Bankruptcy is rising but filings are falling! Why? Simple answer: People do not have money to file for protection under the Bankruptcy Code. That may sound/read like an "Of course they cannot afford bankruptcy, they don't have any money!" Unfortunately, this is a new phenomenon.
Until recently, people would call regularly to ask for a free consultation to discuss financial problems which could result in a Bankruptcy case. Generally, we are able to work out payment arrangements with almost anyone. ALMOST is the operative word. If the person has no money and no job, and no way to pay us, even on a $25 per week basis, there is little that we can do as an office.
Understand that every lawyer does a certain amount of INTENTIONAL pro-bono work, and I do not know of an attorney who would turn away a truly troubled indigent person who just lost the house, car, wife/husband etc. That stated, none of us in Private Practice can do everything for nothing - work for free all of the time!
Because of the downturn and especially the lack of employment people aren't even calling because they feel that they cannot afford the cost of getting "peace of mind". My view of the problem is slightly different. We have accepted payments every week for a year from clients, all the while giving them as much protection as we could from creditors. Most lawyers will do that for people really in need.
Some ground rules apply:
1. Don't come in with your partner and state that you cannot afford our fees because you can't cut back on smoking 2 packs a day each. At $9/pk, that's $36/day or more than $1,000 per month.
2. While I encourage people to come in, I do not expect them to ask me to help them with a bankruptcy THEY are going to file.
3. Some folks will have to file Bankruptcy but do not want to give up they "toys" - the snowmobile, PWC, 4-wheeler, or cut back on the $200 per month cable or satellite bill because of all of the special sports channels and events, or drop the $200/mo cell service and on and on...
Filing for Bankruptcy is to give someone(s) in debt a "FRESH START". It is written that way in the Code and is discussed in cases and in Court. No one expects someone looking for that second chance to sell their soul, but to cut back on smoking, or drop a few cable channels, or give up the "bike" would seem a fair trade. The reality is that in a bankruptcy, where no unsecured creditor is getting paid back anything, you are not allowed to keep the snowmobile and the bike and the...
If you have a house, we can help you find the funds to pay your mortgage by eliminating unsecured debt. You can keep almost all of your personal property, except for things like the PWC for which you are paying $300/month for the next 36 months etc. But clothing, regular furniture, tools, in most cases automobiles (not 4 or 5), RETIREMENT plans including IRAs, and if you are renting or have no equity in your house a reasonable amount of cash/money in the bank. Depending on the situation, maybe even $10,000.
If you have the $10,000 but your debt is $70,000 you cannot pay everyone back if you have $35,000 in income and a child. But, you can either pay a small portion back, and you can pay the legal fees to file the Bankruptcy. It could be a Chapter 7 (no payback) or a Chapter 13 (payback of what you have left as disposable income each month). Or, if you wish, you can give the Trustee the $10,000, less attorneys fees, and have the Trustee distribute what is left to creditors on a pro-rata basis. It is not required, but if you feel that you should pay back what you can afford, the Trustee will certainly oblige. Just be aware that it isn't necessary in most cases.
ADVICE: If you are in debt to a point where you know you cannot make any meaningful payments, call a Bankruptcy attorney. Payment plans can be worked-out, and the initial consultation to find out about YOUR RIGHTS is always "NO COST" here.
Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq., October, 2011