Both bankruptcy attorneys and bankruptcy petition preparers provide assistance to debtors who wish to file for bankruptcy relief. But the scope of the services they are allowed to provide is significantly different. Read on to learn more about the difference between a bankruptcy lawyer and a bankruptcy petition preparer.
For more information on whether you should seek help with your bankruptcy, see our topic area on Getting Help With Your Bankruptcy.
What Is a Bankruptcy Attorney?
A bankruptcy attorney is a lawyer who specializes in or devotes a significant portion of his or her practice to bankruptcy law. Bankruptcy attorneys are members of the state bar and are authorized to practice law and represent debtors in bankruptcy cases.
When you hire a bankruptcy attorney, he or she will provide you with legal advice, prepare the necessary bankruptcy forms, file your case, and represent you at all court hearings until your case is closed.
What Is a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer?
A bankruptcy petition preparer is a person or business that prepares bankruptcy forms and documents for a fee. A bankruptcy petition preparer is not an attorney and can’t give you legal advice. This means that a petition preparer is essentially a typing service that completes your bankruptcy forms under your strict direction and guidance.
If you use the services of a petition preparer, you must provide all of the information and direction necessary to complete your bankruptcy forms. A bankruptcy petition preparer is not allowed to:
- give you legal advice of any kind
- tell you whether you should file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy
- represent you at bankruptcy court hearings
- tell you which of your debts will be discharged in bankruptcy, or
- tell you which exemptions you should use to protect your property.
Because a bankruptcy petition preparer is essentially just a typing service, you must do all of your own research and learn about how the bankruptcy process works and represent yourself at all bankruptcy hearings. Making the decision to hire an attorney or file for bankruptcy on your own is not one to be taken lightly, so make sure you know what you are getting into.
Why Would You Want to Hire a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer?
If you have a simple bankruptcy case and don’t want to hire an attorney, you can easily complete the required bankruptcy forms and print them out from the website of the United States Courts at www.uscourts.gov/FormsAndFees/Forms/BankruptcyForms.aspx. But keep in mind that your local bankruptcy court might require you to fill out additional forms.
If you don't want to fill out the forms yourself, a bankruptcy petition preparer can save you time by typing all of the bankruptcy forms for you. In general, hiring a bankruptcy petition preparer might make sense if you don't have access to a computer or don't have time to type the forms yourself -- although you'll still have to gather all of the detailed information that goes on the forms and you may have to spend a significant amount of time researching exemption laws or learning about other aspects of bankruptcy law.
Because petition preparers only provide a typing service, they cost significantly less than hiring a bankruptcy attorney. In most cases, you can expect to pay approximately $100 to $200 for the services of a bankruptcy petition preparer while bankruptcy attorney fees can range from $1,000 to $2,500. But remember that a petition preparer can't give you any legal advice when completing your bankruptcy forms.
For more information on what it costs to file for bankruptcy, see Typical Cost of Bankruptcy.