Before you can file bankruptcy, you need to do some things to get ready. This To Do List tells you the things you should do before starting on your forms:
- 1. Decide if You Need a Lawyer to File Your Bankruptcy
You may decide after going over this checklist that you want to hire a bankruptcy lawyer if you can. If you have a limited income, contact the legal aid program for the county you live in.
- 2. Read the Bankruptcy Information Sheet
Before filing read the “Notice Required by 11 U.S.C. § 342(b).” The notice talks about different types of bankruptcies you may file and provides some tips:
- Fill out your bankruptcy paperwork truthfully and completely.
- Don’t try to hide any property. Don’t tell the bankruptcy court anything that you know is not true. If you do, this could be a bankruptcy crime. You can be fined or go to jail. Note: making an honest mistake is not a bankruptcy crime. Do your best to answer all the questions on your forms.
- You have to file the required forms on time in your case.
- While yourbankruptcy is in court, you have to let the court know if your address changes.
- 3. Get Your Credit Reports
To fill out your paperwork, you need copies of your credit reports. Get them from the 3 credit bureaus. They are:
You can ask for free copies of your credit reports online. The only truly free credit report website is: www.annualcreditreport.com. Some websites provide 1 or 2 reports for free, but many other websites that say they are free when they are not free. They end up charging your credit card for monthly fees.
Getting your credit reports can take a while, so ask for them now. Be sure to ask for copies of all 3 credit reports. Different reports often have different information. If you can get online, ask for your credit reports right now. If you can’t get online right now, plan to go somewhere that has free internet access. You can get online for free at public libraries. Ask for copies of your credit reports as soon as possible.
You can also ask for your credit report in writing through the mail. If you moved in the past few years, it might be hard to get your credit report online. The credit bureaus use your address to check that you are who you say you are. If your address has changed a lot, they may not be able to make sure it is you. This is when you can ask for your credit report in writing. There is a form for you to use at: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action.
- 4. Know What You Owe on Debts
You need to know what you owe on all your debts. The amount you owe should be listed on the last statement from the creditor or debt collector. If you don’t have your last statement, use the most recent balance that shows on your credit report. The total amount you actually owe at the time of filing your bankruptcy is what is discharged (gotten rid of) in the bankruptcy. It might be different from the amount listed.
If you owe a court judgment or criminal fines, call the circuit or district court clerks in any court where you think you might have been sued or owe a fine. If you give your name, they can run a search for you. Ask for the current balance and case numbers.
If you owe child support or alimony, get copies of the most recent court order and most recent statement from any child support collection agency.
You may also owe debts that are not on your credit report. Some creditors don’t report to credit bureaus. For example, many doctors, landlords, or other creditors do not show up on credit reports. Court fines may not show up. Private people often do not report to credit bureaus either. If you know you owe money to a business or a person, list it on your bankruptcy, even if it is not on your credit report.
You may have debts that have gone to collection, but you don't know what you owe now if it’s not on your credit report. Call the creditor or collector and ask for a statement. The statement should say how much you owe. It should say which business turned it over to collections. You need to know this because you need to list both the original creditor and any debt collectors that later tried to collect the debt. You can ask for this information over the phone, but it is best to ask in writing.
If you forget to list a debt, it is still discharged if you have filed a “no asset, Chapter 7.”
- 5. File Your Income Taxes
If you haven’t filed your tax returns for the past 2 years, do it now! You can’t file bankruptcy until this is done.
You can probably file your taxes for free. Try to use a free tax preparation service. They don’t take part of your tax refund as payment like a refund anticipation loan does. You get your entire tax refund back.
In the year after the year you file, you have to give the Trustee a copy of your tax return. The Chapter 7 Trustee may take a part of your refund, depending on when you filed for bankruptcy. You can’t spend any of your tax refund until the Trustee says you can.
- 6. Make a Credit Counseling Appointment
You have to go to a credit counseling appointment before you can file bankruptcy. You can choose to do any program as long as you get a Credit Counseling Certificate. You can do the appointment online or over the phone.
Find a list of approved credit counseling agencies for Kentucky at https://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/CC_Files/CC_Approved_Agencies_HTML/cc_kentucky/cc_kentucky.htm
Important: Your counseling certificate is only good for 180 days! If you don’t think you can be ready to file in that time, wait to do your counseling.
- 7. Gather Materials for the Trustee
Below is a checklist of the many documents you have to give to a Bankruptcy Trustee after you file bankruptcy. These documents must be filed at least 14 days before your meeting. Go through the list now.
If a document applies to you, you must get a copy of it. It may take some time to get all the documents you need, especially if you need to get them from someone else. Start getting the documents now. That way you are not waiting on them later and holding up your bankruptcy.
Documents you need include:
- Copies of your state and federal income tax returns for the past 2 years
- Any documents for real property that you own. This includes a house or land. You need to get copies of the documents listed under number 2 on the form, if they apply to your property. If you don’t have these documents, check with your lender or the county clerk and recorder's office.
- Any documents for personal property that is collateral for a loan. This means any personal property (other than a vehicle) that you used to get a loan. It includes:
• personal property you currently own
• personal property that you sold or had repossessed in the past 4 years
• property you plan to sign back over to the lender after filing bankruptcy
If you don’t have copies of the documents they ask for, check with your lender.
- Copies of vehicle titles and registrations. This includes any titles for motorized vehicles and trailers and any loan documents you have for each vehicle.
- Certificate of title for a mobile home. If you don’t have copies of these documents, check with your lender or County Clerk.
- Proof of any life insurance with cash value you have.
- Documents for any retirement or pension plans you have.
- Documents for any insurance policies you have for property you own. This includes casualty insurance like a homeowner's policy. It also includes liability insurance, like car insurance. You need either your insurance card or the declarations page of your policy showing you are current.
- Copies of the past 3 months' statements for any financial accounts your name is on. This includes bank accounts or investment accounts. You need the most recent statements for 3 months before you actually file your bankruptcy through the date you file.
- Copies of any stocks or bonds you own.
- Copies of certain business documents if you have operated any kind of business within the past 6 years.
- A copy of any divorce decree or marital property settlement within the past 2 years.
- Copies of loan applications you did during the past 2 years. You only need copies of loan applications for loans you got and that are still open at the time you file bankruptcy. This does not apply to credit cards or credit card applications.
- Copies of 6 months of paystubs.
Get copies of all these documents and put them in a safe place. You need these documents to fill out your Official Bankruptcy Forms.