Much has been written on this site and others about the information you need to gather to help your lawyer prepare your Chapter 13 case. You have also learned about mistakes to avoid during the weeks and months prior to your Chapter 13 filing.
Now your attorney has “pressed the button” and your case has been filed. A case number has been issued and the immediate crisis has passed. The repo agent is no longer circling the block, the foreclosure has been called off and the harassing phone calls have stopped. But now is not the time to relax because the Bankruptcy Code sets out numerous steps that you and your lawyer have to take to prepare your case for confirmation (a formal approval by the judge) of your Chapter 13 plan.
Here is a checklist of tasks that you must undertake to help your lawyer get your case ready for confirmation:
Task 1: make sure your case is funded. At its core, your Chapter 13 case functions as a payment plan. If you don’t make those payments, nothing else really matters. Your payment obligation to your Chapter 13 trustee starts immediately. If your plan calls for a weekly payment, then payment #1 is due 7 days after you file. If your plan calls for a bi-weekly payment, then payment #1 is due 14 days after you file.
If your case is funded by payroll deduction, you are still responsible for payments until your company’s payroll office starts the deduction. You cannot stand by, passively, and hope that your payroll office sends in your trustee payment. The trustee payment obligation is yours and yours alone.
Task 2: if you send money to your Chapter 13 trustee, make sure that your name and case number are legibly written on the check or money order. If possible, send your payment return receipt requested or deliver it personally and get a receipt. Have your lawyer confirm that your payment was properly applied to your case. Chapter 13 trustees process millions of dollars a year and you don’t want your payment to be lost or misapplied. And, of course, do not bounce checks to the Chapter 13 trustee.
Task 3: make sure that you have the correct identification in preparation for your meeting of creditors. You will need a photo ID like a driver’s license and a second, government issued, ID showing your full Social Security number. An ID with only the last 4 digits of your Social Security number is not sufficient. Do not wait until the night before your hearing to start hunting for identification.
Task 4: make sure that you have filed all previously unfiled tax returns prior to your 341 hearing. An unfiled tax return means unknown tax liability and your trustee cannot evaluate a repayment plan that contains unknown liabilities. Here, too, start early because your tax preparer will need a few weeks to gather and organize information needed to file your delinquent tax returns.
Task 5: review your Chapter 13 petition and plan prior to your 341 hearing. It is likely that the trustee will ask you questions about your budget or your debts. If you see any mistakes, talk to your attorney.
Task 6: print out directions to the courthouse where your hearing will be held and leave early for court. Many bankruptcy courts are located in congested downtown locations with limited parking. All federal buildings have security checkpoints. Give yourself plenty of time to figure out where you are going because your journey will take you longer than expected. When you arrive early you will also have the opportunity to observe one or more hearings, so you can ask your lawyer for advice about how to answer a particular question being asked that day by the trustee.
Task 7: if your plan calls for direct payments of any type – mortgage payments, lease payments, student loan payments, child support or alimony – make sure that those payments are current and bring proof of payment to your hearing. Your trustee will ask about these payments, so be prepared.
Task 8: if you are paying for a vehicle or home in your Chapter 13, you will be expected to maintain insurance on these properties. Bring proof of insurance with you along with the name and contact information for your insurance agent.
Task 9: schedule a few minutes to speak to your lawyer prior to your hearing. This can be a phone call or a brief meeting at the courthouse prior to your actual hearing. Your lawyer has been though the 341 hearing process hundreds of times, but this is your first time. Although not too many bad things can happen, you deserve to have some peace of mind about the process.
Task 10: don’t get overly worked up about your Chapter 13 meeting of creditors. Remember that this is an informal, administrative hearing, although your testimony will be given under oath. Your trustee, not the judge, will preside. If there are problems, you and your lawyer will have plenty of time to fix these issues. Prepare yourself mentally to answer the questions asked of you but do not volunteer information not requested.
Your lawyer, of course, may have more suggestions about steps you can take to make your proceed smoothly. As a Chapter 13 debtor you can and should take an active roll in the management of your case and a little effort at the beginning can pay great dividends later.
by Jonathan Ginsberg, Atlanta bankruptcy