Step 1 – Free Consultation.
The first thing you will do if you are considering filing bankruptcy is to meet with a bankruptcy lawyer. We provide a free one hour consultation to all prospective bankruptcy clients. You may contact our office by calling 912-335-3640. Prior to meeting with us, we will send you our Client Intake Form that you will need to fill out and bring with you to your consultation. You will also need to bring with you the following documents: bank statements for the last 3 months; pay stubs for the last 6 months; your tax returns for the last 2 years; and all bills with the contact address and account numbers. Be sure to include all medical bills, credit card bills, car payments and mortgage statements, personal loans, rent to own contracts, furniture loans, title loans or title pawns; and any paperwork you have regarding lawsuits, garnishments, foreclosure or repossession. When you arrive, you will meet with our bankruptcy paralegal Theresa Black as well as our bankruptcy lawyer Thomas Gore. In the consultation, you will explain your situation to us, and we will explain the bankruptcy process to you, and how it would work in your case. We will discuss the different types of bankruptcy available to you and give you information about how to pick which type of bankruptcy is right for you. We may also discuss non-bankruptcy alternatives. After having heard about your situation, We will also discuss the fee that we will charge for our services, and other costs that may be incurred by you in filing bankruptcy. You have no obligation to file bankruptcy. The consultation is simply a chance for us to talk and for you to learn about your options.
Step 2 – Deciding to File.
At your consultation, or at some later time, you may decide that you wish to retain our services in order to get a fresh start. If you do make this decision, we will have you sign a contract specifying the work that we are going to perform and the fee that we will charge. You will be allowed to read the contract before you sign, and we will give you a copy to take home with you as well. Depending on your case, you may then have to pay your fee, or your fee may be deferred to a later date. One important thing to remember, is that if you are filing a Chapter 7 case, then we will have to take the entire fee before you file. We will discuss this in detail at your initial consultation.
Step 3 – Gathering Additional Information and Documents.
After deciding to retain us, we will begin to prepare your bankruptcy petition for the court. Your petition will be very detailed and we are required to provide supporting documents for much of what is stated in your petition. To meet that requirement, we will need to collect from you detailed information including creditor names and addresses, account numbers, income records, bank records, tax returns, property lists, financial history, etc. We will also sit down with you to go over certain aspects of the information needed to file. We will also help you obtain a free credit report to ensure that we have captured everyone that you may owe money to. While the credit report is a good tool, they are not always correct, so we will need you to make sure any creditors not listed on the report are included in your bankruptcy case. Once we have this information, it usually takes us less than one week to have your petition completed and ready to be signed.
Step 4 – Credit Counseling Class.
The new bankruptcy law enacted in 2005 now requires you to complete two credit counseling classes. One of those classes must be completed before you file your case. You may find a list of approved classes here. These classes may be completed over the telephone or on the internet. The first class should only take about one hour to complete. Once the class has been completed, our office will be notified and given a certificate of completion.
Step 5 – Signing and Filing Your Petition.
After completing your petition, we will schedule a conference with you to review and sign your petition. This is an important meeting with your attorney. We want your papers to be perfect and we take pride in our work. You will see that a great deal of work goes into your petition, schedules, statement of financial affairs, and other documents we prepare for you. They will usually exceed 50 pages in length. At this meeting we will update information, add missing information, make additions and corrections, and review everything with you.
After your petition is completed and signed by you, then we will file your case electronically. Immediately after filing, federal law known as the Automatic Stay goes into effect and protects you from collection efforts from your creditors. If any lawsuits or wage garnishments have been filed against you, then we will have them stopped. Furthermore, if a foreclosure or repossession was pending, those too will stop immediately after filing. If any creditors call you, you can give them your bankruptcy case number and refer them to us. Up to that moment your creditors have been pushing you around, harassing you with phone calls. Now you can push back.
Step 6 – Another Credit Counseling Class.
After we file your case, you will be required to take another credit counseling course. You must wait to take this course until after you have filed. This course can also be taken either over the telephone or online. We prefer that you take this course soon after filing so that we know it is done and your discharge is not delayed. If you do not take this second course, you will not be able to receive a discharge – and a discharge is the whole point! The discharge is what eliminates your debt. So, take the second course as soon as possible and avoid any trouble with your discharge.
Step 7 – The Creditors Meeting
All debtors in either a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 must attend a meeting called the Creditors Meeting. This meeting is run by the trustee. Both the trustee and any creditors that appear will be allowed to ask you questions about your financial condition, your property, and your bankruptcy petition. Usually, however, no creditors appear. In Savannah, the creditors meeting is held on the 7th Floor of the Johnson Square Business Center, 2 East Bryan Street, Savannah, Georgia. In Statesboro, the creditors meeting is held at the Federal Courthouse, 52 N. Main Street, Statesboro, Georgia.
So what happens at the creditors meeting? Usually, the creditors meeting consists of questions from the trustee lasting five to ten minutes. There is no time deadline, but the trustee processes many meetings every hour and they like to have the cases move along efficiently. The meeting takes place in an informal meeting room. You and your attorney as well as the trustee and any creditors will all sit around a conference room table during the meeting. The meeting is run by the trustee and is under oath and recorded. The bankruptcy judge will not be present at the meeting. You will not be the only case on the calendar, but the meetings are not something generally attended by the public at large. When the case is called, you and your lawyer will move to the trustee’s table and the meeting will commence.
You will need to bring with you your social security card and your state issued ID. Most of the time, the trustee will ask the same questions in generally the same order to all participants. So if you are paying attention to those who go before you, you will usually know exactly what will be asked. Usually, the trustee will begin by asking questions about your petition: whether it is complete and accurate, whether you listed all of your debts and assets, whether you reviewed it prior to filing it, how you determined values, etc. The trustee will also likely ask you whether you are owed any money, whether you are suing anyone or have the right to sue anyone, whether you have any winning lottery tickets, or whether you expect to inherit anything soon.
After a few more questions, the trustee will ask whether any creditors are present with an interest in this case. If no one is present, the trustee usually announces, that the meeting is concluded. If any creditors have appeared, they may ask questions. However, there is a practical time limit on how long creditors can question the debtors because there is usually a very long line of other cases waiting to be heard. If a creditor asks too many questions, at some point the trustee will stop the questioning and advise the creditor that if they want to continue, they need to move forward with a deposition called a “2004 Examination.” Again, the normal situation is that no creditor even appears.
Step 8 – Discharge in Chapter 7
After the creditors meeting in a Chapter 7 case, there will not be much to do but wait. There are a number of deadlines that must pass during this time. If no objections to your discharge are filed, a discharge is granted roughly 90-120 days after your meeting of creditors. The discharge is the whole point of the Chapter 7 process. This is what eliminates your creditors’ ability to collect any sums that you owed them and effectively extinguishes the debt.
Step 9 – Plan Payments and Discharge in Chapter 13
Contrarily to a Chapter 7, the Chapter 13 process lasts quite a long time. Thirty days after you file, you must begin making your payments as set forth in your plan. If you are employed, then your payments will be taken directly from your check, but often the order setting forth the salary deduction does not make it through the court until the first payment or two are due. You are responsible for these payments, even if they are not automatically deducted, so check your pay stub to determine whether you need to make arrangements to pay the first few payments yourself. Once the payments begin coming out of your check, you will not have to do anything further, and your payment will be made. However, if you change jobs, you must notify our office so that we can have a new Salary Deduction Order set up.
Soon after the creditors meeting, the court will hold a hearing to “confirm” your plan. The confirmation process is the court’s acceptance and approval of the plan. Often times, the estimated payments in your initial plan will have to be changed slightly (or less frequently drastically) so that the plan makes all payments required by the bankruptcy code. For 98% of our cases, you will not be required to attend the confirmation hearing. We will typically call you a day or two before the hearing to let you know you do not need to attend. If you get behind in your plan, the trustee’s office will file a motion to dismiss. This is not necessarily the end of the case, however. We are usually able to reach a resolution to keep you in your case. Some possible resolutions are to increase your remaining payments, to extend the number of payments (if you are below 60), or to provide a cure payment before the hearing date on the trustee’s motion.
If you successfully make all of the required payments under your Chapter 13 plan, then the court will grant your discharge, and you will no longer owe the discharged creditors. Also, most secured debts such as furniture or cars will be paid in full, and any arrearage on your home will be caught up. You cannot discharge in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 certain debts such as student loans, alimony, and child support. Furthermore, If you are paying alimony or child support, you cannot receive a discharge until the court confirms that you are current on those obligations.