All our cases are filed with the court electronically, so “filing the case” happens almost instantly. As soon as the case is filed, the court sends out formal, written notice to all necessary parties, including all your creditors – and your creditors must immediately cease all collection efforts. This “automatic stay” is the first great benefit of bankruptcy – no more collection calls, no more garnishments, no more lawsuits – all collections must stop and wait until we figure out exactly what the bankruptcy is going to do.
In most cases, you will not need to appear personally before the court, ever – but there is one mandatory appearance, called the “creditors’ meeting” or, more commonly, the “341 meeting,” after the code section that requires it. As the name implies, creditors MAY attend this meeting, but they rarely do; in fact the primary purpose is for your case trustee to interview you about your case. Many people are very nervous about this appearance, as if the judge were going to send them to prison or some such thing, but it’s not like that at all. Most of the trustee’s questions are routine, and when we don’t have some specific information the trustee wants, we get it to ‘em later, no problem. And, in any event, I will be there with you, personally, to take care of anything that might come up. My standard advice for 341 meetings is:
Answer the trustee’s questions honestly, then shut up! I don’t mean to be rude, but most of the time when folks try to explain their answers, they’re just wasting everybody’s time. The trustees are not shy, and if they’ve got more questions, they’ll ask ‘em. And don’t be afraid of a little silence; usually there are periods of silence after people’s answers, while the trustee figures out what the next question is. Just wait, then answer the next question. It’ll be over before you know it.
After the case is filed, but before you get your discharge, you must complete a financial management course.
If yours is a Chapter 13 case, of course you’ll have to make your monthly payments; but otherwise, after the 341 meeting, it’s mostly just a matter of waiting for the discharge.