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Bankruptcy for Potential Clients
What is Bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding in which a person who can not pay his or her bills can get a fresh financial start. The right to file for bankruptcy is provided by federal law, and all bankruptcy cases are handled in federal court. Filing bankruptcy immediately stops all of your creditors from seeking to collect debts from you, at least until your debts are sorted out according to the law.
What legal rights do my creditors have at their disposal?
They have the legal right to call you and to send you notices in the mail. They can repossess your car, furniture and appliances. They can pull you in for a debtor’s exam. They have the right to serve you with legal documents, to litigate your case in court and to gain a judgment against you. Afterwards, they can contact your place of employment to garnish your wages; they can put a hold on your bank account and they can place a lien on your home. They also have the right to bill you for legal fees and to apply high interest rates on your debt.
What is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
In a chapter 13 case you file a plan showing how you will pay off some of your past-due and current debts over three to five years. The most important thing about a chapter 13 case is that it will allow you to keep valuable property – especially your home and car – which might otherwise be lost. In most cases, these payments will be at least as much as your regular monthly payments on your mortgage or car loan, with some extra payment to get caught up on the amount you have fallen behind. You should consider filing a chapter 13 plan if you:
- Own your home and are in danger of losing it because of money problems;
- Are behind on debt payments, but can catch up if given some time;
- Have valuable property which is not exempt, but you can afford to pay creditors from your income over time.
You will need to have enough income during your chapter 13 case to pay for your necessities and to keep up with the required payments as they come due.
What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 is known as “straight” bankruptcy or “liquidation.” It requires an individual to give up property which is not exempt under the law, so the property can be sold to pay creditors. Generally, those who file chapter 7 keep all of their property except property which is very valuable or which is subject to a lien which they can not avoid or afford to pay. In a bankruptcy case under chapter 7, you file a petition asking the court to discharge your debts.
The basic idea in a chapter 7 bankruptcy is to wipe out (discharge) your debts in exchange for your giving up property, except for exempt property which the law allows you to keep. In most cases, all of your property will be exempt. But property which is not exempt is sold, with the money distributed to creditors. If you want to keep property like a home or a car and are behind on the mortgage or car loan payments, a chapter 7 case probably will not be the right choice for you. That is because chapter 7 bankruptcy does not eliminate the right of mortgage holders or car loan creditors to take your property to cover your debt.
If your income is above the median family income in Arizona, you will have to complete a means test to see if you qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. (For Arizona cases filed after February 1, 2008, the median income for a single wage earner is $40,945; for a family of two, it is $53,153; for three, $59,782; and for four, $66,903. Add $6,900 for each individual in excess of 4). Based on the means test results, the bankruptcy court may decide that you have to file a chapter 13 case.
What does Bankruptcy cost?
The Neeley Law Firm offers the most unique and client-centered pricing in Arizona. We can file your Chapter 7 case for $0 in legal fees before filing.
We can file your Chapter 13 case as low as $190 in legal fees before filing.
We’ll never bait-and-switch you. We’ll never high-pressure sell you. We’ll just carefully review your situation, give you a detailed recommendation, then offer you a payment arrangement that will work perfectly for your exact situation. We’ve done it for over 5,000 thrilled clients in Arizona so far!
- For most Chapter 7 cases, we can file your case for $0 in legal fees (you only pay the $335 bankruptcy court filing fee)
- After filing, you will make low monthly payments for the post-filing work
- For most Chapter 13 cases, we can file your case for just $190 to $690 in legal fees plus a $310 bankruptcy court filing fee for a total of $500 to $1,000
- The remainder of our fees can usually be paid through your Chapter 13 plan, which may have payments as low as $100/month depending on your assets, income, and expenses
TAX PROBLEM RESOLUTION OR OTHER WORK
- We offer low flat fees and payment plans for almost everything we do so that you know up front what we will do for you and what it’s going to cost you
WHAT YOU GET
When you choose to work with our Arizona bankruptcy lawyers, you get much more for your money than you would elsewhere. You will have the support of attorneys who understand your situation and who are passionate about helping you become debt free. You will have access to a caring attorney at all times, not just a paralegal or support staff.
Don’t expect to get a lower quality of service or a less experienced attorney just because our fees are low. We are here to help from start to finish, and will remain available whenever you have concerns or questions about your finances, even after your case is done.
Will I lose my home or car?
In most cases you will not lose your home or car during your bankruptcy case as long as your equity in the property is fully exempt. Even if your property is not fully exempt, you will be able to keep it, if you pay its non-exempt value to creditors in chapter 13. However, some of your creditors may have a security interest in your home, automobile, or other personal property. This means that you gave that creditor a mortgage on the home or put your other property up as collateral for the debt. Bankruptcy does not make these security interests go away. If you don’t make your payments on that debt, the creditor may be able to take and sell the home or the property, during or after the bankruptcy case. In a chapter 13 case, you may be able to keep certain secured property by paying the creditor the value of the property rather than the full amount owed on the debt. Or you can use chapter 13 to catch up on back payments and get current on the loan. There are also several ways that you can keep collateral or mortgaged property after you file a chapter 7 bankruptcy. You can agree to keep making your payments on the debt until it is paid in full. Or you can pay the creditor the amount that the property you want to keep is worth. In some cases involving fraud or other improper conduct by the creditor, you may be able to challenge the debt. If you put up your household goods as collateral for a loan (other than a loan to purchase the goods), you can usually keep your property without making any more payments on that debt.
What property can I keep?
In a chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you can keep all property which the law says is “exempt” from the claims of creditors. If you moved to Arizona within the past two years, you may be required to use the exemptions from the state where you lived previously. In Arizona the bankruptcy exemptions include:
- $150,000 in equity in your home;
- $6,000 in equity in your car;
- $6,000 in household goods;
- $5,000 in tools you need for your job;
- Specific amounts for wedding rings, watches, pets, clothing, musical instruments, books, etc.
- Your right to receive certain benefits such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, veterans’ benefits, public assistance, and pensions – regardless of the amount.
The amounts of the exemptions are doubled when a married couple files together (except for the equity in the home). In determining whether property is exempt, you must keep a few things in mind. The value of property is not the amount you paid for it, but what it is worth when your bankruptcy case is filed. Especially for furniture and cars, this may be a lot less than what you paid or what it would cost to buy a replacement. You also only need to look at your equity in property. That means you count your exemptions against the full value minus any money that you owe on mortgages or liens. For example, if you own a $200,000 house with a $100,000 mortgage, you have $100,000 in equity. You can fully protect the $200,000 home with Arizona’s $150,000 exemption. While your exemptions allow you to keep property even in a chapter 7 case, your exemptions do not make any difference to the right of a mortgage holder or car loan creditor to take the property to cover the debt if you are behind. In a chapter 13 case, you can keep all of your property if your plan meets the requirements of the bankruptcy law. In most cases you will have to pay the mortgages or liens as you would if you didn’t file bankruptcy.
What do I have to do before I can file?
You must receive budget and credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency within 180 days before your bankruptcy case is filed. The agency will review possible options available to you in credit counseling and assist you in reviewing your budget. Different agencies provide the counseling in-person, by telephone, or over the Internet. If you decide to file bankruptcy, you must have a certificate from the agency showing that you received the counseling before your bankruptcy case was filed. Most approved agencies charge between $30 – $50 for the pre-filing counseling. Some of the approved agencies offer debt management plans (also called DMPs). A DMP is a plan to repay some or all of your debts in which you send the counseling agency a monthly payment that it then distributes to your creditors. Debt management plans can be helpful for some consumers. For others, they are a terrible idea. The problem is that many counseling agencies will pressure you into a debt management plan as a way of avoiding bankruptcy whether it makes sense for you or not. You should not consider a debt management plan if making the monthly plan payment will mean you will not have money to pay your rent, mortgage, utilities, food, prescriptions, and other necessities. It is important to keep in mind these important points:
- Bankruptcy is not necessarily to be avoided at all costs. In many cases, bankruptcy may actually be the best choice for you.
- If you sign up for a debt management plan that you can’t afford, you may end up in bankruptcy anyway (and a copy of the plan must also be filed in your bankruptcy case).
- There are approved agencies for bankruptcy counseling that do not offer debt management plans.
I strongly recommend that you meet with me before you receive the required credit counseling. Unlike a credit counselor, who cannot give legal advice, I can provide counseling on whether bankruptcy is the best option. If bankruptcy is not the right answer for you, I will offer a range of other suggestions. I can also provide you with a list of approved credit counseling agencies.
Will the collections call stop?
As soon as you file a petition for bankruptcy you are protected by an automatic stay. This means that foreclosures, repossessions, garnishments, utility shut-offs, and debt collections must all be immediately stopped. If the debt collectors keep calling after you file, give them my number and have them call me personally – it will be the last time you hear from them, I assure you.
Will bankruptcy clear all my debts?
With some exceptions, bankruptcy will discharge all of your unsecured debt.
However, bankruptcy will not normally eliminate:
- Money owed for child support or alimony;
- Most fines and penalties owed to government agencies;
- Most taxes and debts incurred to pay taxes which can not be discharged;
- Student loans, unless you can prove to the court that repaying them will
be an undue hardship;
- Debts not listed on your bankruptcy petition;
- Loans you got by knowingly giving false information to a creditor, who
reasonably relied on it in making you the loan;
- Debts resulting from willful and malicious harm;
- Debts incurred by driving while intoxicated;
- Mortgages and other liens which are not paid in the bankruptcy case (but
bankruptcy will wipe out your obligation to pay any additional money if
the property is sold by the creditor)
How will bankruptcy affect my credit?
There is no clear answer to this question. Unfortunately, if you are behind on your bills, your credit may already be bad. Bankruptcy will probably not make things any worse. The fact that you’ve filed a bankruptcy can appear on your credit record for ten years from the date your case was filed. But because bankruptcy wipes out your old debts, you are likely to be in a better position to pay your current bills, and you may be able to get new credit. If you decide to file bankruptcy, remember that debts discharged in your bankruptcy should be listed on your credit report as having a zero balance, meaning you do not own anything on the debt. Debts incorrectly reported as having a balance owed will negatively affect your credit score and make it more difficult or costly to get credit. You should check your credit report after your bankruptcy discharge and file a dispute with credit reporting agencies if this information is not correct.
Do I really need a lawyer or attorney?
Although it may be possible for some people to file a bankruptcy case without an attorney, it is not a step to be taken lightly. The process is difficult and you may lose property or other rights if you do not know the law. The cost of hiring an attorney to represent you in bankruptcy can end up saving you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
Is Bankruptcy right for me?
Many people who are struggling with debt have questions about their options. At The Neeley Law Firm, our Arizona bankruptcy attorneys will answer your questions and focus on how they relate to your unique situation. Even if you aren’t sure if bankruptcy is right for you, we will help you understand the process and how you may benefit.
Call us for a FREE consultation!
Bankruptcy law was created to help people get a financial fresh start. If you are experiencing any of the following, you may benefit from the debt relief bankruptcy can provide:
- Large debt loads
- Constant calls from debt collectors
- Creditor harassment
- Utility shutoffs
- Wage Garnishment
Millions of people throughout America experience many, if not all, of these problems. Even if you believe that there is little hope or relief in sight, you do have options and the Neeley Law Firm will help you find the one that best meets your needs.
LEARN MORE DURING A FREE CONSULTATION
Bankruptcy is a powerful tool for debt relief that can put a stop to many of the problems you may be facing now. While bankruptcy can provide relief from debt, it is not always the right option for everyone.
If you would like to learn if bankruptcy is right for you and how our firm can help, book an appointment online or call us for a FREE consultation.
Can I get my creditors to negotiate lower interest rates and payments on my own?
Yes, but it can be risky. Some of your debts may have been purchased by third parties or may be with law firms, and their only concern is to force you to pay as much as possible on your debt as quickly as possible. Even right during negotiations, a lawsuit could show up on your doorstep.
Will bankruptcy permanently ruin my credit?
No. People who file bankruptcy are often surprised by how quickly they’ll start getting credit card offers in the mail again. Offers for secured credit cards (which require a deposit to the bank) with a low limit can arrive within a month of the debt discharge. And many car dealerships and furniture stores are happy to work with those who have declared bankruptcy, and your on-time payments will be reported to the credit agencies’ reports that will serve to improve your credit score! We also offer an exclusive program called 7 Steps to 720 that can help you quickly and easily rebuild your credit score.
Can my medical or credit card bills be discharged in bankruptcy?
Yes! Almost all unsecured contract debt, like credit cards, personal loans, and medical bills, remain dischargeable in bankruptcy.
Can I get rid of back taxes in bankruptcy?
Sometimes. Some federal, state and local taxes, inheritance taxes, and personal property taxes (including interest and penalties) can be discharged in bankruptcy. There are several qualifications that have to be met to do so, but often tax debt can be reduced or eliminated in bankruptcy.
Is it really hard to file for bankruptcy?
No, not really. In the beginning certain documents must organized and provided, and a financial questionnaire needs to be filled out. But afterwards, in the hands of an experienced Phoenix bankruptcy attorney, a bankruptcy case generally goes very smoothly. We handle all the technical details, leaving you free to concentrate on your family and loved ones, and to rebuild your financial future.
Will I lose everything if I file for bankruptcy?
No. In most bankruptcy cases filed by individuals, the debtor is able to keep everything they own. That’s because exemptions provide for assets that the debtor can keep and some assets, like retirement accounts, are beyond the reach of bankruptcy trustees and creditors. Furthermore, Chapter 13 reorganization is specifically designed to enable you to keep your assets while paying only the amount of debt that you can reasonably afford.
Why shouldn't I use a law firm that will charge me a lesser fee?
In this instance, the old adage is true: “You get what you pay for.” Please understand, to stay afloat these bargain firms must entice a large number of clients each month and place their caseloads into a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter template. Also, they often require their clients to perform casework that should be in the hands of a skilled paralegal or attorney. And court fees are rarely included in their advertised price. Even more, one of the most prominent “discount” bankruptcy firms in Arizona has recently declared its own bankruptcy, leaving thousands of people without an attorney, even though they had already paid some or all of their fees. So, be very cautious of those types of firms.
Am I being irresponsible by filing bankruptcy?
Not if you’ve already done what you can to avoid bankruptcy, like most of our clients have. You likely had a reduction in income, a divorce, or an illness that has caused you financial hardship. Remember, the federal government has made it lawful for anyone to declare bankruptcy because it knows that, for the most part, those who do file are responsible people who just ran into unexpected difficulties.
Will bankruptcy hurt my credit score for 10 years?
No! Bankruptcy is reported on your credit report for up to 10 years (Chapter 13 will sometimes drop off after seven years), but that does not mean it will have a negative effect on your credit standing for that long. In fact, most people’s credit score will begin to improve soon after they file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 if they pay their bills on time.
Here’s why. By the time most people make an appointment to see a bankruptcy attorney, their credit is usually messed up already. There’s nowhere to go but up; filing bankruptcy can help eliminate the past due balances, stop the continuing negative reporting and put you in a position to restore your good credit.
The Bankruptcy Process
What happens after filing an initial consultation?
The next step in the process is to complete the Client Questionnaire and gather the documents on the Checklist provided at the initial consultation.
Once complete, these documents can be dropped off, mailed, faxed (480.907.1648) or emailed to the assigned paralegal at any time; they don’t need an appointment.
What happens after documents are submitted?
In about 2‐3 business days, the paralegal will review the paperwork and send them an email requesting additional information or to schedule their signing appointment. If they are ready, a signing appointment is scheduled 2‐3 business days later in order to allow the paralegal to complete their bankruptcy petition.
What happens at a signing appointment?
Client will come into the office (unless a phone signing is approved by the paralegal) and go over their bankruptcy petition with their Attorney. Their case will get filed that same day.
On the day of filing they will need to bring an activity print‐out that displays the balance in their bank accounts on the day of your appointment –all open accounts (this includes pre‐paid debit accounts and savings accounts).
** On the day of filing, bank accounts are protected as follows: Single filer: $300 in one account. Joint filers: $600 in one account or $300 in two accounts.
** Cash on hand is not protected on the day of filing. Please do not withdraw money from your bank account and hold onto it to deposit at a later time.
** In a Chapter 13, if your balances are above the amounts allowed it could increase your Plan Payment to pay more to the unsecured creditors.
What is a deficiency notice?
Our firm files your bankruptcy petition in two portions. For that reason, the day after your case is filed the Court sends you Deficiency Notice. We will file the schedules & statements accordingly. Please ignore the notice, it is only for your records. This is a standard procedure in our office. We file a case with minimum information and then file the full petition at least 7 days later. This allows us to offer the $0 down pre-filing option to our clients.
What is the Trustee Packet/documents?
Clients will receive their trustee packet about 2‐3 weeks from the filing date. Trustees know that we have the documentation but they still want it to come from debtor(s)(our client). This is a “check and balance” system in place to oversee the information provided by Attorneys and Debtors. Trustees want the documents requested 7 to 10 days prior to the 341 Meeting.
If a client has questions or needs an appointment, the assigned paralegal will handle it. Please note:
There are a few Trustees who wants us to upload the documents to their websites. This include, David Birdsell, Roger Brown and Lawrence Warfield.
What happens at a 341 Meeting?
The purpose of the hearing is to verify the client(s) identity and at that time the Trustee will let them know if there any questions or concerns. If that happens, the Attorney present will take notes and then, the assigned Attorney and/or paralegal will follow up with the Trustee’s request for additional information/documents.
What do I bring to a 341 meeting?
Driver’s license and social security cards. If they don’t have a social security card, they will have to bring original W2’s or 1099’s; although there is always a risk that the Trustee might continue(reschedule) the hearing.
When can I expect a discharge?
The Bankruptcy Court will order a discharge 60‐90 days from the meeting of creditors. The bankruptcy Court will send them a notice in the mail. If they haven’t received it, we can email them a copy.
Once a discharge is ordered, it could take 30‐45 days for it to fully impact your credit report. We don’t recommend pulling your credit report until then.
Closing of a Case
Once the Trustee is done with the administration of the case, he/she will be close the case. This can be right after a discharge is ordered or up to 2 years. It depends on whether tax refunds needs to be administered to unsecured creditors or not.
The closing of a case is not relevant to the client unless they want to buy a house or refinance their house.
What happens to my credit report after bankruptcy?
Once a discharge is ordered, it could take 30‐45 days for it to fully impact your credit report. We don’t recommend pulling a credit report until then.
Accounts might show as closed or $0 balance. Please note that judgments, delinquencies & evictions can stay in their credit report as history for up to 10 years.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is deleted 10 years from the filing date because none of the debt is repaid.
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they agree to a repayment plan that usually takes place over three to five years……………. A completed Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the accounts included in it should
disappear from their credit reports seven years from the date they filed.
How do we help our clients improve their credit score?
To help them rebuild their credit, we have purchased a firm membership (which Mr. Neeley himself helped developed) to the 7 Steps to 720 Credit Score Program. We will enroll you in the program soon after your case is discharged at no charge.($1,000 membership)
If there are any discrepancies on your credit report, we highly recommend contacting the credit repair agency Credit World Finance at the contact information below:
Keith Jenkins 602‐288‐8828
20 E Thomas Rd, Ste 2200
Please upload to Bridge Legal, email, fax or drop‐off tax returns to the assigned paralegal. Unless otherwise advised by their paralegals, clients will have to mail their full refund checks to the Trustee. The Trustee to will then take the percentage owed to him/her and then issue a check with the remaining balance and send it to our clients.
What is credit counseling and how do I complete it?
We recommend the course offered by www.MoneySharp.org – Use attorney code 135KLN when you register. We will receive the certificate automatically and file it with the Court.
Clients will have to complete two courses: one prior to filing and one after filing. The second is called Debtor Education course and we recommend our clients to take it before the Meeting of Creditors. This is the second course that they must take in order for their case to be discharged.
What is Reaffirmation?
When you reaffirm a debt, you agree that you will still owe the debt after your bankruptcy case is over. Both the creditor’s lien on the car and your personal liability for the debt under the original loan survive bankruptcy intact—often, just as if you never filed for bankruptcy.
Advantages to Reaffirmation
Reaffirmation provides a sure way to keep your car as long as you abide by the terms of the reaffirmation agreement and keep up your payments. Reaffirmation also provides a setting in which you may be able to negotiate new terms to reduce your payments (by reducing your principle, reducing your interest, and/or extending your loan term).
Disadvantages to Reaffirmation
Because reaffirmation leaves you personally liable for the debt, you can’t walk away from the debt after bankruptcy. You will be legally bound to pay the deficiency balance if it is surrendered or repossessed due to non‐payment or even if the car is damaged or destroyed. And because you have to wait eight years before filing another Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you’ll be stuck with that debt for a long time. For example, if you reaffirm your car note and then default on your payments after bankruptcy, the creditor can (and probably will) repossess the car, auction it off, and bill you for the difference between what you owe and what was received in the auction.
If I am no longer personally liable, what does that mean?
If you do not Reaffirm, then you will not be personally liable. Since you are not personally liable, you can return the car to the lender at any time with no consequences. For example, if you want to trade in your car and find out that you owe more than it is worth, rather than adding the negative equity to the new loan balance, you can return the car to the lender and buy the new car without trading in the old one.
What are my options?
- Do nothing. If you choose to do nothing, your discharge will protect you from any liability on the car loan. If you keep making your payments, the lender will likely continue to accept the payments and let you keep the car. You run the risk of the lender repossessing the car at any time without notice‐‐‐even if you are current on the payments. But, if that happens, the lender cannot pursue you for any deficiency or damages.
- Sign the agreement with Attorney signature. If we sign the agreement, the judge will either automatically enter an order approving the agreement and making you personally liable for the debt or the Judge will schedule a hearing to approve the agreement. If you have a negative disposable income and the attorney signs the agreement, then the Judge will schedule a hearing to determine if the agreement is in your best interest. If a hearing is schedule, you will be responsible to attend the hearing and an extra payment of $300.00 will be added to your payment plan with our office. We rarely sign agreements when there is evidence that the risk of the personal liability outweighs the benefit.
Most lenders will not file a Reaffirmation Agreement unless you are current on your payments. So, if you choose option 2 above, you need to get current on your payments (if you’re not already). If you are unable to get current on your payments immediately, then you will need to contact your lender to see if they are willing to make alternative payment arrangements.
If you want to discuss reaffirmation or possible alternatives in more detail, please feel free to contact your Attorney. They will be happy to discuss your specific situation with you.
Mortgage Reaffirmation Agreement
In Arizona, it is not a requirement to reaffirm a mortgage, but there may be some benefits such as:
- Credit Reporting
- Monthly Statements
- Online Access
- Easier to Refinance
However, reaffirmation can hold disadvantages as well. If the house forecloses or sells for less than you owe, you might be liable for the deficiency amount. Fortunately, in most cases, Arizona has laws that protect a homeowner from being sued for a deficiency balance on a purchase‐money mortgage on residential property. The reaffirmation agreement will not change that. But, if you’re not certain your loan qualifies for Arizona’s anti‐deficiency protection, you may want to pass on reaffirming.
Even if you don’t reaffirm, the lender cannot foreclose on your home as long as you continue to make the monthly payments.
If you want to reaffirm your mortgage, please fill out any highlighted portions, and sign & date on the highlighted signature lines. Then return the agreement to me via e‐mail or mail. If you have a negative disposable income and the attorney signs the agreement, then the Judge will schedule a hearing to determine if the agreement is in your best interest. If a hearing is schedule, you will be responsible to attend the hearing and an extra payment of $300.00 will be added to your payment plan with our office. We rarely sign agreements when there is evidence that the risk of the personal liability outweighs the benefit.
Personal Property Reaffirmation Agreement
The creditor wants you to reaffirm the debt, settle the account or return the collateral. In our experience, this is usually a hollow threat. The process that they would have to go through in order to repossess the collateral is almost always more hassle than it is worth to them.
If you want to guarantee that you keep the property (because even though it’s not likely that they will go through the repossession process, it is technically possible), then you will need to enter into an agreement with them. If that is what you want to do, then please review the attached agreement. You may want to consider contacting the creditor to attempt to negotiate a reduced balance, reduced interest rate and/or better payment terms. If you are comfortable with their terms, then fill out and sign the agreement and send it to the creditor so that they can file it with the court.
Otherwise, your Attorney advises that you ignore this reaffirmation agreement and let the creditor make the next move.