Sometimes finances get quite literally out of hand: a job loss, a divorce, personal medical issues or those of family member. Any one of these things can upend a family’s finances to the point where normal recovery just isn’t an option. The last six years have been difficult for many, and things are only just being to look better. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a chance to reset and start into the improving market with a clean slate. During the first meeting, I often have clients tell me they have no idea what to expect.
Tips for a successful first Chapter 7 Bankruptcy meeting:
- Know where you stand: Your lawyer isn’t going to expect you to know every dime your creditors claim you owe or remember every outstanding bill. That said, it’s good to have a ballpark idea on what’s owing. Is it ten thousand? Is it one hundred thousand or is it more? Secured debts are the most important—have an idea about specific amounts owing on your car and house. You’ll also want to know how much that house and car are worth and what your income picture has been like over the last 6 months. In my practice, you don’t have to have exact numbers at the first meeting, but we’ll have a lot more to talk about if you have a general idea about the above things.
- Have a goal: There are a number of good goals for bankruptcy, such as delaying foreclosure, stopping creditor calls, and protecting assets. The most important goal I believe is to make the Chapter 7 an opportunity to reset your financial life. I like my client’s to be on an upward swing when they file, not still heading downward, where bankruptcy is at best a speed bump.
- Be open: Your lawyer’s job is to help you file your case, avoid challenges to your case from creditors, assist in presenting your case to the trustee, and help you protect your assets to the extent permitted by the law. This can’t happen without being completely open with your lawyer. I’ve seen cases where a disgruntled ex has tipped the trustee off to assets the lawyer didn’t know about—not good. Most attorney charge a flat fee for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Talk his or her ear off during the process.
- Stay optimistic: Bankruptcy can be a lot of work. There are classes to take, at least one hearing to attend, documents to gather and review, and you will have to repeat yourself to your lawyer, possibly more than once. All of this is extra work at a time when you probably can’t afford it. On top of it all, your financial life is under scrutiny. All of these things can weigh on a person, but there is light at the end of this tunnel. Stay prompt, attentive, and positive. You’ll get through it
Finally, some people step into my office feeling ashamed of the position they are in. Don’t be, even if you feel you’ve made mistakes. Bankruptcy is your legal right, and by exercising it, you are taking the first step toward regaining control of your finances.