You Can File Without a Lawyer
In the latter part of the year last winter I found myself in such a financial bind that I filed for bankruptcy without a lawyer. I found myself searching to find a local, reputable attorney to help me out. Unfortunately, without any disposable income, I wasn’t able to afford the $500-$1000 fee they were charging, on top of the bankruptcy fees I had to pay for the court. I figured I’d just file for bankruptcy on my own without a lawyer.
I was afraid at first that I would goof up something that later would have me rejected by the court. Since filing for bankruptcy is a review of all your finances and income, I wanted to make sure I made no errors that would later come back to haunt me. Below are the steps I did to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer.
1) Find a reputable paralegal. You can prepare the documents yourself, however, I felt better with hiring a paralegal to do all the legal document preparation and court filing. I found a paralegal using Kudzu, an online business review site. A paralegal already knows which required documents to prepare and file. A paralegal also knows what information you must give to send to the court. Though a paralegal can not give legal advice, general information about the bankruptcy process is given. My fees for the paralegal were $200, along with a $50 extra fee to pull my credit report from all 3 credit bureaus. Do note that paralegal fees can differ.
2) Be sure to give all necessary documentation for preparation to your paralegal. You must give all information requested about your assets and liabilities to the bankruptcy court. I’m a pretty good record keeper, so I was able to find all my necessary documentation within a few days because I store all of my important information in file folders. You must show and give all the following to your paralegal: bank statements, income statements, all debts (mortgage, vehicles, credit cards, student loans, etc.), insurance, retirement accounts, expense report, personal items of value and more.
3) Complete a Pre-Credit and Post-Credit Counseling. Your paralegal can help you find an approved counseling agency that will give you the proper information to complete your certification. Usually you can get a discounted rate for these sessions using the provider recommended by your paralegal. The pre-credit and post-credit counseling sessions can involve taking an online course that you must complete within a certain amount of time. I didn’t go through a provider recommended by my paralegal (because I completed the pre and post counseling before meeting with my paralegal) and spent $100. I could have spent $50 if I had gone with the recommended provider.
4) Review the prepared documents given to you by your paralegal. Your paralegal should give you the opportunity to check the documents for filing with the court for your bankruptcy. Review them with a fine-tooth comb and be sure to speak up if there are any errors.
5) File the prepared documents by the paralegal with the bankruptcy court. Your paralegal will give you signed documents to submit to the bankruptcy court. Once filed, you will receive a hearing date for your Meeting of Creditors, or what is known as the 341 Creditor Meeting. Note that you will need to pay the bankruptcy fees associated with your filing. If you do not have the funding at the time (as I did not), you will be able to file a petition to pay the payment in small increments. Though this is not a guaranteed approval, I was able to get approved and break up the $299 cost in 4 payments.
6) Attend a Meeting of Creditors hearing. Once you file your bankruptcy documents, you will be given a hearing date for the 341 meeting within 60-90 days of your filing. You can attend this meeting without a lawyer.
7) Wait for your bankruptcy discharge paperwork. About a month after your hearing, you will receive your discharge paperwork via mail. Be sure to check the information thoroughly.
8) Request a credit report. About a month after your discharge, I would recommend that you get a credit report to make sure there are no discharged debts listed. Note that certain debts are not excused or dismissed.
9) Begin to rebuild your credit and your life. Filing for bankruptcy is not an easy choice to make. Your bankruptcy will show up on your credit report for the next 7-10 years. If you are in the market to buy a new car or a home you will need to prove yourself again to creditors. I have chosen not to use credit cards anymore, so my credit repair might take a bit longer, but at least I know that I am not going to fall into the debt trap again. You must also begin to rebuild your life. You may have had to give over certain personal belongings due to the bankruptcy process and you will need to find ways to live without or gain them back in the future. I would recommend taking this time reviewing how you lived your life before the bankruptcy. Many times you can live a very fulfilling life without the material clutter that can hold you back.
Note that I did not plan to keep my vehicle, nor my home or any other assets, and I am single, so working without a lawyer worked for me. If you plan on keeping certain items, or know that the bankruptcy will affect your spouse or someone else that you have credit with, I would highly recommend that you to visit with a reputable lawyer.
Above is my experience with filing for bankruptcy without a lawyer. I found it frustrating at times, as well as rewarding. I found it frustrating because I didn’t know what to expect in a lot of the process. I’m sure having a lawyer to explain every single step with me and be at my side would have alleviated a lot of my worries. However I found the process rewarding because I learned about the bankruptcy process on my own and that I really did not need a lawyer, as well as knowing that I could resourceful enough to research and find out how to do it by myself.