Frequently Asked Questions About the Bankruptcy Process
Why do I need to take a class before I file for bankruptcy?
The bankruptcy code requires that a debtor take a credit counseling course before filing for bankruptcy relief. Filing a case without it will result in the automatic dismissal of the case. The course helps you be completely informed prior to deciding to file for bankruptcy relief. Additionally, the course teaches you how to manage your finances, both during the bankruptcy proceeding and after you get back on your feet again. When the course has been completed, you must provide a copy of your certification to our office. There are a variety of companies that offer the course either online or by telephone.
In what district will my bankruptcy be filed?
It depends upon your county of residence. In most cases, it will be the Northern District of California Bankruptcy Court, Oakland Division as most of our clients live in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. In other instances, it could be in the San Francisco, Santa Rosa or San Jose Divisions. We do file cases in the Eastern District of California Bankruptcy Court, which means either the Sacramento or Modesto Divisions.
Can I keep my credit cards?
No. While your bankruptcy case is open it will be hard for you to acquire new debt. Most credit card companies will close your existing accounts, even if you have a zero balance, at the time of your filing. You may be able to obtain a secured credit card. If you are filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief, you may be able to use a credit card or gas card for business purposes. Once your discharge is entered you will again be eligible for credit but you may need to let some time pass to obtain better terms.
When will my creditors be notified that I have filed for bankruptcy?
Within a week of your bankruptcy filing, the bankruptcy court mails a notification to your creditors. The notice is sent to all the creditor addresses that you listed in the paperwork you filed with the court.
What do I do about creditors who keep calling me after my case is filed?
Chances are that the creditor did not realize that you are in bankruptcy. Give them your case number and the calls should stop. If the creditor fails to stop contacting you then the creditor is violating the automatic stay provisions of the bankruptcy code. If it occurs post-discharge, then the creditor is violating the fair debt collection laws. Let us know if you continue to have any problems.
What is the 'Meeting of Creditors', or '341 Meeting?'
This is a meeting that is required by the bankruptcy code. Its purpose is to give the bankruptcy trustee an opportunity to verify your identity, review your information and ask you questions about your assets and liabilities. We provide the trustee with copies of your paystubs and tax returns one week before the meeting. In Chapter 7 cases, we also provide the trustee with a questionnaire which you will have completed beforehand. Creditors rarely appear, but if they do, they can ask you a few questions. You as a debtor must appear, testify under oath and respond to the trustee’s questions to the best of your ability. You may also have to provide certain supporting documentation, like grant deeds and bank statements. If you own a business and are filing Chapter 13, you need to fill out a special business questionnaire and provide particular financial information and documentation.
When is the Meeting of Creditors held?
Within a week of the bankruptcy filing, you will receive a letter from bankruptcy court notifying you of the hearing date and time. The time and date is set by the court, but it is usually about 30 days after you file if a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and about 60 days if a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Most meetings are usually held in the morning. The meeting will likely take less than fifteen minutes once you are called.
Where is the Meeting of Creditors held?
For cases in the Oakland division, the meeting will be held at the Federal Building, which is near the 12th Street BART station. Paid parking is available nearby. Building security allows only persons with valid and current ID to enter. The address is as follows:
1301 Clay Street
North Tower, Room 680 N
Do I have to attend the Meeting of Creditors? Does my spouse have to attend?
Yes. You must attend. If you both filed, then you both must attend. If you do not attend, the trustee will continue your meeting and eventually your case could be dismissed for non-appearance. If your case is dismissed, you will not receive a discharge and creditors can call you again.
Will my attorney be present at the Meeting of Creditors?
Yes. We have no control over when the court schedules the initial meeting. If a conflict occurs on our calendar and David Arietta cannot attend, we will notify you and arrange to have competent bankruptcy counsel appear on our behalf.
Will my attorney speak on my behalf at the Meeting of Creditors?
Your attorney will be present to assist you, as needed, but cannot speak for you.
What do I need to take with me to the Meeting of Creditors?
You must take both a valid Driver’s License or California ID, and a Social Security Card. If you cannot find your Social Security card you should obtain a replacement. An IRS account transcript is a substitute. In Chapter 13 cases, you might be able to rely on copy of your tax return.
What happens after the Meeting of Creditors?
If all goes as expected, the trustee will declare your case a no-asset case in Chapter 7 and in Chapter 13 cases the trustee will recommend confirmation of your Chapter 13 plan. In Chapter 7 cases you then wait for your discharge to be entered while in Chapter 13 you just continue making your monthly plan payment.
Will I have to take an additional class?
Yes. The bankruptcy code also requires that you take a post-filing debtor education course otherwise you will not receive a discharge of your debts. This course teaches personal financial management skills to help you develop sound strategies for managing your money in the future. Upon completion, you must provide our office with the certificate. The deadline for completion is 60 days from the first date set for the meeting of creditors in Chapter 7 cases. In Chapter 13 cases, the deadline is when your last plan payment is due which is 3-5 years. If you fail to take the class in a timely manner, the court may close your case without entering the discharge of your debts. You would then have to pay a filing fee to reopen your case.
How long does it take to receive the final discharge notice?
In Chapter 7, you will receive a discharge approximately two months after your meeting of creditors but again you must have completed your personal financial management (post-bankruptcy) class. In Chapter 13, you will receive a discharge once you have completed all of your plan payments.
How are the statements for my mortgage or car loans affected?
Post-petition, you will likely not receive any statements. In addition, auto-pay arrangements will be discontinued. In Chapter 7, continue to make your monthly mortgage and car payments unless you are going to surrender your home or your car. In Chapter 13, continue to make your post-petition mortgage payments, unless you are going to surrender your home. If your car loan is being paid as part of your Chapter 13 plan, you do not have to make the monthly payment as it is part of your monthly plan payment. Make your payments as you did before – same due date, same mailing address- regardless of whether or not you receive a statement. Also keep your property insured. Once your discharge is entered, you may begin to receive statements again depending upon the financial institution.
How long will bankruptcy appear on my credit record?
Up to 10 years. You should obtain a credit report within a year after the discharge is entered and verify that your pre-petition debts are classified as “discharged in bankruptcy.” If they are not, you should dispute the debts directly with the credit reporting agency. Let us know if you are encountering problems as you may have a claim under the credit reporting acts.
What is the effect of bankruptcy on my credit score?
Bankruptcy will lower your credit score to the low to mid 500s but your credit score may already be low so a bankruptcy filing may not make things that much worse. Note that your credit score gets better each year after your discharge is entered. On average, you should have a 700 score by your third year post-discharge.
What is a reaffirmation agreement, and am I required to sign it?
Reaffirmation agreements only pertain to Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Occasionally, a creditor will want you to sign a reaffirmation agreement. Most car companies make the request for their car loans. Essentially, it is a contract that you sign after you file a Chapter 7 that legally binds you to the original or modified terms of the original contract. It will survive your bankruptcy as if you had never petitioned for protection. We normally do not recommend that you sign reaffirmation agreements but just continue making payments on your car loan or home loan. By not signing the agreement, you can retain the ability to surrender the vehicle without any obligations, even after the bankruptcy is finished.
What about my installment agreement with the IRS?
If your have an installment agreement in place with the IRS, they will stop your installment payment arrangement during the pendency of the bankruptcy. If in Chapter 13, they will expect payments to be made from the trustee’s office directly instead of you making payments directly.
Can I pay off my Chapter 13 bankruptcy early?
Unless you are paying your creditors in full, it will be very difficult to pay off your bankruptcy early. Exceptions may be granted in certain situations. Call us to discuss further.
What if I want to sell, refinance or short sell my house during a Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
After escrow is opened, contact the Trustee’s office once you have an estimated HUD-1 and seek approval of the terms of the proposed sale. They will give you an approval letter and may make a demand into escrow.
What if I need to buy a car during a Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
You need the Trustee’s permission in advance. Before you shop for a car, contact their office for specific instructions. You will only be able to obtain permission for a car loan of a certain amount.
Contact us for more information or if you have questions.