The first step is the hardest—contacting someone for help and advice.  Chances are, you have already spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to deal with your financial problems on your own.   Once you decide that you are ready to get help, I can help you understand your options and take action.  If you decide to file bankruptcy, here is a general roadmap of the process.

1.    Contact me to set up a free consultation.  I will ask you some general questions over the phone to start to understand your situation and tell you what to bring with you to our meeting.  Then, we’ll set up a consultation time.

2.    Meet with me.   Plan to sit down with me for about an hour to talk over your situation.  After our meeting, there is no obligation to use my services or to pursue bankruptcy. You may wish to bring with you items such as any court papers or garnishment notices you’ve received from a creditor, a list of your bills, recent paystubs, and your latest tax return.  At our meeting, I’ll give you a firm price on what I will charge to represent you. 

3.    Get credit counseling.  Without a certificate showing you’ve completed credit counseling, you can’t file bankruptcy.  The counseling can be done online or in person.  Many of my clients have successfully gotten their counseling online through sites like Debtor CC.  Plan to spend about 1 hour completing the credit counseling.

4.    Gather information.  At our meeting, I will send you home with a questionnaire and a list of documents you need to provide.  Usually, that includes your latest tax returns, your pay stubs for the last 6 months, and your credit report. Complete and return these documents to me.

5.     Sign your papers.  Once I’ve prepared your petition, I will contact you to come and review and sign your papers.  This meeting will take about 1 hour.  At that meeting, you’ll need to pay any legal fees you owe.  If you’re filing a Chapter 7, that means the entire balance is due.  If you’re filing a Chapter 13, you just pay the required deposit.  After our meeting, I will file your case.

6.    Chapter 13 filers: Begin making plan payments. You must start making your monthly payments within 30 days after you file.

7.    Attend the meeting of creditors.  In Dubuque, these are held at the Holiday Inn on Main St.  You must appear in person, and you must bring a photo ID (like a drivers license) and proof of your social security number (like your social security card).  The meeting will last about 15 minutes, and I will be there with you.  You will be asked some questions under oath by your case trustee.

8.    Chapter 7 Filers: Complete your debtor’s education course.  This is another class that can be done online or in person.  Two online sites that other clients have used are Debtor Wise and $10Debtor Education.  If you’re in Dubuque, you can also visit Credit Counseling Services of Iowa.

9.    Chapter 7 filers: Reaffirm debts.  In Chapter 7, you have the option to reaffirm secured debts.  This means you sign an agreement with your lender agreeing to stay personally liable on the debt.  If you didn’t sign the reaffirmation, the creditor would retain a lien in your property, but you wouldn’t have any liability. We’ll talk about whether reaffirmation makes sense for you.

10.    Chapter 7 filers: Wait for your discharge order.  Typically, if there are no issues, you will receive a discharge order from the Court about 60-72 days after your meeting of creditors.  

11.    Chapter 13 filers: Appear for a confirmation hearing.  The Bankruptcy Court requires you to appear for a confirmation hearing.  Typically, you will not be expected to testify or otherwise speak at the hearing.  You must attend, though.

12.    Chapter 13 filers: Continue making plan payments for the life of your plan.  Complete the debtor’s education requirement (see #8 above) before your plan ends.