You're not legally required to use a lawyer to file for bankruptcy. Whether you're a good candidate for handling your own bankruptcy 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 carefully read a lot of information and follow instructions to the letter—or if your situation has you feeling too overwhelmed to do so—then self-help is probably not for you.
Evaluating your financial situation. If you owe only unsecured debt—like credit card charges or medical bills—you may well be able to file for bankruptcy on your own. But you must also 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 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 sense of whether the complexity of the filing process is something you'll want to take on alone. (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.)
Other resources, other opinions. Lots of people have opinions on the topic of whether you should get a lawyer. Most lawyers—surprise!—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 Moran Law Group, in addition to providing loads of useful free information about bankruptcy, also makes the case for getting a lawyer. The U.S. Courts website also offers information about filing without an attorney. Nolo, too, offers an article called Filing for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney. These sources are all worth reading.
Finding a lawyer. For more information about finding a qualified bankruptcy lawyer near you, see the Lawyers section of this website.
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Bankruptcy helps you get rid of unsecured debt. It does not eliminate secured debts, where you have pledged collateral for a loan, such as a car loan or a mortgage. When you file bankruptcy you must declare what you intend to do about your secured debts.
Bankruptcy is federal law and you file in the local Federal District Bankruptcy Court. Find out yours.
The US government makes PDF bankruptcy forms available for free. We'll tell you which ones you need and links to download them.