By Cara O’Neill, Attorney
All Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy filers must attend a 341 hearing and meet with the trustee appointed to oversee the case. At the creditors’ meeting, the trustee checks the debtor’s identification and asks a series of questions about the bankruptcy paperwork. Creditors who attend can ask about financial matters, although it’s rare for creditors to appear.
It’s common for debtors to worry about the meeting, but most are quick and proceed without a hitch. Here’s what you need to know to handle the meeting with confidence:
- how to prepare for the meeting
- what to bring to the hearing
- how to get to the hearing
- the type of questions you’ll be asked, and
- what to expect if creditors appear.
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.
Understanding the Trustee’s Role in the Meeting of Creditors
The trustee’s job is to check your identity, review your paperwork for accuracy, and make sure that your creditors get paid as much as possible. For instance, in every case, the trustee will evaluate assets and property and check the accuracy of your reported income. The trustee will also try to find any unreported sources of income or property to pursue to get more money for your creditors. Finally, the trustee will look for signs of bankruptcy fraud.
The trustee in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 have additional responsibilities. The Chapter 7 trustee will sell any assets that you can’t protect with a bankruptcy exemption and distribute the proceeds to creditors. The Chapter 13 trustee will evaluate the feasibility of your proposed Chapter 13 repayment plan. If the judge approves the plan at the confirmation hearing, the Chapter 13 trustee will continue to distribute monthly payments to creditors. (Debtors begin making the proposed plan payments about 30 days after filing and receive the funds back if the court doesn’t confirm the plan, with some exceptions.)
Preparing for the Meeting of Creditors
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:
- file an amendment before the hearing, if possible, or
- be prepared to bring the problem to the trustee’s attention at the hearing.
A common issue that can occur 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. If they don’t match, you’ll have to amend your petition and will likely have to come back a second time.
What to Bring to the 341 Hearing
In most cases, you’ll have provided verifying documents to the trustee before the meeting of creditors. It’s common to send the trustee paycheck stubs, bank and retirement statements, and income tax returns. Some trustees require additional documents, and in some courts, you’ll file the documents with the court.
You shouldn’t need to bring much to the hearing other than:
- an approved photo I.D.
- your Social Security card or other proof of your Social Security number, and
- any documents that reflect a financial change since filing your petition.
You’ll likely want to bring a set of bankruptcy paperwork to refer to, too, along with anything else the trustee indicates will be needed. If you’re not sure if the item is appropriate, consult with an attorney.
The Logistics of the Creditors’ Meeting
Parking around a courthouse or a court facility can be notoriously tricky. It’s a good idea to make plans for parking before the meeting so you can arrive about fifteen minutes early. There might be several trustees holding meetings simultaneously, and the extra time should allow you to find the right 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. The trustee will conduct the hearing. Creditors might attend as well, although in many bankruptcy cases, creditors don’t show up. 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. A continuance is rare if you’ve produced all required documents on time.
The Length of the 341 Hearing
You’ll be one of about ten debtors set for the scheduled hour. Once the bankruptcy trustee calls your case, things move quickly. The bankruptcy trustee will ask a series of routine questions and inquire about any issues or matters needing more explanation. A creditor’s questions can be short, as well. If they aren’t, 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.
Typical Questions to Expect at the Meeting of Creditors
The trustee will ask a series of routine questions that must be asked of every debtor. The trustee will then ask about any particular problems that arise in your case. Most bankruptcy attorneys can predict what the trustee will ask and explain the situation ahead of time—to both you and the trustee.
Typical questions include:
- Did you review your bankruptcy petition and schedules before you filed them with the court?
- Is all of the information contained in your bankruptcy papers true and correct to the best of your knowledge?
- Did you disclose all of your assets?
- Did you list all of your creditors?
- Have you filed for bankruptcy before?
- Has anything changed since filing your bankruptcy?
- Are you required to pay any domestic support obligations such as alimony or child support?
- Have you filed all tax returns as they have come due?
- Have you made any payments to creditors exceeding $600 in aggregate in the last year?
- Does anyone owe you money for any reason?
One of the benefits of falling toward the bottom of the calendar is knowing what the trustee will ask.
What to Expect If Creditors Appear at the 341 Meeting
Although your creditors will get notice of the 341 hearing, most won’t appear. Here are a few instances when a creditor might appear:
- the creditor wants to ask you about recent cash advances or credit card purchases
- the creditor seeks information about disclosures that differ from that put on a credit application, such as the amount of your income, or
- a creditor is a hostile former business partner, spouse, or another individual concerned about not being paid.
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.
If you need to file for Bankruptcy Call Sam Henry at 322-7655. We’ll discuss your options during a FREE initial consultation.