People who visit bankruptcy law offices have piles of bills, and a big part of my work as an Indiana bankruptcy attorney involves going through those piles of paper with them. I almost always find myself wishing we’d been doing that pile-sifting a lot earlier in the game, because almost always what I find is that folks who cannot pay all their bills tend to choose the wrong ones to pay first. They either pay the smallest bills, the ones they can get completely off the pile, or, worse, the companies with the most aggressive collection policies. Although the best-case scenario would be one where all debts get paid, there are certain bills that have more immediate and more serious consequences if they’re not paid.

In the immediate-consequences category would go car payments, rent or mortgage, and phone bills; if you don’t pay those pretty much on time, life as you know it can pretty much stop happening. The serious-consequences pile of bills would include federal tax bills, student loans, and child support. Initial consequences might include having your bank account or other assets taken, or your wages garnished.

All of this is serious stuff, and, let me tell you, it happens to serious, hardworking people who just don’t think clearly when everything starts to go wrong for them. That’s why I keep writing about how important it is to get legal representation as early in the process as possible (see Before Bankruptcy, The Brain Isn’t Interested In Reality). My work as a bankruptcy attorney for example, includes keeping cars from getting repossessed before it’s too late, helping negotiate with mortgage lenders to stave off foreclosure, working with the IRS to work out installment payments for taxes, and dealing with the student loan authorities. Most of these things relate to bankruptcy, but are the kinds of debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

“When things get tough”, they say, “the tough get going”. But, when bills pile up fast and furious, it often takes professional legal advice for people to realize what direction they need to get going IN!