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5 questions you should ask before hiring a bankruptcy attorney

Trust is a hard thing to come by these days, especially if you are behind on your mortgage. You get calls from your lender or third-party servicer at the beginning of the month. If you get a good representative, the call is somewhat conversational. The collector gently reminds you that you haven't paid yet but that the company will work with you.

When the middle of the month rolls around, the calls involve more talk about modification options. The reps tone is more urgent and less polite, pressuring you to make a decision, set up a payment and get current. By the end of the month, reps bring up the subject of foreclosure.

Whether you make a payment or not, each new month the cycle resets and repeats. You ask yourself, "Do they really want to make my financial life better"?

If the scenario above is akin to your life, you may need help from a professional to get the situation under control. Whom do you call? There are a lot of offers out there, but a lot of them are scams.

The bankruptcy process isn't a scam, it is a very powerful tool when used correctly with the help of a bankruptcy attorney. How do you know an attorney has sufficient knowledge and experience to get you the best outcome? How do you know that he or she wants genuinely to help you instead of seeing you as just another case with profit value?

How can you tell if an attorney is a good attorney with your best interests in mind? Listed below are five questions you should ask when you call or meet with a potential attorney:

  1. Is my initial consultation free and for how long? You should never have to pay an upfront fee just to learn about your debt relief options. Not every bankruptcy attorney offers free initial consultations anymore, and some limit the time to a half hour. While there will still be details to discuss and documents to gather, you want to make sure your first consultation is meaningful. You want to have enough time to get a feel for whether the attorney is right for you.
  2. What are your qualifications/how many bankruptcies have you handled? The truth is that experience matters in these situations. Every single case is different, but an attorney who has handled thousands of bankruptcies and focuses on bankruptcy law is in a better position to help you. Period.
  3. Is bankruptcy right for me? You don't want to hire anyone who will jump right into a sales pitch about how bankruptcy is always the answer and you have to file right now. A good attorney will take the time to have a meaningful conversation about your financial situation first. Ask you about debts, income, assets and more. Then, and only then, can the conversation begin about which option you should choose, including alternatives to filing for bankruptcy.
  4. Should I file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13? Each option has benefits and consequences, but the answer depends on your individual situation. When you ask this question, the thing to look for is whether the attorney takes the time to listen to you and to understand your goals. Did the attorney ask whether you even want to keep the home? Questions about your intentions, plans or wants are important.
  5. How much will bankruptcy cost? You should never pay a non-refundable fee upfront, ever. You should expect your attorney to discuss honestly and openly federal filing fees, their schedule for attorney's fees, whether you will pay a retainer and how much, whether the retainer is refundable and if the firm has payment plans available.

You can help maximize the value of your initial consultation and get answers that are more complete by meeting with an attorney in your area and bringing financial documents with you.

When it comes to finding the right attorney, the good rule of thumb is that there are no "bad questions." You are choosing the person you will have to trust to help you resolve your financial situation and make it better. You must be comfortable with the person with whom you are working.

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