Bankruptcy: What Are You Waiting For?

 by Dana Wilkinson, Attorney at Law
Happy Groundhog Day!

Lately the same refrain keeps cropping up in my practice:  why did you wait so long?  I understand that very few people want to file bankruptcy, and I agree that the decision to file bankruptcy is an important one.  And while it is common to hear that bankruptcy should be a last resort, it is also true that you can wait too long.  So, in honor of Groundhog Day, while we wait to find out when spring will arrive, here are some problems that might crop up if you wait too long to file bankruptcy.

You exhaust your reserves.  This is probably the most common consequence of just hanging on too long, trying to avoid bankruptcy.  You are trying to keep up with mortgage payments or credit card payments after a job loss, illness, divorce, or the like, and you exhaust your savings, tap into your 401k or IRAs, incur taxes and penalties as a result, which makes the whole financial situation still worse.  You use up the resources that would make it easier to make a fresh start, and make it harder to recover financially.  It is easy, and probably natural, to just try to hang on and keep doing what you have always done.  It’s smarter to take an honest look at your situation and ask yourself whether you are going to be able to deal with your debt without some help.

You may lose control of assets that might otherwise be used to help you make a fresh start.  That is often the case when creditors sue you and obtain judgments against you.  A judgment becomes a lien against real property, which can be especially significant if you have investment property, or have inherited property, or, God forbid, you are holding title to family property to “keep it safe.”  The effect of a judgment on property depends on several factors, including where the property is located, whether you are entitled to claim it as exempt, and even what state you are in, but you shouldn’t wait until its a done deal to figure out what the effect will be.  At that point it may be too late.

Other issues can be decided in a law suit that will affect your ability to make a fresh start.  The amount of a debt may be determined to be higher than you anticipate, for example, by the addition of attorney fees and expenses.  Or, the court may enter a finding a fraud against you that will allow a debt to survive bankruptcy.  Other findings may also impact your fresh start as well, and if you are already in financial distress, you may find that it is prohibitively expensive to fight a lawsuit, or worse, several lawsuits.

Don’t wait until the bitter end to consider bankruptcy, and seek out competent legal advice about your bankruptcy options.   You might think that if you go see a bankruptcy lawyer that lawyer is automatically going to recommend bankruptcy, but that is not the case.  Most reputable bankruptcy lawyers are also knowledgeable about alternatives, and will advise you about those options, as well as tell you what may happen if you do nothing.  I regularly advise clients against filing bankruptcy (and sometimes that advice is because there is nothing left to protect).  You have nothing to lose, and quite a bit to gain by talking to someone as soon as you recognize that there is a problem, rather than waiting until you have no options.

Thanks to Bankruptcy Law Network.

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