Bankruptcy mistakes can be very costly and all too often an individual filing bankruptcy will make inadvertent mistakes that jeopardize their chance of discharging their debts and retaining exempted property. Avoid these Top 10 mistakes and you will be well on your way to a successful bankruptcy filing.
1. Transferring Real Estate or Other Assets: Some people try and protect their assets by transferring them out of their name, but this strategy will not work in a bankruptcy proceeding. Recent property transfers must be disclosed to the bankruptcy trustee and the bankruptcy court may "avoid the transfer" and put the parties in the same position they were in before the transfer. Even if you don't feel that the property or asset that your name is rightfully yours, the bankruptcy court may still "avoid the transfer". It is often unnecessary to transfer any property or assets before filing bankruptcy as each state has bankruptcy exemptions designed to protect all or a portion of your assets.
2. Transferring Credit Card Balances: Transferring a large amount of debt to one credit card can result in debt on the new credit card not being eliminated due to the large amount of debt incurred to one creditor right before filing bankruptcy. The new creditor may have a strong argument that the balance transfer should be presumed fraudulent, especially if the transfer was within 60 days prior to filing and over $1500.
3. Repaying Loans to Family Members: The bankruptcy code requires that you treat all of your creditors equally and does not want you choosing which creditors to repay right before filing bankruptcy. You can't repay Uncle Bob the $2000 from when the furnace went at the expense of your other creditors. The bankruptcy trustee may pursue the relative for a portion of any funds recently transferred to them. You are required to list debts that are owed to family members, but assuming there is no discharge objection brought, the debt will be legally eliminated and you can repay the loan if you choose to.
4. Not Including All Your Debts on your Bankruptcy Petition: You are required by law to include all of your debts on your bankruptcy petition, even if you want to keep the debt. If you want to keep your house and automobile when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you usually will sign a reaffirmation agreement with the bankruptcy court excluding the discharge of those specific debts.
5. Ignoring Lawsuits: Many people fear lawsuits and don't know what to do when they get a summons in the mail. In most cases, if you have already filed bankruptcy and receive a summons from a debt listed on your bankruptcy petition, your bankruptcy attorney should be able to fax your case information to the creditor's attorney and get the case dismissed. However, if you are in the process of filing bankruptcy, but the case is not officially filed yet, it can be helpful to attend the designated court hearing and request a continuance to give you an opportunity to file for bankruptcy relief.
6. Withholding Information from Your Bankruptcy Lawyer: Bankruptcy Lawyers are often frustrated at 341 hearings when their clients are placed under oath and disclose new information that was previously withheld from their attorney. Bankruptcy lawyers need all the requested information to properly advise you and protect your income and assets. The horror stories about bankruptcy that we've all heard are frequently due to an individual failing to disclose vital information to a qualified bankruptcy attorney for proper advice and planning.
7. Cashing in 401(k)'s, IRA's, and other Retirement Funds: Generally, 401(k)'s, IRA's, and other retirement funds are protected from the reach of your creditors and are allowed to be kept during and after a bankruptcy. However, a common mistake is people cashing in their retirement accounts or obtaining a loan. The money that is taken out of your retirement account is no longer protected from your creditors, and you'll likely owe penalties and taxes on any accounts that were cashed in.
8. Filing Bankruptcy when you are expecting a Large Tax Return: In many states, a tax refund is considered to be an asset that can be liquidated if the bankruptcy exemptions aren't enough to protect it. Depending on the amount of the refund and the relevant state laws, it is often advisable for you to receive your tax refund and spend the proceeds on living necessities before the bankruptcy is filed. Many states offer a "wildcard" exemption that can be used to protect tax refunds among other things.
9. Waiting Until the Last Minute Before Filing Bankruptcy: The moment you file a bankruptcy an "automatic stay" goes into place which prohibits your creditors from any further collection activity against you, but it is unlikely that you will be able to recover any wages garnished or property taken before the filing of the case. Too many people wait until their creditors have already taken action against them before consulting with a bankruptcy attorney.
It can take considerable time to prepare the bankruptcy petition, review the relevant documentation, and be certified by a trustee approved credit counseling agency. Once you have made the decision that bankruptcy is your best alternative, you should file as soon as possible to avoid anymore creditor harassment and allow yourself to put future earnings towards long-term goals and savings instead of chipping away at an insurmountable amount of debt.
10. Not Hiring a Bankruptcy Attorney: Fortunately, experienced bankruptcy attorneys are aware of all of these common mistakes and many more. Bankruptcy is a complex area of the law and the process has being further complicated with the new bankruptcy laws. Mistakes can be costly and a thorough case evaluation from a local bankruptcy attorney is the best way to identify any possible issues and develop a strategy to relieve your debt problems.
Richard Waple is the creator of http://www.bankruptcyhq.com, a bankruptcy information website containing insight and information primarily based on Richard's experiences as a bankruptcy attorney with one of the largest consumer bankruptcy law firms in the nation.