The Risks of Filing for Bankruptcy without a Lawyer

Written by Amy Hennen, MVLS Director of Advocacy and Financial Stabilization 

Filing for bankruptcy can be stressful and scary. Facing the risk of someone taking your wages or money from your bank account can be a frightening experience. Someone in debt who can’t pay it off may decide to file for bankruptcy on their own because they are worried about waiting for a legal services attorney or the cost of paying a private attorney. However, deciding to proceed with a bankruptcy without help from an attorney may prevent you from a fresh start from debt.

Some individuals may use a bankruptcy petition preparer. While they can prepare all of your documents, they can’t give you legal advice and sometimes may harm your case. The Bankruptcy Court is complex with Federal laws, State laws, and local rules to consider. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can help you navigate all of this.

Details are Important

There are a number of steps in the bankruptcy filing process, and it’s easy to miss one. For example, if you miss a deadline to file a required document, your case can be dismissed. Plus, easy mistakes can mean you are no longer eligible for a discharge of your debts, meaning that your debt will stay with you after the bankruptcy. A filing error can also keep you from protecting your assets, like a bank account.  

Legal Knowledge

Whether you can keep your car, your house, or other assets depends on the law for your specific situation. Hiring an attorney can help make sure that everything that can be protected is protected. If you have debts that can’t be removed through a bankruptcy, like student loans, an attorney can help you plan for how to handle those debts. Finally, if one of the companies that you owe money to challenges your request to remove that debt through your bankruptcy, an attorney can advocate for you.

Although it is possible to get your debts discharged without an attorney, the risks may be too great to your future financial health.

MVLS handles Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you are seeking to eliminate all of your debt. Generally, this debt is unsecured, meaning the debt isn’t attached to some kind of property (like a house). The most common kind of debts are credit cards and medical debt. 

If you think you need to file for bankruptcy, call the MVLS intake line (800-510-0050 between 9am-12pm Monday-Thursday) or apply online. MVLS may be able to connect you with a free volunteer attorney.