Lessons Learned in Bankruptcy
A bankruptcy attorney's tips on how to avoid common pitfalls of the bankrupt in 2011
Let's face it . . . 2010, while perhaps a bit better for some, will not go down as the greatest year, financially-speaking, for most of us. The upcoming year could see more of the same if we enter into a double-dip recession.
I'm not here to get you down during the holiday season. Everyone should enjoy this time with their loved ones and use it to recharge physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Instead, I would like to share some of what I have learned over the past several years from helping clients avoid bankruptcy and file for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 relief when there was no other option. Here are some of my tips for surviving the current economic climate if you or someone you know is struggling financially:
1. Pare down to the basics of life and pay off debt now, not later.
I cannot stress this enough. Time is of the essence. First, let's get a few things clear . . . cable or satellite TV is not essential to life. (You would not believe how often I have to argue this or something similar with clients.) Neither is a six bedroom house that you can't afford – even if you have five kids. Sharing rooms may have to be an option until things improve.
To simultaneously cut expenses and raise cash to pay off debt, sell unnecessary items on the classified page of Lawrenceville Patch. Also, try to obtain as much of your weekly groceries as you possibly can from area food banks, the Bread of Life Food Ministry in Lawrenceville, feeds dozens of folks weekly.
If you are just barely making ends meet month to month – NOW is the time to take drastic steps to keep economic ruin at bay, not six months from now. The quicker a struggling family rids itself of heavy financial burdens in times like these, the better the chances are for its survival.
2. Use an emergency fund, not the "plastic" cushion, for all life's little surprises.
So many bankrupts I've seen either, never had an emergency fund at all, or were very inconsistent in maintaining one over an extended period of time. Establishing an emergency fund generally accomplishes two things. First, it keeps you and your family out of credit card debt . . . or, as I like to say, off the good 'ole American "plastic cushion." When the car breaks down, you'll be able to pull out the checkbook, instead of accruing large credit card bills with ridiculous interest rates and late penalties.
Second, establishing an emergency fund tends to correct any false assumptions about the true cost of living, since the creation of one requires each family or individual to calculate exactly how much money it takes to pay the bills and eat every month.
Emergency funds are generally 3-9 months of living expenses, maybe more if the major breadwinner has irregular income based on commission, instead of receiving a fixed salary. They are much easier to establish, even in a bad economy, than most folks think. To build an emergency fund, first see tip one (above), and take a second job if you need to. It's that important.
3. Don't wait until things are at their worst before consulting an attorney with expertise in bankruptcy.
In my view - a bankruptcy attorney's job is to help clients avoid bankruptcy, if possible and if not, then to navigate the process in a way that helps the client and his or her family come out of bankruptcy with a roof overhead, food to eat, and a plan for survival post-bankruptcy going forward. A good bankruptcy attorney may even be able to help you and your family get out of debt without filing for bankruptcy - but only if assistance is sought as quickly as possible when the red flags of financial trouble first began to appear.