As a Fort Lauderdale Bankruptcy Attorney, What Are The Most Common Questions A Prospective Client Asks?
Will I be ruined for 10 years? NO! A bankruptcy filing remains on your credit report for up to 10 years. But there is no law that says because you filed a bankruptcy you are automatically denied credit. Quite the contrary, banks, credit card companies and lenders want your business. Depending on how bad your credit was, a bankruptcy may well strengthen your credit worthiness, because now you don’t have say, $25,000 or $50,000 in debt, you have NO Debt, and you can’t file again for 8 years. Many of my clients have actually been solicited for new cards while still in bankruptcy! By virtue of continuing to pay your mortgage and/or car loan or lease payments through and after filing you will quickly re-establish your credit. I had a gal who filed less than 2 years ago call last week needing something from her file because she was buying a new house and I’ve had many former clients relate to me their credit score is back in the 700s within about 2 years. It’s just not that bad.
Can I keep my house and car? Yes. If you are paying a mortgage or auto purchase or lease payment and wish to retain the home or car, we indicate that in the bankruptcy petition and then sign a Reaffirmation Agreement with lender, same exact loan terms as before, and you just keep making the normal monthly auto payments. This also helps in quickly building your credit back up. Alternatively, if the loan or lease is a bad deal, you can surrender the home or car and with the bankruptcy the lender is prohibited from pursuing you for a deficiency claim. It’s the best of both worlds.
Can I keep my personal property or a paid-for car? Yes. The allowed exemptions (property you keep) generally provide that, depending upon the value, you can claim all your property as exempt. If there is an issue with the value being too much, or overexempt, we often negotiate with the trustee to “redeem”, or buy-back the non-exempt (overexempt) value and you retain the asset. The trustee doesn’t want the car, they want money. But this is where a Ft. Lauderdale and South Florida bankruptcy attorney’s direction and advice is crucial and important; in analyzing your property’s value in context of the exemption rules and perhaps engaging in some negative estate planning prior to filing, which is perfectly legal. I would estimate that in easily 80% of the cases I handle there are no over-exemption issues and the client retains all of their property. Everything. The only thing they lose is all their debt. I might add any kind of IRA or other retirement account is totally exempt. There are many tools and ways to skin a cat when it comes to exemptions, but there is no substitute for advice from a seasoned bankruptcy attorney.
Will I have to go to court and appear before a judge? No. Bankruptcy in and of itself is a decidedly non-adversarial proceeding. There is no prosecutor or confrontational cross examination. On a single occasion you and I will meet with the trustee assigned to administer your case, in a conference room. It’s tape recorded and you are sworn to tell the truth. Did you read your bankruptcy schedules before you signed them? Have you listed all your assets and liabilities? Is all the information contained in your schedules true and correct? What caused you to have to file bankruptcy? They set 5 - 7 cases per half hour so it’s boom boom boom. And I’m sitting right next to you to assist if needed. Creditors don’t appear at the meeting because they don’t have to. Indeed, when the credit card companies or collection agencies receive the official notice of filing from the bankruptcy clerk they just go silent and, not to be flippant, drop like flies. I can’t count the times I’ve walked out with my client after the meeting and they turn to me, with great relief, and ask: “Is that all there is?”.
How long does the case take? 4 months from filing to discharge. But for all intents and purposes, the day I file the case the “automatic stay” is in effect and creditors are barred from any further collection activity. Years ago before efiling when I would hand file a bankrutcy petition the clerk would stamp in big red letters RELIEF ORDERED. If there is a pending lawsuit or wage garnishment, I immediately file a Suggestion of Bankruptcy in the lawsuit which effectively dismisses it or stops the garnishment, etc. Bankruptcy is a very powerful and pervasive tool.
Whatever questions a client asks, I strive to answer it completely, in a way the client can understand. Often a question has further implications on other aspects of the case and I take the time to go through the circumstance and fully inform. It is a part of my job I take very seriously.
I am a Ft. Lauderdale and South Florida bankruptcy attorney available to assist you and solve your financial problems.x`