Personal Injury & Bankruptcy FAQs
Find Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions
At The Dellutri Law Group, PA, we’ve been doing this a long time—since 1998 actually. Over the years, we began to see some of the same questions being asked by our clients. In case you haven’t realized from the rest of our website, our firm has two main areas of practice: bankruptcy and personal injury. When people ask what we do for a living, we confidently reply that we provide hope to those who have lost it.
With that being said, we want to make sure these frequently asked questions pertain to the issue you are here researching. We’ve broken these up into common questions about bankruptcy and common personal injury questions so that you can narrow down your search.
Browse our FAQs here or contact us directly to speak to one of our Florida personal injury or bankruptcy lawyers about your specific situation.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bankruptcy & Debt Defense
Can a credit card company place my account in collections without notifying me?
Unfortunately, a creditor does not have to notify you before placing your account into collections. Although they don’t have to notify you, Florida has a consumer protection statute that says if the debt has been assigned for collections, the assignee has to send you a letter.
What is bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding in which a person who cannot pay his or her bills can get a fresh financial start. The right to file for bankruptcy is provided by federal law, and all bankruptcy cases are handled in federal court. Filing bankruptcy immediately stops all of your creditors from seeking to collect debts from you, at least until your debts are sorted out according to the law.
A decision to file for bankruptcy should be made only after determining that bankruptcy is the best way to deal with your financial problems. The Dellutri Law Group, PA offers many bankruptcy resources, but cannot explain every aspect of the bankruptcy process. Please contact us to speak with speak with one of our experienced bankruptcy attorneys in Florida about your specific case.
What do I need to do today to prepare for bankruptcy?
To prepare for bankruptcy, you need to start doing the following immediately:
- Stop using all of your credit cards immediately
- Make sure there was no purchase charges for 90 days, if possible
- Do not transfer any property out of your name
- Do not be tempted to withdraw retirement funds to pay bills
- Start gathering income tax records for the past three years
- Make copies of all pay stubs for the prior six months and continue collecting them until the filing date of your case
- If you have a judgment against you, do not warn the creditor’s law firm that you may be filing bankruptcy soon
- Continue to make payments to your secured creditors if you intend on keeping the property
- Perform a title examination on your real property to make sure there are no unknown liens
- Do not be tempted to pay back money to friends and family members so they won’t be affected by your bankruptcy
- Disclose all property you may have interest in
- Download your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com
- Start saving money for your bankruptcy filing
- Hire the best bankruptcy lawyer you can afford
How do I choose a bankruptcy attorney?
When choosing a bankruptcy attorney, use these three factors to make your decision:
Quality: You want someone who knows what they are doing. You can look for a bankruptcy attorney at www.nacba.com or you can look at American Board Certification at www.abcworld.org. It is best to find attorneys that have met rigorous requirements to be certified as a board-certified consumer bankruptcy attorney. Also, see how many cases the attorney has taken in his or her career.
- Value: You want someone that charges a fair fee for their services. Generally speaking, this will neither be the cheapest nor the most expensive attorney. The most expensive lawyer may not be the best and the cheapest lawyer may not be the best value.
- Service: Make sure the attorney has malpractice insurance. Make sure the attorney has no discipline problems with the Florida Bar. Check the internet to see if anything has been said about your attorney, positive or negative. Check to see if your attorney is active in the community and various bar associations. Someone who is involved in the community is someone that will take care of you. Read their website's content and check to see if it is has been updated recently. Check to see if they write any blogs and whether they are involved in charity organizations.
Am I a good candidate for bankruptcy?
You are a good candidate for bankruptcy if the following applies to you:
- You rely on credit cards to handle your everyday living expenses. If you can’t buy groceries or put gas in your car without relying on plastic, then you need help now.
- Your accounts are often over-drafted. Many in financial crisis write checks they are unable to cover with their own resources. Develop your own emergency fund. If you are single or the only income provider, you should have six months of cash to cover your living expenses. If you are married with dual income, you should have at least three months.
- You throw bills into the trash without looking at them and ignore calls from numbers you don’t know. If you are not opening up bills anymore and are automatically throwing them in the trash, then you need to take action now. This also applies to those getting collection calls at home or at work, and those being sued by creditors.
Don’t be tempted to use the wrong tools to handle your financial crisis. These include payday loans, cash advances, taking money from retirement accounts, and debt consolidation scams. A skilled professional, like a bankruptcy lawyer, can explain all of your debt relief options available under the law.
Can I file bankruptcy without an attorney?
Although it may be possible for some people to file a bankruptcy case without an attorney, it is not a step to be taken lightly. The process is difficult and you may lose property or other rights if you do not know the law. It takes patience and careful preparation.
Chapter 7 (straight bankruptcy) cases are easier. Very few people have been able to successfully file chapter 13 (debt adjustment) cases on their own.
Remember: the law often changes. Each case is different. This website is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
How will bankruptcy affect my credit?
There is no one answer to this question. Unfortunately, if you are behind on your bills, your credit may already be bad. Bankruptcy will probably not make things any worse.
The fact that you've filed for bankruptcy can appear on your credit record for 10 years. But, because bankruptcy wipes out your old debts, you are likely to be in a better position to pay your current bills, and you may be able to get new credit.
You won’t go through the rest of your life wearing a scarlet B on your head. Your credit reports will start getting better every day after you file your bankruptcy case. No later than 10 years after your filing, they will be completely clear.
Will I have to appear in court for my bankruptcy case?
In most bankruptcy cases, you only have to go to a proceeding called the "meeting of creditors" to meet with the bankruptcy trustee and any creditor who chooses to come. Most of the time, this meeting will be a short and simple procedure where you are asked a few questions about your bankruptcy forms and your financial situation.
Occasionally, if complications arise, or if you choose to dispute a debt, you may have to appear before a judge at a hearing. If you need to go to court, you will receive notice of the court date and time from the court and/or from your attorney.
Will bankruptcy wipe out all my debts?
Yes, with some exceptions. Bankruptcy will not normally wipe out:
- Money owed for child support or alimony, fines, and some taxes
- Debts not listed on your bankruptcy petition
- Loans you got by knowingly giving false information to a creditor who reasonably relied on it in making you the loan
- Debts resulting from "willful and malicious" harm
- Most student loans, except if the court decides that payment would be an undue hardship
- Mortgages and other liens which are not paid in the bankruptcy case (but bankruptcy will wipe out your obligation to pay any additional money if the property is sold by the creditor)
Can I own anything after bankruptcy?
Yes! Many people believe they cannot own anything for a period of time after filing for bankruptcy. This is not true. You can keep your exempt property and anything you obtain after the bankruptcy is filed. However, if you receive an inheritance, a property settlement, or life insurance benefits within 180 days after filing for bankruptcy, that money or property may have to be paid to your creditors if the property or money is not exempt.
Will I lose my home and/or my car if I file for bankruptcy?
While every situation is different, you will most likely be able to keep your home and/or your vehicle if you file for bankruptcy. This is true as long as your home/vehicle is exempt, meaning your equity in the property is exempt. Even if your home or vehicle is not fully exempt, you will be able to keep your property by filing for Chapter 13 and paying its non-exempt value.
However, if you put up your home or vehicle as collateral, or if you gave a creditor the mortgage on your home, your creditor has what is known as a “security interest” in the property. When this is the case, you could lose your home or vehicle if you are unable to pay those debts.
You may be able to keep property that you put up for collateral if you agree to continue making payments on the debt until it is fully paid, or you may be able to simply pay the creditor the value of the property. If you believe a creditor engaged in improper conduct or fraud, you may be able to challenge the debt and avoid losing your home or vehicle. In certain other cases, such as when you put up household items as collateral for a loan, you may still be able to keep your property; our attorneys can help you understand your options based on your particular situation.
What property can I keep in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case?
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, you can keep all of your property if your plan meets the requirements of the bankruptcy law. In most cases you will have to pay the mortgages or liens as you would if you didn't file bankruptcy.
What property can I keep under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy?
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you can keep all property that the law says is "exempt" from the claims of creditors. At your consultation, your Florida bankruptcy attorney will explain the allowable exemptions that fit your situation and how they operate to protect your property.
In determining whether property is exempt, you must keep a few things in mind. The value of property is not the amount you paid for it but what it is worth now. Especially for furniture and cars, this may be a lot less than what you paid or what it would cost to buy a replacement. You also only need to look at your equity in property. This means that you count your exemptions against the full value minus any money that you owe on mortgages or liens.
For example, if you own a $500,000 house with a $400,000 mortgage, you count your exemptions against the $100,000, which is your equity if you sell it. While your exemptions allow you to keep property even in a Chapter 7 case, your exemptions do not make any difference to the right of a mortgage holder or car loan creditor to take the property to cover the debt if you are behind.
What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy? (reorganization)
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case (reorganization), you file a "plan" showing how you will pay off some of your past-due and current debts over three to five years.
The most important thing about a Chapter 13 case is that it will allow you to keep valuable property—especially your home and car—which might otherwise be lost, as long as you can make the payments bankruptcy law requires to be made to your creditors. In most cases, these payments will be at least as much as your regular monthly payments on your mortgage or car loan, with some extra payment to get caught up on the amount you have fallen behind.
You should consider filing a Chapter 13 plan if you:
- Own your home and are in danger of losing it because of money problems
- Are behind on debt payments but can catch up if given some time
- Have valuable property that is not exempt, but you can afford to pay creditors from your income over time
You will need to have enough income in a Chapter 13 to pay for your necessities and to keep up with the required payments as they come due.
What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy (straight bankruptcy)
In a bankruptcy case under Chapter 7 (straight bankruptcy), you file a petition asking the court to discharge your debts. The basic idea in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is to wipe out (discharge) your debts in exchange for your giving up property, except for "exempt" property, which the law allows you to keep.
Property that is not exempt is sold, with the money distributed to creditors. If you want to keep property like a home or a car and are behind on the payments on a mortgage or car loan, a Chapter 7 case probably will not be the right choice for you. That is because Chapter 7 bankruptcy does not eliminate the right of mortgage holders or car loan creditors to take your property to cover your debt.
Can bankruptcy make me lose my animals?
If you own horses or other high-value animals, you may be understandably worried about losing those animals during bankruptcy proceedings. While animals are technically considered personal property, remember that some properties are “exempt.” In Florida, there is no specific exemption for animals; however, there is a “wildcard” exemption of $4,000 for those who do not use the homestead exemption. You may be able to use this exemption to keep your animals. Additionally, Florida bankruptcy code allows a $1,000-dollar personal property exemption which could be used to keep your animals in your possession.
Do I get to keep my tax refund?
If you file for bankruptcy, your tax refund will be considered part of your bankruptcy estate if you received it for income earned prior to filing for bankruptcy. If you receive a tax refund for income earned after filing for bankruptcy, you will be able to keep that refund. You may be able to protect your tax refund if you use an approved exemption or if you use it to cover necessary expenses before filing.
Will someone come out to my house to audit my stuff?
In most cases, the bankruptcy trustee will not need to come out to your house to audit your belongings. Rather, the bankruptcy trustee will typically look into your bankruptcy schedules and statements, 521 documents (tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, etc.), and your testimony provided at the 341 meeting to verify your non-exempt properties. Only if there is a discrepancy will the bankruptcy trustee typically need to conduct an independent investigation, which may include a visit to your home.
Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury & Auto Accidents
What is Florida’s no-fault rule?
You may have heard that Florida is a “no-fault” state when it comes to car accidents, but what exactly does that mean? Essentially, this means that, after a motor vehicle collision, all involved parties turn to their own insurance providers, regardless of who was at fault. In order to make this work, the state requires everyone to have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage on their auto insurance policies.
While the idea behind being a no-fault state is that it will be easier for anyone injured in an accident to receive medical treatment, PIP insurance does have limits. If your injuries are so severe they surpass your PIP coverage or meet Florida’s injury threshold, you may need to file a suit against the other driver.
How long will it take for my car to get fixed?
The extent of the damage to your car, as well as the make and model of car you drive, will play a large role in how long repairs will take. It’s a good idea to get several estimates from different car repair shops in order to determine how long you can expect your car to be in the shop. In general, for minor body work or bumper replacement, you can expect to have to wait one to a few days; for more extensive repairs, it could be a week, a few weeks, or over a month.
What am I going to do if I don’t have health insurance? I can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket to go to the doctor.
If you do not have health insurance and are worried about the cost of treatment, it is a good idea to call or visit a local Medicaid office and find out if you qualify. Additionally, remember that your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance will cover some extent of your medical costs. For more help on how to get medical care after an accident when you don’t have insurance and can’t afford treatment, contact us right away.
How long is the entire process going to take?
When it comes to personal injury cases, there is no set timeline. The total duration of your case will depend on a wide variety of factors, including whether it is possible to negotiate a fair settlement or if your case must be taken to trial. There is simply too much variation and too many factors involved to say how long your case will take without going over the details of your circumstances first. We invite you to contact us today to schedule a complimentary meeting with our personal injury team. During your initial session, we will go over the details of your case and answer some of your questions as they pertain to your specific situation.