Bankruptcy is a legal matter and like all legal matters, you have the right to represent yourself in court when filing for bankruptcy. Some people choose to do so because they believe it will save them money. Others file on their own for the simple fact they think it’s easy and will be able to handle it.
Unfortunately, choosing to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer can be the biggest financial mistake of your life. Yes, you could save a couple thousand dollars by representing yourself, but you put your entire bankruptcy claim at risk and you could end up costing yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run, especially if a mistake puts your home at risk.
Common Mistakes Made When Filing without a Lawyer
Some people assume filing for bankruptcy means filling out a few forms, revealing some financial information, and having their debts discharged.
This is far from the truth. First of all, bankruptcy schedules aren’t as simple as they might seem. This is often the case with official legal documents. In theory they are simple, but when it comes to plugging your own personal financial situation into the documents, things get confusing fast. Working with a lawyer means someone is there to help you as questions arise specific to your circumstances.
It’s also important to realize there are several factors involved in bankruptcy that go beyond completing and submitting your forms.
For instance, timing is important in bankruptcy. Filing at the wrong time can cost you, and in extreme cases, prevent you from filing again for up to eight years. This means if you make a mistake you won’t be able to fix it for nearly a decade.
Protecting Your Assets
Perhaps the most important reason you don’t want to file for bankruptcy on your own has to do with your exemptions. If you make a mistake when it comes to exempting certain assets you can lose those assets. Forgetting to include stock options, trust funds, retirement funds, and other valuable assets can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s also important not to omit any creditors, even if you intend to pay them in full. Omitting a creditor or any other information can call into question your intentions and result in accusations of fraud.
Finally, submitting information with simple math mistakes or underestimating your living expenses can cost you a great deal. If you lead the court to believe that your situation is better than it really is, you’ll be committing to a repayment plan in chapter 13 that you really can’t afford long term.
One of the most important components of filing for bankruptcy is attending the financial management and credit counseling education courses. These are required in order to file and not attending them can result in dismissal of your bankruptcy case. Data shows that a high number of people filing on their own do not realize they must participate in these courses or they do not meet their obligations in the right way, resulting in their cases being closed without discharge of their debts.
Imagine going through all of the steps of bankruptcy only to learn you’re no better off because you attended the wrong credit counseling course or you failed to attend one at all. An experienced bankruptcy attorney will help you locate and participate in the appropriate courses, and work with you in other ways to protect you against the dismissal of your case without discharge.
To learn more about the education requirements of bankruptcy, check out this information from the US Department of Justice.
If you have questions about how a bankruptcy lawyer can help you or you want to know more about how filing on your own puts you at risk, contact the Law Office of Robert M. Geller at 813.254.5696.