In an earlier post, we talked about how to find a good bankruptcy attorney to handle your bankruptcy; this week, we take a look at how to file for bankruptcy without hiring an attorney.
If your debts have grown too large to handle and you are constantly hounded by creditors, declaring bankruptcy may be the best way for you to make a new start. Most people hire an attorney to usher them through this confusing and complex process. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can also help debtors avoid costly mistakes or the forfeiture of their rights.
However, if you are financially strapped, you might be looking into how to file for bankruptcy without an attorney. This is called filing pro se.
The first thing you should know about filing pro se is this: Bankruptcy has serious long-term legal and financial ramifications. Before you decide to file pro se, make sure you do thorough research and avoid making mistakes that can deepen your financial problems. At a minimum, follow these six steps:
- Thoroughly research your bankruptcy options with respect to the different forms of bankruptcy available. Individuals usually file for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Chapter 7 involves a liquidation of most of your assets to pay off your creditors, while Chapter 13 bankruptcy can mean working out a payment schedule with creditors, which may enable you hold on to your house or car. In our free teleseminar, we offer more information about the different types of bankruptcy that are available, as well as the pros and cons of each.
- Do your homework. if you want to learn how to file for bankruptcy without an attorney, be sure to read up on the United States Bankruptcy Code and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, as well as any rules in their state. Each state has different bankruptcy filing procedures and rules, so you will need to do some research to find out the specific items required for your state. Visit your local court’s web site to become aware of any relevant bankruptcy procedures in your area.
- Schedule credit counseling. If you declare bankruptcy, you must first undergo credit counseling within 180 days prior to declaring bankruptcy. After completing counseling, you must furnish a certificate of completion from an approved provider.
- List all your debts. You must provide an account all your debts and assets in your bankruptcy schedules as part of form B200. If a debt is not listed, it may not be discharged, so be careful to carefully list all debts, account numbers, and the name of the creditor. A bankruptcy judge is able to deny the discharge of debts if you destroy, defile, or obscure properties; fraudulently change records; or fail to tell the truth about assets. (Knowingly presenting false information during bankruptcy is considered a crime.)
- Watch out for problems. Filling out bankruptcy paperwork may seem relatively simple but avoid errors that could prove costly or cause your case to be dismissed. Make sure to list all your property, including assets like tax refunds and retirement funds and even intangible assets such as stock options and partnership interests. You should be careful not to bend the law in trying to transfer your assets to friends or relatives. Also, you may be able to find available exemptions for some of your assets.
- Seek legal help if you are unsure of any step along the way. If the process of learning how to file for bankruptcy without an attorney seems daunting or unclear, consider obtaining a bankruptcy attorney during and before the legal process. Many states offer free legal aid to debtors without financial resources, and you might be able to find a legal clinic or organization in your area that offers discounted legal assistance. Of course, you should always be on the lookout for bankruptcy scams!