If you’re thinking about filing a bankruptcy case, you’re probably wondering about the cost and how you’re going to afford to hire an attorney. One option is to file a bankruptcy case without paying an attorney to do it for you.
If you’re an individual or a married couple (corporations must have attorneys to file), you can file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case without an attorney. With Chapter 7, all your eligible debts are discharged. With Chapter 13, you establish a payment plan with your creditors, and your debts are discharged after the payment plan is completed. You’re said to be a pro se filer when you don’t have an attorney to represent you.
Before you decide to file without an attorney, do your homework. Your path may not be easy.
Types of Bankruptcy Software
There are two types of bankruptcy software.
- Form-based: These offer basic forms, usually in PDF format, and perhaps some explanation or guidance beyond what you’ll find in the official forms themselves.
- Interactive: Instead of filling out forms, you’ll answer questions online, and the software will take your answers and insert the data into the appropriate form.
What to Expect From Bankruptcy Software
Except for the official form on the U.S. Courts website, this is what you can expect commercial vendors to provide:
- Instructions on the type of information and the level of detail you’ll need to provide
- Explanations of common terms
- A way to save your work as you go so you don’t have to enter all the info in one sitting
- Automatic math calculations
- Information specific to your jurisdiction, like state exemptions
- Instructions on where to file your case
Beyond the basics, here’s what you can expect from five bankruptcy document vendors and from the U.S. Court’s official forms site.
U.S. Courts Official Bankruptcy Forms
Official bankruptcy forms are available free of charge from the website of the U.S. Courts. You can fill them out using your computer or tablet and print them so they're ready to file with the court. You can't save them online, but you can download each form to your computer, fill it out, and save it. The U.S. Courts also provide an instruction booklet to help you fill out the forms.
At $49, 1ClickBankruptcy.com is a pretty bare-bones application without some of the bells and whistles you’ll find in some of the others. You download the software onto your computer, which allows you to save your work and print files when needed. You can work offline as you gather and enter the information you’ll need.
Document Aid offers a short live demo to give you a sense of the process. This company offers three levels of service.
- Basic (“Genuine”): For $99, this level guides you through document preparation.
- Managed: For $159, the company provides someone to review your paperwork to ensure it’s complete, but not to make sure that the information is correct.
- Full: For $299, you fill out their “ultra easy questionnaire” and the company fills out the forms for you. Again, they provide no legal advice, but they claim that they can put you in touch with attorneys who can answer your questions for free.
StandardLegal.com provides do-it-yourself legal forms, and not just for bankruptcy. You can find forms for sales contracts, powers of attorney, living wills, and promissory notes.
For $49.95, you get basic, fill-in-the-blank PDF bankruptcy forms very similar to what you can get for free from the U.S. Courts website. They claim to include a booklet of instructions written by a practicing attorney.
Bankruptcy-CPR.com is a little pricier than other services, but it appears to provide an easier guided interface. You can check it out with a free demo to give you a feel for the data collection process.
The cost is $149.99 for Chapter 7 and $299.99 for Chapter 13. There are also add-ons for customer support outside of normal business hours, forms for turnover of garnishment money, and a “review for common issues.”
EZBankruptcyForms.com is what it says it is, a forms-based program. It offers a tutorial to help guide you through and a limited ability to populate the forms when basic information is entered.
You can purchase the basic version for $44, which will accommodate 30 or fewer unsecured creditors and up to 14 collection agencies, or the extended version for $47.50 for cases with between 31 and 42 creditors and up to 21 collection agencies. You can also pay a little more and receive a “legal ebook,” which is not identified.
No DIY software can substitute for the advice of an experienced attorney. If cost is a factor, many attorneys offer payment plans or you could seek assistance from your local Legal Aid office.
What Bankruptcy Software Guarantees Mean
Note that some of these sites guarantee that your forms will be accepted by the court or that you will receive a discharge. That’s not quite what it seems.
Guaranteed acceptance doesn’t mean that the court will accept your forms and allow the case to be filed under all circumstances. The guaranteed discharge does not mean that you will receive a discharge. Even an experienced bankruptcy attorney won't make that guarantee. All it means is that if your paperwork is insufficient or you don’t get your discharge, the company will refund your money. Maybe.