Advice From People Who Filed Bankruptcy

 I have been asking people who come into my office if they have any advice/regrets about their actions prior to filing bankruptcy.  Here is their advice:

1. Seek Legal Counsel.  Don’t wait to find out your options.  Almost every person said they wish they had come in sooner.  Many have said they would have done things differently had they known the law and available options.

2. Don’t borrow or take money from your 401k, IRA, Savings Account, Children’s Saving Account, Deferred Compensation to cure to the default.  So many people regret borrowing or taking a distribution from their retirement plan.  Unfortunately, many people don’t know that this money, if borrowed, must be repaid in full or it will be considered income and taxed accordingly.  In addition, this tax cannot be discharge in bankruptcy.  It is heart breaking to see people take money out of their retirement to stay current on the mortgage, to only lose the house at the later time, but are still responsible for tax liability of the distribution.  

3. Don’t borrow money from family or friends to stay current on mortgage or other bills.    Family and friends want/expect to be repaid irrespective of whether you file bankruptcy.   In the eyes of the bankruptcy code, your family and friends are just another lender and will not receive preferential treatment.  

4. Don’t juggle credit cards to pay mortgage.  Cash advances and balance transfers may cause problems in a bankruptcy.  In addition, depending on the type of real estate debt you have, a short sale or foreclosure may be possible without a bankruptcy.  However, if you run up your credit cards trying to keep the house, a bankruptcy may be evitable.

5.  Don’t leave house until property forecloses or short sale is complete.  Almost every person that has left their home prior to the foreclosure or short sale being completed regrets the decision.  Once you stop paying on the mortgage, your rent is “free” with the exception of paying the Homeowners Dues and keeping insurance on the property.  Further, since you are still responsible for the maintenanceof the property until the foreclosure or short sale, you might as well enjoy it and save some money.  No reason to pay rent any soon than necessary.

6.  Don’t let your cultural pride stand in the way of you making sound financial decisions.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  You did not make this economic meltdown.  You are not responsible for the economic collapse facing the Bay Area.  The economy of your parents’ generation is not the same as today.   

7.  Don’t co-sign for anyone.  No one can promise the future.  So many clients regret co-signing for a friend or relative. Co-signing for cars, furniture, Time-Shares and homes seemed like a good idea, but times change and suddenly there is a default.  Worst of all, don’t co-sign on Student Loans.  The defaultrate by students who have had a friend or family member co-sign is much higher and YOU CANNOT DISCHARGE CO-SIGNED STUDENT LOANS IN BANKRUPTCY!

If you do not have sufficient income to pay your bills as they come due and owing, you should seek legal counsel before withdrawing any monies from a retirement account, savings account or taking a loan against your home or car.  These are difficult times, but do not miss the help and protection provided by the Bankruptcy Code and California law by waiting too long.  Just because this ship is underwater does not mean that you should give up your life vests that you will need to keep you afloat!