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  Murrieta | Temecula bankruptcy attorney Karen E. Lockhart

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief is designed to give an individual a fresh start, discharging most, if not all, consumer debts in as little as 90 to 180 days after filing. In most cases, an individual will retain most, if not all, of their belongings. There are certain debts, such as child support, student loans, and taxes, that generally cannot be discharged.

You may be able to retain your home, if you are current on your mortgage and will be able to remain current after your other debts are discharged. If you cannot maintain your mortgage after your discharge, you may lose your home in foreclosure anyway.

You will need to consider whether filing for Chapter 7 makes economic sense. If it woną§„t you out of your current debt problems, and will force you to give up property you want to keep, then Chapter 7 might not be the best option, and a Chapter 13 repayment plan might make better sense.

Contact Murrieta | Temecula bankruptcy attorney Karen E. Lockhart at 951-698-5191, for a free, CONFIDENTIAL evaluation to help you determine whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 discharge. Consultations are available by telephone or in person. Weekends and evening appointments are also available. Consultations are always FREE.

CHAPTER 7 ELIGIBILITY

To qualify for relief under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, the debtor may be an individual, a partnership, or a corporation or other business entity. Relief is available under chapter 7 irrespective of the amount of the debtor's debts or whether the debtor is solvent or insolvent. An individual cannot file under chapter 7 or any other chapter, however, if during the preceding 180 days a prior bankruptcy petition was dismissed due to the debtor's willful failure to appear before the court or comply with orders of the court, or the debtor voluntarily dismissed the previous case after creditors sought relief from the bankruptcy court to recover property upon which they hold liens. In addition, no individual may be a debtor under chapter 7 or any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code unless he or she has, within 180 days before filing, received credit counseling from an approved credit counseling agency either in an individual or group briefing. If a debt management plan is developed during required credit counseling, it must be filed with the court.

HOW CHAPTER 7 WORKS

A chapter 7 begins with the debtor filing a petition with the bankruptcy court serving the area where the individual lives or where the business debtor is organized or has its principal place of business or principal assets. In addition to the petition, the debtor must also file with the court: (1) schedules of assets and liabilities; (2) a schedule of current income and expenditures; (3) a statement of financial affairs; and (4) a schedule of executory contracts and unexpired leases. Debtors must also provide the assigned case trustee with a copy of the tax return or transcripts for the most recent tax year as well as tax returns filed during the case (including tax returns for prior years that had not been filed when the case began). Individual debtors with primarily consumer debts have additional document filing requirements. They must file: a certificate of credit counseling and a copy of any debt repayment plan developed through credit counseling; evidence of payment from employers, if any, received 60 days before filing; a statement of monthly net income and any anticipated increase in income or expenses after filing; and a record of any interest the debtor has in federal or state qualified education or tuition accounts. A husband and wife may file a joint petition or individual petitions. Even if filing jointly, a husband and wife are subject to all the document filing requirements of individual debtors.

Filing a petition under chapter 7 "automatically stays" (stops) most collection actions against the debtor or the debtor's property. But filing the petition does not stay certain types of actions, and the stay may be effective only for a short time in some situations. The stay arises by operation of law and requires no judicial action. As long as the stay is in effect, creditors generally may not initiate or continue lawsuits, wage garnishments, or even telephone calls demanding payments. The bankruptcy clerk gives notice of the bankruptcy case to all creditors whose names and addresses are provided by the debtor.

Between 20 and 40 days after the petition is filed, the case trustee will hold a meeting of creditors. During this meeting, the trustee puts the debtor under oath, and both the trustee and creditors may ask questions. The debtor must attend the meeting and answer questions regarding the debtor's financial affairs and property. If a husband and wife have filed a joint petition, they both must attend the creditors' meeting and answer questions. Within 10 days of the creditors' meeting, the U.S. trustee will report to the court whether the case should be presumed to be an abuse under the means test.

It is important for the debtor to cooperate with the trustee and to provide any financial records or documents that the trustee requests. The Bankruptcy Code requires the trustee to ask the debtor questions at the meeting of creditors to ensure that the debtor is aware of the potential consequences of seeking a discharge in bankruptcy such as the effect on credit history, the ability to file a petition under a different chapter, the effect of receiving a discharge, and the effect of reaffirming a debt.

WHAT IS A DISCHARGE IN BANKRUPTCY?

A bankruptcy discharge releases the debtor from personal liability for certain specified types of debts. In other words, the debtor is no longer legally required to pay any debts that are discharged. The discharge is a permanent order prohibiting the creditors of the debtor from taking any form of collection action on discharged debts, including legal action and communications with the debtor, such as telephone calls, letters, and personal contacts.

WHEN DOES THE DISCHARGE OCCUR?

The timing of the discharge varies, depending on the chapter under which the case is filed. In a chapter 7 (liquidation) case, for example, the court usually grants the discharge promptly on expiration of the time fixed for filing a complaint objecting to discharge and the time fixed for filing a motion to dismiss the case for substantial abuse (60 days following the first date set for the 341 meeting). Typically, this occurs about four months after the date the debtor files the petition with the clerk of the bankruptcy court.

The court may deny an individual debtor's discharge if the debtor fails to complete "an instructional course concerning financial management." The Bankruptcy Code provides limited exceptions to the "financial management" requirement if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator determines there are inadequate educational programs available, or if the debtor is disabled or incapacitated or on active military duty in a combat zone.

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