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Preparing for and attending the 341 meeting

Although some aspects never change, creditor meetings can vary according to region


[Note: Continued from "What to expect once you've decided to file."]

Use case number in all correspondence

When your attorney first files your case, it will be assigned a case number, which you will see when the attorney confirms the filing and when the bankruptcy court/trustee sends your notification, including two separate addresses: one for correspondence with the Trustee and one for mailing your Chapter 13 payment (not applicable to Chapter 7 filers).

Obviously, you will want to continue the organized filing system that you began when gathering your financial information. Foremost among staying organized is being absolutely accurate with the payment address and styling of your money orders or cashiers' checks (no cash, no personal checks).

Be sure to record your case number and keep it handy--you'll use it continuously from now until your case is discharged. Very possibly, the first time you'll need it is for your first Chapter 13 plan payment.

Don't do anything to cause dismissal

Be aware that your petition--your case--can be dismissed, for a variety of reasons. For example, if you're up to date with income taxes, the IRS will notify you--and the court--that it intends to object to the bankruptcy and move for dismissal unless it receives all past due income tax filings by a certain date.

This is, of course, very important, and your attorney will help you stay on track concerning such important dates.

Chapter 13: First payment is crucial

However, the single-most crucial item is, for Chapter 13 cases, your first bankruptcy payment, which may come due before your formal meeting with the judge and with creditors, an event known informally as "the 341 meeting." Basically, the thinking will be, "if this person can't even get the first payment accurate and on time, they must not be serious about their bankruptcy case," and you could likely have your case dismissed. Sure, you could file again, but you would start all over--perhaps with a new attorney.

The judge, creditors & the '341 meeting'

According to the U.S. Courts:
The court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases is the United States bankruptcy judge, a judicial officer of the United States district court. The bankruptcy judge may decide any matter connected with a bankruptcy case, such as eligibility to file or whether a debtor should receive a discharge of debts. Much of the bankruptcy process is administrative, however, and is conducted away from the courthouse. In cases under chapters 7, 12, or 13, and sometimes in chapter 11 cases, this administrative process is carried out by a trustee who is appointed to oversee the case.

A debtor's involvement with the bankruptcy judge is usually very limited. A typical chapter 7 debtor will not appear in court and will not see the bankruptcy judge unless an objection is raised in the case. A chapter 13 debtor may only have to appear before the bankruptcy judge at a plan confirmation hearing. Usually, the only formal proceeding at which a debtor must appear is the meeting of creditors, which is usually held at the offices of the U.S. trustee. This meeting is informally called a "341 meeting" because section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code requires that the debtor attend this meeting so that creditors can question the debtor about debts and property.

Relaxed setting--up to a point

At my 341 meeting, we were instructed where to meet, at 8:30 am. A group of us were ushered into a spacious, well-lit room full of folding chairs arranged into rows. A water fountain and restrooms were available, and we were free to avail ourselves as necessary, except we were told not to linger or dawdle--or simply disappear, as sometimes happen.

You have to sign in, and when the "class" is over, you sign out. Anyone who's not on both lists will be notified that they have not completed the process and must return on another day. Failure to do so will likely result in dismissal.

We listened to the instructor speak about bankruptcy principles, the process, consumer credit information and principles of budgeting. But first, the bankruptcy judge addressed the group, explaining the basics of the court and various duties and responsibilities. He also talked about circumstances that could cause case dismissal and cautioned everyone to pay attention and take care of business. He also wished us well, expressing hopes that bankruptcy protection would lead to a genuine fresh start so that we all can continue as active participants in the economy and solid, tax-paying citizens.

Texting during the meeting a definite no-no

We later heard from the instructor that some judges are very strict. "At another meeting, he saw a filer in the audience who had ignored his instructions to turn off cell phones and was, in fact, texting while the judge was speaking. He fined him $50, on the spot."

So, yeah, remember, when the judge is speaking, you may as well consider that "court is in session."

Our consumer-credit class lasted from about 9 am to noon or so. Then we broke for lunch, a leisurely two hours, which could have been passed in the comfortable, economical cafeteria in the building. I chose to eat elsewhere and run some light errands.

I returned a little early, just in case, then a few minutes before 2 pm, I saw my attorney, who called me into a small meeting room where we met with the Trustee for about 20 minutes. I was sworn, and the session recorded.

Creditors may attend, but often don't

No creditors showed up (which is typical), and neither did the IRS even though we had expected an IRS agent to attend. I answered a few specific questions; finally the trustee asked me to gather three months' bank account records, info from two other accounts and proof of income. Very pleasantly, she gave me two weeks to get that done and bade me a cheerful farewell. All in all, not a bad day at for a meeting that many people dread beforehand.

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