Notice Guide  
Meeting with the Chapter 13 Trustee

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Don’t Worry
This is the Notice of the Meeting with the Trustee
What to Look at First
Item-by-Item Explanation of the Notice
Security at the Federal Building – Think: “Airport”
What to Bring to the Meeting

Don’t Worry!

At the top of the notice it says “Meeting of Creditors.”  Don’t panic!  It is very rare for creditors to come to your meeting with the trustee.  Big creditors like banks and mortgage companies know that it is a waste of time and money for them to send someone to these meetings in normal cases. Sending a person to the meeting to ask you questions about your bankruptcy paperwork costs them more than they want to spend.

The last big creditor to send someone to these meetings on a regular basis was Sears, and that stopped more than 10 years ago.  It has been even longer than that since any big creditor (except the IRS) has regularly sent people to Chapter 13 meetings.

Even if you owe the IRS a lot of money, if you’ve filed all your tax returns, usually no one from the IRS will be at your meeting.  Very rarely there are exceptions to this statement, but generally, the IRS representatives are only concerned about making sure that they have enough information so that they can prepare a claim form for your case if you owe taxes.  If you have filed your tax returns, they already have all the information they need and they won’t be at your meeting.

If the IRS records show that tax returns are missing, it sends people to trustee meetings to ask whether the IRS records are wrong and if the returns were actually filed.  If you say that the tax returns were already filed, they will ask you to give us a copy so that we can send the copy to them personally at their San Jose office.

If you say that the returns have not been filed yet, the IRS representative will ask you to give us the original tax returns instead of mailing them in, so that we can get them to the IRS office here in San Jose.  They are concerned that if you mail the tax returns to Fresno, it will be months before they can get them for their review.  Either way, whether we get the IRS copies of tax returns you have already filed, or we file your originals tax returns with them, the reason for their concern is that even the IRS has a deadline for filing a claim to be paid in your Chapter 13 case, and they want to make sure that they file the claim on time.  The description for Item 12 below will explain just why they are concerned about this.

The IRS representatives at these meetings are very polite and they are not there to harass you.  They simply wait for the trustee’s part of the meeting to be completed and then introduce themselves and ask about tax returns.  They don’t demand payment, or demand explanations, or threaten you, or want to humiliate you, or try to embarrass you.  They are professional career civil service employees whose job is to prepare the bankruptcy forms so that the IRS can get paid what the Bankruptcy Code allows it to receive in your case, and they don’t act as if they get a commission on what they collect from you.  Also, we will be there with you.

Our experience over the years has been that almost all of the IRS employees in the San Jose office dealing with bankruptcy matters (which is called  the IRS “Special Procedures Function”) are nice, friendly, people who behave in a very professional manner.

In our cases, it is extremely rare for any creditors to attend the meetings with the Chapter 13 trustee (other than the IRS).  We go for months with no other creditor showing up at the meetings, and usually when a creditor is there, it is because they received a notice of the meeting and they saw the line at the top which says “Meeting of Creditors” and they thought that they were required to come.  They usually don’t have any questions.

And, if any creditors do come to your meeting, either Jessica Begeman or Jim Gold will be there with you to protect you.  Creditors are allowed to ask you questions, but the types of questions are limited to what is on your court paperwork.  There is no judge at the meeting, but we can object to improper questions and instruct you not to answer them just as if you were in court.  Remember, it is very very unlikely that any of your creditors will be at your meeting, but if there are, we’re prepared to deal with them if they try to harass you, or try to intimidate you, or try to embarrass you.

It is normal to be nervous about the meeting with the trustee, but most people leave the meeting relieved and much more relaxed than they were when they went in, and feeling that they should not have been so worried about it beforehand.

This is the Notice of the Meeting with the Trustee

 

 

What to Look for First

Items 8 and 9 tell you when your meeting with the Chapter 13 Trustee will take place, and Item 10 tells you where it will take place.  (There are more details below.)

 

Item-by-Item Explanation of the Notice

Item 1.

This is your case number.  The first two digits are the year in which your case was filed.  The next digit is a 5 because San Jose is Division 5 of the Northern District of California.  The last four digits are a sequential number starting with 0001, which was the first case filed in San Jose for the year, and counting up to your case number.  If you filed late in the year and over 9,999 cases were filed, the 10,000th case has a 6 for its third digit and 0000 for the last four digits, and so on.

Item 2.

This is the date that your Chapter 13 petition was filed with the Bankruptcy Court.  It is the date your case was filed and the date your protection from your creditors started.

Item 3.

This space is for your name(s) and address.  Please look at the spelling of your name carefully, and tell our office if it is not correct.  If it is not correct the Bankruptcy Court will need to send corrected notices to your creditors.  This would not change your protection, it would just add an extra step to the process.

You are supposed to be mailed copies of various documents filed in your case, and this is the official address where these documents will be sent.

If you change your address during your case, please call us as soon as you can and we will change your official address with the court.  Your official address can be a post-office box or anywhere else you prefer to receive mail; it does not have to be your residence address is some other address is more convenient for you.

Item 4.

This is your Case Number again, just like Item 1.  Item 1 is there because traditionally court paperwork has a case number somewhere near the upper right-hand corner of the first page so that clerks can put the papers in the correct file.  Since now all court papers are filed electronically and are automatically filed in the correct case file, printed case numbers seem obsolete.  Item 4 is there to give notice to you and to your creditors of your case number.

Item 5.

This is your Social Security Number.  It is a requirement for this to be sent to your creditors so that they can search their records to identify any accounts that you have with them.  This is the only document which is sent out with your full Social Security Number on it, on other documents only the last four digits appear.  In fact, your Social Security Number is not available to anyone outside the Bankruptcy Court online; even our office cannot access your Social Security Number in your court file.

Item 6.

This is our address so that if someone files documents in your case they have an address so that they can mail us a copy.  If creditors file certain types of paperwork in your case, they are supposed to mail our office a copy, and this is the address they are supposed to use.

Item 7.

This is the name and address of your Chapter 13 trustee, Devin Derham-Burk.  This is the address where you send your Chapter 13 plan payments.  Her office’s street address is 983 University Avenue, Bldg C, Suite 100, Los Gatos, California 95032, if you need to go there for any reason.  She is the only Chapter 13 trustee serving the Bankruptcy Court in San Jose, unlike for Chapter 7 cases where there are several trustees.

Item 8.

This is the date set by the Bankruptcy Court for your meeting.  It is generally about seven weeks after your case is filed.  The Chapter 13 trustee has about ten cases scheduled for every hour usually starting at 9:30 a.m. and continuing throughout the day until about 3:30 p.m..  This allows about six minutes for each meeting.

Her usual day for these meetings is Monday, and if a holiday falls on a Monday those meetings are set for Wednesday of that week.  When there are so many Chapter 13 cases filed that one day is not enough to hold all of the meetings for that week, her Chapter 13 meetings are scheduled for time which is available for the meeting room on other days of the week.

We used to be able to predict just what date and time our clients’ meetings with the Chapter 13 trustee would take place.  Our time-slot was set at 9:30 a.m., and the meetings were held on every non-holiday Monday, or shifted to Wednesday.  That was before the number of bankruptcy filings caused the Chapter 13 trustee meetings to spill over onto other days at other times when the room was available, so now we have given up predicting our clients’ meeting times.  We still get the 9:30 a.m. time slot when it is available, but even that’s not always the case.

Item 9.

This is the time set for your meeting.  Your meeting will not be held before that time, but because of the schedule which is set by the Bankruptcy Court’s computer, sometimes the meeting for some case before yours might take more than six minutes and the meetings after that one will be delayed, so you cannot count on your meeting starting on time. And because each meeting’s start can be delayed by all of the meetings before it, delays tend to accumulate through the day.  There is a tendency for early meetings in the morning to start close to on time because the chances of a long meeting before them are fewer, and meetings toward the end of the day get closer to starting on time because as the day wears on, the trustee realizes that the day won’t end until all of the meetings are over, and so the meetings have fewer optional questions to be answered.

Meetings set for the middle of the day, can be delayed for as long as an hour or more, so if you have to leave the meeting room to put more coins into a parking meter be sure to tell the trustee (or your attorney) who you are and why you are leaving the room — that way the trustee will not call your name for your meeting and think that you were not there.

Item 10.

This is the location for your meeting.  In San Jose, meetings are held in the Federal Building in downtown San Jose, located between First Street and Second Street.  The building backs onto the north side of San Carlos Street.

Unfortunately, there is no free parking in the area.  There is limited on-street parking with parking meters on both First Street and Second Street on the block just south of San Carlos Street.  There is a city-owned pay parking garage across Second Street from the Federal Building with entrances on both Second Street and Third Street, and there are two privately-owned pay parking lots with entrances on both sides of Second Street just South of San Carlos Street.

The Federal Building actually consists of two connected buildings extending from First Street to Second Street with a covered walkway between them.  The entrances to both buildings are half-way between First Street and Second Street in the middle of the covered walkway.

The building with the meeting room is the three-story building on the south side of the walkway, the one without the revolving door.  Do not go into the other, five-story building, the one with the revolving door, the Bankruptcy Court is located on the third floor and most people who file bankruptcy never have a reason to go there.

There are usually two lines with people in front of the door waiting to go through security.  The line nearest Second Street moves faster because it is for people with appointments.  And since you have an appointment for your meeting, you should get into that line.  When you get into the building, tell the security guard that you have a bankruptcy meeting, or show the guard your notice from the court or our letter to you about the meeting — the guard will look at the meeting list and allow you to go through the security process to attend your meeting.

The meeting is in Room 130.  It is on the ground floor of the building, all the way down the corridor leading away from the security lobby, in the last door on the right, just past the restrooms.  There is a small waiting room just between the hallway and the actual meeting room.  Do not wait in the waiting room; there is no reason to stop there.  Just go into the meeting room.

We suggest sitting as close to the front of the meeting room as you can so that you can hear what the questions are.  There are no tricky questions, and you already know all the answers, but it is reassuring to see what the procedure is before your own meeting so that you can see that it is not a scary process at all.

Item 11.

This is the deadline for all creditors which are not governmental entities to file a proof of claim in your case.  Under the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, this date is 90 days after the date set for the meeting with the Chapter 13 trustee, Item 8.  If your meeting in postponed, this deadline does not change.

A “proof of claim” is a document which is filed with the Bankruptcy Court, which is the formal statement by a creditor that you owe the creditor money.  In order to meet this deadline, the requirements are fairly loose, and once a proof of claim (frequently shortened to “claim”) is filed it is what is called “prima facie” proof (proof at first glance) that you owe the money.  But this is just the starting point for determining how much money you owe this creditor, or even if you owe anything at all.

Item 12.

This is the deadline for governmental entities to file a proof of claim in your case.  The government (state, federal, and local) has a deadline of 180 days after your case was filed, the date in Item 2, in which to file a proof of claim.

The governmental agency which files the most proofs of claim in bankruptcy cases is the IRS.  Just like the rule states, the IRS has 180 days in which to file a proof of claim, and this is why the IRS sends people to the meetings with the trustee to ask about getting copies of tax returns.

Item 13.

This item is a date which is a deadline for creditors filing a lawsuit in the Bankruptcy Court to keep their debt from being discharged in your case.  This is a deadline for filing a formal lawsuit against you in the Bankruptcy Court based on fraud, or intentional injury, or giving false financial statements, and the like.

A lawsuit in the Bankruptcy Court has a formal complaint and summons just like in any other court.  It requires a formal answer which responds to all of the points in the complaint, and is an expensive process for a creditor to start, just like any other lawsuit.  Because of this, these complaints are rare.  Also, as part of our review of your situation before we file your case, if we find that there is any reasonable likelihood of a lawsuit being filed against you in your case, we will insist that you not file your case as a Chapter 7, and will suggest filing a Chapter 13 plan instead or some other alternative.

If a creditor challenges the dischargeability of a normal consumer debt, and loses, the Bankruptcy Code requires the losing creditor to pay your costs and attorneys’ fees.  So, it is not very common for these types of lawsuits, although credit card companies have computer programs which analyze their accounts during the time leading up to the filing of a bankruptcy to see whether you have increased your charges knowing that you were going to file and wipe out their bill.  If you are in financial difficulty, it is very important to keep from running up large credit card purchases in the last few months before filing bankruptcy so that the banks’ computers do not identify your account in this way.

Item 14.

This is the deadline for objections to the exemptions you have taken for your assets.  It is 30 days after the end of the meeting with the Chapter 13 trustee and usually is 30 days after the date in Item 8.

If your meeting with the trustee is postponed or is not finished on the date in Item 8, then the deadline for objections to your exemptions is postponed until 30 days after the end of your meeting.

In a Chapter 13 case exemptions have a different effect than exemptions in a Chapter 7 case, and to understand what their function is in Chapter 13 it is important to start with what they do in a Chapter 7 case.

How exemptions work in a Chapter 7 case:

In an bankruptcy case, the paperwork which is filed can be grouped in three categories:  lists of your assets, lists of your debts, and lists of other information about you and your budget.

The Chapter 7 trustee looks first at your assets because if you have any assets which are not protected from the Chapter 7 trustee, the trustee can grab them and sell them.  The trustee then takes the money from selling the assets and distributes it to creditors according to a priority list in the Bankruptcy Code.  The trustee receives a fee, almost like a commission, from the money collected.

Exemptions are used to protect your assets.  In California, there are two separate lists of exemptions to choose from, and for most people filing Chapter 7 cases, one or the other of the two lists will usually cover all of their assets.

You can think of exemptions meaning that those assets are “exempt” from the trustee taking those assets.  That is not exactly a correct legal description of exemptions, but in practice it works just fine.

So, in a Chapter 7 case, unless your assets are exempted, they are actually at risk of the trustee taking them, because the assets themselves are used to pay the creditors (and the trustee).

Exemptions in a Chapter 13 case:

In a Chapter 13 case, the trustee does not want to sell your assets.  Instead, one of the requirements of a Chapter 13 plan is that creditors in the plan must receive at least as much through the Chapter 13 plan as they would have received if you had filed a Chapter 7 case instead and the Chapter 7 trustee had sold your unprotected assets.

So, in a Chapter 13, exemptions are important because they can determine how much you have to pay your creditors.  This is not the same as saying that in a Chapter 13 case every creditor has to be treated the same as they would have been treated in a Chapter 7 case.  There are some differences which may be very important in some cases between what happens to creditors in a Chapter 13 case and a Chapter 7 case.

Item 15.

This is the date set by the court for a hearing on confirmation of your Chapter 13 plan.  “Confirmation” of your plan is the official approval of the plan by your Bankruptcy Judge.

You will not have to go to this hearing.  This is because the court procedures have been changed over the years and the results of the hearing are determined over one week before the hearing.  This may seem strange to you.  It seems strange to us.  And it is strange.  It makes no logical sense to have a hearing where the result is determined completely in advance, but that’s the way it is.

This is what will happen at this hearing:

If there are no objections to confirmation of your plan from anyone, including your judge, then your plan will be confirmed at that hearing.

But if there are any objections, even if all of the objections are resolved (but they have to be resolved before about ten days before the hearing!), then your plan will not be confirmed and your plan will be placed on the “Trustee’s Pending List” where it will sit until any objections are resolved – then it will be brought up at another confirmation hearing and confirmed at that time

When a plan is confirmed, all of the terms of the plan become “binding” on you and your creditors.  That is, everyone is required to comply with whatever is in the plan.

For example, most Chapter 13 plans set the values of cars and other vehicles which are being paid through the plan payments.  Because the law says that if you owe more for a car than it is would cost to replace, then you can split the amount you owe into two parts, the replacement-value part which has to be paid in full (with interest – the “secured” part of the claim), and the rest of the claim (which usually has no interest – the “general unsecured” part).  (There’s fine print here:  If the vehicle is for personal or family use, and the loan was to buy it, and the Chapter 13 case is filed under 910 days from the loan, you can’t split the claim – it’s all “secured.)”

If a car lender doesn’t like the value we put in a plan for their car, it has to object to confirmation of the plan.  If it does not object, then it is stuck with the value we put in the plan.  Since we use the Kelley Blue Book to set the value of the car, after making adjustments for condition, mileage, accessories, and so on, we feel that the value we put in the plan is correct.  When we get objections to our value from car lenders, we look at the paperwork they attach to their objection, and although it is for the same make, model, and year of car, the lender’s value usually is for a car which has a much lower mileage than our client’s actual car, and they use a value for a car in “excellent condition” as well.  Sometimes it takes a while to resolve these objections, and very rarely they involve  a short trial.

Item 16.

This is the time of the confirmation hearing.  Again, since August 2011 when the Trustee’s Pending List was created, the confirmation hearing shown on this meeting notice has been made almost a formality, and there is no real reason for anyone to go to it other than a representative of the Chapter 13 trustee and the Bankruptcy Judge.  Once each month for each of the three Bankruptcy Judges in San Jose these confirmation hearings are held at the same time as hearings where there are actual disputes about plan confirmation.  The other two or three times per month for each judge, the Chapter 13 trustee attends by telephone because at these hearings, other than the official confirmation of plans without objections, nothing much else happens.

Item 17.

This is the location where the confirmation hearing will take place.  You are welcome to attend the confirmation hearing, but don’t expect anything exciting to occur, and don’t expect an opportunity to do anything but watch.  If you do attend, there will be a copy of the calendar in the holder on the wall outside the courtroom, and one or more on the podium at the front of the courtroom – feel free to go up and look at it, or to ask the judge’s clerk (who sits in the lower area between the podium and the judge’s bench) where you are on the list.

Before the confirmation hearing, the court generally posts a calendar of the cases to be dealt with on its website.  The time for posting this varies depending on the work load at the court.  The court website is http://www.canb.uscourts.gov and to find the calendar, go to the tab along the top labeled “Calendars” and then click on your judge’s name.  Then click on the link for the date and time of the confirmation hearing, Items 15 and 16, and finally click on the .pdf file that appears on the next page.  Please bear in mind that this posting sometimes is done only a few hours before the hearing, and sometimes only minutes before it.  Occasionally, for some reason it is not posted at all, but this is rare.

If you have any questions about this, please call our office.  If this is the kind of hearing where something might happen on any of our cases, either Jim Gold or Jessica Begeman will be there, and of course you should feel free to ask us any questions you may have about any of this.

Item 18.

This is the address of the Bankruptcy Court.  This is here so that anyone wanting to file any documents in your case has an address for mailing them.  This address is used by creditors who mail in claim forms, although most creditors file claims electronically now, in the same way we filed your case, so they probably don’t need this.

You will probably never need to use this address, but one thing worth knowing is that all of the documents filed in your case (except the one with your Social Security Number on it) are available online, and the public area of the Bankruptcy Court has two terminals where you can access all the court records.  We have access to these records as well, but we are charged ten cents per page to look at them online.

 

Security at the Federal Building – Think: “Airport”

The Federal Building has security just like the airport.  In order to go to your meeting, you will have to pass through the security checkpoint in the lobby.  You will have to place the contents of your pockets and anything you are carrying into a tray so that it can pass through an x-ray machine, and you will have to walk through a metal detector.  Most people find that they will have to take off their shoes, wristwatches, bracelets, and other items with metal that registers on the metal detector.

Please do not try to bring in anything that might be considered a weapon.  In addition to the normal definition of weapons as guns and knives, other objects which the security guards will not allow into the building include fingernail clippers which have a knife blade, sewing scissors, some knitting needles, tools like screw drivers and pliers, and so on.

If you do bring something that security will not let into the building, the security guards are not allowed to keep it for you until you leave the building.  You will have to take it back to your car, or you will have to throw it away, or you will have to go out and hide it in the bushes somewhere and hope that nobody takes it.  None of these choices is good, so the best thing is to check to make sure you bring nothing with you that will not be allowed into the building.

You will need to have a valid government-issued photo identification in order to enter the building.  Do not try to explain that just because your validly-issued driver’s license has expired and is no longer valid for diving doesn’t mean that somehow you have turned into a terrorist and have to be kept out of the San Jose Federal Building.  Do not even ask why it is okay for people going to the Social Security Office on the second floor of the same building don’t need any identification to go in, but you do.  (They’re escorted in.  You can’t be escorted in.)

Do not argue with the security people.  They do not make up the rules, and they don’t think that the rules make sense either, but they will be fired if they don’t enforce the rules, no matter how little sense the rules make.

The kind of photo-identification which will allow you to enter the Federal Building are California (or other state) drivers licenses, and state-issued identification cards, passports, federal employee identification cards, and military identification cards, but most other things do not seem to work.

 

What to Bring to the Meeting

The Chapter 13 trustee will want to see photo-identification.  The same valid government-issued photo identification used to get into the building will also work so that the Chapter 13 trustee can verify that you are the person who file bankruptcy.

Also, the Chapter 13 trustee will want to see proof of your Social Security number.  The first choice is your original Social Security card, but a Medicare card with your Social Security number on it will work as well.  Letters from the Social Security Administration or from the IRS with your full Social Security number on them are acceptable.  If you cannot find anything official with your Social Security number on it, a copy of a filed federal income tax return will work, and since we will already have sent a copy of your latest federal income tax return to the trustee about a week before the meeting, both the trustee and we will have copies at the meeting, so you do not have to worry about this requirement.  Also, since the Social Security Administration has an office on the second floor of the same building, if necessary you can go to that office and after (waiting in your turn to see someone there) you can get a statement of your Social Security number from them on their form or officially stamped by them, and that will work.

You do not have to bring the copy of your court paperwork we sent you.  We will have all of the original documents, as well as all of the other paperwork we copied that you brought to our office.  We will have all the bills, paystubs, tax returns, and everything else.  And we probably won’t need any of it, but we will have it anyhow, just in case the trustee has a question about anything on it.  This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we try to have all the answers with us.

You might want to bring a book or a magazine to read while we wait for your name to be called.  Don’t bring knitting because the security people might not like your knitting needles or scissors.  Handheld video games are okay as long as they don’t make noise and disturb people.  It probably won’t be a long time before your meeting, but you might want to bring something to occupy the time just in case.

 You can bring your children, friends, relatives, or anyone else whom you don’t mind being there, or who could help you or who need your help.  This is not a social event, but if you have someone who can accompany you and you would feel better if they came along, then by all means, ask them to come with you.  Just tell the security guard as your enter the building that this person is with you for the meeting so that they aren’t kept out of the building because they don’t have an appointment, and please tell the person with you that they will need photo identification also and not to bring anything which the guards will not allow into the building.  Children are not expected to have photo identification.

The meeting is very informal.  The only thing formal about it is that you are sworn to tell the truth.  There is no judge there, and there is no requirement to dress in any particular way.  On another page of this website we have a description of the meeting which gives you a little more detail of what take place.