Filing for bankruptcy can be a long, difficult process, but if you’re working with the right attorney, it can also be relatively painless. Starting with a bankruptcy consultation with a reliable, informed lawyer is a step in the right direction.
Although the Internet offers a treasure trove of general information about bankruptcy, due to the complexity of the law and extensive paperwork involved in the filing process, working with an attorney isn’t a choice, but an absolute necessity. However, being proactive isn’t just finding a good attorney to guide you through the process, but also being prepared for the consultation. By showing up with all necessary documentation in hand, you’re starting out on a solid foundation to expedite your bankruptcy filing process.
Here are a few tips of how to prepare for a bankruptcy consultation.
Documents to Gather for a Bankruptcy Consultation
One of the first things a lawyer will ask you is for documentation of your current financial situations. The basic documentation that most people will need are:
- Tax returns filed from the last two years
- Paystubs and W-2s
- Income from social security, disability, or rental properties
- Real estate or vehicle statements, including any foreclosure documentation
- Retirement and bank account balances
- Expenses related to child support or alimony
- If separated or divorced, a copy of marital settlement agreement
Getting these items together before you go to your consultation can save time, since you’ll be able to address the attorney’s questions on the spot. Documentation is also important when it comes to court filings, as it provides hard evidence of your claims.
What to Expect During a Face to Face Visit
During an initial bankruptcy consultation, it’s common to feel defensive. It’s a generally held belief that so-called good and responsible people pay their bills on time. However, the fact is things happen that are out of your control.
An attorney is not consulting with you to rebuke your actions, but rather to guide you through the legalese and requirements of Chapter 7 as you work toward a clean slate. Bear in mind, though, that attorneys generally don’t accept credit cards as payment for their services for obvious reasons. In fact, running up a credit card balance before declaring bankruptcy can actually be considered fraud. Therefore, it’s important to remain calm as the attorney asks you a variety of questions and for documentation pertaining to your current situation. This may include the last time you made an on-time payment for certain accounts, if you’ve been in contact with your creditors, and any recent major changes that has impacted your financial situation such as a job loss.
Getting into the right emotional state of mind can help greatly during your first meeting.
Important Questions to Ask
The answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask, so preparing them in advance is important. It will help make your conversation during your bankruptcy consultation more productive if you write out your questions. For example, three of the most important inquiries should be whether your attorney will need further information you haven’t provided, who you should speak to in a follow-up or with more questions, and how long the process will take.
It’s easy to miss these types of questions during a consultation since you’re juggling so much information at once, but the smallest details are usually the most important. Don’t forget to bring a pad of paper to make notes and write down important information, which includes things as simple as names and telephone numbers.
Understanding Different Types of Debt
When you’re going in to meet with an attorney for the first time, understanding some of the lingo can be helpful. To start, there are two main types of debt: secured and unsecured.
Secured debt is where you have ownership of property, such as a home or vehicle, that’s attached to the debt. This could mean a mortgage or auto loan, things which could possibly be used to pay off the debt you’re discharging. However, there are regulations in place to prevent people from being left homeless or unable to get to work. This will vary with each case and the results of your debt ruling, and is referred to as exempt property and nonexempt property.
It’s also important to understand the difference between dischargeable and non-dischargeable debts. Dischargeable debts are sums owed covered under bankruptcy proceedings, such as credit card balances or outstanding medical bills. Non-dischargeable debts, on the other hand, are monies owed that won’t be erased even if you successfully file for Chapter 7, which includes taxes, child support, and education loans.
Ask your attorney for clarification on what these different terms apply to in your specific case during your consultation.
Protecting Yourself Against Scams
Be prepared to research an attorney and then ask for confirmation of their legitimacy in the meeting. Van Horn Law Group cautions against the rise in scams as more debt-ridden Americans look to bankruptcy as a possible solution, advising that verifying the track record of a practice as well as seeking recommendations from other clients is essential to safeguard yourself.
Asking for references and client testimonials is not only perfectly reasonable when you’re paying a fee, but also prudent and necessary in today’s environment of scam artists looking to prey upon the vulnerable.
Other Things to Watch For
One of the most important things to remember when you’re meeting for a bankruptcy consultation is that there are certain rules that you must follow during the proceedings. For example, intentionally withholding information can lead to your bankruptcy case not only being unsuccessful, but also put you at risk for fraud. This includes withholding debt, hiding assets, and running up credit card balances before filing for Chapter 7.
While the process of preparing to file for Chapter 7 can seem daunting, taking it step by step will help a great deal. The more organized you are with documentation and relevant questions, the more painless the process will be, leaving you with a fresh slate to start anew. Give a vetted attorney a call today to schedule a consultation and get your case started.