The Coronavirus crisis has made many things difficult if not downright impossible. But fortunately — at least for now through early October 2020 — it’s still possible to file bankruptcy in Rhode Island. Here’s a quick list of some of the “essential” details:
court hearings are being conducted by telephone or video (using Zoom.gov) and can even be viewed via YouTube
What hasn’t changed is that there are still Rhode Island attorneys experienced with personal bankruptcy (e.g., Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) who can help guide you through the details of filing bankruptcy. Feel free to give us a call 401-738-3030 or email to set up a free RI bankruptcy consultation.
The Rhode Island Bankruptcy Court allows cases to be filed very quickly. If you submit the necessary papers and filing fees, an experienced attorney may be able file your case in less than 24 hours. You may be able to use this “fast track” filing option to immediately stop creditors from harassing you, prevent your electric or other utilities from being shut off, keep your wages from being attached, or stop your home from being lost to foreclosure if you’ve fallen behind on your mortgage payments.
Of course, filing is only the first step to completing a bankruptcy. And you want to do it right because your bankruptcy filing will be reviewed for errors which could cause your case to be dismissed. So it’s important to find an attorney experienced with bankruptcy when you’re doing a rush filing to avoid costly mistakes. If all goes well, you may have your case successfully processed by the court and closed within 90 days after filing.
About a month after you file a petition for personal bankruptcy in Rhode Island, you must go to the Federal Center in downtown Providence and meet with a bankruptcy trustee. The bankruptcy trustee is not a judge; rather, she or he is appointed by the court to try to get back money from you for banks, credit card companies, and others you owe money to.
At this meeting (called a 341 meeting of creditors), the trustee may ask you questions, trying to see if you lied, left out important information, or otherwise incorrectly filled out your bankruptcy petition and could really pay back more money. Sometimes, banks and other creditors will also come to this meeting and ask their own questions. It is important that you answer each question carefully and honestly to avoid being charged with perjury, which is a federal crime.
Fortunately, the trustees tend to ask similar questions each time. So it’s possible to prepare for this meeting with help from an experienced bankruptcy attorney. And even if the trustee asks you a “curve ball” question, you’ll then have an experienced attorney sitting by your side to coach you through without any problems, as is usually the case.
It’s been estimated that over 60% of bankruptcies are filed due to hospital visits, cancer treatments and other health expenditures. Fortunately, by filing for bankruptcy in Rhode Island, you can usually eliminate debt owed to:
hospitals & medical clinics
laboratories & medical imaging/radiography
doctors, physician assistants & nurses
dentists & orthodontists
physical therapists & chiropractors
So yes, typically any unsecured medical debt can be eliminated in a RI Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing, regardless of whether it’s $10 or $1 million you owe. You’ll want to consult with a RI attorney experienced with bankruptcy to guide you through the process, especially if you’ll need to keep receiving health care services following your bankruptcy filing for a chronic medical condition.
Recently I met a young woman – a recent immigrant to this country – who had met with another attorney before meeting with me. Her case was relatively simple, so I was surprised to learn her first attorney had proposed a fee of $5,000. When I told her my flat fee, she was absolutely shocked.
I’m unaware of any Rhode Island attorney who charges less than me to file a personal bankruptcy. The typical going attorney rate is probably $1,200 to $1,500 (not counting the $306 filing fee going to the court). I personally think that an attorney’s fee of $1,200 is reasonable and fair – given the amount of work that is involved in handling a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing correctly. And for particularly complex cases, fees of $1,500 or higher may be appropriate. (Consumers beware: the RI Bankruptcy Court actually restricts attorneys from charging more than $1,500 for a Chapter 7 filing without prior court approval.) Also, some attorneys (including myself) offer discounts to seniors and others with extremely simple cases.
If you owe federal or state income taxes from past years, you may be able to get rid of them by filing a RI bankruptcy. Generally speaking, you must wait three (3) years from the date the IRS / RI Division of Taxation processed your income tax return. (Note: this will likely be after the date you filed your tax return.) A Rhode Island attorney experienced with bankruptcy will be able to help you figure out when exactly you’re eligible to eliminate your past-due income taxes in a bankruptcy.
Rhode Island’s bankruptcy laws are generous as to what belongings you’re allowed to keep (exempt) after filing bankruptcy. In fact, it’s rare for anyone to lose a house, car or anything else in a RI bankruptcy filing (assuming they’ve hired an experienced RI bankruptcy attorney).
Generally speaking, you can file bankruptcy in Rhode Island if you’ve live here for the last 6 months. So for example if you’ve lived in Warwick, RI for the last 180 days, you can file in the District of Rhode Island.
There is a catch, however, if you’ve recently moved here from out-of-state. Even if you’ve lived here for over 180 days, you may still be under your old state’s laws in terms of what things you’re allowed to keep after the bankruptcy.
Bottom line: the longer you’ve lived here, the better. You’ll want to consult with a Rhode Island attorney experienced with bankruptcy to ensure you’re eligible to keep your house, car, and other belongings through a RI bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy laws are more complex than ever, and a messed-up filing is a headache!
When you file bankruptcy in Rhode Island, you should list everyone you owe money to. If you fail to list a creditor, you risk not getting off the hook for that particular debt. How can you avoid leaving a creditor out of your bankruptcy filing? Typically a credit report will identify most of your creditors. (Once every 12 months you can order a free credit report through annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 877-322-8228.)
However, not all debts will appear on your credit report. Medical bills, utility bills, and cell phone bills are often missing from credit reports, as are outstanding gym membership fees, unpaid magazine subscriptions, etc. In addition, debts that have been unpaid for more than seven years may stop showing up on a credit report. But if you don’t list them they might come back to haunt you after your bankruptcy (for the original amount plus a lot of interest accrued in the hands of some local collection agency– after the original creditor “charged off” the debt).
If you do accidentally fail to list a creditor when filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it’s often possible to go back and amend (fix) your bankruptcy papers to include the missing creditor within 90 days after you file, though a $26 court fee will apply. Beyond 90 days, a heftier court fee ($260) will apply, and there are some situations where adding a missing creditor may not even be allowed. Chapter 13 (payment-plan type) bankruptcies can be even more risky to have to add a missing creditor.
Most people do NOT need to appear before a judge in order to complete their bankruptcy in Rhode Island. But they do need to attend a Section 341 Meeting of Creditors, which is run by a bankruptcy trustee (not a judge) who has been appointed to administer their case. Typically, the trustee will ask for ID (so remember to bring your drivers license and social security card). Then the trustee will spend several minutes asking you questions about what you own, your debts, income, etc.
If you’ve retained a good attorney, however, you won’t be alone. I attend this meeting with every one of my clients, and it’s rare for there to be any issues. In fact, most creditors don’t even bother coming. This Meeting of Creditors is held on weekday afternoons at the Federal Center, 380 Westminster Street, 6th Floor, in downtown Providence, and usually lasts for only a few minutes.
People who are considering filing bankruptcy with me often ask what to bring for our first meeting. (If you’re interested in scheduling a free initial consultation to see if bankruptcy is a good option for you, call my office at 401.738.3030 today.) The purpose of this first meeting is to ensure that we’re both comfortable that going forward with a bankruptcy filing makes sense in your specific situation. So it’s generally helpful if you can bring in your recent bills, collection notices, and any lawsuit-related papers, as well as any other documents that you’d like me to take a look at. At the end of the meeting, I can give you a checklist so you’ll know exactly what information my office will need from you in order to get your case prepared and filed.