Bounce Back from Bankruptcy

Bounce Back from Bankruptcy

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As a creditor's attorney, I have a skewed view of debtors, particularly consumer debtors, in bankruptcy. By this I mean that an individual consumer debtor does not tend to make an impression upon me unless I have to do work that is out of the ordinary, and something beyond the routine legal and administrative tasks involved in, say, filing a motion for relief from stay. I am sure this is true for most judges and debtor's attorneys as well. The honest debtors, with simple cases and no substantial complexity, are processed through the bankruptcy system from filing to discharge without much notice taken of them.

The natural result of this is that when I do focus on a case and a debtor, there is something that has gone wrong or something "bad" that has happened—for example, an objection to discharge based upon either false or fraudulent financial statements or conversion of property. Those are the debtors I meet face to face, and the ones with whom the bankruptcy system spends most of its non-ministerial time.

This results in that skewed view. For example, I can safely say that of the dozens of debtors whom I have deposed, fully three quarters of them had engaged in some sort of fraud or other bad behavior. Natural experience, then, would tend to suggest to me that three-quarters of debtors are bad actors.

But this is not so—I just need to be reminded of it every once in a while. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of debtors are ordinary, honest human beings who, through either ordinary human frailty or extraordinary events, have found themselves in a situation where they can no longer meet their financial obligations. This book, Bounce Back from Bankruptcy, was written for that overwhelming majority.

Bounce Back from Bankruptcy is part tip sheet, part workbook and part therapy. It is written by someone who lived through filing bankruptcy because of irresponsibility and sliding back into financial distress after her discharge. She writes in detail about all of the little (and some not so little) inconveniences that honest debtors suffer after they file for relief.

The author starts with, and spends a great deal of time on, credit reports and the repair of a credit record. Step by step, she goes through the process of obtaining credit reports and correcting errors on those reports. Perhaps today that is the logical first place to begin; after all, credit reports are now being used by insurance companies, prospective employers and, of course, prospective lenders in determining how they should treat you. It also gives a now-discharged debtor something to do about their financial situation without a lot of expense, but with some amount of time and detail.

It seems the author views credit reports more as advertising than as a historical record. She advises people to work to remove erroneous information from a report when it is false, but not when it is good, out of a concern to "show your credit history in the best light possible."

The book also takes debtors through the steps of getting control of spending habits, obtaining credit cards, buying cars and houses on credit, and traveling without credit cards. One technique for obtaining a credit card disclosed in the book to which I was oblivious was through dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPS). The author goes into detail about how these plans work, whom to contact and why DRIPs are a good long-term strategy for debtors recovering from a bankruptcy.

The author is the host of a chat area on America Online, and her experience in talking with hundreds of recovering debtors shows. She has a number of what I can only call "street-savvy" tips for doing things the rest of us take for granted. For example, to rent a car from Hertz without a credit card, she describes calculating the cost of the rental, sending in a check three to four weeks in advance, and filling out a variety of forms—a far cry from Hertz Gold Card status.

Unlike some other popular financial self-help books, Bounce Back from Bankruptcy does not take a critical view of the decision to file a bankruptcy petition. Indeed, the author discloses a number of friends and relations, including her mother-in-law, who have also filed bankruptcy.

Bounce Back from Bankruptcy is a good investment for those people who are coming out of bankruptcy, but I wouldn't recommend it as the sole source of inspiration and information for those folks. However, it does seem to have information that is not available elsewhere and so is worthwhile; it presents a "been there, done that" view of the post-bankruptcy world that can be reassuring to those encountering that new terrain. It is also a good refresher for those, like me, who every once in while begin to believe that there are too many frauds in bankruptcy, or that bankruptcy has just plain gotten too easy.

Journal Date: 
Thursday, April 1, 1999