The myth of the $399 Massachusetts bankruptcy attorney fee

Pick up a copy of the Boston Herald and way in the back with the sports pages and classifieds, you are bound to find several advertisements from attorneys or law firms advertising bankruptcy services from $399, $499, or maybe even $299. Is this real? Can you believe it? Is it just too good to be true?

But if you examine the fee disclosures of these attorneys for cases actually filed with the bankruptcy court, non of them are ever for $399. There are a few reasons why the advertised rate is just a myth:

* The old bait and switch — Not limited to just furniture stores or car dealers, this is where you arrive at the point of sale — here, a lawyer’s office — only to be pressured in to buying something else. Maybe you’d like a little “debt relief” instead of straight bankruptcy, perhaps? At these offices, no one ever gets to file a $399 bankruptcy, but hey, it did get you to show up at the office, right?

* The minimum fee is just an add-on — Here the attorney may try to get you to start with a more expensive procedure before resorting to bankruptcy. You may be “sold” on hiring him to “do” a loan modification, although the attorney knows full well that nearly all applicants are denied. After spending thousands on the modification process, bankruptcy becomes the only remaining option, and you are “relieved” when your aggressive advocate does the case for “only” $399. By comparison, it doesn’t seem that bad, right?

* The fee is only for a skeleton filing — the bankruptcy courts allow for emergency filings, which are intended for people facing imminent actions like foreclosures. They require a minimum of paperwork to start — typically just you name and address, a list of creditors, and a credit counseling certificate, and are sometimes knicnamed “skeleton” cases. The catch here is that the remainder of the paperwork is due in a couple of weeks — and it’s not included in the “introductory” fee. So you either pay more or have your case dismissed — with a bankruptcy filing still on your credit record.

The fact of the matter is you only get what you pay for, and $399 cannot pay for an ethical Massachusetts bankruptcy attorney. If an attorney cuts a corner here, where else is it going to happen?

If you are in Massachusetts, and are looking for an ethical bankruptcy attorney who will charge you a flat rate without playing games, give me call. The number is 978-975-2608. My bankruptcy office is conveniently located on Route 114 in North Andover, and is a short drive from Lawrence, Methuen, and Haverhill.

 

By Doug Beaton; art work by Matthew Cheyne; see more at www.matthewcheyne.com .

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