Bankruptcy Lawyer Bryan W. Stone answers the question: “What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy?”
One year ago this December, the paperwork that had been in use since the 1980s for people and businesses filing for bankruptcy protection was replaced with forms that were supposed to be clearer and easier to understand.
The committee in charge of handling the forms’ revamping got an earful from critics from the start. Many worried that the new instructions, supposedly free of the old confusing format and legalese, would encourage more people to file pro se (i.e. by themselves and without the help of a bankruptcy attorney).
Consumer-friendliness and empowerment are generally positive things. However, bankruptcy is not just about filling in forms—it is about understanding the federal statutes, rules and case law that direct and interpret how those forms are completed and the impact they have on a debtor’s assets, liabilities and exemptions.
The consequences of not understanding these things can be counterproductive to the reason people file for bankruptcy in the first place. People who submit bankruptcy filings containing errors can face criminal charges. An untimely application can result in the debtor being denied bankruptcy relief.
And no, not all of the critics of the new forms have been attorneys themselves, just worried about smaller paychecks. Both consumer advocates and bankruptcy trustees (the court-appointed party responsible for overseeing individual bankruptcy petitions) have criticized the way the new forms give consumers the impression they can handle their bankruptcy filing without legal advice.
The new forms’ 42-page instructional booklet makes it seem as if you’re holding a comprehensive workbook to bankruptcy filing (the old forms came with 14 pages of instructions). However, critics have warned that this new format gives debtors a false sense of security. Even if you’re able to fill out the bankruptcy forms and file them, if you learn that you did something wrong or filed at the wrong time, you can’t just go back to the court and tell them you changed your mind. Hiring an attorney after the fact to try to fix errors like this will cost far more in the long run.
Compounding this problem are the multitudes of “bankruptcy filing professionals” offering low flat-rate fees for filling out people’s bankruptcy filing papers every time you Google anything bankruptcy-related.
These “bankruptcy filing professionals” are not attorneys. Professional bankruptcy attorneys spend their entire working lives understanding how the federal bankruptcy system works, and how to best help their clients through that system.
The same line of reasoning applies to the new bankruptcy filing forms. Just because the new forms purport to be more user-friendly, and just because you might save some money up front by filing yourself or hiring a non-attorney to help you file for $99, does not mean either of these things are any substitute for legal advice. As one employee with the National Consumer Law Center who helped on form overhaul project told The Wall Street Journal, his goal was not to make business for lawyers—he just thinks bankruptcy is a process that is difficult to do without one, regardless of the new forms.
The new bankruptcy forms, like non-attorney filing “professionals,” do not explore your options with you. They ask for information but cannot give advice. Even when the forms give printed explanations, they do not explain full consequences or that there may be a better way to get the results your individual financial situation needs out of a bankruptcy.
- Do I have non-bankruptcy options? What will my long-term consequences of filing be?
- Is a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 better? Why?
- What can I do to protect my assets or maximize exemptions?
- Will waiting to file for a few days/weeks/months help or hurt?
- When is the better time to file—before or after a pay raise, job change, child birth, marriage, moving to another home, getting a bonus, or filing a tax return?
If you are contemplating bankruptcy in the Charlotte area, please call the skilled lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC find additional resources here. As professionals who are experienced at handling all kinds of bankruptcy matters, our attorneys will provide you with legally sound advice for your particular situation.
About the Author
Kyle Frost joined Arnold & Smith, PLLC in 2013 where he focuses his practice on all aspects of civil litigation and bankruptcy, including: Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 13, home loan modifications and landlord-tenant issues.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Mr. Frost attended the University at Albany on a Presidential Scholarship, graduating magna cum laude with a double major in Political Science and Sociology. He went on to attended Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Following college, Mr. Frost spent over a year teaching English in South Korea. He worked in a private school in Seoul developing curriculum, English programs, and educating both children and adults that were interested in learning a new language.
In his spare time, Mr. Frost enjoys homebrewing, fishing, and travelling.
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