The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005 made wide-ranging alterations to Title 11 of the United States Code, the law that defines the legal options for those who wish to discharge their debts through a court-guided process. One of the legal innovations that came about in 2005 was the credit counseling requirement: For the first time, debtors were forced to complete a brief class on personal finance before they could be granted a discharge. This aspect of BAPCPA received a lot of disapproving attention at the time of the law’s passage, as many people considered it unnecessary, burdensome, or both. But the credit counseling obligation imposed by the law is much less onerous than you may think. Below we’ll take a closer look at this particular feature of bankruptcy.
Whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you will have to complete the credit counseling requirements. What’s more, there are in fact two different courses that must be completed: one before you formally file for bankruptcy, and one afterward. Before the filer can receive a discharge from the courts, both courses must be completed in satisfactory fashion; failure to do so will result in delays, or even the outright dismissal of the case. The good news, however, is that both courses are quite brief and inexpensive, and most people will complete them with minimal fuss.
The first course, often called the Credit Counseling Briefing, must be completed in the 180-day period prior to filing for bankruptcy; your Certificate of Completion has to be filed along with the rest of your petition. The briefing must be provided by an agency that has been approved by the United States Trustee to carry out this function (see list: http://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/index.htm). Those of you with classroom phobia have no need to worry: The briefing may be taken over the phone, on the Internet, or in person, and it lasts only about an hour.
What happens during the briefing? The agent is expected to go over your financial situation with you and supply a list of alternatives to bankruptcy, such as a standard debt repayment option. It’s important to understand that you have no obligation to follow the agent’s recommendations—all you need to do is listen to what they say. Occasionally, the requirement to undergo a credit counseling briefing may be waived in exceptional circumstances; for instance, if the filer has a physical disability or is on active military duty. Keep in mind, though, that the courts are serious about enforcing the counseling requirement, and most of you will not qualify for a waiver. Sometimes, a person in dire financial straits is granted a waiver of the course fee, though they still have to go through the counseling session.
The second counseling session is commonly known as the Debtor Education Course, and it must be taken after the filing of the bankruptcy papers but before the court grants a discharge. During this stage of the bankruptcy process you will learn about basic financial management strategies. Like the credit counseling briefing, this may be taken online, over the phone, or in person; it should last around two hours. Again, the course must be provided by an organization that appears on the official list provided by the Department of Justice (see above link). The debtor is allowed to take this course from the same agency that provided the previous briefing, if this option is available.
The timing of the Debtor Education Course varies according to the type of bankruptcy case: A Chapter 7 filer is expected to complete it within 45 days of the creditors’ meeting, while a Chapter 13 debtor should take the course any time before completing their repayment plan.
Overall, this is not a terribly difficult procedure; certainly nothing that should cause anyone undue worry. Getting through the counseling process requires you to be merely a reasonably attentive student. For help in other phases of the process, you should consult an experienced Long Island bankruptcy lawyer. Ronald D. Weiss has guided many clients through bankruptcy court. Call now for a free consultation.