When you should consider bankruptcy

The conventional wisdom—that people who file for bankruptcy are deadbeats who choose not to pay their debts—is typically dead wrong.

Ask any bankruptcy judge or trustee. Most people who file for bankruptcy don’t do it as a first resort. Most people, in fact, put off filing for far too long. They struggle for years with impossible debts, often draining retirement funds or home equity in vain attempts to satisfy their creditors. The tragedy is that the money they’re pulling from their IRAs or their homes would be protected from those same creditors if they had filed for bankruptcy sooner. But they try to do the right thing, and as a result wind up far worse off than they might have been.

Add up all your unsecured debts. Unsecured debts include:

  • Credit card debt
  • Medical bills
  • Unsecured personal loans
  • Loans from friends and family

Unsecured debt does not include auto loans, mortgages or student loans.

If your unsecured debts equal half or more of your current income, then you should make two appointments:

  1. Visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and set up an appointment with a legitimate credit counselor. These folks can tell you if you may qualify for a debt management plan that would allow you to pay off your credit card debt within three to five years. Credit counselors try to help you avoid bankruptcy, so to get a complete picture of your options you should also:
  2. Visit the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and get a referral to a nearby experienced bankruptcy attorney. The attorney can review your situation and let you know your options in bankruptcy court. Many of these attorneys offer free or discounted initial sessions.

Even if you’re determined to avoid bankruptcy, you should consult with a bankruptcy attorney about your situation if you’re being sued over your debts or your wages have been garnished to pay your debts. Once the courts are involved, you need a lawyer’s help.

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