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CloseDo I Need a Lawyer?

There is no requirement to use a lawyer to file for bankruptcy. However, some people decide to hire one to help them get through the process.

Whether you're a good candidate for doing it yourself, depends on the complexity of your financial situation, and your willingness to take the time to learn the rules of bankruptcy. (If you're not the type of person that is willing to follow instructions carefully, then self-help is probably not for you.)

Your Financial Situation

If your debts consist only of unsecured credit card debt, you may well be able to file for bankruptcy on your own.

However, other factors to consider are the amount and type of property you own. If you own your home, have substantial retirement savings, or other substantial assets you may want to consult with a lawyer to make sure your property is not at risk.

A good way to approach the decision of whether to hire a lawyer is to buy (and read) Nolo's book How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. It will give you a good idea of what issues may arise when you file, and flags specific situations when a lawyer's help is called for. It will also give you a good idea of whether the filing process seems to complicated for you.

If your financial situation is simple, but you just don't want to deal with the forms, you might consider a using a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer to handle the form preparation.

Some lawyers may be willing to review your situation without taking on your entire case. If they see that your situation is very simple, some lawyers might even tell you that you can do it yourself.

One option is to get limited help from a lawyer combined with the services of a bankruptcy petition preparer. If you live in California, see for more information about their "Affordable Attorney Advice" service, which, for a flat rate of $100, will answer all questions that may arise in the course of your bankruptcy, but not actually file bankruptcy for you. (Disclaimer: This service is run by my friend and co-author, Attorney Stephen Elias. But I think what he's doing is pretty innovative and useful and so I list it here.)

Other Resources, Other Opinions

Lots of people have opinions on the topic of whether you should get a lawyer. Most lawyers... guess what... think you should always have a lawyer. But, seriously, they make some worthwhile points that are worth reading as you decide what to do.

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) makes the case of why you should use an attorney and offers tips for those who cannot afford one.

The law firm of Moran Law Group, in addition to providing loads of useful free information about bankruptcy, also makes the case why you should get a lawyer and the US Courts site has this advice about filing without an attorney.

And Nolo has an article on Filing for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney

These are all worth reading.


CloseWhat should I expect from a lawyer?

If you hire a lawyer, make sure your lawyer is an experienced bankruptcy lawyer. Bankruptcy is a complex, unique area of law that is not something that a general practitioner can learn overnight. Ask your lawyer how many bankruptcies they have filed.

Your lawyer will probably have you fill in a questionnaire about your property, debts, expenses and income. A good lawyer will be able to determine quickly what kinds of debts will be dischargeable in bankruptcy. The lawyer should advise you to get credit counseling before you file, and will may even have a computer terminal in their office where you can do the counseling right there, online. Many lawyers have preferred credit counselors that they work with.

Lawyers are responsible for making sure that your information is accurate, so they will be asking you to bring in documentation about your finances, including pay stubs, tax returns, etc.

For more information about working with a bankruptcy attorney, check out Chapter 10 of How to file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Close

CloseWhat is a "BPP" (Bankruptcy Petition Preparer)?

Bankruptcy Petition Preparers are non-lawyers paid by consumers to prepare bankruptcy documents, for filing in court.

Anyone can be a BPP, provided they comply with the rules governing BPP practice contained in the bankruptcy code.

Customers who use a BPP are representing themselves in the bankruptcy court. This means they are responsible for making the choices required of them in their case. They must also provide the BPP with complete and accurate information to be entered in the documents.

Because BPPs are not lawyers, their customers must obtain necessary legal information and advice from an independent source such as a self-help law book or a lawyer.

Think of it this way, A BPP's customers are their own lawyers and the BPP is


CloseWhat is Credit Counseling?

Credit counseling is now required for all persons filing for bankruptcy. It costs about $50 and can be done in person, on the phone, or over the internet.

A credit counseling session generally lasts about 90 minutes. They'll review of your financial situation, give you information about your rights and options, and propose a repayment plan for resolving your debt problems, if possible.

Credit counseling organizations are now screened by the federal government and only approved organizations can be used in bankruptcy. (Click here for the list of approved credit counseling agencies.) This regulation is a good thing. The field rife with rip-off artists and the regulation has been welcomed by legitimate credit counselors.

The FTC also publishes a useful pamphlet on how to select a credit counselor.


CloseWhat is "debt consolidation"

Debt consolidation is the practice of taking out one large loan to pay off a bunch of smaller debts that are charging higher interest.

Debt consolidation may or may not be a good idea, depending on your situation. Lower interest is a good thing, but turning unsecured debts (like credit card bills) into secured debts (like a home equity loan) can be a costly mistake if you eventually file bankruptcy anyway. Unsecured debts can often be eliminated in bankruptcy, while most secured debts cannot. If you can't pay your secured debt -- or if the payments are late -- you may lose your home.

Also, the fees for setting up such loans can be expensive.



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Welcome, New York users of Nolo's

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy helps you find local information and services to help you file for bankruptcy.

If you don't own the book, you can still use this site and the free means test calculator.

Don't own a copy?

Learn more...

Albin Renauer, the operator of and the Means Test Calculator, is also a coauthor of Nolo's How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy provides clear, user-friendly information and all the forms you need to get through the entire bankruptcy process. The book and the local resources you'll find on are a perfect combination. The book is designed to work with's means test calculator and lists of New York exemption laws, which determine what property you'd get to keep in bankruptcy.

The book covers the entire process, and gives you the line-by-line instructions you need to fill out the required Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms. Meanwhile, this website gives you access to the latest local court information and county standards for the means test calculations that you must do to file a sucessful bankruptcy petition.

But first, use the book to find out whether you qualify for Chapter 7 -- and whether or not it's the best way to deal with your debts. It's important to learn what bankruptcy cannot do. You don't want to go to all the trouble of filing bankruptcy only to find out that the it won't help solve your particular problem or kind of debt. The book clearly explains what doesn't bankruptc yan and cannot do.

If you do decide Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the right option, you'll learn how you can use it to:

  • cancel as much debt as possible
  • stop wage garnishments and attachments
  • keep the maximum amount of property using New York exemption laws
  • deal with secured debts and liens on your property
  • keep your home and car, if possible.

If you think you want to file for bankruptcy but aren't sure you can afford to hire an attorney, How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will help you learn what it takes to complete your bankruptcy petition on your own and complete the bankruptcy process.

You'll also learn how to rebuild your credit rating after bankruptcy.

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy doe s not cover business bankruptcies, farm reorganizations (Chapter 12) or individual repayment plans (Chapter 13). For Chapter 13 bankruptcy, see Nolo's  Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time.

"Clear instructions on when and how to fill out the necessary forms."

"Exceptionally clear…"
-The New York Times

"A do-it-yourself bankruptcy book for people who can’t afford expensive lawyers."

Press Reviews

"Exceptionally clear."
The New York Times
"How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy advises on everything from how to file court papers to how to respond to threats from creditors.... A do-it-yourself bankruptcy book for people who can’t afford expensive lawyers."
"An in-depth guide to filing under Chapter 7, including state-by-state and federal exemptions as well as forms for do-it-yourself filers."
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine
"Can help you decide if bankruptcy is the right option for you."
Detroit News
"A valuable, easy-to-understand workbook."
Los Angeles Times
"Includes clear instructions on when and how to fill out all the necessary forms, which assets you may legally keep, even advice on whether your case is complicated enough to make it worth your while to hire a lawyer."
"The best [bankruptcy books] I know are published by Nolo."
Harry S. Gross, host of
“Speaking of Your Money”
"Covers all the recent changes to the bankruptcy law, and shows you how to get through the entire process with the least damage."
Accounting Today

Customer Review

"I bit the bullet, and purchased Nolo's How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. I represented myself in court and I was granted a discharge of all debts five months later."
Danielle A.,
Richmond, VA
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy lets you cut down debts and keep valuable assets.

If you're considering Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which lets you wipe out some of your debt and pay back the rest over time, use this plain-English guide to decide whether or not it's right for you.

Nolo's Chapter 13 Bankruptcy breaks down the Chapter 13 process and provides clear explanations of the law. First, you can:

  • consider nonbankruptcy alternatives for solving your debt problems
  • decide which is better for you -- Chapter 7 or Chapter 13
  • determine whether you qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy

Then, delve deeper into Chapter 13 and find out:

  • how filing bankruptcy stops creditors instantly (the "automatic stay")
  • how Chapter 13 can help you avoid foreclosure
  • whether you can reduce your car loan balance, or the balance on other secured debts
  • whether you can get rid of second mortgages or home equity debt

If you think Chapter 13 bankruptcy could work for you, you'll be ready to:

  • determine (with the book's forms and step-by-step instructions) whether you have enough income to come up with a repayment plan that the court will approve
  • calculate the amount of your monthly plan payment
  • find and work effectively with an excellent lawyer, and
  • rebuild your credit after bankruptcy.

This newest edition includes new information on hiring and working with a lawyer, recent court rulings that interpret the federal bankruptcy laws. You'll also find the atest bankruptcy exemption laws in your state, which determine what copy you can keep, and recent IRS standard expense amounts, which affect Chapter 13 plan payments.

For Chapter 7 bankruptcy, see Nolo's How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. If you own your own business and are considering Chapter 7 bankruptcy, see Nolo's Bankruptcy for Small Business Owners.

"An excellent book that can guide you through the process."

"This is the best book going if you choose to file alone or if you want background on the Chapter 13 process."
-Attorney Gary Klein, Coauthor of Consumer Bankruptcy Law and Practice

"An excellent resource …"
-Consumers Digest

Press Reviews

"In Nolo’s usual thorough fashion, here is a guide to an alternative to the typical Chapter 7 Bankruptcy."
Orange County Register
"An excellent book that can guide you through the [Chapter 13] process."
Forbes Magazine
"Chapter 13 Bankruptcy will save you a fortune in attorney fees and confusion."
The Midwest Book Review
"This is the best book going if you choose to file alone or if you want background on the Chapter 13 process."
Attorney Gary Klein,
co-author of Consumer Bankruptcy Law and Practice
"An excellent resource..."
Consumers Digest
"Contains many tear-out forms, federal and state exemptions charts, and the most recent legal documents and instructions on how to fill them out. "
Reference & Research Book News


The New Bankruptcy

The New Bankruptcy

If you're feeling overwhelmed by debt, you may be considering bankruptcy. But is filing bankruptcy the right solution for you and your family? Find out with this plain-English book.

The New Bankruptcy provides the strategies, clear-cut answers, and information and you need to figure out whether bankruptcy can help solve your debt problems. Find out:

  • the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy
  • whether or not you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy
  • how Chapter 13 repayment plans work
  • which debts are wiped out
  • how bankruptcy affects homeowners
  • whether you'll be able to keep cars and other assets
  • how bankruptcy affects your credit score
  • other ways to handle your debt problems

The latest edition of The New Bankruptcy includes updated lists of assets you can keep (exemptions) when you file bankruptcy, plus the latest rules handed down by the Supreme Court as it interprets the federal bankruptcy law. You'll also get worksheets to help you determine whether you can file for bankruptcy, helpful checklists, and easy-to-understand information for all 50 states.

"Authoritative, comprehensive and packed with helpful advice and useful information, including state-specific details."
-Eric Tyson, Author of Personal Finance For Dummies

"…it's important to know whether [bankruptcy] remains a viable option, and this book will offer both explanations and reassurances…"
-Accounting Today


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Website and calculator content by Albin Renauer, co-author of How to File For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy (Nolo 1989 - 2014) website & means test calculator © 2014 -- RelationalVision, LLC. All rights reserved.