How Can I File Bankruptcy When I Am Broke?

By the time many people consider bankruptcy, things can be very rough financially. This may be true of you, and you may wonder how you can possibly afford to pay the legal fees involved. You do have three basic options to be able to file.


If you have simple problems, filing your own chapter 7 bankruptcy is doable without an inordinate amount of stress. You can find books on how to do this in your local library. Usually public libraries do have an in-depth copy of your state's bankruptcy code to refer to.

You will need access to a computer, the internet, and a printer. You will also need a computer disk to record a list of your creditors and their addresses to turn into the court when you file. Nowadays the bankruptcy forms are fillable on the computer, which makes things a lot easier for the pro se filer.

Your state may have a number you can call to talk to actual bankruptcy attorneys and ask questions on certain times of the month. For instance, in Indiana, there is a state hotline on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from noon to one.

You will have to take the credit counseling course before filing and you may be able to find one for free if you qualify. When you file your papers, you will be responsible for the court filing fees, but you can apply to pay them in installments. You will also need to take a debt management class after filing, and you may be able to find a low-cost or free one.

The downsides of doing it pro se is that if you have some complicated problems, you might make some serious mistakes that could bite you later.

Also, the bankruptcy trustee who will handle your case, is a lawyer.  He or she will probably not cut you much slack for mistakes.

Use a Petition Preparer

You might think hiring a petition preparer would be a cheap way to get your bankruptcy filed without a lawyer. You need to know that basically what you are getting is typist and a forms filler. They can do little else to help you, but if you are willing to do your own decision-making and research but you aren't very computer savvy, this can be a viable option.

The laws are very strict about what a non-attorney petition preparer can do and what they can't. When you use one, you need to understand that you are actually filing as a pro se petitioner and that all the decisions about how to file are on you.

A petition preparer is forbidden by law to:

  • Give you any kind of legal advice whatsoever. He/she cannot tell you what type of bankruptcy chapter to file, what exemptions to take, or help you make any other decisions with regard to your petition.
  • Charge you a fee beyond normal forms-filling type duties in your area. For this reason (and the next), petition preparers are not that easy to find.
  • Take their fee before you have paid all your court filing fees.

A petition preparer is require to fill out a form and sign that goes with your petition that has his/her social security number on it if he/she accepts any money from you. This may not be necessary if you have had a friend help you prepare the forms for free.

Use A Lawyer

You may wonder how you could afford a lawyer at this time. You can always get a free consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer that offers one, and as you discuss your situation he/she may have some suggestions to help you. It may be that you can negotiate a fee you can afford, or reduce some of the attorney's fee by doing more of the work yourself.

If you have complicated issues such as student loans that you want to try to discharge, you may prepare and file your bankruptcy petition yourself, but hire a lawyer (such as Michael Adler) to help you with this in a separate procedure.

One helpful thing to remember is that once you file, there is an automatic stay that stops creditors from repossessions, foreclosures, and garnishments, for a period of time. This may free up some of your money to pay legal and court fees so that you can get the process in motion, and you will more have time to get your other affairs in order.