How To File Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer — Should You Do It Yourself?

Want to know how to file bankruptcy without a lawyer? The next question you should ask is if you should.

If you have been trying to manage your debt and pay down bills only to feel yourself slipping further in the hole, it may be time to consider declaring bankruptcy. You have the option between filing on your own or hiring a bankruptcy attorney to represent you. If you want to know how to file bankruptcy without a lawyer, read below so you know what to expect.

Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

If you plan on filing yourself and need to know how to file bankruptcy without a lawyer, you first need to decide what type of personal bankruptcy makes the most sense for your situation. Depending on what you want to accomplish, you may file for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Each is also dependent on the assets you have, your income, and what you want to keep.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

When you file Chapter 7, you ask the court to erase certain debts that may include credit cards, judgments, and medical bills. The flip side to wiping out all of your debt is that you may also have to liquidate certain assets. Florida’s bankruptcy exemption laws, however, allow you to keep certain property, such as your home (if it meets certain requirements), pension, and retirement account.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

If your income is too high to allow you to file for a Chapter 7, you may consider a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You are required to have a steady job in order to set up a payment plan that satisfies your creditors. A typical plan is structured for 60 months and allows you to stop foreclosure proceedings and auto repossessions. You can also lower interest rates and payment amounts.

How To File for Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer

If you feel that you simply cannot afford to add another debt to your burden, consider how to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer. In which case, you plan to manage all of the paperwork, filing, and attendance requirements on your own. The following schedule will help keep you on track:

1. Collect all Required Documents

Collect all of the required documents you will need for filing either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

  • Paystubs that document your wages for the last 60 days if employed
  • Tax returns for the last two years
  • Bank statements if required
  • Documentation of homeownership if it applies: mortgage statement, deed
  • Credit reports that list all of your creditors along with addresses and phone numbers as well as outstanding balances

2. Enroll in a Credit Counseling Class

Florida bankruptcy laws require you to attend a credit counseling class before you file your forms. The most economical and convenient alternative is to take a Florida pre-filing bankruptcy credit counseling course online. Find an approved course through the list provided by the Department of Justice. Course costs may vary between $10 and $50, with online courses among the least expensive. You will receive a certificate of completion, which you must show proof of before completing your bankruptcy forms.

3. Complete the Bankruptcy Forms

Once you have the documentation you’ll need, you can proceed with completing the forms, which can be found on the Middle District of Florida Bankruptcy Court‘s website.

4. Print Forms

Be prepared to print about two dozen different forms, and double that if you want to keep copies for yourself. If you don’t have a printer at home, the local library is a low-cost alternative.

5. Determine Filing Fee

In addition to your pre-filing credit counseling and post-debtor education courses, you will also be required to pay a $335 filing fee with the court if you earn above 150% of the federal poverty line, which can be made in installments. You may qualify for a fee waiver if your income is below the poverty line.

6. File Forms at Courthouse

You can either mail in or hand-deliver your paperwork to the local courthouse. It’s recommended to call your courthouse and find out what their procedure is for accepting bankruptcy filings and deliver the documents in person. The automatic stay goes into immediate effect once you’ve filed your paperwork. That means your debtors are notified, and they can no longer contact you.

7. Mail Forms to Trustee

Once you file your documents with the court, you will be assigned a bankruptcy trustee who will be the administrator for your case. It’s important to contact your trustee in a timely manner to find out what paperwork they require.

8. Attend a Post-Filing Course

The post-filing course is offered on the Internet, by phone, or in an actual classroom. It follows a similar format to the pre-filing course and provides you with a certificate once completed. You must file your certificate with the clerk’s office.

9. Attend the 341 Meeting

The 341 is also known as a meeting of creditors. It takes place within 40 days after your bankruptcy filing and is held in a meeting room. You meet with your trustee who will ask you a series of questions to determine if you honestly completed your forms. Creditors, such as car lenders, may also attend.

Relying on the Expertise of an Experienced Bankruptcy Attorney

The attorneys at Florida Law Advisers appreciate the fact that you don’t want to add another layer of responsibility to your already overburdened pocketbook; however, consider the advantages of hiring an experienced Florida bankruptcy attorney before you embark on the journey of representing yourself.

Consider the statistics before you spend the time and money representing yourself. The Pro Se Annual Report for 2014 published by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California indicates a significant disparity between pro se and attorney represented bankruptcy cases that were successfully discharged. With all chapters taken into consideration, only 48.2% of the Pro Se cases were discharged as opposed to 82.1% of those represented by an attorney.

Take advantage of our free initial consultation to discover the benefits of hiring an experienced low-income bankruptcy lawyer.

  • Expertise: One of the most important aspects of hiring an attorney is the benefit of his or her expertise. Our bankruptcy attorneys have years of experience successfully helping people like you solve their financial problems.
  • Accuracy: Think about the hours required for you to research, locate, and complete all of the required paperwork only to have your case dismissed because it was incomplete. With an attorney who knows the laws and requirements, you save valuable time and gain peace of mind in the process.
  • Advocacy: Representing yourself before a trustee can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Add to that the potential for a creditor to challenge the discharge or any number of other eventualities that could arise in a 341 meeting, and you have a recipe for disaster if you’re not properly represented by a skilled attorney.
  • Economics: You may feel like you’re saving money by representing yourself at the outset; however, consider the costs of refiling because your pro se case was dismissed.

Contact Florida Law Advisers, P.A. in Tampa, FL, to arrange a free initial consultation. One of our experienced bankruptcy attorneys will carefully review your case and discuss the best options for you to regain financial health. We offer flexible payment plans to assist you.