10 things you should know before filing bankruptcy

Think bankruptcy is the solution to all of your debt? Here are the pros and cons of filing as well as some alternatives to consider.

waiting “until the sheriff knocks down your door” is your best plan of action. Why wait? Since bankruptcy leaves a lasting blemish on your records, you should give yourself every opportunity to find an alternative means of reducing your debts, advises Sparkman. That includes getting a loan from a friend or family member to pay back what you owe. Or getting help from a credit counselor who can help you contact creditors to work out a payment schedule to their satisfaction. Also, over time, your chances of landing a better job or even coming into a windfall from an inheritance increases.

It seems simple: Save the bucks and skip the lawyer by buying a book. Before you pinch pennies, however, it might pay to look closely at the introductions and prefaces to the many do-it-yourself bankruptcy guides out there. Publishers make absolutely sure that each edition comes with numerous disclaimers and footnotes advising you to consult a lawyer if your situation strays from the book’s examples in any way. And more than likely, your individual case will be different from the examples in the book.

Another problem with at least some of the do-it-yourself books now on the market is that they don’t explain well enough the difference between secured and unsecured debts, which are treated differently in your filing. Many also lack adequate explanation of the formula you must use to pay back your debt under Chapter 13. Then, there is a thicket of local laws that complicate things even further.

So while the books might be good for telling you what you can expect, don’t count on them to walk you from filing the paperwork to the final gavel of a proceeding. There is one circumstance, however, where they can indisputably help. Chapter 7 proceedings basically require no more than a filing, a creditor’s meeting or a court date, and finally a letter in the mail settling the discharge of your debt. “In 80% of the Chapter 7 cases, you won’t have a hearing or see a judge,” says Stephen R. Elias, co-author How to File for Bankruptcy (Nolo Press, $26.95; 800- 992-6656). “Our book is, for that 80%,” he says.
Online, you’ll find that the American Bar Association’s Web page http://www.abanet.org) contains wide-ranging legal advice, including a listing of lawyer referral services. (The ABA’s service number is 800- 285-2221.) Nolo Press has a Self-Help Law Center Site http://www. nolo.com). America mine subscribers can even post bankruptcy questions on a messageboard at he site. For access, select Nolo using AOL’s keyword option. “We usually answer questions posted there in a couple of days,” says Elias.

Meanwhile, Bit Legal Software offers a program called Total Bankruptcy 4.0 at lets anyone with a PC generate bankruptcy schedules at home. The Dallas-based company (214-904-0529) also has ahomepage(http://wwvv.whytel.com: 80/home/eorne/TB/index.html).

But there’s no substitute for a good lawyer. He or she will be instrumental in helping you decide whether you should file and the appropriate type of filing for your

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