There are many debtors who file for bankruptcy without an attorney. But if you want your case to be successful, you must be willing to put in the necessary time and effort to learn how the bankruptcy process works. Because bankruptcy is a complicated area of the law, it’s common for self-represented debtors to make mistakes. Read on to learn more about the most common mistakes people make when filing for bankruptcy without an attorney, and how to avoid them.
For more information on whether you should file for bankruptcy on your own, see our topic area on Getting Help With Your Bankruptcy.
Filing for Bankruptcy Unnecessarily
In general, whether filing for bankruptcy is in your best interest depends on:
- the types of debts you have
- the amount of property you own
- your income and expenses, and
- your individual circumstances.
Bankruptcy doesn’t discharge (eliminate) certain types of obligations (called nondischargeable debts) and may put your property at risk if you own a lot of nonexempt assets. For this reason, make sure that bankruptcy is the correct solution to your financial problems prior to filing your case.
To learn more about whether bankruptcy is your best option, see our topic area on Should I File for Bankruptcy?
Filing the Wrong Type of Bankruptcy
There are many differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Which type of bankruptcy will help you the most depends on your personal circumstances and what you hope to accomplish by filing for bankruptcy.
If you are filing without an attorney, learn everything you can about the benefits and drawbacks of both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy to determine which chapter you should be filing under.
Not Completing the Mandatory Credit Counseling Prior to Filing
Prior to filing for bankruptcy relief, you must complete a credit counseling course with an approved provider. In most cases, you can complete your credit counseling requirement online or over the phone. But if you file your case prior to obtaining your certificate of completion, the court will dismiss your bankruptcy without a discharge of your debts.
To learn more, see Credit Counseling & Debtor Education in Bankruptcy.
Failing to Complete and File the Correct Forms
Filing for bankruptcy requires filling out a lengthy set of forms and filing it with the court. In addition to the forms and schedules all debtors must complete, many bankruptcy courts also have their own local forms that you might need to file.
If you are filing for bankruptcy without an attorney, you are responsible for obtaining all of the correct forms and completing them accurately. To find the official bankruptcy forms, visit the website of the United States Courts at www.uscourts.gov/FormsAndFees/Forms/BankruptcyForms.aspx.
For more information on how to fill out the required bankruptcy forms, see Completing the Bankruptcy Forms.
Not Following Local Rules and Procedures
In addition to the federal bankruptcy laws, each court will typically have its own unique rules and procedures regarding the steps debtors must follow to successfully complete their case and obtain a discharge. Failure to follow all of your local court’s rules can lead to delays in the bankruptcy process or dismissal of your case.
You can find more information about the requirements in your jurisdiction by visiting your local bankruptcy court or its website. To locate your bankruptcy court’s website, go to www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx.
Failing to Exempt Your Property
Exemptions protect your property in Chapter 7 bankruptcy and allow you to pay less to your creditors in a Chapter 13. If you file for bankruptcy on your own, you must research your state’s exemption laws to make sure that you are:
- using the correct exemption system, and
- not putting your property at risk by filing for bankruptcy.
For more information on how exemptions protect your property in bankruptcy, see our Bankruptcy Exemptions topic.
Not Attending Your Meeting of Creditors
Whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must attend a mandatory hearing called the meeting of creditors (also referred to as the 341 hearing). After you file your case, the court will send you a notice indicating when and where your meeting of creditors is. If you fail to attend your 341 hearing, the court will typically dismiss your case.
To learn more about what happens at the 341 hearing, see our topic area on The Meeting of Creditors.
Not Making Your Chapter 13 Plan Payments
When you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you propose a plan to pay back some or all of your debts. It can take several months for the court to confirm (approve) your plan. But you must start making your plan payments immediately after filing your case (your first payment is due 30 days after your filing date). If you fail to make your plan payments, the court will dismiss your case.
For more information on how Chapter 13 plans work, see The Chapter 13 Repayment Plan.
Talk to a Bankruptcy Attorney
Even if you have decided to file for bankruptcy on your own, you may be able to avoid certain mistakes simply by getting more information from a bankruptcy attorney prior to filing your case. Many attorneys provide free, no obligation consultations and will answer any questions you might have about your case or the bankruptcy process. For this reason, it’s typically a good idea to talk to a bankruptcy attorney in your area before filing your case.