O is for Organize

Organizing is something that may be hard to do. Many of my clients have been putting their heads in the sand and leave mail unopened and unorganized until they see me. It is a normal tendency to ignore things that feel out of control. When those bills and collection letters come flooding into your mail, it can be overwhelming.

The first step to getting a handle on things is to tackle organizing those bills and other unopened mail. It doesn’t matter what is in there for now. It could be unopened mail, opened mail, or all mixed up. You need to find and organize all your financial information before you can file a chapter 7, or chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Set aside a block of time, even if it is only a twenty or thirty minute window. Gather up all that paper and find a place to begin to sort it. Somewhere you can leave the project and return to it is ideal. Have several bags or boxes handy. You may want one for trash, one for recycling and one for documents that need to be shredded. Label each bag or box.

Start with the steps below and get as far as you can in your scheduled time. When you are ready set aside another block of time and continue through the steps. Repeat until complete.

Organizing Mail Steps

  1. Open it everything. Use a letter opener or some other tool to make it easier. Toss all the envelopes that the bills and statement arrived in into your recycle bag. There is no need to keep that extra outside wrapper.
  2. If you are unable to pay the bills and are planning to file bankruptcy, or you pay your bills online, you can also toss the return envelopes into your recycle bag.
  3. Sort by type – medical in one pile, credit card bills in another. Utility bills and ongoing household expenses in another, etc.
  4. Sort each type file by creditor or sender. All PG&E together, all Chase cards together and all Aunt Susie’s letters together. Put all Chase collection letters (from agencies and lawyers) with the original Chase bills.
  5. If you have more than one account with a creditor (like two separate American Express card accounts) separate those accounts in different piles.
  6. Organize each creditor pile by date with the most recent on the top.
  7. Finally, place each stack into a file folder and label the folder with the creditor name and the last 4 digits of the account number. In my office we prefer that you do not use staples. If you bring in paper we will scan it and return it to you and staples only slow down the process.

Congratulations! Your bills are now organized and ready to work with whether you are looking at debt consolidation plans, a bankruptcy or just want to know how much you owe. For some tips on charting your financial future click here to read Cathy Moran’s article.

More Bankruptcy O’s:

Image Credit: Leo Reynolds

Can I still file for bankruptcy if I’m working? Can I file for a chapter 7 bankruptcy if I’m working? Yes.

 You may have been out of work for a period of time or have large medical bills that are making it impossible to get caught up financially.

How much you earn and what types of debt you have will determine what bankruptcy chapter you file but most of the time people who need the help of the bankruptcy court qualify to file. Simply put, if you earn less than the median income for your state you will pass the means test and may file a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The means test is based on the median state income which you can find on the United States Department of Justice website. It means that if you earn more than the median income amount in your state the presumption of abuse is raised if you file a chapter 7 bankruptcy. If a presumption of abuse is found you may not be able to get a discharge of your debts.

If you earn more than the median income, you may still qualify for a chapter 7 depending on the type of obligations you have to pay each month. In this case you will need to calculate a long form of the means test. If after entering secured debts, taxes paid, medical expenses and other qualifying expenses your income is within guidelines then you can file for a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Even if you qualify to file a chapter 7 there may be reasons why it would be in your best interests to file a chapter 13. If you have an underwater house, owe incomes taxes or obligations arising from a marital dissolution filing a chapter 13 bankruptcy might be to your benefit. It is a complex, fact specific determination, so consult with a knowledgeable local bankruptcy attorney to determine the best strategy to meet your goals.