Whether you've decided to file for bankruptcy and want to learn more about the process or you're just considering bankruptcy and want to learn about the new laws relating to it, you need some answers from people "in the know." There are a variety of sources of information that can help you answer your bankruptcy questions. Here are a few ways to get the ball rolling and find the answers you need regarding this serious financial decision.
- Talk to a credit counselor at a reputable credit counseling bureau. Good credit counselors exist to help educate their clients about financial issues like debt, savings, and even bankruptcy. Check with friends, family, your church, the Better Business Bureau, or another civic group for a good credit counselor and bring your bankruptcy questions to your first meeting. They may not have all the answers, but they will likely have many of them and will be interested in your financial well-being and edification, not in making a profit. Also, a person must go to credit counseling for 180 days - by the new laws - in order to file for bankruptcy, so might as well get a head start.
- Ask the government(s). Why not check out the government website regarding bankruptcy laws? After all, they're the guys who pass these crazy laws to begin with, right? There's a federal government site set up for people to check out the "basics" of filing for bankruptcy. Topics include a page on "the process" and information on the various types of bankruptcy. However, as the inclusion of a "glossary" may indicate, it's not the most layman-friendly page. Surprise, surprise.
You should also check with your state government's court sites to see how state laws may apply to your situation and what forms you may need. Yes, there's a state angle to this too! For instance, Massachusetts residents can find some information here.
- Ask a lawyer. Of course, a person so in debt that she is considering bankruptcy might not want to assume more debt with legal fees, but the bankruptcy process is a very complex and legalese-filled one. I've never filed for bankruptcy, but I'm pretty sure it's easier to do one with a lawyer or at least some legal advice (your credit counselor will be able to help you with that). Some lawyers specialize in bankruptcy. As when hiring anyone to perform a service, do your research before agreeing to a deal. A great lawyer can help, a bad lawyer, obviously, will just make things worse. Check with friends, colleagues, your own lawyer of a different specialty, or with a trusted credit counselor for names of good lawyers (licensed in your state) to help answer your questions. In other words, don't just go with the first name that comes up on a web search.
- Ask some bankruptcy geeks. There's an actual organization called the American Bankruptcy Institute that has existed since 1982 for the purposed of providing "Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues." If you check out the site, you can read more about their credentials and see if you trust them or not. Of most use will be their Consumer Education Center which includes a checklist that might help people decide if bankruptcy is really for them. Again, it's up to you to evaluate the site and see if you value the information there. As for me, all I can say is it looks like they're waaaay into bankruptcy!
The most important thing to keep in mind when you're looking for answers on bankruptcy is "Whom do I trust?" Answers from anyone in the bankruptcy field - counselor, lawyer, or other assorted expert - are only as good as that particular person. Check the credentials of the people you seek help from, and don't be shy about asking any questions you have. After all, it's your financial future in the balance.