Steps to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy without a Lawyer- How to Guide
Debt can hang over your head like an anvil. You may be contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy but do not know where to begin. Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is designed to eliminate most of a person’s unsecured debt such as credit cards, personal loans, and medical bills. The process can be quite intimidating, but with these steps and helpful tips, you can begin a path to alleviating some of that financial burden and starting fresh.
First, you want to make sure that filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is right for you. “The Means Test” is a federal form that is used to determine whether an individual qualifies for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy based on the state you live in, your income, and the size of your family. Your first step toward getting a handle on your debt should be completing this form to ensure you qualify. There are many simplified user-friendly versions of this form to be found online. Today, the laws are quite complicated and require mountains of paperwork. Though saving money by trying to tackle the process on your own may seem like the better option, acquiring legal help is highly suggested. Rather than take on this task alone, try contacting some of your local law offices that specialize in bankruptcy law and do some comparison shopping of their fees. Many lawyers will also provide free first time meetings to assess your financial situation in hopes of gaining your business.
If you are up to the challenge and decide to proceed without a lawyer, make sure you fully educate yourself on the proper steps and create a thorough check-list to avoid any filing blunders. As a general rule of thumb, the process for filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy takes approximately four to six month and will cost around $300. There are some important steps you must take before you file with the courts.
1. Take some time to navigate the uscourts.gov website and familiarize yourself with all the bankruptcy information provided. Be sure to keep in mind that requirements may vary depending on the state you live in.
2. Obtain all the necessary paperwork you will need to complete in order to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Form B200 (found on the uscourts.gov website) will provide a checklist of forms that you will need in order to file and proceed with your case.
3. Obtain current copies of your credit report from all three credit bureaus. You will need the information found in them when actually filling out the bankruptcy forms.
4. Complete the mandatory credit counseling course in order to get the necessary certificate of completion that you will need to include with all of your paperwork. The course can be taken online through an approved bankruptcy trustee approved credit counseling agency and will cost around $30. Generally it is required that individual debtors complete credit counseling within 180 days before filing their case, so make sure you complete this step immediately.
5. Know where to file your paperwork by determining what Federal Court jurisdiction you are under
6. Complete all the necessary bankruptcy paperwork. This step is very time-consuming and can be very confusing so allow yourself the time and patience to understand each form and ensure all of your information is correct.
Some Tips n Warning to Review-
Once you have completed all the steps above, take a second to breathe as you are ready to begin the actual filing process!
7. Gather your completed paperwork, your credit counseling certificate, and filing fee of $299 and submit them to your bankruptcy clerk. Once you have submitted everything, the clerk should issue you a receipt with your case number, Bankruptcy Judge name, Bankruptcy Trustee name, and court date for your “Meeting of Creditors”.
8. Make sure to open and respond to (if necessary) all correspondence sent to you in regard to your case.
9. After filing your case, gather your last two bank statements, last two month’s pay stubs, all paperwork for any real estate you may own, and the tax forms for the previous year you filed.
10. Attend your assigned court date for the “Meeting of Creditors”.
11. Within 45 days of your court date, complete your post-filing Personal Financial Management Instruction Course. Note: this is different than the credit counseling course you were initially required to complete. This course also costs around $30 and will provide you with a certificate of completion that you will be required to submit to the court.
12. Step back and take a few deep breaths. Pending any additional documentation or obstacles, now you are just required to wait for that final correspondence informing you that your debts have been discharged.
Filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy can be a positive second chance for you to get out from under your debt and on your way to rebuilding financial freedom. Choosing to file on your own without legal aid, though not suggested, can prove successful if you make sure you are educated on the laws and requirements and carefully complete all the necessary steps. It is very important to remember if you choose to embark on the journey alone, that any major or minor misstep can affect your rights as a debtor and can be detrimental to your case. As long as you are well informed and pay careful attention to every small detail, you can be successful! Good luck!