the legal aspects and impacts on investors. Like sailors who have weathered the storm, we emerge wiser and more prepared for the financial squalls that may lie ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between secured and unsecured creditors in a corporate bankruptcy?

Secured creditors are paid first from the collateral backing their loans, while unsecured creditors are paid after secured claims are satisfied. This is the key difference between the two types of creditors in a corporate bankruptcy.

Can a company avoid bankruptcy?

Yes, a company can avoid bankruptcy by pursuing alternatives such as debt restructuring, corporate proposals, or reorganization plans. These measures can help mitigate or avoid the impacts of bankruptcy.

How can a company recover from bankruptcy?

By creating a recovery plan, budgeting carefully, paying bills on time, and rebuilding credit, a company can work towards regaining financial health after bankruptcy.

Are investors at risk of losing their investment in a corporate bankruptcy?

Investors are at risk of significant losses or even total loss in corporate bankruptcy, especially with common stock.

What role does a Licensed Insolvency Trustee play in bankruptcy?

The Licensed Insolvency Trustee plays a crucial role in bankruptcy by managing the company’s assets, liquidating them, and distributing the proceeds to creditors in line with the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.