When you fill out your bankruptcy paperwork, you’ll be asked to disclose information regarding your financial affairs, such as your income and expenses, assets and debts, and property transfers. Also, you’ll need to provide certain documents to the bankruptcy trustee to prove the accuracy of the information provided. Read on to learn more about the documents and information you’ll need to gather before filing for bankruptcy.
The documents you’ll need are the same whether you are filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 matter, with slight variations. However, for exact documentation requirements, be sure to check the guidelines provided by your district and your specific bankruptcy trustee. Not only do some trustees require more proof than others, but the particular evidence you'll have to produce will also be determined by the facts of your case.
Below are the most commonly required documents in bankruptcy.
You’ll usually need to provide copies of your tax returns or tax transcripts for the last two years in a Chapter 7 case, and four years in a Chapter 13 matter. If you have unfiled returns because you weren’t required to file—for instance, your only income source was nontaxable disability benefits—you’ll need to explain why. A short letter of explanation will usually work.
If you merely failed to file, you can expect the trustee to require you to do so and provide copies before concluding or approving your case—especially in a Chapter 13 case.
If you’re an employee, you’ll need copies of pay stubs for the six-month period before the bankruptcy and your last two W-2s. You’ll also need proof of other income sources such as Social Security funds, disability, or rental properties.
If you’re self-employed and filing for bankruptcy, you’ll probably need to provide a year-to-date profit and loss statement, as well as for the two full years before filing. Also be prepared to present business bank statements to verify the profit and loss amounts.
If you own real estate, you’ll likely need to provide proof of the property’s fair market value. You might choose an online valuation, a broker’s price opinion, or a full appraisal, depending on the potential amount of equity or the guidelines of your district.
Also, plan to provide mortgage statements showing current loan balances and payment amounts. Some trustees also require the deed of trust and proof of home insurance.
If you have a car loan, you’ll need a recent loan statement showing how much you owe and what your monthly payment is to prepare your paperwork. You might need to produce it along with copies of your registration and proof of insurance, depending on the particular trustee.
Recent bank and retirement account statements must be provided to the bankruptcy trustee for all accounts.
When you go to your hearing with the trustee, you will be asked to show valid photo identification such as a driver’s license and proof of your social security number.
If you have other circumstances affecting your bankruptcy, such as being required to pay alimony, child support, or another unusual expense, you’ll need to show proof of these costs. For instance, it’s common to provide a copy of a child support order. If you’ve divorced recently, you might need to produce an order or marital settlement agreement documenting a property distribution.
Most of the information you’ll need to fill out your bankruptcy paperwork will be in those documents, including asset value and income information. For example, you’ll use the income documentation to calculate your average monthly income. Similarly, you’ll look to your real estate and car documentation to fill in the parts regarding the value of these assets, your lenders, and monthly loan payments.
However, you’ll need to gather more information to fill out the rest of your bankruptcy petition, including creditor, co-debtor, expense, and pending lawsuit information. Start by finding loan statements or bills so that you can list each of your creditors in the bankruptcy. Alternatively, you can obtain a credit report that shows all your debts; however, be aware that you’re required to list the creditor’s billing address, and that address rarely shows up on your credit report. So it’s best to use the credit report as a tool to verify that you’ve listed all of your debts only.
You should also look at your utility bills and other expenses to determine accurate figures for your monthly utilities and expenses, such as food, dry cleaning, and transportation to name a few. Usually, you won’t be required to send these documents to the trustee (unless your expenses are higher than usual, in which case you might trigger a bankruptcy audit).
In addition to the documents above, the law requires that you complete a credit counseling class and obtain a certificate before you can file for bankruptcy. These courses can usually be completed online in under a couple of hours.
(To learn more about this requirement, see Credit Counseling & Debtor Education Requirements in Bankruptcy.)