We hear from many people who want to know more about filing for bankruptcy but who may not be ready quite yet to file. One thing they often ask is what records they should keep in case they do have to file. The short answer is all of them. If you keep too much, you can always dispose of it later. But if your throw out something now, or shred it, you may not be able to get another copy.
So if you are going to keep everything, it is important to know what to do with it. First, let us review what might be coming in the mail, and we will start with credit card bills. At first, you will be receiving regular bills from your creditors. It would help to keep a folder for each account number and put into it each bill that you receive. When you fall behind in your payments, you will then begin receiving in-house collection letters. These are collection letters generated by the bank or credit card company. Put those in the appropriate folders.
Next you will receive outside collection letters from various collection agencies. Again, put these in the appropriate folders as they arrive. You may receive such outside collection letters from more than one agency for each account. This is not unusual, as the credit card companies often refer their accounts to more than one outside agency.
When the account is referred to an attorney, you may receive letters from the attorneys, or they may file a suit and serve you with a summons as a first step. Again, put these in the folders, along with anything else you receive as the legal process continues, such as judgments, marshal’s notices, restraining notices and information subpoenas.
One thing to watch for, though, is a change in ownership of an account. Often as your account falls farther and farther behind, the original credit card bank will sell the account to a debt buyer, who will begin sending correspondence to you. When this happens, mark the change in ownership of the account on your folder and continue placing items from the new owner in the same folder. Having all these papers sorted by account is very helpful to your bankruptcy attorney, especially when the ownership of the debt changes, because these can be hard follow, especially if they change the account number.
By the way, if you receive anything from FIA Card Services, that is another name for Bank of America. Also, Bank of America and American Express sometimes change the account numbers themselves, so watch out for that.
It can be difficult to keep track of medical bills. This is because the bills can come from one entity at first, then from another one later. You may end up in an emergency room and get several bills for one visit – from the doctor or doctors who treated you, from a radiologist, from the ambulance company, from the hospital itself, and so on. At first they may bill you as a Faculty Practice Plan, then later under just the doctor’s name. Again, establish separate folders for each bill and try and match up subsequent bills as they come in. Here again, you will receive bills from the providers first, then from collection agencies, and then you will hear from attorneys. Save all of this material, and sort it according to the original bills. It is important that you save medical bills because they usually do not show up on your credit report.
You should also save and sort other bills, such as old utility bills, old cell phone bills and anything else, so that your attorney can easily figure out who you owe money to and make sure they receive notice of your bankruptcy.