People often turn to an Orlando bankruptcy attorney to explain their bankruptcy options, as bankruptcy is a complex area of law, and filing bankruptcy is more complicated than simply filling out bankruptcy forms. There are some areas of bankruptcy law that are most frequently the subject of debtor questions. These areas include the means test, discharge of income tax liability through bankruptcy, attorney fees, how to avoid common bankruptcy mistakes, and other frequently asked questions.
Should I file bankruptcy to get rid of credit card debts? In most cases, bankruptcy is the last option. Your asset exemptions in bankruptcy are significantly worse than your asset exemptions outside of bankruptcy in state court collections. For instance, bankruptcy has significant limits on protection of your homestead; whereas outside bankruptcy, your homestead protection is almost unlimited and unconditional. Be wary of people who advise you to file bankruptcy without exploring your options to protect assets outside of bankruptcy court.
Do I have to take a credit counseling course before I file bankruptcy? Bankruptcy law requires all debtors to fulfill two education requirements: a credit counseling course prior to filing and a financial management course after the filing date. Your case cannot be filed until you complete the pre‑bankruptcy course and you will not receive a discharge of your debts unless you complete the personal financial management course and file the required certificates with the Court. The Chapter 13 Trustee offers a free personal financial management course to Chapter 13 debtors, but Chapter 7 debtors are required to take the personal financial management course on their own. All bankruptcy education courses are available in person, by phone, or online with agencies that are approved by the district in which you are filing. Most courses take less than one hour to complete and cost less than $50. Your attorney will provide you with a list of approved agencies.
Who can file bankruptcy? Any person residing, domiciled, or having property or a place of business in the United States may file Chapter 7. A business may also file a Chapter 7. Bankruptcy law includes a “means test” (which is a complicated formula of income vs. expense) in order to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If the means test indicates you have enough disposable income to pay more than 25 percent of your unsecured debts, you may have to file under Chapter 13 (provided you meet Chapter 13 debt ceilings). There are currently no minimum or maximum income limits or other income requirements or limitations for people whose unsecured debts are primarily non‑consumer debts such as investment liability, business losses, taxes, or student loans.
What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy? Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common type of bankruptcy and is often referred to as a “liquidation bankruptcy.” Chapter 7 bankruptcy is used to eliminate, or discharge, primarily unsecured debts such as credit cards or medical bills. Chapter 7 does not eliminate secured debts, such as mortgages and vehicle payments (unless the secured item is surrendered). Chapter 7 will not save a house from foreclosure nor a car from repossession if you are delinquent in payments. In Chapter 7, all of the debtor’s non‑exempt assets are turned over to a bankruptcy trustee for sale. Sale proceeds, if any, are distributed among the unsecured creditors.
What is a Chapter 13 bankruptcy? Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a way to repay all or part of your debt, but it is not designed to discharge or eliminate most debts. Chapter 13 is used most often to save a house from a foreclosure sale. You can use Chapter 13 to “strip” a second mortgage under certain circumstances. You may also be able to obtain a mortgage modification through mediation in Chapter 13. Chapter 13 is also useful to eliminate some IRS debt and to establish an affordable plan to pay IRS debt that cannot be eliminated. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is available to individual or joint debtors with regular income. In addition, there are upper limits on the amount of the individual’s secured and unsecured debts in Chapter 13 cases.
Who can file Bankruptcy in Florida? Any Florida resident can file bankruptcy in Florida. If you file bankruptcy in Florida, however, you can only claim Florida’s exemptions if you have resided in Florida for the previous two (2) years. Otherwise, you must use the exemptions of the state where you lived the previous two years or, in some cases, the default set of federal bankruptcy exemptions.
Can married people file bankruptcy jointly? Married debtors can file a joint bankruptcy petition for a single filing fee. Most attorneys charge the same legal fee for joint cases as they do for individual cases. Married couples who are jointly liable on most debts should file a joint bankruptcy. If only one spouse is liable on most of the debts, the indebted spouse may file an individual bankruptcy. In most cases, the individual debtor’s bankruptcy will have no adverse effect on the non‑filing spouse.
Do I need an attorney to file bankruptcy? Bankruptcy law does not require that you hire an Orlando bankruptcy attorney to prepare a bankruptcy petition or to represent you in your bankruptcy case in Central Florida. If you enjoy doing things yourself, or if you really cannot afford an attorney, you can find forms on the internet to file your own petition and schedules. However, bankruptcy is a complicated area of the law, and the bankruptcy law gives no special treatment to debtors who file their own petition. The 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act made filing bankruptcy substantially more complicated and the practice of bankruptcy law is therefore more specialized.
How much does an Orlando bankruptcy attorney charge for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy? In the past, most consumer bankruptcies were relatively simple and legal fees were low. The 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act increased the amount and complexity of legal work required to prepare a bankruptcy petition and successfully complete a filing, and as a result, legal fees are higher. Also, the amount of work and fees will vary according to the debtor’s income level. As a general guideline, a debtor below Florida’s median income should not have to pay more than $1,500 in legal fees for a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The court charges a $335 filing fee. An individual debtor with income above Florida’s median income will usually have to pay $200 to $500 more as additional paperwork is required.
How much do attorneys charge for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy? Chapter 13 cases are more complicated and legal fees are higher. The Orlando Division judges expect and approve legal fees for an Orlando bankruptcy attorney of approximately $4,500 (in addition to the filing fee of $310) to file an complete a standard Chapter 13 case. If your Chapter 13 case involves complicated legal issues, multiple properties, lien stripping, and/or mortgage modification, legal fees will be higher. The good news is that most attorneys require a down payment of approximately $2,500 to $3,000 (plus the filing fee) to prepare and file a Chapter 13 case. The balance is paid through the Chapter 13 plan over a period of several months.
Learn more about:
Bankruptcy Mistakes: Don’t make these mistakes when considering whether or not you file bankruptcy or when you are preparing to file bankruptcy.
Moral Issues: Why you shouldn’t feel bad about having to file bankruptcy and not pay your creditors.
Involuntary Bankruptcy: Involuntary bankruptcy is a complex bankruptcy process with many potential pitfalls for creditors.