“Hey another quarter! And a dime! I’m so lucky…”
As I walked across downtown Denver to my 341 meeting, I found a total of sixty cents on the street.
A good omen, I figured.
Then I arrived at the building, took the elevator to the 14th floor, and found the classroom-sized office for my meeting. A couple dozen men and women sat in rows of chairs, facing the front of the room where, like a teacher, the trustee sat.
I checked in and took a seat. Near the front of the room, I realized, was my lawyer. Sitting next to him was someone else going through the bankruptcy process. In full view of everyone else waiting their turn.
We could listen to every word, as if it were a presentation
I couldn’t believe it!
The trustee flipped through a folder of documents, questioning the person about his most intimate financial details. After a few minutes, he’d finish and lead the person through an oath swearing, similar to what you see in courtroom dramas when someone swears to “Tell the whole truth…” In this case, you were swearing every detail you shared was accurate. Then your time was over.
So I waited to be called. Out of the more than couple dozen people in the room, it looked like only my lawyer and one other represented just about everyone. Doing some quick math in my head, I saw how lucrative their businesses were, depending on the expenses.
The trustee was just what you’d imagine:
An older, bald, white man with a regal, weary, subdued manner
As he flipped through some pages of a woman’s financial history, he questioned her: “So you and your husband divorced in 2010, is that correct?”
“And then in 2011 you co-signed a lease on a car?”
“…Wait. So you co-signed the lease after your divorce?”
He shot her a quizzical glance with hint of disapproval… and… with a sigh… flipped another page in the binder and kept going, never to address the car again. I contemplated just how many bizarre and irrational financial situations and decisions he looked at every day, week after week, month after month, year after year…
At no point did I observe any creditors show up for questioning, which confirmed what I’d read in my research: It’s a rarity.
After listening to a couple more swearings under penalty of perjury, my name was called
I sat down at the large desk next to my lawyer. The trustee began flipping through pages, reading.
“I see here you owe…” he ticked off amounts from three of my tax years.
“Yes,” I said.
“You don’t like paying your taxes?”
The room erupted in laughter.
“What the fuck?” I thought to myself. “Why are you all laughing, you’re all bankrupt too!”
Out loud, I merely said, “It’s not like that.”
“Well, why didn’t you pay?”
“Those years, after paying all my living expenses, food and rent, I didn’t have any money left over.”
My lawyer nodded with approval
Before, I’d gotten some coaching to say as little as possible. Often, people have a tendency to try to justify themselves, get nervous, and ramble, which can lead to trouble.
The trustee confirmed that I knew I couldn’t discharge my three most recent tax years. So even if my bankruptcy were granted, I’d still owe money to the IRS. Then he said, “Rifkin. You wouldn’t happen to be related to such-and-such Rifkin here in Denver, would you?”
“No, I’m the only one in my family here. I’ve never heard of them.”
“Too bad. They’ve got a lot of money.”
This sparked some banter between my lawyer in the trustee. Apparently, at one point my attorney represented them for something.
I couldn’t believe it!
It was like the two of them were actors suddenly breaking character in the middle of a play to chat about their personal lives. And I realized, that was essentially what was happening. In a flash, I realized that, unlike clients who come and go within minutes, the lawyer and the trustee hung out together for hours on end. Eerie.
But the trustee didn’t ask much more of consequence. He told me to raise my hand, lead me through the oath, and said I was done. As I pushed back my chair and stood up, my lawyer leaned over and whispered, “Good job. Hey, call me about those taxes. We could do a Chapter 13.”
I kept that in mind. Although I’d never see him again about the bankruptcy I was going through, it wouldn’t be the last time we would meet.
I walked home
It was over, and even though I’d have to wait about a month for the official notice, it was pretty clear I’d get my discharge.
In the meantime, it was time to shift my life from hemorrhaging wealth to building it. Step one was to move out of the apartment I loved. Little did I realize that would be more difficult than I thought…