Preparing for your first appointment
Prior Planning Pays!
The initial office visit of about one hour is intended to acquaint you with basic information about bankruptcy and to assess your current financial situation in order to determine your need and eligibility for the filing of a bankruptcy case. Although I charge $375 for a one hour consultation (payable at the time of the consultation), there is no obligation on your part to retain me if you don't want to, and no obligation on my part to accept your case, although everything you tell me will be kept confidential to the maximum extent permitted by law.
Please bring with you to the initial office visit as much paperwork as you have available. The more you bring with you, the better able we are to help and advise you.
If you do not have any of this information available for the initial office visit, then you may need to contact your employer, human resources officer, income tax preparer, bank or credit union, service providers or other sources to request this information. However, please do not cancel your appointment for your initial office visit simply because you do not have these records. We may be able to assist you in retrieving them.
Please be prepared to pay the bankruptcy court's filing fee and my fee (or at least some portion of my fee) at the end of the initial office visit if you decide to go forward with the process. My normal base fee for a Chapter 7 case is $2,500, which must be paid in full before the case is filed, although it can be paid in installments before filing. For a Chapter 13 case, the base fee is $4,000, which can be paid over time both before and after the case is filed. In certain circumstances, there may be additional fees depending on the circumstances of your case. As explained below, there is also a fee for the credit counseling and financial management courses, but those are paid directly to the counseling agency.
The bankruptcy court's filing fee for chapter 7 is $338; for Chapter 11 is $1,738.00; and for Chapter 13 is $313.00. Please note that it is unlikely that regular consumers would be filing a chapter 11 case, as it is more complicated and expensive than chapter 13. If your need for a bankruptcy case relates to your mortgage being in arrears, you should assume that you will be filing a chapter 13 case. During the course of your case, there may be additional fees charged by the court or by me if your case becomes complicated.
1. IDENTIFICATION. The bankruptcy law requires that you provide proof that you are who you say you are. Please bring with you to the initial office visit a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license or passport) and your Social Security card or some other proof of your social security number. If these documents do not have your COMPLETE social security number on them, go to the Social Security office, which in Boston is at the O'Neil Federal Building (next to North Station) and get a letter, which they will usually give you while you wait so long as you have government-issued photo identification. Please note that driver's licenses generally do NOT have your social security number on them. There may also be a Social Security Office near your home.
2. PROOF OF INCOME. The bankruptcy law requires that you provide proof of your average monthly gross income from all sources for the last 6 months beginning with the first month before your scheduled office visit. Please bring with you to the initial office visit all available pay stubs or other records of income for the past seven months to include records or receipts from employment income, tips, bonuses, child support, commissions, spousal support, support from someone paying or sharing your living expenses, rental income, unemployment compensation, social security, retirement, pension, interest, dividends, or income form any other source. If you are married, then you will need to provide this information for both yourself and your spouse, even if your spouse is not filing; the finances of the entire family are considered.
3. DEDUCTIONS TO INCOME. The bankruptcy law requires that you provide proof of any deductions from your income, which includes federal and state taxes, retirement plan contributions, retirement plan loan repayments, insurance, court-ordered payments, garnishments, and all other deductions whether voluntary or involuntary. If you have your own business, you must provide a complete listing of all of your monthly business expenses, including a year-to-date or recent monthly Profit & Loss Statement for your business, if possible. Please bring with you to the initial office visit as much documentation as you have available for the last six months. It is also a good idea to check with your employer's payroll department to be sure you aren't having too much taken out of your paycheck; this would be the case if you get a large tax refund every year. Think of that refund as being an "interest free" loan to the government!
4. BANKING RECORDS. Please provide monthly statements from your bank, credit union, or other financial institution(s) for the last six months.
5. INCOME TAX RETURNS. The bankruptcy law requires that you provide proof of your annual gross income for the last 4 years and proof that you filed tax returns for these years. Please bring with you to the initial office visit copies of your the income tax returns you filed for the last 4 years. If have not filed any of these tax returns, please start preparing them as soon as possible, as you will have only a limited amount of time to file them once the bankruptcy case has been filed. A chapter 13 case will be dismissed if you don't file the returns, both before AND after filing the case; there's nothing I can do about that.
6. BUDGET. The bankruptcy law requires you to prepare a budget of your REASONABLE AND NECESSARY monthly household income and expenses, including those for mortgage or rent, utility services (electricity, gas, fuel oil, propane, water and sewage), telephone service, cable or satellite television service, home maintenance, food, clothing, laundry and dry cleaning, medical and dental, transportation, recreation, clubs, entertainment, charitable contributions, insurance (homeowner or renter, life, health, auto), taxes on property, alimony, maintenance, child support, etc. The budget must be based on the income and expenses of all members of the household - even those who are not filing bankruptcy, as well as any children who work and are living at home. Please bring with you to the initial office visit as much documentation as you have available for the last six months. "Reasonable and necessary" is viewed objectively.
7. CREDIT REPORT. Federal law makes you eligible to receive a free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Please request your free credit report online by clicking this link. If possible, save the credit report as a PDF file and email it to me before your appointment. I will use this in order to be sure that all of your creditors get notice of the bankruptcy case; without notice, your debt to that creditor probably will NOT be discharged, meaning that you would still be required to pay it. You must include and list ALL creditors, even if you dispute the debt.
8. ACCOUNT STATEMENTS. The bankruptcy law requires a listing of all of your debts including those for mortgages, credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, auto loans, furniture loans, jewelry loans, lawsuits, etc. This includes debts you owe to friends and family members!! Please bring with you to the initial office visit a copy of the most recent statements from all creditors. Please remember that you must list debts even if you think you don't owe it. If there is a dispute about a debt, we can resolve it through the bankruptcy case.
9. PROPERTY DOCUMENTS. The bankruptcy law requires proof of all contracts and security agreements, including those for mortgages and leases, refinancing, transfers of ownership, time shares, stocks, car loans and leases, furniture rental and leases, jewelry loans, etc. Please bring with you to the initial office visit as much documentation as you have available for the last four years. A copy of your deed and homestead declaration (if you have one) will be helpful, but I may be able to obtain that for you. In addition, it will be helpful to have written appraisals or Broker's Price Opinions of your home and any other real property you own, if any. If you refinanced your mortgage within the last four years, please bring all of those documents also.
10. PROOF OF INSURANCE. The bankruptcy law requires proof of insurance on all property secured by a lien, such as homeowners insurance, automobile insurance, etc. Please bring with you to the initial office visit as much documentation as you have available. If you don't have insurance, you MUST get it, especially in a chapter 13 case, otherwise your case will be dismissed. VERY IMPORTANT! You cannot rely on insurance that the mortgage company gets, because that only protects the mortgage company. Get your own insurance; it will probably be cheaper that the mortgage company's insurance.
11. DOMESTIC SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS. If you are required to pay any child support, alimony, or maintenance, please bring all documents associated with such payments, ESPECIALLY if you are behind on these obligations.
12. CREDIT COUNSELING. You must have a session with an authorized credit counselor before the case can be filed; it requires at least one hour. If you file a bankruptcy case without the counseling, your case is virtually certain to be dismissed. The counselor will charge you a fee (usually about $50) unless you qualify for a free session. This is paid directly to the counselor. A certificate will be issued. Please ask the counselor to email it directly to us. Click here for a list of counselors authorized to provide sessions in Massachusetts. After the bankruptcy petition is filed and before a discharge can be granted, you will be required to take a course in Financial Management, which can be given by the same counselor, but after filing.
13. OTHER DOCUMENTS. I will need to see documents for any bankruptcy you filed during the last eight years; a list of all of your addresses for the last three years; documentation of any felony conviction, money or property received from a trust or probate estate, Educational IRAs or tuition programs, divorce or probate matters, etc., and any lawsuits that have been filed against you within the last three years.
The Law Office of David G. Baker is a debt relief agency as defined by the amendments to the Bankruptcy Code that became effective on 17 October 2005.
This information is intended to help you understand your obligations under the new law and to help ensure our compliance with the law.
Please read all of the information carefully and follow all instructions to the best of your ability.
PLEASE NOTE: Nothing on this page or this website is intended to constitute legal advice.
Your circumstances may be different, so call us or another lawyer to discuss your particular situation BEFORE taking any action!
There are some things you should NOT do before filing a bankruptcy case. Click here to read about Mistakes People Make.