Can I File Bankruptcy On My Own?
The short answer is yes, all of the forms that a debtor needs to file are available on line. However, the forms are simply fill in the blank documents and do not advise a debtor on legal strategies, taking exemptions that protect assets, or how the process will work locally.
A debtor may not be aware that once you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you cannot voluntarily dismiss your case. It's like stepping into a bear trap. So if you have an asset that is not exempt, or not fully exempt, the trustee can force you to turn it over and you cannot voluntarily dismiss the case. The Trustee will get a order for turnover of the asset, and if you fail to do so will revoke your discharge and then have a judgment against you personally. In addition, there are other requirements of a debtor that are part of the bankruptcy code that are not explained on the court’s website.
What About Using a Cut-Rate Petition Preparer?
A petition preparer is a person who for a few hundred dollars will help you fill in the blanks on the bankruptcy court's online forms. They are not allowed to give any legal advice however, or tell you how the process will work. All a petition preparer can do is simply enter the information you give them onto the forms and print them out for you. You have to go and file the case yourself and represent yourself through the entire process. The fee a petition preparer charges is ridiculous, when you realize they are simply data entering the information that you could have just filed in hand written form for free or typed yourself. In the end, many people that start out using a petition preparer end up needing to hire an attorney, and spend more money in the long run.
Bottom line, never use a petition preparer. Bankruptcy judges and Trustee are often frustrated when they see a Debtor has used a petition preparer, and while the bankruptcy code allows the use of one, they often violate the bankruptcy code and attempt to give legal advice, much of which is bad legal advice.
If you're intent on braving the system alone, you should spend hours online researching the bankruptcy code and rules of the court to make sure you have a good understanding of what is going to be required. You may also will want to research the state exemptions to make sure you understand how to exempt your assets and prepare yourself for what you can and cannot keep.