Filing Chapter 7 Without An Attorney
Bankruptcy was designed to provide consumers a method of restructuring, reducing or eliminating debt, although not all types of debt can be eliminated through bankruptcy. The two most common types of bankruptcy are Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is a debt discharge, and Chapter 13, which is a debt restructuring. Both types of bankruptcy guidance are offered by The Law Offices of Adam C. Gomerman here on Long Island.
Before you can file any forms for your discharge, you’ll need credit counseling from an agency that’s government-approved. This is mandatory and should be completed immediately before filing. Many consumers file for Chapter 7 on their own, which is called “pro se” or “pro per” representation. Although filing Chapter 7 for yourself will be arduous and tedious, if you are detail-oriented, you can do it and save some money on attorney fees. However, it’s always wise to have an attorney peruse your forms before you file them so that they aren’t returned for errors or improper filing procedures.
Learn the Bankruptcy Law in New York State
Laws have changed regarding bankruptcy, so familiarize yourself with the most recent changes, and ensure that you follow the instructions provided by the clerk’s office. Sometimes, issues can arise from matters as simple as using the wrong typeface, so be sure you’re aware of the information details about the correct process for filing. In preparation for filing Chapter 7, you’ll need a list of all your assets and liabilities. This includes your:
- Home and other real estate
- Furniture and appliances
- Vehicles, tools, and equipment
- Bank accounts, stocks, bonds, securities, cash on hand
- Jewelry, clothing, and other personal assets
- Animals used for commercial purposes or expensive hobbies
You’ll also need a list of all your creditors including credit cards, student loans, child support or any other entity to which you owe money or make monthly payments. You’ll need addresses and account numbers. Some types of debt, such as child support or student loans, are not dischargeable through bankruptcy, so make sure that filing Chapter 7 will accomplish your goals. Most of your assets will be liquidated in Chapter 7 so be prepared for that event. It will also become a matter of public record and will be available for friends, family, co-workers and prospective employers. Hiring a lawyer before you file may be money well spent so that you pursue the best course for your circumstances. It’s possible that a Chapter 13 or another avenue may be better for you.
Documentation Needed to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
You’ll need proof of income for the last six months as well as proof of expenses. Only consumer debt is considered, business debts aren’t included in this type of bankruptcy. This documentation is necessary in order for the court to determine your disposable income each month. If your median income is less than the median income for your area, then you’ll most likely be allowed to file for Chapter 7. If you have significantly more income than the median in your state and city, then the court may require additional proof of your need to file. Some individuals aren’t required to take the means test, including:
- Disabled veterans
- Some active duty personnel
- Those with business debt rather than consumer debt
Some types of income aren’t included in the means test, such as:
- SSI, SSDI, TANF, and Social Security Retirement
- Payments to a victim of terrorism
- Payments to a victim of a war crime
Income that’s included in the means test includes:
- Wages, including bonuses and overtime, tips, commissions
- Net business income
- Rental income, royalties, dividends, annuities
- Unemployment and worker’s compensation
- Spousal support
- State disability payments
The court will use all the financial information you provide — income, expenses, and assets — to conduct a means test that will determine your eligibility to file bankruptcy. The means test is only used for individuals or couples, it’s not used for businesses who file. If you urgently need to file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 but time constraints limit your ability to amass and complete the forms, you may be able to submit an emergency filing that will provide you with the court-ordered stay that will protect your income and assets from being seized or attached. Laws governing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 vary by state, but most don’t allow non-attorney personnel to provide legal advice or information to pro se representatives, so court clerks won’t be able to answer any legal questions. Some states allow you to initiate your case online, and you may be eligible for a fee waiver if you can’t afford the filing fees, which vary by state.
The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Process
Once you have the information necessary to complete the forms, the following procedures will guide you through the process:
- Get credit counseling if you haven’t already done so. Ask our office for credit help.
- Obtain the forms, including the fee waiver if needed.
- Complete the forms.
- Consult with an attorney or a legal service to ensure that the forms are completed correctly.
- File the forms. Protection from creditors is immediate upon filing your case.
- A trustee will be assigned to your case and usually, the trustee is a lawyer.
- A meeting of your creditors will occur and you’ll probably need to attend unless you have hired a lawyer.
- Your eligibility to file will be determined.
- Secured debt and property that isn’t secured are processed.
- You’ll receive your discharge and your case will be closed within about a month..
Life After Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
After your case has been discharged, you’ll need to work on rebuilding your life and your credit. With the proliferation of Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 filings in recent years, more programs are available that will help with rebuilding credit and rebuilding your life. It was an event that was necessary, it happened. Don’t castigate yourself, use it as a learning tool and profit from the experience.