How to File for Bankruptcy

The negative stigma that Bankruptcy used to symbolize is changing as even typically responsible consumers are now turning to it as an option during these difficult economic times. This law was put into place for your protection, and you must understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Bankruptcy is not a moral or ethical decision, it is a financial decision. The credit card companies don’t care about you; their only concern is money, even if you’ve been a customer for years. Below we have outlined the basic process of filing bankruptcy; as well as some important information for you to consider if you are considering bankruptcy.

Important Pre-Filing Information

If you are thinking about filing a bankruptcy case, it is best to have not used your credit cards within the months leading up to the filing of your case. If you do so with the intent to file bankruptcy (not having the intent to repay at the time you charged), a creditor can challenge the discharge of that debt or even your right to discharge any debt.

If you obtained the debt knowing that you could not repay it, you may not be able to discharge that debt if the creditor challenges it through a lawsuit, or adversary proceeding, in your bankruptcy case. Only a bankruptcy lawyer can give you legal advice on such issues.

Different Types of Bankruptcy

The most common forms of bankruptcy are; Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13. In a Chapter 7 case, the trustee will determine whether or not there are assets that can be liquidated and used to repay your creditors or if yours is a “no-asset” case. If the trustee determines that all your assets are exempt, a report of no distribution will be issued and filed with the bankruptcy court. Over 90% of chapter 7 cases are “no asset” cases where the consumer retains all their assets and possessions.

Step #1 Get a Lawyer

A consumer should research their options as it relates to how to file bankruptcy. Some people choose to file without the aid of a lawyer; this is dangerous as creditors often seek to take advantage of unrepresented consumers. It is highly recommended to hire a lawyer by nearly all consumer rights groups, if you can’t afford a lawyer right now, save and wait until you can, it will be well worth it.

Bankruptcy Procedure is complex and often counter-intuitive. Lawyers spend years in school and then years practicing before fully understanding bankruptcy procedure and how to file bankruptcy. A non-lawyer is not going to be able to understand, even at a basic level, bankruptcy procedure without making a massive time commitment to learning what is bankruptcy.

The first step is to consult with the lawyer you’ve selected, or their staff, and go over your “case”. A series of simple questions will determine “can I file bankruptcy” and under which Chapter. Generally, these questions relate to assets, liabilities, income and expenses. Recent transfer of property and other financial qualifications also affect what Chapter of bankruptcy to file and the bankruptcy procedure.

Step #2 Pre-Filing Credit Counseling

Under the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA”), which substantially amended the U.S. Bankruptcy Code effective October 17, 2005, prior to filing a bankruptcy case, you must obtain consumer credit counseling from an entity approved by the U.S. Trustee within 180 days of the date of the filing of a bankruptcy case.

This counseling requirement is nothing more than a deterrent for consumers filing bankruptcy and runs up the cost and complexity for consumers asking how to file bankruptcy. You can complete this counseling online. There is a small fee for the counseling, but in some cases if you are filing with your spouse you get a discount on the price.

Step #3 Filing

Once your bankruptcy case is filed, you should refer all creditors to your bankruptcy lawyer’s office, once he or she has been retained. Your lawyer’s office will then be able to speak on your behalf (which means no more annoying calls). Once your bankruptcy lawyer has filed your case, the “automatic stay” goes into effect. This means that NO creditor can legally contact you about your debt.

Once your attorney has submitted your bankruptcy petition, you will be notified by mail (most often) of the date for your meeting of creditors (or a “341 meeting”, named after the section of the Bankruptcy Code requiring it).

Step #4 Post-Filing Credit Counseling

After your attorney files your bankruptcy you will need to get post-filing credit counseling. Again, you can do this easily online for a small fee. You will need to provide proof of this counseling, usually in the form of a printed certificate upon completing the credit-counseling course.

Step #5 The Meeting

This meeting allows the trustee to ensure that you have given truthful answers on your bankruptcy petition, and that you understand and agree to filing for bankruptcy. Your creditors may also ask questions of you at this meeting, but it is rare that creditors actually show up.

Your lawyer, or a representative from their office, should attend the meeting of creditors with you to ensure everything goes smoothly. Prior to the meeting, you should have reviewed your bankruptcy petition so that you are familiar with what’s listed, and you understand the bankruptcy procedure. Once you are sworn in at the meeting, you will answer questions that are recorded. The meeting goes very quickly in most cases and can last under 1 minute.

Step #6 Discharge From Your Debts

The final step in your bankruptcy is to receive a legal discharge from your debts. A discharges means that you have no further obligation to repay the discharged debt, and that your creditors can never collect the debt from you. If you filed Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, you will receive the notice of discharge approximately 30 to 60 days after your final payment has been made on your Chapter 13 plan.

Not all debts are discharged in a Chapter 7 or even a Chapter 13 case. Non-dischargeable debt can include student loans, certain taxes or government debt, and alimony and child support, among others. Whether or not a debt is discharged depends on certain Bankruptcy Code provisions and bankruptcy procedure, this will be mailed to you from by your attorney. It usually takes four to six months after filing for bankruptcy to receive this discharge. At this point you have reached your fresh start!


Comments are closed.