CHAPTER 7 AND THE 341 MEETING
When you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you will have to go to a hearing called the 341 hearing which is also known the Meeting of Creditors. The first thing to understand is that your attendance is mandatory. The second thing to understand is that this hearing is normally expected to last about 5 minutes. The third thing to understand is that it is very difficult to get the Court to change the date or time of the hearing. All of your creditors have been notified of this hearing and it is a chance for the creditors to ask questions also should they want to ask questions or simply get some additional information. Only extreme illness will allow you not to attend this hearing. Before you come to the hearing, re-read what you have said is true and filed on your behalf. Too many debtors simply do not take this simple step and make their hearings difficult for them. At the hearing, the debtor must testify and if the debtor does not remember what was in the paperwork, it is hard to testify that the paperwork is correct.
You will be put under oath and if you lie, you can and probably will be punished. The District of South Carolina has a long and proud history of punishing those who lie or fail to tell the entire proof. If you want to commit bankruptcy fraud, you may want to file in a different district as you stand a very good chance of being punished for not being truthful. If you decide you want to file, please do try and hire me and try to convince me to help you in your scheme to not tell the truth.
A reading of 11 U.S.C. Section 341 states that this meeting shall be a two part meeting where the creditors first meet with the Trustee handling the case and when that is concluded the debtor(s) are then examined. In the real world, there is never a meeting of the creditors before the Trustee begins the examination of the debtor(s).
At the 341 hearing, you must produce your social security card and a government issued photo identification. This may seem like a silly requirement, but, more than one time it has been discovered that a debtor has been either using the wrong Social Security Number for years without realizing it or has intentionally been using an incorrect Social Security Number.
The photo identification is important because, on more than one occasion, one spouse has used another person to fill in for the real spouse. This is a good way to make creditors go away so that the real spouse may not find out that he or she has large bills outstanding. Unfortunately, this happened enough that this rule has been put into effect. There have been situations where parents have used their children’s Social Security Numbers and when the child was approaching the age where he or she might actually need to use it, a bankruptcy would clean up that Social Security Number.
With ID theft such a problem, if someone has been using a Social Security number illegally and creditors are starting to try and investigate the debt, filing bankruptcy was a good way to end a creditor’s interest in looking further into monies owed.
The 341 hearing is critical to a Chapter 7 debtor’s case. This is usually the only time a Trustee will be asking questions of the debtor. If the questions are answered clearly and accurately, the Trustee will usually declare the case either an asset or no asset case at that time. If the case is declared an asset case, a debtor who is properly prepared should not be surprised. If the Trustee or creditors have more questions, the 341 meeting can be continued so that the debtor comes back or a separate meeting called a 2004 meeting is held to answer more questions.
In the larger or more complex Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases, it is common that an additional 2004 hearing is held at a later date. This is done so that other debtors are not forced to wait hours while one debtor is being questioned.
When you have finished the 341 hearing, the words you want to hear are that the Trustee has examined the debtor, the paperwork has no deficiencies and the case is a no asset case. That is what you will hear in most cases.
This means you are almost finished and will be receiving your discharge of your dischargeable debts in about 90 days.