Go For Broke?
Bankruptcy has never been easy. Congress is set on making it tougher.
By George Mannes

(MONEY Magazine) – Congress is moving closer to passing an overhaul of bankruptcy laws that would make it much harder and more expensive for debtors to be freed from their bills. The measure is backed by credit-card issuers, who say current laws favor deadbeats, and smacked by critics, who call it merciless.

• WHAT IF YOU'RE SLIDING DOWN THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF DEBT? Get good counseling. First look for members of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (aiccca.org) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org). Then check the last pages of the report at consumerfed.org/credit_counseling_report.pdf for tips on choosing the right counselor and avoiding the scam artists who haunt the field.

• WHAT IF BANKRUPTCY SEEMS INEVITABLE? Well, maybe you're better off filing before any harsher laws take effect. In general, debtors wait too long before seeking legal help, says bankruptcy lawyer Algernon L. Butler III of Wilmington, N.C. Acting early can often head off repossessions and foreclosures, for instance. "If you smelled smoke in your house," Butler says, "you wouldn't wait till you saw the flames under your door to call the fire department." --GEORGE MANNES