Can I File For Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer?
In today’s financial landscape, we hear so much about the people who had access to excess funds during the pandemic that allowed them to buy Peletons and meme stocks. But the reality is that many regular people were adversely affected by the past two years, even if they benefited from moratorium programs and stimulus checks that helped keep them temporarily afloat.
Many hard-working people now find themselves in positions of overwhelming debt. And while they diligently strive to get a handle on this debt, all it takes is one minor unplanned-for incident to throw them outside their ability to keep up. When they fall behind on their mortgage payment and creditors begin to call, bankruptcy can offer a viable option to put a stop to the calls and get themselves back on track for the future.
Bankruptcy Attorneys Simplify And Expedite The Filing Process
Filing for bankruptcy is the legal procedure that allows individuals who have become overwhelmed by their financial circumstances to discharge or restructure their outstanding debt. While bankruptcy can be a difficult decision to make, it is often the best way for people in this position to achieve a fresh start.
Filing for bankruptcy is as complicated as your individual financial picture. If you have very few financial responsibilities that need to be dealt with, your bankruptcy may not be a difficult one to navigate on your own. But by the time many people get to the point of considering bankruptcy, they are dealing with many moving parts to their financial picture and feeling more overwhelmed with each passing day.
Although filing for bankruptcy without an attorney is possible, having a skilled bankruptcy lawyer guiding your way simplifies and expedites the process. Getting the advice and guidance of an experienced Las Vegas bankruptcy lawyer who understands the intricacies of the bankruptcy code offers immediate peace of mind, protection from your creditors, and allows you to deal proactively with an overwhelming situation.
Pro Se Bankruptcy Advantages and Disadvantages
Filing for bankruptcy without a lawyer is called a pro se bankruptcy. When you file for bankruptcy on your own, you will be representing yourself in bankruptcy court. While the obvious advantage of filing for a pro se bankruptcy is saving on attorney costs, there can be significant disadvantages.
According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, those who represented themselves in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases in 2017 were only successful 66.7 percent of the time. Even more dramatic, those who represented themselves in Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases were only successful 2.3 percent of the time.
Although you can file for bankruptcy without a lawyer, you will be taking on the role of not only the debtor in the proceeding, but also the attorney. You will be responsible for doing everything that your bankruptcy attorney would be doing on your behalf, such as drafting the petition, determining your exemptions, scheduling your hearings, and appearing before the court. As someone who is not proficient in legal matters, you may make critical mistakes that can impact your success in bankruptcy court.
What Do I Need To Know To File For Bankruptcy Myself?
Bankruptcy attorneys do this each day, but you do not. While you can file for bankruptcy without a lawyer, filing pro se means that you should understand the basics of what bankruptcy is, what it isn’t, and what you are expecting from it. You will also need to understand:
- Which chapter applies to your financial situation
- What documents will need to be filed
- What property is exempted from a bankruptcy
- The credit education course requirement
- The “Meeting of Creditors” requirement
While you may be able to navigate a Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is far more involved and is challenging for anyone without a bankruptcy background.
Do I Need A Bankruptcy Lawyer?
While nothing in the bankruptcy code requires someone to use a bankruptcy lawyer, filing for bankruptcy can be complicated, and navigating it by yourself can be daunting.
For individuals with a relatively simple financial situation who qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may not need a bankruptcy attorney if:
- Your income level meets the means test
- You own little or no property
- You have made no recent property transfers or payments to preferred creditors
- Your creditors are not likely to dispute your bankruptcy
Although your financial situation may be relatively uncomplicated, there is still extensive paperwork required, and making mistakes in the required paperwork can have unfortunate financial results. A qualified bankruptcy attorney will analyze your financial picture and help you understand your obligations, if Chapter 7 is right for you, and help avoid critical mistakes.
If your financial situation is more complicated and you have income that exceeds the limits, have non-dischargeable debts, own valuable assets that may be at risk, or creditors may challenge your bankruptcy, you should get knowledgeable legal advice before delving into filing bankruptcy on your own.
For individuals who don’t qualify for Chapter 7, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help reorganize your outstanding secured loans such as mortgages and car payments while potentially discharging or reducing other debts. If you don’t qualify for Chapter 7, but:
- You have a steady source of income and have fallen behind in your payments
- You are receiving calls from your creditors and collection agencies
- You are delinquent with your mortgage payments and are being threatened with foreclosure
- Your vehicle is in jeopardy of being repossessed, or
- You have a prior bankruptcy
you may be eligible for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
While there are various strategies that can be employed, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is much more complicated, and you will be required to submit a repayment plan and file motions or adversary proceedings with the court to facilitate much of the restructuring. Consequently, it is advisable to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney before embarking on a Chapter 13 bankruptcy on your own.
Getting the advice and guidance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney can answer many important questions for you, such as:
- Whether you even need to file for bankruptcy
- What assets you can keep if you file
- What debts can be reduced or eliminated
- What type of bankruptcy you qualify for
- How the process works
Before making costly mistakes, consulting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney will arm you with important information so you can make the best possible decisions for yourself.
How To Declare Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer
A bankruptcy filing is a sworn statement that the information you are providing is true and accurate. If you plan to do this yourself, there is no room for error. Getting the correct information and forms properly filled out and submitted is critical to a successful bankruptcy. You will also be responsible for all the legal proceedings of the case. Any non-compliance with the bankruptcy code, rules of procedure, or court orders may result in a dismissal of your case.
Consequently, you should fully understand what you are required to do and fulfill them to the best of your ability, including:
- Understanding which chapter bankruptcy you are eligible for
- Obtaining your credit reports from all three credit bureaus
- Completing your credit education class
- Filling out the appropriate paperwork and submitting it with filing fees, either in person or by mail
- Promptly responding to any correspondence from the bankruptcy trustee
- Attending the Meeting of Creditors. There are typically no creditors there, but the trustee will be there and ask you questions about your case.
If you intend to proceed with a pro se bankruptcy, it is highly recommended that you consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney first to understand your responsibilities and obligations.
Benefits of Using a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer
A bankruptcy petition preparer is a non-lawyer paraprofessional who will prepare your bankruptcy paperwork under your direction for a nominal fee. While a bankruptcy petition preparer does offer filing bankruptcy assistance by generating the extensive documents that will be required in your case, they are not attorneys and are expressly forbidden to offer you any legal advice. Consequently, your preparer will not be able to guide you in what information you need for these documents, including:
- What type of bankruptcy you qualify for
- What assets are exempted
- What assets do not have to be listed
- What debts do not have to be listed
A bankruptcy petition preparer’s main job is to prepare documents using the information you give them, not to offer advice or represent you legally.
Can I File For Bankruptcy Online?
In Nevada, only bankruptcy attorneys can file bankruptcy forms electronically. If you choose to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer, you must file your documents in person at one of the bankruptcy court offices or you may mail your paperwork to the court. If mailing, it is important to remember to include a self-addressed stamped envelope so the clerk of the court can return your copies to you after filing.
Have More Questions About Filing For Bankruptcy? Contact Vohwinkel Law!
At Vohwinkel Law, our experienced Las Vegas bankruptcy attorneys are passionate about helping everyday people get out from under the crushing weight of unmanageable debt and getting a fresh start. Unfortunately, there are so many misconceptions about bankruptcy that our initial primary focus is to offer our clients the peace of mind they deserve after so many months, if not years, of feeling financially overwhelmed and afraid.
If you are being harassed by creditors, facing foreclosure, or have had your wages garnished, let us review your financial profile to see if bankruptcy may be a good option for you. Call us at (702) 410-6227 or contact us through our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.