For any number of reasons, some bankruptcy filers choose to proceed without an attorney. Below is a list of suggestions to keep you on the right track.
The Do's for Filing Bankruptcy Without an Attorney
The following is a list of general directions to abide if you are filing your own bankruptcy case:
1. Organize Your Financial Records Before Filing.
It is important that you have pay stubs, bank statements, and tax returns to submit to the Court and, if necessary, your assigned Chapter 7 Trustee. You will also need these documents to complete your bankruptcy petition and schedules.
2. List all of your creditors in the bankruptcy schedules.
This includes loans from friends and/or family members. In the best-case scenario, failure to do so will result in the debt failing to be discharged.
3. List all your assets in the bankruptcy schedules.
Keep in mind that this can include something as obvious as a house or a car, but also encompasses pending legal claims, family heirlooms stored in your attic, or even the right to inherit property! When in doubt: Disclose, Disclose, Disclose! Failure to do so may result in a denial of discharge * meaning, your debts will not go away * or, even worse, fines and/or criminal prosecution. More on that later...
4. Maintain timely payments on any loans that you're seeking to keep, or "Reaffirm".
Usually, this will involve a car loan or mortgage payment. Sometimes, these lenders may hesitate to accept payments from you, in an effort to avoid violating your bankruptcy protections. Thus, its often a good idea to maintain payment records and, if you can, copies of checks, envelopes, or payment receipts, as applicable... just in case a bank refuses to take your payment then proceeds to complain about not receiving your payment! This actually happens more often than you might imagine.
5. Stop all automatic payments on debts that you plan to eliminate through your bankruptcy case.
If you have questions about how to do this, inquiries can probably be directed to an employee at your local bank branch.
6. If you are being sued, make sure to include the address(es) of your opposing law firm(s).
This will ensure that they stop their prosecutorial efforts shortly after your bankruptcy case is filed. If you do not list them, and one or more of your creditors do not "get the memo", you may have to take time-consuming efforts to re-notice them.
7. Keep copies of all documents relating to your bankruptcy case.
This can pay off if one of your creditors "doesn't get the memo" and attempts to collect from you after your case is over. Plus, there are fees associated with accessing your case documents after they are filed.
8. If you owe money to a Credit Union, re-route your direct deposit if you owe money to it.
If you hold an account with a Credit Union, and you also have taken a loan from this same Credit Union, you should strongly consider re-routing your paycheck direct deposit to a different account. Failure to do so could result in denial of access, or delayed access, to your account after the filing of your case.
9. Send requested documents to your Trustee, if any are requested, in advance of your 341 Meeting.
This will ensure that the Trustee has the necessary information to push your case through the process more quickly.
10. Be 100% truthful to with your Trustee before, during, and after your 341 Meeting.
The Trustee has the power to recommend that your request for bankruptcy debt relief be granted or denied - in other words, if they say "Jump", you say "How high?".
11. Be sure to complete your bankruptcy petition as truthfully and accurately as possible.
Again, when in doubt: Disclose, Disclose, Disclose!
The Don't's for Filing Bankruptcy Without an Attorney
The following is a list of conduct to avoid if you are filing your own bankruptcy case:
1. Max out your credit cards shortly before filing your case.
This is a very bad idea. This could lead to these debts being excluded from the bankruptcy discharge or, worse yet, the dismissal of your entire case for attempting to abuse the system.
2. Attempt to give away expensive gifts in anticipation of filing your case.
Believe it or not, the Chapter 7 Trustee has the power to reverse transfers made before the filing of your case - this means that a Chapter 7 Trustee can actually sue the property recipient to get the transferred property back! Given that most Trustees tend to request current copies of bank statements, deeds, and/or vehicle titles, there's no point in being anything less than 100% truthful in your representations to the Court.
3. Fail to report assets in your bankruptcy schedules.
Again, this is extremely important. Bankruptcy fraud is punishable by both gigantic fines and jail time. It doesn't matter how small or insignificant you think the value of the property in question is. When in doubt: Disclose, Disclose, Disclose! The bankruptcy forms where you're expected to report your assets are very broad in scope. Read them over very, very carefully, and make sure that you've listed everything before you file anything with the Court.
4. Cash out any IRA's, 401(k)'s, Pensions, Annuities, or other Retirement Accounts.
... At least not right before filing your bankruptcy case. While these funds are usually exempt - meaning that you get to keep them after your bankruptcy case is over - they only stay exempt if they remain inside of the retirement account they're currently deposited in. In short, you do not stand to benefit from cashing out your retirement accounts immediately before filing your case, so don't do it!
5. Take out a cash advance from a credit card.
If done within 6 months prior to the filing of your bankruptcy case, liabilities associated with a cash advance may not be eliminated by your bankruptcy case.
6. Pay off a credit card, right before filing, in order to keep it after your case is over.
Filing a bankruptcy case results in all 3 credit bureaus notifying the lenders on your credit report. In all likelihood, your credit card will probably be cancelled after you've just paid it off, anyway.
7. Lie to the Judge and/or the Chapter 7 Trustee.
If you're filing for bankruptcy to get your life back on track, this is tactic will achieve the exact opposite. If you are caught lying to the Court and/or the Chapter 7 Trustee, the best-case scenario is that your request for debt relief is denied by the Court - without massive fines or jail time - if you catch my drift...
8. Conceal relevant financial information from the Court and/or Chapter 7 Trustee.
If for no other reason, there's a high probability that you will get caught. Judges and their Court employees do nothing but process bankruptcy cases all day, every day - and they've likely seen it all. They have little tolerance - or sympathy - for dishonest bankruptcy filers.
Filing a bankruptcy case on your own will probably be an extremely daunting task. By following this list of "Do's", and avoiding the list "Don't's", you will be more likely to realize a successful outcome in relation to your case.
Please keep in mind that these are general recommendations, and definitely not a complete guide to filing a bankruptcy petition - nowhere close! If you have questions about the law or rules of procedure, I*d strongly recommend that you consult with an attorney.
Warner & Warner, PLLC, is a debt relief organization and assists people with filing for bankruptcy.