I gather that filing without an attorney is generally frowned upon (just based off of the several pages of threads I have read on here tonight, and a search taht didn't come up with much for "pro se") but I am curious to see if anyone here has successfully filed without a lawyer. Or, alternatively, unsuccessfully filed without a lawyer.
My boyfriend and I both need to file. Our credit is shot. We have more debt than we can pay off, all of which is unsecured. We each had a car repossessed in 2008, and unfortunately (for me) I cosigned on his loan so I've got both of them on my credit report.
We both have student loans. We both own cars that are worth less than $5k but completely ours. We rent and do not own. His wages are being garnished (wal-mart discover card) and I will likely be seeing my own wages garnished in the near future (just got served by an attorney representing the company that purchased my bofa visa cc debt). We have very little assets andmake 20k a year a piece.
If we had more time we would probably go the attorney route, but since we are due with kiddo # 2 in July and are now looking at both of our wages being garnished, we want to file NOW.
Just looking to see if anyone else is in the same boat. I've got a few questions about filling out the paperwork that I was hoping someone who has been there done that could give me a quick hadn with.
Pro Se bankruptcys get messed up all the time. Though the court tends to be lenient, an improper filing usually leads to hiring an attorney who will charge more than the original BK.
Wanting to file "now" doesn't preclude you from going the attorney route. Most attorneys (in Vegas) will charge between $1595 and $1795 for a BK7, including all filing fees (in some cases, like stopping a foreclosure or garnishment, there may be an additional "emergency filing fee" added in). In a Ch13 plan, you'll see them put around $3000 in the plan (but it doesn't effect your plan payment at al). Of course, I'm a little biased, but if you NEED to file you're going to want an attorney. Think of it like car insurance, you can choose a cut-rate plan to save money and you might never have an accident; but if you do, you're going to hate that you chose the cheaper company/plan.
Here are some questions you'll want to ask any firm you interview for your BK (and you should interview several):
1. Are you an attorney?
Some firms don't ever have attorneys meet with the client. They use paralegals/clerks. Paralegals and clerks are NOT qualified to discuss your rights under the BK code, make sure you meet with a real attorney. In other cases, the firm's attorney will give you 5 minutes of their time, they run people through a "bankruptcy mill". This shouldn't be acceptable. Bankruptcy is a life changing event. If your attorney doesn't have time for you, don't waste your time on them.
2. Will an attorney be filing out the BK Petition/Representing me @ the 341 hearing?
Regardless of the attorney you meet with initially, you need to make sure that your case will be handled by a REAL attorney once the retainer is signed. It's fine for law firms to use clerks/assitants/paralegals to collect paperwork, but the real work should be done by a real attorney. You should also meet the attorney who's working on your case if it's not the attorney you met with originally. You don't want to go to a 341 hearing without having confidence in the person working your case.
3. Will you notify my creditors BEFORE filing?
All creditors included in the BK petition will be notified by the courts/trustee at the time of filing. Some attorneys, though, will go the extra mile and notify your creditors in advance of the filing. This may or may not stop the phone calls, as the automatic stay doesn't apply until you file, but contacting your creditors in advance may open the door to settlement offers, which may help you avoid the bankruptcy all together. Your law firm should also provide guidance on what to do when the creditors do call. In most cases, good law firms will tell you to answer the call and tell the caller "I'm filing bankruptcy, please contact my attorney, name of firm, at XXX-XXX-XXXX".
4. How much is this going to cost me?
Your attorney should provide you with a flat, fixed, all-inclusive fee. Some attorneys who advertise $500 or $999 bankruptcys are failing to mention that their fee doesn't include filing fees which are usually around $300. In addition to filing fees, some attorneys charge extra to; include a house, reaffirm debt, or modify the original petition to include additional creditors. Some attorneys charge you a fee based on the number of creditors you include. All of this is ridiculous. At the end of your free consultation, you should know EXACTLY what it's going to cost you to file your bankruptcy.
5. Do you recommend that I reaffirm my house/car/other?
If you're filing bankruptcy, you need to go scorched earth. Any attorney who recommends reaffirmation (which means re-signing for certain debt after the bankruptcy) isn't worth thier degree. No one should EVER reaffirm ANYTHING. The whole point of a bankruptcy is to get yourself a fresh start. How can you do that if you're going to carry $15,000 of debt on a car that's only worth $7K? Moreover, despite popular belief, you do not have to reaffirm houses/cars to keep them. As long as you continue to make your payments on time, the lender cannot foreclose/reposess your property. When you're filing BK, things are bad, if you don't reaffirm you're not liable for the debt if things go from bad-to-worse in the future. As a final note on this, some people will recommend reaffirming debt on houses that have equity in them. This is a mistake. You don't need to be liable for the debt to retain your equity position, as long as you keep paying the bill.
6. Does your firm handle debt-relief options other than bankruptcy?
This last question may be the most important. If a firm handles bankruptcy, and ONLY bankruptcy, guess what they're going to sell you? They'll probably talk about the advantages of a "fresh start" or how you can "clear everything and start over" but they normally leave out the disadvantages. It's the same thing as walking on to a Ford lot, because they only sell Ford cars, that's what they have to sell you. If, on the other hand, you go to a full-service debt-relief law firm (one that handles Debt Settlement, Short Sales, Loan Modifications, etc...) and the attorney there recommends a bankruptcy, it's probably your best option. Most full service firms will make more money if they can steer you into one of the bankruptcy alternatives they offer, so you can be assured that when they recommend bankruptcy, it's probably your best option.
I know I got a little off-track there, and I apologize, but I've seen alot of people on this board asking about filing pro se vs. hiring an attorney and/or which attorney should they hire. In summary, don't file pro-se, hire an attorney and make sure that you hire the right attorney.
Good luck to you,
Thanks SoulMaster. Hopefully the mods will make this a sticky. You should clearly post more often. I love to read your comments!!!!
Thanks SoulMaster. Hopefully the mods will make this a sticky. You should clearly post more often. I love to read your comments!!!!
I wish I could post more, but only can when I happen to have the time.... I do READ the boards every day, however, from my Cell. (Oh how I wish they'd mobile-format the forums!)
Frankly, if I had the money to PAY a lawyer now I would file with a layer now. However, once my wages are being garnished we will have almost no way to afford to pay a lawyer for the bankruptcy even on a payment plan.
I've spoken with several. Because his wages are being garnished and I have a pending lawsuit, they are quoting us between 1500-2000 plus filing fee. Every single one of them. Sure, I could not pay rent or any of our bills a month and file that way but since I am renting from an apartment and I don't want to get evicted, nor do I want all of my utilities shut off, that really isn't realistic.
So honestly, I don't have the option to get an attorney right now. And I don't forsee us being able to afford to pay on a payment plan to an attorney with our wages being garnished AND being able to get by month to month.
It's our own damn fault for putting it off until it got to this point, but that doesn't change the fact that we need to file pro se.
I'm pretty sure Soul can answer this but I think garnishments stop once you file. Is that correct?
Yes, the garnishments will stop as soon as you file, but you'll have to notify the creditor once you have a case # (this is something attorneys do as part of the filing that most people who BK don't even notice).
Also, past-due utilities can be included in a BK, but pay your rent. You can include the rent in a BK, and a BK will postpone an eviction, but if you miss, you'll have to make it up or be evicted.
Normally, I wouldn't advocate borrowing money for a BK, but in this case I'm going to make a rare exception... if you have family or a friend who can lend (or give) you the $ for the BK Attorney you'll get it done quickly/properly. If you do need to file Pro Se, get it done ASAP so your nightmare can stop. Also, here's a form you can use to reduce/eliminate the filing fee when you file Pro Se: http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/RulesAndPolicies/rules/Fee%20Increase%20Forms/B_03B_1111.pdf
I do wish you the best of luck of your only option is pro se, but since you're staring down the barrel of a garnishment, you REALLY want to hire an attorney.
I filed a Chapter 13 pro se for me and my husband 2 years ago - went along without a hitch, the judge and the trustee were both impressed and helped my brother out with his wife's Chapter 7 a few months ago, she should get her discharge next week. It's not that awfully hard but you better read up on it, everything you can. Nolo makes a very good book about both 7's and 13's.
I filed pro se. I don't recommend it if you can avoid it. But, I had no choice, no job, no source of income whatsoever, everything overdrawn. My tax return was just enough to pay the filing fees.
It sucks for a couple reasons. You basically are your own attorney. The court strongly dislikes pro se filers and will make the process more difficult for you. I couldn't get anyone to confirm that they had received my schedule F, they told me my attorney could sign in and check. I finally found a way for me to sign up to receive the notices, but, no one from the local bankrutpcy court even told me it was an option when I pointedly asked.
The trustee feigned ignorance of the law in terms of what possessions were excluded. I was the last one of the day at the creditor meeting, so I'd seen him working with all his lawyer buddies and their clients all day. The trustee pretty much rubberstamped all of their clients through. Then it came to me and he pretended he didn't know what possessions could be excluded from property to be surrendered. I requested the law book, found it and had to read it to him for him to exclude things. Then he decided my file needed to be continued anyways. Of course, he did this because I was from out of town and had to fly back to NY from Florida from the creditors meeting. So, he told me I would have to fly back for another creditors meeting. I typed up a general transcript of the meeting and sent it to the guy over him who acknowledged preferential treatment of the attorneys and general prejudice against me as a pro se filer. Got a letter back from the trustee that it was decided that my original creditor meeting was adequate and that I didn't need to go to a second one. All debt was discharged. So, that did finally work out.
Basically, they are out to screw you over as a pro se filer. Pretty much everyone in that building is a lawyer and they want lawyers to have plenty of work. It's bad for them if people figure out how to do some things themselves.
This forum has a lot of information about it: http://www.bkforum.com/forumdisplay.php?30-Pro-Se-%28Pro-Per%29-Filing
Pretty much all of my direction for filing came from reading that forum. I also bought a form pack with directions from Nolo. That helped a lot too.
I already had the confidence built up by handling my husband's immigration on my own a few years before that. A good friend of mine paid an attorney 7 years ago, she still doesn't have her permanent resident card. My husband has had his for 5 years now and we filed after them. Exact same immigration type, exact same circumstances. Attorney sent the paperwork to the wrong department several times, botched the information and got them a 5 year ban. So, there's that too.
As a pro se filer though, not only do you have the concern of making mistakes, you have the issue of a general dislike for pro se filers.
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I was in your exact same situation. I filed on my own,read up followed sites like this and paid close attention to deadlines. It can be done! This post is old if your still looking IM sure my advice would help. Gud luck.