If you're concerned about the cost of Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorneys' fees, you're not alone. Fortunately, paying for a Chapter 13 case is easier than most people expect. Why? Because you can include attorney fees in the Chapter 13 plan and pay over time.
You also won't need to worry about paying an unreasonable amount to your Chapter 13 lawyer. The bankruptcy court reviews attorney fees. The oversight helps ensure your Chapter 13 attorney's fees reflect the complexity of your case, the going rates in your area, bankruptcy lawyer availability, and the lawyer's level of experience.
But there's more involved in hiring a Chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyer than cost. The tips below will help you hire the lawyer right for you.
The average Chapter 13 bankruptcy filer will likely pay between $2,500 to $3,500 for a Chapter 13 case. However, the rates in your area could deviate substantially. Chapter 13 attorney fees vary depending on case complexity, location, and the availability of bankruptcy lawyers.
To find out how much you'll pay, research the going rate in your area. You might be able to get price quotes by phone. Still, many lawyers require an initial case evaluation, so be ready to talk about your financial situation.
Yes—Chapter 13 filers have an advantage. Although you'll pay more attorney fees in Chapter 13 than in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 filers can pay in installments through the Chapter 13 plan. By contrast, Chapter 7 filers must pay the total amount before their lawyer will file the case.
You'll still pay a portion of the retainer (the amount you agree to pay) upfront. However, you'll likely pay no more than half the total cost. Some bankruptcy lawyers ask for as little as $100 to start the case.
The bankruptcy court reviews attorney fees in every Chapter 13 bankruptcy and can order a refund of all or a portion of an unreasonable fee. To minimize the time spent reviewing fees, many courts have "presumptively reasonable" or "no-look" Chapter 13 fee amounts.
Although most lawyers charge fees within the presumptively reasonable range, an attorney can charge more if the case requires additional work. However, the attorney must justify the higher fee using the bankruptcy court's fee review procedure.
Your court's website should list presumptively reasonable fees. Use the Federal Court Finder tool to find bankruptcy court websites.
A flat fee should cover all essential Chapter 13 services, such as bankruptcy petition preparation and filing, 341 meeting of creditors and Chapter 13 confirmation hearing appearances, and creditor claim review. But it won't pay for unanticipated motion work or bankruptcy litigation known as an "adversary proceeding."
Your bankruptcy court might require a Chapter 13 flat fee to cover more services. Ask the lawyer for details and check the local rules on the bankruptcy court's website.
In most districts, a lawyer can charge more if additional needs arise during the three- or five-year repayment plan. For instance, your bankruptcy lawyer might need to file a motion asking the court for a repayment plan modification if your income is reduced. Replacing a car or large appliance on credit also requires approval from the bankruptcy court.
Sometimes, to pay for the needed work, a bankruptcy lawyer can ask the court to divert funds from creditors to the lawyer. However, it isn't always possible. Your lawyer can provide specifics.
Here are some questions you might want to ask a prospective Chapter 13 lawyer at the initial interview.
The attorney might begin by assessing whether you'd qualify for Chapter 7. Doing so will help the lawyer explain your options, including the length of your Chapter 13 repayment plan if choose Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you already know you'd like to file for Chapter 13, the lawyer will discuss the benefits and assess your Chapter 13 qualifications.
Sometimes you'll need a case filed quickly. If you're facing a lawsuit, foreclosure, wage garnishment, eviction, or another time-sensitive matter, ask if the lawyer can use the emergency bankruptcy filing procedure.
In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you don't lose property. Still, you must pay to keep anything you can't protect or "exempt" with a bankruptcy exemption. It's important to ask whether any nonexempt property equity will substantially increase your monthly Chapter 13 plan payment.
Ask the lawyer to estimate your Chapter 13 payment. Generally, you pay what you can afford in Chapter 13. But not everyone qualifies because bankruptcy laws require you to pay some debts fully, and it can get expensive fast.
For instance, you'll fully repay support obligation arrearages, overdue mortgage and car payments, and recent taxes. You might also pay more to keep property not covered by an exemption (discussed above). Because of this, people commonly pay much more in Chapter 13 than the "pennies on the dollar" advertised by some Chapter 13 lawyers.
Did you know Nolo has made the law easy for over fifty years? It's true—and we want to ensure you find what you need. Below you'll find more articles explaining how bankruptcy works. And don't forget that our bankruptcy homepage is the best place to start if you have other questions!
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We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.