What do I need to know before I call a bankruptcy attorney?

Many people I speak to each day call me about their financial problems, but have no idea what to expect from a bankruptcy attorney. The typical situation is this: Person calls and says, I need help with a bankruptcy. I ask: Who do you owe money to? Answer: I don’t know, lots of people. That’s not enough to have a good, productive conversation with a bankruptcy attorney.

So, rule number one: Know who you owe, and for what. This isn’t just you owing your uncle, or parents for the help they gave you in the past. The conversation will be about which companies you owe. Most people, by the time they call a lawyer, have at least one pressing problem. Like, for instance, a lawsuit, or a wage deduction summons (garnishment). So you will have that on your mind. You need to gather up any papers you got from the lawsuit. But, don’t stop there. You need to look for your other bills, all of them!

Bankruptcy is a process that involves your whole financial picture. So that means you need to have an idea of which company you pay for each thing you own, or are paying for: Your house- name, amount of mortgage payment each month, and whether that payment includes taxes and/or insurance. Are you up-to-date in the payments on your house? If not, how many months did you miss? Your car(s). Which company do you owe? How much are the payments? And how many months are left (or what is the balance)? Most of the time, people want to keep their house and car(s). Even though you want to keep that thing, you still need to discuss the payments with your attorney. This will be factored into any discussion of a possible bankruptcy case.

You also need to have ready: how much you owe the IRS and state taxing authority for income or other kinds of taxes. We also need to discuss this, and many times a bankruptcy filing can help with tax bills. Most of the time, you have to pay them, but bankruptcy can help you get a temporary break or a better payment plan.

Then, you need to remember all of those other pesky bills, like credit cards, and medical bills, that you still owe. Some of the credit cards you may still be paying on each month. Some other ones, you may have forgotten about because you stopped paying a long time ago. Regardless, all are important to tell your attorney about. Even if you want to keep a small account with a department store, or other company, you need to include it, and bring it in. Besides, I’ll run a credit report and all of those bills will show up anyway.

If you run a credit report, why do I need to give you any bills? Because, not all bills show up on credit reports. It is up to each creditor to make periodic reports on your payment history. But not all companies do this. For example, most medical bills don’t show up on credit reports. They will show up if you are sued, but, before that, most medical creditors don’t report their bills regularly. So have as many bills as you can find ready to talk about.

The purpose of the first call is for you to have an idea of whether the attorney can help you, and, if so, what to bring in so we can review it to see what your options will be. If you are well-prepared for that first call, you’ll be ready to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys.