Preparation is the most important part of the process. Once you’re ready to prepare your petition, you need to collect all of the documents and information required to complete it. This includes 3 years of tax returns, 6 months of proof of income, copies of your most recent bank statements, copies of your credit card statements and other debts, and other information. A recent credit report can be very helpful. All of these documents and information are used to form an accurate picture of your financial situation, and to provide transparency to the Bankruptcy Court, your Chapter 7 trustee, and your creditors. The petition is a complex document that cross references itself in many sections. While you can technically prepare it yourself, it’s highly recommended that you hire experienced bankruptcy counsel.
You’ll also need to complete an online or on the phone course call credit counseling before your petition is ever filed with the Bankruptcy Court. This is a one hour course that, while crucial to filing the petition, the answers provided are not shared with the Bankruptcy Court. Once you complete the course, you’ll receive a certificate with a unique number proving that you’ve met the credit counseling requirement. This certificate is valid for 6 months.
Filing a Petition
Once your petition has been prepared, you must sign the petition confirming that all of the information is true and correct. You will then file the petition with the Bankruptcy Court. You will have to do this by hand if you don’t have access to the Bankruptcy Court’s website. An experienced bankruptcy attorney will have a streamlined process to file the entire petition and all related documents electronically using your electronic signature.
Trustee and 341 Meeting
Once your petition has been filed, the Bankruptcy Court will assign a case number, and a Chapter 7 trustee will be appointed. A 341 meeting date will be set. Your trustee will request copies of documents and information to be provided in advance of that meeting date. You must then appear at that 341 meeting on the day and time set forth in the notice. This meeting generally takes 15-30 minutes depending on the complexity of your case. You may have to wait substantially longer to be taken by the trustee, and their office usually sets many 341 meetings for the same day and time.
Once your 341 meeting is completed, you will need to take the second course called financial management, and also known as debtor education. This second course lasts between 60 and 90 minutes long, and can be taken on the phone or online. Once that course is complete, you will need to file another signed certification of completion with the Bankruptcy Court.
Once you’ve completed the debtor education course, and if your Chapter 7 trustee reports that no assets will be sold to pay debts, the Bankruptcy Court will be prompted to have a Discharge Order filed in your case. Your case should then close up in days following the entry of the Discharge Order.