Which Bankruptcy Option Allows Me To Keep My Property?

When filing for bankruptcy, many people want to be sure that they will be able to keep their home. Because what’s worse than filing for bankruptcy, having to find a new place to live and moving? That might be a little too much for one person to handle. So, what can you do? Well, there are many different options when it comes to bankruptcy and many times it’s very valuable to meet with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss what is best for your situation. However, we’ll review a few options, so you can know what to expect.

How To Keep Your Property When Filing For Bankruptcy

  1. In every bankruptcy case, you are allowed to keep a certain dollar value in property. For example, you can keep up to $20,000 in home furnishings, $5,000 in value for a motor vehicle and $22,000 in home equity. And usually most people that file for bankruptcy have property that is well within their exemptions and will not lose any of their property regardless of what chapter they file.
  2. However, if you do have a property that is non-exempt, filing for a chapter 13 might be the best decision. For example, if you have a home with $30,000 in equity and you file a chapter 7, you might have to sell your house. You would be paid the first $22,000 from the proceeds representing your objection, the trustee would take their fee, let’s say $2,000, and the remaining money, $6,000, would be used to repay your creditors. In a situation like this, it might be better to file a chapter 13. As long as you promise to repay your creditors at least $6,000 over the span of up to 5 years, you can keep your property because your creditors end up getting the same amount in a chapter 13 as they would in a chapter 7.
  3. Your decision will also depend on what state you live in. Certain states have exemption laws that may allow you to keep your property. For example, in Michigan a debtor can choose between two sets of exemption laws, federal exemptions and state exemptions. In other states, you may not have the choice and will only have one or the other. Determining what set of exemptions to use is best left to your attorney. In Michigan, if you have $56,000 of home equity, you may be able to protect all of it under the Michigan state exemptions, but not federal.

Deciding what route to take when filing for bankruptcy can be very overwhelming. Determining what chapter to file and what exemptions to use might make your head explode. And that’s why it’s always best to work with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. You want someone knowledgable on your side to explain your best options. Check out our post 5 Questions You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney to help you find the attorney that’s right for you.

At Mapes Law Offices, we help our clients determine the best course of action for their unique situation. Since 2008, we have been walking our clients through bankruptcy and onto financial success. All of our attorneys attend an average of 30 hours of continuing education every year. We know how important this is, as the laws are always changing. However, continuing education is not required by law, so many other firms don’t require their attorneys to do it. We want to be on top of our game to give our clients the best service possible.

If you are in the West Michigan area, and are looking for a bankruptcy attorney, give Mapes Law Offices a call at (616) 719-3847 or request your free consultation today. We work hard for you, because we know how difficult filing for bankruptcy can be.

What Are The Negative Consequences To Filing For Bankruptcy?

Before you decide if you need to file for bankruptcy, it’s best to know what to expect when you do. Everything from the process to the negative consequences, will help you decide if this step is right for you. Many times, it’s easy for people to choose to file for bankruptcy because their financial situation is so bleak, and this is the step that will help the repair the damage. In this way, bankruptcy can be seen as a stepping stone toward financial freedom, instead of as a financial failure, as it’s often seen.

For many people, filing for bankruptcy is their last option. Instead of piling on the doom and gloom, here are the realistic consequences of filing for bankruptcy.

  1. The major negative consequence is that filing for bankruptcy will negatively affect your credit score. But like most people looking to file for bankruptcy, your credit score is probably already in pretty bad shape. So while this is not great, it’s not doing that much more harm.
  2. If you have substantial assets, there is the potential that they could be taken away by the bankruptcy trustee, but a skilled attorney can help you protect those assets and make sure that nothing bad happens.
  3. It generally takes about 2 years after a bankruptcy until someone can qualify for a mortgage. The positive is that after 2 years your credit score should be way better than it was before the bankruptcy.

As you can see, the consequences aren’t that negative and filing for bankruptcy could actually improve your financial situation. It’s a fresh start, a new day to make better financial decisions. And the right bankruptcy attorney can help you do just that.

At Mapes Law Offices, we don’t just see filing for bankruptcy as another case, we see it as a way for you to improve your financial situation. We understand that good people go through rough times. And we help those people get back on their feet. We work with you to create a plan that will help you get back on track financially. We want to help you establish a stable financial future and we know that means creating a solid plan together. If you’re in the Western Michigan area and are looking for a bankruptcy attorney, give us a call at Mapes Law Offices at (616) 719-3847 or request your free consultation today. One call can be all it takes to start on the path to a better financial future.

What Are the Steps for Filing for Bankruptcy?

If you’re thinking of filing for bankruptcy, the process can seem really overwhelming. You may not know what to expect, how long the process will take or how it will affect your life moving forward. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you make your decision and will relieve some stress in the days to come.

Understand that most people who file for bankruptcy have simply found themselves in a bad situation. The first step is to find a bankruptcy attorney who understands your situation and is willing to help you for the long haul. Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t have to just be about your current situation. It’s a step toward financial security and the right lawyer will help you get there. That being said, here are some steps that you can expect to go through when filing for bankruptcy.

  1. Find the right bankruptcy attorney for you. Read 5 Questions You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney to help you find exactly who’s right for you.
  2. You will meet with your bankruptcy attorney and they will help you decide what is the best chapter to file.
  3. You will return to your attorney with documentation of your debts and assets. This will help your attorney prepare your bankruptcy petition. This is also when your attorney will ask more in depth questions about your case.
  4. You will then meet with your attorney again to review the petition, sign it and file it with the court.
  5. Four to six weeks after filing, you will attend a meeting of creditors. This is not a court hearing and there is no judge. You meet with a trustee, who is another lawyer that asks the same sort of questions your attorney did. This meeting will take maybe 5 minutes and, if your attorney does their job properly, it is really boring. Technically any creditor can show up and ask you questions, but that only happens around 1% of the time.
  6. After the meeting of creditors, you will receive a discharge within 3 to 4 months. That’s usually 2 to 3 months after that the case is closed and everything is finished.

Filing for bankruptcy can be scary, but the right bankruptcy attorney will make all the difference in the world. At Mapes Law Offices, we work hard for you. We see filing for bankruptcy as a step toward financial freedom. We not only help you in your current situation, we also help you plan for your future. We want to see all of our clients succeed and that means working with them to create a plan for their future.

If your in the West Michigan area and thinking of filing for bankruptcy, give Mapes Law Offices a call today. We will discuss every step of the process with you and help you decide what is your best course of action. Sign up for your free initial consultation now or give us a call at (616) 719-3847. Take your first step toward financial freedom, you’ll be glad you did.

How To File Bankruptcy Yourself, A Cautionary Tale

In our day and age of DIY everything, it may seem like filing for bankruptcy yourself is the way to go. You may think, “My case isn’t that complicated. I could probably do it on my own. I have a buddy down that street that can help me.” Tread wisely! Filing for bankruptcy means huge changes in your life. And if it’s not done correctly, it could really cost you, and not just financially.

Of course, being a bankruptcy law firm, we always recommend working with a professional when filing for bankruptcy. You may think we’re biased, but here are some very important reasons why it is best to avoid DIY bankruptcy.

  1. It is very risky. You wouldn’t do your own dentistry, don’t do your own legal work. Some things in life just require an expert.
  2. It could hurt your family. If you don’t know what to look for, you could end up getting family members sued by a trustee to recover money you repaid to those family members.
  3. You could loose everything. The most confusing part for debtors who file on their own are claiming exemptions. This is a very nuanced area of law, and if it’s not done properly you could lose everything you own.
  4. It could cost you. It usually costs twice as much to fix a bankruptcy someone else filed as it does to file it right the first time.

We usually tell this old lawyer joke to unconvinced clients to help convey the benefits of using a bankruptcy lawyer:

“The huge printing presses of a major Chicago newspaper began malfunctioning on the Saturday before Christmas, putting all the revenue for advertising that was to appear in the Sunday paper in jeopardy. None of the technicians could track down the problem. Finally, a frantic call was made to the retired printer who had worked with these presses for over 40 years. ‘We’ll pay anything; just come in and fix them,’ he was told. When he arrived, he walked around for a few minutes, surveying the presses; then he approached one of the control panels and opened it. He removed a dime from his pocket, turned a screw 1/4 of a turn, and said, ‘The presses will now work correctly.’ After being profusely thanked, he was told to submit a bill for his work. The bill arrived a few days later, for $10,000.00! Not wanting to pay such a huge amount for so little work, the printer was told to please itemize his charges, with the hope that he would reduce the amount once he had to identify his services. The revised bill arrived: $1.00 for turning the screw; $9,999.00 for knowing which screw to turn.”

When you hire a bankruptcy attorney, you’re not just hiring someone to type up forms, you’re hiring them for their knowledge. There are many things that could come up during your bankruptcy that you just won’t know how to handle, but an experienced professional will.

That’s why, if you’re in the West Michigan area, you should call us at Mapes Law Offices. We help hundreds of clients file for bankruptcy every year. But what really sets us apart? Attorneys in Michigan are not required to do continuing education, but at Mapes Law Offices we require our attorneys to complete 30 hours of continuing education every year. And with laws changing all of this time, we think this is an important step that we take to ensure our clients get the best representation possible.

If you’re facing a bankruptcy, give us a call today at (616) 719-3847 or request your free consultation. This could be the step you take that leads you toward financial freedom.

What’s The Difference Between A Chapter 7, 11 and 13 Bankruptcy?

Many people might not know that they have options when it comes to filing for bankruptcy

A chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common, but it might not be the right option for you. This is why it’s important to meet with a bankruptcy attorney. They will be able to assess your case and advise you on the best course of action, be it a chapter 7, 11 or 13 bankruptcy.

So, what are the differences between these bankruptcies?

Chapter 7:

  1. It is usually over within 6 to 8 months.
  2. It will discharge most of your debts.
  3. You can keep your home or your car, but you have to pay at the same interest rate and terms as before the bankruptcy.
  4. Income limits exclude people who can afford to repay their debts.
  5. You could lose non-exempt property, but most people never do.

Chapter 13:

  1. You will repay a portion of your debts over the next 3 to 5 years.
  2. You pay what you can afford. If, for example, after living expenses you have $200 left over every month, that is what you pay. Your creditors get cents on the dollar for what is owed, and any remaining unpaid debt is discharged.
  3. Debts owed to a former spouse can be discharged in a chapter 13, but not 7 or 11.
  4. You can modify the terms of secured loans. For example, if you have a car that is worth $10,000, but you owe $20,000 on it and pay 18% interest, you can keep it in a chapter 7 but you would owe the full $20,000 and pay at 18% interest. In a chapter 13, we could modify the loan terms so you only pay $10,000 at 4.5% interest.
  5. If you have a home that is underwater, a 13 can eliminate the second mortgage. For example, if your house is worth $150,000, with a first mortgage of $160,000 and a second mortgage of $50,000, we could discharge the second mortgage entirely, so you would only owe the first mortgage.
  6. If you are behind on house payments, we can cure the arrearages over a span of up to 5 years and prevent foreclosure.
  7. You can keep property that you may otherwise lose by filing a chapter 7.

Chapter 11:

  1. This is usually for businesses, but it can be filed for individuals. However, it is rare.
  2. It is basically a chapter 13 on steroids. There are slight differences, but they are very nuanced and complex. If you think a chapter 11 is right for you, it is best to discuss this matter with a skilled bankruptcy attorney.
  3. It is usually only used for high income debtors, as it costs a minimum of $10,000 in attorney fees to file.
  4. It could be your best choice, if you have substantial income or assets.

If you are facing filing for bankruptcy, we always recommend speaking with a professional. As you can see, there are many options and it is important that you get the best representation available to help you choose what will be right for you.

If you are in Western Michigan and are looking to speak with someone about bankruptcy, give us a call at Mapes Law Offices. We have been servicing the area since 2008 and have helped hundreds of clients out of their debt and onto financial stability. With Mapes Law Offices, you not only get a highly skilled bankruptcy attorney, you also receive help and guidance to step toward a brighter financial future. We take pride in our work of helping good people go through bad times. We understand that life can take a turn and we’re here to help. Give us a call today at (616) 719-3847 or schedule your free consultation now.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney

When you’re in the market for a bankruptcy attorney, you might not be quite sure what to look for. After all, this may be the first time you have ever had to face filing for bankruptcy. And with the already overwhelming and sometimes frustrating situation ahead of you, you want to know that you have the best bankruptcy attorney on your side to represent you.

Luckily, there are some straightforward questions that you can ask any bankruptcy attorney to be sure that they are the right lawyer for you. Here are a few important questions to ask to pick the most qualified and informed professional.

5 Questions That You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney

  1. Do you practice any other areas of law? Bankruptcy is highly specialized and not something an attorney should dabble in. The bankruptcy laws frequently change and you need someone who knows the ins and outs.
  2. How many cases have you filed? You don’t want an attorney to gain experience at your expense. I have filed almost 2,000 bankruptcies and have seen almost every situation imaginable. An experienced attorney will better assert your rights and will not back down in the face of opposition from an unfriendly creditor or trustee.
  3. Do you file cases under chapters 7, 11 and 13? Some attorneys only file chapter 7 cases because it is easier. They don’t want to put the time or effort into becoming proficient at other types. This is like having a dentist who refuses to work on molars. A good attorney should be able to tell you why you may want to file for chapter 11 or 13, even if you qualify for chapter 7.
  4. Are you board certified? Most people can’t tell if one attorney is better than another, and just go on whatever feels best. Luckily, bankruptcy is one of the few areas where lawyers can be certified as specialists. A board certified bankruptcy attorney must meet the following criteria:
    1. Their practice must be at least 60% bankruptcy.
    2. They must have been practicing primarily bankruptcy law for the past 5 years.
    3. They must have 15 other attorneys submit peer reviews.
    4. They must attend a minimum of 20 hours of continuing legal education every year.
    5. They must pass an 8 hour long written examination.

    As you can see, the requirements are very strict. I am one of only 10 board certified bankruptcy attorneys in the western district of Michigan.

  5. How many adversary proceedings have you prosecuted or defended against? Adversary proceedings are like a trial within the bankruptcy case. They generally occur either when something goes wrong or when your rights have been violated. Hopefully you will not be involved in one, but if you are, you don’t want it to be the first time your attorney is handling one.

We recommend taking these questions with you when you meet with your bankruptcy attorney. We also recommend meeting with more than one attorney, so you can truly pick the one that is best for you. It’s important to make sure you are comfortable with who you are working with and are confident that they will work hard on your behalf.

At Mapes Law Offices, we work hard for our clients in the Western Michigan area to ensure that they are getting the best representation possible. Not only do we help you out of a financial crisis, we also work with you to improve your financial decisions, so you can avoid ever having to file bankruptcy again. We understand that bad things happen to good people and we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping those people get out of rough waters. If you are in the Western Michigan area and would like help with your bankruptcy case, give Mapes Law Offices a call at (616) 719-3847 or request your free consultation today. It only takes one small step to get yourself onto a better financial path.

What Is It Like To Declare Bankruptcy?

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Filing for bankruptcy can be a scary thing, but when the debt keeps mounting and you can’t see a way out, it may be your best option. Taking fear out of the equation makes the process much easier. Most fear comes from the unknown. What will bankruptcy mean for your life, your reputation and your time? Discovering the basics of the bankruptcy process will help put your mind at ease. It will also help you decide if filing for bankruptcy is the right option for you. So we ask:

What Is It Like To Declare Bankruptcy?

  1. It is not nearly as bad or scary as most people think. And if it’s the right option for you, it can actually eliminate a lot of stress and anxiety from your life.
  2. It doesn’t require that much for your time. You will usually have 3 to 4 appointments with a lawyer and one appearance in court.
  3. It won’t be publicized. A declaration of bankruptcy is not posted online or in the newspapers, so only people that you tell will know that you filled for bankruptcy.
  4. It will be over relatively quickly. In a chapter 7 bankruptcy, the process usually takes 6 to 8 months, but your involvement usually ends after 3 months and the rest of that time is just a waiting period.

To ensure that your bankruptcy goes as smoothly and quickly as possible, we strongly recommend working with a bankruptcy attorney. They will guide you through the process and help you understand everything along the way. An experienced law office will also help you plot a course for your financial future, one that will ensure your financial success.

If you are in the West Michigan area and have questions about bankruptcy, we at Mapes Law Offices are available to help. An honest, expert discussion with our attorneys will help you decide upon the best course of action. And our focus is not just on the short-term. We examine your financial status and recommend actions to help get you on stable financial ground for the long-term. We understand that life happens and our mission is to help good people through bad times. Our kind and understanding staff can help you onto the road toward financial freedom. To get the help you need, call us at (616) 719-3847 or schedule a free consultation appointment today.

Divorce & Bankruptcy

They say that some of the hardest things to go through in life include divorce and bankruptcy.

And if you’re facing both, it can feel extremely overwhelming. Many questions and concerns arise when discussing bankruptcy and divorce, especially because you have another party to think about, one that you might not be getting along with. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. We can help you navigate these troublesome waters and get the answers that you’ve been looking for. So, if you are in debt and are facing a divorce, what should you do?

  1. It is generally better to divorce before filing bankruptcy. This usually provides a smoother outcome for both parties.
  2. Consider filing for a chapter 13 bankruptcy. With a chapter 13 bankruptcy, debts owed to a former spouse can be discharged, but they can not be discharged with a chapter 7 bankruptcy. If these debts are not properly discharged under the appropriate bankruptcy, a former spouse could decide to sue in divorce court and force payment.
  3. The judgement of divorce should be scrutinized. This is where a bankruptcy attorney is very valuable. They will be able to scrutinize your divorce stipulations and help you decide which course of action is best.
  4. Know your options. Certain debts like child support and alimony cannot be discharged. However, getting rid of, or reducing, your other debts will make payment of those amounts much easier.

It can be tempting to run and hide when you’re facing divorce and bankruptcy. That’s why it’s important to get help. Instead of trying to understand bankruptcy on your own, visit Mapes Law Offices  to get a grasp on your financial situation.

With multiple locations in Western Michigan, we offer expert advice and planning to help you out of a financial crisis and into a stable financial future. We offer free consultations to understand your situation and recommend our course of action. We understand that life tosses curve balls and we pride ourselves on helping good people go through bad times. After meeting with us, you will feel empowered and at ease knowing that you have a viable plan for financial success.

Our skill, experience and compassion has helped many people navigate through bankruptcy and divorce. We can help you too. Call us today at (616) 719-3847 or request your free consultation and take your first step toward financial freedom.

You can have your weed or you can have your discharge — But you can’t have both.

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Medical marijuana caregivers may face a tough choice – your pot or your house

The Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan issued a decision today that may leave Michigan Medical Marijuana caregivers in a tough position – having to choose between obtaining relief under the bankruptcy code, or continuing to grow and distribute marijuana in compliance with state law.

In a recently-filed Chapter 13 case, the debtor operated a business growing and distributing medical marijuana from his home in Michigan.  Unfortunately, his honesty about his activities drew some attention from the Department of Justice, which filed a motion to dismiss his case.  The bankruptcy judge found that, because his business is illegal under federal law, he could not continue both his bankruptcy and his business.

The debtor even offered to keep his business earnings separate from the bankruptcy, and use only his social security benefits to make payments under his repayment plan.  But the court was of the opinion that allowing the debtor to continue his business would make the Court a party to violations of federal criminal law.  Ultimately, the court put a hard choice before the debtor: forego bankruptcy relief and continue to operate his medical marijuana business, or immediately cease operations and destroy all of his plants, inventory, and equipment.

People usually don’t consider filing bankruptcy unless they are caught between a rock and a hard place.  Today, the Court has made the decision to file especially difficult for medical marijuana growers.  Filing bankruptcy requires total honesty with the Court, but telling the truth might get you in legal trouble far beyond the financial difficulties already faced by many Michigan residents.

 

Whether you are registered under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act or not, if you are considering filing bankruptcy it is vital that you are honest with your bankruptcy attorney about everything.  The debtor in today’s decision was only afforded the opportunity to continue with his bankruptcy because he had been completely honest with his attorney, the Trustee, and the Court, regarding his activities.

The Court ordered that if the Debtor chose to continue to pursue a bankruptcy discharge, he must stop growing marijuana and must destroy the plants he currently has. However the Court did not specify how it must be destroyed, perhaps he could just burn it all…a little bit at a time…

If you’re a medical marijuana user who needs bankruptcy relief, wipe the cheetos dust off your fingers, take a shower, and then come see us to explore your options.

The Meeting of Creditors — What will happen?

The meeting of creditors is likely the only time you will have to set foot in any sort of court room during the bankruptcy process. It is generally a chance for a court appointed trustee to examine the bankruptcy petition, ask a few questions, and determine if there are any assets available in your case to distribute to creditors. While it is called the meeting of creditors, there are very rarely any creditors who show up.

At a meeting of creditors, if we have done our job right to that point, it will be the most boring thing you do that day. On the other hand, if you have an incompetent attorney, it can be a nightmare. Clients often get frustrated at how many documents we request from them before filing, but after the meeting of creditors they will often be amazed at how quickly and smoothly their meeting went compared to everyone else’s. The reason why our meetings go so smoothly is because we are thorough, we take our time, and we make sure we get things right before we file your case.

I took the liberty to go ahead and make a short informational video showing what a typical meeting of creditors may look like. I hope you enjoy it!