- What should the customer know about your pricing (e.g., discounts, fees)?
Unfortunately, other bankruptcy attorneys try to hide their fees so that they appear they are the "cheapest" around. Let me try to demystify the fees for filing bankruptcy. Chapter 7 - no matter what state you file in the court fee is $335. You are also required to take 2 courses, one course before you file and one after you file, the first course costs from $25 to $100, the second course costs $9.76 to $100. You should also obtain all 3 credit reports, which there is a free federal website to obtain all 3 but the reports are very very ugly and most of my clients in the past are only able to obtain 1 or 2 of the reports, and you want to obtain all 3 reports. Then there is the attorney fee, in which most attorneys charge a flat fee or at least they make it appear they charge a flat fee. A flat fee is a total amount that covers the entire bankruptcy. However, be very careful of the fine print in a retainer agreement that spells out an extra fee if your spouse is filing with you, or extra fees if you wish to reaffirm (keep) your car loan, and some attorneys charge additional fees if they have to prepare the means test. My fee is a true flat fee, it is $599.00, period. No gimmicks, no additional fees. If you have a spouse, no problem, I just have to add his or her name and social security # and income, and since I love numbers, I do this for free. If you require the means test calculation, guess what, I am a CPA and attorney, so doing the means test is like a crossword puzzle to me, so I do this for free as well. As for the first course you need to take, well I pay for it for you. The second course is completed after we file your case, so you take this course and pay the current fee, which is only $9.76. As for the credit report, I purchase all 3 credit reports in one easy to read report which also provides you your current credit score and your estimated score one year after filing the bankruptcy to help you with planning life after your case. This report costs me $40 for an individual and $80 for a married couple. Therefore, the total cost to you to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy if you choose my office is $335 court fee plus $599 attorney fee, for a total of $934.00. After your case is filed you pay for the second course which is $9.76. The only time this fee could be more, and you would find out in the free consultation is if you own a business--depending on your business there could be exponentially more planning and work required in your case. Chapter 13 - the court fee is $310.00. In the Southern District of Illinois the Court sets a flat attorney fee of $4,500 to pay the attorney you choose to represent you over a period of 3 to 5 years. In the Eastern District of Missouri, the flat attorney fee is $4,000. Some attorneys charge a portion of this flat fee upfront before your case is filed in addition to the $310.00 court fee. So, if the attorney says their fee for a chapter 13 is $810, then $310 goes to the Court and $500 gets paid to the attorney , and then they charge you the other $3,500 or $4,000 during the monthly payments throughout your case. In almost every case, I do not request any of the attorney fee upfront in a chapter 13 case, therefore you pay $310 to get your case filed quickly, and then my attorney fee, which is set by the Court is paid over the next 3 to 5 years. Also, I pay for the first course ($25) and I pay for the credit report and credit scores ($40/$80), so those are free to you. You only have to pay the $9.76 second course after your case is filed.
- What is your typical process for working with a new customer?
Although bankruptcy is a complicated process behind the scenes, my firm makes this process very simple to our clients. When filing for bankruptcy, you get the protection and relief you are looking for on the day you file your case--therefore, we follow a 3-step method to get there as soon as possible. FIRST APPOINTMENT - You come in for a FREE half hour to an hour (whatever it takes) consultation to explain your financial situation to me. Depending on your situation, I will ask all kinds of questions to ensure I know all the financial difficulties you face. At that appointment, I can tell you whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is best for you. And, believe it or not, I have told some clients that they should not file bankruptcy and I explain why and explain in detail what they should do. SECOND APPOINTMENT - If you decide to pursue bankruptcy, then you will return for a one-hour appointment to give me your detailed financial information, in which I hand you a list at the first appointment. I need tax returns, paystubs, info on the debts, etc. At the end of the appointment, I will give you a checklist of documents that I still need or I will tell you I have everything I need to finish your case. THIRD APPOINTMENT - I also call this the signing appointment. Once you get me the last of the documents that I requested, then I can prepare your case. At this appointment we review the legal documents that I prepared on your behalf, we make any changes, we sign the documents, then your case is filed.
- What education and/or training do you have that relates to your work?
Michael J. Benson, is a certified public accountant after passing the CPA exam and who also passed the Series 7 exam to become an investment representative years ago. Mike Benson is an attorney licensed in the state of Illinois and admitted to practice in the bankruptcy courts of the Eastern District of Missouri, Southern District of Illinois and Central District of Illinois.