COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Serving Scranton and Surrounding Areas

Even during these troubling times, our firm strives to serve people in the Northern Pennsylvania area who are facing financial troubles. Learn more about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting bankruptcy at this time and how our firm is handling it.

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1. Is your office still taking on new cases at this time and if so, how is that happening?

Yes, we are still meeting with new clients and filing new cases. But, none of that is happening in person right now. For the over 20 years that I’ve been practicing, I’ve met with almost every client and done all of the work in the office. The clients would come in and meet with us in person. We’d go over their financial situation in person. We’d have them come back and meet in person to go over any paperwork before it was filed. And then we would personally be with them at the court meeting that happens in every bankruptcy case.

That’s all changed a bit, but it’s still pretty much the same process. The only difference is that now everything happens by phone or video. We prefer to do it by video instead of phone because the video software lets me share my computer screen with the client. That way we can work on their case together. But, for clients that don’t have video access we make the phone work. We’ve even converted the paper forms that we asked clients to complete. Now we get that information through online forms that can be answered using a smartphone or a computer.

2. Are the bankruptcy courts still open during the COVID-19 crisis?

Yes. For about 15 years now, the bankruptcy court has asked attorneys that are filing bankruptcy cases to do so electronically over the internet. And, the bankruptcy court would allow attorneys (and even witnesses) to appear by phone for certain hearings. So, in some ways, the bankruptcy court was already prepared for remote work. But, the court has always required bankruptcy debtors and their attorneys to appear in person at a meeting where the bankruptcy trustee spends a few minutes reviewing the paperwork and asking the debtors questions under oath.

It was only in the rarest of situations that someone would be allowed to attend that meeting remotely – for example if the person was serving in the military overseas. However, that has now changed. The court has issued a temporary order to allow people to attend that meeting by phone or video during the COVID-19 crisis. (Of course, the person’s attorney is also remotely attending that meeting at the same time, but is simply dialing in to the conference call from a different remote location.) So, right now it is possible for someone to meet with a bankruptcy attorney remotely, file her case remotely, and even appear at the bankruptcy meeting remotely. Some people will go through the entire process without ever leaving their homes.

3. Should I wait to hire a bankruptcy or consumer debt attorney until the COVID-19 crisis is over or should I hire an attorney now?

I’ll give you a lawyer answer to this question – “It depends.” If someone isn’t in financial difficulty, then it is unlikely that he should be hiring a bankruptcy or consumer debt attorney at all. But, even for people that clearly need a bankruptcy, the question of exactly when to file the case is often complicated.

For example, consider a person who had a really good job before COVID-19, but was struggling to pay all of her bills. If she had enough income to pay some of her credit card minimum payments, but not all of them, then there is a chance that she might not have qualified for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Instead, Chapter 13 might have been her only option. However, if she is laid off because of COVID-19, and doesn’t know if or when she will go back to work, then there is a greater chance that she could qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if she files while still unemployed. If she would prefer Chapter 7 over Chapter 13, then this person might consider filing sooner rather than later. If the COVID-19 crisis ends and she returns to her work, she might again be in a situation where a Chapter 7 is not available.

On the other hand, there are sometimes reasons to consider delaying a bankruptcy filing. Perhaps the person expects his income to fall in the future or believes that his expenses will increase. Or maybe the person has a type of debt that would only be dischargeable in bankruptcy once the debt reached a certain age and waiting might put the person past that deadline. There could be many other reasons to wait.

So, the question of the best time to file a case is complicated. However, if someone is having financial troubles, then it is never too early to have a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney or consumer law attorney. Let that person do the analysis and tell you whether bankruptcy is recommended, and, if so when the person recommends that you file.

This advice is especially true now. The actual need for bankruptcy right now is likely far greater than it has been in at any point in the last 10 years. For example, nearly 30 million people were laid off in a six-week period at the beginning of the COVID crisis. However, the number of people filing bankruptcy dropped sharply. In April of 2018, there were 528 bankruptcy cases filed in our bankruptcy court. In April of 2019, the number was about the same: 555 cases. But in April of 2020, there were only 148 cases filed. That is about a 70% drop.

If so many more people need bankruptcy than before, then why are so few people filing? Honestly, I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it is the government assistance. Maybe it is the moratorium on foreclosures. Whatever the reason, at some point I think there will be a huge influx of people trying to file bankruptcy. If you are considering bankruptcy, then it makes sense to meet with a bankruptcy attorney before that influx happens. When that crush of people all decides to file bankruptcy at the same time, it might create a long delay before you are able to meet with an attorney or file a case. (Think of grocery store shelves and toilet paper or hand sanitizer – the rush of people that decided they wanted those things at the same time created supply problems for a while.) Meet with an attorney now. The attorney might tell you that you should wait to file (or that you shouldn’t file a bankruptcy at all). But, having the evaluation done now means that you reduce the risk of not being able to have a filing done when you need it.




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