So you finally did it. You filed for bankruptcy and gave yourself a new lease on life. It can be a difficult decision fraught with hemming and hawing, leaving you feeling like, once it’s all said and done, you’re spent.
You have wiped the slate clean, with a few exceptions like student loans and any loans you decided to keep – car, house, etc. – and you’re done, right?
Well… not necessarily.
Even if you have the best attorney, included all of your debts to be charged off in the bankruptcy, and you’ve done all your due diligence, you still might get those nasty creditor calls after your bankruptcy is finalized. For this reason, and a few others, you need to know how to get a copy of bankruptcy discharge papers.
Presumably, you got a good attorney, you paid a fee, and the lawyer took care of most of the work. (That is, after all, what you paid that fee for.)
In the event that you don’t have a lawyer representing you or that your lawyer did not walk you through the entire process, here are the basics of bankruptcy protection:
Bankruptcy these days, whether chapter 11 or chapter 13, is actually quite simple these days. You usually don’t even have to show up in court.
Once upon a time, and by that I mean like 15 years ago, a person filing bankruptcy would have to arrive in court, stand before a judge and any creditors you owed debt to, and request a charge off on your accounts, facing any questioning or petitions made by your creditors.
That’s right. A creditor could show up and fight your right to file for bankruptcy, making a claim that you were not worthy.
The Call and the Trustee
Today, you usually get on a zoom call and run through a list of simple, straightforward questions with someone called a trustee. The idea of this call is to make sure you are not trying to trick the court of skirt payments that you could make but simply don’t want to.
The questions include details around when your debts were made, when the last payments you made were, if you have made payments to friends or family members, and if you have money hidden somewhere the court does not know about.
After the call, if all goes well, the trustee will then make a recommendation to the judge to approve your bankruptcy case.
Note, most of the time the trustee will indeed make that recommendation.
In A U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the judge will charge off your debts, including things like your credit cards and the clock begins on your new lease on life and finances.
Bankruptcy is Your Right
It is really important to remember that while you are accountable for your spending and you should always pay off your debts if you can, bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of.
There exists a lot of shame around bankruptcy in American society, and it is for reasons that have little more to do with the simple comparison blame game we like to play in this country.
In reality, you are far from alone.
Debt is a real problem, and it is not one made from purely irresponsible people who rack up debt and refuse to pay their bills.
Indeed, the United States government, presumable our ideal example of how to manage finances, currently holds billions of dollars in debt to its creditors and often comes to the brink of default when our legislators cannot come to an agreement on whether to extend our debt ceiling and pay our bills.
Look, it happens to the best, most responsible among us.
You had the best of intentions, you worked hard for years to pay your bills, and eventually, they got the best of you.
The struggle to pay off your debts finally became so overwhelming that you spent more time stressed out, overworked, and exhausted, that you could not contribute happiness and health to yourself, your family, and your lifestyle anymore.
Bankruptcy laws were put into place for this very reason: to stop you from spending the rest of your life in a state of chronic stress and ill health trying to “make up for past mistakes.”
You have nothing to be ashamed of.
Come to terms with that reality and your life after bankruptcy will go much smoother.
Life After Bankruptcy
Once you file for bankruptcy, your life should already start to go a bit smoother. The endless stream of credit collectors calling should stop. If they don’t refer them to your lawyer and let them know you are filing for bankruptcy.
By law, they are required to stop calling after you let them know.
Once your debt is discharged, all of your creditors should be notified, and they should charge off your debt. Your credit report via the credit bureaus should reflect that. If you are unsure if it does, get a copy of your personal credit report to check.
If it does not, if your creditors keep calling, or if your credit report does not reflect your bankruptcy and all of your debts charged off, you will need to contact both the creditor and the credit reporting agency.
You will likely be asked for a copy of your bankruptcy discharge papers or bankruptcy records as proof of charge off.
How to Get a Hard Copy of Your Bankruptcy Discharge Papers
First, your lawyer should send you a copy after your bankruptcy is discharged, so you could always go through your lawyer’s office. In the event you cannot get a hold of your lawyer, or you did not have a lawyer, you can request your bankruptcy paperwork directly from the US Bankruptcy Court.
1. Make an email request
You can fill usually fill out the contact form for your state court. The state of Oregon contact form looks like this.
You can simply Google “email request form for bankruptcy discharge papers in the state of __________” to get your state’s contact form.
Be sure to include your full name, the date of your discharge, your case number, your email address, your physical address, and your phone number.
You could also go through the internet for your request. This process is much quicker and more streamlined.
The bankruptcy discharge internet system is called PACER.
Using the pacer system, you’ll pay a maximum of $3 per document, and you’ll need all the same basic information as above.
3. Visit the Court Clerk Office
You can also walk into the county clerk’s office and make your request in person. Go to the same county where your bankruptcy was filed, bring all of your information and expect the same fee as above.
To find your county clerk’s office, just Google “___________ County Clerk Office location.”
4. Mail a request to the Clerk’s Office
As a last resort, you don’t have email, you don’t have internet access and can’t get it, and you are unable to go to the county Clerk’s Office, you can mail in your request.
You will pay a copy fee of $.50 per page, and you may pay an additional search fee if your clerk has to spend time looking for your documents.
This is a last resort and should be avoided if at all possible.
But, you can indeed correspond via mail. Simply Google that same address as above and request your docs, including all of your information. The clerk will mail you back, eventually, letting you know what further information, and fees, they need to complete your request.
Submit Your Copies
Once you have your copies in hand, be sure you get extra copies run off from your home printer or at a local copy supply store. Keep a few copies on hand so you can mail them or scan and email them to anyone who has not reflected your bankruptcy in their records.
You will also want to contact the three credit reporting agencies and send them a bankruptcy discharge copy to be sure they clean up your report properly.
If all of this sounds like a headache, you can also go through a credit repair company. Check out our earlier piece on these companies and how to make sure don’t get scammed.
A Fresh Start
It can take time, and it can be a headache, but once you’ve made the decision that bankruptcy is the right move for you, you may as well follow through and ensure your bankruptcy really does for you what it is intended to do: give you a fresh start.
After just a couple of months, with a clean, post-bankruptcy credit report, you can begin to rebuild your credit.
After a couple of years, you can look into buying a car on loan.
Shortly after that, you can start thinking of buying a home.
For many people with mounting debt and insurmountable interest rates and fees, those things feel like impossibilities.
It does not have to be that way.
You got your fresh start, now make sure you follow through, submit your bankruptcy discharge paperwork, and get going on the rest of your life.