How to conquer a monster debt problem

If you are in over your head with consumer debt, take a step back, a deep breath and try to formulate a way out. It’s not easy, so let me map it out for you in five sequential steps.

First, get a grip on the size of the problem. People are often shocked to find out what they really owe. Sit down and try to figure it out — stack everything up and add it all up. If this step is too difficult emotionally for you (and for many folks it is), just do the first part — pile the bills up, unopened if necessary, and prepare to bring them to an attorney.

Second, create a budget. Now I know this is no fun, but budgeting is really the way out of the jungle. If you are looking to go the bankruptcy route, you will be budgeting all the time anyway, since the bankruptcy forms require one (Schedule J), and both the pre-filing counseling required to file and the post-filing debtor education class involve budgeting. If your budget, which at this point should include installment payments like credit card minimums, indicates that there is no way out, you are a good candidate for bankruptcy relief.

Third, whatever your plans are, don’t delay. The problem will only get worse, and your creditors will have additional time to do nasty things to you, like drag you into court, or try to attach your wages. There are some situations that call for delaying a bankruptcy filing, but in the vast majority of cases, sooner is better.

Fourth, see someone. No one person can master the complexities of modern life in their entirety. If debt is the problem, see a bankruptcy attorney. I will give you an impartial opinion as to whether bankruptcy is the right thing for you to do. Contrary to some folks mistaken fears, we are not trying to “sell” you on the benefits of something if it is not right for you. On the other hand, if it is the right move, I look forward to your business.

Fifth, avoid scams. At the best, the are time wasters, which will dissipate your energy. At worst, they will clean you out of your remaining financial reserves. Getting out of isn’t easy, even if a hundred infomercials tell you it is. But bankruptcy can legally discharge your debts and give you a fresh financial start.

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