FAQs for Debtors

While the information presented below is accurate as of the date of publication, it should not be cited or relied upon as legal authority. It is highly recommended that legal advice be obtained from a bankruptcy attorney or legal association. For filing requirements, please refer to the United States Bankruptcy Code (title 11, United States Code), the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (Bankruptcy Rules), and the Local Rules for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts.

 

Who can be a debtor in a bankruptcy case?
An individual, a partnership or a corporation (defined as including a qualifying business trust) may file a bankruptcy petition. For more information, see Section 109 of the Bankruptcy Code.
Where can I obtain bankruptcy forms?
Official Bankruptcy Forms are available from the Forms section of the website. Copies of the complete chapter 7 form packages may be purchased in the Clerk’s office if you visit any one of our divisional offices. Motion forms are not available for purchase. You should review and follow bankruptcy motion practice as stated in the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the Local Bankruptcy Rules. In addition, you may wish to download the most recent edition of the Guide for Pro Se Debtor’s.
Will you help me fill out the forms?
No. You or your attorney must complete them. The bankruptcy clerk’s staff is prohibited from giving legal advice, which includes instruction on how to complete the forms. If you are acting as your own attorney, which is also known as being pro se, you will be responsible for all actions on your behalf during the bankruptcy case.

The Court does have a Pro Se Law Clerk who can provide guidance on completing the forms, and can answer many questions concerning the information you will need to disclose. However, the Pro Se Law Clerk cannot give you legal advice and cannot complete the forms for you. If you require legal advice, you should speak to an attorney, or contact the Pro Se Law Clerk for a referral.

Do I need an attorney to represent me in my bankruptcy case?
Each Debtor filing an individual bankruptcy has a right to represent him or herself (Pro Se Debtor); however, the use of an attorney is recommended. Ignorance of the law may cost an individual far more than an attorney’s fee. By law, a Corporation is required to have an attorney. Please remember the bankruptcy clerk’s staff is prohibited from giving legal advice. Individuals who choose to represent themselves will not be able to obtain legal advice from court personnel or from the trustee appointed to their case.
What if I cannot afford to hire an attorney?
While paying for an attorney may appear unaffordable for some, the benefits of having a competent bankruptcy attorney represent you in your case often more than justifies the cost. In a chapter 7 case, attorney fees are usually paid by the debtor before the case is filed. Under a chapter 13 case, these fees may sometimes be paid through the debtor’s repayment plan. For debtors who meet certain income and asset guidelines, there are also legal service organizations that may be able to help with navigating a bankruptcy case and state and local bar associations often provide lawyer referral services. Most of these legal services can be found through any of the search engines available on the internet. If you are unsure where to turn for legal assistance, contact the Pro Se Law Clerk.
What services can a bankruptcy petition preparer provide?
A "bankruptcy petition preparer" is a person or firm which is not authorized to act as an attorney, but who fills out your bankruptcy petition and related forms for a fee. Bankruptcy petition preparers can only provide and type the forms. They may not give you legal advice. Their services are subject to restrictions and limitations under the Bankruptcy Code. Bankruptcy petition preparers sign all documents they prepare for you, but they are not authorized to sign any document on your behalf. Therefore, you must also sign all documents yourself if they require your signature.

Bankruptcy petition preparers are prohibited by law from collecting or receiving any Court fees connected with your case. Consequently, if you use a petition preparer you are required to pay all Court fees directly to the Court, including the filing fee and any other fees that may become due. You should immediately notify the United States Trustee and any trustee appointed in your case if you think a bankruptcy petition preparer fails to comply with the law.

What is a Pro Se Debtor?
A Pro Se Debtor is one who files bankruptcy without an attorney. A Pro Se Debtor is responsible for all proceedings of his/her case. Failure to comply with the Bankruptcy Code and Rules or with court orders may cause dismissal of the Debtor’s case. It is recommended that all Debtors seek legal advice before filing bankruptcy.
I cannot afford an attorney and I do not qualify for legal assistance, so I am going to represent myself. What should I do first?
The first thing all debtors contemplating filing bankruptcy without an attorney should do is download and read the Court’s Pro Se Debtor’s Guide. The guide is updated twice per year and contains most of the information debtor’s need to start preparing a bankruptcy case without an attorney.

Also important: do not file a bankruptcy case without obtaining credit counseling. Your case can be dismissed if you don’t!

What is Credit Counseling?
Credit counseling generally refers to the "individual or group briefing" from a nonprofit budget and credit counseling agency that individual debtors must attend prior to filing under any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. There are exceptions to the requirements for certain categories of debtors, exigent circumstances, or if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator have determined that there are insufficient approved credit counseling agencies available to provide the necessary counseling.

The U.S. Trustee's Office provides a list of Approved Credit Counseling Providers.

Please note, a bankruptcy case may be subject to dismissal if the debtor has not obtained the credit counseling briefing before the filing of the case.

What does it mean if a case is dismissed?
A dismissal order ends the bankruptcy case before a discharge order enters. When the Court dismisses the case, the automatic stay ends and creditors may start to collect debts again. An order of dismissal does not free the debtor from any debt. Unless the debtor appeals the order or seeks reconsideration of the order of dismissal within 14 days, the Clerk will automatically close the case.
If my case gets dismissed, can I file another one?
Perhaps. However, sometimes a case will be dismissed under Section 109(g) and the debtor will be barred from filing another case for a period of time.
Are my rights in any way limited if I file another case?
Perhaps. Upon the filing of the new case, the automatic stay will be limited to 30 days if a chapter 7, 11, or 13 debtor has had 1 other bankruptcy case pending within one year of the filing of the later bankruptcy petition and that first case was dismissed. The automatic stay shall not go into effect in a bankruptcy case filed by an individual debtor who has had 2 or more bankruptcy cases pending within one year of the filing of a later bankruptcy petition and those prior cases were dismissed. In order to obtain the full protection of the automatic stay in each of the foregoing instances, the debtor must file a motion with the Bankruptcy Court detailing the reasons for the previous case dismissal(s) and any changes of circumstances since that time which would justify the extension or imposition of the automatic stay.
Can the Judge advise me of my options during the bankruptcy case?
No. The Court cannot act as your legal counsel.
Can I speak to the Judge about my case?
No. Any communication with the judge without the presence of other parties is ex parte and not permitted. See also, What is a Motion?
What is a Chapter 7 Means Test?
As part of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 which became effective on October 17, 2005, a “means test” has been instituted to determine whether or not a debtor is entitled to a Chapter 7 Discharge, or whether such debtor must convert the case to one under another chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. The basic purpose of the means test is to compare monthly income and expenses to determine whether or not a Chapter 7 discharge would constitute an “abuse” of the provisions related to Chapter 7 in the Bankruptcy Code.
What is a matrix?
A matrix is a list of all creditors in a bankruptcy case, including the names and addresses of each creditor. This list is used for electronic noticing required during the course of your bankruptcy case. The matrix should be submitted at the time of the filing of your case. For more information click on the following: Creditor Matrix: Official Local Form 1.
What form of payment do you allow?
The debtor in a case may make payment for their initial filing fee, any subsequent filing fees, service requests, etc. by cash (if in person), money order, or cashier's check. No personal checks or credit cards can be accepted on behalf of the debtor. Law firm checks or credit cards on behalf of the debtor are accepted. Please be aware that the policies of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts do not allow the Clerk’s Office to provide change. Please have the exact amount.
Can I pay my filing fee in installments?
Yes. Bankruptcy Rule 1006 allows the debtor the right to apply for permission to pay the filing fee in installments. The debtor must complete and sign an Application and Order to Pay Filing Fee in Installments (Official Form no. 3A) that states they are unable to pay the filing fee except in installments. The application must state the proposed terms of the installment payments and that the applicant has neither paid any money nor transferred any property to an attorney for services in connection with the case. The entire filing fee must be paid within 120 days of the filing of the petition in four (or less) installment payments.
Can my fee be waived?
In lieu of paying the filing fee or filing an installment application, an individual chapter 7 debtor may file an application for waiver of the filing fee along with the bankruptcy petition. To qualify, the debtor must meet certain income and expense guidelines. The application must conform substantially to Official Form 3B and must be filed at the time of the petition.
If my case gets dismissed, or if I change my mind about filing, can I get my filing fee refunded?
No. The law prohibits the refunding of filing fees.
Do I have to have an attorney to file a bankruptcy case?
While it is possible to file a bankruptcy case, pro se (without the assistance of an attorney), it may be difficult to do so successfully. Bankruptcy is a serious and often complicated legal process. It is strongly recommended that a person considering bankruptcy consult with a competent bankruptcy attorney prior to filing a case. With very limited exceptions, corporations and other types of business entities that are formed under state law must be represented by an attorney.

For information on lawyer referrals click here: Obtaining Legal Advice in a Bankruptcy Case.

Can I fax file my bankruptcy case?
The District of Massachusetts does not permit fax filing of bankruptcy petitions. You must do so in person, or if you are an attorney and registered ECF user, you must do so electronically.
If I file for bankruptcy, will it stop an eviction?
The Clerk’s Office is prohibited by federal statute from providing legal advice. Questions pertaining to how a bankruptcy filing affects enforcement of an eviction proceeding should be directed to a bankruptcy attorney.
What is the difference between Chapter 7, 11, and 13 cases?
See Bankruptcy Basics link as well as the Guide for Pro Se Debtor’s.
What is Chapter 9?
This chapter of bankruptcy is only for municipalities and governmental units, such as school and water districts. For more information on chapter 9, click here.
What is Chapter 12?
This chapter offers bankruptcy relief to those who qualify as a family farmer or fisherman. There are debt limitations for chapter 12, and a certain portion of the debtor's income must come from the operation of a farming or fishing business. Family farmers or fishermen must propose a plan to repay their creditors over a period of time from future income, and the plan must be approved by the Bankruptcy Court. Plan payments are made through a chapter 12 trustee, who also monitors the debtor's business operations while the case is pending. For more information on chapter 12, click here.
What is Chapter 15?
This chapter provides an effective mechanism for dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency. For more information on chapter 15, click here.
May I convert my case from one chapter under the Bankruptcy Code to another?
Yes. A debtor, or any other party in interest, may file a motion to convert the case to any other chapter under which the debtor is eligible to be a debtor under that chapter. While conversion from one chapter to another is usually automatic, the Bankruptcy Court may deny conversion depending on the circumstances of the case.
What is a 341 meeting?
This meeting is referred to as the “meeting of creditors.” It is commonly referred to as a “341 meeting” because the authority to conduct the meeting is found in Section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code. All creditors are notified of the meeting so that they may attend, but their attendance is not required. Debtors must appear, testify under oath and answer questions by creditors and the trustee. This meeting is presided over by the trustee assigned to the case and is held approximately 40 days after the petition is filed. Debtors are required to provide photo identification and proof of social security number to the assigned trustee. A Debtor’s failure to appear may result in dismissal of the case.
What are exemptions?
Debtors are permitted to keep certain property in bankruptcy. The exempt property cannot use used to pay creditors. For more information on exemptions, see Bankruptcy Code Section 522.
Can I request a continuance of the First Meeting of Creditors if I cannot attend on the scheduled date?
You must contact the trustee assigned to your case for instructions. Please note, if a notice has already been mailed, you may be required to re-notice all of the creditors of the new date and time.
Is my Meeting of Creditors in Court?
No. Please pay close attention to the address of the location of the Meeting of Creditors. In Boston, the meetings are held in the same building as the Court but on a different floor. In Worcester and Springfield, the meetings are held in a separate building. Also, the Meeting of Creditors for certain chapter 7 cases in Eastern Massachusetts are held in Brockton.

The Bankruptcy Code prohibits the Court from attending or presiding over the meeting.

What is a trustee?
Under Chapter 7, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case by collecting and liquidating the Debtor’s non-exempt assets in a manner that maximizes the return to the Debtor’s unsecured creditors.

Under Chapter 13, an impartial trustee is also appointed to administer the case. The primary roles of the chapter 13 trustee are to determine the feasibility of a Debtor’s repayment plan for the court and to serve as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from Debtors and making distributions to creditors. For more information about trustees, visit the U.S. Trustee web site.

What is the function of the U. S. Trustee?
The office of the U. S. Trustee is the agency of the Department of Justice responsible for monitoring the administration of bankruptcy cases and detecting bankruptcy fraud. It is completely separate from the Bankruptcy Court. It is also responsible for appointing and supervising interim trustees to administer Chapter 7 cases, overseeing the Debtor-in-Possession, and appointing a standing Trustee in Chapter 13 cases.
What chapter is right for me?
Your decision whether to file bankruptcy and under which chapter to file depends on your particular circumstances. In general, Chapter 7 is appropriate when the Debtor has insufficient income to pay a portion of his/her debts, and the Debtor is not seeking to keep non-exempt property. Otherwise, if the Debtor has an income or property and can afford to repay at least some of his/her debts, Chapter 11, 12 or 13 may be appropriate, depending on whether the Debtor is an individual, partnership, corporation, or a family farmer. The decision whether to file a bankruptcy case and under which chapter is an extremely important decision and has tremendous financial impact. This decision should be made after obtaining expert advice from a bankruptcy attorney. For information on legal resources throughout Massachusetts, click here, or speak to the Pro Se Law Clerk for a referral to an agency in your area.
What is the automatic stay? When is it effective?
The automatic stay protects the debtor from their creditors. It requires all collection efforts, any harassment, and all foreclosure actions be immediately stopped by creditors when the case is filed. It permits the debtor to attempt a repayment plan or simply to be relieved of the financial pressures that drove them into bankruptcy. The automatic stay also protects creditors. Without it, certain creditors would be able to pursue their own remedies against the debtor’s property. Those who acted first would obtain payment of the claims and that would make it impossible for other creditors to collect anything. Bankruptcy is designed to provide an orderly liquidation procedure under which all creditors with equal rights are treated equally.
What happens if a creditor continues to collect on a debt after the petition is filed?
Parties who violate the automatic stay can, under certain circumstances, be held liable for damages and may be held in contempt of court. There are exceptions to the automatic stay. For a complete understanding, please read Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code or speak to a competent bankruptcy attorney. In chapter 13 cases, please read all of Section 1301.
How many copies of the bankruptcy petition, schedules, and matrix are necessary for me to file? How many copies are required for filing all other documents?
The Court only needs the original document. If a debtor or a party wishes to have a “filed” stamped copy of the petition or other document, then one additional copy is required. To have the court mail a “filed” stamped copy back to your address, a self-addressed, stamped envelope must be submitted with the extra copy with sufficient postage to cover the cost of mailing the “filed” copy.
Do I need to send copies of the petition to my creditors?
Not necessarily. The Bankruptcy Code and the Bankruptcy Rules do not require you to send copies of your petition, schedules or statements to your creditors. Within approximately 10 days after filing the case, the Court will notify your creditors by mail of your bankruptcy filing provided you provide us a complete creditor matrix. You are free to notify your creditors of your bankruptcy filing before the Court’s notices are mailed.
Are the documents I file in my bankruptcy case a part of public record?
Yes. The only document that is essential to the bankruptcy filing that is not a part of the public record is the completed and filed Official Form B21: Statement of Social Security Number. All other documents filed may be viewed by anyone with a PACER account, or at the public computer terminals in any of the public areas of the Clerk’s three divisional offices.

Other documents may be impounded, but that requires an order from the Court, which may only be obtained by filing a Motion.

If my Statement of Social Security number is not a part of the public record, why does the Court need it?
The Bankruptcy Code requires that notices to creditors give the debtor’s full social security number. When a creditor is being added to schedules later in a case, that creditor shall also be provided with the debtor’s full social security number. In addition, the social security number is an additional means by which your records may be retrieved, if you require them many years after the case is closed.
If I am a debtor, how do I report a change in my address to the Court?
The Local Rules require the debtor’s to keep the Court updated of any change in address for noticing purposes. The debtor must file a Letter of Change of Address stating your name and case number with the Court immediately upon change.
Is a Post Office Box sufficient for my address?
No. Even if you use a US Post Office Box for mail, you must provide a valid street address.
I have a restraining order against my ex, and I do not what them knowing where I live. May I have an exception?
Yes. When you bring your petition into the Court to be filed, please bring with you a copy of the order and alert the staff. The Clerk’s office will assist you in protecting your street address from the public. You should not mail your petition in if you have these concerns. For further assistance, please speak with the Pro Se Law Clerk before you file your case.
What about other personal information, such as account numbers, my children’s names?
Personally identifiable information is a term that is defined in the Bankruptcy Code to broadly include: certain names, addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, and social security numbers. The Bankruptcy Code aims to protect personally identifiable information to the extent reasonable possible. For instance, the trustee’s ability to sell property of the estate is restricted if it might include personally identifiable information about individuals who are not debtors but are connected to the debtor in some business transaction or otherwise. In some cases, the Bankruptcy Court may order the appointment of a consumer privacy ombudsman. The ombudsman will assist the Bankruptcy Court by providing information concerning any personally identifiable information that might be involved in the sale of property of the bankruptcy estate.

If a debtor is required to furnish information about a minor child, the debtor is only required to disclose the name of such child in a nonpublic record.

If requested by a creditor or the trustee, the Bankruptcy Court may order a debtor to file copies of tax returns with the Court. If a debtor is required to file tax returns with the court, it is the debtor’s responsibility to redact (cover up, black out or remove) personal information from the tax return, such as social security numbers, children’s names, dates of birth, and financial account numbers. The bankruptcy court is not responsible for deleting personal information from the tax documents. Guidelines for filing required tax information are available on the U.S. Court’s website at Director’s Interim Guidance Regarding Tax Information Under 11 U.S.C. § 521in the Interim Guidance Regarding Tax Information (pdf)

I just discovered an error in my schedules and statements? How do I correct it?
Tell your attorney immediately. They will know what will need to be done to ensure that the correct information is filed. If you do not have an attorney, you will need to amend. Amended schedules or statements must be noted as “Amended.” Also, please carefully review the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the Local Rules. You may need to file additional paperwork along with the Amended Schedules. If you need assistance, contact the Pro Se Law Clerk.
What if I discover it after my case is closed?
An attorney experienced in bankruptcy law should be consulted because the answer depends on the specific facts of the case.
How can I obtain information about my case or get a hard copy of my bankruptcy papers?
You should keep copies of your bankruptcy documents. However, should you need additional copies or certified copies, you may contact the clerk’s office for assistance. There may be fees associated with the request.
How can I get a case reopened?
Any party in interest may file a motion to reopen a bankruptcy case, with the applicable filing fee. The bankruptcy judge will determine whether or not to reopen the case and may hold a hearing on the matter.
How do I get certified copies of documents?
You may mail a written request, along with a $30.00 per document search fee plus a photocopy fee of $ .50 cents per page or a printing fee of $.10 per page if the document is in electronic form. The fee for certification is $11.00. Please include the case name, case number, filing date, and the title of the specific documents which you wish to have copied. In addition, please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Mail your request to the appropriate Clerk's Office location at which the case was filed, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) for return mailing.

You may also obtain copies at the court for the photocopy fee of $ .50 cents per page or a printing fee of $.10 per page if the document is in electronic form. If you wish to visit the court, there is no $30.00 search fee. The fee for certification is $11.00.

The court accepts payment in the form of either a bank cashier's check or money order made payable to: Clerk, United States Bankruptcy Court. No personal checks will be accepted.

What is a Motion?
A motion is a formal written request by a party to the Court. It requests an action and sets forth his or her grounds for the action requested. The request asks the Court to order a party to do something or to order the party to refrain from doing something. The party against whom the action is requested is the respondent. For more information about motions, please see Rule 9013 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, and Rule 9013-1 of the Massachusetts Local Bankruptcy Rules.
May I fax a Motion?
Only pro se parties and attorneys who have been granted prior permission by the Clerk to file documents at a time when their computers or the Court’s CM-ECF system is disabled may transmit documents by fax. Certain documents may never be filed by fax. For more information, please see Massachusetts Local Bankruptcy Rule 5005-4, Rule 9011 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and Rule 5(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fax numbers, may be found here.
How do I get a hearing date on a Motion?
It is not necessary to contact the Court for a hearing date. Upon receipt of properly filed documents, a hearing will be set automatically, and proper notice of the hearing date and time will be given to interested parties.
What is the wording for a “Certificate of Service?”
When you file a motion or pleading with the Court, you must file a written statement that you have mailed or delivered a copy of the motion to all interested parties. This is called a certificate of service. You must list the name and address of each person and attorney being served with the motion and the name of the party each attorney represents. You or your attorney must sign the certificate. It is very important to file a certificate of service with your pleadings. The Court may deny your relief if you do not file a certificate of service. Because the service of a pleading is critical to obtain the relief that you request, you are strongly urged to consult a bankruptcy attorney.

A Certificate of Service is usually on the last page of any document that you are required to serve on parties in interest in your case. The standard Certificate of Service states:

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I certify that on (insert date) a true and correct copy of (insert name of documents you are serving) were served upon the following parties by regular first class mail (list names and addresses of parties on whom the documents are being served making sure to include the case trustee and the U. S. Trustee).

Signature of person doing the mailing and the date signed.

For information on who must receive copies of pleadings, please consult the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the Massachusetts Local Bankruptcy.

Who do I need to serve a copy of a document on?
Who you have to serve is dictated by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the Massachusetts Local Bankruptcy. Some documents need only be served on parties in interest. Other documents must be served on all creditors in the case. Check the rules to verify what applies in your situation. Remember, the Clerk’s office cannot interpret the rules for you. If are having difficulty understanding them, consult with an attorney.
Will I have to appear before the judge?
Every bankruptcy case is different, and every bankruptcy case has its own unique issues. Some debtors go through the bankruptcy process without ever seeing the Courtroom or the judge. Whether you can expect the same will depend on your case and the issues it presents.
What is a reaffirmation agreement?
This is a voluntary agreement between a creditor and a chapter 7 debtor. The debtor agrees to pay all or a portion of an otherwise dischargeable debt. To be enforceable, the agreement must be filed in the debtor’s bankruptcy case before the entry of the discharge. The Court may schedule a hearing on a reaffirmation agreement, and the debtor and if represented, their attorney must attend.

Refer to 11 U.S.C. Section 524 Bankruptcy Code for detailed information.

What is the effect of a reaffirmation agreement?
The debtor is effectively waiving the discharge on a particular debt, which means that the debtor will have to pay it, even if there is a negative change in the debtor’s financial circumstances in the months and years that follow the bankruptcy case.
Do I have to enter into a reaffirmation agreement?
No. They are strictly voluntary. Debtors need not reaffirm a debt in order to repay it. The law does not prohibit a debtor from voluntarily paying a discharged debt; it only prohibits the creditor from attempting to collect it.
What does it mean to “redeem” collateral?
The Bankruptcy Code allows a debtor to "redeem" collateral. An individual chapter 7 debtor can keep certain kinds of collateral – tangible, personal property intended primarily for personal, family, or household use – by paying the holder of a lien on the property the amount of its "allowed secured claim." This amount is typically the lesser of the amount still owed to the creditor or the value of the property. The option to redeem applies only to property that a debtor has claimed as exempt or that the trustee has abandoned. With redemption, a debtor can often get liens released on personal household possessions for less than the outstanding debt. Unless the creditor consents to payments over time, a debtor must generally pay the redemption amount in one lump-sum payment to the creditor.
What is a Notice of Transfer of Claim mean?
Sometimes creditors will change names, sell an account or go out of business leaving a new creditor to step in the shoes of the old creditor. When that happens, the new creditor will file a Notice of Transfer of Claim directing that any notices and trustee disbursements be directed to the new transferred claim holder.
Should I do anything when I receive a Notice of Transfer of Claim?
The Clerk’s office cannot provide legal advice. If you have specific concerns about a Notice of Transfer of Claim, you should speak with a competent bankruptcy attorney.
How do I object to a creditor's claim?
When a trustee or a chapter 11, 12, or 13 debtor believes that the debt is not owed or believes the claim misrepresents the amount or kind of debt (e.g., secured or priority) owed, they may file an objection to the claim. Sometimes, an objection to claim can be initiated by filing an objection to the claim in the Bankruptcy Court; in other circumstances, it must be initiated by filing an adversary proceeding. If a debtor anticipates objecting to claims, he or she should seek the advice of an attorney as soon as possible because the objection process can be complicated and time sensitive.
I have a mortgage and I do not want to lose my house, should I reaffirm this debt?
This question calls for an analysis of the individual facts in a case. Anyone contemplating a reaffirmation agreement should confer with a competent bankruptcy attorney.
What is a discharge?
A discharge order issued by the Court permanently prohibits creditors from taking action against a debtor personally to collect debts incurred before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. The discharge does not prevent secured creditors from seizing collateral if payments are not kept up. The discharge does not prevent collection of debts incurred after the filing of the bankruptcy. Some debts are not dischargeable, and some debts are not dischargeable under certain circumstances. If you have questions about your discharge, consult with an attorney.

Some examples of debts that may not be discharged include: certain taxes and fines, debts not listed in your bankruptcy, alimony, child maintenance or support, debts from willful and malicious injury to another, debts created through fraudulent conduct or by providing false information to a creditor. For a complete list of non-dischargeable debts, review 11 U.S.C. Section 523 (as it applies to all Chapters) and Section 1328 (for Chapter 13 cases).

Can I be denied a discharge?
Yes. Under certain circumstances, 11 U.S.C. Section 727 provides the Debtor’s discharge may be denied in a chapter 7 case. The grounds for denial exist when the Debtor: (1) failed to keep or produce adequate books or financial records; (2) failed to satisfactorily explain any loss of assets; (3) committed a bankruptcy crime such as perjury; (4) failed to obey a lawful order of the bankruptcy court; or (5) fraudulently transferred, concealed, or destroyed property that would have become property of the estate. The complete list of reasons may be found in Section 727 of the US Bankruptcy Code.
What is the difference between a discharge being denied and a debt being declared nondischargeable?
The court may deny the Debtor’s discharge of all debts, or determine that a particular debt or debts are nondischargeable. If the court denies the discharge of all debts, then the Debtor will still be legally responsible for all the debts as if no bankruptcy petition had ever been filed. If only certain debts are ruled nondischargeable, the Debtor will still receive a discharge order. However, the Debtor will remain legally responsible for those nondischargeable debts.

For a discharge to be denied, either as to a particular debt or as to all debts, someone must file an adversary proceeding (lawsuit) with the Bankruptcy Court. That party must then prove one of the grounds for denial of the discharge or for a debt to be declared nondischargeable. If your discharge is not withheld or none of your debts is declared to be nondischargeable, then all the debts listed in your petition will be discharged upon the entry of the order granting your discharge.

May creditors be added after the discharge order was entered?
To do so, will require a Motion to Reopen the case (assuming it is closed) and a Motion to Amend, along with the appropriate fee. The Court will decide if the creditors may be added. If this happens, you should confer with a competent bankruptcy attorney.
What is Financial Management?
The "instructional course in personal financial management" in chapters 7 and 13 that an individual debtor must complete before a discharge is entered. There are exceptions to the requirements for certain categories of debtors, exigent circumstances, or if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator have determined that there are insufficient approved credit counseling agencies available to provide the necessary counseling.

The U.S. Trustee's Office provides a list of Approved Financial Management Course Providers

Please note that if this requirement is not fulfilled, the case will close without a discharge being entered.

How do I know which of my debts were discharged?
The discharge order sent by the clerk’s office will contain a general statement about the categories of debts that are discharged. The individual debts that are discharged will not be listed on the discharge order. Instead, the discharge order will provide that debts are discharged unless there has been a separate order denying a discharge of a specific debt. If there are no such orders, the debtor can assume that all debts have been discharged which fall into the categories indicated in the discharge order. See Bankruptcy Code Sections 523, 727(b), 1141 and 1328(a) and consult a bankruptcy attorney for more information on categories of debts that qualify for a discharge in chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy cases.
I received a discharge, but creditors keep calling and harassing me. What can I do?
If a debt has been discharged, a creditor attempting to collect the debt may be violating the discharge injunction. You should speak with attorney about the rights you may have.
What can I do if I disagree with an order entered in a case?
You may either file a motion for reconsideration of the order or file a notice of appeal. The person filing the notice of appeal becomes an “Appellant” and the other party, the “Appellee.” When an appeal is filed, the matter is referred to either the United States District Court or the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the First Circuit. The filing fee is $293.00 to Docket the Appeal and $5.00 for the Notice of Appeal for a total of $298.00. For additional information on appeals to either the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts or the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the First Circuit, see 28 U.S.C. Section 158(c)(1) and Rule 8001 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure.
When will my case be closed?
Since all cases have unique circumstances, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact time that your case will be closed. Many Chapter 7 no asset cases are closed within 90-days from filing if no disputes have arisen. Chapter 7 asset cases require that the trustee liquidate the assets which sometimes can take up to a year or longer. Chapter 13 cases remain open as long as the plan payments are being made, generally for three to five years after the plan has been confirmed. Chapter 11 reorganization cases are more complicated and may remain open longer than three years even if a plan has been confirmed.
How do I obtain information on a case, such as the debtor’s name, attorney, case number and status?
There are several ways to obtain case information:

a. Telephone
The telephone number for the Clerk's Office in Boston is (617) 748-5300; the telephone number for the Clerk's Office in Worcester is (508) 770-8900; the telephone number for the Clerk's Office in Springfield is (413) 785-6900.

The Clerk's Office has an automated system that provides 24-hour access to case information. The Voice Case Information System, or VCIS, uses a computer-generated synthesized voice device to read case summary information directly from the Bankruptcy Court's computer in response to touch-tone telephone inquiries. VCIS is provided free of charge. To use VCIS, call 866-222-8029.

b. Internet Access
Electronic case information and documents may be retrieved using a computer on the internet, via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records information system or PACER. To use it, you must be registered and have a login and password. For registration information, please call the PACER Service Center at (800) 676-6856 or go to their web site at http://pacer.uscourts.gov. Registered agencies or individuals can access the PACER system for the District of Massachusetts at https://ecf.mab.uscourts.gov. There is also a national U.S. Party/Case Index available at http://pacer.login.uscourts.gov. A per page page will be assessed.

c. In Person
Public access computers are available for use, at no charge, in the Records Section of Clerk's Office. Bankruptcy documents may be viewed in person or retrieved for printing or copying. There is a per page fee for printing and copy services.

Why do you ship files to the Federal Records Center (FRC) in Waltham, Massachusetts? How do I get a file from them if it has already been shipped?
Files are shipped to the FRC because of the limited physical space available at the clerk's office for storage. When cases are closed, they are sent to the FRC for storage. You may request that we retrieve the file with a $45 retrieval fee or you may deal directly with the FRC using the Request Form for Bankruptcy Case. If you are looking for only copies of documents, you may get them through PACER, or you may obtain them at the terminals located in the public areas of the Bankruptcy Court Clerk’s Office.
What are the consequences of filing for bankruptcy?
Depending on a debtor's financial situation and reasons for filing, the consequences of filing for bankruptcy protection may outweigh the benefits. Those considering bankruptcy should be aware of the following:
  • Filing for bankruptcy protection is not free.
  • Not all debts are dischargeable.
    Example: Secured creditors retain some rights which may permit them to seize property, even after a discharge is granted. Spousal and child support obligations and most tax debts are not dischargeable.
  • Within 15 days of the filing of a bankruptcy petition, schedules of the debtor's assets and liabilities must be filed. Failure to timely file the appropriate schedules will result in dismissal of the bankruptcy.
  • If a case is not dismissed and a discharge is entered by the court, the debtor is prohibited from being granted another discharge in chapters 7 and 11 within eight years.
  • Fraudulent information or acts by the debtor are grounds for denial of a discharge and may be punishable as a criminal offense.

Bankruptcy is a serious and complicated legal process. We recommend that debtors seek legal counsel to see how a bankruptcy filing may affect long term goals and objectives.

How can I get my bankruptcy off of my credit report?
The Bankruptcy Court has no jurisdiction over credit consumer reporting agencies and the court does not notify reporting agencies when a bankruptcy case is filed, nor can the court request that a specific record be changed. Information on your credit report has generally been reported by your creditors and is gathered from public sources by the reporting agencies.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1681, is the law that controls consumer reporting agencies. The law states that reporting agencies may not report a bankruptcy case on a person's credit report after ten years from the date the bankruptcy case is filed. Generally, most negative credit information is removed after eight years.

If you have a complaint about a company, organization or business practice, you may wish to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20580. The toll-free FTC help-line number is: 1-877-382-4357. That office can also provide further information on reestablishing credit and may be able to help you in addressing other credit problems. Further information about your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and corrections to credit reports is available on the FTC website.

When can I file bankruptcy again?
A debtor is not eligible for a discharge in a chapter 7 case if the debtor received a discharge under chapter 7 or chapter 11 in a case filed within eight years before the petition is filed. If the debtor received a discharge in a chapter 12 or chapter 13 case filed within six years before the date of the filing of a chapter 7, they are not eligible for a chapter 7 discharge. There is an exception: if in the prior chapter 12 or chapter 13 case (1) the debtor paid all "allowed unsecured" claims in the earlier case in full, or (2) the debtor made payments under the plan in the earlier case totaling at least 70 percent of the allowed unsecured claims and the debtor's plan was proposed in good faith and the payments represented the debtor's best effort. A debtor is ineligible for discharge under chapter 13 if he or she received a prior discharge in a chapter 7, 11, or 12 case filed four years before the current case or in a chapter 13 case filed two years before the current case. Each case is different and it is strongly suggested that you seek legal advice from a competent bankruptcy attorney on this matter.
I have a complaint about my attorney, who do I contact?
The written rules of professional conduct for lawyers are contained in the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct (http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/rpcnet.htm) If you have additional questions, you may contact the Office of the Bar Counsel 617-728-8750 or visit the website at http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/. Please also see Local Bankruptcy Rule 2090-2 and Local US District Court for the District of Massachusetts Rule 83.6.
Where can I obtain more information about Bankruptcy?
“Bankruptcy Basics,” published by the Administrative Office of the United States Court, provides basic information on bankruptcy that may be of use to debtors, creditors, court personnel, the media and the general public. Some of the information contained in this website can be found within the “Bankruptcy Basics,” but that site includes additional important information that is not included on this website. “Bankruptcy Basics” may be accessed by clicking here. You should also review the Pro Se Debtor’s Guide.