On your bankruptcy forms, you’re asked by the court to list the names and addresses of all the creditors to whom you owe money. You’re also asked to list the amount you owe, the time period during which you got the debt, and other information about each creditor. It can be easy to drop out of the bankruptcy process during this step, as it is hard to remember who you owe--much less the addresses and amounts.
How can you make sure this challenge does not stop you from a successful bankruptcy?
For one, almost all of your credit card debts, secured debts, and some other types of debts, will be listed on your credit report. Most lawyers order your credit reports for you and list the debts from your credit report on your bankruptcy forms.
Your Credit Report
Your credit report has all the information about each creditor that you owe, so you rarely have to go out looking for your credit card bills so that you can list the information on your bankruptcy forms. For older debts that you may owe, credit card companies sometimes sell the debt to debt collection agencies. These agencies generally also show up on your credit reports. You should be aware that there will be names of companies on your credit report that you never directly borrowed money from because these companies bought your debts after you were unable to pay them. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each one of the three credit bureaus once per year.
Your Medical Bills
Other information may be more difficult to gather, such as medical bills and judgments, which are not guaranteed to show up on your credit report. Indeed, the three major credit bureaus recently removed many civil judgments from credit reports. To find out the hospitals or doctors you owe, your best bet is to look through any old bills that you may have. Many people keep boxes of old bills, and we know it can be intimidating to look through them. Finding the names of hospitals you’ll no longer have to owe, though, may be worth the initial anxiety.
If you cannot find physical copies of the bills you owe, do your best to remember the name of the hospital or doctor, look up their address online on Google Maps, and estimate how much you owe. Getting the amount that you owe a hospital exactly right will not matter during your bankruptcy, so do not fret about finding the precise dollar and cent value of your debt.
For your judgments, you should first try a similar approach to medical bills, looking through any documents you have at home. If that is unsuccessful, you should try contacting the courthouse in which you were sued or the opposite party that sued you. Ask them how much you were sued for and the parties that sued you. Most of the time a law firm will represent the opposite party suing you, so you can ask them for information on your creditor. Courts also have online databases. You should be able to look up your name to figure out who sued you. Keep in mind that court websites are often tough to navigate, so do not feel discouraged if you do not get it right away or you need to contact the court to get the information you need.
What about money that you owe friends and family?
First off, make sure that you do not leave the names of the friends and family you owe off of your bankruptcy forms. You must include them, even if they have told you that you need to pay them back or if they told you that they do not want to be listed on your bankruptcy. The law requires you to list everyone you owe to the best of your knowledge. You cannot selectively leave people off of your forms. You can pay back whoever you want after your bankruptcy, including friends and family. Bankruptcy just helps you erase your debts that are permitted to be erased under the Bankruptcy Code, meaning that you do not have to pay back these debts if you do not want to, but you still can if you do want.
Our second tip on money you owe friends and family is to use Google Maps to find their address if you are too embarrassed to ask.
It is always better to ask your friends and family that you owe for their address directly, just in case they moved, but Google Maps can help you locate someone’s exact address if you know the general area or landmarks. Just like with medical debts you owe, do not stress too much about remembering the exact amount you owe. Do your best to estimate it.
Finally, it is important to know that in most states, if you do not have assets that can be seized by creditors, which is the case for most low-income debtors, you do not need to list all of your debts on your bankruptcy forms if you want those debts to be erased.
You just need to do your best to list your debts and make a good faith effort. The court realizes that it is hard to remember all the people to whom you owe money and that debt buying makes it impossible sometimes to know who owns your debt. Debts that you owe for money you borrow after you file for bankruptcy, however, are not erasable after you file for bankruptcy.