This guide will help you understand what the process will be for your first meeting with a bankruptcy attorney.
Should I bring documents?
Even though this is an initial meeting, you should consider bringing some paperwork with you. The following is a list of documents that may help you or the attorney understand your situation better:
1. The most recent 3 months of bank statements (for all accounts - checking, savings, money markets, etc.)
2. The most recent credit card statement
3. The most recent 6 months of your paystubs or other proof of income, such as social security award letter, annuity statement, or pension statement
4. The most recent 6 months of your spouse's paystubs or other proof (see above)
5. The most recent 401 k statement or other similar retirement or pension account
6. The most recent 2 years of tax returns
7. A list of your household expenses, including cable bills, health insurance, daycare, gas, car payments
8. A list of your assets/things you own and any supporting documents you may have (for example - deed to your home, title to the car, jewelry appraisals).
9. Your driver's license or other valid identification
10. Any court papers regarding you or any lawsuit you are involved in
What are we going to talk about?
Every attorney is different, however, most attorneys will want to know some basic information about your situation. This information could include why you are deciding to file for bankruptcy, what kind of income you have, and what types of debt you have. Having the list of documents above will also help you become familiar with how much you spend on gas per month and where the electric bill payment comes from.
What does the bankruptcy process look like from start to finish?
During your first meeting, the attorney should also discuss the process of a bankruptcy. In Florida, the process will look like this:
You meet with the attorney, the attorney provides you with a questionnaire to complete, and a list of documents to obtain. When you have completed the questionnaire and collected the documents, you will provide them all to the attorney. One the attorney has all the documents, they can begin working on drafting your paperwork. Once the paperwork is completed, you will review and sign them. Once they are signed, the attorney will file them with the court.
After your case is filed, you will be assigned a judge and a trustee who will review your case.
You will also be scheduled for a 341 Meeting of Creditors. This meeting gives the Trustee assigned to your case an opportunity to ask you questions about the documents you signed, your assets, and your debts. Once the 341 Meeting is completed, the Trustee will wait to see if there are any objections to the discharge of your debts and wait for all deadlines to pass. If your case was handled properly, you should receive a discharge of all debts.
What does a discharge of debtor mean?
This is what all people who file bankruptcy (called debtors) want. You want a court to tell you that you do not have to pay for those credit cards, medical bills, etc. A discharge of debtor is signed by a bankruptcy judge and is the court order you need.
Remember though - not all debts are dischargeable in bankruptcy. If you owe money for student loans, to the IRS, or for child support or alimony, these debts (and others) are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
What are the fees associated with filing bankruptcy?
Most bankruptcy attorneys do not charge a fee for the initial consultation. In Tampa Bay, most bankruptcy practitioners charge anywhere from $1,200 to $1,900 per Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 cases will have attorneys' fees range from $3,750 to $4,250. Those amounts can also increase each year per bankruptcy court guidelines or due to the complexity or challenge of your case.
There will also be a filing fee for your bankruptcy case. Currently, the filing fee for a Chapter 7 case is $335 and the filing fee for a Chapter 13 case is $310.
Can I file for bankruptcy without an attorney?
Yes. Although, I would suggest you meet with an attorney first. If you have an asset, such as a car, that has equity in it, filing for bankruptcy without an attorney could mean the car being liquidated by the Trustee and taken away from you. If you are trying to save a home from foreclosure, an experienced bankruptcy attorney will be able to make the process less involved for you. Having an attorney handle your bankruptcy case means that lawyers get to do the lawyer stuff and you get to go to work, be a mom, etc. and not have to deal with court pleadings and papers.
The story I always tell is - hiring a lawyer for your case is like painting your home. You can do it yourself - you can go to the paint store and buy paint, the blue tape, rollers, tarp, and spend two or three weekends outside painting your house. In July, in Florida, that is not fun. But chances are, you could do a good job painting your own house. On the other hand, you could hire someone to paint your house - a professional would handle everything and they would show up at your house and paint, while you sat inside and drank lemonade in the air conditioning. Of course, that luxury comes at a cost. But when the goal is to discharge thousands of dollars of debt, isn't it worth it to spend the money on a professional?