For me the starting point for most bankruptcy cases is a call from the prospective client. If you are reading this that could be you. Before anything else I like to do a screening over the phone. This can be done in about fifteen minutes, sometimes maybe a bit longer. No need to be afraid of me. I’m easy to talk to. There’s no fee for the phone conversation. If the information from the phone conversation indicates that bankruptcy is appropriate, whether that be a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13, the next thing I want to do is meet face to face in my office for a more serious consultation. For this I will charge a small consultation fee, which I will have quoted in the phone conversation. I will credit the consultation fee against my fee for the case if we decide to go ahead. If I suggest that you come in for a consultation, it’s because I’m already fairly certain that it is a case I would accept.
There are four batches of information that I would ask you to bring when you come:
- Forms. There are two forms on my web site, the bankruptcy questionnaire and the monthly expense sheet. Please print these two forms and fill them out in pen and ink. Pencil is OK too. Then bring them with you when you come. Some of the questions, especially on the first form, are hard to answer. If you can’t figure out the question, leave it blank and we’ll talk about it when you come in. Complete the expense sheet to the best of your ability, and we’ll go over those numbers when you come in too. Remember that things you charged on a credit card count as an expense as well as the things you paid for in cash or by means of your checking account.
- Tax returns. I’d like to see your state and federal tax returns for the past two calendar years, along with your W2s and any similar supporting paperwork. At the time of writing this post, that would be the returns for 2011 and 2012. If you filed for a Minnesota property tax refund or Minnesota rent credit, I’d like to see that return for the past two calendar years as well. If you file separate returns for your corporation or LLC, bring them along as well.
- Pay stubs and income information for the past seven months. I need to see the last seven months of pay stubs from your your job and from the job of your spouse. If you don’t have them, get them from your employer or from your employer’s web site. By seven months I mean the six previous months plus the month we are in. If you don’t have pay stubs because you are self employed, I need a spread sheet showing your gross income and your business-related expenses for that same seven month period. If you don’t have pay stubs because you are unemployed, I need detailed info on what unemployment benefits you are receiving and what taxes are being withheld from your benefits if any. If you are receiving child support or spousal maintenance, I would want dates and amounts received during that seven month period. If you are on Social Security or Social Security Disability, provide me with details of how much you received gross in the past seven months and what if anything was withheld from that. If there is any kind of income coming in from anywhere, I need to know about it.
- Details about your debts. I want to see every piece of paper you have describing each and every debt. Include your credit cards, car loans, mortgages, tax debts, student loans and any fines and penalties you owe. I usually can’t make the student loans go away, but I still need to know all about them. You probably intend to keep paying your mortgages and car loans, but we need to list them anyway. Some of your tax debt may be dischargeable, but even if it isn’t we need to list it all. Be sure to include nasty letters from lawyers and collection agencies. Eventually we will be checking your credit report, but for the first meeting the information you have handy about your debt will probably be enough.
As you might have gathered by this point, that consultation in my office is usually quite thorough. I should be able to give you an opinion concerning your situation that will be worth the trip. Figure on spending an hour and a half – more if we are planning on running a means test.