How To File Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer. You can legally file for bankruptcy without a lawyer. Every year, thousands of Americans find themselves too broke to pay off their debts, yet unable to afford bankruptcy.
It probably comes as no surprise that attorneys’ fees make up the lion’s share of bankruptcy expenses. So, you might be wondering how to file bankruptcy without a lawyer.
How To File Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer
It largely depends on how complex your case is. If you own little property and don’t make a lot of money, it might be possible to file bankruptcy pro se (without a lawyer). But while filing for bankruptcy on your own can save you money, it’s a serious undertaking.
You’ll have to pull together all of your financial documentation, file a lot of paperwork on time, and communicate with your bankruptcy trustee. You’ll also need to take the time to understand the state and federal laws that apply.
In this section, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and a few tips to help make the process as simple and painless as possible.
Steps To Follow When Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer
You should follow these steps when you file your bankruptcy case.
- Collect Your Documents to Assess Your Finances and Debt.
including all of your debts. Income, expenses, and assets. You’ll use this to complete the means test required to determine your qualification for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Assess whether you can protect all your belongings in Chapter 7 and prepare the court document for your case.
- Analyze Your Debts
Look at your debts to see which ones are eligible to be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Though many debts are wiped out at the end of the case, others survive. Some debts, such as income taxes, may be discharged depending on the circumstances of the liability taxes that come to mind.
Take The Required Credit Counselling Course from An Approved Provider
All bankruptcy filers have to take a credit counseling course from an approved provider. You must take the course within six months before you file your bankruptcy petition (which opens your case) with the Bankruptcy Court. The course has to be taken through a credit counseling agency that’s approved by the Department of Justice.
- Review Your Assets and Choose Exemptions
you need to disclose all of your assets when you file for bankruptcy. Though you can indeed keep many types of personal property when you file for bankruptcy. You’ve got to be sure to exempt those assets properly or risk losing them.
California is difficult for some people because there are two types of exemptions to choose from. In New York, you can choose either the federal exemptions or the state scheme. If you pick the wrong exemption scheme, you are going to end up losing something you might have otherwise been able to keep.
- Take Your Pre-Filing Credit Counseling
You are required to complete a credit counseling session with an approved provider within 180 days before you file your case. Make sure you get the list from your bankruptcy court because your case will be dismissed unless you become an authorized provider.
- Complete The Required Bankruptcy Form
Filing bankruptcy comes with a lot of paperwork. There are more than 20 required forms, and since some forms are several pages long, your total bankruptcy petition may be up to 70 pages. The bankruptcy forms ask you about everything you make, spend, own, and owe. That is your income, expenses, assets, and debts.
This will help the trustee and bankruptcy judge in your case understand your financial circumstances and whether you’re eligible to file for bankruptcy. You’ll also include information about your case, such as the chapter of bankruptcy you’re filing and whether you’re filing pro se (on your own) or with the help of a lawyer.
- Prepare for And Attend the Meeting of creditors.
The court will schedule a meeting of creditors to be held a few weeks after you file your bankruptcy case. This is an opportunity for your creditors to ask you questions about your financial situation and for the Chapter and trustee to determine whether any assets can be taken for you.
- Take Your Financial Management Certification
You’re required to complete a financial management certification session with an approved provider before the court issues a Discharge of Debtor in your case. If you don’t complete this session, which you can take only after the case is filed, the court will close the case without issuing a Discharge. Make sure you get the list from your bankruptcy court because only certifications issued by authorized providers are valid.
- Get Your Filing Fee
There is a $338 filing fee for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is usually due when you file your bankruptcy petition with the court. If you don’t have the funds to pay the filing fee now, you can apply to pay your fee in installments after your case has been filed. You can ask for up to four monthly payments. If you can’t afford to pay even in installments, you can apply for a fee waiver.
To qualify, your total household income must be under 150% of the federal poverty line. The court will decide if you qualify for the fee waiver. This happens after your bankruptcy petition. If the court denies your fee waiver application, it will typically order you to pay the fee in installments.
- Print And Double-Check Your Bankruptcy form.
Once you have prepared your bankruptcy forms, you will need to print them out for the court. You must print them single-sided. The court won’t accept double-sided pages. You will also need to sign the forms once they are printed.
You will need:
. The petition forms, including any required local forms
. Your credit counseling certificate
. Paycheck stubs
. Your application for a fee waiver or installment plan (if applicable)
Most bankruptcy courts require just one signed original of the petition, but some courts require additional copies. So, before you head out to submit your forms, call your local bankruptcy court to find out how many copies you will need to bring and to confirm you have all the required local forms.
- Go to your local bankruptcy court to file your forms.
Once you enter the doors of your local courthouse, you will be greeted by security guards who will ask you to pass through a metal detector. Once you pass security, you will go to the clerk’s office and tell the clerk that you’re there to file for bankruptcy. They will take your bankruptcy forms and your filing fee (or an application for a waiver or to pay the fee in installments).
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee.
The Chapter 7 trustee is an official appointed by the court to oversee your case and liquidate, or sell, nonexempt property for the benefit of your creditors. (Note that most bankruptcy filers keep all of their property because it’s covered by exemptions.) Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases have a trustee.
Pay attention to the mail you receive from the trustee after filing your case. The trustee will send you a letter asking you to mail them certain financial documents, like tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements. If you don’t send the trustee the requested documents following the instructions provided in their letter, you may not get a discharge of your debts.
- Reaffirm Loans
You may want to reaffirm some of your debt, for instance, your car loan. This involves a separate court hearing that you must attend and represent yourself if you are pro se. If you have an attorney, they can represent you.
- Debtor Education Class
You are required to take a second financial education class that will help you stay out of debt and rebuild your finances.
- Receive Your Discharge
If your bankruptcy case is approved, you will receive a discharge. Which will release you from the obligation to pay most of your debts.
Some Common Problems in Court When Filing for Bankruptcy
Here are some of the most common difficulties when filing bankruptcy without a lawyer:
- Choosing The Wrong Kind of Bankruptcy
Individuals can choose between Chapter 7, Chapter 13, Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 bankruptcy. Businesses that are registered entities can file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 11. If you choose the wrong kind, your creditors may be able to confiscate property that you would have been able to keep if you had made a better choice.
- Making An Error in Claiming Your Exemptions
You can exempt certain kinds of property from liquidation, but you have to list them correctly. If you don’t, the asset is subject to liquidation.
- Defending Yourself in Court
Parties to the case, such as creditors, the trustee, and the Bankruptcy administrator, can seek dismissal of the case or oppose the discharge of a particular debt. This requires a hearing before the federal bankruptcy judge. Representing yourself in front of the bankruptcy judge may be challenging and stressful.
Although filing bankruptcy without an attorney may be possible, it may not always be the best route for you. If you need legal help with your bankruptcy case, speak to a bankruptcy attorney near you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Risks of Filing for Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer?
. If you do file pro se, the law prohibits the people who process your bankruptcy from providing you with legal advice.
. If you make a mistake, it can have serious consequences. An incorrect or incomplete filing could mean that your effort to discharge your debt just costs more money.
. If you file for the wrong kind of bankruptcy, you could lose your home or other important personal property. A bankruptcy lawyer would evaluate your financial situation and advise you on which chapter best aligns with your goals and priorities.
. The courts will still expect you to file your petition correctly. You may find it difficult to interpret the rules and regulations you have to work within.
Can You File for Bankruptcy If You Have No Money?
In general, you need to at least pay a filing fee and the credit counseling and financial management course fees to finalize your bankruptcy petition.
But if you have no money, you can ask for a fee waiver in Chapter 7 cases or ask the bankruptcy judge to roll the payment into your repayment plan.