By: Sarah J. Crouch

The first step in establishing any kind of new financial existence for yourself is to make sure that you know where you are right now.

I know.  This sounds basic.  And you probably have a one word answer for the “How are my finances now question?”


This may or may not be true.  I have lost track of the number of times I have told my clients that they should have money left at the end of the month and been called an insane person.  So I say, well let’s look at the bank statement and when I am done taking out all of the absolutely unnecessary expenses, my clients are a little surprised by how much money they have arguably thrown into a pit and set fire too.

So here is where we start:

Get out your online bank account or bank statements and make a chart with four columns on a piece of paper.

Income    Expenses    Luxuries      DEBT

(I know…I know…you don’t have any luxuries in your life…we will get to that.  I swear I am not an insane person.)

Now, take a look at your bank statement and under each of those headlines put in the pertinent information.  Under income, put all of your income in there, don’t forget to account for regular expense checks.  Under expenses put actual expenses only.  I am talking about Utility Bills, Mortgage, Groceries (don’t include trips to Target where you also bought a scarf or jeans).  I don’t want to see trips to McDonalds or Dunkin at lunchtime.  Only actual necessary expenses.

Now, under luxuries, put the trips to Dunkin, McDonalds, Starbucks (GUILTY), the scarves at Target (SUPER GUILTY), and all the little extras that we all spend money and don’t think about.  I want you to put every single one of these that you spent money on in the last month in that column and add it up.  Scary right?  How high is that number?  I know when I did this for myself it came to about 150 bucks, and I am fairly good about the fast food.  I don’t eat much of it….now Starbucks and Target…that is another story.  My assistant figured out that between her and her son she was spending about 250 bucks  a month on fast food.  We all do it.  We are all guilty, you are not a bad person for having a high number here, this problem sneaks up on the best of us.

Now let’s take a look at the debt column.  Are these balances on the rise, are they revolving but you aren’t making a dent?  Are you having trouble keeping up with the mortgage?  Medical bills?   Is the whole situation a giant house of cards that will fall as soon as you have a kid need to stay home sick from school?

Now, here is the fun part.

Take this chart and make an appointment with a financial professional, an accountant, a financial planner, a bankruptcy attorney, for a consultation with someone that can help you.  Someone with a license, a degree, and a pile of happy clients, not your brother who does his taxes with H&R Block every year and seems to be good at math or your sister that filed bankruptcy a few years ago and knows everything about it.  Instead, discreetly ask around to see if anyone knows one someone that has helped them with financial issues.  You will be shocked by how many of your family, friends, and colleagues have been in my office.

I see a lot of new clients this time of year.  People walk into my office and say, “I just can’t do it anymore” or “I don’t even know where to start”.  We go over their income, expenses, debt, and general financial issues and decide how best to attack this problem.

Sometimes the answer is a bankruptcy case.  Sometimes it is just the best way out.  I say this because a lot of people think that bankruptcy should be a last resort.  I disagree.  I wish more people came to before it was the only way out, back when it is the best way out.  This means I am not racing a garnishment to the courthouse door.  We are on the offensive in a financial situation instead of playing defense.

I say to my clients all the time, “If I could wave my magic wand and make all of these credit card and medical bills disappear, would you be able to pay your bills?”  99.9% of the time the answer to that question is “YES.”  If that is how you would answer that question, bankruptcy might be the BEST solution and not the ONLY solution.  This is an important distinction when you are assessing your situation as a whole.

Other times, more careful budgeting and watching that luxury column is the best solution.  Sometimes, thinking about a second part time job is the best solution.

This is what assessing the situation gets you too.  It gets you to a starting point.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.  It is mission critical.

So you have your starting point, now what?  What is the plan?  Time to set goals and put together a budget!

Next time:  Setting A Goal and Making a Budget


Interested in how we can help you file bankruptcy or assess your financial existence?  Give our office a call at 732-302-9600 or fill out our online consultation form and we will call you!

New Jersey Bankruptcy Attorney Bruce Truesdale First Consultation Prepare

Preparing For Your First Bankruptcy Consultation

By: Bruce C. Truesdale

Talking to a bankruptcy attorney for the first time can be scary.

Really scary.

And it is scary for good reason.  Many of the people I meet with have never met with a lawyer in their life.  You are opening up to a strange and actually facing your financial troubles, which is no easy thing to do.  This is tough stuff.

So let’s say you have talked to me on the phone.  You have made an appointment and I have sent you the documents to gather list.

A couple of things I want you to bear in mind when you come in:

1.  It is ok to cry.

We go through a lot of Kleenex in our office.  I tell my clients all the time they won’t be the first to cry and they won’t be the last.  If you are up for it I will even crack a joke about how our firm should really buy stock in Kleenex tissues.  Don’t worry about spending half the appointment crying and don’t feel like you have to apologize for crying or being upset.  This is hard, we get it, we see it all the time.  It is ok to be upset.  Plus, I buy the Kleenex with the lotion in them so if you cry a lot your nose won’t get puffy.  It will be our little secret.

2. You don’t have to have it totally together at our first meeting.

Many of our clients think that they have to bring every single document on the what to bring list to the first appointment.  They will call my office and say they need to cancel because they don’t have all of the documentation.

Don’t do that.  Come anyway.  We can get the rest of your documentation later.  Assuming that your case is not an emergency filing to stop a car from being re-possessed or a sheriff sale we can take our time putting your case together.   We can always come back later and get the rest of the documents.  You can scan them and email them, fax them, send them pony-express.  We will get your documentation together and your case will get filed.  It does not have to be perfect at our first meeting.  No need to get too worked up about documents at this point.

3. We are going to spend some time with you.  

If you are coming in to retain and do a worksheet my staff is going to spend at least an hour with you.  We are going to go over all of your documents, personal finance information, property, all of it.  It can feel a bit intrusive.  Myself and my associate try to keep the mood light while still taking your concerns and emotions seriously (my associate, Sarah, is particularly good at getting people through the worksheet smiling).  Our goal is to have you leave the appointment feeling better but doing so takes time so plan on being with us for an hour.

4.  Bring questions.

One of the things my associate will tell you on the phone when she speaks with you the first time and schedules your appointment is to get a piece of paper out and write down every question you think of about your bankruptcy filing between that phone consult and your first appointment.   Bring that piece of paper with you to your first appointment.

Why you ask?

Because she likes to joke that there is a memory wiper over our office door and the 25 questions you had as your were driving over to our office will be wiped from your memory as soon as you walk through the door.  Now, if you made yourself a nice list of questions on a piece of notebook paper, your cell phone, ipad, tablet, or a fast food napkin (this has happened and worked just fine) than the memory wiper is no trouble at all and we can go right down your list of questions easily without forgetting a thing.


Have more questions about how to get ready for your bankruptcy consultation?  Just give us a call at 732-302-9600 or fill out our online bankruptcy consultation form and we will be happy to talk to you!

My Least Favorite Bankruptcy Myth Ever.

by Sarah J. Crouch, Esq.

Bruce Truesdale new jersey bankruptcy myths

This popped up on my facebook feed the other day…and caused me to fly into a rage.  An absolute screaming, howling, righteous, my husband thinks I am a nutcase rage.

You may think: This seems innocuous enough.  I have no idea why you are so angry about this.  It seems basic.  Don’t spend on frivolous items and you won’t end up in debt right?


If I took a highly unscientific sampling of my clients I can tell you with much certainty that nearly zero of my clients were out buying Ipads and Jimmy Choos.   They were buying groceries, gas, medicine, or paying for emergency repairs on the car or the house.

This means that people with high credit card debt may have just been trying to get by and this “meme” misinforms the public to believe that these people have debt because they were out making frivolous purchases.

And this presumption is why people feel badly when they come into my office the first time to talk about bankruptcy.  They feel like they are deadbeats that aren’t paying their bills.  They feel a moral obligation to pay for purchases they have made even though the bulk of them were likely emergency purchases.  These people feel badly about this.  Terrible.  And the social norm that assumes they were out spending the money they didn’t have on Ipads is why they feel extra bad.  They will never speak of this.  They don’t want emails about this going to their personal email.  I have had clients literally get PO boxes so the mail carrier wouldn’t know ( I could honestly care less what my mail carrier thinks of me…)

It is amazing.

And all because they are using a financial tool that Congress made available to them to get out of debt that was not their fault.  Something happened.  They got sick, they lost a job, they had a family emergency, they got divorced.  There is no reason to feel badly for pursuing all your options and make a call that is best for you, not for your mail carrier.

There are many many reasons that people file bankruptcy and get into debt.   I have been doing this for awhile now….and Jimmy Choos and Ipads are not among the reasons I have ever heard.