Can I File Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer?
Bankruptcies are expensive. 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 attorney’s fees make up the lion’s share of bankruptcy expenses. Fortunately, in many cases, debtors can file bankruptcy without a lawyer.
While filing for bankruptcy on your own will save you money, it’s a serious undertaking. In this section, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer and a few tips to help make the process as simple and painless as possible.
- Means Test: When considering whether to file bankruptcy without a lawyer, the first step is to conduct a “Means Test” to determine whether you qualify for Chapter 7. While the federal government provides a test form, you can find simplified versions of the test online. You’ll have to answer questions about your income, your debts and assets, and the number of people in your household. If you own few assets, your household income is below your state’s median, and you haven’t been accused of fraud, your case may be simple enough to handle on your own.
- Credit Report & Counseling: The next step is to obtain credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll need all three reports because creditors don’t typically report to every bureau. If you fail to report a debt, it won’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Next, you’ll have to complete a credit management and financial literacy course. The U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit education agencies on its site.
- The Paperwork: Filling out the paperwork is generally the most complicated and time-consuming task facing people who choose to file bankruptcy without a lawyer. Downloading a bankruptcy forms package can save you the time and stress involved in tracking down the necessary materials. The packages are inexpensive and provide you with all the forms you need to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in your state. Once the forms are complete, you should attach the relevant documents and submit the paperwork either in person or by mail. It’s important that you promptly respond to any correspondence from the bankruptcy trustee. Failure to do so can get your case dismissed.
- Meeting of Creditors: You’ll have to attend your “Meeting of Creditors” on the scheduled date. Although your creditors won’t actually be present, the trustee will be and will ask you a number of standard questions about your case. Be sure to answer truthfully and accurately.
- Personal Financial Management Instruction Course: Finally, you must complete a post-filing Personal Financial Management Instruction Course within 45 days of your meeting of creditors. Take a look at the U.S. Trustee Program’s site to find an approved course near you. After you’ve completed the course, the last step is just to wait to hear whether your debts have been discharged.
Chapter 13 Bankruptcies and Other Situations
While in many cases it’s appropriate to file bankruptcy without a lawyer, there are exceptions. For example, if your corporation or partnership is facing bankruptcy, you’ll need an attorney. On the other hand, if you fail the Means Test because your income is too great, you may have to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy rather than a Chapter 7. In that case, you can still file bankruptcy without a lawyer, but it will be more difficult. That’s because Chapter 13 cases are much more complicated than Chapter 7 bankruptcies. In addition to filling out the requisite paperwork, you’ll have to create a repayment plan detailing how you plan to repay your creditors. As with Chapter 7 cases, downloading a bankruptcy forms package will help you stay organized by providing you with all the paperwork you need to file.
Are You Planning to File for Bankruptcy? Considering Speaking with an Attorney First
All bankruptcies are not created equal -- some filings are quite simple and don't often require help from an attorney, but others absolutely benefit from a lawyer's touch. Most attorneys will meet with you for a free consultation, so it makes sense to explore your options. Find an experienced bankruptcy law attorney near you and get started.