How Much it Costs to File Bankruptcy

I often receive phone calls where the first thing I hear is “how much does it cost to file bankruptcy?” It’s very hard for me to provide a simple answer.  Bankruptcies aren’t like cans of beans which I keep here on a shelf already stamped with a price.

If the caller will let me ask a series of questions so that I can get an idea of what kind of case it would be, then I might be able to suggest what the fee would probably be. If the caller wants a number right away, the conversation usually ends fairly quickly. My fees are not the lowest in the area, and if that’s all someone is looking for, then I’m not the lawyer they want.  All I can do in this situation is say “Can I ask you a few questions?” and see if they want to discuss it or not.

Lawyer fees in bankruptcy are a matter of public record. In every case the petition includes information on what the lawyer has charged. When it comes to Chapter 13 cases, it’s true that there is what is called the “no-look fee.” This is the amount that the judges have agreed a lawyer can charge without having to provide a detailed explanation. In Minnesota this has not gone up for a long time, and I often hear complaints from my colleagues that it is too low. Several lawyers I know make it their policy to provide a detailed billing for every Chapter 13 case so they can go higher than the no-look fee. For many of the more complicated cases, such as a case involving a lien strip, I can certainly see this might be an appropriate thing to do.

Personally, however, I have always so far just charged the no-look fee. Right now as of the date of this writing, the no-look fee in Minnesota is $2,500 for a below median Chapter 13 and $3,000 for an above median Chapter 13. The court filing fee is always additional.  BUT in a Chapter 13 part of the lawyer’s fee can be put into the Chapter 13 Plan so that the client does not have to pay it before the case is filed. In most Chapter 13 cases, putting part of the attorney fee in the Plan just means that the creditors get that much less. So from the point of view of my client, the part that goes into the Plan might as well be free. The result is that in most of my Chapter 13 cases, I wind of asking for less before filing than I do in the Chapter 7s.  The current court filing fees are $281 for a Chapter 13 and $306 for a Chapter 7.  Whatever it is that I’m charging, the court filing fee has to be put on top of that.

For most of the Chapter 7 work that I do, my fees are lower than they are for the Chapter 13s. There’s a good reason for that: in the Chapter 13 case I am responsible for the case for between three and five years. Chapter 7s are over usually in a matter of months. My fees for the Chapter 7s are competitive, but not the lowest in town. I dare not say much more than that without having a specific situation in mind.  Every case is so much different from every other case that I’ve never been able to come up with a one size fits all fee schedule. But I’m always glad to discuss my fee with anyone who can take a few minutes to chat about their situation on the phone, and for those chats on the phone I don’t charge a thing.

I should mention here that there is a counseling requirement that must be satisfied in both Chapter 7 and 13. There is one counseling course that must be done before filing, and another that must be done after filing. That’s two (2) courses that must be done before the process is complete.  My clients can go anywhere they want for the counseling, as long as the agency has been approved by the US Trustee’s office. The agency I recommend charges $40 per course if I sign the client up for the course, and $10 more per course if the client goes there on their own. It can be done on line and over the phone without leaving home.  I don’t get any sort of commission or referral fee from the counseling people, although they did send me some cookies one Christmas. When you count the before filing and the after filing courses together, this is another $80 of total cost.

I am not comfortable with filing anything with the court unless I have given it the proper amount of attention, so I know it’s done right and likely to go smoothly. I tell my clients that we are going to do the work in my office before filing the case, so that we don’t have to do a lot of extra work at the courthouse after the case is filed.  By the time we get to the hearing, also known as the first meeting of creditors, I want the case to be the most boring and plain vanilla thing the Trustee has ever seen. If the Trustee almost falls asleep during the hearing, I did it right. My clients often say after the hearing, “is that all there is to this?” Most of the time at that point it is all there is, because I did all the sweating over the case before it was filed.

By the time I get to the courthouse, it is likely that I will have spent as many as 15 hours on a case, sometimes much more than that. I will have had at least four face to face meetings – often many more than that – with my client, probably a couple hours each time.  Recently I checked my calendar and found that I had met with one client 11 times before the case was ready to file.  A bankruptcy petition has somewhere in the range of 500 questions, and tends to run between 50 and 65 pages in length. These questions are answered under penalty of perjury.  An incorrect answer can be a crime for my client.  When I sign the petition, I also am certifying that everything in it is correct.  I can be sanctioned, perhaps severely, if it’s not. A client asked me recently, after the case was completed, “Kelly how can you sleep at night with all this stuff to keep track of?” All I can say is that I sleep better when I know I’ve given it my best.

Should I File for Bankruptcy?

Should I file for Bankruptcy?

Should I file for Bankruptcy?This is a difficult question. As you can imagine, I get asked this a lot. Usually “Should I File For Bankruptcy?” is asked as one of the first questions when a new prospective client calls or emails me. Most of the time, the question is too complicated for dealing with by email, so early on in the exchange of emails I am very likely to suggest that the person just call me on the phone.

I usually break the conversation down into two issues: First, can these people file for bankruptcy – are they eligible; and second, we answer the question “should I file for bankruptcy”.

For details of the technicalities of eligibility, you should look at my pages devoted specially to Chapter 13 and Chapter 7. Almost everyone qualifies for one or the other, although I do run into a few who don’t qualify for either.

Assuming that a person qualifies, the question of should I file for bankruptcy is probably harder to figure out. In my opinion nobody should file any kind of a bankruptcy if they have any other options available to them. How does one know if there are any other options? After all there are adds on the TV and the radio for debt management programs and debt consolidation programs.

In my opinion you are out of other choices if your dischargeable unsecured debt – the debt that usually can be gotten rid of in a bankruptcy – equals or exceeds one half of your annual gross income.

So first I will try to figure out how much your annual income is right now, and then I will want to start adding up the debts. When I add up the unsecured debt, I do not include the student loans, because they will still be there after the bankruptcy is finished. I also would not include child support arrearages and most taxes for the same reason. As a practical matter, however, lots of student loan debt or other nondischargeable debt may lower ratio of how much other debt as compared to annual gross income would justify filing in my opinion. The higher the student loan debt, the lower the dischargeable unsecured debt to income ratio I would want to see before taking the case.

What Does The Law Say about Filing for Bankruptcy?

The law doesn’t help answer the question of Should I File for Bankruptcy. It provides for no minimum amount of debt which is required to be there before one can file a bankruptcy.

Every case is different, and there has never been a foolproof mathematical formula that has seemed to work for me. But here’s what I am really trying to figure out:  as a practical matter can these people live long enough and work hard enough to pay off this debt by some time within their reasonable life expectancy?

If the answer is no, then I recommend that either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 be filed. What I find is that most of the people who call me have passed the point of no return some time ago.

If you need to talk to a professional about whether or not you should file for bankruptcy, give me a call today at: 952-544-6356

Or Fill Out Our Contact Form Here

Eligibility Requirements for Filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition

Debt Relief, MN Bankruptcy

Debt Relief, MN BankruptcyIf you are one of many people across the country who are suffering from more debts and obligations than your budget can seem to handle, you are probably thinking about seeking the protection of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Like most, you may also be wondering if there are specific rules or regulations that determine your eligibility to file a petition.

In order to file a petition for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you need to meet certain conditions defined within the bankruptcy codes. To begin with, your level of income must fall below a specific amount, and if so, you next have to pass another set of eligibility standards called the ‘means test’. However, the bankruptcy laws also state that the bankruptcy court can dismiss your petition if you have previously filed for bankruptcy during a specific length of time. The bankruptcy court can also dismiss your petition if feels you might be defrauding your creditors.

In previous bankruptcy laws prior to 2005, the judge presiding over the case could dismiss any Chapter 7 petition if you had enough disposable income to finance a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy repayment schedule to your creditors. With the new bankruptcy laws in effect, there are much clearer guidelines that determine if you will be allowed to remain in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or if you might be required to petition for a Chapter 13. Only disabled veterans who have built up debts while on active duty, and people who have taken on too much debt because of a struggling business are allowed to submit an uncontested Chapter 7 petition.

These new guidelines for filing a Chapter 7 petition begin by determining how your ‘current monthly income’ amount compares to a standard or ‘median’ income level, and is it also based on your particular household size in your state. This amount is also calculated by averaging your total earnings during the previous six months prior to filing your petition. If your earnings happen to fall below or are equal to this median amount, you will certainly be able to qualify for a Chapter 7 petition.

On the other hand, if your earnings are above this median figure, then you must meet the next challenge by passing the ‘means test’ required in the up-dated bankruptcy guidelines. The means test is used to find out whether you have enough disposable income, after deducting living expenses and other debts like child support or alimony for instance, to repay your creditors over a three to five year repayment plan in a Chapter 13 petition. These guidelines were designed to keep people with higher levels of income from filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The new bankruptcy laws also state that you may not file a Chapter 7 petition if you have already received a discharge of your debts in a Chapter 7 case within the previous 8 years, or in a Chapter 13 within the previous 6 years. In addition, you cannot file if either a previous 7 or a 13 was dismissed anytime within the previous six months because you violated a court order, you committed any fraudulent activities, or you dismissed your case because a creditor sought relief from the protection provided by the automatic stay.
Finally, the bankruptcy court can also have your case dismissed if it is felt you attempted to commit fraud against your creditors, or tried to conceal your assets or personal property from the bankruptcy court in order to avoid the liquidation process. The liquidation of your assets is necessary so that the court-appointed trustee on your case can repay as much of your unsecured debts as possible to your creditors.

It is important to remember that simply because you qualify under the means test guidelines does not mean you should automatically file a petition for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The test is only intended to confirm that you are eligible to file. Any decision to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy should be made only after considering all other options and possible alternatives, and only after discussing these options with knowledgeable and qualified bankruptcy attorney.

If your would like to know more about Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and your Eligibility, Call David Kelly Today at: 952-544-6356

Or Fill Out Our Online Contact Form

CBS Evening News?

As I’ve gone about my business this week, I’ve been somewhat disturbed by what I saw on Memorial Day when I sat down for the first time in years and watched the CBS Evening News.  Most days I’m still at the office when that comes on. 

Earlier that day I had seen in the Wall Street Journal that the mood of the country was turning pessimistic.  This seemed to jive with the tone of the phone calls I have been getting and with the mood of the people who come in to see me.  So I was curious to say the least when CBS presented a piece about how things were getting all better and consumer confidence was on the rise.  The scene they presented was Atlantic City, which if I recall correctly is located in New Jersey.  Several merchants were interviewed along with a few customers, and they were all upbeat and optimistic.  In part this was because of the drop in gasoline prices. 

No mention here of how the reason for the gas price drop – again what I see in the Wall Street Journal – is that the world economy is apparently on the edge of some sort of collapse or depression, Exhibit A being Greece. 

I noted with interest on Tuesday morning a report from the AP indicating new consumer confidence numbers showing the biggest drop in months.  And today I can’t help but notice that the unemployment rate – which had gone down some because of the large number of people giving up on looking for work – just went up this morning.

So what’s the deal with CBS News?  I felt a bit insulted to be expected to buy that item about how everybody is confident that things are getting better.  I used to love Walter Cronkite.  He told us the way it was.  Can’t help but feel disappointed with what I saw from his previous employer on Monday.

Launching New Website Soon

If you have been having trouble finding my website, please know that I am still here.  The site at http://www.mn-bankruptcy.com suddenly became less visible when Google changed it’s algorithm
about two weeks ago.

I’ve always done the site on my own, but maybe that was a mistake.  I constantly tell people to seek professional advice, and I guess it’s time for me to do that.  Gosh I hate to.  I suppose that’s how people feel when they decide they need to call me. 

Long story short, last week I hired a web site design person who is now in the process of reworking my entire site.  When he analyzed the site as it stands now he found over 40 code errors.  We are hoping to have the newly designed site launched within a couple of more weeks. 

On the new site the information you are looking for will probably be easier to find.  So keep an eye out for the changes.

New Median Income Figures

Just learned that the US Trustee’s Office is issuing new median income numbers effective May 1st. They are going up for all household sizes. This is a good thing.

Please keep in mind that I’m only talking here about the figures for Minnesota.

For a household of one, the present number is $46,161, but after May 1st it will be $47,618. For a household of two it goes from $61,170 to $63,101. For household of three it increases from $71,784 to $74,050, and for household of four it goes from $84,251 to $86,910.

For every additional family member in addition to four, add another $7,500.

I thought right away of one person who I had just spoken with who was discouraged over being just a little over the median. So I called that person just now with the news that now the family is probably a bit under the median.

In case you are wondering, the big deal is that as long as your income is under the median, you can avoid being subjected to what can sometimes be a very difficult means test.

Tax Refunds Predicted to Fund Over 200,000 Bankruptcies

Just finished reading a USA Today article which refers to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study says they expect over 200,000 American households to use their income tax refunds to pay for filing bankruptcy.

“Last year the average tax refund was $2,913, NBER says. That’s enough for many Americans to file for bankruptcy,” says the article. “Those who have trouble saving money will delay filing for bankruptcy until they have a one-time cash infusion, such as tax rebates or tax refunds.”

It’s not news to me that people often will use their tax refunds to hire me or someone like me to prepare a bankruptcy filing. The predicted number, however, seems pretty high to me even though it is a nation wide number. If asked to guess off the top of my head what the number would be, I would have figured about half that – maybe 100,000.

Well, tax day is Tuesday – April 17th this year. Getting the returns filed is important. I no longer will file a bankruptcy case in a situation where all the tax returns have not been filed first. But take care of yourself and don’t get too frantic about it. In particular, don’t have a car accident over it.

Big Meeting Tonight

The state bar association bankruptcy section is meeting tonight. The topic will be lien stripping.

Judging just from the announcements concerning tonight’s meeting, a bit of controversy seems to be brewing. At first the topic was announced as how to lien strip or words to that effect. Then the topic was changed to something like “a discussion of the pros and cons of lien stripping.”

I believe that sooner or later the process of lien stripping will be commonplace in Minnesota. Right now the procedure still seems a bit unsettled. I’ll have more to say after tonight. Perhaps my opinion will change. I would probably be willing to try it if I had the right case.

Student loan horror stories

Two student loan horror stories:

Story No. 1. I’ve heard back from one of my former clients that student loans are now harder to get than they were before filing. In fact, that particular person seems to have been cut off entirely from student loans. It means for that client, who happens to have been employed as well as in school, that money will have to be set aside in advance before going back to school. So there is an unexpected delay in educational plans. It may be significant that this was a person who was relying on private student loans, not government student loans.

There’s what appears to be good article on the subject of bankruptcy and student loan eligibility at finaid.org. They say that bankruptcy should not effect eligibility for government student loans, but that it is common for there to be a problem with private student loans. This might explain why I haven’t been hearing from most of my clients or former clients about any such difficulties. I believe that most of my clients, if they do have an ongoing financial aid program at a college or school, are using government lenders not private lenders.

Story No. 2. Again, it’s a problem with a private lender. Client is no longer in school, but has a student loan and wants to keep paying. However, for several months now the client has not been able to find anybody who will accept the payment. There seems to be a musical lender shell game in progress. After the bankruptcy filing, the original lender seems to have transferred the loan to another institution. The new lender seems to have transferred it again, but the client can’t seem to find out where. I’ve made some calls about it, but it seems impossible to get a real person. When one does get a real person, they just say you’ll hear from someone soon. But so far that’s not happening. Frankly I wonder if someone has lost the file. The problem is of course that student loans don’t ever really go away, and sooner or later this thing is going to pop up with somebody demanding payment. And I’m sure whoever it is won’t be forgiving any of the interest that has been accumulating during this time that the loan seems to have disappeared.

I’ve been telling my clients that if they will be needing more student loans after we file, then they better check with the lender and their financial aid office at school to try and get a preview in advance as to what the effect of the bankruptcy might be.

Lien Stripping Update in "Minnesota Lawyer"

Just noticed that Minnesota Lawyer has a good recent article on the subject of lien stripping and the status of the availability of this process for Minnesota residents. This is a process in Chapter 13 bankruptcies involving people who have second mortgages. It has to be a situation where the value of the house is less than the balance on the first mortgage. The theory is that in cases where the homestead is worth less than the balance on the first mortgage, then the second mortgage is not really a secured debt.

One prepares and files a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in which the second mortgage is put in with the unsecured debts. If it succeeds, the debtors should be able to come out the other end – usually after paying in on a Chapter 13 plan for five years – with only one mortgage on their house instead of two. This could really help a lot of people. The trouble right now is that the availability of the process is still under appeal. Besides that, the exact procedure for clearing the lien of the second mortgage from the title as a matter of real estate law is still under discussion.

Once the appeals are over and both the bankruptcy laws and the real estate laws have been fully nailed down, this could be really something. For now I have not found myself willing to subject a client of mine to all the risks involved in this procedure. To me it just doesn’t seem quite ready for prime time. I know lawyers who are going full steam ahead with this, however, and I could refer you to one it you’d like to at least look into it.