A Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer is an important part of filing a bankruptcy case in that you will often need legal counsel to help you understand state and federal laws and make the best decisions about your personal property and filing conditions. The Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer will help guide you through the bankruptcy process, which will involve filings, credit counseling and settling with creditors. Together with the Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer, you will formulate a plan to emerge from bankruptcy with a clean slate.
How do I discharge my debt?
The only way to discharge unsecured debts is to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, 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. Most debts owed are discharged, except for child support, student loans, property and income taxes less than 3 years old, as well as financial penalties associated with law-breaking. Debts that can be discharged include medical bills, loans and credit card debt.
To get rid of secured debt, the only method would be to give up the collateral the debt is secured against. Secured debt usually means all property that can be foreclosed on or repossessed. Secured debts are not liquidated during bankruptcy and can be kept or surrendered, based on arrangements the owner makes with the debt holder. A Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer can help you determine what to do with secured debt and which of the other debts are unsecured.
What is an estate?
A person’s estate is the sum of all property owned by an individual. An individual’s estate is only imperiled in bankruptcy when the total assets exceed the amount owed, in which case the trustee will sell nonexempt assets to settle debts. Assets not included in the estate include property that is leased, rented or otherwise owned by another party that the individual makes payments to fro the right to use. The debtor may choose to allow this property to be repossessed by the owner at his or her choosing if the monthly payments constitute a financial burden.
What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
Chapter 13 is an alternative to Chapter 7 liquidation and if you file for this Chapter, with the aid of a Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer, you will be able to keep your assets as well as your current debt obligations. The benefit here is a court order automatic stay against creditors. This will prevent them from taking further collection actions. With this automatic stay in place, the debtor will formulate a court approve repayment plan to eventually have the debts paid in 3 – 5 years. The debtor must have a steady stream of income to qualify for Chapter 13 protection. The Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer will help you determine if you have sufficient need for this protection and if an automatic stay will be beneficial to your situation rather than more drastic measures.
What to prepare before meeting with the Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer?
You must collect all bills as well as well as a listing of your assets and be prepared to show them to the attorney. You will need tax returns for the previous two years, and any other relevant personal finance documents. The Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer needs all of this information to determine your situation and the appropriate bankruptcy option. The Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer will also need to determine which of your property is exempt from seizure. Individuals may choose either the state exemptions or the federal exemptions and the Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer will help you make this difficult decision which will preserve the important assets.
Be accurate in determining your current assets and do not try to conceal or overstate your assets. Truthfulness is important to the process and deceit will have the bankruptcy court close the case and even arrest you for bankruptcy fraud. Credit counseling is mandatory for all persons seeking bankruptcy protection and this will happen after you choose to file for bankruptcy. This will determine if you need protection to pay off your debts.
What property is exempt from liquidation?
Pennsylvania state law exempts some of the following property from bankruptcy rulings:
– Homes are exempt from debts owed by only one spouse
– Most insurance and entitlement benefits, including life insurance, accident and fraternal benefits are exempt from bankruptcy judgment
– Properties of a business partnership are exempt
– Most public municipal employees including teacher and police pensions are exempt from bankruptcy judgment
– Public benefits, including veteran’s benefits and worker’s compensation are exempt
– Unpaid wages
– Clothing, bibles and uniforms
– $300 worth of any property (wildcard)
A Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer can assist you in determining which property is exempt under Pennsylvania law as well as potential loopholes that can spare some of your assets from seizure to pay credits.
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 Pennsylvania law. Bankruptcy allows the individual to overcome burdensome debt and improve their financial practices to avoid future trouble with finances.
Where do I file for bankruptcy?
You will file for bankruptcy in one of three federal court districts, Pennsylvania Eastern, Western of Middle court. Each district will have a few locations and will serve certain counties. The Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer will help you determine the appropriate court to file for bankruptcy.
Where to look for an attorney
The Pennsylvania Bar Association is a voluntary organization of Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyers and others that abide by a code of professionalism and ethics. There are practice sections for Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer to remain up to date with developments in the state and local laws and this will ensure that a qualified and knowledgeable legal professional will represent you.
The Pennsylvania Bar offers a low-cost lawyer referral service that can connect clients to a potential Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer that will able to take their case. This service charges $30 for a 30 minute consultation, $15 of which is returned to the lawyer referral service. Use this service to find a Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer who is a member of the association and can adequately represent your needs. Feel free to consult with other lawyers. There is no obligation to use the lawyer you are referred to.
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 Pennsylvania 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. There are also miscellaneous fees for record retrieval, audio recording and other court services. Fees can 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 Pennsylvania 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.
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?