Start Your Questionnaire


Thanks for visiting the bankruptcy information page of Trigg Law Office in Missoula. To get a quick start, click the link above to Start Your Questionnaire. We will be in touch with you soon. 

Remember, filling out the form does not turn you into a client or us into your lawyers. For that, we need to meet with you, gather detailed information, reach an agreement between ourselves, and sign a contract. However, this page will point you in the direction of a fresh start financially. Best of luck to you!

Meanwhile, we have provided a lot of background information on this page to give you an idea of what you're getting into. We can't answer everyone's questions here, so when you meet with us, let us know what additional information would help you.

People sometimes need to get rid of their debt. They need a fresh start financially. We are a debt relief agency. We help people file bankruptcy petitions to obtain relief under the bankruptcy code. We focus on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases but can give you the names of lawyers handling other chapters. We represent people and businesses in bankruptcies in central western Montana, that is, in Missoula, Ravalli, Sanders, and Mineral Counties. Our cases are heard in Missoula. If you live somewhere else in Montana, we recommend that you hire a lawyer who takes cases that will be heard in Great Falls, Billings, Kalispell, or Butte.

We can't give you bankruptcy advice here. To do that, we must understand your financial situation in detail.

However, we can report why a lot of Montanans filed bankruptcy, we can tell you something about the bankruptcy system, and we can describe how we handle bankruptcy cases in our office. Then, if you'd like to stop by for a meeting, we can review your situation in more detail and help you decide what you want to do next. (And don't worry, if you decide not to hire us, the meeting is free.) To set up a meeting in Missoula, please send an email to or, or call us at 406-721-6778. We keep regular business hours, and since our clients are often busy with work, we also have evening and weekend hours available by appointment.

Neither visiting this website nor meeting with us means Trigg Law Office represents you. If, after our meeting, you want to hire us and we can help you, you should sign our attorney-client contract and pay our initial fee. You have to do both to hire us. Then we can get to work on your case.

Why people file bankruptcy cases  

In Western Montana, people file bankruptcy cases because something has gone seriously wrong with their financial situation. Sometimes the problem comes on the income side, sometimes on the expense side. Some bankruptcy petitioners see the writing on the wall quickly, while others do everything they can for years to avoid having to file bankruptcy. Here are the major reasons for filing in this part of the country.

Medical bills

Everyone gets sick from time to time, but sometimes people end up with especially expensive illnesses -- cancer, heart attacks, unexpected surgery -- and sometimes people have no insurance or are denied coverage. Even with insurance the deductibles and co-pays can be crushing if you're sick enough. There is really no such thing as a medical bankruptcy, but sometimes it is the medical bills that push people into bankruptcy. For the future, find out whether Obamacare could help you and your family.

Job loss

Nearly everyone in western Montana meets living expenses with a paycheck. This works fine as long as there is a paycheck, but if someone loses a job or suffers a big reduction in hours, their expenses can become overwhelming. For the last few years, we have been luckier than the rest of the country, but recently jobs seem to be vanishing. Truckers are looking at higher costs and fewer loads. Loggers have fewer places to sell logs. Local businesses are shutting down. In December 2009, the Smurfit-Stone mill at Frenchtown announced it was closing. In January 2010, we got similar announcements from Sportsman's Surplus and Macy's in Missoula. A couple of weeks later, Montana RailLink announced that it was laying off part of its workforce in Montana, and then Missoula's Community Medical Center made a similar announcement. The Montana state government and the Missoula city government are both looking at ways to save money, and since a lot of their money goes to making payroll, we might be looking at significantly higher unemployment than we have been used to. This job loss is likely to translate into more bankruptcy cases.

Business reverses

Just like people on paychecks, the self-employed and the people running small businesses are also looking at hard times. If their customers are out of work, the business's cash flow is going to go down. Businesses that depend on other businesses for timely payments do not always get them. And businesses that rely on steady inexpensive credit through the banking system might find credit they depend on has been turned off. These pressures do not necessarily lead to bankruptcy, but sometimes even a creative, hard-working business owner cannot put together a better business plan than bankruptcy.


These days, we refer to "divorce" as "dissolution of marriage," but from a financial standpoint both names mean the same thing: the cost of two households instead of one, fees for mediators and lawyers, and enough misery that it's hard to keep up your income flow. The interaction of bankruptcy and divorce can be tricky, and if you find yourself in the midst of both at the same time, get advice from your bankruptcy lawyer and your divorce lawyer about how to handle your legal situation.

Judgments, garnishment, attachments, foreclosure

All these come down to the same thing: someone else has the legal right to take property away from you.  What you lose might be your bank account, part of your paycheck, your house, or your car.  The reason might be because you fell behind on a secured debt or because you lost a lawsuit.  You might not be able to recover the property you've already lost, but it's worth talking to a lawyer to find out if bankruptcy will prevent nasty surprises in the future.

Other reasons

I have covered the main reasons people file for bankruptcy in western Montana. One reason I rarely see is a deep desire to cheat creditors. Besides being slimy, it can be a federal felony. I suppose there are a few people like that, and every once in a while one comes to me. Generally, they do not like me and they take their business elsewhere.  I can't say I really mind. However, it has been my experience that nearly everyone in western Montana who files bankruptcy does it reluctantly, after having explored all the other reasonable options. People have been backed into a corner financially, and bankruptcy is the only remaining way they can solve their money troubles. 

How the bankruptcy system works (the short explanation)

Bankruptcy was put into the original version of the United States Constitution, and it's been there ever since. The bankruptcy system replaced debtors' prisons, a good thing since the prisons only fed prisoners who bought their own food. (Yes, I said bought.) The current bankruptcy system gives honest people a chance to restart their financial lives without a detour through prison. Since being created, the bankruptcy system has given a lot of people, some famous and some not, a fresh financial start, people like Walt Disney, Kim Bassinger, and Mark Twain. If you would like to read how the bankruptcy system describes itself, click on the attachment at the bottom of this page. If you would like our explanation, read on.

How a bankruptcy case can help you get a fresh financial start

Filing a bankruptcy case suspends all ordinary collection efforts by your creditors. This means the phone calls stop, and the wage garnishments, the attachments of bank accounts, and the lawsuits. At the end of a successful bankruptcy case, your unsecured debts are discharged. Your creditors cannot even ask you to pay those debts. Some debts survive a bankruptcy case, including any secured debts that you choose to keep, most taxes, and most student loans. After the bankruptcy case is over (and sometimes even sooner), your income belongs to you again. Most people who file a bankruptcy case get to keep all of their property, since Montana and federal exemption laws are relatively generous. A few people lose property because it is not protected by law. For example, if you are entitled to a tax refund for the year in which you file your  bankruptcy case, you will probably lose part of the refund. The exact bundle of costs and benefits from a bankruptcy depends on your particular situation and on which bankruptcy chapter you use. A lawyer can help you sort through the details.

The basics you should know about bankruptcy chapters 

The Bankruptcy Code is divided into chapters. Some of the chapters regulate how the bankruptcy process works; four chapters set out the rights and responsibilities of debtors in specific situations.  If you file a bankruptcy case, you will use one of these four chapters. Here is a quick summary.

Chapter 7

About 3/4 of all individual debtors use Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 7 cases are often finished in less than a year. Debtors get to keep their exempt property, and the unsecured debts they owe at the start of the bankruptcy case are usually discharged. Debtors get to keep their future earnings and are able to get a financial fresh start shortly after filing their bankruptcy cases.  Chapter 7 is usually the cheapest way to file bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 

About one fourth of all individual debtors use Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Debtors whose income exceeds Montana's median income based on household size generally must file a Chapter 13 case rather than a Chapter 7 case. Chapter 13 debtors must have regular income. Chapter 13 cases last from 3 to 5 years. During that time, debtors must pay their Chapter 13 trustee a court-ordered amount each month. This money is used to pay the costs of administering their bankruptcy cases (including their Chapter 13 trustee's fees and their lawyer's ongoing fees) and to pay proportionate shares of money to their creditors. Over the life of your plan, you should count on paying upwards of $2500 (and sometimes well upwards of $2500) to meet the administrative expenses of your case. The Bankruptcy Court must approve debtors' repayment plans and their budgets. Debtors must make required payments to the Chapter 13 trustee on time and in the correct amount. If they fail to comply with their plans' requirements, including making their monthly payment, their Chapter 13 trustee will move to dismiss their case. In Montana, only about 60% of Chapter 13 cases are completed successfully. On the other hand, Chapter 13 can confer benefits that Chapter 7 does not. For instance, in Chapter 13 debtors can sometimes save nonexempt assets, catch up on house and car loans if they have fallen behind, get enough time to sell real estate at better than fire sale prices, avoid having to sign reaffirmation agreements on their secured debt, and pay delinquent federal and state taxes without penalty and interest. You can get additional information about how Montana's Chapter 13 trustee administers Chapter 13 cases by visiting his website: In particular, you should review the 18 duties of a debtor in a Chapter 13 case.

Chapter 12

Chapter 12 is similar to Chapter 13, but it is of only available to family farmers and family fishermen. It is uncommon in western Montana.

Chapter 11

Chapter 11 is the bankruptcy chapter you hear about most often on the news. Chapter 11 is what General Motors and Chrysler used to restructure themselves in the spring of 2009. It is mostly used by businesses, although it is available to individuals as well. Chapter 11 cases tend to be much more expensive and complicated than cases filed under Chapter 7, Chapter 13, or Chapter 12 of the Bankruptcy Code. In a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, debtors can usually continue to operate their businesses, but the court and their creditors must approve their plans to restructure their debts. Unlike the other chapters, there is no bankruptcy trustee under Chapter 11 unless the court decides that one is necessary. If the court appoints a trustee, the trustee will take control of your business and your property. My office rarely handles Chapter 11 cases, but if, after talking with you, it appears that you might need to use Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, I will be happy to give you the names of Montana lawyers who do represent Chapter 11 debtors.

Property you can keep

Most bankruptcy petitioners keep property of moderate value, unless they have put it up as collateral for a debt. Montana and federal law give good protection for most items owned by Western Montana households. This means that generally people keep their household possessions, clothing, and retirement accounts. Collateral backing secured debt is trickier. You should discuss car loans and house loans with your lawyer, as well as loans secured by boats, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, trailers, and the like. If you bought any property using credit provided by the retail store, talk it over with your lawyer. You should also discuss tax refunds, legal claims you might have against someone, possible inheritances, and the money in your bank account. The answers to your questions about all these things will depend on your specific situation. I cannot give a "one-size-fits-all" answer that would work on a webpage. But don't get discouraged. Most people who file bankruptcy really do manage to keep all of their property. Talk to a lawyer to find out if this includes you.

What about credit card debt

Finally, I have a simple answer. Stop using every credit card, right now. If you think that you cannot or should not do this, talk to a lawyer right away, before you use your credit card again. You should also talk to a lawyer before you pay anything more to a credit card company. Find out if your payment is really going to do you any good before you make it. And what about collections? The best thing you can do to stop collections is to file a bankruptcy. In nearly all cases, the Bankruptcy Court will order your creditors to stop collection efforts immediately. You should also talk to your lawyer about how to deal with creditors and collection agencies while you are getting your bankruptcy information ready. You might be able to stop phone calls with a simple letter to a collector. And, if you are sure you want to file bankruptcy, limit your side of the conversation with a collector or creditor to one simple word: "Goodbye."

What information you need to provide

You need to give the bankruptcy system specific information on each of your debts and each of your assets. You need to provide income information for up to seven months before your bankruptcy case is filed. You need to list your anticipated income and expenses. You need to provide all requested financial history. Your bankruptcy trustee will request many documents. See "What papers you need to give the bankruptcy system," below. The trustee might also request additional information. You have a duty to comply with all your trustee's lawful requests. We will help you organize and analyze the information you provide, and we will suggest additional places you might look to get the necessary information. Ultimately, though, you are responsible for supplying all the information the bankruptcy system requires.

How you benefit by being absolutely truthful in your bankruptcy

The most important rule in all of bankruptcy is this: be completely honest and thorough about the information you give the Bankruptcy Court. Do not do anything that might mislead the Court. You will be signing your bankruptcy paperwork under penalty of perjury, and if you do not provide complete, accurate information, you could be found guilty of a federal felony. On the other hand, by providing complete, accurate information, you will be doing everything you possibly can to be sure your bankruptcy goes as smoothly and quickly as possible.

How bankruptcy handles secured debt

Many people have secured debt. The most typical examples are house loans and car loans. With secured debt, if the debt is not paid, the creditor can take the collateral, which is usually the property being bought with the loan. For each secured debt, you have three choices under current bankruptcy law.


You can redeem the secured property by paying the debt. Although you might not have ready cash just after filing a bankruptcy case, you might be able to get enough money from a relative or friend to pay off a small secured debt, for instance, the remaining balance on a car loan. If you redeem property, you have paid the debt and you get to keep the property.


In today's tough economic  times, the surrender option is popular. Simply put, you turn over the property in full satisfaction of the secured debt. (In a Chapter 13 case, your creditor can file a claim for unsecured debt if the proceeds from the sale of a recently acquired motor vehicle are insufficient to pay off the loan.) Surrender might make sense if the monthly payment for the property is more than you can handle while meeting your other reasonable needs. It would also make sense if you had little or no equity in the property, above and beyond the amount of the debt. It is especially attractive when the transaction is underwater. For instance, because of sharply lower real estate prices, your house might be worth substantially less than the amount you owe on it.


A few debtors decide to reaffirm a secured debt. Simply put, a reaffirmation agreement is a promise to pay the debt (either on the original terms or on more lenient negotiated terms) in exchange for keeping the secured property. Reaffirmation agreements are not required by the bankruptcy system. If they are entered into they must be voluntary, they must not placed too heavy a burden on you or your family, they must be in your best interest, and they can be canceled for a short time after being entered into. If you reaffirm a debt and cannot or do not pay it, you can be sued after the bankruptcy for any money your creditor can show it lost on the deal. For instance, if your creditor repossessed your car and sold it for a fraction of its value, your creditor can sue you for the difference between what it got by selling the car and what you owed on the loan. Reaffirmation agreements, as approved by the Court, contain a provision showing your lawyer's approval of the deal. I have not yet seen a reaffirmation agreement I was willing to approve and sign. How courts handle reaffirmation agreements without a lawyer's signature is a developing area of law. I cannot predict what would happen if you decide to reaffirm a debt. If you are positive you will want to reaffirm a debt, you should look elsewhere for a lawyer.

How a bankruptcy discharge can help you

A bankruptcy discharge is a court order that keeps creditors from trying to collect debts from you. It applies to some or all of the unsecured debts and judgments you had when you filed your bankruptcy case. It also applies to secured debts, if you have agreed to give up your collateral. For most people, getting discharged from debts is the most important reason for filing a bankruptcy case.  With a big share of your debt gone, you will have more money each month to meet your ordinary living expenses and you will no longer be troubled by the companies that have been trying to collect those debts.

What a bankruptcy discharge will not do

Good as the discharge is, it does not solve every financial problem for every debtor. For instance, it will not help you with most taxes, child support, maintenance, student loans, court fines and criminal restitution, and personal injury claims arising from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It also will not help with any future debt you might incur. Finally, it might not solve problems if the Bankruptcy Court concludes that you have been involved in fraud. You should talk with your attorney before filing a bankruptcy case to get an idea of whether you have financial problems that bankruptcy cannot fix.

What Trigg Law Office does


Here’s a preview of what to expect, and instructions on how to get started. 

What you should know about the bankruptcy system 

You will need learn about the bankruptcy system to participate effectively in presenting your case to the bankruptcy system. I will give you information sheets prepared by the Federal government: Bankruptcy Information Sheet (U.S. Department of Justice) and Disclosures Required by Federal Law (U.S. Congress). You should read them carefully. Please contact me with any questions.

What I should know about your financial situation 

You need to educate me about your financial situation. The bankruptcy system requires a great deal of information, and it needs it from you. Where you should look for information.

How to get your credit reports

A good way to get this information is to check your credit reports. Every year you can get a free copy of your three credit reports, and I recommend that you order yours right away. You should apply for and provide me with your credit reports at You might be offered the opportunity to buy services while you are on the website. Don’t do it. Just get your free credit reports. You should also review your own financial records, save the bills and credit card statements you get in the mail, and think back carefully over your financial history.

How to send me information online 

The cheapest and most effective way to get your information to me is to complete my On-line Bankruptcy Questionnaire.
  1. Go to the top of this webpage; find Start Your Questionnaire; click on the link at the top of the page (don't click here). We will send you instructions so you can complete your Online Bankruptcy Questionnaire on a secure website.
  2. Answer each question in the Questionnaire. Be sure that all your answers are accurate and complete.
  3. List every asset and every debt.
  4. List separately each asset in which your ownership interest is worth more than $50.
  5. List less valuable assets in sensible categories that do not exceed $600. (For instance, “clothing, $450; musical instruments, $200; kitchen appliances, $150.”)
  6. Be positive that you list every debt, or you might have to pay it after your bankruptcy case is over. You should include every disputed debt and every debt with an uncertain amount. Every debt really means every debt, even if it is to a friend or a relative, even if you don't think you should have to pay it. Yup, list every debt.
  7. To find your debts, look through your bills, your checkbook, your bank statements, your credit card statements, and your three credit reports.
  8. You should list each debt under the original creditor’s name and address.
  9. If there is a collection agency involved, you will have a chance to list it under the creditors’ entry. You should list current collection agencies and previous collection agencies. In the
  10. Each person and business you list will get notice of your bankruptcy case. The notice will require that they stop calling you and stop all other collection efforts. Be thorough in listing creditors and collectors.
  11. List your income for the last six months at “Previous Income” on the Stop My Bills site. To do this, you will need your last six months of pay stubs and records of any other income you have had. Your income is very important for  identifying your bankruptcy options, so do not skip this step.
  12. To ask me questions, click the tab at the top of the page called “Contact Form.” Type in your question, your name, your e-mail address, and your phone number. I can usually get an answer to you in less than a day.
  13. When you stop work on the Interview for the day, click the tab labeled “Finish Later.”
  14. Keep going on the online interview until you have answered all the questions. Do not assume that I will be able to figure out the answers by going through paperwork you give to me. I need this information directly from you.
  15. When you have completed all of your On-line Bankruptcy Interview, click the tab labeled “Finish Now.”   
I will use the information you put on your bankruptcy questionnaire to prepare the first draft of your bankruptcy papers. I will send you that draft, along with any questions I might have. Please answer my questions, and make any other changes required, on the paper draft. Do not go back to the bankruptcy questionnaire to add the extra information. Do not provide me with separate lists in addition to the paper draft. Simply write your answers on the draft. This minimizes the chance that information will be overlooked.

What documents you should bring to my office

The bankruptcy system requires that you provide me with documents about your financial situation. The documents are listed in Montana Local Bankruptcy Form 33. You will be required to provide all the documents described on Form 33, and you will be required to state under penalty of perjury that Form 33 is accurate and complete. Gathering your paperwork is a big job and it is very important, so you should start now. 
I have copied and set forth below the requirements of Form 33 for your use:

Copies of the following documents and materials must be provided to the appropriate panel or standing trustees (and to the U.S. Trustee, if requested) at least fourteen (14) days prior to the first date scheduled for the § 341(a) meeting of creditors on each Debtor’s case.  If these materials are not provided, the trustee may continue the meeting of creditors until a later date, at which time the Debtor and Debtor’s attorneys will be required to attend again in order to respond to inquiries related to such documents and materials; or, at the trustee’s discretion, the trustee or U.S. Trustee may seek dismissal or conversion of a Debtor’s case for failure to timely provide these documents and materials, or may seek an order compelling the debtor to provide such materials.

A copy of this Form must also be provided to the trustee, properly completed to reflect which documents and materials are being provided, and which are not being provided.  An explanation is required for each document which is not provided indicating the reason for not providing the document (e.g., “n/a” if the item is not applicable to the debtor).  Leave no blank items.

1.  Tax Returns:  Copies of state and federal income tax returns (including all schedules) for the two years (or more, as requested by the trustee) prior to the bankruptcy filing; including returns for any corporation, partnership or other entity in which the debtor holds an interest

2.  Documents for Real Property: (Provide for each parcel; including those assets which the debtor transferred or surrendered within four years prior to filing bankruptcy, or which the debtor intends to transfer or surrender following the bankruptcy filing.)

Location of  Property:_________________________________________



_____ Trust Indenture, Contract for Deed or Mortgage


_____ Proof of Perfection (e.g., proof of recording)


_____ Notice of Purchaser’s Interest (with proof of recording)


_____ Homestead Declaration (with proof of recording)


_____ Appraisal (or most recent year’s county tax assessment statement)


_____ Underlying Promissory Note


_____ Underlying Deed


_____ Copy of Survey (if applicable)


_____ Loan Status (most recent month’s loan statement)


_____ Complete Legal Description (if not a street address)


3.  Documents for Personal Property: (Provide for each item of personal property which is pledged as collateral to secure a debt; including those assets which the debtor transferred or surrendered within four years prior to filing bankruptcy, or which the debtor intends to transfer or surrender following the bankruptcy filing.)

Description of Property: ________________________________________



_____ Underlying Promissory Note


_____ Security Agreement or Retail Installment Contract


_____ Proof of Perfection (e.g., UCC-1, with proof of filing)


_____ Loan Status (most recent month’s loan statement)


_____ Proof of Fair Market Value (if possible)


_____ Appraisal (if any)


4.  _____   Vehicle and Other Titles or Registrations: (Provide for each vehicle, trailer, ATV, motorcycle, RV, boat, personal watercraft, snowmobile, airplane, etc.)


_____ Certificate of Title


_____ Registration


_____ Appraisal (or blue book valuation or other Internet valuation)


_____ Loan Status (most recent month’s loan statement)


5.  _____ Mobile Homes:


_____ Underlying Promissory Note and Other Loan Documents


_____ Security Agreement


_____ Certificate of Title


_____ Homestead Declaration (with proof of recording)


_____ Loan Status (most recent month’s loan statement)


6.  _____ Life Insurance: Proof of all insurance, and any cash value or loan documents

7.  _____ IRA or Pension Plans: Most recent monthly or quarterly statements reflecting account balances; and copy of 401(k) or other plan, if applicable

8.  _____ Insurance Policies: Copy of the declarations page for each policy (or copy of annual statement provided by the insurance company), proving that liability and/or general casualty insurance exists for the debtor’s assets, and setting forth the declared values of assets and any loan amounts.

9.  _____ Banking Information: Copies of all bank, credit union, or other financial institution checking, savings, money market, mutual fund, brokerage and other depository and investment account statements, reflecting all account balances as of the month the debtor’s case was filed

10. _____ Stocks, Bonds, or Other Money Instruments: Copies of all stocks, bonds, or other instruments which represent or can be converted to money

11.  _____ Business Information: (For any debtor who operated a business of any kind within the six year period preceding the filing of the case)


_____ Complete Listing of Most Recent Inventory


_____ Listing of All Business Assets (if not contained in Schedules)


_____ Copy of Most Recent Balance Sheet


_____ Copy of Most Recent Profit and Loss Statement

_____ Copies of All Loan Applications Provided to Anyone Within the Prior Two Years


_____ Copies of All Loan Documents (including most recent month’s Statements)


_____ Copies of Last Two Year’s State and Federal Income Tax Returns


_____ Copy of Most Recent Accounts Receivable (including name, address, and amount of each receivable)


12. _____ Divorce: If the debtor has been divorced within two years prior to the bankruptcy filing, provide copies of the divorce decree and any marital settlement agreement

13. _____ Loan Applications:  Copies of all loan applications submitted to any bank, credit union, other financial institution, wholesale or retail merchant, or any other entity within the last two years, for all loans that were approved or outstanding at the time of the bankruptcy filing.  [This does not involve credit card applications.]


What bankruptcy will cost

Until after our first meeting, you will not need to pay me anything, but to hire me and for me to file your bankruptcy you will. My consumer clients generally pay me a fee of $1,600 to cover the work I do in preparing their bankruptcy papers and representing them at the mandatory creditors’ meeting. In some cases, the fee is higher because the client's case is unusually complex. My business clients pay $2600 for the more extensive work a standard business involves. If you or your spouse has had a small business within six years before filing bankruptcy, you are a business client for purposes of the bankruptcy system and my fee structure.

My clients pay half of my fee when they hire me to start work. The rest needs to be paid by the time we file your case. Attorney fees are not refundable.

Chapter 13 bankruptcies require additional work and additional fees. Usually these fees, coupled with the prepetition fees, total $3500 plus $219 for additional expenses. My post-petition fees and expenses are subject to approval by the Bankruptcy Court and are paid by the Chapter 13 Trustee from the assets he collects over the life of the Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. These fees come from money that would otherwise go to creditors.

In rare cases, you might face litigation in bankruptcy court. In those situations, you will have a right to hire me or another lawyer to represent you. My hourly rate in these cases is $250.

The Clerk of Court charges a filing fee of $335 for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and $310 for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Filing fees must be paid by the time we file your case. The Bankruptcy Court is allowed to waive filing fees if your income is extremely low.

My work on your behalf is covered by an attorney-client contract. I will provide you with duplicate originals of the contract. Please read it carefully and ask me if you have any questions. If the Attorney-Client Contract is satisfactory as written, please sign one copy and return it to me along with your initial payment. Keep the other copy for your records.

What class you will need to take before filing bankruptcy

You must take an approved credit counseling course before you can file your bankruptcy case. These courses are available by telephone or online. Contact my office by email ( or or phone (406-721-6778) to get a list of your choices. The courses last for an one hour or two and usually cost between $10 and $50 for an individual or a couple. You’ll pay the fee directly to the company providing your course. You can choose which company to deal with. I recommend that you price shop. We can provide you with a list of your choices. Since the class must be taken within the 180 days before you file your bankruptcy case, if you take it too soon, you might have to take it again and pay an additional fee to the credit counseling company. When your class is over, have your course provider send me your certificate of completion by e-mail. I will file the certificate with the Court when your bankruptcy case is filed.

What happens after you file bankruptcy

When you file your bankruptcy case, your case will be assigned to a bankruptcy trustee. Your trustee will be a private lawyer based in western Montana who accepts appointments from the Bankruptcy Court to help administer the bankruptcy system. Chapter 7 cases are usually handled by Richard P. Samson or Christy Brandon. Chapter 13 cases are handled by Robert Drummond. Your trustee will need additional information about your financial situation. We know what information the trustees routinely request, so you should gather it up before your case is even filed. As you might expect, a Chapter 13 case will require ongoing work, both on your part and on mine. For more information about your duties in a Chapter 13 case, visit the website of Montana's Chapter 13 trustee:

What class you will need to take during your bankruptcy

After you file your bankruptcy case, you will be required to take a debtor education course in financial management. This course lasts about an hour and ordinarily costs a little less than your prebankruptcy credit counseling course.  You’ll pay the fee directly to the company providing your course. The debtor education course is also available by telephone or online. Contact my office by email ( or or phone (406-721-6778) to get a list of your choices. When your class is over, have your course provider send me your certificate of completion by e-mail. I will file it with the Court.

When your bankruptcy case is over

Your bankruptcy case is over when the Bankruptcy Court enters a Final Decree in your case. This will happen after your bankruptcy trustee has finished all of his work. I can’t  say for sure when your trustee will finish things up. However, in most Chapter 7 cases, the bankruptcy is over within four or five months after you file your case. For most Chapter 13 cases, the bankruptcy is over when you have successfully made the payments required by your bankruptcy plan. After a case ends, it can be reopened if your bankruptcy trustee gets additional money to pay to creditors. Most often this happens when clients receive a tax refund or an inheritance that is property of the bankruptcy estate.

How can I reestablish my credit

Every case is different, but here are some general thoughts to keep in mind:
  1. Wait a reasonable time before trying to reenter the market. For government-backed house loans like FHA, the minimum time is currently two years. I have heard commercial lenders express a preference for a 3 to 5 year hiatus, though that will of course vary from lender to lender.
  2. Establish an ample, reliable income stream that is likely to continue for the life of the proposed loan.
  3. Use modest postpetition credit and handle it in an irreproachable manner. paying on time and in the correct amount.
  4. Consider proposals that a lender might see as reducing its risk. A smaller loan, for example, means that the lender has a larger equity cushion. A cosigner or guarantor means the lender has someone else to sue if you suffer financial reverses that keep you from servicing the loan.
  5. Shop around. Not all lenders exercise business judgment identically. Sometimes one lender will reject an application that another lender would be happy to approve.
Thomas Trigg,
May 3, 2009, 3:28 PM