When bankruptcy appears to be an inevitable part of your future, the idea of hiring an attorney to help you may seem impossible. After all, bankruptcy is for people who can’t afford to pay their existing debts. Find out how to file for bankruptcy in Michigan without a lawyer, whether you should, and if you can afford to get help.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often the best option for individuals and families who don’t have many assets, especially renters who don’t own a home. Just like any other court, you are allowed to represent yourself in a bankruptcy case. There are many resources to show you how to file bankruptcy yourself in Michigan and across the country. The federal court system has even made the forms available for free on its website.
If you want to keep control over the process or just don’t think you can afford a lawyer, you can prepare these documents and represent yourself at the creditor’s exam and other hearings. However, the work of filing for bankruptcy starts long before you go to court.
If you are going to apply for bankruptcy in Michigan without hiring an attorney, you will need to:
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a good option for individuals and families with homes or other property they don’t want to lose and a predictable source of income. However, the process of requesting and completing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan is even more complicated than a Chapter 7. You should be prepared to create and live by a strict budget that sends nearly all your income to creditors for 3 to 5 years. While the plan is in place you will need to file ongoing reports with the trustee and attend several status hearings at the court. Your Chapter 13 bankruptcy won’t be discharged until the payment plan is successfully completed.
Receiving a discharge on your Chapter 7 bankruptcy starts an 8-year clock before you will be able to file for another one. If you continue to have financial difficulties after your debts were discharged you may file a petition for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan, but if you file within 4 years of filing a Chapter 7 petition, you won’t be eligible for a discharge. Even then, many families who use Chapter 7 for their first bankruptcy don’t qualify for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan based on their assets or income.
Even if you figure out how to file bankruptcy yourself in Michigan, that doesn’t mean your debts will be successfully discharged. One organization estimated that just two thirds of bankruptcy petitioners who represented themselves in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy were successful. In a Chapter 13 case, consumers representing themselves only succeeded in 2.3% of cases. By contrast, 96.2% of lawyer-represented Chapter 7 and 41.5% of Chapter 13 cases were discharged successfully. These statistics show that while you can start a bankruptcy in Michigan without a lawyer, you may not finish it alone.
Bankruptcy lawyers know the system. They know what you will need to show, and can help you:
They also know how to best take advantage of state or federal bankruptcy exemptions to protect your most important assets. Michigan law says you must choose either state exemptions or federal exemptions -- you can’t mix the two. Having an experienced lawyer can help you weigh your options and choose the set of exemptions that best suit your financial needs.
A bankruptcy attorney can also help you stay on track after the petition is filed. They can put together a realistic budget based on your income and expenses that will keep you from falling short of your payment plan or heading back to the courthouse to file another bankruptcy petition in the future.
Most bankruptcy attorneys don’t work for free, so getting that higher success rate may depend on your ability to afford to hire a bankruptcy lawyer. When you are certain bankruptcy is in your future, you may have more options than you realize to pay a lawyer for help. Remember that most of your consumer debt will be discharged, so paying off debts ahead of filing for bankruptcy may not make sense. Instead, you can put that money toward a lawyer who will help you make sure the discharge happens. You may even recover some of that money when your attorney helps you complete a fee waiver to reduce or eliminate your court costs.
At John A. Steinberger & Associates, P.C., we are a full-service bankruptcy law firm in Southeast MI. We serve debtors and families in Southfield, throughout Metro Detroit, and in the surrounding communities. We offer low-fee Chapter 7 and no-money-down Chapter 13 bankruptcy to help you afford to file bankruptcy. Call us toll-free at (866) 690-2140 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.