When you are considering a trip, usually, you make substantial preparations in anticipation of that trip. You make travel arrangements; you make sure you have a place to stay; you make reservations for any activities in which you wish to participate. You will often make significant plans and preparations for any “big” event. Bankruptcy is no different. It is a significant life event that demands some thought and preparation before you embark on it.
In talking with potential bankruptcy clients, it seems that a lot of them wait until the last minute before contacting a bankruptcy lawyer to find out how bankruptcy may help them. While visiting a bankruptcy lawyer most likely does not rank high on most people’s “bucket list,” if you are struggling financially, it most likely makes sense to determine if and how bankruptcy can help you sooner rather than later.
So, how can “preparing” for bankruptcy help? First, you will need to have the fees for the lawyer and for the court available. For now, for a chapter 7 filing, just the filing fee is $306.00. Additionally, before you file, you must complete a consumer credit counseling session and get the certification that must be filed with the court. If you “fail to plan” for your bankruptcy filing by finding out what you need ahead of time, when your car is on the verge of getting repo’d, you may not have the time and/or money to retain a bankruptcy lawyer.
Second, you can carefully go over your income and expenses and see where the trouble lies. Certainly a bankruptcy lawyer can help you identify the problem (with appropriate information) but you also need to know how you got into this financial mess. Some problems are easy to identify–temporary loss of income; extraordinary medical bills; overspending for a bit, etc. Bankruptcy can assist in overcoming those past problems but you need to be aware of the problem so that you can avoid it in the future. Bankruptcy is designed to be a “fresh start.” You can greatly assist in obtaining that “fresh start” by breaking or modifying some of the habits that perhaps got you here in the first place.
Third, make sure you know who you owe and how much. Find out if there is any collateral associated with the debts and gather up loan documents. Your lawyer will need this but, more importantly, you need to know your own financial picture. Credit reports are freely available and can be a big help. Also, if lawsuits or foreclosures have been filed against you, make sure you have that paperwork–all of it! It is important!
Finally, change your mindset. In dealing with individuals facing financial problems, it is often much more difficult instead of dealing with distressed businesses. That is because a business looks at assets and liabilities and can make a rational decision as to whether keeping an asset is worth the corresponding liability. Understandably, people are attached to their “things.” But, after all, they are just “things” and you have to consider carefully whether retaining a “thing” is worth the potential stress and headache. As an example, if you suffered a decrease in income and you have two relatively late model cars. No one wants to give up one or two cars but sometimes it is better to surrender a vehicle or two in order to keep your house (if that is important to you). There will be some emotional attachment to some “things” but it is imperative that you do this. Determining what is important to you is important for your bankruptcy lawyer in setting achievable goals for your bankruptcy filing.
Finally, do some research. There is a lot of information about bankruptcy that is freely available. However, you should exercise extreme caution in considering the information. Not that the information is inaccurate (some info may be outdated or simply inapplicable) but it takes an experienced profession to know what is appropriate and what is not. But, by familiarizing yourself with some basic bankruptcy information, you will be in a better position to appreciate and assist your bankruptcy lawyer in setting realistic and achievable goals.
After all, the real goal of a bankruptcy filing is a “fresh start.”
Adrian Lapas, Esq.
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Last modified: December 11, 2011