Paul E. Riffel, Attorney at Law
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Tampa Bankruptcy Attorneys

Attorney Paul Riffel has been filing Tampa Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies on behalf of clients since 1985.

If you are considering bankruptcy, it is important to get the information you need about filing a bankruptcy petition and positioning yourself to come out of bankruptcy in the best financial situation possible. Tampa bankruptcy attorney Paul Riffel has seen bankruptcy laws develop and change over the years, and has a deep understanding of the ways debtors can overcome financial hardship by utilizing the protections and opportunities bankruptcy can provide, such as:

  • Debt Discharge
  • An Affordable Repayment Plan
  • Avoiding Foreclosure
  • An Automatic Stay to Stop Creditor Collection Action
  • A Fresh Financial Start

Chapter 7 of the United States Bankruptcy Code is used to discharge many or all consumer debts. Because the debtor’s assets are liquidated to pay back the debts owed to various creditors, it is also called liquidation bankruptcy. However, many people are able to take advantage of available exemptions and achieve their bankruptcy discharge without having to sell off any assets. If your household income is above Florida’s median income, you must take a means test to determine if you qualify for Tampa Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Debtors who are ineligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be able to pursue the Chapter 13 repayment plan, which readjusts debts into affordable monthly payments. There are many benefits to filing for Tampa Chapter 13 bankruptcy, such as keeping nonexempt assets like a second vehicle or stocks, bonds, and other investments. If you are behind on mortgage payments, Chapter 13 can also help you avoid foreclosure, while avoiding the liquidation of all your other property.

Florida also has a specific set of bankruptcy exemption laws that affect what property you will be able to keep if you file for bankruptcy. For example, if you do not claim a homestead exemption, you can keep up to $5,000 of personal property. In 2005, this amount actually increased from only $1,000. Changes like this are the reason you need an experienced bankruptcy lawyer to ensure your bankruptcy is handled in the manner most beneficial to you.

Too often, the biggest hurdle for people considering bankruptcy is emotional—they are simply embarrassed or scared to admit they need help overcoming debt. However, this is not the correct way to think about bankruptcy. Bankruptcy should be an entirely financial decision based upon your family’s best interest. Contact our Tampa bankruptcy attorney today.

How do I proceed with filing for Tampa bankruptcy?

The first consultation to discuss filing for bankruptcy is free of charge. Please bring a list of your creditors to the meeting and fill out the bankruptcy worksheet below. The information you provide will help determine your best course of action.

Step 1: Watch this video first.

Step 2: Complete the Bankruptcy Worksheet

Step 3: Contact us to set up an appointment.

Tampa Chapter 7 Bankruptcy FAQs

What Is A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case And How Does It Work?

A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case is a proceeding under federal law in which the debtor seeks relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 7 is that part (or chapter) of the Bankruptcy Code that deals with liquidation. The Bankruptcy Code is a federal law that deals with bankruptcy. A person who files a Chapter 7 Case is called a debtor. In a Chapter 7 Case, the debtor must turn his or her nonexempt property, if any exists, over to a trustee, who then converts the property to cash and pays the debtor’s creditors. In turn, the debtor receives a Chapter 7 Discharge, if he or she pays the filing fee, is eligible for the discharge, and obeys the orders and rules of the bankruptcy court.

What Is A Chapter 7 Discharge?

It is a court order releasing a debtor from all of his or her dischargeable debts and ordering the creditors not to attempt to collect them from the debtor. A debt that is discharged is a debt that the debtor is released from and does not have to pay.

How Does A Person Obtain A Chapter 7 Discharge?

A chapter 7 discharge is obtained by filing and maintaining a chapter 7 bankruptcy case and being eligible for a chapter 7 discharge. However, not all debts are discharged by a chapter 7 discharge. Certain types of debts are by law not dischargeable under chapter 7 and debts of this type will not be discharged even if the debtor receives a chapter 7 discharge.

Who Is Permitted To File And Maintain A Chapter 7 Case?

Any person who resides in, does business in, or has property in the United States is permitted to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy case except a person who has intentionally dismissed a prior bankruptcy case within the last 180 days. To be permitted to maintain a chapter 7 bankruptcy case a person must qualify for chapter 7 relief under a process called means testing.

What Is Means Testing?

Means testing is a method of determining a person’s eligibility to maintain a Chapter 7 Case. Under means testing a person whose current monthly income from all sources multiplied by 12 exceeds the median annual income, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, for the person’s state and family size, must show that he or she is not able to pay a minimum of $100.00 per month for 60-months to his or her unsecured creditors from his or her disposable monthly income in order to be eligible to maintain a Chapter 7 Case. Disposable monthly income is a person’s current monthly income from all sources less the person’s permitted current monthly expenses. The Chapter 7 Case of a person whose disposable monthly income is such that he or she is deemed to be able to pay $100 per month or more to unsecured creditors for 60-months will be dismissed or converted to Chapter 13 unless special circumstances exist.

How Is Means Testing Carried Out?

Every person who files a Chapter 7 Case must file a document called Statement of Current Monthly Income and Means Testing Calculation. This document, when completed and filed, shows the person’s current monthly income and the current monthly expenses that a person is allowed to claim. The person may also be questioned about his or her income and expenses at the meeting of creditors. From these sources a person’s current monthly disposable income is calculated. This figure is then used to determine the amount of the monthly payment that the person can afford to make to his or her unsecured creditors. If the amount of this monthly payment is above the certain figure (usually $100), the person will almost always be disqualified from maintaining a Chapter 7 Case and the case will be dismissed or, with the person’s consent, converted to Chapter 13.

How Is It Decided Whether A Person Is Ineligible For Chapter 7 Under Means Testing?

Statement of Current Monthly Income and Means Testing Calculation filed by the person will initially show whether the person is able to make monthly payments to unsecured creditors in the amount required for ineligibility. If so, the clerk of the bankruptcy court will send a notice to all creditors that a presumption of abuse has arisen in the case. The United States Trustee then has until 10-days after the Meeting of Creditors to file a statement as to whether a presumption of abuse exists in the case. Then the United States Trustee or any creditor can move to dismiss the case. The Bankruptcy Judge will ultimately decide whether the case should be dismissed.

What Is A Presumption Of Abuse And How Does It Affect The Case?

When a Chapter 7 Case is filed by an ineligible person, under bankruptcy terminology that person is said to have abused the Chapter 7 Laws. When a person whose current monthly disposable income is such that he or she can afford to make monthly payments to unsecured creditors in the required amount, a presumption of abuse is said to arise in the case. If a presumption of abuse arises in a case, the case will be dismissed or converted to Chapter 13 unless the person filing the case can prove the existence of special circumstances, such as a serious medical condition.

Who Is Eligible For A Chapter 7 Discharge?

Any person who is qualified to file and maintain a Chapter 7 Case is eligible for a Chapter 7 Discharge except the following:

  1. a person who has been granted a discharge in a Chapter 7 Case that was filed within the last 8-years
  2. a person who has been granted a discharge in a Chapter 13 Case
    that was filed within the last 6-years, unless 70 percent or more of the debtor’s unsecured claims were paid off in the Chapter 13 Case
  3. a person who files and obtains court approval of a written waiver of discharge in the Chapter 7 Case
  4. a person who conceals, transfers, or destroys his or her property with the intent to defraud his or her creditors or the trustee in the Chapter 7 Case
  5. a person who conceals, destroys, or falsifies records of his or her financial conditions or business transactions
  6. a person who makes false statements or claims in the Chapter 7 Case, or who withholds recorded information from the trustee.
  7. a person who fails to satisfactorily explain any loss or deficiency of his or her assets
  8. a person who refuses to answer questions or obey orders of the Bankruptcy Court either in his or her bankruptcy case or in the bankruptcy case of a relative, business associate, or corporation with which he or she is associated
  9. a person who after filing the case, fails to complete an instructional course on personal financial management
  10. a person who has been convicted of bankruptcy fraud or who owes a debt arising from a securities law violation

What Types Of Debts Are Not Dischargeable In A Chapter 7 Case?

All debts of any type or amount, including out-of-state debts, are dischargeable in a Chapter 7 Case except for the types of debts that are by law non-dischargeable in a Chapter 7 Case. The following is a list of the most common types of debts that are not dischargeable in a Chapter 7 Case:

  1. most tax debts and debts that were incurred to pay non- dischargeable federal tax debts.
  2. debts for obtaining money, property, services, or credit by means of false pretense, fraud, or a false financial statement, if the creditor files a complaint in the Bankruptcy Case
  3. debts not listed on the debtor’s Chapter 7 forms, unless the creditor knew of the bankruptcy case in time to file a claim
  4. debts for fraud, embezzlement, or larceny, if the creditor files a complaint in the bankruptcy case.
  5. debts for domestic support obligations, which include debts for alimony, maintenance, or support, and certain other divorce-related debts, including property settlement debts
  6. debts for intentional or malicious injury to the person or property of another, if the creditor files a complaint in the bankruptcy case
  7. debts for certain fines or penalties
  8. debts for most educational benefits and student loans, unless a court finds that not discharging the debt would impose an undue hardship on the debtor or his or her dependents
  9. debts for personal injury or death caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft while intoxicated
  10. debts that were or could have been listed in a previous bankruptcy case of the debtor in which the debtor did not receive a discharge

Who Should Not File A Chapter 7 Case?

A person who is not eligible for a Chapter 7 Discharge should not file a Chapter 7 Case. Also, in most instances a person who has substantial debts that are not dischargeable under Chapter 7 should not file a Chapter 7 Case. In addition, it is not usually advisable for a person with disposable income sufficient to make the required minimum payments to unsecured creditors to file a Chapter 7 Case, because a presumption of abuse will arise and the case will probably be dismissed or converted to Chapter 13.

Is There Anything That A Person Must Do Before A Chapter 7 Case Can Be Filed?

Yes, a person is not permitted to file a Chapter 7 Case unless he or she has, during the 180-day period prior to filing, received from an approved non-profit budget and credit counseling agency an individual or group briefing that outlined the opportunities for available credit counseling and assisted the person in performing a budget analysis. This briefing may be conducted by telephone or on the internet, if desired, and must be paid for by the person. When the Chapter 7 Case is filed, a certificate from the agency describing the services provided to the person must be filed with the court. A copy of any debt repayment plan prepared for the person by the agency must also be filed with the court. In emergency situations, the required credit counseling may be conducted after the case is filed.

How Much is the Filing Fee in a Chapter 7 Case and When Must it be Paid?

The filing fee is $299 for either a single or a joint case. The filing fee is payable when the case is filed. However, if the person filing can show that his or her income is less than 150 percent of the official poverty line and that he or she is unable to pay the filing fee, the court can waive payment of the filing fee. If the person filing is unable to pay the entire filing fee when the case is filed, it may be paid in up to four installments, with the final installment due within 120-days. The period for payment may later be extended to 180-days by the court, if there is a valid reason for doing so. Unless payment is waived by the court, the entire filing fee must ultimately be paid or the case will be dismissed and no debts will be discharged.

Where Should A Chapter 7 Case Be Filed?

A Chapter 7 Case is filed in the office of the clerk of the Bankruptcy Court in the district where the debtor has resided or maintained a principal place of business for the greater portion of the last 180-days. The Bankruptcy Court is a Federal Court and is a unit of the United States District Court.

May A Husband And Wife File Jointly Under Chapter 7?

Yes, a husband and wife may file a joint case under a Chapter 7. If a joint Chapter 7 Case is filed, only one set of Bankruptcy forms is needed and only one filing fee is charged. However, both husband and wife must receive the required credit counseling before the case is filed and both must complete the required financial management course after the case is filed.

Under What Circumstances Should A Joint Chapter 7 Case Be Filed?

A husband and wife should file a joint case under Chapter 7 Case if both of them are liable for one or more significant dischargeable debts. If both spouses are liable for a substantial debt and only one spouse files under a Chapter 7 Case, the creditor may later attempt to collect the debt from the non-filing spouse, even if he or she has no income or assets.

When Is The Best Time To File A Chapter 7 Case?

The answer depends on the status of the person’s dischargeable debts, the nature and status of the person’s non-exempt assets, and the actions taken or threatened to be taken by the creditors. The following should be followed:

  1. Don’t file the case until all anticipated debts have been incurred, because only debts that have been incurred when the case is filed are dischargeable and it will be another 6 years before the person is again eligible for a Chapter 7 Discharge. For example, a person who has incurred substantial medical expenses should not file a Chapter 7 Case until the illness or injury has been either cured or covered by insurance, as it will do little good to discharge, say, $100,000.00 of medical debts now and then incur another $100,000.00 in medical debts after the case has been filed.
  2. Don’t file the case until the person filing has received all non-exempt assets to which he or she may be entitled. If the person is entitled to receive an income tax refund or a similar non-exempt asset in the near future, the case should not be filed until after the refund or asset has been received and disposed of. Otherwise, the refund or asset will have to be turned over to the trustee.
  3. Don’t file the case if the person filing expects to acquire non-exempt property through inheritance, life insurance or divorce in the next 180-days, because the property may have to be turned over to the trustee.
  4. If an aggressive creditor has threatened to attach or garnishee a person’s assets or income, the case should be filed immediately to take advantage of the automatic stay that accompanies the filing of a Chapter 7 Case (see Question 18, below). If a creditor has threatened to attach or garnishee the person’s wages or if a foreclosure action has been filed against his or her home, it may be necessary to file the case immediately in order to protect the person’s interest in the property.

How Does The Filing Of A Chapter 7 Case By A Person Affect Collection Or Other Legal Proceedings That Have Been Filed Against That Person In Other Courts?

The filing of a Chapter 7 Case by a person automatically suspends virtually all collection and other legal proceedings pending against that person. A few days after a Chapter 7 Ccase has been filed, the court will mail a notice to all creditors ordering them to refrain from any further action against the person. The court ordered suspension of creditor activity against the person filing is called the automatic stay. If necessary, notice of the automatic stay may be served on a creditor earlier by the person or the person’s attorney. Any creditor who intentionally violates the automatic stay may be held in contempt of court and may be liable in damages to the person filing . Criminal proceedings and actions to collect domestic support obligations from exempt property or property acquired by the person after the Chapter 7 Case was filed are not affected by the automatic stay. The automatic stay also does not protect co-signers and guarantors of the person filing, and a creditor may continue to collect debts from those persons after the case is filed. Persons who have a prior bankruptcy case dismissed within the past year may be denied the protection of the automatic stay.

How Does Filing a Chapter 7 Case Affect a Person’s Credit Rating?

It will usually worsen it, if that is possible. However, some financial institutions openly solicit business from persons who have recently filed under Chapter 7, apparently because it will be at least 8-years before they can file another Chapter 7 Case. If there are compelling reasons for filing a Chapter 7 Case that are not within the person’s control, (such as an illness or an injury), some credit rating agencies may take that into account in rating the person’s credit after filing.

Does A Person Lose Any Legal Or Civil Rights By Filing A Chapter 7 Case?

No, filing a Chapter 7 Case is not a criminal proceeding, and a person does not lose any civil or constitutional rights by filing.

May Employers Or Governmental Agencies Discriminate Against Persons Who File Chapter 7 Cases?

No. It is illegal for either private or governmental employers to discriminate against a person as to employment because that person has filed a Chapter 7 Case. It is also illegal for local, state, or federal governmental agencies to discriminate against a person as to the granting of licenses (including a driver’s license), permits, student loans, and similar grants because that person has filed a Chapter 7 Case.

Will A Person Lose All Of His Or Her Property If He Or She Files A Chapter 7 Case?

Usually not. Certain property is exempt and may not be taken by creditors unless it is encumbered by a valid mortgage or lien. A person is usually allowed to retain his or her unencumbered exempt property in a Chapter 7 Case. A person may also be allowed to retain certain encumbered exempt property (see question 32, below). Encumbered property is property against which a creditor has a valid lien, mortgage or other security interest.

What Is Exempt Property?

Exempt property is property that is protected by law from the claims of creditors. However, if exempt property has been pledged to secure a debt or is otherwise encumbered by a valid lien or mortgage, the lien or mortgage holder may claim the exempt property by foreclosing upon or otherwise enforcing the creditors lien or mortgage. In bankruptcy cases, property may be exempt under either state or federal law. Exempt property typically includes all or a portion of a person’s unpaid wages, home equity, household furniture, and personal effects. Your attorney can inform you as to the property that is exempt in your case.

When Must A Person Appear In Court In A Chapter 7 Case And What Happens There?

The first Court appearance is for a hearing called the “Meeting of Creditors,” which is usually held about a month after the case is filed. The person filing the case must bring photo identification, his or her social security card, his or her most recent pay stub and all of his or her bank and investment account statements to this hearing. At this hearing the person is put under oath and questioned about his or her debts, assets, income and expenses by the hearing officer or trustee. In most Chapter 7 Consumer Cases no creditors appear in Court; but any creditor that does appear is usually allowed to question the person. For most persons this will be the only Court appearance, but if the Bankruptcy Court decides not to grant the person a discharge or if the person wishes to reaffirm a debt, there may be another hearing about 3-months later which the person will have to attend.

What Happens After The Meeting Of Creditors?

After the Meeting of Creditors, the Trustee may contact the person filing regarding his or her property and the court may issue certain orders to the person. These orders are sent by mail and may require the person to turn certain property over to the Trustee, or provide the Trustee with certain information. If the person fails to comply with these orders, the case may be dismissed, in which case his or her debts will not be discharged. The person must also attend and complete an instructional course on personal financial management and file a statement with the court showing completion of the course.

What Is A Trustee In A Chapter 7 Case, And What Does He Or She Do?

The Trustee is a person appointed by the United States Trustee to examine the person who filed the case, collect the person’s nonexempt property, and pay the expenses of the estate and the claims of creditors. In addition, the Trustee has certain administrative duties in a Chapter 7 Case and is responsible for seeing to it that the person filing performs the required duties in the case. A Trustee is appointed in a Chapter 7 Case, even if the person filing has no nonexempt property.

What Are The Responsibilities To The Trustee Of The Person Filing The Case?

The law requires the person filing to cooperate with the Trustee in the administration of a Chapter 7 Case, including the collection by the Trustee of the person’s nonexempt property. If the person does not cooperate with the Trustee, the
Chapter 7 Case may be dismissed, and the person’s debts will not be discharged. At least 7-days before the Meeting of the Creditors the person filing must give the trustee and any requesting creditor’s copies of his or her most recent federal income tax returns.

What Happens To Property That Is Turned Over To The Trustee?

It is usually converted to cash, which is used to pay the fees and expenses of the Trustee, to pay the claims of priority creditors, and, if there is any left, to pay the claims of unsecured creditors.

What If A Person Has No Nonexempt Property For The Trustee To Collect?

If, from the Bankruptcy forms filed, it appears that the person filing has no nonexempt property, a notice will be sent to the creditors advising them that there appears to be no assets from which to pay creditors, that it is unnecessary for them to file claims, and that if assets are later discovered they will then be given an opportunity to file claims. This type of case is referred to as a no asset case. Most Chapter 7 Cases that are filed by consumers are no asset cases.

How Are Secured Creditors Dealt With In A Chapter 7 Case?

Secured creditors are creditors with valid mortgages or liens against property of the person filing. Property that is encumbered by a valid mortgage or lien is called secured property. A secured creditor is usually permitted to repossess or foreclose on its secured property, unless the value of the secured property greatly exceeds the amount owed to the creditor. The claim of a secured creditor is called a secured claim and secured claims are collected from or enforced against encumbered property. Secured claims are not paid by the Trustee. A secured creditor must prove the validity of its mortgage or lien and must usually obtain a court order before repossessing or foreclosing on encumbered property. Encumbered property should not be turned over to a secured creditor until a court order to do so has been obtained, unless the property is encumbered only to finance its purchase. The debtor may be permitted to retain certain types of encumbered personal property. (see question 32 below)

How Are Unsecured Creditors Dealt With In A Chapter 7 Case?

An unsecured creditor is a creditor without a valid lien or mortgage against property of the person filing. If the person filing has nonexempt assets, unsecured creditors may file claims with the court within 90-days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. The Trustee will examine these claims and file objections to those deemed improper. When the Trustee has collected all of the person’s nonexempt property and converted it to cash, and when the Court has ruled on the Trustee’s objections to improper claims, the Trustee will distribute the funds in the form of dividends to the unsecured creditors according to the priorities set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. Domestic support obligations, administrative expense, claims for wages, salaries, and contributions to employee benefit plans, claims for the refund of certain deposits and tax claims, are given priority, in that order, in the payment of dividends by the trustee. If there are funds remaining after the payment of these priority claims, they are distributed pro rata to the remaining unsecured creditors. In Chapter 7 Cases filed by consumers, unsecured creditors usually get nothing.

What Encumbered Property May A Person Retain In A Chapter 7 Case?

A person may retain (or redeem) certain encumbered personal and household property, such as household furniture, appliances and goods, wearing apparel, and tools of the trade, without payment to the secured creditor, if the property is exempt and if the mortgage or lien against the property was not incurred to finance the purchase of the property. A person may also retain without payment to the secured creditor any encumbered property that is both exempt and subject only to a judgment lien that is not divorce-related. Finally, a person may retain certain encumbered exempt personal, family, or household property by paying to the secured creditor an amount equal to the replacement value of the property, regardless of how much is owed to the creditor.

How May A Person Minimize The Amount Of Money Or Property That Must Be Turned Over To The Trustee In A Chapter 7 Case?

In a Chapter 7 Case the person filing is required to turn over to the trustee only the nonexempt money or property that he or she possessed at the time the case was filed. Many nonexempt assets are liquid in nature and tend to vary in size or amount from day to day. It is wise, therefore, to engage in some estate planning so as to minimize the value or amount of these liquid assets on the day and hour that the Chapter 7 Case is filed. The most common nonexempt liquid assets, and the assets that the trustee will be most likely to look for, including the following:

  1. cash
  2. bank accounts
  3. prepaid rents 7. sporting goods
  4. landlord and utility deposits
  5. accrued earnings and benefits
  6. tax refunds, and
  7. sporting goods

It is usually advantageous to take steps to insure that the value of each of these assets is as low as possible on the day and hour that the Chapter 7 case is filed. By doing this the person will not be cheating or acting illegally; he or she will simply be using the law to his or her advantage, much the same as a person who takes advantage of the tax laws by selling property at the appropriate time.

Cash. If possible, the person filing should have no cash on hand when the chapter 7 case is filed. Further, if he or she has received cash or the equivalent of cash in the form of a paycheck or the closing of a bank account shortly before the filing of the case, the funds should be disposed of for valid purposes and receipts should be obtained when disposing of the funds in order to prove to the trustee and the court that the funds were validly disposed of prior to the filing of the case. Money possessed or obtained shortly before the filing of a Chapter 7 Case may be spent on such items as food and groceries, the Chapter 7 Case filing fee, the attorney’s fee in the Chapter 7 Case, and the payment of up to $600.00 to creditors whose claims the person intends to reaffirm and continue paying after the filing of the Chapter 7 Case. Payments should not be made as gifts or loans to friends or relatives, however, as the Trustee may later recover these payments.

Bank Accounts. The best practice is to close out all bank accounts before filing a Chapter 7 Case. If a bank account is not closed, the balance of the account should be as close to zero as the bank will allow and all outstanding checks must clear the account before the case if filed. If the person filing has written a check to someone for, say, $50.00 and if the check has not cleared the account when the case is filed, the $50.00 in the account to cover the outstanding check will be deemed an asset and will have to be paid to the Trustee.
Prepaid Rent.

Landlord and Utility Deposits. Unless they are exempt, the person filing should attempt to obtain the refund of all landlord and utility deposits before the filing the Chapter 7 Case. Otherwise, the deposits, or their cash equivalents, will have to be paid to the Trustee, unless the deposits are exempt.

Accrued Earnings and Benefits.

Tax Refunds. In most states, a tax refund is not exempt and becomes the property of the Trustee if it has not been received by the person prior to the filing of the Chapter 7 Case. Therefore, if a tax refund is expected, a Chapter 7 Case should not be filed until after the refund has been received and validly disposed of. Even if the case is filed before the end of the tax year, if the person filing later receives a refund, the Trustee may be entitled to the portion of the refund earned prior to the filing of the case. The best practice, then, is to either file the Chapter 7 Case early in the tax year (but after the refund from the previous year has been received) or make arrangements to insure that there will be no tax refund for that year.

Sporting Goods. If the person filing owns guns, fishing gear, skis, cameras, or similar items of value that are not exempt, he or she will later have to turn them, or their cash equivalent, over to the trustee. Such items should be disposed of prior to the filing of the case, especially if they are of considerable value.

May A Utility Company Refuse To Provide Service To A Person If The Company’s Utility Bill Is Discharged Under Chapter 7?

If, within 20-days after the Chapter 7 Case is filed, the person filing furnishes a utility company with a deposit or other security to insure the payment of future utility services, it is illegal for a utility company to refuse to provide utility service to the person after the case is filed, or to otherwise discriminate against the person, if its bill for past utility service is discharged in the person’s Chapter 7 Case.

What Should A Person Do If He Or She Moves Before The Chapter 7 Case Is Completed?

The person should immediately notify the Bankruptcy Court in writing of the new address. Because most communications between the person filing and the Bankruptcy Court are by mail, it is important that the Bankruptcy Court always have the person’s current address. Otherwise, the person may fail to receive important notices and the Chapter 7 Case may be dismissed. Many courts have change-of-address forms for persons to use when they move, and one of these forms should be obtained if a move is planned.

How Is A Person Notified When His Or Her Discharge Has Been Granted?

The person is usually notified by mail. Most courts send a form called “Discharge of Debtor” to the person filing and to all creditors. This form is a copy of the Court Order discharging the person from his or her dischargeable debts, and it serves as notice that the discharge has been granted and that creditors are forbidden from attempting to collect discharged debts. It is usually mailed about four months after a Chapter 7 Case is filed.

What Should A Person Do If A Creditor Later Attempts To Collect A Debt That Was Discharged In His Or Her Chapter 7 Case?

When a Chapter 7 Discharge is granted, the Court enters an order prohibiting creditors from later attempting to collect any discharged debt from the person filing. Any creditor who violates this Court Order may be held in Contempt of Court and may be liable to the person for damages. If a creditor later attempts to collect a discharged debt from the person, the person should give the creditor a copy of his or her Chapter 7 Discharge and inform the creditor in writing that the debt was discharged in the Chapter 7 Case. If the creditor persists, the person should contact an attorney. If a creditor files a lawsuit on a discharged debt, it is important to inform the court in which the lawsuit is filed that the debt was discharged in bankruptcy. The lawsuit should not be ignored because even though a judgment entered on a discharged debt can later be voided, voiding the judgment may require the services of an attorney, which could be costly.

How Does A Chapter 7 Discharge Affect The Liability Of Cosigners And Other Parties Who May Be Liable To A Creditor On A Discharged Debt?

A Chapter 7 Discharge releases only the person or persons who filed the Chapter 7 Case. The liability of any other party on a debt is not affected by a Chapter 7 Discharge. Therefore, a person who has cosigned or guaranteed a debt for the person filing is still liable for the debt even if the person filing receives a Chapter 7 Discharge with respect to the debt. The only exception to this rule is in community property states where the spouse of the person filing is released from certain community debts by the Chapter 7 Discharge.

What Is The Role Of The Attorney For The Person Filing A Chapter 7 Case?

The attorney for the person filing performs the following functions in a typical Chapter 7 Consumer Case:

  1. Analyze the amount and nature of the debts owed by the person filing and determine the best remedy for the person’s financial problems.
  2. Advise the person filing of the relief available under Chapter 7 and the other chapters of the Bankruptcy Code, and of the advisability of proceeding under each chapter.
  3. Assist the person in obtaining the required pre-bankruptcy budget and credit counseling briefing.
  4. Assemble the information and data necessary to prepare the Chapter 7 forms for filing.
  5. Prepare the Chapter 7 Petitions, Schedules, Statements and other Chapter 7 forms for filing with the Bankruptcy Court.
  6. Assist the person filing in arranging his or her assets so as to enable the person to retain as many of the assets as possible after the Chapter 7 Case.
  7. Filing the Chapter 7 Petitions, Schedules, Statements and other forms with the Bankruptcy Court, and, if necessary, notifying certain creditors of the commencement of the case.
  8. If necessary, assisting the person filing in reaffirming certain debts, redeeming personal property, setting aside mortgages or liens against exempt property, and otherwise carrying out the matters set forth in the statement of intention.
  9. Attending the Meeting of Creditors with the person and appearing with the person at any other hearings that may be held in the case.
  10. Assist the debtor in attending and completing the required instructional course on personal financial management.
  11. If necessary, preparing and filing Amended Schedules, Statements, and other documents with the Bankruptcy Court in order to protect the rights of the person.
  12. If necessary, assisting the person in overcoming obstacles that may arise to the granting of a Chapter 7 Discharge.

The fee charged by an attorney representing the debtor filing in a Chapter 13 Case must be reviewed and approved by the Bankruptcy Court. This rule is followed whether the fee is paid to the attorney prior to or after the filing of the case, and whether it is paid or the attorney directly by the debtor or by the Chapter 13 Trustee. The Court will not approve a fee unless it finds the fee to be reasonable. Most attorneys collect all or most of their fee before the case is filed.

Tampa Chapter 13 Bankruptcy FAQs

What Is A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Case And How Does It Work?

A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Case is a proceeding under federal law in which the debtor seeks relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 is the chapter of the Bankruptcy Code which allows a person to repay all or a portion of his or her debts under the supervision and protection of the Bankruptcy Court. The Bankruptcy Code is a federal law that deals with bankruptcy. A person who files a Chapter 13 Case is called a debtor. In a Chapter 13 Case the debtor must submit to the Court a plan for the repayment of all or a portion of his or her debts. The plan must be approved by the Court to become effective. If the Court approves the debtor’s plan, most creditors will be prohibited from collecting their claims from the debtor. The debtor must make regular payments to a person called the Chapter 13 Trustee, who collect the money paid by the debtor and disburses it to creditors in the manner called for in the plan. Upon completion of the payments called for in the plan, the debtor is released from liability for the remainder of his or her dischargeable debts.

How Does A Chapter 13 Case Differ From A Chapter 7 Case?

The basic difference between a Chapter 7 Case and a Chapter 13 Case is that in a Chapter 7 Case the debtor’s non-exempt property (if any exists) is liquidated to pay as much as possible of the debtor’s debt, while in a Chapter 13 Case a portion of the debtor’s future income is used to pay as much of the debtor’s debt as is feasible under the debtor’s circumstances. As a practical matter, in a Chapter 7 Case the debtor loses all or most of his or her non-exempt property and receives a Chapter 7 Discharge and releases the debtor from liability for a few types of debts that are not dischargeable under a Chapter 7. However, a Chapter 13 Case normally lasts much longer than a Chapter 7 Case, and is usually more expensive for the debtor.

When Is A Chapter 13 Case Preferable To A Chapter 7 Case?

A Chapter 13 is usually preferable for a person who:

  1. wishes to repay all or most of his or her unsecured debts and has the income with which to do so within a reasonable time
  2.  has valuable non-exempt property or has valuable exempt property securing debts, either of which would be lost in a Chapter 7 Case
  3. is not eligible under the means testing to maintain a Chapter 7 Case
  4. Is not eligible for a Chapter 7 Discharge
  5. has one or more substantial debts that are dischargeable under a Chapter 13, but not under a Chapter 7 Case, or
  6. has sufficient assets with which to repay most of his or her debts, but needs temporary relief from creditors in order to do so.

How Does A Chapter 13 Case Differ From A Private Debt Consolidation Service?

In a Chapter 13 Case, the Bankruptcy Court can provide relief to the debtor that a private debt consolidation service cannot provide. For example, the Court has the authority to prohibit creditors from attaching or foreclosing on the debtor’s property, to force unsecured creditors to accept a Chapter 13 Plan that pays only a portion of their claims, and to discharge a debtor from unpaid portions of their debts. Private debt consolidation services have none of these powers.

What Is A Chapter 13 Discharge?

It is a Court order releasing a debtor from all of his or her dischargeable debts and ordering creditors not to collect them from the debtor. A debt that is discharged is one that the debtor is released from and does not have to pay. There are two types of Chapter 13 Discharges:

  1. a full or successful plan discharge, which is granted to a debtor who completes all payments called for in the plan, and
  2. a partial or unsuccessful plan discharge, which is granted to a debtor who is unable to complete the payments called for in the plan due to circumstances for which the debtor should not be held accountable. A full Chapter 13 Discharge, discharges a few more debts than a Chapter 7 Discharge, while a partial Chapter 13 Discharge is similar to a Chapter 7 Discharge.

What Types Of Debts Are Not Dischargeable In Chapter 13 Cases?

A full Chapter 13 Discharge granted upon the completion of all payments required in the plan discharges a debtor from all debts except:

  1. debts that were paid outside of the plan and not covered in the plan
  2. debts for domestic support obligations, which includes debts for child support and alimony
  3. debts for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft while intoxicated
  4. most tax debts
  5. debts for restitution or criminal fines included in a sentence imposed on the debtor for conviction of a crime
  6. debts for fraud, embezzlement or larceny
  7. debts for student loans or educational obligations unless a Court rules that not discharging the debt would impose an undue hardship on the debtor and his or her dependents
  8. debts for damages caused by willful or malicious conduct by the debtor
  9. installment debts whose last payment is due after the completion of the plan
  10. debts incurred while the plan was in effect that were not paid under the plan
  11. debts owed to creditors who did not receive notice of the chapter 13, and
  12. Long-Term debts upon which payments were made under the plan

A partial Chapter 13 Discharge, which is granted when a debtor is unable to complete the payments under a plan due to circumstances for which he or she should not be held accountable, discharges the debtor from all debts except:

  1. secured debts (i.e., debts secured by mortgages or liens),
  2. debts that were paid outside of the plan and not covered in the plan
  3. installment debts whose last payment is due after the completion of the plan
  4. debts incurred while the plan was in effect that were not paid under the plan
  5. debts owed to creditors who did not receive notice of the chapter 13 case
  6. debts that are not dischargeable in a chapter 7 case, and
  7. long-term debts upon which payments were made under the plan.

What Is A Chapter 13 Plan?

It is a written plan presented to the Bankruptcy Court by a debtor that states how much money or property the debtor will pay the Chapter 13 Trustee, how long the debtor’s payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee will continue, how much will be paid to each of the debtor’s creditors, and certain other matters.

What Is A Chapter 13 Trustee?

A Chapter 13 Trustee is a person appointed by the United States Trustee to collect payments from the debtor, make payments to creditors in the manner set forth in the debtor’s plan, and administer the debtor’s Chapter 13 Case until it is closed. In some cases the Chapter 13 Trustee is required to perform certain other duties. The debtor is required to cooperate with the Chapter 13 Trustee.

What Debts May Be Paid Under A Chapter 13 Plan?

Any debts whatsoever, whether they are secured or unsecured. Even debts that are non-dischargeable, such as debts for student loans or child support, may be paid under a Chapter 13 Plan.

Must All Debts Be Paid In Full Under A Chapter 13 Plan?

No. While priority debts, such as debts for domestic support obligations and taxes, and full secured debts must be paid in full under a Chapter 13 Plan, only an amount that the debtor can reasonably afford must be paid on most debts. The unpaid balances of most debts that are not paid in full under a Chapter 13 Plan are discharged upon the completion or termination of the plan.

Must All Unsecured Debts Be Treated Alike Under A Chapter 13 Plan?

No. While priority debts, such as debts for domestic support obligations and taxes, and full secured debts must be paid in full under a Chapter 13 Plan, only an amount that the debtor can reasonably afford must be paid on most debts. The unpaid balances of most debts that are not paid in

Is There A Difference Between A Debt And A Claim?

No. Not in a practical sense. They are different terms for an obligation owed by the debtor to a creditor. A claim is the right of a creditor to the payment of an obligation by the debtor. A debt is a liability of a debtor on an obligation to a creditor. For example, if the debtor owes $1,000.00 to

How Much Of A Debtor’s Income Must Be Paid To The Chapter 13 Trustee Under A Chapter 13 Plan?

Usually all of the disposable income of the debtor and the debtor’s spouse for a 3-year or 5-year period must be paid to the Chapter 13 Trustee. Disposable income is income received by the debtor and his or her spouse that is not deemed to be necessary for the support of the debtor and his or her dependents.

When Must The Debtor Begin Making Payments To The Chapter 13 Trustee And How Are The Payments Made?

The debtor must begin making payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee within 30-days after the Chapter 13 Case is filed with the Court. The payments must be made regularly, usually on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. If the debtor is employed, some courts require

How Long Does A Chapter 13 Plan Last?

The required length of a Chapter 13 Plan depends on the debtor’s income. If the debtor’s annual income is less than the median family income of the debtor’s state and family size, the length of the plan must be 3-years, unless the debtor can justify a longer period, which may not exceed 5-years. If the debtor’s annual income exceeds the median family income, the length of the plan must be 5-years, unless all unsecured claims can be paid off in a shorter period. The debtor’s annual income is his or her currently monthly income multiplied by 12.

Is It Necessary For All Creditors To Approve A Chapter 13 Plan?

No. To become effective, a chapter 13 plan must be approved by the court, not by the creditors. The court, however, cannot approve a plan unless each secured creditor is dealt with in the manner described in the answer to Question 18 below. Also, unsecured creditors are permitted to file objections to the debtor’s plan, and these objections must be ruled on by the court before it can approve the debtor’s Chapter 13 plan.

What Is The Difference Between A Secured Creditor And An Unsecured Creditor?

A secured creditor is a creditor whose claim against the debtor is secured by a valid mortgage, lien, or other security interest against property that is owned by the debtor. An unsecured creditor is a creditor whose claim against the debtor is not secured by a valid mortgage, lien, or security interest against the debtor property. In other words, a secured creditor has collateral for its claim and an unsecured creditor does not. The basic difference is that a secured creditor may collect all or a portion of its claim from its collateral, while an unsecured creditor may not. It is common for the amount of a secured creditor’s claim to exceed the value of its collateral. This type of creditor is called a partially–secured (or $1,500.00) creditor. In Chapter 13 Cases the claims of most partially–secured creditor’s are divided into secured and unsecured portions. For example, a partially–secured creditor with a $2,000.00 claim against the debtor that is secured by collateral that is worth $1,500.00 has a $1,500.00 secured claim and a $500.00 unsecured claim. The only types of partially–secured creditor’s whose claim may not be treated in this manner are creditors secured by a mortgage on the debtor’s home and certain creditors who advance funds for the purchase of automobile or other personal property of the debtor. It is important to differentiate between secured and unsecured claims because they are treated quite differently in Chapter 13 Cases. Secured claims must be paid in full with interest, while only amounts that the debtor can reasonably afford need be paid to the holders of unsecured claims (except priority claims – see Question 36, infra).

How Are The Claims Of Secured Creditors Dealt With In Chapter 13 Cases?

There are four methods of dealing with secured claims in Chapter 13 Cases:

  1. the creditor may accept the debtor’s plan
  2. the creditor may retain its lien and be paid the full amount of its secured claim in equal monthly payments under the plan
  3. the debtor may surrender the collateral to the creditor, or
  4. the creditor may be paid or dealt with outside the plan

It is important to understand that most partially-secured creditors have a secured claim only to the extent of the value of their collateral. If the debtor is in default to a secured creditor, the default must be cured (made current) within a reasonable time.

How Are Co-Signed Or Guaranteed Debts Handled In Chapter 13 Cases?

A co-signer or guaranteed debt is a debt of the debtor that has been co-signed or guaranteed by another person. If a co-signed or guaranteed consumer debt is being paid in full under a Chapter 13 Plan, the creditor may not collect the debt from the co-signer or guarantor. However, if a consumer debt is not being paid in full under the plan, the creditor may collect the unpaid portion of the debt from the co-signer or grantor. A consumer debt is a non-business debt. Creditors may collect business debts from co-signers or guarantor even if the debts are to be paid in full under the debtor’s plan.

Who Is Eligible To File A Chapter 13 Case?

Any individual (i.e., natural person) is eligible to file a Chapter 13 Case if he or she;

  1. Resides in, does business in, or has property in the United States.
  2. Has a regular income.
  3. Has unsecured debts of less than $307,675.00.
  4. Has secured debts of less than $922,975.00.
  5. Is not a stockbroker or a commodity broker.
  6. Has not intentionally dismissed a prior bankruptcy case within the last 180 days.
  7. Has received a briefing from an approved credit counseling agency within the last 180 days (unless this requirement is not in effect in the local bankruptcy court).

Corporations, Partnerships, Limited Liability Companies, and other business entities are not eligible to file a Chapter 13 Case.

May A Husband And Wife File A Joint Chapter 13 Case?

A husband and wife may file a joint Chapter 13 Case if each of them meets the requirements listed in the answer to question 19 above, except that only one of them need have regular income and their combined debts must meet the debt limitations described in the answer to question 20 above.

When Should A Husband And Wife File A Joint Chapter 13 Case?

If both spouses are liable for any significant debts, they should file a joint Chapter 13 Case, even if only one of them has income. Also, if both of them have regular income, they should file a joint case.

May A Self-Employed Person File A Chapter 13 Case?

Yes. A self-employed person meeting the eligibility requirements listed in the answer to question 20 above may file a Chapter 13 Case. A debtor engaged in business may continue to operate the business during his or her Chapter 13 Case.

May A Chapter 7 Case Be Converted To A Chapter 13 Case?

Yes. An existing Chapter 7 Case can be converted to a Chapter 13 Case at anytime at the request of the debtor if the case has not previously been converted from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7.

Where Should A Chapter 13 Case Be Filed?

A Chapter 13 Case is filed in the office of the Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court in the district where the debtor has resided or maintained a principal place of business for the greater portion of the last 180-days. The Bankruptcy Court is a Federal Court and is a unit of the United States District Court.

What Fee Are Charged In A Chapter 13 Case?

There is a $274.00 filing fee charged when the case is filed, which may be paid in installments if necessary. In addition, the Chapter 13 Trustee assesses a fee of 10% on all payments made by the debtor under the plan. Thus, if a debtor pays a total of $5,000.00 under a Chapter 13 Plan, the total amount of fees charged in the case will be $774.00 (a $500.00 Trustee’s fee, plus the $274.00 filing fee). These fees are in addition to the fee charged by the debtor’s attorney.

Will A Person Lose Any Property If He Or She Files A Chapter 13 Case?

Usually not. In a Chapter 13 Case, creditors are usually paid out of the debtor’s income and not from the debtor’s property. However, if a debtor has valuable non-exempt property and has insufficient income to pay enough to the creditors to satisfy the court, some of the debtor’s property may have to be used to pay creditors

How Does The Filing Of A Chapter 13 Case Affect Collection Proceedings And Foreclosures That Are Filed Against The Debtor?

The filing of a Chapter 13 Case automatically stays (stops) all lawsuits, attachments, garnishments, foreclosures, and other actions by creditors against the debtor or the debtor’s property. This stay is called the automatic stay. A few days after a Chapter 13 Case has been filed, the court will mail a notice to all creditors advising them of the automatic stay. Certain creditors may be notified sooner, if necessary. Most creditors are prohibited from proceeding against the debtor during the entire course of the Chapter 13 Case. If the debtor is later granted a Chapter 13 Discharge, the creditors will then be prohibited from collecting the discharged debts from the debtor after the case is closed. If the debtor has had a prior bankruptcy case

May A Person Whose Debts Are Being Administered By A Financial Counselor File A Chapter 13 Case?

Yes. A financial counselor has no legal authority to prevent a person from filing any type of bankruptcy case, including a Chapter 13 Case.

How Does Filing a Chapter 13 Case Affect a Person’s Credit Rating?

It may worsen it, at least temporarily. However, if most of a person’s debts are ultimately paid off under a Chapter 13 Plan, that fact may be taken into account by credit reporting agencies. If very little is paid on most debts, the effect of a Chapter 13 Case on a person’s credit rating may be similar to that of a Chapter 7 Case.

Are The Names Of Persons Who File Chapter 13 Cases Published?

When a Chapter 13 Case is filed, it becomes a public record and the name of the debtor may be published by some credit reporting agencies. However, newspapers do not usually publish the names of persons who file Chapter 13 Cases.

Is A Person’s Employer Notified When He Or She Files A Chapter 13 Case?

In most cases, Yes. Many courts require a debtor’s employer to make payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee on the debtor’s behalf. Also, the Chapter 13 Trustee may contact an employer to verify the debtor’s income. However, if there are compelling reasons for not informing an employer in a particular case, it may be possible to make other arrangements for the required information and payments.

Does A Person Lose Any Legal Rights By Filing A Chapter 13 Case?

No, filing a Chapter 13 Case is not a criminal proceeding. Therefore, a person does not lose any legal or constitutional rights by filing a Chapter 13 Case.

May Employers Or Governmental Agencies Discriminate Against Persons Who File Chapter 13 Cases?

No, it is illegal for either private or governmental employers to discriminate against a person as to employment because that person has filed a Chapter 13 Case. It is also illegal for local, state, or federal governmental agencies to discriminate against a person as to the granting of licenses (including a driver’s license), permits, student loans, and similar grants because that person has filed a Chapter 13 Case.

What Is Required For Court Approval Of A Chapter 13 Plan?

The court will approve and confirm a Chapter 13 Plan if it finds that:

  1. all required fees, charges and deposits have been paid
  2. all priority claims will be paid in full under the plan,
  3. if the plan creates different classes of claims, it provides the same treatment for each claim within a particular class,
  4. the plan was proposed in good faith
  5. each unsecured creditor will receive under the plan at least as much as it would have received had the debtor filed a chapter 7 case.
  6. The debtor will be able to make the required payments and comply with the plan.
  7. Each secured creditor is dealt with in one of the four methods described in the answer to question 18 above.

What Is A Priority Claim?

A priority claim is an unsecured claim that is given priority of payment under the Bankruptcy Code. It is a claim that must be paid before other unsecured claims are paid. Examples of priority claims are tax claims, wage claims, and claims for alimony, maintenance or support. Claims for administrative fees, such as the Chapter 13 Trustee’s fee, the filing fee, and the fee of the debtor’s attorney, are also priority claims in Chapter 13 Cases.

When Does The Debtor Have To Appear In Court In A Chapter 13 Case?

Most debtors have to appear in court at least twice: Once for a hearing called the “Meeting of Creditors,” and once for a hearing on the confirmation of the debtor’s Chapter 13 Plan. The “Meeting of Creditors,” is usually held about a month after the case is filed. The Confirmation Hearing may be held on the same day as the “Meeting of Creditors,” or at a later date, depending on the scheduling practices in the local Court. If difficulties or unusual circumstances arise during the course of a case, additional Court appearances may be necessary.

What If The Court Does Not Approve A Debtor’s Chapter 13 Plan?

If the Court will not approve the plan initially proposed by a debtor, the debtor may modify the plan and seek Court approval of the modified plan. If the Court does not approve a plan, it will usually give its reasons for refusing to do so, and the plan may then be appropriately modified so it becomes acceptable to the Court. A debtor who does not wish to modify

How Are Claims Of Unsecured Creditors Handled In A Chapter 13 Case?

Unsecured creditors, including those with priority claims, must file claims with the Bankruptcy Court within 90-days after the first date set for the Meeting of Creditors in order for their claims to be allowed. Unsecured creditors who fail to file claims within that period are barred from doing so, and upon completion of the plan their claims will be discharged. The debtor may file a claim on behalf of a creditor, if desired. After the claims have been filed, the debtor may file objections to any claims that he or she disputes. When the claims have been approved by the Bankruptcy Court, the Chapter 13 Trustee begins paying unsecured creditors in the manner and in the amounts provided for in the debtor’s Chapter 13 Plan. Payments to secured creditors, priority creditors, and special classes of unsecured creditors may begin earlier, if desired.

What If The Debtor Is Temporarily Unable To Make The Chapter 13 Payments?

If the debtor is temporarily out of work, injured, or otherwise unable to make the payments required under a Chapter 13 Plan, the plan can usually be modified so as to enable the debtor to resume the payments when he or she is able to do so. If it appears that the debtor’s inability to make the required payments will continue indefinitely or for an extended period, the case may be dismissed or converted to a Chapter 7 Case.

What If The Debtor Incurs New Debts Or Needs Credit During A Chapter 13 Case?

Only two types of credit obligations or debts incurred after the filing of the case may be included in a Chapter 13 Plan. These are:

  1. Debts for taxes that become payable while the case is pending, and
  2. Consumer debts arising after the filing of the case that are for property or services necessary for the debtor’s performance under the plan and that are approved in advance by the Chapter 13 Trustee. All other debts or credit obligations incurred after the case is filed must be paid by the debtor outside the plan. Some Courts issue an order prohibiting the debtor from incurring new debts during the case unless they are approved in advance by the Chapter 13 Trustee. Therefore, the approval of the Chapter 13 Trustee should be obtained before incurring credit or new debts after the case has been filed. The incurrence of regular debts, such as debts for telephone service or utilities, do not require the Chapter 13 Trustee’s approval.

What Should A Person Do If He Or She Moves While The Chapter 13 Case Is Pending?

The person should immediately notify the Bankruptcy Court and the Chapter 13 Trustee in writing of the new address. Most communications in a Chapter 13 Case are by mail, and if the debtor fails to receive an order of the Court or important notices from the Chapter 13 Trustee because of an incorrect address, the case may be dismissed. Many Courts have change-of-address forms that the debtor may use if the debtor moves.

What If The Debtor Later Decides To Discontinue The Chapter 13 Case?

The debtor has the right to either dismiss a Chapter 13 Case or convert it to a Chapter 7 Case at any time for any reason. However, if the debtor simply stops making the required Chapter 13 payments, the Court may compel the debtor or the debtor’s employer to make the payments and to comply with the orders of the Court. Therefore a debtor who wishes to discontinue a Chapter 13 Case should do so through his or her attorney.

What Happens If A Debtor Is Unable To Complete The Chapter 13 Payments?

A debtor who is unable to complete the Chapter 13 payments has three options:

  1. Dismiss the Chapter 13 Case.
  2. Convert the Chapter 13 Case to a Chapter 7 Case.
  3. If the debtor is unable to complete the payments due to circumstances for Which he or she should not be held accountable, close the case and obtain a partial Chapter 13 Discharge as described in the answer to Question 6 above.

What Is The Role Of The Attorney For Debtor In A Chapter 13 Case?

The debtor’s attorney performs the following functions in a Chapter 13 Case:

  1. Examining the debtor’s financial situation and determining whether a Chapter 13 Case is a feasible alternative for the debtor, and if so, whether a single or joint case should be filed.
  2. Assist the debtor in obtaining the required per-bankruptcy budget and credit counseling briefing.
  3. Assist the debtor in the preparation of a budget.
  4. Examining the liens or security interests of secured creditors to ascertain their validity or avoid ability, and taking the legal steps necessary to protect the debtor’s interest in such matters.
  5. Devising and implementing methods of dealing with secured creditors.
  6. Assisting the debtor in devising a Chapter 13 Plan that meets the needs of the debtor and is acceptable to the Bankruptcy Court.
  7. Prepare the necessary pleadings and Chapter 13 forms for filing with the Bankruptcy Court.
  8. Filing Chapter 13 forms and pleadings with the Bankruptcy Court.
  9. Attending the meeting of creditors, the Confirmation hearing, any other hearings that may be held in the case.
  10. Assisting the debtor in obtaining Court approval of a Chapter 13 Plan.
  11. Checking the claims filed in the case, filing objections to improper claims, and attending Court hearings thereon.
  12. Assisting the debtor in overcoming any legal obstacles that may arise during the course of the case.
  13. Assisting the debtor in attending and completing the required instructional course on personal financial management.
  14. Assisting the debtor in obtaining a discharge upon the completion or termination of the plan.

The fee charged by an attorney representing the debtor filing in a Chapter 13 Case must be reviewed and approved by the Bankruptcy Court. This rule is followed whether the fee is paid to the attorney prior to or after the filing of the case, and whether it is paid or the attorney directly by the debtor or by the Chapter 13 Trustee. The Court will not approve a fee unless it finds the fee to be reasonable. Most attorneys collect all or most of their fee before the case is filed.

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Paul E. Riffel, Attorney at Law

Paul Riffel Law is located in Tampa FL and serves clients in and around Brandon, Tampa, Valrico, Odessa, Thonotosassa, Gibsonton, Sydney, Dover, Land O Lakes, Oldsmar, Apollo Beach, Lithia, Safety Harbor, Trilby, Plant City, Durant, Holiday, Hillsborough County and Pasco County.

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