Jacksonville Bankruptcy Lawyer
Find Debt Relief in Jacksonville
Millions of Americans around the country struggle with consumer debt every day. Between credit card bills, medical expenses, student loans, home mortgages, and other debts, many people come to feel overwhelmed by the debt that they owe. If you are one of the many people in the U.S. who feel as if you are drowning in debt, it is time to take action to resolve your financial issues. Bankruptcy may be your best option for moving forward.
At the Albaugh Law Firm, we understand that there are many bankruptcy myths that cause people to hesitate when it comes to filing. As more and more individuals each year discover that bankruptcy may be a viable option for obtaining financial relief, the stigma of individual bankruptcy has become a thing of the past.
As you seek a path to a fresh financial start and future financial security, speak with one of the experienced and understanding Jacksonville bankruptcy lawyers at Albaugh Law Firm. We have more than 70 years of combined experience handling a wide range of cases involving debt. We offer free initial consultations to discuss how we can help you chart a path to a better financial future.
- Auto Repossession
- Bankruptcy Asset Protection
- Bankruptcy vs Debt Settlement
- Bankruptcy vs Debt Consolidation
- Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
- Credit Card Debt
- Creditor Harassment
- Debt Lawsuit Defense
- Foreclosure Defense
- Lawsuits & Judgments
- Medical Debt
- Mortgage Loan Modifications
- Rebuilding Credit
- Short Sales
- Student Loan Debt
- Tax Debt
- Wage Garnishment
How Can Our Bankruptcy Attorneys Help You?
U.S. courts handle over 740,000 personal bankruptcy filings every single year. Bankruptcy is not a rare or strange occurrence–it is simply a useful legal tool for individuals struggling with consumer debt. Filing for consumer bankruptcy, with the help of one of our veteran Florida bankruptcy attorneys, can provide a variety of benefits and economic relief. If you handle your bankruptcy filing properly, you may be able to, for example:
- Save your car
- Prevent home foreclosure
- Modify your mortgage
- Eliminate medical debt, credit card bills, and student loans
- Protect your business
- Consolidate your debt
- Start over and rebuild your credit
- Erase your financial worries and find freedom
At Albaugh Law Firm, we have years of experience handling a wide range of cases involving bankruptcy, including the issues below. We offer legal and financial advice about bankruptcy, tailored to your individual circumstances and the needs of your family. If your particular matter is not listed, feel free to get in touch with our lawyers — we may be able to help you!
Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
The two most common forms of bankruptcy for individual consumers are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The “chapter” refers to the part of the federal bankruptcy code that sets the rules and procedures for filing that form of bankruptcy. While there are other forms of bankruptcy available to individuals, these two represent the majority of individual filings.
The most common form of individual bankruptcy filing is Chapter 7. Chapter 7 involves a bankruptcy trustee collecting and selling the debtor’s assets in order to pay off as much of the qualifying debt as possible. All remaining qualifying debt is discharged, wiped clean, at the conclusion of the bankruptcy. State and federal bankruptcy laws have many exemptions to the types of property that will become part of the bankruptcy, so most Chapter 7 filers, with proper legal representation, end up keeping most or all of their property. Individuals must satisfy a “means test,” based on their income and assets, in order to qualify for Chapter 7.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves working with the court, the creditors, and the bankruptcy trustee to come up with a payment plan for qualifying debt. Chapter 13 reorganizes your debt and stops collection efforts, giving you three or five years to pay back a portion of the debt you owe. Typically, the total debt amount is reduced as well. To qualify for Chapter 13, debtors must have regular income sufficient to keep up with payments during the plan period.
Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 each come with their own requirements, advantages, and drawbacks. Speak with a qualified Florida bankruptcy attorney to discuss which form of bankruptcy is best for you and your family circumstances.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?
Filing for bankruptcy, like many other legal proceedings, does not technically require representation by an attorney. You are theoretically able to represent yourself. There are many reasons, however, why having a qualified bankruptcy attorney to offer advice and representation throughout the bankruptcy process is not only beneficial but essential. We explore a few of the benefits of hiring a knowledgeable and capable Florida bankruptcy attorney below.
The Bankruptcy Technicalities
Bankruptcy is one of the most quintessentially-legal procedures. It involves filling out a mountain of paperwork, and every detail matters: Failing to include a covered debt, including a debt that should not be covered, leaving off certain assets, missing required documents or evidence, or making oversights in your claimed exemptions can do severe damage to your case. You may find yourself in a lengthy court battle with a debtor, losing property you could have protected, or even in hot water with the bankruptcy court. A seasoned bankruptcy attorney has been through the process hundreds of times and knows exactly what to do and what to look for to make sure your bankruptcy is as smooth, efficient, legally sound, and beneficial as possible.
Picking the Right Bankruptcy for You
The Bankruptcy Code is a complex, confusing mess. Online resources can give you some understanding of what to expect, but at the end of the day, you need someone with a complete and intimate understanding of federal and state bankruptcy laws to take a hard and thorough look at your finances and give you real advice about how best to proceed. Different exemptions under the federal and state laws may or may not apply, you may or may not qualify for a specific type of bankruptcy, and you may or may not be able to protect assets such as your house depending on which type of bankruptcy you choose. Even if you are sure that bankruptcy is the right thing for you, picking the right Chapter can make all the difference.
Eligibility for Bankruptcy
Even after deciding which type of bankruptcy you prefer, you still have to establish eligibility. Qualifying for Chapter 7 requires satisfying a complicated means test, which utilizes an elaborate comparison between average income and a variety of potential expenses. Qualifying for Chapter 13 requires demonstrating regular income sufficient to cover monthly payments in a reorganization plan, which in turn requires an advanced calculation of what that monthly obligation may be under a repayment plan. There are tips and tricks for ensuring eligibility that are specific to each filer, and with the help of a qualified bankruptcy attorney, you can maximize your chances for eligibility.
Knowing Which Debts Will Be Discharged
When you are deciding whether to file for bankruptcy or pursue other debt-relief options, it is vital to have a firm understanding about which of your debts will actually be discharged, and how much of each of those debts you can expect to discharge. Secured debts, priority unsecured debts, and nonpriority unsecured debts are all treated differently under the bankruptcy laws, and identifying which set of rules applies to each of your debts can be a very involved process. Making the wrong choice, or leaving out a covered debt, can waste your bankruptcy opportunity.
Additionally, your attorney may be able to help you get debts cleared that are usually not dischargeable in bankruptcy. For example, student loan debt, historically, has not been dischargeable. Student loans may be discharged in bankruptcy, provided the debtor can show a sufficient threshold of hardship. The standard was, historically, nearly unreachable. That has been changing in recent years thanks to several key court decisions lowering the threshold for showing hardship. Your bankruptcy attorney can help you build the strongest case for adding student loans to your bankruptcy.
Understanding and Maximizing Exemptions
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a bankruptcy trustee will be appointed to oversee your bankruptcy. They will be looking to collect and liquidate all non-exempt assets in order to pay off as much of your qualifying debt as possible. With the help of a seasoned bankruptcy attorney, you can protect many of your assets through exemptions under the state or federal bankruptcy laws. Knowing whether to rely on the federal vs. state exemptions and knowing how to maximize the effect of your exemptions are crucial to protecting your most treasured assets and reducing your total obligation.
Dealing With Creditor Objections
Bankruptcies often do not simply go off without a hitch. Creditors, and even trustees, have the opportunity to object to a discharge in court. If one of your creditors files an objection to your bankruptcy, they may be able to get their debt removed from the proceeding and continue to pursue you for the full amount, regardless of your bankruptcy discharge. Other creditors may be able to get the automatic stay lifted so that they can foreclose on your house or repossess personal property. If you have to make a legal argument in court to protect your finances and your assets, you need a dedicated legal professional in your corner, arguing on your behalf.
Will I Go to Court for My Bankruptcy?
One of the most common questions we receive from clients considering bankruptcy is whether they will have to go to court as part of the process. Bankruptcy is a legal process that goes through the courts, so bankruptcy filers can expect to go to the courthouse at least once throughout the process. With the help of a seasoned Florida bankruptcy attorney, you can limit your time spent at the courthouse to the bare minimum, letting your lawyer handle the rest. You will likely never see the inside of an actual courtroom during your bankruptcy. The more thoroughly and effectively you prepare for your bankruptcy, the less likely you will have to spend extra time in court defending the process.
When Do I Need to Be in Court?
Most people who file for bankruptcy will need to show up in court a minimum of twice, and the first time can be avoided with proper planning. Generally, the first time a bankruptcy filer will go to the courthouse will be to file their forms. It is not much of an appearance: You will simply walk in with your completed forms and take them to the court clerk’s office for filing. These forms can also be filed online with the help of an attorney. If you have a bankruptcy lawyer on your side, you can likely skip this first trip to the courthouse and let your attorney handle the filing.
After filing the bankruptcy petition, you will likely need to appear in court just once, for the “meeting of creditors.” The meeting of creditors, also called a “341 meeting,” typically takes place 30 to 40 days after you file your bankruptcy petition. The meeting is held at the federal courthouse, which is more like an office building, and the meeting is more likely to take place in a large conference room than an actual courtroom. At the meeting, the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee will ask you a few questions, under oath, about your bankruptcy petition. The trustee will ask about your papers, assets, debts, and other aspects of your filing, essentially to ensure that you were telling the truth on your bankruptcy forms. If the trustee believes that you are telling the truth on your forms and that you are not committing some sort of fraud, they will formally “approve” your bankruptcy discharge. The meeting is typically very brief, often less than 10 minutes. Creditors are permitted to attend the meeting, but they rarely actually appear.
Possible Additional Court Appearances
Additional hearings may be required when key events occur or if something goes wrong. Some of these appearances can be handled by your attorney without your presence, while some do require your testimony (or would benefit from your presence, even if not strictly required). Hearings that could possibly occur include:
- Motion to lift the automatic stay. The automatic stay prevents creditors from undertaking collection efforts for the first 30 days after you file for bankruptcy. If you have a secured loan, such as a mortgage or car loan, and you stop paying during the bankruptcy, the creditor might seek to foreclose or repossess. To do so, they would have to petition the court to lift the automatic stay in order to pursue collection efforts. You may need to testify to prevent the court from lifting the stay.
- Confirmation of your Chapter 13 plan. If there are any questions from creditors or concerns about your ability to keep up with a proposed repayment plan, you might need to appear at a confirmation hearing to answer any questions.
- Motion to dismiss. If you fall behind on your Chapter 13 payments, the trustee could move to dismiss your bankruptcy. You and/or your attorney would need to appear to defend your case.
- Motion to approve new debt. Debtors undergoing a Chapter 13 repayment may not take on additional debt without permission. If you get sick or injured and need a medical loan, if your car breaks down, or if something else occurs requiring a loan, you can ask the court for permission to take on additional debt. The court may choose to hold a hearing with you, your attorney, and the trustee to address the issue.
- Adversary proceedings. If a creditor objects to your bankruptcy or objects to their specific debt being discharged, or if there is some other bit of contention with your bankruptcy, either you, the trustee or the creditor may file a civil lawsuit concerning the bankruptcy.
These are just a few examples of hearings that could arise during a bankruptcy proceeding. Talk to your bankruptcy attorney about your case to discuss when and if you should expect to appear in court.
Florida Bankruptcy FAQs
Bankruptcy is a complicated area of law. There are a lot of moving parts, and most people have no reason to look into its intricacies until they are facing the prospect of bankruptcy directly. Below, the experienced and dedicated Jacksonville bankruptcy attorneys at the Albaugh Law Firm answer some of the most common bankruptcy questions we have heard from clients over our decades of service. Reach out to our bankruptcy and debt relief legal team if you have other questions or to obtain a free debt relief consultation.
What Do the Different “Chapters” of Bankruptcy Mean? Which Should I Use?
“Chapter” refers to parts of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. Different types of debtors rely on different parts of the bankruptcy code to file. Most individual debtors file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. In Chapter 7, a bankruptcy trustee collects your non-exempt assets to sell in order to pay off a portion of your debt and then discharge the rest. In Chapter 13, your debt is collectively reorganized, and a three or five-year repayment plan is established. Chapter 7 is useful for lower-income debtors who would benefit from a complete discharge of all qualifying debt. Chapter 13 is useful for debtors with regular income who would benefit from a reduced monthly obligation but who are able to keep up with payments.
Will I Lose My House if I File for Bankruptcy?
Filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 will put an automatic stay on collection proceedings, including foreclosure. Chapter 13 may even help you eliminate a second or third mortgage through lien-stripping. However, if you fall behind on mortgage payments during the bankruptcy process, a mortgage lender may seek to lift the stay and foreclose.
Will I Lose My Car and Other Property if I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves the collection and sale of non-exempt assets to repay as much of your qualifying debt as possible and then discharge the remainder. Florida and federal bankruptcy laws carry a number of exemptions that limit the property a bankruptcy trustee may reach for sale. Most debtors can protect favored assets, such as their car. A seasoned Florida bankruptcy attorney can help you use the exemptions to your advantage and protect the assets you care about from sale.
Who Will Know About My Bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy filings are public. However, the only people who are directly notified are your creditors and co-debtors. Your friends, family, and coworkers will likely only find out if you decide to tell them. If you fall behind on Chapter 13 payments, the trustee may inform your employer in order to request wage withholding. Additionally, your bankruptcy will disappear from your credit report after seven or ten years, depending on which type of bankruptcy you file.
Can I Get a New Credit Card After Filing for Bankruptcy?
Although bankruptcy does affect your credit score, most bankruptcy filers can start applying for credit cards again soon after receiving a discharge. The terms of the new cards are likely to be different from the credit cards available before the bankruptcy for at least a few years, but you can start building your credit back up from the day you file. If you continue to make payments, your credit will quickly improve.
How much does it cost to file for bankruptcy?
You will have to pay court filing fees to declare bankruptcy. Currently, it costs $335 for a Chapter 7 filing and $310 for a Chapter 13 filing. You may have to pay an additional $15 to $20 fee to the bankruptcy trustee. You can request to pay the fee in installments. You will also need to take a credit counseling or financial management course, which will generally cost between $20 and $100. If you retain an attorney, you will have to pay attorney fees, which you can discuss in advance with your lawyer.
Common Bankruptcy Myths
Everyone knows about bankruptcy, but most people have one or more misconceptions about how bankruptcy works, what bankruptcy can do, and what bankruptcy cannot do. Below, the experienced Jacksonville bankruptcy attorneys at Albaugh Law Firm address some of the most common myths we hear from clients concerning bankruptcy.
I Will Lose My House if I File for Bankruptcy.
One of the biggest fears debtors have about filing for bankruptcy is the fear of losing their home. To the contrary, bankruptcy can actually help prevent bank foreclosure on a home. If you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the court will put an automatic stay on all collection proceedings, including foreclosure. You may be able to fold your mortgage into your repayment plan, paying off your arrears over a three or five-year period and reducing your current monthly obligation. You may even be able to get rid of second or third mortgages through a process known as “lien stripping.”
If I File for Bankruptcy, I Will Have to Sell My Car and All My Other Personal Property.
Whether you need to sell any assets as part of your bankruptcy filing depends on the type of bankruptcy. If you file for Chapter 13, you will not be forced to sell any assets. If you file for Chapter 7, the bankruptcy trustee might collect assets to use to repay your debts. However, state and federal bankruptcy laws include many exemptions to property subject to the bankruptcy proceedings. If you play your cards right, with the help of a seasoned and detail-oriented bankruptcy attorney, you could protect most, if not all, of your assets.
Bankruptcy Will Permanently Destroy My Credit.
Bankruptcy will not destroy your credit. Your credit score will take a hit, to be sure, but that will only last for a certain number of years (depending on which type of bankruptcy you use). As long as you take the right steps and are fiscally responsible after you file for bankruptcy, you can start building your credit back up from day one. You may be surprised to receive new credit card offers as soon as a few weeks after receiving your bankruptcy discharge.
Bankruptcy Gets Rid of All My Debt, So I Can Spend a Bunch of Money Right Before Filing.
Not all myths make bankruptcy look bad–some myths overstate what bankruptcy can do for you. Debts incurred right before filing for bankruptcy are likely to be excluded from the discharge. Moreover, spending a lot of money and incurring a bunch of debt right before filing might even be considered fraud by the court. We strongly advise against this practice.
Bankruptcy Is Only for the Financially Irresponsible.
More than 740,000 people across the United States file for individual bankruptcy every year. The most common cause of bankruptcy? Medical expenses. An unexpected injury or illness can leave someone in dire financial straits, no matter how responsible they have been up to that point. Bankruptcy is also a common solution after a job loss, divorce, or other unexpected expenses. Bankruptcy is not a black mark that says someone does not know how to handle their money; it is a common, everyday legal tool used by hundreds of thousands of people to get out of serious debt.
You Can Only File for Bankruptcy Once.
You cannot file for bankruptcy every year and continually try to discharge every new debt. However, filing for bankruptcy once does not mean you can never file again. You are eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy every eight years, and you can file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy every two years (from the date of filing), so long as you are not in the middle of a reorganization. That means that you could file for Chapter 13 again right after your last repayment period ends. Of course, just because you can does not mean that you should. Speak with a qualified debt relief attorney to discuss your options.
Married Couples Must File for Bankruptcy Together [Or Separately].
Married couples do not have to file for bankruptcy separately: They have the option to file together in a joint bankruptcy, combining both spouses’ property and debts into a single case. They do not have to file together, either. The choice is up to the couple. Filing separately may be appropriate where one party enters the marriage with significantly more debt and wishes to keep the debt-free partner out of bankruptcy court. On the other hand, many states allow married couples filing together to double their exemption amounts, which strongly favors filing jointly. Discuss your family and your finances with your bankruptcy lawyer to decide whether joint or separate bankruptcy is ideal for your circumstances.
Contact an Experienced Jacksonville Bankruptcy Lawyer Today
At Albaugh Law Firm, our attorneys have vast experience handling various aspects of the bankruptcy process. We view bankruptcy as an opportunity for people to help take control of their debt and cease harassment from creditors. As you seek to rebuild your life with a fresh start to bankruptcy, we offer the experienced help you need. Our goal is to give our clients the financial freedom that they deserve. Contact Albaugh Law Firm today for a free consultation with a Jacksonville bankruptcy lawyer by calling 904-471-3434.
Jacksonville Bankruptcy Court Information
- Address: 300 North Hogan Street, Suite 3-350, Jacksonville, Florida 32202
- Phone: 904-301-6490
- Hours: 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday (not on holidays)
- General area: Near Interstate 95, exit 353B, close to St. Johns River
- Parking: No public parking provided