In today’s economic climate, bankruptcy can provide an effective lifeline for people who are struggling to get their heads above water. As statistics have shown, most people in the U.S. who file for bankruptcy do so not because of financial irresponsibility, but because of hardships due to health problems or job loss. Bankruptcy can provide a fresh start, but it’s important to make sure it’s done properly so you can retain as many of your assets as possible while still satisfying the demands of creditors. Here are a few dos and don’ts to remember if you file for bankruptcy:

Do Continue to Make Timely Payments on Collateral Loans You Want to Keep

If you wish to keep the collateral on a loan, you’ll need to continue to make payments on it so it won’t be part of the bankruptcy. Typically, this would include the loans for your primary residence and your car (if you wish to keep them). By the same token, you should also let your lawyer know if you’re behind on these payments; you’ll have to get them back on track as soon as possible.

Do Close Out Your Credit Cards

Once you’ve declared bankruptcy and enlisted the help of a lawyer, immediately stop payment on your credit cards. You should also close all your credit card accounts — and cut up your cards — so they won’t be used again. Likewise, if you owe your bank any money because of a loan or bank-sponsored credit card, close out your accounts at that bank as well.

Don’t Cash Out Your Retirement Plans

This includes your 401(k)s, your IRA or any other retirement plans you might have. Typically, these plans are protected from creditors and cannot be seized, so you can keep them out of the bankruptcy and safe from garnishment.

Don’t Leave Out Any of Your Assets

It’s crucial that you mention all of your assets to your lawyer when you’re filing for bankruptcy. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that if they mention an asset, such as a house or a car, they’ll risk losing it. This is not always the case. In fact, one of the objects of bankruptcy is to protect your assets from being garnished or seized; include all of them in your list so they can be adequately protected from your creditors.

Most importantly, make sure you get a reputable, responsible bankruptcy lawyer to handle your case. A good lawyer will not only protect you from your creditors, but will also help you get the advice you need so you can start over again with a clean financial slate.