When a business starts to find it hard to make headway because it keeps wallowing in a mire of huge debt that it cannot pay up, one of the easiest options is to file for bankruptcy. This allows it to liquidate, discharge its debts, and probably start afresh. While a bankruptcy filing might relieve the worries of a business owner, it does the exact opposite to the creditors owed by the business.

No creditor finds it funny when they hear that the business owing them a substantial amount of money has filed for bankruptcy and is therefore going out of business. If a business owing you money files for bankruptcy, there are chances that you won’t get your money back, no doubt. But there are also chances that you can get part or even all of your money back, if you tread softly and take the right steps to pursue your interests.

As a creditor, you possess specific rights to pursue a claim to recover the money owed to you from the bankrupt business. When you receive a notice that a business owing you some money has filed for bankruptcy, don’t go crazy. Don’t make calls in anger and use swear words. Here are the things you should do instead:

5 Steps to Take When a Bankrupt Business Owes You Money

1. Stop contact immediately

Once you are notified that a business owing you some money has filed for bankruptcy, you have to stop all contacts with the business, especially those intended to get back your money. If you don’t, you will be violating the bankruptcy code, and that get earn you a lawsuit.

Even if you have previously filed a lawsuit against the business in order to get your money, your lawsuit will be put on hold once the business files for bankruptcy. And the only option you have is to contact the court to work out an arrangement on how your debt is handled in the bankruptcy.

2. Read all notices you receive

When a business files for bankruptcy, it is required to provide a list of its creditors at that point, so the creditors can be notified. This is why you will get a notice when a business owing you money files for bankruptcy. Aside the main bankruptcy filing notice, you also get a “341” notice.

By reading the notices you receive, you will be able to know the type of bankruptcy filed by the business, the date the case was filed, and the court in which the case is being heard. You will also know the deadline for creditors to file a Proof of Claim, and the date, time, and venue of the first meeting of creditors (“341 meeting”), and the guidelines for collecting what is owed to you.

3. Know the type of bankruptcy filed

Pay attention to the type of bankruptcy filed by the business. Is it a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 11 bankruptcy? A Chapter 7 bankruptcy (so named because of the chapter of the Bankruptcy Code that discusses it) provides for liquidation. In other words, if the business filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the company “nonexempt property” will be sold and the proceeds will be distributed fairly among its creditors.

However, in the case of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the business intends to pay you and its other creditors, but it will propose a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay your its debts—in full—over time. So, with this type of bankruptcy, the business attempts to negotiate payment terms with its creditors.

Whether you will get your money back or not depends on the type of bankruptcy filed. If the business owing you some money filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be able to get all your money or part of it. But if the business filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, you will most likely get all your money, but it might take time.

4. File a Proof of Claim

The deadline to file a Proof of Claim is usually clearly stated in the bankruptcy notice. This is the date by which you must have filed a claim with the bankruptcy court, stating the amount you are owed, when, and why. If you fail to file this claim by the deadline, you automatically forfeit all your chances of getting paid. You can easily download a Proof of Claim form for free from the US Courts website. It’s a one-page form that you can easily fill yourself.

5. Attend the “341” creditors meeting

Check details of the “341” creditors meeting in the notice you received. This is a meeting with of the court-appointed trustee, the debtor (the business owing you money), and creditors. At this meeting, the debtor gets to explain why they resorted to filing for bankruptcy, and you as a creditor get to ask questions regarding the repayment plan or any other related issues.

Having taken all these steps, you have to wait until the end of all proceedings, after which you will be paid all or part of your money, depending on the type of bankruptcy filed.

Ajaero Tony Martins