If you are considering filing a Bankruptcy case, it is important to know that two counseling sessions are required in the case, one of which must be completed in the 180 day period before filing the case. With few exceptions, this is an absolute requirement and a case will be dismissed if this requirement is not met even if every other requirement in a case has been met. Counseling can be completed online, on the web, or in person, and it must be from an approved counseling agency. For a list of approved agencies in your state, go to the United States Trustee website, and use the drop-down menu to find approved agencies for your state (Georgia residents can go straight to this page). The sessions will generally last 60-90 minutes and the cost is normally $15 and up, depending on the agency. There is typically no benefit in choosing a higher price option, but be aware that on rare occasions our clients have experienced some technical issues with some of the lowest priced options. If you have problems on a site, do not hesitate to move to another agency if you have not yet paid. It is very important that when you finish the session you get a copy of the certificate, as it must be filed with the Court. Normally, this is emailed to you immediately after you complete the session but to be safe make sure you print the confirmation page that shows you completed the course, especially if your case needs to be filed immediately. If you do the course by phone, make sure you write down the date, time, counselor with whom you spoke and your confirmation number. This will protect you if there is a technical issue that delays your certificate. Do not wait until the last minute to take this course.
The second course (the “Debtor Education” course) must be completed after you file, and before you receive your Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 discharge. Although virtually all approved agencies will have both courses available, you can double check by again going to the United States Trustee website (or this page for Georgia residents) for a list of approved Debtor Education providers in your state. Much like the first counseling course, this is generally an absolute requirement for getting a discharge in your case. Although the Court typically mails a notice of this requirement early in the case, there are typically no follow-up warnings from the Court. When your case is otherwise finalized, the Clerk will close the case without a discharge. Although most courts are very liberal in allowing a debtor to re-open the case to file the certificate, it adds unnecessary expenses in the filing fee for re-opening the case ($260 for a Ch. 7 in Georgia) and attorneys fees. It also delays the entry of a discharge which, after all, is generally the most important event in a case. Most good Bankruptcy lawyers will send reminders to clients so they do not miss this step, but it is best to complete the session soon after filing the case to get it out of the way.
As an aside, if you take the course and realize that it does not change the fact that you have to file for Bankruptcy, you are not alone. Since this requirement was added in the great Bankruptcy overhaul of 2005, studies have concluded that the counseling courses are completely ineffective in preventing Bankruptcy filings. However, since the courses are a requirement for now and the time must be invested, the information may be beneficial to some extent in preparing for life after Bankruptcy.