It is important to weigh the costs and risks associated with filing your case pro se (without an attorney but paying a petition preparer) instead.
While it may appear to be the cheapest way to file, in reality you get what you pay for and what you’re paying for is the burden of representing yourself. You may remember the old story about a man who stood before a judge representing himself in an important case like yours. When he was judged guilty, he retorted to the judge, “I’m innocent and in fact, a holiday should be named for people like me.”
The judge replied, “There is. It’s called “Fools Day.” Hence the saying, “A man representing himself has a fool for a client.”
People who file for bankruptcy without an attorney may hire a paid “Bankruptcy Petition Preparer” and think they’re getting a deal. In truth, they usually discover unpredicted expenses and higher repayment plans that may cost you more money than it saved. Further, hiring later an attorney to straighten out the mess will inevitably mean that you’ll be spending more money than had you done the right thing in the first instance. For whatever reasons you now find yourself hopelessly in debt spend the little bit more by hiring a licensed bankruptcy lawyer in the first place and enjoy the peace of mind that you deserve.
The cost to retain a Washington State bankruptcy lawyer depends on the attorney. There are low-cost bankruptcy attorneys in Washington who offer excellent service at a reasonable price. So, take the time to be selective to make sure that you are getting the most out of your lawyer and not just someone who just charges you less in order to get the work. One additional benefit of allowing Randall & Waldner to design and implement a well thought out chapter 13 is that we can design a plan that allows you to pay a portion of your legal fees through your chapter 13 plan itself. This enables you to pay a small retainer up front before filing and receiving the debt relief you are entitled to quickly.
To file for chapter 13 bankruptcy your lawyer will need to prepare a petition and other important forms. The documents are typically 60 pages and often more. Along with the petition our offices submit:
1. A list of your assets and liabilities, a budget, list of your creditors and various other financial information.
2. A chapter 13 repayment plan
3. Your credit counseling certificate
Preparation of these documents is a complicated process. As you might guess, it takes a skilled attorney years to understand the law and the system and possess the experience to distinguish between what is realistic and what is wishful thinking.
One myth surrounding bankruptcy is that your credit score will always drop after filling a case. Typically, about 12 months after filing your credit scores go up. The 3-bureau credit reports that we obtain show a projected post-filing score that usually goes up from those scores as tabulated prior to filing. For many of our clients we offer a free credit repair program designed to get their scores to a 720 shortly after filing for bankruptcy. But we must stress that the idea behind filing for Bankruptcy is not to build credit, but rather, to get out of Debt.
If you think about Bankruptcy and credit scores rationally it makes sense that the FICO scores go up. Someone has lots of debt before they file for Bankruptcy. No one, including credit card companies and other lenders are interested in standing in line to collect money from someone who owes many creditors. After someone gets a discharge in Bankruptcy they typically have no debt and can’t file another case for several years, making him or her a better credit risk.
Probably no one that you don’t tell unless they have also filed for Bankruptcy and are at the same meeting of creditors as you are. Your creditors will all get a notice in the mail. Typically, discovering that someone has filed for Bankruptcy requires access to confidential information such as a social security number and an account with a Court supervised vendor named Pacer. Historically, most employers do not run credit checks and it is a rarity that you will cross paths with anyone that knows that you have filed for Bankruptcy.
Up to 10 years from the date of filing.
The means test was created in 2005 by congress to make it difficult for people to qualify for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Ironically, in 2005 when The Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act was enacted it did very little to protect consumers.
At Randall and Waldner we pride ourselves knowing all of the ins-n-outs of the Means Test. While, it can be a challenge, we can almost always get you through the Means Test.
You can try. I certainly would not recommend it in the case of Chapter 13. Similarly, in a chapter 7 you can lose your assets if you do not exempt them correctly by listing the correct sections of the Bankruptcy Code. It just makes good sense that at the end of the day attorneys are the best at practicing law, just as engineers are experts at designing buildings and surgeons are experts at surgery. If you are not an expert in those fields you do not attempt to do what these experts are trained to do.
For these same reasons we do not recommend hiring a preparer to take a stab at completing your case. These people are non-lawyers who often are called out for the unauthorized practice of law and for this reason can’t lawfully give you advice. Further, their cases are often red-flagged by the Courts as well as the Department of Justice for extra scrutiny because many a citizen has fallen victim to their errors. And it is not at all unusual for a Trustee to ask an unrepresented debtor who had helped them prepare the paperwork. This question will be asked under oath and the last thing you need when attempting to escape a debt owed to a creditor is to perjure yourself and risk criminal prosecution that includes jail. Once a trustee finds out a non-attorney helped prepare a case usually everyone, including the Debtor, gets into trouble.
Chapter 13 plan payments are very complicated but here are a few things that need to be considered:
Absolutely, we help Debtors with this every day. Typically, court approval is required but we always look at the feasibility for a modification.
One thing unique to Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is called the “Co-Debtor Stay” Which is an automatic stoppage that applies to a co-signor of consumer debts while your case is open and before discharge.. That means that if you and a member of your family are jointly liable on a consumer credit card and one of you files for Bankruptcy then the creditor will not be allowed to go after the non-filing family member to collect on the debt but only while the case remains open. This stay will not apply to business debts.
Even most debts that are not Dischargeable are actually paid out in a chapter 13 case. So, creditors cannot try on collecting on debt, with a few exceptions, while in chapter 13. Some debts that are not discharged (but usually paid off by the Trustee anyway) are:
It’s complicated but a Chapter 13 discharge will eliminate credit card, medical and most other unsecured debts. Student loans are almost never forgiven. And should there exist a second or third mortgage on a home or other property that is under-secured (meaning that there is no equity left in the property securing them) then they can often be wiped out completely.
The answer is almost always yes. A Chapter 13 trustee will try to get you to pay back as much as possible without destroying the feasibility of your Plan. They do this by trying to persuade the Court and the Debtor to increase the plan payments. But our job as your bankruptcy attorney is to show the Court and trustee why the payments should be lower and not higher. Having the right attorney can save you many thousands, or tens of thousands , over the life of a Chapter 13 case. Many of the Chapter 13 cases we have worked on have payments of less than $200 per month.
Absolutely. Chapter 13 can help with your taxes, domestic support obligations, and even with student loans if you know how to structure it properly and you also have the option of using Chapter 13 to create a long term repayment plan for certain debts that are not dischargeable in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. But this is serious business that you’ll need serious attorneys in order to take advantage of the full range of options available to you. So don’t delay and call Randall & Waldner for a free no obligation evaluation of your situation.