For those mired in thousands of dollars in debt, the bankruptcy option might seem like the only way out. Filing for bankruptcy keeps creditors at bay in the short term, and, if successful, makes them go away permanently. If you find yourself only making minimum payments on your debt, or worse, defaulting on loans, then it’s high time to consult with a qualified bankruptcy lawyer.

The first step in considering bankruptcy is to crunch all the relevant numbers. Calculate your total debt and compare it with your total income. Likewise, determine how much monthly income must go toward debt servicing to a) make minimum payments, and b) actually make progress in paying down the debt. Bring all of this data to your consultation with the lawyer, and he or she will be able to make an informed decision on whether to move forward. Recently, the laws surrounding consumer bankruptcy have been modified and tightened. A lawyer will be fully up to date on the relevant state and federal laws.

Consumers should of course be aware that bankruptcy puts a black mark on one’s credit report for up 10 years. Acquiring credit will be far more difficult, and large installment loans might be out of the question. Even if a bank does finance a loan, the interest rates will most certainly be at the high end of the scale. The consequences must be weighed against the relief from having creditors stop calling and sending unpleasant letters.

Often, the most painful aspect of bankruptcy is critically examining one’s previous spending habits and relationship with money and credit. If these factors aren’t corrected, then eventually you will land in hot water once again. In short, you must take ownership and be proactive with respect to your use (or non-use) of credit.

Many people shy away from bankruptcy in the fear that friends and neighbors will think less of them. However, bankruptcy proceedings are a private affair. Your name won’t be published in the paper or anywhere else that is easily available. However, it is possible that property and assets will be seized in order to pay creditors.

Ultimately, bankruptcy should be a last resort, only taken after all other avenues have been explored. It’s a blot on your credit rating that will persist for years. Bankruptcy lawyers have the training and expertise to guide clients through the process as painlessly as possible. One should not even consider this option without talking to a lawyer first.