What is a “Section 341 First Meeting of Creditors”?
A “Section 341 First Meeting of Creditors” (341 Meeting) is a scheduled meeting between a debtor, a trustee and any creditors that would like to attend. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the trustee to ask questions of the debtor to help determine if the debtor should be granted relief under the Bankruptcy Code, i.e., a discharge of debt, and if there are any assets available to provide payment to any creditors. It is often called the “341 Meeting” because it is 11 USC § 341 of the Bankruptcy Code that requires the meeting.
Who is Notified & When?
Right after filing, the Bankruptcy Court sends to the debtor, all creditors and codebtors listed in the bankruptcy petition a notice that a bankruptcy has been filed with information on the date, time and place for the 341 Meeting. Notice is sent to the address listed in the petition.
Date & Time
A 341 meeting usually occurs within about 30 days of filing bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Code says only that it must occur “within a reasonable time after” the case is filed. 11 USC § 341. Presently, Chapter 7 341 Meetings are held on Wednesday mornings. Chapter 13 341 Meetings are held on Monday afternoons and Tuesday mornings.
For cases filed in and around Vancouver/Clark County/Southwest Washington, the 341 Meeting is held at the Vancouver Federal Building (green box below), 500 W 12th, 2nd Floor, Vancouver, Washington. The Vancouver Federal Building is right across the street from the Clark County Courthouse (at 12th and Franklin). 341 Meetings are held on the second floor. [UPDATE: Presently, due to COVID health concerns, 341 Meetings are currently conducted by telephone and not by in-person meetings.]
What to Bring
You need to bring to the 341 Meeting:
- Picture ID, e.g., driver’s license;
- Proof of Social Security number, e.g. SS Card, W2 (your tax return will not work); and
- If you have purchased a vehicle in the 90 days prior to filing, a copy of the purchase documents and vehicle registration.
Note: The Chapter 7 Trustee must receive no later than 7 days before your 341 Meeting account statements that show the balances in your accounts on the day you filed bankruptcy. This is normally shown on the bank statements you get right after you file. You must bring them to our office in a timely fashion so we can get them to the trustee in time.
Beware. You cannot bring your cell phone into the Federal Building. You cannot use any other electronic devices in the hall. There are security cameras everywhere. The guards are required to enforce these rules and they will. Failure to follow these rules can result in you being fined and/or removed from the Federal Building even if you have not had your 341 Meeting yet.
What to Wear
Dress casually. The meeting is before a trustee and your testimony is under oath. However, the hearing is not as formal as a court proceeding. So, be comfortable.
Do You Have to Go?
Yes. The meeting is mandatory. If you cannot attend, the trustee must be advised ahead of time of that fact and why you cannot appear. In most cases, the meeting is rescheduled (“continued”) for a week or two later. If you do not appear, the court will eventually dismiss your case. From the above, you can see that a 341 Meeting is pretty quick and painless. A debtor should not have any fear in attending your 341 Meeting.
Where Do We Meet?
I will normally meet you there at the 341 Meeting room. Before the meeting, we can find each other. Feel free to walk over and say, “Hi” when you see me. I will normally ask you if you have had any financial changes since filing. If you have had changes, let me know. If you have, we’ll discuss if it matters in your case and how you might best explain any change(s) to the trustee. Normally, you will then just wait patiently to be called – and in so doing you’ll see a few 341 Meetings for other debtors, so you’ll know what to expect. [UPDATE: Presently, due to COVID health concerns, 341 Meetings are currently conducted by telephone and not by in-person meetings.]
How Long Does It Take?
Once your case is called, a 341 Meeting usually lasts only about 5 minutes. There are normally about twelve 341 meetings scheduled each hour. So, if you do the math, you can see that they have to be quick. Every once in awhile they last longer – sometimes up to 15-30 minutes or so. However, such meetings normally involve unusual issues such as petition errors or a debtor that is not able/willing to answer the trustee’s questions clearly. We always let our clients know if we expect any unusual questions so that they can be prepared.
Example Trustee Questions
The trustee asks standard questions of each debtor:
- Do you swear to tell the truth under penalty of perjury?
- What is your name and address?
- You had Chapter 7 (or 13) petition statement and schedule prepared; did you have a chance to read all of your bankruptcy documents before they were filed with the court?
- Did you read your petition and schedules before you signed them?
- Were they true and accurate when you signed them?
- Are they still true and accurate today? (Do you have an errors or omissions to correct?)
- Have your financial circumstances changed since the date of filing? (New job, etc)
- Did you list all assets and debts/liabilities?
- Have you ever filed bankruptcy before? If so, when and what chapter?
- Did you have a chance to read the handout from the United States Trustee? (Have you read everything Mr. Russell’s office has given you to read?)
- Did you live in Washington State the entire 2 years just before you filed this case? If not, where did you live before and when?
- Does anybody owe you any money?
- Could you sue anyone for any injury or damage that you think that you’re might be owed?
- Do you think it’s likely you could inherit some money or property in the near future?
- In the 1 year before you filed did you transfer, sell or give away any property?
- In the 2 years before you filed this case did you sell, transfer out of your name or give away anything worth more than $1,000.00?
- Have you owed or made payments on a house or any land in the last 3 years?
While creditors are authorized to appear and, if they desire, ask a few questions, they rarely appear. In my experience, a creditor might appear to ask questions in only one out of fifty cases. Usually, the creditor appearing is a local credit union that is just making sure you want to keep a financed car or Les Schwab just making sure you still want to keep your account. I have never seen a credit card, mortgage or medical debt creditor ever appear. If a creditor does appear, both the trustee and our office make sure the creditor is short and to the point with their questions; it is not the time for speeches. In short, creditors can appear, but they rarely do and any Q&A exchange is very quick.
Normally, now you just wait. There is usually no “second meeting” of creditors. If you have not yet done so, you need to take your second class and file the resulting certificate with the court. Exactly 60 days after your first scheduled 341 Meting the court will enter your Discharge Order (assuming your certificate is filed). A lot of things can happen between the 341 Meeting and Discharge, but the time is usually uneventful. Assuming that the trustee is not making a distribution to creditors (99% chance) then you are done! Congratulations.