If you're overwhelmed by debt collectors and collection agencies calling you to collect a debt, it can seem as though you'll never be able to remember who they all are. But, it's important to give the bankruptcy court a list of all of your creditors, so here are some steps you can take to make sure you didn't miss anyone.
Written by Attorney Jonathan Petts.
Updated November 21, 2020
Once you’ve decided that you should file for bankruptcy, you have to start collecting the right information. On your bankruptcy forms, you’re asked to list the names and addresses of every person and business you owe money.
It can be easy to drop out of the bankruptcy process during this step, as it can be hard to know everyone you owe money, especially if your debts have gone to collections and maybe even sold to a debt collector.
How can you make sure this challenge doesn’t stop you from a successful bankruptcy?
First, remember that the most important information you need is the creditor’s name and their mailing address. You can estimate the amount you owe them. You don’t have to worry about making sure the amounts are correct down to the last penny. That would be impossible anyway, as interest and penalties get added just about every day…
Your Credit Report
For one, almost all of your credit card debts, secured debts, and some other types of debts will be listed on 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 to find the information you need for your bankruptcy forms.
For older debts that are in default, credit card companies sometimes sell the debt to debt collection agencies. These agencies generally also show up on your credit reports even though you never directly borrowed money from.
Most lawyers order your credit reports for you and list the debts from your credit report on your bankruptcy forms. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each one of the three credit bureaus once per year.
Some debts are not reported to the credit bureaus right away (or at all) and so they won’t show up on your credit report. Here are some additional things to look for when preparing a list of your debts for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Your Medical Bills
Medical bills are not guaranteed to show up on your credit report. 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 or other medical providers to make sure you’re able to eliminate them as part of your bankruptcy is likely worth that initial anxiety.
If you can’t 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. If you’re not sure if you owe anything at all, give them a call to find out the details. You don’t have to tell them that you’re going to file for bankruptcy - just that you’re looking to find out if you owe a balance, and if so, what the details are.
The three major credit bureaus recently removed many civil judgments from credit reports. So, for your judgments, you should first try looking through any documents you have at home similar to what you did for your medical bills.
If that is unsuccessful, try contacting the court that handled the lawsuit to get more information about who sued you and the details of the case.. 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 don’t feel discouraged if you do not get it right away or you need to contact the court to get the information you need.
Most of the time a law firm will represent the opposite party suing you, so if you’re able to find out their information you can contact them to ask for the creditor’s information. Make sure you also list the law firm that filed the suit though as another creditor for the same debt.
What about money that you owe friends and family?
First, 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 haven’t told you that you need to pay them back or if they told you that they don’t want to be listed on your bankruptcy.
The law requires you to list everyone you owe to the best of your knowledge. You can’t choose who you want to leave off 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 don’t have to pay back these debts if you don’t 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’s 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.
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In most states, if you don’t have assets that can be seized by creditors, it’s not the end of the world if you forget to list a debt on your bankruptcy forms if you want that debt to be erased.
You just need to do your best to list your debts and make a good faith effort. So, don’t worry too much about the creditors you don’t know about and focus on what you do know and what steps you can take to get the information you need. As mentioned before, the most important part are your creditors’ names and addresses.