Filing for bankruptcy isn't just something that you decide to do one day and then -- POOF -- your debts are gone. In order to achieve the best outcome in a bankruptcy case, you should start preparing weeks, months or even years ahead of time.
Part of being prepared means knowing what NOT to do. Here are five of the most common mistakes people make before filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy:
5. Not paying income taxes.
Even if you know you aren't going to be able to pay the money that you owe, it's still very important to file income taxes every year leading up to filing for bankruptcy. Your income tax returns will be used to determine your earnings for purposes of qualifying for bankruptcy.
In fact, if you have not filed taxes in the previous two years, your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case will probably be dismissed.
4. Taking out cash advances.
Cash advances may be tempting if you believe that you will not be on the hook for repaying the cash after your bankruptcy is successful -- and you may really need the funds.
However, the bankruptcy code states if you take out more than $950 in cash advances within 70 days of filing for bankruptcy, the debt cannot be discharged.
3. Making preferential transfers.
Of course you would rather pay back some creditors -- such as family members who have loaned you money -- over other creditors -- such as credit card companies, but this could be considered a "preferential transfer" under the bankruptcy code.
The party who received the preferential transfer could be sued by the bankruptcy trustee to recover the funds so that they aren't favored over other creditors.
2. Maxing out credit cards.
The bankruptcy code has what is called a "presumption of fraud" for "luxury" purchases. It means that purchases made with a credit card within 90 days of bankruptcy that cost more than $675 are presumed to be fraudulent and likely will not be dischargeable.
Even smaller purchases on credit cards that are made in the weeks and months before a bankruptcy filing could be disputed by the creditor and barred from being discharged if the bankruptcy court believes that you made the charges without having the intent of paying them back.
1. Hiding or transferring assets.
This kind of thing shows up in the news all of the time. Someone attempts to move, hide or sell assets in order to avoid losing them in bankruptcy. It can lead to criminal bankruptcy fraud charges as well as the denial of your case, so it is not something to mess around with.
Bankruptcy trustees take a close look at all property and assets that were sold, given away or transferred in the year leading up to the filing to rule out fraud.
An experienced bankruptcy lawyer can give you even more advice on what to do -- and what not to do -- in the weeks, months and even years leading up to filing for bankruptcy so that you can reach the best outcome possible in your case.