Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy or Chapter 11 bankruptcy for individuals — no matter the type of bankruptcy filed, they all do the same thing: help you start anew with your life by allowing you to move on from your overwhelming debt and to begin managing your finances smarter.
However, despite all the benefits that bankruptcy can provide, it’s certainly not free. It currently costs $306 to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the U.S., and that’s not including the fees of hiring an attorney for help with filing bankruptcy. And while many Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorneys offer payment plans, they won’t file your case until the fees are paid back in full. When a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can take as long as six months, it’s important to have your filing submitted as soon as possible.
So what happens when you can’t afford the cost of seeking bankruptcy help? You’re certainly not alone if your finances are preventing you from filing bankruptcy — the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that 200,000 to 1 million Americans are unable to afford the bankruptcy filing fee and the cost of hiring an attorney.
Even if you think you can’t afford it, you still may have options that will allow you to get help with filing bankruptcy without putting your finances into an even worse situation:
Filing bankruptcy without an attorney
There is nothing that requires you to have legal representation as you file bankruptcy — however, it is generally not recommended that you forgo the help of an attorney. This is because it’s more likely that you’ll make an error on your bankruptcy paperwork that could result in your case being thrown out of court if you file on your own. To prevent this, always file with the help of a qualified bankruptcy attorney.
Pro bono bankruptcy attorneys
Many bankruptcy attorneys across the country offer their services to clients with little or no income for free. To take advantage of the free help with filing bankruptcy that a pro bono attorney can provide, you can contact your state bar’s attorney referral program and request legal aid based on your financial need.
Free legal clinics and aid
If you’re not certain that bankruptcy is ultimately the right choice for you, it might be better for you to attend any of the many free legal clinics that offer consultations on bankruptcy at no cost. Most local bankruptcy courts offer these clinics — simply contact yours to find out more.
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