Bankruptcy for many Americans is the only option that can help them get a handle on their financial life. Most, if not all, of the people in my profession recommend bankruptcy only as a last resort. Therefore, anyone considering it should think long and hard about it. And then, think again.
Why do advisors say this? Bankruptcy hurts a person’s chances of buying in the future. This includes buying daily lifestyle items like a home, car and other items.
It can hurt a person’s chances of renting an apartment. It may even hurt a person’s chances of landing a job in the future. How? Many employers and landlords make a credit check part of a background review and if they see a bankruptcy on the report they may want an explanation as to why it’s there. If they don’t like the response, they may use that to disqualify an applicant.
Bankruptcy Starts a New Financial Life
Giving advice on what to do after a bankruptcy filing is the situation I found myself in when a very dear friend of mine asked me, “how and where do I begin to rebuild credit as well as devise and develop a budget and retirement plans after filing for bankruptcy.”
The first piece of advice I gave her was to stay upbeat, positive and look forward to her new financial life. This advice is something she and anyone else who files for bankruptcy should embrace. They’ve come out of the filing experience with a fresh start. That being the case, on one hand, they should simply let the past be the past and leave it there.
On the other hand, there new financial life also offers them an opportunity for soul searching. Here’s how. If the bankruptcy was caused by too much spending, then that needs an honest review. If it was caused by a crazy lifestyle, then that’s cause for a long hard look. If it was caused by a health problem (as most are) and it couldn’t be helped, then they need to move on and not look back.
Put a Budget on Paper
The next piece of advice I gave to my dear friend (and anyone else who has filed for bankruptcy) was to create a budget and put it on paper.
The first step in that process would be to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle from top to bottom. On the top left hand side of the page, they should write down how much they make every month.
Next, on the top right hand side of the page, they should start writing down how much they spend every month. The important part with this step is that they are brutally honest. If they spend $150 a month on what they call the “Charlie Sheen Lifestyle,” then they need to put that down. Not writing it down does them no favors and only cheats their future.
Once they get all the expense numbers on the page, they need to add them up. The same should be done for the income in the left hand column. Obviously, they want the totals in the income column to be great then the totals in the expense column.
If not, they can start the process of cutting expenses where possible. In doing this they should also keep in mind that the budget is a living breathing document. Therefore, they should try to keep it in a place where they can reference it quickly and easily.
If they have to spend more than they make, there may be a need for the individual to do a number of things to increase their income. That may include looking for a better paying job or a second job; maybe even starting a side business.
Set Up and Contribute to Savings and Retirement Accounts
The next step in the rebuilding process involves setting up a savings account and a retirement account. The important part about that is that they contribute to the accounts on a consistent basis. The trick being that they contribute whatever works for the budget. Even if that amount is $5 a month (they can always increase the amount), they should do it and not touch it for any reason. To set up the accounts they can without difficulty go to a bank or brokerage and have a representative set up the accounts.
Again, for many Americans bankruptcy is a difficult time on a number of levels. However, it’s not the end of the world. People who file should try as best as possible to learn from the experience and move forward in a positive and meaningful way. Doing that not only helps them and their life but helps the lives of those around them that love and care about them.
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