Questions to Ask Before Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer

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Although it is certainly possible for individuals to file a bankruptcy without the assistance of an attorney, it is not always advisable (some would say it is never advisable). Before you do, there are a number of possible pitfalls you must consider before you make this life-changing decision and forge ahead.

Is Bankruptcy the Right Answer for You?

Bankruptcy does not cure all ills. And, it is just not necessary for everyone.

If you have little or no property that a creditor can attach, have little need for credit or have little other reason to fear judgments and lawsuits, it might be that you are “judgment proof” and a bankruptcy would really not bring you any real measure of relief. On the other hand, if it is important to you to get rid of those annoying collection efforts and to eventually be able to reestablish your credit, a bankruptcy can be helpful. An attorney can help you determine that quickly and easily, but be careful with the information you might get from an attorney at an initial consultation. It usually takes more information than the attorney will extract from you at that meeting. It will not be until he delves into the details that he will see your true financial picture.

What Type of Bankruptcy Should You File?

This can be a difficult question to answer. Some resources can help you with this, like our article "​When to Consider Filing Under Chapter 13 Rather Than Chapter 7."

One form you fill out when you file a bankruptcy case is called the Means Test, or Official Form 122A-2. The Means Test is a complex calculation that compares your income with the income of others in your state, your expenses and the size of your household to determine if is appropriate for you to file a Chapter 7 case.

If you “pass” the Means Test, filing a Chapter 7 case is usually proper. If you do not “pass” the Means Test you may still be able to file a Chapter 7 case, but you will have to convince the trustee and maybe the judge that you are not abusing the system and you really cannot afford to pay your debts.

There are exemptions to the Means Test, however, and most of those are spelled out in Official Form 122A-1Supp, Statement of Exemption From Presumption of Abuse.

Where Should You File Your Bankruptcy Case?

Generally, your bankruptcy case will be filed in the bankruptcy court for the jurisdiction in which you live. If you have property in other jurisdictions, it may be possible to file in one of those jurisdictions also. It is not always easy to figure out where to file. Just getting the filing information for your local bankruptcy court can take some doing.

You can start by putting your zip code into the page maintained by the Administrative Office of the US Courts for Court Website Links. Many districts are also divided into divisions. Often those divisions have their own offices, on site staff and courtrooms.

Each bankruptcy court will have a page devoted to pro se filers. Here’s the one for the Northern District of Texas.

It will discuss any procedures or forms particular to that district that you need to know about.