Debt Management Basics
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Life after bankruptcy

When the discharge is complete you can start rebuilding your credit while someone who went through a Chapter 7 at the same time is already well on his way to repairing his credit.

Adopt a positive attitude

Bankruptcy experts insist that attitude and persistence can make a difference.

"The consumer who's going to recover faster is the consumer who jumps back in," says Ulzheimer.

"Financial capacity is one thing," says Tahira K. Hira, a professor at Iowa State University who specializes in consumer economics and family finance. "Mental or attitudinal capacity is the other thing."

So if you build a savings account, carry no debts and have an emergency fund, you're saying, "Look, I can control my behavior," she says. "It depends on how good a salesperson you are and how good your behavior has been."

Show what you now know

But you have to shop lenders, "and there will be a price attached, which is higher interest," says Hira.

In the first six months after your bankruptcy discharge, you want to demonstrate you've learned from your financial mistakes. You've got to be a model citizen from here on when it comes to financial management. That means making all your payments on time and building up a savings account for those inevitable rainy days. If you've managed to keep a credit card through the bankruptcy, use it once in a while to buy a necessity and pay it off immediately.

First new credit card

If you don't have a credit card, establish good financial habits and apply for a secured card. "A general guideline would be six months (after your discharge)," says Whelan, a bankruptcy judge for 12 years.

You'll put money in an account and the credit card company will give you a credit limit of that same amount. When the bill comes in, you pay it, as you would a normal card. You get the deposit back only when you close the account or switch to an unsecured version. Some card companies may also be willing to give you a credit limit higher than your actual deposit, says Curtis Arnold, founder and spokesperson for Cardratings.com.

The good news: Many secured cards report as unsecured cards, says Arnold. "And assuming your account's in good standing, once you've had it for a year you should start getting halfway decent offers on unsecured cards."

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Some smart shopping tips: Look for names you recognize and the lowest fees and rates you can find. And only consider a card that bills any fees to your card or bills you directly after you receive it. When they want money up front, chances are it's a scam, says Arnold.

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