DALLAS (AP) _ Former billionaire brothers William Herbert Hunt and Nelson Bunker Hunt could emerge from bankruptcy before the end of December following a compromise reached by major creditors.

As a federal bankruptcy judge poised to convert the Chapter 11 bankruptcies of one of William Herbert Hunt to a Chapter 7 liquidation, spokesmen for two creditors, Minpeco S.A. and Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. of New York, announced Monday they agreed on settlement terms.

Terms were not disclosed, however.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harold Abramson emerged from hours of closed-door meetings to announce he would defer until Dec. 15 signing the order. If the agreement breaks down, Abramson could proceed with liquidation.

Abramson notified all parties two weeks ago that without an agreement by Nov. 20 he would convert the case to a Chapter 7.

Under Chapter 11 of federal bankruptcy laws, a debtor is allowed to continue to operate with protection from creditors' claims while a debt repayment schedule is arranged. Under Chapter 7, assets are sold to repay creditors.

According to bankruptcy court filings, Herbert lists $169 million in assets and Bunker lists assets of $250 million.

''We couldn't be happier,'' said Stephen McCartin, head attorney for Herbert Hunt, who had asked for a delay in Abramson's conversion order.

The compromise between Manufacturers Hanover Trust and Minpeco, a mining company owned by the Peruvian government, refocuses both cases toward a more orderly reorganization away from chapter liquidation feared by creditors.

Major creditors said they would have received nothing under a fire-sale Chapter 7 liquidation, and most of the money from the two brothers' estates would have gone to the Internal Revenue Service, which claims 80 percent of Herbert Hunt's assets and 70 percent of Bunker Hunt's.

Four of the largest creditors in the case - Manufacturers Hanover, Minpeco, the IRS and the trustee for Hunt International Resources Co. - said they and the debtors would file joint plans of reorganization today in Abramson's court.

Minpeco has been trying to collect a $132 million judgment against the brothers stemming from the 1979-80 silver market collapse. With attorneys' fees and interest, the judgment has swelled to more than $250 million.

Other creditors - led by Manufacturers Hanover, which is owed $36 million - argued that Minpeco already has recovered its silver losses from other third-party defendants and that the money would be better spent paying other creditors.