Here we go. Money. In bankruptcy cases, it’s money (or lack thereof) that brings client to our office and it’s money clients initially ask about: “how much do you charge for a bankruptcy?”
Well, first, let’s tackle the easy part. The filing fee and associated costs of filing the most common bankruptcy filings. (We will not address business chapter 7 and 11 bankruptcy too much here as they are most likely hourly billing and can go on for years)
|What you’re paying for||Cost|
|Chapter 7 filing fee||$335|
|Chapter 13 filing fee||$310|
|Chapter 11 filing fee||$1717|
|Conversion from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13||Free|
|Conversion from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7||$25|
|Credit counseling/financial management course||$20-$100|
|Amendments to Schedules||$31|
So the above is not so bad, you say. You may even have the option to pay the filing fees in installments. However, you also probably know that attorney fees make up the majority of the cost of filing for bankruptcy. You’re already short on cash and you don’t have much to spare for a lawyer. You’re looking for the best rate you can find. So, what can you expect to pay?
Well, before we get to our exact fees, let’s start with some statistics to lay the groundwork (to cushion the blow).
Remember, you can always file “pro se,” (without the help of an attorney) but the success rate is not good. For example, nearly twice the number of pro se chapter 7 filings were dismissed as attorney-represented cases in 2014 — and attorneys filed nearly four times as many cases as self-represented parties. With an attorney, the success rate of a chapter 7 bankruptcy case is over 95%. For Chapter 13, pro se filers do even worse than their Chapter 7 counterparts. The attorney-represented success rate for Chapter 13 is over 55%, while the pro se success rate is only 0.04%, or 1 in 2,500. Less than half of all chapters filed pro se in 2014 received a discharge, while over 82 percent of attorney-represented cases were discharged. Most people file pro se because either they think they don’t need an attorney or they think can’t afford an attorney. That is rarely the case.
First, when you file under Chapter 7, you’ll generally have to pay up-front. Nationwide, the average attorney fee for a Chapter 7 case is $1500 – $2000. That cost may vary significantly by market. You can generally expect to pay more in a large metro area than in a small town. In addition to your location, the complexity of your case — and the quality of your attorney, if we’re being honest — may affect your fees. If you’re filing a relatively simple “no asset” case (when you have no non-exempt assets), you’ll pay less than you would for a complex case which is more likely to result in litigation. The cost will also vary based on the experience level and professional reputation of the attorney. An experienced attorney in a well-established firm will charge more than a fresh law school graduate. An attorney will handle all of the administrative issues in the case — filing the paperwork in the right place and at the right time with the right content. They will know the system and the trustees in charge of your case, and even the judges. The trustees (who have the power to seize your assets) will know your attorney, and their reputation and the quality of their work. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Local knowledge is vital. Combined that with a (hopefully) good reputation is, well, as the old Visa ad goes, priceless.
Average Cost of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Major Cities
A random sample of Chapter 7 cases in a few major metro areas to get a sense of the bankruptcy attorney fees in each area. In New York City, the tab ranged from $1,500 to $2,000. In Dallas, it was $874 to $2000. In Miami, attorneys charged anywhere from $1000 to $2000, and in New York City, the bill was in the range of $1200 to $3000.
There’s a lot of variation depending on the complexity of the case. In addition, many debtors qualify for free or discounted legal help, leading to even more variation.
Consumers should be on the lookout for competent attorneys to handle their case. A bankruptcy is delicate, and you want someone with plenty of experience to represent you. A difference on the front end of a few hundred dollars could actually cost thousands in the long run.
Average Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Attorney Fees
Under Chapter 13, you’ll work with the Trustee to create a payment plan for your debts. The plan will last for three to five years and at the end of it, your remaining unsecured debt is discharged. Unlike under Chapter 7, local bankruptcy law usually sets the “presumptively reasonable” attorney fees for Chapter 13 cases. If the attorney charges the presumptively reasonable fee, the Court won’t look into the charges unless you specifically request it. Chapter 13 is intensive work, especially in New York city where the chapter 13 trustees are particularly demanding throughout the process.
Presumptively reasonable fees vary based on the complexity of your case. Nationally, the average is around $3500, but each bankruptcy district has its own standards and rules. In most New York districts, for example, the presumptively reasonable attorney fee is $5000 for the basic case, plus anywhere from $500 to $1,500 extra for various issues that add complexity to the case. In the eastern district of North Carolina, it’s $3,700 plus extra fees for complications. In central Alabama, the presumptively reasonable fee is $2,750, and any extra fees will be examined by the court.
For Chapter 13 cases, attorneys generally charge a certain fee up front. Some attorneys will charge only the filing fee and others will want a larger down payment. Some will charge the entire fee up front. You’ll pay any remaining attorney fees through the Chapter 13 plan. You’ll make your regular plan payments to the Bankruptcy Trustee every month and the Trustee will pay the appropriate portion to your lawyer.
As in Chapter 7, your attorney for your Chapter 13 case will handle all of the administrative work. He or she will also help you navigate the complex rules governing Chapter 13 payment plans to create a plan that you can handle and that will satisfy the court. As in Chapter 7, if your creditors attempt to challenge the automatic stay, your plan, or your discharge, they will answer their motions and make sure that they can’t take advantage of you.
What are other possible bankruptcy fees?
We now know that attorneys may charge more for complications. Your average bankruptcy case doesn’t have any — most are fairly straightforward. You’ll file, you’ll either surrender your assets or work out a payment plan, you’ll get your discharge, and you’ll go on your merry way. However, not every case is so simple.
Bankruptcy isn’t just about filing forms. There’s a lot of room for litigation. So, while attorney fees for an easy, open-and-shut Chapter 7 case are usually charged on a flat fee basis, most firms need to charge more if court time becomes necessary.
For example, say the Bankruptcy Trustee objects to your valuation of some property you want to exempt. That question will have to be resolved in front of a judge. Your attorney will have to prepare a defense and appear in court, which will probably cost you a few thousand dollars extra. If someone files an adversary proceeding in your case (perhaps objecting to your discharge on grounds of fraud or concealment of records), you’re looking at a lot of research, preparation for a whole case, and plenty of court time, and even a trial. The bill for an adversary proceeding may well be in excess of $10,000 to $15,000.
Of course, these scenarios are relatively rare. Most cases proceed smoothly if you have a competent lawyer. However, the scenarios above are possible and you should be aware of them as you calculate the probable cost of your bankruptcy.
You Get What You Pay for in a Bankruptcy Case
Filing for bankruptcy is complicated. To add to the confusion, bankruptcy reform legislation passed in 2005 made bankruptcy law significantly more complicated. The requirements for filing and document production are confusing and difficult to meet. A good bankruptcy lawyer knows the rules, the system, and the courts. They should also be able to communicate effectively with the Bankruptcy Trustee — you don’t want to have to learn legalese on the fly.
You’ve probably seen billboards and cheesy commercials advertising cheap Chapter 7 filings. Is it a good idea to use the cheapest bankruptcy attorney? Probably not. You’re right to be cost-conscious when you’re already strapped for cash, but a cut-rate bankruptcy attorney is going to cost you in the long run. Lawyers that offer reduced-fee filing often hand your case down to a paralegal that handles the whole thing with little or no supervision. The low price comes with inexperience and poor attention to detail. Paralegals play an important role in legal work, but you want to have your case in the hands of an attorney. See our blog Finding the Right Attorney: Trust Your Guts. https://jcklaw.com/portfolio/finding-the-right-attorney-trust-your-gut/
If your case is dismissed (which can happen for any number of reasons, including failing to file the right thing at the right time), you won’t get the full protection of bankruptcy when you file again later. Serial filers don’t get the benefit of the automatic stay, so creditors can and will initiate foreclosure, repossession, and lawsuits leading to wage garnishment and bank levies.
An experienced attorney will help you get the most out of your bankruptcy. He or she knows how to use the bankruptcy system to protect your assets and he or she knows how to deal with objections from creditors – minimizing the risk of something going wrong with your case. Just take another look at the statistics we mentioned above – the success rate is over 95% for Chapter 7 cases filed with the help of an attorney and over 55% for Chapter 13 cases. Compare that to the 60% success rate for Chapter 7 cases filed pro se and the 0.04% success rate for pro se Chapter 13 cases. When it comes to bankruptcy, it pays to have a reliable lawyer.
Your Total Bankruptcy Cost
So “how much do you charge for a bankruptcy” at JCKLAW? The simple answer is this: an average Chapter 7 case can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. An average Chapter 13 case will run you from $3,000 to $5,000. The complicated answer is what you just read above.
If you are interested in learning about bankruptcy options at JCKLAW – that won’t cost you a cent because we have free consultations – contact our office at 718-539-1100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org