Like most bankruptcy debtors, you're probably worried about your upcoming appearance at the 341 meeting, the one hearing all Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers must attend. Fortunately, most debtors quickly sail through the 341 hearing and avoid 341 meeting problems. With a bit of preparation, you will too.
You can get started by learning the basics, including:
Before the bankruptcy court grants you a debt "discharge" erasing qualifying debt, the court must verify you are the person who filed the case, and that you're entitled to financial relief. The 341 meeting of creditors gives the court's representative or bankruptcy "trustee" an opportunity to meet with you, fulfill procedural requirements, and resolve any outstanding questions.
The bankruptcy court invites creditors to attend the meeting, as well, but most don't bother to show up.
In most cases, no, especially if your bankruptcy lawyer has told you there's no reason to worry. But, if you're like most, you'll be anxious until it's over, and then you'll realize you worried needlessly.
The trustee's job is to check your identity, review your paperwork for accuracy, and ensure your creditors get paid as much as possible. The trustee will evaluate your assets and property and verify your reported income. The trustee will also look for unreported income and property, as well as signs of bankruptcy fraud.
You'll appear virtually or in person, depending on whether the court is currently implementing social distancing measures. About ten Chapter 7 debtors will be scheduled for the same hour, and fewer in a Chapter 13 case.
Most trustees begin by taking roll and explaining the process. When called, you'll sit at a table in the front of the room, present your identification, and take an oath promising to answer questions truthfully. We explain the questions you can expect the trustee to ask below.
You'll also likely read a bankruptcy pamphlet before you're called, and complete a form if you pay a domestic support obligation (the trustee has reporting responsibilities). Creditors can also attend the 341 hearing and ask about financial matters, although it's rare for creditors to appear.
Before the meeting of creditors, you'll want to review your bankruptcy petition carefully. If you find that you've missed something or see an inaccurate entry, you should:
A common filing issue is failing to list your name exactly as it appears on your license, passport, or government identification card. You'll provide one of these forms of identification along with proof of your Social Security card number at the beginning of the hearing. You'll have to amend your petition and possibly return if they don't match.
Learn what might raise a red flag at the meeting of creditors.
Yes, especially if you must appear in person because parking around a courthouse or a court facility can be notoriously tricky. It's a good idea to plan parking before the meeting so you can arrive about fifteen minutes early. Several trustees might be holding meetings simultaneously, and the extra time should allow you to find the correct room.
You'll want to look at the calendar posted outside the hearing room door. The trustee will set about ten cases during the same hour, so you'll want to see where you fall in the order.
A judge won't be present. Instead, the trustee will conduct the hearing. The trustee will swear you in and ask a series of questions under oath. If satisfied, the trustee will conclude the hearing. Otherwise, the trustee will continue it until another day.
Once the bankruptcy trustee calls your case, things move quickly. The bankruptcy trustee will ask routine questions and inquire about any issues or matters needing more explanation.
If a creditor appears, and the creditor's questions aren't short, the trustee will usually continue the debtor's meeting for another time to allow further questioning (more below). In most cases, the hearing ends after ten minutes or less.
In most cases, you'll have provided verifying documents to the trustee before the meeting of creditors, including paycheck stubs, bank and retirement statements, and income tax returns, or filed them with the court. Some trustees require additional items. If you didn't already send them to the trustee, take them to the 341 meeting.
You'll likely want to bring a set of bankruptcy paperwork to the hearing for reference, along with:
Your attorney will tell you if you need anything further.
Both meetings will start the same way. The trustee will check your identification and ask mandatory questions. Also, all trustees look for ways to increase the creditors' payday because both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees get a percentage of the money they recover.
But Chapters 7 and 13 function differently because they provide filers with different benefits. So naturally, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees evaluate cases somewhat differently, which we explain below. Learn more about bankruptcy hearings.
The Chapter 7 trustee is responsible for doing two things:
The Chapter 7 trustee will likely start by reviewing your budget. For instance, the trustee will subtract your monthly expenses from your income to see if you have money available to pay creditors. If any of your expenses look too high, the trustee might ask you to produce receipts proving you spend that amount.
If your finances indicate you have the money to pay creditors, the trustee will recommend that the bankruptcy court "convert" or transfer your Chapter 7 case to Chapter 13.
If your budget checks out and you qualify for a Chapter 7 discharge, the trustee will scrutinize your assets. Ultimately, the trustee's motivation is to find and sell assets you can't protect with a "bankruptcy exemption." For instance, after investigating your filing, the trustee might find your property is worth more than you claimed, or that you failed to disclose an asset that should be part of the bankruptcy case.
The Chapter 13 trustee will also look for exaggerated or unreasonable expenses. If the trustee questions your need for a particular expense, for instance, $500 per month for food delivery services, and the court finds it isn't justified, you'd likely need to pay $500 more to your creditors through your Chapter 13 repayment plan.
Also, even though a Chapter 13 trustee won't sell your property, the trustee will still look at the values you placed on the property. Why? Because you must pay your creditors at least as much as they'd receive in a Chapter 7 case, or an amount equal to your nonexempt property.
Overall, the trustee will evaluate the feasibility of your proposed Chapter 13 repayment plan and discuss any problems at the 341 meeting of creditors. The Chapter 13 trustee will distribute monthly payments if the judge approves or "confirms" the plan at the confirmation hearing.
The trustee asks every debtor a series of routine questions before asking about particular problems. Most bankruptcy attorneys can predict the trustee's direction of questioning and explain the situation ahead of time to both you and the trustee.
Typical questions include:
One of the benefits of falling toward the bottom of the calendar is knowing what the trustee will ask. See Questions to Expect at the Bankruptcy 341 Meeting of Creditors for more.
Although your creditors will get notice of the 341 hearing, most won't appear. Here are a few instances when a creditor might appear:
Most creditors use the meeting as a discovery tool. They'll ask questions about your dealings with them to determine whether it will be worthwhile to object to the discharge of the debt you owe. If the creditor has a legitimate issue, they'll likely be willing to settle the matter without litigation.
If the matter appears serious, the trustee might continue the meeting to allow the creditor additional questioning time. The trustee will be especially inclined to do this if the questioning could reveal hidden assets because the more money the trustee distributes, the more the trustee gets paid.
Chapter 7 filers must complete the debtor education course and file the certificate with the court. Most Chapter 7 filers receive a discharge approximately sixty days after the trustee closes the hearing.
The next step for Chapter 13 filers is getting the Chapter 13 repayment plan approved at the confirmation hearing. Once approved, the filer continues making payments. If the bankruptcy court doesn't confirm the Chapter 13 plan, the debtor receives the funds back, with some exceptions.
Before completing the payment plan, a Chapter 13 debtor must also take the debtor education course and file the certificate with the court. The bankruptcy court will "discharge" or erase qualifying remaining balances after the filer completes all requirements.
We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.