How to File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney in New York City

How to File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney in New York City

Most people in New York City that choose to file bankruptcy without an attorney will use a paralegal or some type of preparation service to fill out the paperwork.  They’ll type up the form but they can’t give you legal advice so it’s only a little better than filing completely solo.  Despite our law firm’s best advice to the contrary many people will choose to file bankruptcy completely on their own or with the limited assistance of a preparation service.  If you choose to go this route there is a lot you will need to know in order to receive a successful bankruptcy discharge.  Since many of our clients have tried to do this and failed, we thought we would help provide a basic road map for people in New York City dead set on filing pro se.  We understand better than most that if you are struggling financially it could be hard to afford an attorney.  Just realize a small mistake anywhere along the way could prevent you from getting the discharge you are hoping for, and might even land you or your loved ones in more trouble than you are in now.

If you are filing on your own the first thing you should do is determine if you should file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 protection in New York.  You’ll need to consider your current assets, monthly income, liabilities and a number of other things specific to your situation to determine if you should file bankruptcy at all.  It might be a terrible mistake.  Make sure you get this part right.  You will need to take a very close look at your debts to see if they will qualify for a Chapter 7 discharge.  Some debts will be completely eliminated while others will survive intact.  It will depend on the circumstances, but be extra careful with tax debt.  When reviewing all of the necessary paperwork for your filing, be sure to have a look at your state and federal tax receipts to see what might qualify and which tax debts will not receive a discharge.

You’ll need to pull a comprehensive 3 bureau credit report too.  You have to make sure you know of every creditor out there that says you owe them money or any judgments you might have against you that will need to be addressed in the process.  If you have property liens you are going to need to file some motions in Bankruptcy Court to have them lifted.

So now that you know what type of bankruptcy to file, who exactly you owe money to and how much, and what motions to file in court you are ready to start considering the available state and federal bankruptcy exemptions that will help you protect your assets.  Be sure to choose the right exemption scheme based on your situation since you may choose between the Federal and New York State exemption system.  They each have their own advantages and disadvantages so consider which one to use carefully.  If you choose the wrong one you could end up losing something unnecessarily.

Ok, now you will need to deal with the “means test”.  You will calculate your income, expenses, debt amounts and a number of other things to see if you qualify for Chapter 7.  If you are above the median income level you’ll need to take advantage of every possible exemption and deduction to pass.  You’ll need to spend a lot of time on this to complete your bankruptcy schedules accurately so your case isn’t dismissed by the court.  We suggest you read through the US Bankruptcy Code and New York State Bankruptcy Laws before getting started.  One other thing to be especially aware of before drafting your petition in New York City is that your lease could be considered an asset by the bankruptcy trustee.  If you are in a rent stabilized apartment you’ll need to get an understanding of the various recent cases in which trustees liquidated rent controlled leases.  There are of course many ways to protect a lease depending on your situation.  As you learn about the different relevant bankruptcy laws you will be able to determine a strategy that can help you.

If you have gotten everything right to this point you should be ready to file your bankruptcy petition.  Don’t mess this up.  Your bankruptcy schedules, assets, and debts all need to be accounted for exactly as the court requests.  But after handling the required credit counseling and debtor education all by yourself this should be no problem.  Just be sure you are in full compliance with the disclosure and noticing requirements, and that you have done everything exactly right with your Statement of Personal affairs and your means test calculations.

Based on the above, any super genius in New York City should have no problem filing bankruptcy on their own.  It only takes attorneys years of schooling and practical experience to get right after all.

All joking aside, bankruptcy attorneys spend a lot of time mastering their craft.  Getting all the required details of a bankruptcy case correct are not as easy as some self-help books or websites say it is.  Having the roadmap to bankruptcy success doesn’t mean you can learn how to drive the vehicle overnight.  With your entire financial life at stake think long and hard if it really makes sense to try to file bankruptcy without an attorney.  The risks will never outweigh the benefits even if you are successful in receiving a very hard fought discharge.

If you live in New York City and are in need of powerful debt relief but are set on filing bankruptcy on your own please contact the Law Offices of William Waldner online or at 212.244.2882 to arrange a free bankruptcy consultation.  You may as well start with the advice of an expert, who can pick up the pieces when you get stuck in the process.  Our firm only practices bankruptcy law.  Our clients know exactly what to expect before we file their case and we maintain a 99% Chapter 7 Bankruptcy discharge record as of 8/31/16.

This article is intended for educational purposes only.  By reading no attorney-client privilege has been created.

William Waldner