The whole premise behind bankruptcy is to get you a fresh start. But if your bankruptcy petition isn't complete and doesn't include all debts, you may not get the most complete debt relief. It's important to list every single creditor when you complete your bankruptcy papers, but how can you make sure you catch them all? There are a couple of different ways to identify them and a reputable bankruptcy attorney will help you with this.
For now, here's what to do to assemble a complete debt picture to bring to your bankruptcy consultation:
#1 Pull your credit reports
The first place to go to construct a complete list of all your debts and creditors is to your credit reports. Don't just pull one but pull all three credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Just one won't do. Why? Not all creditors report to all three agencies. Big lenders will report to all, but smaller or independent lenders may only report to one or two. Getting either a consolidated report that includes all three or three individual reports will give you the most complete picture. Bring this report to your initial consultation with you. Get annual free copies of your credit reports by clicking here.
#2 Go through your mail
Your credit report isn't enough because not all debts will show up there. The next step is to go through your mail. Dig out older mail and check out current mail as well. Look for bills, collection letters, lawsuit notices and any communication from anyone you know. Cross check these against items on your credit report. Any that aren't showing up on your credit report should be added to your stack of papers to bring when you see your attorney. Utilities and other bills that aren't on your credit report should also be included so your attorney can include these and use to calculate your expenses.
#3 Search the county register
You also want to make sure any past or pending creditor lawsuits against you are reflected in your bankruptcy petition. For pending cases, you can search the North Carolina Court System website. Click here to access it. This will show future court dates but not past. If you find any suits against you, print the basic information and take it to your bankruptcy consultation with you. To find out about past suits that have had a verdict, call your county courthouse. Click here for a directory of courthouse numbers.
#4 Go through your wallet and house
Next, go through your wallet and look at all your credit cards including major credit cards, store cards and any other cards that let you you borrow. Cross check all your cards against your credit reports. Any that aren't included should be noted so you can tell your attorney about them. Walk through your house and think about anything you have that you're paying for with credit such as rental appliances, furniture you borrowed to buy, etc. Write down anything you owe on that's not on your credit report so you can discuss these with your attorney at your bankruptcy consultation.
#5 Check your health insurance record
Unpaid medical bills are a major source of debt for many consumers considering bankruptcy. Click here for a recent article we wrote on this. If you have health insurance, you should be able to go onto your insurance provider's website and see a history of your medical activity. If you look for your Explanation of Benefits activity, you should see items your insurance didn't cover and that you have to personally pay. These are also items to search your mail for to make sure you include them all. Medical bills are 100% dischargeable in bankruptcy, so you definitely want to include all unpaid balances.
If you are filing Chapter 7 and have no nonexempt assets that the Trustee can distribute to your creditors, it doesn't matter so much if your petition is incomplete – all your unsecured debts will be discharged anyway. But you definitely should make sure you list your secured creditors no matter what – this is any debt tied to an asset like your home mortgage or car loan. If you do have any assets, it is much more important that your list of creditors is complete.