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Bankruptcy: Don’t Make These 6 Mistakes

The prospect of filing for bankruptcy protection is a serious decision that isn’t to be taken lightly.  Generally speaking, if you file bankruptcy the right way it will have very profound positive impacts on your life and allow you to restructure your finances in a viable way going forward. However, if it isn’t done correctly you can find yourself fighting for years to come to clean up the messes and mistakes of a failed bankruptcy. Often, we see people who come through our office who have experienced such failed bankruptcies and we are stuck cleaning up an expensive mess made by unqualified attorneys who filed things incorrectly or simply didn’t know what they were doing. Below, I list the top 6 mistakes that people commit when filing for bankruptcy,

They go to a “BIG BOX” bankruptcy firm  to file their case.

There are many great attorneys out there that work for these “big box” firms and they are wonderful, caring people. The only problem is, when you’re looking at these firms, you often have somewhere between five and ten attorneys juggling 150-200 or more cases a month. The long and short of this is, they can’t ever get to know your case PERSONALLY. They will pass everything off to a secretary or paralegal that just files the paperwork and never takes the time to actually get to know you and your case. Our office handles several clients a month who have had their case filed by a “big box” bankruptcy mill only to see it get dismissed because of some technicality or missed deadline by the untrained and overwhelmed staff. If you’re sitting in some rarely staffed satellite office or the waiting room has 50 chairs in it, you’re probably not going to get the personalized service you need and deserve. If getting good customer service from the same people ever time isn’t that important to you, you might be a good fit for a one of these types of firms.  The biggest difference between a “big box” firm and a local bankruptcy firm is service. You aren’t going to pay them any less in the long run but you definitely won’t have access to your attorney like you would going with a smaller firm.

Hiring an attorney that doesn’t have actual BANKRUPTCY experience.

They may be your buddy you went to high school or college with, they might be a general practice attorney that has been in the same spot for 40 years, they might even be $100 less than the bankruptcy practitioner up the street but don’t let them fool you. Bankruptcy laws change CONSTANTLY and the only people who keep up with those changes are the people who file bankruptcies on a regular basis.   Like doctors, attorneys specialize in certain aspects of the law because the law complicated and no one has time or the ability to be able to practice 10 different types of law, especially if they’re concerned about not making mistakes. Don’t end up being a lab rat for some attorney who THINKS they might be able to handle filing bankruptcies, your financial future depends on it.

Using a bankruptcy petition preparer service.

There’s an old adage out there that I love to use.  NEVER hire a discount plastic surgeon or a discount lawyer, the damage that a hack can potentially do just isn’t worth it. Hiring a petition preparer may be cheaper but it’s usually just an accident waiting to happen. While I list 6 major mistakes you can make, this one should probably be at the top of the list.   People often go through their case, sometimes for 5 years or more, thinking that everything is humming along smoothly.  Sadly, people often find out after the fact that a debt wasn’t reaffirmed correctly or paperwork was filed incorrectly. Petition preparers are just supposed to type and in the State of Georgia, they are not allowed to give legal counsel.  If something goes wrong, you have no recourse since you agreed that all they were doing was typing, it was your responsibility to handle everything else. We have cleaned up the mess of hundreds of people who used a petition preparer. These people often find themselves being investigated for fraud by the U.S. Department of Justice, facing the threat of losing a home they didn’t know they had equity in or even ending up in the wrong type of bankruptcy altogether.  Generally speaking, you can start a Chapter 13 for around $75 and a Chapter 7 for around that same price. There is literally no reason to not hire an experienced Bankruptcy attorney. In bankruptcy you’re dealing with the federal government and all its resources. Discount shopping for bankruptcy could leave you in a massive mess.

Not fully listing your assets.

When it comes to your attorney and your bankruptcy you have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If your name is on the title you absolutely HAVE to list it in your case.  Your trustee doesn’t care if it’s your grandmother’s car and she’s the only one who drives it, if your name is on the title you have to list it. Committing bankruptcy fraud is an actual criminal offense, thousands of people are investigated each year for bankruptcy fraud and hundreds of them go to FEDERAL PRISON each year for committing it.

Transferring property out of your name before you file.

Transferring a house or a car to someone else out of your name isn’t going to help you, in fact, it’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ll make. Trustees have broad investigatory power and they WILL look into your background.  If you sold your house to your aunt for $1,000 three weeks before you filed bankruptcy the trustee WILL find out. Sometimes transferring things isn’t a big deal but sometimes it is.  Only a competent attorney who specializes in bankruptcy can tell you which one is the case.

Paying debts to family members or friends before you file.

This is one of the biggest mistakes we see when people come in for a consultation. Obviously, you don’t want to stiff your Aunt Shirley out of the $500 bucks she loaned you to make the down payment on your car. Guess what, the court doesn’t care. In fact, if they find out you paid anyone off in full right before you filed bankruptcy whether it is a friend, family member of a title pawn, they’ll go after them to get that money back and distribute it to your creditors. Paying off one person while bankrupting on someone else is called a preference payment.  Preference payments are not legal. Meeting with a qualified attorney can help you understand this process and can also explain when a trustee can attempt to collect preference payments from friends and family member and when they can’t.

Speaking with a competent bankruptcy attorney in Newnan or LaGrange doesn’t cost a dime. Our attorneys will meet with you at a time that is convenient for you FREE OF CHARGE. We will do a complete examination of your financial situation and give you our recommendations for how to best meet your financial goals. Don’t make a major financial mistake that could haunt you for years to come.