Once you have decided that filing for bankruptcy is your best option, it's time to get started on your paperwork. Whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will have to complete a fairly large packet of forms with the bankruptcy court. (Here's a full list of the forms you'll need and links to download them free.) These forms provide the bankruptcy trustee and your creditors with information about your assets, debts, income, and financial transactions.
It's very important to be accurate and complete when filling out your bankruptcy forms. Mistakes can be corrected by filing an amendment, but that takes time (and sometimes money). Worse, inaccuracies may cause the trustee and creditors to doubt the rest of the information you've provided. And, if the trustee decides that you intentionally hid property or lied about important money matters such as your income or financial transactions, your whole case could be thrown out.
To avoid these problems, you should gather some basic financial information and documents before you start filling in the blanks. Here's a brief list of the items you'll need.
In addition to your name, your address, and the last four digits of your Social Security number, you'll need to provide names you've used in the past eight years, your children's ages, the name and address of your employers, and personal information about your spouse (if applicable).
You'll need proof of your income, such as paystubs or a statement from your employer, as well as your most recent tax return. You will need to actually submit your tax return and proof of your income for the 60 days before you file to the court. For your bankruptcy forms, you'll need to supply information about your earnings from all sources for the past two years.
You will need to list all of your monthly expenses as accurately as possible. This includes all of your regular monthly expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, auto payments, insurance, groceries, and all household expenses. Don't forget to include expenses that you may pay only once or twice a year, such as insurance, property taxes, or school expenses. If you own an automobile, include maintenance expenses, fuel, insurance, and repairs. If you do not own a vehicle, but commute everywhere, include travel expenses such as bus fares.
On your bankruptcy forms, you will have to list every item of property you own and how much it's worth. (This doesn't mean you have to list every fork, flashlight, or CD individually; you can group common household items together into categories, such as "household items" or "albums.") Your property includes not only the obvious items, such as real estate and automobiles, but all items that you own of any value, such as jewelry, furniture, books, and other household goods.
Once you have listed all of the items, you need to write down how much each item is worth by figuring out its replacement cost: what you would have to pay to buy the same item, of a similar age and in similar condition. Your assets also include bank accounts, 401ks, and cash on hand. As money flows in and out of accounts, these numbers will change, but give the best estimate you have. Think of this as a snapshot of everything you have heading into bankruptcy.
You need to make a list of all your debts, whether you intend to repay them or not. For every debt you have listed, you will need to include an account number, full contact information for the creditor, and how much you owe.
You'll also need to provide information on certain transfers of money or property in the past couple of years, such as property or money you've given away or sold, debts you've paid off, bank accounts you've closed, and so on.