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Pre-bankruptcy credit counseling and pre-discharge debtor education may not be provided at the same time. Credit counseling must take place before you file for bankruptcy; debtor education must take place after you file.

You must file a certificate of credit counseling completion when you file for bankruptcy, and evidence of completion of debtor education after you file for bankruptcy — but before your debts are discharged. Only credit counseling organizations and debtor education course providers that have been approved by the U.S. Trustee Program may issue these certificates. To protect against fraud, the certificates are numbered, and produced through a central automated system.

Pre-bankruptcy Counseling
A pre-bankruptcy counseling session with an approved credit counseling organization should include an evaluation of your personal financial situation, a discussion of alternatives to bankruptcy, and a personal budget plan. A typical counseling session should last about 60 to 90 minutes, and can take place in person, on the phone, or online. The counseling organization is required to provide the counseling for free for people who can’t afford to pay. If you can’t afford to pay a fee for credit counseling, ask for a fee waiver from the counseling organization before the session begins. Otherwise, you may be charged a fee for the counseling. It will generally is about $50, depending on where you live, and the types of services you receive, among other factors. The counseling organization must discuss any fees with you before you start the counseling session.

Once you complete the required counseling, you must get a certificate as proof. Check the U.S. Trustee’s website to be sure that you receive the certificate from a counseling organization that is approved in the judicial district where you are filing bankruptcy. Credit counseling organizations may not charge an extra fee for the certificate.

Post-Filing Debtor Education
A debtor education course by an approved provider should include information on developing a budget, managing money, and using credit wisely. Like pre-filing counseling, debtor education can take place in person, on the phone, or online. The education session might last longer than the pre-filing counseling — about two hours — and the fee is between $50 and $100. As with pre-filing counseling, if you can’t afford the session fee, ask the debtor education provider to waive it. Check the list of approved debtor education providers online or at the bankruptcy clerk’s office in your district.

Once you have completed the required debtor education course, you should receive a certificate as proof. This certificate is separate from the certificate you received after completing your pre-filing credit counseling. Check the U.S. Trustee’s website to be sure that you receive the certificate from a debtor education provider that is approved in the judicial district where you filed for bankruptcy. Unless the debtor education provider told you there’s a fee for the certificate before the education session begins, you can’t be charged an extra fee for it.

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