Finding an attorney can be a difficult task. Remember that attorneys like any other people are individuals. You need to look for a lawyer whom you trust and whom you can work with. If you don't like the attorney chances are you won't like his/her work.
Talk to friends and relatives to see whome they would recommend. You can consult online sources (such as AVVO) to see what attorneys have good reputations or client reviews. Call various offices at get a perspective on exactly how the support staff treats incoming potential clients. You can use all of this information to make a selection. Good attorneys don't mind if you comparison shop. They are not afraid of a little competition. Be careful of advertising. Many bankruptcy lawyers advertise that they file for X amount of dollars. If this seems too good to be true it is because it is. Often these advertisements don't include the costs associated which could increase the bill by over a thousand dollars.
Get a copy of your tax returns for the prior three years.
If you have these items in your records, fantastic. If not contact the tax preparer and see if copies are available. If you don't have access to the tax preparer or prepared the documents yourself, contact the Internal Revenue Service and request a copy of your tax return. You may have to pay a fee for this, pay it. The returns are absolutely necessary. Additionally, get a copy of your state tax return from the appropriate agency in charge. In Illinois this would be the Illinois Department of Revenue.
If you filed your taxes late, include the reason for late filing and any extensions you for which you applied. If you didn't file taxes at all be prepare to discuss why this occurred.
If your interview date is near tax time include your latest tax information or return but still bring the three years prior not including the one your just filed.
It may take a few weeks to receive any documents you requested. Plan your interview with the lawyer so that you will have the documents.
Bring the prior six month of pay stubs or other proof of income for you and your spouse if applicable.
If you are a w-2 employee your employer keeps these records request copies well before your interview. You will need six full months of records prior to the date of your interview. Bring copies from all income sources you have for persons with multiple jobs. You must bring your spouses income documents regardless of whether they are filing jointly with you.
If you are a contractor or otherwise self employed this may be more difficult. Bring 1099 information, financial statements from your accounts representative, or other documents evidencing the income/expenses for the past six months.
Be aware this is a continuing obligation until you actually file. Every time you are paid you will have to provide a pay stub or other evidence until the date you file your bankruptcy.
Bring a well thought out and DETAILED list of your monthly expenses.
I cannot stress enough that this list should be accurate and very detailed. You needs to list everything you spend a month along with the minimum monthly payments AND any amounts above the minimum. Include statement if you have them showing these expenses. Your need to calculate the payments that are ordinarily not accounted for such as fuel, car maintenance, food, prescriptions, entertainment, pretty much anything you spend in a given month. If you are married but not filing jointly you still need to list the expenses apportioned to your spouse. Also don't be afraid to list charitable expenses. The law allows you to deduct charitible expenses up to a certain extent.
Value everything you own based on a yard sale or auction value NOT replacement value.
Take an inventory of all your earthly possessions. Then separate them out into 7 categories, secured property; titled property; personal property; real property; intangible property; high value property. Value them based on what they are worth if you sold them at an auction.
Secured property: Any property you have pledged to a bank or other creditor. This could be your home, car, appliances, bank accounts, etc.
Titled Property: Any property were ownership is evidenced by a piece of paper, mostly this is in regard to vehicles.
Personal Property: This is all your stuff; pots; pans; furniture; clothes; etc.
Real Property: This is any land or buildings you own.
Intangible property: This is stocks, mutual funds, bonds, bank accounts, other financial property that is generally not a tangible object.
High Value Property: This could be antiques, weapons, collections, art, or other items that have specific and quantifiable value that is generally worth more than 500.00.
Do not try and pay off any one debt more than 600.00 or tansfer any property to anyone else.
If you need to keep the wolves from the door only make the minimum payments necessary. Do not pay any creditor extra money to get them off your back. To do so causes what is known as a preference and the result can be troublesome for your bankruptcy.
At the time you decide to file or even think about it you need to freeze your assets voluntarily. Do not give your brother your Harley or pay off that loan you owe your mother. Do not transfer any property to anyone until you have sought the advice of an attorney. If you do so the result could be the forfeiture of your discharge which would negate the whole purpose for your filing bankruptcy in the first place.
Get an accurate and up to date statement showing the balance of any and all accounts your have.
This includes checking; savings; retirement; investment; medical; college; pension; or any other conceivable account with any bank or other institution including life insurance companies.
Records regarding any arrearage you have on any property you intend or desire to keep.
Any arrearage is an amount of money you are behind because of missed or late payments. If you desire to keep a car or home and you are behind on the payments you need to find out the exact amout of the arrearage and bring that information with your when you meet your lawyer.
Your drivers license and social security card.
If you don't have a drivers license a state ID will be fine. If you don't have a social security card you need to order one immediately as they take a while to process. Try to schedule your consultation for after you receive the card. The bankruptcy trustee will request this information at a later hearing, if you happen to forget it your attorney will have a copy if you have brought the information to him/ her at the initial consultation.
List your debt, ALL OF IT, no matter who is owed or how much is owed.
You need to create a complete and very detailed list of every cent your owe to anyone. From a credit card company to your brother in law. It doesn't matter how much the debt is or whether there is anything that evidences it like a contract. Start with your residence then list any other items of real estate you have. Then move on to vehicles. After vehicles start with purchase money financing relationships like when you buy an appliance or other item of significant value. After that list your credit cards, personal loans, andother debt. Remember that there is a difference between a DEBT and a BILL. If you make a monthly payment like water bills and utilities and are not behind that is a bill. If you have a balance left unpaid and are making payments that is a debt.
You need to include the amount owed, to whom it is owed, minimum payment, interest rate, and address of the creditor.
Any paperwork you receive because someone is suing you, garnishing your wages, or other legal documents you received.
If you have been sued or had a judgment against you you need to provide your attorney any document in your possession that show the process and results. If you have had a garnishment, repossession or other legal collection taken against you similarly you ned to bring it to the attention of your lawyer and provide whatever documents youu have.
Finally, Relax take a breath and stop worrying.
We know you are in dire straits and we know that you are stressed. we are there to help. Don't beat yourself up or make yourself sick worrying about this. Take the steps I have outlined above and go the appointment confident that you are ready. hunreds of thousands of people every year find themselves in your position. You are not alone, and this is not the end of the world. If you make smart decisions after the bankruptcy in most cases you can improve your credit to a point even better than before you filed. Good luck to you.
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