By the time my clients come in for their initial consultation, some of them have done a fair amount of research. They know they need to file and they know what they need to do. They want me to help guide them through the process.
But most of my clients are almost completely unfamiliar with the bankruptcy process. That’s okay. That’s why I offer free consultations: to educate potential clients about bankruptcy and give my thoughts on whether bankruptcy is their best option. If it’s not, I’ll tell them. If I don’t think I’m the right attorney for them, I’ll refer them to someone else.
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear me say that I think the first step in filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy should be finding an experienced bankruptcy attorney to represent you. Navigating the bankruptcy process without an attorney would be like trying to float through the Grand Canyon in an inner tube: technically possible but with a high risk for unseen problems.
Once you have hired an attorney, you have to be prepared to lay out your financial life for others to look at. You’ll have to gather lots of information, like:
- paystubs for the last six months
- tax returns
- lawsuits, if there have been any
- transfers of property, if there have been any
- account information for all of your debts
- bank statements
Before your attorney can file your petition, you have to take a credit counseling course. You can read more about this class here.
Your attorney will prepare your petition and have you review it before she files. Read your petition carefully. Don’t assume that because your attorney prepared it, it’s correct. Ultimately, it is up to you to ensure that it’s accurate. The smallest mistake, like transposing numbers in your Social Security number, could create a problem during the process. Of course, your petition must be completely truthful. Trustees have extensive experience reviewing petitions and can spot inconsistencies a mile away.
Once you have signed your petition, your attorney will file it. The moment she files it, all creditors must stop any collection activity. They must stop garnishments and notify any court if they have filed a lawsuit. Filing the petition invokes the bankruptcy court’s protective order. Creditors violate this order at their peril.
After your case is filed, you still have some work to do. You’ll have to make an appearance at the meeting of creditors. You’ll also have to complete a financial management class (read about it here) before your debts will be discharged (eliminated).
Filing bankruptcy can seem overwhelming. It takes some work on your part, but your attorney will help you through the process. That’s what she’s there for.