When a person files for bankruptcy, there are a lot of people that just automatically assume they had trouble managing their money. The real facts are that most bankruptcy cases in the United States are caused by medical bills from either an accident, catastrophic illness, or long-term illness. Some of these medical bills can reach into many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Add to that the job loss and reduced income that can happen simultaneously and you've got the perfect storm economically. Here is the bankruptcy process to get you started.
If you really need to file, there is no reason to wait. The longer you wait the longer it will be until you're out from under all of that debt. Plus, if you're worried about your credit, you'll regain that sooner if you file sooner too.
The first thing to do is get the paperwork and start filling out the forms. There are consumer credit counseling agencies in many states that can help. They either advise you not to file, or help you file, they'll have all the right forms. There is almost always a filing fee paid to the court as well to get started.
The job of the trustee is to make sure that any creditors that have collateral get their share of the money you have to divide up. In most cases, however, there is very little to pay any creditors and few of them will attend the meeting that they are entitled to. They simply write off your debt and move on.
Some creditors will pursue every last bit of income or assets that you have and those can be troublesome. But they are few a far between these days.
There is a waiting period of 4 to 6 months, different in each state, and then you're done. You won't be able to get any credit for quite some time, but you probably couldn't get any anyway when you had all that debt.
You can start to rebuild your credit after the bankruptcy process is over. The sooner you start the faster it will rebuild. Most new creditors will insist on high interest rates and collateral, but that's how you start over, from the bottom.