Top Seven TO DO’s Before Bankruptcy: Item 1 – Gather Your Financial Records

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By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Attorney

This is the first in a series of seven posts about my top seven things that you should do if you are considering bankruptcy or preparing to file – either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Item 1 on my list is that you should gather the financial records that your attorney will need to process your case. These will include payroll check stubs, bank statements, mortgage records, and tax returns. You should also be gathering together your monthly statements for all your debts. Include any nasty letters you may be receiving from lawyers or collection agencies. Don’t just gather the records you have, but also start keeping records of all your financial transactions. Keep track of your expenses. Keep all your receipts. If there is legal action against you, keep all the paperwork from that. There is a human tendency to want to throw away paperwork that contains bad news. Don’t do it. Keep it and give it to your lawyer.

Income Information

Your attorney will want to see at least six months of income information. Typically this would be pay stubs from any employment you have had during the most recent six months. He or she will also need to know about unemployment benefits, disability benefits, social security benefits, retirement income and any other income source for that six months. If you are self employed or operating a small business, create a cash in – cash out statement. This is a listing of funds received and business expenses paid over that the most recent six months. I prefer to it broken down by month. For a self employed person, “income” usually will be the difference between the cash in and the cash out.

Bank Statements

The trustee in your bankruptcy case will always ask to see at least 30 days of bank statements. Maybe they will ask to see as many as six months of bank statements. This would be a printout or statements for any bank accounts you may have. It always has to include the balance on the day the case is filed. If there are red flags in your bank statements, you want your lawyer to see them before somebody else does. Most of the time I start by asking to see my client’s most recent bank statement. Then I may ask for more depending on what I see.

Keep Your Receipts

If you do a lot of your financial business with cash, it is best to keep very careful records of what you are doing with the cash. Keep your receipts. Keep records for everything you do. You might or might not be asked to produce the receipts, but you should have them ready in case the trustee wants to see them.

Tax Returns

The bankruptcy trustee will require that you produce your most recent state and federal tax returns. I will want to see at least the last two years of your tax returns. There are income questions on the bankruptcy petition that go back two years. The best place for me to get your income information is from the tax returns. If you have unfiled tax returns, I will ask that you get your tax filing up to date before we file the bankruptcy. We have to list all your assets and all your debts. If you owe taxes that’s obviously a debt, and if you have a refund coming that’s an asset. Either way I need to know what that is.

Bills, Nasty Letters and Legal Actions

Even if we eventually get a credit report, there are many things that do not show on those reports. Or the reports might be wrong. So I want to see the statements and letters you have been receiving from your creditors. If there is a lawsuit or a threat of one, I want to see all the paperwork you have about that as well.

Documentation of Assets

If you own your home, find your deed from when you bought the place. Best too if you find a copy of the mortgage you signed at that time. If you have refinanced, find the papers about that too. Usually you get a big folder of stuff when you buy a house or refinance. Just bring that folder to your lawyer and he or she will pick out the needed documents. If you own a car, trailer, camper, or motorcycle, find the title certificates. If you have a boat or an ATV that is registered with the state, find your registration card or papers – your lawyer will need them.

Maintain ongoing records

Finally keep in mind that preparing a bankruptcy is an ongoing process. You are never realy done gathering records. As your attorney works with you to prepare the case, which could take several weeks, continue to keep records. When anything new turns up, be sure you give it to your lawyer.

Disclaimer

I am a debt relief agency. I help people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code. This pose is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship.

Call Dave – It’s Free

Call Dave for a free telephone consultation. 962-544-6356.

What to Bring to the First Meeting at My Offce

For me the starting point for most bankruptcy cases is a call from the prospective client.  If you are reading this that could be you.  Before anything else I like to do a screening over the phone.  This can be done in about fifteen minutes, sometimes maybe a bit longer.  No need to be afraid of me.  I’m easy to talk to.  There’s no fee for the phone conversation.  If the information from the phone conversation indicates that bankruptcy is appropriate, whether that be a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13, the next thing I want to do is meet face to face in my office for a more serious consultation. For this I will charge a small consultation fee, which I will have quoted in the phone conversation.  I will credit the consultation fee against my fee for the case if we decide to go ahead.  If I suggest that you come in for a consultation, it’s because I’m already fairly certain that it is a case I would accept.

There are four batches of information that I would ask you to bring when you come:

  1. Forms.  There are two forms on my web site, the bankruptcy questionnaire and the monthly expense sheet.   Please print these two forms and fill them out in pen and ink.  Pencil is OK too.  Then bring them with you when you come.  Some of the questions, especially on the first form, are hard to answer.  If you can’t figure out the question, leave it blank and we’ll talk about it when you come in.  Complete the expense sheet to the best of your ability, and we’ll go over those numbers when you come in too.  Remember that things you charged on a credit card count as an expense as well as the things you paid for in cash or by means of your checking account.
  2. Tax returns.  I’d like to see your state and federal tax returns for the past two calendar years, along with your W2s and any similar supporting paperwork.  At the time of writing this post, that would be the returns for 2011 and 2012.  If you filed for a Minnesota property tax refund or Minnesota rent credit, I’d like to see that return for the past two calendar years as well.  If you file separate returns for your corporation or LLC, bring them along as well.
  3. Pay stubs and income information for the past seven months.  I need to see the last seven months of pay stubs from your your job and from the job of your spouse.  If you don’t have them, get them from your employer or from your employer’s web site.  By seven months I mean the six previous months plus the month we are in.  If you don’t have pay stubs because you are self employed, I need a spread sheet showing your gross income and your business-related expenses for that same seven month period.  If you don’t have pay stubs because you are unemployed, I need detailed info on what unemployment benefits you are receiving and what taxes are being withheld from your benefits if any.  If you are receiving child support or spousal maintenance, I would want dates and amounts received during that seven month period.  If you are on  Social Security or Social Security Disability, provide me with details of how much you received gross in the past seven months and what if anything was withheld from that.  If there is any kind of income coming in from anywhere, I need to know about it.
  4. Details about your debts.  I want to see every piece of paper you have describing each and every debt.  Include your credit cards, car loans, mortgages, tax debts, student loans and any fines and penalties you owe.  I usually can’t make the student loans go away, but I still need to know all about them.  You probably intend to keep paying your mortgages and car loans, but we need to list them anyway.  Some of your tax debt may be dischargeable, but even if it isn’t we need to list it all.  Be sure to include nasty letters from lawyers and collection agencies.  Eventually we will be checking your credit report, but for the first meeting the information you have handy about your debt will probably be enough.

As you might have gathered by this point, that consultation in my office is usually quite thorough.  I should be able to give you an opinion concerning your situation that will be worth the trip.  Figure on spending an hour and a half – more if we are planning on running a means test.