Although there is the temptation to pursue a bankruptcy filing without a lawyer, or “bankruptcy Pro Se,” it is in your best interest to have a Maryland bankruptcy lawyer that is familiar with federal law and state laws to take your case. For a nominal fee, the bankruptcy lawyer will help you prepare the proper documents for filing, file for the appropriate exemptions and help you keep your property, if that action is available to you. Those that file for bankruptcy without a lawyer risk an unfavorable outcome and will inevitably lose more than they need to.
How do I discharge my debt?
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing is the only way for one to discharge their debt. Most forms of unsecured debt, such as medical bills and credit card debt can be discharged, but child support, student loans, property and income taxes less than 3 years old, as well as financial penalties associated with law-breaking remain with the debtor.
An important factor in this bankruptcy filing is a trustee is appointed to liquidate unsecured, non-exempt assets in order to repay creditors. Repayment is at the discretion of the trustee and the debtor has little say in the matter. The credit impact of bankruptcy will last for ten years.
Secured debt is not discharged through a Chapter 7 filing. Secured debts include home mortgages and car payments. The only ways these debts are resolved are by allowing the property to be foreclosed on or repossessed. A Maryland bankruptcy lawyer can help you determine what to do with secured debt and which of the other debts are unsecured.
What is an alternative to the liquidation of my assets?
The only other typical bankruptcy option is a court supervised repayment plan that does not discharge you debt. This is a Chapter 13 filing. This filing is an automatic stay against creditors and prevents them from taking further action against the debtor. Any debtor with steady income can prove to the court that he or she can sustain a long-term debt repayment plan that will clear their debts in 3 – 5 years. Like all other bankruptcy filings, the debtor will need to go to credit counseling, to determine if an automatic stay against collectors is necessary.
What to prepare before meeting with the Maryland bankruptcy lawyer
You must be able to account for all of your assets. This is the only way the Maryland bankruptcy lawyer will be able to help you the proper exemptions that you may file. You will need tax returns for the previous two years, and any other relevant personal finance documents. With this information, the Maryland bankruptcy lawyer will determine the appropriate bankruptcy option. It is important to try not to conceal or overstate your assets. Accuracy is important in this process and fault or sloppiness on your part will close the case. Willful concealment of assets will be considered bankruptcy fraud, which carries stiff federal criminal penalties. Credit counseling is mandatory for all persons seeking bankruptcy protection and this will happen after you choose to file for bankruptcy.
What property is exempt from liquidation?
Like many states, Maryland has their own set of bankruptcy exemptions, which can be used in conjunction with federal exemptions. Unlike other states, there is no homestead exemption, but “property held as tenancy by the entirety may be exempt against debts owed by only one spouse.” The property of a business partnership is not subject to the bankruptcy judgment. Almost all health benefits, life insurance and medical benefits are exempt from the bankruptcy judgment. Tools of trade, valued up to $5,000 in value can be exempt. There is a $1,000 exemption on other personal property as well. The wild car exemption, which is present in many but not all states, allows for $6,000 in cash or property to be exempt from the bankruptcy judgment. Public benefits and pensions also are exempted under Maryland state law.
What are the advantages to bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy provides an automatic stay against creditors, which prevents them from taking action against the debtor, such as collection harassment, repossessing property and filing lawsuits. Automatic stay also ends garnishment of one’s wages to repay debts, which is allowed under Maryland law. Bankruptcy allows the individual to overcome burdensome debt and improve their financial practices to avoid future trouble with finances.
Where to look for an attorney
The Maryland courts system maintains a referral service to advise individuals and refer them to a proper legal representative. A fee of $35 may be involved, but this can by bypasses by filling out and having a waiver approved. Other referral services will direct you to state and local law associations, depending on the county.
You should not judge an attorney by advertising as this is a poor indictor of lawyer quality. Large, national bankruptcy firms exist for personal bankruptcy, but there is not guarantee that you will receive the individualized attention or care provided by a smaller firm.
Be aware of bankruptcy petition preparation firms as these organizations do not give legal advice and will charge excessive fees to prepare bankruptcy petitions.
You may use this website to find an attorney. To do so, use the search box on top of all pages. You may also compare attorneys and ask free questions by clicking Find Attorneys on top of the page.
Rates, Fees & Retainers
The fees to file for bankruptcy in Maryland were increased on November 1, 2011 and are currently at $281 for Chapter 13 and $306 for Chapter 7. This is in addition to lawyer fees. Fee cans be waived or paid in installments at the discretion of the court.
Hourly rates may be accrued from using the lawyer or support staff such as paralegals. This is a simple arrangement and you should have a general idea of the amount that will be billed. This may not include flat legal service fees such as document preparation and filing. It is especially important to be aware of those fees.
A retainer fee is a non-refundable advance payment by the client that covers the cost of services provided by the lawyer. This payment is put into an account and billed whenever the lawyer performs services. This account may need to be refilled as the case continues. Although bankruptcy cases are not typically lengthy, retainer agreements can still be expensive, depending on the frequency by which the lawyer’s services are used.
You may choose to file for bankruptcy “pro se,” or without the assistance of a Maryland bankruptcy lawyer. This is not advisable as you will risk losing non-exempt property or may make critical errors that will affect the outcome of your case. Free services may be available to low-income families as well as no-cost consultations. Payment plans can be arranged between clients and lawyers in case there is significant financial hardship for the client.
Free services may be available to low-income families as well as no-cost consultations. Payment plans can be arranged between clients and lawyers in case there is significant financial hardship for the client. These plans will involve deferred payments, and may even offer a discount on those services, at the discretion of the lawyer.
Interviewing your attorney
The following questions are important when interviewing your attorney:
What fees do I pay for retaining services?
Can I have that in writing?
What are my options?
Can I file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and preserve my assets?
Can I contact you directly if there is a problem?
Can you allow me to examine your credentials?
What is your experience with bankruptcies, specifically my circumstances?
If you cannot handle my case, can you refer me to a lawyer that can?
Although you can file for bankruptcy pro se, this is not advisable. A bankruptcy lawyer in Maryland has a better knowledge of the process that you will go through during your bankruptcy proceedings, including mandatory credit counseling. In addition, every state will have unique laws defining allowable exemptions during bankruptcy judgments. The bankruptcy lawyer in Maryland will be able to help you assess your property for exemptions as well as determine if you must part with certain items that have been used to secure debt. Some experienced bankruptcy lawyers Maryland will even be able to help you determine the fair market value of your property, simplifying the process for you. You lose the benefit of a consummate professional and advocate when you choose to file for bankruptcy per se and leave yourself at the mercy of creditors who may or may not pay attention to exemption laws. Remember that is it important to be honest and file all documents in good faith. Failure to do so will lead to bankruptcy fraud allegations for you and any others that helped you to conceal assets.