bankruptcy law self-help

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An article in today’s Sante Fe New Mexican reminds us that a lot of Americans could use a mini-course in the bankruptcy laws that went into effect in October 2005. (“Bankruptcy Filings Take a Dive,” by Bob Quick, Oct. 6, 2006)  That’s because (1) many people who could still benefit from filing bankruptcy are failing to do so, due to misunderstanding how the new laws work, and (2) despite the increased complexity of the law, self-representation could be an important option, as many bankruptcy lawyers have left the field and those remaining are charging considerably higher fees to reflect added responsibilities.   Here are a number of good places to learn about the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 and about bankruptcy self-representation (updated Oct. 7, 2006 with additional sources):         

          
The New Personal Bankruptcy — An Overview, from the HALT Everyday Law series, which explains: “Now, no one can file for bankruptcy until they can prove to the court that they’ve participated in credit counseling. In credit counseling many will find (especially those with above-average incomes) that they no longer qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but instead will have to repay at least some of their debts under Chapter 13. Those who do qualify for Chapter 7 will discover they have more hoops to jump through and fewer protections than provided under the old law. And, both Chapter 7 and 13 filers will be required to go through budget counseling before their debts can be discharged. “.  This online monograph also talks about alternatives to bankruptcy and options on how to go forward (going it alone, using a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer (such as the Bankruptcy Law Project.com), or hiring a lawyer to handle all or part of the process).  It includes a list of resources.
                             
The ABI Consumer Education Center – Sponsored by the American Bankruptcy Institute, this webcenter includes a good list of Resources and a balanced, extemsive set of Frequently Asked Questions.   The ABI website also gives access to the August 2005 report on the impact of the new laws on the federal courts, as well as a report which asserts that the New Bankruptcy Laaw Not as Bas as Predicted, with “debtors, not credit card companies, are benefiting most from the the new law.”  
                  
The New Bankruptcy Law” from Nolo.com.  The changes under the new laws are spelled out, along with a ssection the warning that Lawyers May Be Harder to Find — and More Expensive, because added complications are “going to make it more expensive — and time-consuming — for lawyers to represent clients in bankruptcy cases, which means attorney fees are going to go up.”  Also, “The new law also imposes some additional requirements on lawyers, chief among them that the lawyer must personally vouch for the accuracy of all of the information their clients provide them.”

Nolo Podcast: The New Bankruptcy Law – This 12-minute interview with attorney Stephen Elias (author of the book from Nolo The New Bankruptcy: Will It Work for You?) includes discussion about the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies as well as costs and trends under the new bankruptcy law.
    

Your Local Bar Association (Possibly):  The New Mexican article mentions that the State Bar of New Mexico sponsors regular Bankruptcy Workshops.  The Bar website explains that the workshops “begin with a presentation by volunteer attorneys, followed by a question and answer period. After the lecture, attorneys meet with individuals for a free one-on-one consultation to discuss specific bankruptcy and consumer debt issues.”  Check your bar for similar programs.   You can find them online at the ABA’s State and Local Bar Association webpages.    update (Oct. 7, 2006):  The Skagit County [Washington] Bar Association holds monthly bankruptcy workshops and provides bankruptcy forms.        

. . . . . update (Oct. 7, 2006): Here are more sources that may be helpful:

Filing Bankruptcy Without an Attorney (Pro Se), from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia offers help for the pro se litigant, and the website includes a 77-page pdf. document on Bankruptcy Basics, explaining the “basics” and process after October 2005.         

Changes in the Bankruptcy Law that Affect Low-Income People – written by the Northwest Justice Project in Washington State, starts with the statement “Bankruptcy lawyers are finding that, especially for low-income people, bankruptcy is still available.  The biggest change in the law is the “means test.”  The means test will be used when a debtor’s monthly income is higher than the median income in the debtor’s state,” and considers several issues beyond the means test that affect those with low-income.
     

. . . .  LawHelp.org –  although aimed at low-income persons, the LawHelp websites often contain links (under categories such as Consumer or Debt) to information in each state related to bankruptcy.  This link goes to the national LawHelp homepage, which has links to each state.         

Washington-Bankruptcy.com has this Explanation of the 2005 Bankruptcy Act Means Test: “Under the 2005 Bankruptcy Act you income and expenses will be analyzed to determine if you qualify to file a Chapter 7 or if you must file Chapter 13. To apply the means test, the courts will look at the your average income for the 6 months prior to filing and compare it to the median income for that state. If the income is below the median, then you may choose Chapter 7.   If your income exceeds the median, the remaining parts of the means test will be applied to determine if you can file Chapter 7 or if you must file Chapter 13.  You will likely still be able to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you are unable to pay at least $6,000 over the next five years ($100 per month) to your unsecured creditors after your expenses. However, if you can pay at least $10,000 over five years ($166.67 per month or more) your Chapter 7 will likely be denied.   If you could afford more than $6,000 but less than $10,000 over five years, then a mathematical calculation determines whether your Chapter 7 will likely be successful or not. If you could afford to pay 25% or more of your unsecured debt, then a Chapter 7 will likely be denied. If you can’t afford to pay 25% of your unsecured debt, your Chapter 7 filing will likely be successful.    Examples of unsecured debts would include medical and credit card bills. Note that you can still opt for Chapter 13 even if you qualify to file under Chapter 7.”    

     

Warning: Make sure source materials you are using have been updated to accomodate passage of the 2005 federal bankruptcy law.  For example, if the discussion suggests that the debtor can choose freely between filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy (as this site, written by a lawyer, still did as of Oct. 20, 2006), you need to move on to updated materials, such as those listed above. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » bankruptcy document preparers getting busier

    October 19, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

    1

    […] According to a press release from the National Association of Legal Document Preparers, dated Oct. 19, 2006, ”One year after legislation designed to reduce personal bankruptcy filings went into effect, nearly 80% of legal document preparers are seeing a spike in bankruptcy filings.”    Despite the state of confusion among the public described in our prior post on bankruptcy helf-help, NALDP Director Lizanne Sadlier reports that ”people are starting to wade through that misinformation and realize they can still file for bankruptcy and qualify for Chapter 7.”  Sadlier added that ”more complicated paperwork and increased lawyer fees are leading many people to seek affordable and reliable assistance from legal document preparers.”  In addition, although bankruptcy attorney fees are rising, “the majority of legal document preparers surveyed have not raised their prices, which are typically 50-80% less than attorney fees.”  Finally, to no one’s surprise, the vast majority of people filing for bankruptcy “do not have the means to qualify for Chapter 13,” and therefore qualify for Chapter 7. […]

  2. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » like a regifted fruitcake

    December 23, 2006 @ 11:08 am

    2

    […]     Meanwhile, over at Volokh Conspiracy (the well-deserved winner as the Best Law Blog in The 2006 Weblog Awards), Todd Zywicki wonders “Why Such a Large Drop in Bankruptcy Filings?” (Dec. 20, 2006; via Carolyn Elefant at Legal Blog Watch)  Prof. Zywicki posits a few possible reasons and asks readers for their ideas and Comments.  As we stated in our “bankruptcy law self-help” posting on Oct. 16, much of the reduction in filing since the new bankruptcy law went into affect in 2004 can surely be explained by the public’s misunderstanding of the bankruptcy new Act (BAPCPA) — a situation welcomed by many proponents of the so-called reform.  Far too many people do not understand that Sec. 7 is still available to anyone making less than the median income in their state. In addition, potential bankruptcy petitioners are often deterred these days by the new, higher fees charged by lawyers since the more-complicated BAPCPA procedures went into effect. (also see the Comment to the VC post by Scott B. Riddle, of the Georgia Bankruptcy Law Blog) […]

  3. judd

    February 27, 2007 @ 1:37 am

    3

    got to check out this cool movie about the debt industry:

    http://www.indebtwetrust.com

    -judd

  4. Terrance Leeders

    March 15, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

    4

    I agree that BAPCPA has created substantial paperwork for consumers who file bankruptcy. There are huge pitfalls if you file at the wrong time, don’t submit the required documents, or submit them late. That is why it is a wise financial investment to hire an experienced attorney to help guide you through the process. Most attorneys understand the financial straights that their clients are in and most offer flexible payment plans based on each debtors financial situation.

    Terry Leeders
    http://www.leederslaw.com
    312-427-7400

  5. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » bankruptcy help in brooklyn

    March 24, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

    5

    […] In our prior post bankruptcy law self-help, you can find many free, online resources to help prepare for filing bankruptcy on your own.  For example, the webpage Filing Bankruptcy Without an Attorney (Pro Se), from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia offers help for the pro se litigant, including a 77-page pdf. document on Bankruptcy Basics, explaining the “basics” and process since the new bankruptcy law became effective in October 2005.   […]

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