November 22, 2017

Process – Bankruptcy Basics

Article I, Section 8, of the United States Constitution authorizes Congress to enact “uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies.” Under this grant of authority, Congress enacted the “Bankruptcy Code” in 1978. The Bankruptcy Code, which is codified as title 11 of the United States Code, has been amended several times since its enactment. It is the uniform federal law that governs all bankruptcy cases.

The procedural aspects of the bankruptcy process are governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (often called the “Bankruptcy Rules”) and local rules of each bankruptcy court. The Bankruptcy Rules contain a set of official forms for use in bankruptcy cases. The Bankruptcy Code and Bankruptcy Rules (and local rules) set forth the formal legal procedures for dealing with the debt problems of individuals and businesses.

There is a bankruptcy court for each judicial district in the country. Each state has one or more districts. There are 90 bankruptcy districts across the country. The bankruptcy courts generally have their own clerk’s offices.

The court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases is the United States bankruptcy judge, a judicial officer of the United States district court. The bankruptcy judge may decide any matter connected with a bankruptcy case, such as eligibility to file or whether a debtor should receive a discharge of debts. Much of the bankruptcy process is administrative, however, and is conducted away from the courthouse. In cases under chapters 7, 12, or 13, and sometimes in chapter 11 cases, this administrative process is carried out by a trustee who is appointed to oversee the case.

A debtor’s involvement with the bankruptcy judge is usually very limited. A typical chapter 7 debtor will not appear in court and will not see the bankruptcy judge unless an objection is raised in the case. A chapter 13 debtor may only have to appear before the bankruptcy judge at a plan confirmation hearing. Usually, the only formal proceeding at which a debtor must appear is the meeting of creditors, which is usually held at the offices of the U.S. trustee. This meeting is informally called a “341 meeting” because section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code requires that the debtor attend this meeting so that creditors can question the debtor about debts and property.

A fundamental goal of the federal bankruptcy laws enacted by Congress is to give debtors a financial “fresh start” from burdensome debts. The Supreme Court made this point about the purpose of the bankruptcy law in a 1934 decision:

[I]t gives to the honest but unfortunate debtor…a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt.

Local Loan Co. v. Hunt, 292 U.S. 234, 244 (1934). This goal is accomplished through the bankruptcy discharge, which releases debtors from personal liability from specific debts and prohibits creditors from ever taking any action against the debtor to collect those debts. This publication describes the bankruptcy discharge in a question and answer format, discussing the timing of the discharge, the scope of the discharge (what debts are discharged and what debts are not discharged), objections to discharge, and revocation of the discharge. It also describes what a debtor can do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case is concluded.

Six basic types of bankruptcy cases are provided for under the Bankruptcy Code, each of which is discussed in this publication. The cases are traditionally given the names of the chapters that describe them.

Chapter 7, entitled Liquidation, contemplates an orderly, court-supervised procedure by which a trustee takes over the assets of the debtor’s estate, reduces them to cash, and makes distributions to creditors, subject to the debtor’s right to retain certain exempt property and the rights of secured creditors. Because there is usually little or no nonexempt property in most chapter 7 cases, there may not be an actual liquidation of the debtor’s assets. These cases are called “no-asset cases.” A creditor holding an unsecured claim will get a distribution from the bankruptcy estate only if the case is an asset case and the creditor files a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court. In most chapter 7 cases, if the debtor is an individual, he or she receives a discharge that releases him or her from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. The debtor normally receives a discharge just a few months after the petition is filed. Amendments to the Bankruptcy Code enacted in to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 require the application of a “means test” to determine whether individual consumer debtors qualify for relief under chapter 7. If such a debtor’s income is in excess of certain thresholds, the debtor may not be eligible for chapter 7 relief.

Chapter 9, entitled Adjustment of Debts of a Municipality, provides essentially for reorganization, much like a reorganization under chapter 11. Only a “municipality” may file under chapter 9, which includes cities and towns, as well as villages, counties, taxing districts, municipal utilities, and school districts.

Chapter 11, entitled Reorganization, ordinarily is used by commercial enterprises that desire to continue operating a business and repay creditors concurrently through a court-approved plan of reorganization. The chapter 11 debtor usually has the exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization for the first 120 days after it files the case and must provide creditors with a disclosure statement containing information adequate to enable creditors to evaluate the plan. The court ultimately approves (confirms) or disapproves the plan of reorganization. Under the confirmed plan, the debtor can reduce its debts by repaying a portion of its obligations and discharging others. The debtor can also terminate burdensome contracts and leases, recover assets, and rescale its operations in order to return to profitability. Under chapter 11, the debtor normally goes through a period of consolidation and emerges with a reduced debt load and a reorganized business.

Chapter 12, entitled Adjustment of Debts of a Family Farmer or Fisherman with Regular Annual Income, provides debt relief to family farmers and fishermen with regular income. The process under chapter 12 is very similar to that of chapter 13, under which the debtor proposes a plan to repay debts over a period of time – no more than three years unless the court approves a longer period, not exceeding five years. There is also a trustee in every chapter 12 case whose duties are very similar to those of a chapter 13 trustee. The chapter 12 trustee’s disbursement of payments to creditors under a confirmed plan parallels the procedure under chapter 13. Chapter 12 allows a family farmer or fisherman to continue to operate the business while the plan is being carried out.

Chapter 13, entitled Adjustment of Debts of an Individual With Regular Income, is designed for an individual debtor who has a regular source of income. Chapter 13 is often preferable to chapter 7 because it enables the debtor to keep a valuable asset, such as a house, and because it allows the debtor to propose a “plan” to repay creditors over time – usually three to five years. Chapter 13 is also used by consumer debtors who do not qualify for chapter 7 relief under the means test. At a confirmation hearing, the court either approves or disapproves the debtor’s repayment plan, depending on whether it meets the Bankruptcy Code’s requirements for confirmation. Chapter 13 is very different from chapter 7 since the chapter 13 debtor usually remains in possession of the property of the estate and makes payments to creditors, through the trustee, based on the debtor’s anticipated income over the life of the plan. Unlike chapter 7, the debtor does not receive an immediate discharge of debts. The debtor must complete the payments required under the plan before the discharge is received. The debtor is protected from lawsuits, garnishments, and other creditor actions while the plan is in effect. The discharge is also somewhat broader (i.e., more debts are eliminated) under chapter 13 than the discharge under chapter 7.

The purpose of Chapter 15, entitled Ancillary and Other Cross-Border Cases, is to provide an effective mechanism for dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency. This publication discusses the applicability of Chapter 15 where a debtor or its property is subject to the laws of the United States and one or more foreign countries.

In addition to the basic types of bankruptcy cases, Bankruptcy Basics provides an overview of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, which, among other things, provides protection to members of the military against the entry of default judgments and gives the court the ability to stay proceedings against military debtors.

This publication also contains a description of liquidation proceedings under the Securities Investor Protection Act (“SIPA”). Although the Bankruptcy Code provides for a stockbroker liquidation proceeding, it is far more likely that a failing brokerage firm will find itself involved in a SIPA proceeding. The purpose of SIPA is to return to investors securities and cash left with failed brokerages. Since being established by Congress in 1970, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation has protected investors who deposit stocks and bonds with brokerage firms by ensuring that every customer’s property is protected, up to $500,000 per customer.

The bankruptcy process is complex and relies on legal concepts like the “automatic stay,” “discharge,” “exemptions,” and “assume.” Therefore, the final chapter of this publication is a glossary of Bankruptcy Terminology which explains, in layman’s terms, most of the legal concepts that apply in cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code.

Reprinted from http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/process-bankruptcy-basics

CONTEMPLATING A BANKRUPTCY AFTER DIVORCE

Oftentimes Bankruptcy and Divorce go hand-in-hand.  If you are in the process of getting divorced, it would be wise to consult a consumer attorney to analyze your financial circumstances, ensuring all of your obligations will be accounted for in the Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement, and to determine if you can handle paying them once you go back to a single income after the divorce.  Bankruptcy may be a safe option once you are divorced if you find you cannot afford living on a single income.

If you will be taking the bulk of the debt once you separate and do not have the income to support it, you may consider filing for bankruptcy and starting over all together once the divorce is finalized.  Here are some topics that often arise from divorce when contemplating a bankruptcy or may lead you to file for bankruptcy after your divorce:

  1. Who will take the marital home and pay its related expenses?

If you are getting a divorce and taking over possession of the marital home, along with taking over the related expenses, especially the mortgage(s) on the home, be sure to have your Divorce Decree state the terms of this transfer accurately.

Also, making a budget before the divorce is final will help you determine if you will be able to afford to stay in the home.

If it is determined that you can, in fact, afford to live in the home after the divorce, then make sure the proper documents are recorded on the Land Records after the transfer.  This will give you a paper trial you may need to provide in your bankruptcy case later on.

  1. Will you be responsible for credit cards in your ex-spouses name?

If so, make sure the Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement spells out all debt you will be taking responsibility for once the divorce is final, along with the last four digits of any account numbers.  Once the divorce is final, be sure to contact each company in writing and have the accounts switched into your name.  Wait at least six weeks and then review your credit report(s) to ensure accurate reporting, so as not to inadvertently leave off a debt you are responsible for on your Bankruptcy petition, among other things.

  1. Will you be ordered to pay alimony or child support?

Keep in mind, that these particular types of “debts” are allowable deductible expenses in your Bankruptcy case; this means that they are taken into consideration when qualifying for Bankruptcy.  Also, it is important to note that court-ordered Alimony and Child Support are what is known in the Bankruptcy realm as “priority debts” and cannot be discharged in most cases.  (Taxes and loans involving the government are also included in the priority category.)  It is vitally important to have all obligations in this category fully defined and explained in your Divorce Decree/Separation Agreement, as you will likely be fulfilling these obligations regardless of ever filing for Bankruptcy.

Filing for bankruptcy after a divorce is not the end of the world.  In fact, it may be the best thing that ever happened to you, and will help you to move on and start fresh.

Equifax Data Breach: What to do if your credit has been compromised

by Seena Gressin

Re-posted from the Federal Trade Commission Website

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.
There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)
    • Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
  • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
    • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
    • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do

 

Gain Financial Freedom in your Pursuit of Happiness!

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Every year I re-read the Declaration of Independence and meditate on the amazing freedoms I enjoy (and sometimes admittedly, take for granted). This year I have been studying the history of Bankruptcy in America and came across this wonderful book called Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence by Bruce H. Mann.

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After reading a bit of this book, I realized how incredibility blessed we are to have the laws that allow us to file Bankruptcy with ease of process, and without judgment or fear. It wasn’t always that way and not everyone who suffered from crushing debt was given that second chance. It took years and a lot of legislation to get the laws where they are today; the laws that protect debtors from their creditors.

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I believe the secret to happiness is the freedom of choice. When you choose to take the first step to get out of debt you begin on the road to financial freedom. Bankruptcy will help you keep your home, relieve you of unsecured debt, keep your utilities on and give you the freedom to start over. It was the best thing that ever happened to me (read my personal Bankruptcy story here) and was my own declaration of independence.

Back To School Shopping On A Budget

Back to school shopping is no doubt a pain for all parents. If you’re watching your finances, school supply shopping can be even more difficult. However, back to school shopping on a budget can be a breeze if you do it right. Below are some tips every parent should incorporate into their August-September back to school shopping for their children.

  • Set a budget. Go into the back to school shopping season with a specific budget. Let your children know what the overall budget is and that there will be no going over it.
  • Make a list! Get a list of supplies that your children need from each of their teachers. Before you go out and purchase everything, go through your home and look for things you may be able to cross off the list. Look at what school supplies your children have left from the previous year and what things you may be able to reuse. Also separate the list into needs and wants. Get all of the essentials for your child and in order to keep under budget, consider skipping some of the “wants” on the list.
  • Don’t go right to Staples for your child’s school supplies. Get things like pencils and pens from your local Dollar Store.
  • Buy your child a bookbag that will last! Brands like L.L Bean and Jansport have a lifetime guarantee on all their bags so buy one that your child can use year after year so you will definitely get your money’s worth.
  • Reuse! Buy your children plastic folders instead of cardboard and such. The plastic will be reusable for years after the purchase as long as your children take care of them.
  • Look through your children’s closet and see exactly what they need so you may plan ahead. Avoid shopping in August for clothes. If you can, wait until mid September or around that time in order to hit the sales that go on after stores think that everyone in town has already completed their back to school shopping. Alternatively, your family can go clothing shopping for fall clothes at the beginning of the summer in order to take advantage of some deals.
  • Try shopping at local thrift stores or outlet malls. Some thrift stores sell name brands for cheap and outlets always have good deals on clothes and shoes.

 

Back to school shopping no longer needs to be a dreadful, money-sucking event that happens at the end of every summer. If you use these helpful tips, you will succeed in getting all the supplies your children need, but also stay well under your budget.

How To Get A Credit Card If You Have Bad Credit

It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it? In order to build your credit, you need to have and use a credit card. But in order to qualify for many credit cards, you need to have good credit. What are you supposed to do when you know that your credit is bad, and you fear that you won’t be able to get a credit card and bring up your credit score? Luckily, all is not lost! You can still qualify for many credit cards even if you have a low credit score. Just follow these tips on getting a credit card with bad credit.

  1. Find out your credit score. You might have a rough idea of what your credit score is, but you won’t be able to truly determine what credit cards you should and should not apply for until you know your credit score. You can get a free credit score report online. Once you know your score, you can plan accordingly.
  2. Know what you qualify for. If your credit score is 600 or above, you will probably be able to qualify for an unsecured credit card. If your credit score is below 600, you will most likely only qualify for a secured credit card. A secured credit card will require that you have the equivalent of your card’s limit available to the card issuer. An unsecured credit card doesn’t carry this requirement.
  3. Shop around. Just because you have a low credit score does not mean that you should be paying outrageous interest and fees. Do some research to determine what the most practical, reasonable credit card is for you. Make sure that you also find a credit card that comes from a reputable bank. Avoid credit cards that have high interest rates, don’t offer a grace period for interest, and that have expensive monthly fees.
  4. When you find the card you want, apply for that card only. You should apply for credit cards one at a time. If you have poor credit, you don’t want to be juggling multiple credit cards. If you are approved for your first choice, stick with this card. If you are denied, apply for your second choice.
  5. When you get a credit card, make your payments responsibly. If you are approved for a credit card, don’t make the company regret accepting your application! Make sure that you make all of your payments on time and that you do not overextend your line of credit. With online payments and credit card apps for phones, staying on top of your credit card has never been easier!

These are my top tips for getting a credit card, even if your credit is less than perfect. For additional advice to help you improve your credit, you can contact me here. I am happy to discuss your situation during a free consultation!

3 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Tax Returns

If you’re living on a tight budget and find yourself barely scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, getting your tax returns might seem like an incredible gift. However, you want to use this gift wisely. While it is natural to want to spend your tax returns immediately, there are better ways to use this money, especially if you are in debt. Of course you might be tempted to use that money to buy your daughter the Christmas gift you couldn’t afford a few months ago, or to upgrade to a better car, but spending the money in this way will only increase your money troubles down the line. Here are my top 3 ways that you can use your tax returns to get out of debt.

  1. Establish an emergency savings account. If you don’t already have an emergency savings account, it is a good idea to create one. Even if you have significant debt, if you aren’t sure where your tax return money should go, a good idea is to set up an emergency account and leave the money alone for now. You can establish this account and allow the money to collect interest while you wait until you really need it. Emergencies can occur at any time, and even if you have debt, you should be saving so that if you suddenly need surgery or money to pay your mortgage, you can use the funds in this account.
  2. Pay off a debt. If you have debt, you can use this money to chip away at it. Do you have a lingering student loan that you can’t seem to get rid of? Is your credit card debt getting out of control? Nobody likes to be in debt, so putting this money toward living a debt free life can give you confidence and help you start focusing on other financial goals. If you have multiple debts, start paying off the one with the most interest first.
  3. Use the money to pay for bankruptcy. Is your debt just out of control? Have you been thinking about filing for bankruptcy? When you have a little extra money, it might be the best time to file for bankruptcy. Your tax returns can cover the filing fees and attorney fees. If you’ve been putting off bankruptcy because you didn’t think that you could hire a bankruptcy lawyer, this is your opportunity to get the help you need by using some extra money. Using your tax return to chip away at debt is a good option, but keep in mind that you can also use that money to file for bankruptcy and have the majority of your debts discharged.

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Using your tax returns to their fullest ability will help you improve your financial situation. If you have been considering bankruptcy, now is a good time to do so because you can afford to file and hire a lawyer. If you would like to discuss good ways to use your tax returns with me, I am happy to help. As someone who has filed for bankruptcy and paid off several debts, I can give you some advice about managing your money and how to best pay off your debt. If you think that bankruptcy is the right option for you, you can contact me by clicking here.

Keeping Your Tax Return In Bankruptcy

If you’ve decided that filing for bankruptcy is right for you, you might be wondering what will happen with your tax return. This article will discuss tax refunds and Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Whether you lose your tax refund or are allowed to keep it in bankruptcy will largely depend on the timing of your bankruptcy and the refund itself. When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all of your assets are combined into what is referred to as the bankruptcy estate. This estate is controlled by the bankruptcy trustee. Your tax return is an asset, which means that the trustee can use any unspent money from the return. At your meeting of the creditors, the trustee will most likely ask you about your tax return, how much it is, if you still have it, and more.

Despite the fact that the trustee can use your assets to pay off creditors, you are allowed to keep any assets that you receive after you file for bankruptcy. If you plan ahead, this means that you can keep your tax refund in bankruptcy. You can take the following steps to protect your tax return from creditors:

  • Including the tax return in your exemptions from bankruptcy. In some situations, it is not a good idea to exempt your tax return from bankruptcy. This will depend on how much of the tax return you have left over when you file for bankruptcy. You can only exempt a certain amount of property from bankruptcy, so it might not be worth exempting your tax return when you can exempt other assets. You should discuss your personal situation and what you should exempt from bankruptcy with a bankruptcy lawyer.
  • Spending the tax return on expenses that are necessary, such as bills, groceries, mortgage payments car payments, clothing, medical care, education, etc. Keep in mind that if you spend the tax return on luxury expenses, or to repay a debt to a friend or one credit card company, this will not be counted as a necessity and this will not qualify you to keep your tax return.
  • Changing your withholdings so that your refund is reduced to a minimal amount.

Unless you take these actions to protect your tax return, your tax return from the year that you file bankruptcy will go to your bankruptcy estate. The same will happen to tax refunds from the year before you filed for bankruptcy, if they have not been spent yet. You may keep the tax return from the year following your bankruptcy.

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If you are interested in protecting the remainder of your tax return from bankruptcy, you should consult with a bankruptcy attorney about the best time to file for bankruptcy. I can assist you in this matter by reviewing your personal situation with you. To discuss your bankruptcy case, you can contact me here.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Six: The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee

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In your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process there will be 3 main characters: you, your attorney and the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee assigned to your case.  In short, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee is the person who oversees your Bankruptcy Case.

There are currently ten Chapter 7 Trustees in the State of Connecticut who are appointed by the United States Trustee.  The Trustee Program is a part of the Department of Justice.

“The United States Trustee Program is a component of the Department of Justice that seeks to promote the efficiency and prote ct the integrity of the Federal bankruptcy system. To further the public interest in the just, speedy and economical resolution of cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code, the Program monitors the conduct of bankruptcy parties and private estate trustees, oversees related administrative functions, and acts to ensure compliance with applicable laws and procedures. It also identifies and helps investigate bankruptcy fraud and abuse in coordination with United States Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies.” –The U.S. Department of Justice

Upon filing of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition you will be assigned a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee randomly by the Bankruptcy Court’s computer system.  I will deliver the name and address of your Chapter 7 Trustee to you by phone or email the day you sign and I file your Petition, and a few days later an official Notice from the Bankruptcy Court will be mailed to you with this and other pertinent information about your Bankruptcy case.

The primary duties of the Chapter 7 Trustee are (1) to examine your Bankruptcy Petition and Schedules, (2) conduct a 341 Meeting of the Creditors (a Hearing you must attend and testify at under oath) and (3) determine if you have any non-exempt assets that can be liquidated to pay your creditors.  Additionally, the Trustee has the power to refer cases to higher authorities to be investigated for Bankruptcy Fraud and/or other crimes, if appropriate.  Therefore, it is imperative that you fully disclose all of your income, assets and liabilities to me during your Bankruptcy process so I may properly prepare your Bankruptcy Petition to avoid any improprieties.

After your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition is filed but before you attend your 341 Meeting we will mail to you a Questionnaire provided by your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee.  The questions are simple and you should be able to answer them all without assistance (but of course, we are always here to guide you).  An example of one inquiry on the questionnaire would be “have you ever filed bankruptcy before?”  If the answer is “yes,” there will be a few follow-up questions like “What was the case number?” and “Did you receive a discharge?”

Your Chapter 7 Trustee will also provide to my office a list of required documents that the Trustee will examine in conjunction with your Bankruptcy Petition.  The list of requested documents will include such things as Tax Returns, Bank Statements and Paystubs.  Usually I will already have everything that is requested, but I may ask you to provide additional documents to satisfy the requests of your Chapter 7 Trustee.

The next part of my Chapter 7 Bankruptcy series will take you through your 341 Meeting of the Creditors so you are fully prepared to attend the Hearing.

Contact Attorney Theresa Rose DeGray at Consumer Legal Services, LLC (203-713-8877) for more information on this and other Bankruptcy related topics.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Five: Preparing, Signing and Filing a Bankruptcy Petition

In this blog we will explore a very important step in your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process: Your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition Signing and Filing.

Once you have met with me for your free initial consultation, retained me to file your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition and delivered to me all of the required documents, I will then prepare your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition and schedule a convenient time for you to come in to our office to sign your Petition.

Your Bankruptcy Petition signing is a very serious step in your Bankruptcy Process and you will be required to carefully read your petition.  This appointment will take approximately one hour in which I will go over each and every page with you and answer any questions you may have.  Ultimately, you will be asked to sign several pages of the Petition under oath, swearing that the information provided is true and accurate to the best of your ability, and I will then electronically file your Petition with the Bankruptcy Court.

This blog is intended to give you preview of the many parts of a typical Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition. Please keep in mind that your Petition may differ according to your specific financial circumstances and that it is vitally important to always disclose all of your income, assets, debts (liabilities).  Not fully disclosing all of your information could lead could be deemed Bankruptcy Fraud which is a crime.

The first part of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition consists mainly of identification and general information.  It will list your name, address, and the last four digits of your social security number.  It will give a rough estimate (or a “range”) of how many creditors, assets and liabilities you have.  It will also include your signature (as the “Debtor”) and mine (as your “Attorney”), affirming that the information provided is true and accurate under the penalties of perjury.  Please note that your Bankruptcy Petition is a public document and due to that fact your Social Security Number will always be redacted to the last four digits for anti-identity theft purposes.

The next several pages in your packet will be your Means Test, the assessment used to determine if you qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing.  For more information on your Means Test please consult me, and/or my previous Blog in this Chapter 7 Series.

Your Means Test will be followed by Exhibit D which is your statement to the Court that you successfully completed your Credit Counseling requirement.  Credit Counseling is a mandatory course taken usually on the telephone or internet, which takes about one hour, analyzes your financial circumstances and helps you create a budget.  For more information on the Credit Counseling requirement please consult me, and/or my previous Blog in this Chapter 7 Series.

The next part of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition will be a Summary of the Schedules to follow.  This is a snap-shot view of your income, assets and liabilities as more fully reported on each individual schedule (described in detail below) and a Statistical Summary of Certain Liabilities (in layman’s terms that mean you “debt-to-income ratio”).

The Summary will be followed by a series of Schedules as follows:

  • Schedule A – Real Property: This Schedule will list any Real Estate that may be in your name according to the Land Records with a brief description and its location, along with the nature of your interest in the property (e.g. whether you own it solely or jointly), its current value and the amount of any liens (e.g. mortgages) against the property.  This list may also include time shares, if any.
  • Schedule B – Personal Property: This Schedule will list all of your personal belongings, such as cash, contents of bank accounts and safe deposit boxes, security deposits with public utilities or landlords, clothes, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, firearms, sports equipment, household goods and furnishings, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, patents, copyrights, or other intellectual property, future interests in any estates or life insurance policies, legal claims against other persons or entities, vehicles and any other personal property not already listed.
  • Schedule C – Property Claimed as Exempt: This Schedule will list all of your property that is exempt (or, in other words, immune) from being liquidated by your Chapter 7 Trustees in order to pay back your creditors.  It will also list the specific law that provides for each exemption.  A typical exemption is that for the equity in your car, or home (usually referred to as a “homestead exemption”).  Depending on your specific set of financial circumstances, I will determine if it is in your best interests to utilize the State or Federal exemption scheme in order to maximize the protection of your assets under the law.  (Check back to the Consumer Legal Services, LLC Blog site in the future for an extended explanation of the exemption system!)
  • Schedule D – Creditors Holding Secured Claims: This Schedule will list any creditors you have holding a security interest in any of your property.  Common examples of such interests are mortgages for homes and and car loans for cars.
  • Schedule E – Creditors Holding Unsecured Priority Claims: This Schedule will list any of your creditors that are holding unsecured (for which they do not have a lien) priority claims.  These types of claims arise when you have child support obligations, government student loans or tax debt.  These types of debts are considered “priority” and take precedence over your other debts.  They are usually not discharged in Bankruptcy and you will continue to pay them while your Chapter 7 case is pending.  Some exceptions apply, especially with regard to taxes. (Check back to the Consumer Legal Services, LLC Blog in the future for an extended explanation of taxes in bankruptcy!)
  • Schedule F – Creditors Holding Unsecured Non-Priority Claims: This Schedule will list all of your unsecured debt, such as credit cards, personal loans and medical debt.  Unless otherwise determined by the Bankruptcy Court, all of the debts listed on this Schedule will be discharged.  There will be an ancillary document related to this Schedule called the Verification of the Creditor Matrix.  This verification will include a list of your creditors in a matrix format for easy uploading to the Bankruptcy Court.
  • Schedule G – Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases: This Schedule will list all unperformed contracts and leases that you may be subject to.  The example I often give for an executory (or unperformed) contract is for snow plowing when it has not yet snowed and/or you have not yet paid the plowman.  A lease, for example, for an apartment or a car is an executory contract to the extent that it has not expired.
  • Schedule H – Codebtors: This Schedule will list any persons you have become liable with on a debt, other than a spouse in a joint petition.  Examples often include parents you have co-signed a loan for a child.
  • Schedule I – Current Income of Individual Debtor(s): This Schedule will list all current income you are receiving at the time of the signing of the petition.  If you are married, your spouse’s income must be included whether or not your spouse is filing Bankruptcy.
  • Schedule J – Current Expenditures of Individual Debtor: This Schedule will list all of your expenses that you will continue paying regardless of ever having filed for Bankruptcy, such as your mortgage, utilities, transportation and food expenses.

At the end of all of the Schedules there will be a “Declaration Concerning Debtor’s Schedules” which you will sign under oath stating that all of the foregoing information contained in the various schedules is true and accurate to the best of your ability.

Next there will be a document called “Statement of Financial Affairs.”  This statement will include information about such things as any pending lawsuits you are involved in, how much you paid for debt counseling and information related to any businesses you may own or have owned, among other pertinent information.

That statement will be followed by a Disclosure of Compensation of Attorney for Debtor.  On this document I will list the amount of money you have paid for my services.

The final document in your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition will be your Form B21, otherwise known as your “Statement of Social Security Number.”  This statement is the only non-public part of your Bankruptcy Petition and will only be seen by, you, me and the Bankruptcy Court.  It is not a public document and therefore, your entire Social Security Number will be protected against identity theft.  This is quite possibility the most important document you will read and sign at the time of filing.  In fact, I will require that you re-read this document several times, and even show me your Social Security Card to confirm the accuracy of your Social Security Number.  If your social security number is wrong on this form, your debts will not be discharged…but someone else’s may be!  So always triple check…and then check again!

After you have read and signed all of the documents you will be given a copy of your entire Petition.  After you go home, I will then electronically file your Petition.  During the e-filing process a Case Number, a Chapter 7 Trustee, and a date for your 341 Meeting will be randomly generated and assigned to your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case.  I will deliver this information to you by phone or email, and a Notice will be delivered to you directly on the mail by the Bankruptcy Court including this and other pertinent information about your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry in this Chapter 7 Series which will explain just who and what the Chapter 7 Trustee is and why the Trustee plays such a vital role in your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy!

For more information or to find out if you qualify for Bankruptcy, please call our office at 203-713-8877.

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This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.