When you file for bankruptcy, most creditors are forced to accept less than the amount owed for debts you have incurred. Because of this, section 341 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code gives creditors an opportunity to dispute your bankruptcy filing and to ask that your finances be closely examined. This opportunity comes during the “Meeting of Creditors,” also known as the 341 hearing on account of the section of law it comes from.
The 341 hearing can feel like going to court, but it isn’t. Meetings are typically held in a standard conference room, as opposed to the courtroom. Instead of a judge, a bankruptcy trustee presides over the hearing. Like a court, however, anything you say will be under oath. The hearing itself is usually very short — normally under 10 minutes.
In most cases, the meeting will consist of you, the bankruptcy trustee and your lawyer if you have retained one. Many creditors do not even show up for the hearing. Those who do come may have several reasons. For example, they may:
- Question recent purchases or cash advances to determine whether you ever intended to pay them back
- Determine if you intend to reaffirm secured debts, like a car loan or mortgage, following the bankruptcy
- Clarify inconsistencies between your bankruptcy petition and credit applications, such as asking about income or assets not reported on your petition that were reported as collateral for the loan
What to bring to a 341 hearing
The most important thing to bring to the hearing is the truth. Other important items to bring include:
- Valid photo identification and your Social Security card
- Proof of income
- Bank statements and investment documentation
- Your means test results
- Other documents requested by the trustee beforehand
During the hearing, the trustee will ask you specific questions designed to determine the veracity of your bankruptcy petition. He or she will verify that your financial resources are truly as limited as your bankruptcy petition indicates, and that all eligible creditors have been included in your paperwork.
If at any time before the hearing you realize that any information has been left out, file an amendment if time permits. If there is no time, speak with your lawyer about how best to address it during the meeting. It will not help anyone to assume it will go unnoticed.
While this post can help guide you on the basics of the 341 hearing, the best preparation you can do is to talk with a skilled bankruptcy lawyer. He or she can give you specific advice about what to say and what to expect, and can even attend the meeting with you as your advocate.