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The Basics of a Filing a Petition for Bankruptcy
From a legal perspective, the bankruptcy process begins when you file a petition with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. But there are several things you must do before filing for bankruptcy. Think of these as the requirements you must meet to file a complete and accurate bankruptcy petition. This article will take you through the steps leading up to and including filing your bankruptcy petition.
A Bankruptcy Attorney's Advice Is Recommended
Before discussing the basics of filing the bankruptcy petition, it's important to note that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court strongly recommends that you get a lawyer's help to file for bankruptcy. The court writes:
"While individuals can file a bankruptcy case without an attorney or 'pro se,' it is extremely difficult to do it successfully. It is very important that a bankruptcy case be filed and handled correctly. The rules are very technical, and a misstep may affect a debtor's rights...Bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal consequences - hiring a competent attorney is strongly recommended."
Before Filing the Petition
No more than 180 days before you file for bankruptcy, you must undergo credit counseling. Do not file your bankruptcy petition if you haven't yet gone through credit counseling, or if you went through credit counseling more than 180 days ago.
You'll also have to compile information and submit a number of forms with your bankruptcy petition. The exact list of information will vary depending on what type of bankruptcy you pursue, but can include:
- A list of the names and addresses of all creditors
- An income statement
- A list of your assets and liabilities
- A schedule of your current income and ongoing expenses
- A list of any contracts or leases you're currently bound by
- A statement confirming that you've complied with the credit counseling requirement
Any errors or omissions in these documents can have serious consequences. At the very least, it could delay your personal bankruptcy filing. At worst, it could open you up to the possibility of criminal charges. It's important to stress: Your bankruptcy petition and supporting materials must be complete and accurate.
Filing Your Bankruptcy Petition
Every state has at least one federal Bankruptcy Court. Some states are divided into several geographic districts, with a court in each district. Your bankruptcy petition is filed with the court in the district in which you reside.
Each district Bankruptcy Court has its own website, and you'll want to read all of the information that's available on that website because filing procedures do vary from district to district. In general, when filing your bankruptcy petition, you'll need to bring to the court at least one copy of all of the bankruptcy forms and of all supporting documents, as well as your filing fee. Pay attention to the specific payment methods and requirements listed on the district court's website. For example, if paying in cash you may be required to have exact change, or you may not be allowed to pay with a personal check.
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