Bankruptcy Attorney’s Fees in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is a short procedure.  Also called a straight bankruptcy, it lasts about 4 months.  You pay for it in advance to your attorney via cash, check or money order.  I no longer take checks. I’ve learned something: Every time a client  makes the effort to tell me that his check is good, it isn’t.  And that’s the case so far, every single time that a client has told me that.  So most of us won’t ever take a check.

Reasonable Fees

Sometimes your bankruptcy will cost a pretty penny even with me.  Whether you file in Riverside, San Diego, Santa Ana or Los Angeles, whether you live in Murrieta, Temecula, Menifee, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore, or Canyon Lake, I’m nearby and my fees are reasonable.  I aim to keep things affordable by basing my fees on your income.  If you’re on social security disability my current fees are $800 + the Filing Fee for a chapter 7.

Higher fees are what you will usually find with the other guys.  If your attorney has a big expensive office or several names on the door, you’re going to pay more.  Sometimes that’s what you want, if you’ve committed fraud or basically if you’ve cheated a few people or banks out of money, then you may want a law firm with that kind of litigation support.  However, remember that defending against creditors that you cheated out of money is going to cost you a lot extra, so having a higher priced firm might be a bad idea. If you cannot afford to defend yourself for your misdeeds then if you get sued, you’re going to lose no matter who your attorney is, because we don’t defend those for free.

And if you’re just a regular person who got caught in bad circumstances such as a divorce, medical emergency, death in the family, your company closed etc, then a boutique firm is probably going to be a better option.  However, attorney’s fees in any bankruptcy case must be reasonable.

Within the bankruptcy petition, the fees must be disclosed on two different forms.  If the fees disclosed are not reasonable the bankruptcy trustee assigned to your case is supposed to ask your attorney about it.  Make sure as you review your petition that the fees disclosed match the fees you paid.  If they don’t, you might bring it up to your bankruptcy trustee at the hearing.  If for instance your attorney charged you $4000 for a chapter 7 bankruptcy then listed that he’s charged you only $2500, then he’s trying to hide the actual fees from the bankruptcy trustee.  If he says he’s charged you $700 when he charged you $900 it’s an insignificant typo.  Don’t sweat it.

Fees in California must be not “Unconscionable” which basically means something to the effect of does the fee charged shock the conscience of the court.  But in Bankruptcy, the fees must be reasonable even in California.  This is a safeguard for you to protect you from unscrupulous attorneys.

UNPAID Attorney’s Fees

Listen, this is my favorite issue:  If at time of filing of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy, there are any unpaid attorney‘s fees, they are added to your credit card balances and are discharged. From the moment of filing your attorney can never ask you to pay your balance of attorney’s fees ever again. Your attorney knows that of course, better than anyone, and therefore your attorney can never ask for you to ever pay your fees ever. Never, never, never.  Is that enough Nevers yet?

If he does you can most likely get the bankruptcy judge to order your attorney to pay you punitive damages.  See In Re Waldo, 417 B.R. 854 (Bankr. E.D. Tenn., 2009) and this Article. So, if an attorney suggested filing your Chapter 7 case without paying any attorney‘s fees prior to filing the case, take it.  If he then asks you to pay your attorney‘s fees after filing your case, let me know, and I’ll sue him for you, where he will lose and he will pay my attorney‘s fees to sue him and he may also be required to pay you punitive damages.  

Chapter 13

In Chapter 13 instead of a straight bankruptcy you are in a Chapter 13 reorganization plan where you pay a portion of your debts back usually over a 3 to 5 year period.  For attorney‘s fees you pay a down payment to your attorney via cash, check or money order, it could be as little as the filing fee, but could more.  I’ve seen a case where an attorney takes only $75 against the filing fee then he asks the court to allow you to pay your filing fee in installment payments.  Personally, I find that odd because if you can’t afford to pay even the filing fee how are you going to pay your chapter 13 plan payments?I usually charge as up front fees the same amount as a chapter 7 and of course you must also pay the filing fee for the chapter 13 prior to filing the case.  The balance of the $4000 in attorney‘s fees (standard for a chapter 13) are paid through the monthly payment plan.  So, if you put down $1000 plus the fling fee then the other $3000 would be divided by 60 months and added to your monthly payment.

These are Rare But I have Seen Them Happen

Often attorneys who have no morals will put you into a payment plan type bankruptcy, or chapter 13 when you cannot afford to pay your attorney‘s fees prior to filing the case.  That way they get more attorney‘s fees out of you.  It’s an Up-Sell to a chapter 13.  You cannot afford the $1000 or $1200 for a chapter 7 but your house is about to be foreclosed or your wages are about to be garnished or your bank account is about to be taken by a creditor called a bank levy.  Rather than suggesting you sell something or borrow from your mom, he just charges you the filing fee for a chapter 13, and presto your case is filed.  Your bankruptcy protection is started.

Is it just to get you to pay the $4000 in attorney‘s rather than the closer to  $1000 for a chapter 7?  Sometimes yes.  But if you easily qualify for a chapter 7 then filing a 13 is a disservice to you because you will not be able to sustain the plan payment in the long run, not even a little one, and then you’ll be wishing for a chapter 7 anyway.  Then he can charge you to convert your bankruptcy case to a chapter 7 and get coming and going.

I’ve met clients of an attorney who actually told people that their county, San Bernardino, only allowed a minimal amount of rent on the chapter 7 qualification test (means test) as an expense regardless of family size and that therefore those 4 clients could not file a chapter 7.  I went to the US Trustee’s Main Office in Riverside and told them so because this is patently false.  The housing expense in the means test increases as your family size increases in every state and county in the country.There was another attorney who told an old lady from Menifee that she could pay her attorney‘s fees after the case had been filed.  She paid her filing fee but after her case was over she could still not afford to pay.  So, that attorney’s paralegal called her and told her that her bankruptcy Trustee was going to reopen the case and start investigating assets again, however, the paralegal continued, the little old lady’s attorney could make it go away if the little old lady would just pay him $1000 in cash by the following Tuesday.So I telephoned her bankruptcy Trustee and found out that it was all a lie and that her bankruptcy trustee had not even contacted the attorney.  I suggested that the little old lady turn him in to bar, her bankruptcy Trustee, the US Trustee’s Office and to write a letter to the judge assigned to her case.  She did.

I’ve also seen attorneys who would file an emergency filing or “bare bones” case for you real cheap. When you do that you must within 14 days file the balance of the schedules and statements i.e. the pages of the petition which explain who your creditors are and what your income and expenses are and if you pass the means test or not.  So, what the attorneys did was to charge you a mere pittance to file the emergency case but an arm and a leg to file the balance of schedules.  The emergency case was $200 plus the filing fee but the balance of schedules was another $3500, and you’re over a barrel, you must file the balance or your case will be dismissed by the court.  

I recently saw a case where a client’s bankruptcy attorney was suspended by the California bar during their chapter 13 and they didn’t even get notified by their attorney.  They went to that attorney‘s former office and found out about it.  The new attorney working in the office offered to take over the case for $500 which they were supposed to pay to that attorney.  However, in a chapter 13, only the initial payment of attorney‘s fees is ever paid directly to the attorney by the client.  After that, no fees get paid without court approval.  I told them that.  They went back to that attorney in Temecula and that attorney “just stared at me blank faced”.  Once a chapter 13 plan is confirmed by a bankruptcy court judge, you can never accept any fees directly from the client without a court order.  Then the bankruptcy trustee on your chapter 13 case pays those attorney‘s fees to your attorney through the chapter 13 plan as a plan distribution.  

If you have any other concerns, questions or comments please write back back in the comments section below.

Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling

Before you can file your case, you must submit yourself to credit counseling. It’s called Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling or Pre-Filing Credit Counseling.  Most people do it online. I’ve seen companies that charge $75 per couple or $50 per person.  However, these are my current favorites.

WARNING: 

IF YOU ARE MARRIED, YOU MUST BOTH OF YOU DO THE CREDIT COUNSELING TOGETHER.  IF YOU DO IT ONLINE, YOU MUST STILL DO THE COUNSELING ONLINE AND DO IT TOGETHER.  IF ONE OF YOU IS IN THE HOSPITAL, TAKE A LAPTOP TO THE HOSPITAL AND DO IT TOGETHER.  IF I LEARN THAT ONE OF YOU WAS NOT PRESENT FOR THE CREDIT COUNSELING, THEN THE ONE WHO WAS NOT PRESENT WILL HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN.

For only $16 per case Urgent Credit Counseling which is also reliable and quick. This outfit doesn’t use law firm codes but instead wants you to enter my email AttorneyDavidNelson@gmail.com and my fax 858 228 9763.

This one is only $5 but is clunky to navigate and takes a long time to complete. Pre-Filing Bankruptcy Credit Counseling for $5 or possibly as low as $0ONLY If you have some extra time before your case is filed, can you use this one.

POST FILING PRE-HEARING DEBTOR EDUCATION COURSE

After you File Your Case you MUST also do a Debtor Education Course, If you filed individually then (CLICK HERE FOR THE $15 COURSE) use code 357892 and it MUST be done prior to the hearing date.

If you filed a joint bankruptcy case, use Urgent Credit Counseling for the $24 course which covers the two of you or $12 each.

$100 Starts

Bankruptcy $100 Starts

You may have read this before. But what does it really start? You think you’re getting a cheap bankruptcy or an affordable bankruptcy, but what are you getting really?

Your chapter 7 case will not be filed until you have paid the attorney’s fees, plus the filing fee, plus the credit counseling in full and completed the credit counseling. Period. This is true whether you come to me or anyone else.

Some of the $100 Starts guys (definitely not all) might file your case for you for $100 but only if you pay the $281 filing fee for a chapter 13 bankruptcy which is a bankruptcy with a payment plan for 3 to 5 years. Do you want a bankruptcy with a payment plan for 3 to 5 years just so you can afford to pay your attorney to file the case?

$50 Starts

$100 or $50 starts you making your payment plan against your attorney’s fees to your attorney, and that’s all. In my case it starts me taking your creditor phone calls when they start coming in which is usually the following day. Many attorneys won’t even do that. They say they’ll take the calls but then don’t do it until you’ve paid in at least half of your attorney’s fees. Or they’ll straight up tell you that they won’t take any calls until you’ve paid in half of the attorney’s fees.

For $100 will they send letters or make phone calls to your creditors for you? Of course not, neither will I . . . well, maybe one if it’s urgent. But it sounds like that’s what you’re getting doesn’t it? Immediately a bunch of phone calls and letters going out from the attorney’s office to beat down the bad guys. But all you get for it is a payment plan.

What I will do is this; once you have made the down payment to me, I’ll take your creditor phone calls for you. You must start taking your own calls again and when the collection agents call, tell them that you’re going to file for bankruptcy and that your attorney’s name is David Nelson and ask them to call me and verify it at 951 200 3613. Of course, don’t do this until we have met, signed retainers and you have paid me at least a down payment. 98% of your creditors will never call you back directly once you do that. They call me and verify it then leave you alone. Every now and again, one of them gets overzealous and then I write that one a letter. Once they receive the letter they leave you alone.

Affordable Bankruptcy

But even if all you did was start your payment plan, how much of a dent have you made if the attorney charges you $2000 for your affordable bankruptcy? Nada mucho. My prices generally start from $700 for widows, orphans and cancer patients or disabled folks plus the filing fee, up to My usual range which is $1000 to $1500 in attorney’s fees plus the filing fee for most cases and of course if you have several houses or a ton of cars or a lot of income, it can go up steeply from there.

But even so, I’ve had clients with a half a dozen houses and even those cases were only $2100 in attorney’s fees. So, still a strong affordable price compared to most. Normally, I don’t charge for extra creditors or extra collection agencies. Most people don’t have more than about 50 anyway. So, it’s not that much extra work from 20 or 25 to get to 50 data entries in a keyboard.

Of course, If you have a garbage bag full of unsorted collection agents, it’s going to cost you a bit more if you want me to pick through it, sort the duplicates and type up more than that range. Just bring me one statement from each account. IF you bring me your credit report make sure it has the addresses of the creditors on it so that I don’t have to search the web for them. IF it doesn’t, make sure you seach the web for those addresses and put them on the credit report or make sure you bring extra money to pay me to do it.

A great way to know how many creditors you have is to go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free annual credit reports. Make sure that you check mark all three credit reports on the page that asks which ones you want. Last I saw if you tried to check one at a time, it wouldn’t let you go back again. Also FreeCreditReport.com is a good place to go. They charge for a credit rating monitoring service but then allow you to get a free credit report with all three merged reports, once you have that, go back immediately and cancel the service before they charge you.

So what makes more sense to you? $100 starts you on a payment plan to pay off $1500 or $2000 in attorney’s fees or $100 starts you on a payment plan to pay off $700 (if you’re disabled or a widow or sick) to $1200 .

Bankruptcy Attorney David Nelson on Google+

799bk.com

$799 Bankruptcy

Sometimes you can find it.

Most of the time however, like what I’ve encountered here in Southern Riverside area of California, usually, it’s a bait and switch. They claim that you’ll get a cheap bankruptcy and when you get there, or when you call, it turns out that it gets you the most minimal bankruptcy ever, and probably you won’t even meet an attorney. When I occasionally charge only $700 plus the filing fee, it’s because the client is a widow or a cancer patient and when I do charge so little, guess what? You won’t meet a paralegal, I still go to the hearing with you, and unless I’m sick or on vacation, I’ll be the attorney at your hearing, and you’ll meet me when you get to the office, and I will be the one who types your bankruptcy.

Before we get started, Disclaimer: Nothing in this article may be mistaken as legal advice. Attorney David Nelson, is licensed only in California, and this article is intended only for readers in California. This article is for entertainment, educational, extra-curricular, and medical purposes only. If you decide to rely on this, heaven help you.

I’ve called similar cheap ads before, and other bankruptcy attorneys I know have called similar ads. Here’s what we’ve found:

Most of the cheap bankruptcy guys don’t go to the hearing with you unless you pay them more. Even then they probably don’t go themselves but hire a pinch hitter attorney to go for them and that guy won’t have read your file, and doesn’t know you or your case. At least in Riverside the pinch hitters are good attorneys who take good notes, but they can’t fight for you on the spot because they have so little knowledge of the case, the file or you. In fact, often you’ll find that the first phone call you’ve made was to a paralegal and he has an attorney who “supervises” him. If that’s the case, run the other direction. In that situation, if you want to meet with an attorney, you can, but only if you pay them more. If your income approaches the median income for your jurisdiction, it will cost you more. If they have to do the whole means test calculation for you at the consultation, it will cost you a lot more. If you have a house, it will cost you more. If you owe any taxes even property taxes, it will cost you more. If you have more than 10 or 15 creditors/accounts/collection agents/attorneys who must be listed in your bankruptcy petition, it will cost you more. If there is a judgment against you, and your bank accounts have been levied, it will cost you more. If your wages are about to be garnished or are being garnished, it will cost you more. If you have a car or a refrigerator that must or might need to be reaffirmed, it will cost you more. If the attorney or his paralegal fart while you’re in the office, that’s a value added perk and it will cost you more.

Most of us who have called this or similar ads have found that by the time the average bankruptcy client’s consultation is over, it will cost the retail price of $2000 or more to go bankrupt, plus the filing fee. Incidentally, the filing fee currently for a chapter 7 bankruptcy is $306 at this writing.

Even worse, many unscrupulous or lazy attorneys (and I haven’t heard or seen that the $799.com guys do this) will try to

upsell a chapter 13 bankruptcy

to you with a payment plan where the attorney makes at least $3500 to $4500 per case. Lovely isn’t it?

Bankruptcy attorneys who don’t do the careful analysis will advise a chapter 13 because your income is “too high.”

You require a careful analysis of your income and expenses in order to know if you really qualify for a chapter 7 or not. There are a lot of frequently overlooked factors or factors that require a lot of documentation. Some attorneys just don’t know what they are, especially if they were doing divorces a year ago and decided to get into the bankruptcy boom. I’ve been doing bankruptcy since 1994. Some attorneys are just too lazy to amass the required documentation in order to prove your case for you. Of course, some just want more money per case.

Will everyone do this? Of course not, will the cheap bankruptcy guys do this to you? I haven’t head that they do and I believe that most won’t based on what I’ve heard and the calls I’ve made, just that by the time you get done, they’re charging you retail for your discounted bankruptcy. Possibly some of them have changed their ways since I and my colleagues telephoned to ask about prices, I don’t know. In fact, I’m writing in the hope that it will spawn a reformation in the practice of the bait and switch statewide.

The firms that will more likely try to get you into a chapter 13 are the big ones. Several names on the door that sort of thing. Trust me, if you go in for a bankruptcy consultation to a Victorian building on the outside of downtown and the lawyer(s) have several support staff and a few new Mercedes in the lot, guess who’s paying for all that? Are they better at bankruptcy than me? Nope. Better looking, yes, and they’ll charge you more for that too. They are better at marketing, their websites cost them mega-bucks per year in upkeep and they pay huge rents and payrolls and their personal expenses are more than many of you make in a month or a quarter.

Don’t get me wrong, if you make a good bit more money than the average bear, then you have a higher than average probability of having to do a chapter 13. That’s what it’s for, if your income is significantly above the median, you might not be able to avoid a 13, but I’ve also seen cases where the income was a good bit over the median which qualified for a chapter 7. Did they qualify because I’m some bankruptcy wizard or a debt vampire who suck the vacuum of your finances away? No. Those clients qualified because once the analysis was done and the documentation gathered to prove the analysis, they did in fact qualify for a chapter 7.

Congress hasn’t left any wiggle room in the Means Test.

Means Test

Either you have passed your means test and you qualify for a chapter 7 or you didn’t. What the right attorney brings to the table is the analysis, not a way to fudge the numbers and make you qualify but the proper analysis based on the right reasons that show that you do qualify when you in fact already do.

Because every case is different, you must get the right consultation. Yes, even at chez moi it will cost you more than the average 7 but it will still be less than a firm with several names on the door. Possibly less than the guys with the cheap bankruptcy advertising.

Discharging Taxes

When discharging taxes, the right attorney can make all the difference. Especially if you call early. See this article. If you owe a lot of taxes, and I’m not talking about property taxes, but the board of equalization taxes, federal income taxes, self employment taxes and the like. And if you do, expect to pay more if you want your attorney to tell you that you have a high probability of discharging them in a bankruptcy.