Consumer Education is Key When Considering Bankruptcy

By: Jon Arnold

Only a few short years ago, it used to be fairly easy to file bankruptcy, almost as easy as it is in the board game of Monopoly, where the ramifications of doing so were about the same as in Monopoly. But it was determined that so many people were taking advantage of bankruptcy to compensate for a lack of financial skills, a lack of money management, and basically attempting to lead a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget that the bankruptcy laws were recently changed.

To be sure, the bankruptcy laws still vary from state to state, but there are some things that even state legislature cannot disagree on if they conflict with the federal bankruptcy laws. Even at this, some people have attempted to file bankruptcy in a state that may have more lenient bankruptcy laws than the state in which they have listed as their address of residence, and one of the things that the new bankruptcy laws is doing is ensuring that people who file bankruptcy do so in the state in which they live.

Another requirement of bankruptcy with the new laws is that the person filing bankruptcy is required to attend credit counseling sessions and financial education courses. While this is still part of the law and you can expect that requirement into the foreseeable future, studies are starting to show that such a requirement has so far failed to deliver the positive results that were expected, and in fact have delivered very few significantly measurable benefits to the consumer.

Is there a value to requiring consumers to spend (or as some say, "waste") their time on credit counseling and financial education courses before being allowed to file bankruptcy? Many are saying it makes no sense at all. On one hand, the advocates who say it makes little sense are right, since by the time a person is so far in financial distress that bankruptcy is their most viable option, the time for financial education and credit counseling has long since passed. But on the other hand, how do you require someone to attend those classes and counseling sessions BEFORE they get into a bankruptcy situation, since the vast majority of people are unwilling to admit, even to themselves, that they are heading in the wrong financial direction.

Good consumer information about bankruptcy is one answer. While the government or the state cannot protect each and every consumer from financial folly, nor can they force the consumer to attend courses or counseling, they can put the monkey on the consumer's back by making information about bankruptcy available, perhaps even at no charge. The vast majority of consumers have no clue about the various chapters of bankruptcy and which one they should choose if they get into a bankruptcy situation.

Moreover, most consumers think of bankruptcy as their only option, when in reality the act of declaring bankruptcy should be the option of last resort. There are many viable alternatives to bankruptcy, most of which do not have the long-lasting negative impact on the consumer, such as the fact that bankruptcy stays on one's credit report for the next 7 to 10 years. Consumers should be taught about the options that are available before considering the "act of last resort", which is bankruptcy. For example, debt consolidation firms can pull a consumer out of the financial fire without requiring bankruptcy in many situations.

Consumer education about bankruptcy is paramount, and every consumer should make a point to understand at least the basics of bankruptcy, what it means, how it works, and most of all, what viable alternatives to bankruptcy are available.

Bankruptcy
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