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Filing for bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of. For many, bankruptcy is the best available alternative when debts seem insurmountable. In fact, over 23,000 Floridians have filed for bankruptcy in the first six months of 2016. And Florida ranks only behind California and Illinois in the total number of consumers who took advantage of America’s bankruptcy laws in the first half of 2016.

Before filing for bankruptcy, however, experts recommend the following steps be taken:

1. Take stock of your finances.

Are you really drowning in debt? Although it may seem like you are living paycheck to paycheck, the true nature of your financial situation may be a bit more complicated than you think. What are your total debts? What is your true income? What are your actual expenses? Make a spreadsheet and track how your money is coming in and going out, itemize all of your bills and try to determine what caused (or is causing) the financial strain.

2. Get a copy of your credit report.

Did you know you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report? These reports are essential for anyone thinking of filing for bankruptcy. Not only do they show you debts you are aware of, they may also reveal debts you had forgotten about. In a bankruptcy filing, it is extremely critical that all debts are listed and all creditors named. Failing to name a creditor on a filing can have a seriously negative impact on a bankruptcy case.

3. Meet with a credit counselor.

Under federal bankruptcy laws, a person must consult with a certified credit counseling agency within the six month period preceding a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy filing. A certificate of completion for the course must generally be filed with the bankruptcy petition. The counseling session typically includes a financial evaluation, a personal budget plan and a discussion of alternatives to bankruptcy.

4. Contact a bankruptcy lawyer.

Filing for bankruptcy involves much more than just filing out a few papers and submitting them to a court. Bankruptcy laws are becoming more complicated all the time, to the point that experts now recommend that consumers not attempt to file petitions on their own. Hiring a qualified and knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney can help ensure that a bankruptcy petition is filed correctly and solves the underlying financial problems.

Please remember, bankruptcy laws are in place to protect consumers and help them regain their financial footing. If you or a loved one is in financial distress, follow the steps above to see if bankruptcy can be a solution for you.