Filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy can be a huge undertaking, especially when you’re already burdened with the difficulties and harassment that go along with not being able to pay creditors. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy attorney can help you through the process so you come out on the other side with a clean record—and a fresh start. But even with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy attorney guiding you, you should be aware of the basic steps you’ll need to take.
Your attorney will help you with the specifics of your case, but in its simplest form, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is completed in four steps: Preparation, Filing, First Meeting and Discharge of Debt. As you move through the stages, you’ll be researching and collecting information on who you owe money to, explaining your situation to the Bankruptcy Court using their forms, meeting with a trustee to finalize what debts will be included in your bankruptcy and, finally, having your debts officially discharged.
Step One: Preparation
The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition can be an intimidating document to fill out. During this process, you and your attorney will gather information about all your creditors and enter them into the proper format to be filed. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms require a lot of information, and some of the terms and instructions can be confusing if you’re not used to dealing with the legal system. This is why it’s helpful to have an experienced Chapter 7 bankruptcy attorney. In this step, it’s also important to have someone help you keep track of everything you need to do. For example, did you know you have to complete both a credit counseling and debtor education class at different points in the process? Neither is difficult, and both can be completed online, but vital details like this mean the petitioning process is not to be taken lightly.
Step Two: Filing
Once your Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition is complete, it’s time for you to sign off and for your attorney to affirm that everything is prepared properly. Then your petition is filed electronically. Your Chapter 7 bankruptcy attorney will keep the originals, you’ll get a hard copy and your creditors are electronically notified you’ve filed. This means they can no longer contact you or move forward with legal proceedings. For most people, this is quite a relief!
Step Three: First Meeting
Within 50 to 60 days of filing, you’ll meet with the court-appointed trustee representing your creditors. The trustee’s job is to look over your case to determine if you have any assets that could be used to pay back some of your debt. Because you are filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your assets are generally protected, so this is usually a formality. There are exceptions, but they are rare, and your attorney will have prepared you for this. The meeting usually lasts about 5 to 15 minutes.
Step Four: Discharge of Debt
If your case proceeds normally, around 120 days after filing the Bankruptcy Court will grant you a discharge of all your applicable debts. You’ll receive the notice in the mail and, at this point, your bankruptcy is complete. You’re ready for your fresh start!