Okay. You just sat down and reviewed your petition, made any appropriate changes to make it speak the truth and then signed it. The fees are (finally) paid (upfront fees if it’s a chapter 13), and the case was just filed electronically with the Bankruptcy Court. You have your bankruptcy case number. What’s next?
It is now time to take the second required bankruptcy course, called the financial education course or ‘debtor ed’. It is offered online and by phone. You should take this second required bankruptcy course before you attend the first meeting of creditors in your case (see below). It takes a couple of hours and concerns financial management.
Within a couple of business days, the Bankruptcy Court will issue a Notice of Bankruptcy Case, and have it mailed to you, to me, the trustee assigned to your case and all of the creditors listed in your petition. The notice advises creditors that the case has been filed and that the automatic stay in bankruptcy prevents most (in fact, just about all) collection efforts (including calls, collection letters, lawsuits, bank restraints and garnishments).
It also gives a couple of important dates: the date for the first meeting of creditors, and the last date for objecting to your bankruptcy discharge or to the discharge of a particular debt. This post will discuss the first meeting of creditors.
The first meeting of creditors (called a ‘341(a) meeting’ after the section of the Bankruptcy Code that requires it) is your one meeting with the bankruptcy trustee in your case. If you are like most of my clients, the meeting is in the Poughkeepsie office of the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. It is held in the courthouse, but not in the courtroom. You’ll need a photo ID and original proof of your Social Security number to participate in the meeting. If you don’t have your Social Security card, it’s time to get a replacement, or to find an original document from the federal government with your full Social Security number displayed.
You might want to bring something to read. But don’t bring your phone, other electronics or any weapons. You won’t make it past the court security officers at the door. Leave these items in the car.
Head into the meeting room a little before the scheduled time of your 341(a) meeting, and unless you are up first. you’ll be able to watch a few of these meetings take place. Most 341(a) meetings are very similar.
The trustee will place you under oath, show you the signed petition and ask you if that is your signature. After stating whether you had the opportunity to review the papers before you signed them, that you listed all of your assets, all of your creditors and that the information in the petition is true and accurate, the trustee will inquire into some specifics. He/she will ask about real estate that you own or have owned, vehicles, bank and financial accounts, lawsuit claims, possible inheritances, and other valuable property. I will have provided the trustee before the meeting with certain documents that you gave to me, to clarify the trustee’s questioning. In about 5 minutes, the average 341(a) is over, the trustee wishes you well, and we go into the next room to discuss anything the trustee may have asked us to provide and to talk about what happens next.
You may think to yourself: is that all? It seems too easy. Well, good. That means you and I managed your case properly. And for a little perspective, just recall how difficult life seemed before you made the decision to call a lawyer about maybe filing a bankruptcy case, when it seemed that the walls were closing in on you and you didn’t know what to do or where to turn next. Not so easy after all.