Dear Consumer Ed:

Due to huge medical debt and becoming disabled, I feel bankruptcy is my final option.  I have a modest income and cannot afford to pay my bills.  Do I have to use an attorney? Can I file the paperwork myself?  Are there lawyers that will file pro bono?

Consumer Ed says:

Yes, individuals can file for bankruptcy themselves without an attorney, although filing for bankruptcy is a very technical process with long-ranging financial and economic consequences.  Bankruptcy documents must be filed with the bankruptcy court in the area you live in. A website containing helpful information about filing bankruptcy without an attorney, including bankruptcy forms and other resources, can be found at the United States Courts website at www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/Bankruptcy/BankruptcyResources/FilingBankruptcyWithoutAttorney.aspx.

Remember – while filing for bankruptcy, it is important to make sure all the documents have been filed correctly. An attorney can provide expert advice to ensure that none of your future financial rights are affected.  There are attorneys who do provide pro bono or free services to people filing bankruptcy.  You can find information about pro bono attorneys by contacting your local or state bar associations.  The bankruptcy court for your area may also have information about pro bono attorneys.  In addition, many law schools have legal clinics that offer free legal services.   

Individuals are also generally required to obtain credit counseling from a provider approved by the bankruptcy court before filing for bankruptcy.  In fact, you may benefit from credit counseling before making your decision to file for bankruptcy.  However, remember to protect yourself from credit repair and debt management scams.  There are many companies that charge excessive fees, misrepresent what they will be able to accomplish, or do not pay your creditors in a timely manner, thereby making your financial problems worse instead of better.  To find a reputable credit counseling service in your area, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at 800-388-2227 or www.nfcc.org.

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