Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Law
Whether it is you, a family member, or your small business experiencing financial hardship in this tough economy, sometimes filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection is the best solution for your most difficult problems. Chapter 7 bankruptcy provides debt relief for qualified individuals and businesses. While Chapter 7 does not enable you to restructure secured debt or catch up on past-due payments or taxes, our experienced bankruptcy attorneys can help clients in Seattle Washington discharge unsecured debt, providing them with a clean slate.
What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
The Seattle bankruptcy attorneys at Symmes Law Group can assist you in filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 of the United States Bankruptcy code is known as the “fresh start” bankruptcy which allows debtors to discharge most if not all of their unsecured debt, including credit cards, medical bills, repossessions and payday loans. In essence, it allows you to get a fresh start and begin rebuilding credit immediately. For some clients their credit actually improves due to filing bankruptcy now that they are able to make payments on their remaining debts and all of their unsecured debt is eliminated. Additionally, in most cases you may keep your vehicle and home if there is not excess equity above state or federal exemption laws.
What Is The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Process?
For most people, the bankruptcy process starts with an internet search or a suggestion from a family member or a friend about how chapter 7 bankruptcy can improve your financial situation. The next step is for you to reach out to a bankruptcy attorney who can best advise you of your options and whether chapter 7 bankruptcy makes sense for your situation as everybody has different situations which may require other courses of action. Symmes Law Group offers a free initial consultation either at the office or by phone and you can set this up by e-mailing [email protected] or calling us at 206-745-4597.
The next step in the process is figuring out whether you qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. This will be determined in most situations during your initial consultation. Your attorney will review your family’s income, household size and assets among other considerations. Once the consultation is complete you should have a good idea whether you will be able to file and qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. At the conclusion of the free consultation you will be e-mailed detailed instructions on what information you will need to gather up and provide to our office in order to assist you with filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy. These documents include a questionnaire in which you will be required to list all of your assets, income, expenses, and debts while also proving information related to specific bankruptcy related questions. In addition you will be required to provide your last 2 years of tax returns, last 6 months of paystubs, a signed retainer agreement and any third party debt collection notices that you may have received. You may provide this information in person at the office, through a scanned PDF in e-mail or by faxing the information to 206-905-2993. Once the information is received and your attorney fee paid (either by check or debit card) give your attorney at least a week to prepare your petition to file with the Federal Bankruptcy Court. During the prep process a copy of your most recent credit report is obtained and your attorney will follow up with you through e-mail about any follow up questions or additional information that is needed. As part of the process you will also need to complete a credit counseling class online which must be completed prior to filing your chapter 7 bankruptcy case. At the end of this process your attorney will also ask you whether you want to review and sign your documents in person at the Seattle office or they can also be provided for signatures through e-mail or fax. Once your petition is signed, your case will be filed which usually happens on the same day. At the signature meeting you will be asked to provide any new paystubs that your attorney does not have already as well as bank printouts that show your current balance as of the date of filing and 30 days of transaction history.
Do I have To Go To Court When I File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
As soon as your chapter 7 bankruptcy case is filed, the court will automatically assigned a bankruptcy 341 hearing court date. This court date usually occurs in about 30 days from the date your case is filed. If you live in King county your meeting will most likely be held on a Thursday and are located at the Federal Court in downtown Seattle, WA. If you live in Snohomish county the court dates are usually on a Tuesday and are held in at Everett Station in Everett, WA. If you live in Pierce county your court date will most likely be on a Monday and the hearing is held at Union Station in Tacoma, WA. Attendance at the meeting is mandatory and you will need to make arrangements to attend the court hearing in advance. If English is a second language then a translator may also be provided at the time of the hearing.
For most debtors the bankruptcy hearing goes by quickly and generally lasts a total of 5 minutes. With that said you should plan to be at court for about an hour as there could be 10 or more other cases on the calendar at the same time as yours so you may have to wait your turn. At the meeting you and your attorney will meet with a bankruptcy trustee who has been assigned to your case. The chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee has a duty to represent all of the creditors in your case. He reviews your bankruptcy petition and assets to make sure you don’t have any assets that are above the exemption limits (rules that allow you to keep your stuff), and also looks to see if you made any transfers of assets that you were not supposed to. If you don’t have any assets that are above the exemption limits, then your meeting will go by quickly as the trustee is only interested in your case if there are any assets that can be liquidated for the benefit of your creditors. Here is a list of questions that you will be asked at the bankruptcy hearing:
- State your name and current address for the record.
- Please provide your picture ID and Social Security number card for review.
- Did you sign the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents and is the signature your own? Did you read the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents before you signed them?
- Are you personally familiar with the information contained in the petition, schedules, statements and related documents? To the best of your knowledge, is the information contained in the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents true and correct?
- Are there any errors or omissions to bring to my attention at this time?
- Are all of your assets identified on the schedules? Have you listed all of your creditors on the schedules?
- Have you transferred any property to friends or family members in the past two years?
- Do you have any claims to an inheritance or are you expecting to receive any lump sums in the next year?
- Have you previously filed bankruptcy? (If so, the trustee must obtain the case number and the discharge information to determine the debtor(s) discharge eligibility.)
- What is the address of your current employer?
- Is the copy of the tax return you provided a true copy of the most recent tax return you filed?
- Do you have a domestic support obligation? To whom? Please provide to me the claimant’s address and telephone number, but do not state it on the record.
- Have you read the Bankruptcy Information Sheet provided by the United States Trustee?
When Is My Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case Complete and Final?
The last step prior to you receiving a discharge order is for you to compete a second credit counseling class called the financial management class. This must be done within 60 days after your 341 hearing or else you case could be closed without a discharge. Once you have completed the class and you provide the certificate of completion your attorney will file it with the bankruptcy court. If you have completed the financial management course, then in about 60 days from the date you attended your court hearing and 90 days from when your chapter 7 bankruptcy case was filed you will receive a discharge order from the bankruptcy court. The discharge order is very generic and states that you have been discharged of your debts unless they are certain types of debts that are not dischargeable. Soon after the discharge notice is issued your case will be formally closed and the process will be complete.
How Much Does Filing For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Cost?
The legal fee’s in bankruptcy can vary as not all cases are the same or one size fits all. Your attorney will discuss the legal fee’s with you during your initial consultation. With that said all bankruptcy attorneys must collect the legal fees up front to avoid the fees being discharged in the bankruptcy, however Symmes Law Group does offer convenient payment plans which allow you to retain Symmes Law Group and stop all calls from creditors. In addition to the legal fee the bankruptcy court charges a filing fee which is $335. Additionally your attorneys will obtain a credit report in which the company providing the report charges a fee of $37/person.
Once you have paid your entire legal fee a bankruptcy attorney will start work on your chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in preparation for filing. Once we file your case, the automatic stay period will begin. The automatic stay is part of federal bankruptcy law which says that creditors may not collect on debts without first getting relief from automatic stay from the bankruptcy court which is rare. This means that after we file your bankruptcy petition we can stop wage garnishments and harassing phone calls. Our fees are affordable and based on whether you are filing a single or joint petition with a spouse and how much debt you are seeking to discharge. Call our Seattle bankruptcy lawyers today at (206) 682-7975 to schedule your free initial consultation to learn more.
For answers to clients most commonly asked questions about chapter 7 bankruptcy please visit our Chapter 7 Bankruptcy FAQ.