Bankruptcy Credit Counseling Requirement: Pre-Filing Counseling, Debt Management

This guide explores the mandatory credit counseling requirement for bankruptcy, detailing the legal framework, pre-filing counseling process, debt management plans, and post-filing debtor education to help debtors make informed financial decisions.

Introduction

Bankruptcy is a legal process that provides relief to individuals and businesses overwhelmed by debt. One critical requirement before filing for bankruptcy is undergoing credit counseling. This guide explores the bankruptcy credit counseling requirement, focusing on pre-filing counseling and debt management. It aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the legal framework, processes, and implications of credit counseling in bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005 significantly reformed bankruptcy laws in the United States. One of its key provisions is the mandatory credit counseling requirement for individuals filing for bankruptcy. This requirement aims to ensure that debtors are informed about alternatives to bankruptcy and the consequences of filing.

Source: U.S. Courts - BAPCPA Overview

11 U.S.C. § 109(h) - Eligibility for Bankruptcy

Under 11 U.S.C. § 109(h), an individual may not be eligible to file for bankruptcy unless they have received credit counseling from an approved agency within 180 days before filing. This section outlines the specific requirements and exceptions related to pre-filing credit counseling.

Source: Legal Information Institute - 11 U.S.C. § 109(h)

Approved Credit Counseling Agencies

The U.S. Trustee Program, a component of the Department of Justice, is responsible for approving credit counseling agencies. These agencies must meet specific criteria to ensure they provide reliable and effective counseling services.

Source: U.S. Trustee Program - Approved Credit Counseling Agencies

Pre-Filing Credit Counseling

Purpose of Pre-Filing Credit Counseling

Pre-filing credit counseling serves several purposes: - Education: It educates debtors about alternatives to bankruptcy, such as debt management plans. - Assessment: It assesses the debtor's financial situation and explores potential solutions. - Certification: It provides a certificate of completion, which is required to file for bankruptcy.

Process of Pre-Filing Credit Counseling

  1. Selection of an Approved Agency: Debtors must choose an agency from the list of approved credit counseling agencies provided by the U.S. Trustee Program.
  2. Counseling Session: The session can be conducted in person, over the phone, or online. It typically lasts 60 to 90 minutes.
  3. Financial Analysis: The counselor reviews the debtor's income, expenses, debts, and assets.
  4. Budget Plan: The counselor helps the debtor create a budget plan and explores alternatives to bankruptcy.
  5. Certificate of Completion: Upon completion, the debtor receives a certificate, which must be filed with the bankruptcy petition.

Source: U.S. Courts - Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Courses

Exceptions to the Requirement

There are specific exceptions to the pre-filing credit counseling requirement: - Incapacity: If the debtor is incapacitated due to a mental illness or deficiency. - Disability: If the debtor is physically impaired and unable to participate in counseling. - Active Military Duty: If the debtor is on active military duty in a combat zone. - Exigent Circumstances: If the debtor faces urgent circumstances and cannot obtain counseling within five days of requesting it.

Source: Justice.gov - FAQs on Credit Counseling

Debt Management Plans (DMPs)

What is a Debt Management Plan?

A Debt Management Plan (DMP) is a structured repayment plan created during credit counseling. It consolidates multiple debts into a single monthly payment, often with reduced interest rates and waived fees. The goal is to help debtors repay their debts over time without filing for bankruptcy.

Components of a DMP

  1. Debt Assessment: The counselor evaluates the debtor's debts and negotiates with creditors.
  2. Payment Plan: A single monthly payment is established, which the counseling agency distributes to creditors.
  3. Creditor Agreements: Creditors may agree to reduce interest rates, waive fees, and stop collection activities.
  4. Monitoring: The counseling agency monitors the debtor's progress and provides ongoing support.

Benefits and Drawbacks of a DMP

Benefits

  • Avoid Bankruptcy: A DMP can help debtors avoid the negative consequences of bankruptcy.
  • Lower Interest Rates: Creditors may reduce interest rates, making debt repayment more manageable.
  • Single Payment: Consolidating debts into one payment simplifies the repayment process.
  • Creditor Cooperation: Creditors may agree to stop collection activities and reduce fees.

Drawbacks

  • Long-Term Commitment: DMPs typically last three to five years, requiring long-term commitment.
  • Impact on Credit Score: Enrolling in a DMP may impact the debtor's credit score.
  • Fees: Counseling agencies may charge fees for managing the DMP.
  • Not a Cure-All: A DMP may not be suitable for all debtors, especially those with insufficient income to make payments.

Source: Federal Trade Commission - Choosing a Credit Counselor

Filing for Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as liquidation bankruptcy, involves the sale of a debtor's non-exempt assets to repay creditors. It is suitable for individuals with limited income and significant unsecured debts.

Eligibility

To qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, debtors must pass the means test, which compares their income to the median income for their state. If their income is below the median, they are eligible for Chapter 7.

Process

  1. Credit Counseling: Complete pre-filing credit counseling and obtain a certificate.
  2. Filing Petition: File a bankruptcy petition with the court, including the credit counseling certificate.
  3. Automatic Stay: An automatic stay goes into effect, stopping most collection activities.
  4. Trustee Appointment: A trustee is appointed to oversee the case and liquidate non-exempt assets.
  5. Discharge: Eligible debts are discharged, releasing the debtor from personal liability.

Source: U.S. Courts - Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Basics

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as reorganization bankruptcy, involves creating a repayment plan to pay off debts over three to five years. It is suitable for individuals with a regular income who can afford to make monthly payments.

Eligibility

To qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, debtors must have a regular income and meet debt limits set by the Bankruptcy Code.

Process

  1. Credit Counseling: Complete pre-filing credit counseling and obtain a certificate.
  2. Filing Petition: File a bankruptcy petition with the court, including the credit counseling certificate.
  3. Automatic Stay: An automatic stay goes into effect, stopping most collection activities.
  4. Repayment Plan: Submit a repayment plan for court approval.
  5. Plan Confirmation: The court confirms the plan, and the debtor makes monthly payments to the trustee.
  6. Discharge: Upon successful completion of the plan, eligible debts are discharged.

Source: U.S. Courts - Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Basics

Post-Filing Debtor Education

Requirement for Debtor Education

In addition to pre-filing credit counseling, debtors must complete a post-filing debtor education course before receiving a discharge. This course aims to educate debtors on financial management and responsible credit use.

Approved Debtor Education Providers

The U.S. Trustee Program approves debtor education providers. Debtors must choose a provider from the approved list and complete the course within the specified timeframe.

Source: U.S. Trustee Program - Approved Debtor Education Providers

Course Content

The debtor education course covers topics such as: - Budgeting and money management - Credit use and credit reports - Consumer protection laws - Strategies for avoiding future financial problems

Certificate of Completion

Upon completing the debtor education course, debtors receive a certificate of completion, which must be filed with the court to receive a discharge.

Source: U.S. Courts - Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Courses

Conclusion

The bankruptcy credit counseling requirement, including pre-filing counseling and debt management, is a crucial aspect of the bankruptcy process. It ensures that debtors are informed about alternatives to bankruptcy and the consequences of filing. By understanding the legal framework, processes, and implications of credit counseling, debtors can make informed decisions and navigate the bankruptcy process more effectively.

For more information, refer to the following official resources: - U.S. Courts - Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Courses - Justice.gov - FAQs on Credit Counseling - Legal Information Institute - 11 U.S.C. § 109(h)

About the author
Von Wooding

Von Wooding

Helpful legal information and resources

Counsel Stack Learn

Free and helpful legal information

Counsel Stack Learn

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Counsel Stack Learn.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.