How to File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney

Three Parts:Completing Credit CounselingFiling Your PetitionAttending Your Creditors' Meeting

Under most circumstances, filing bankruptcy without an attorney isn't a good idea. However, if you have a relatively simple bankruptcy with little property or assets, you shouldn't have any problem doing it on your own. If you file for bankruptcy without an attorney, you're considered a "pro se" filer or debtor. Most pro se debtors file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which requires you to sell any assets that aren't exempted (typically your home, one car, and personal property such as clothes, tools, and electronics are exempted). All remaining debts are discharged.[1][2]

Part 1
Completing Credit Counseling

  1. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 1
    Find an approved agency. U.S. bankruptcy law requires you to complete credit counseling before you file your petition. To find an agency in your area that is approved by the courts to provide this service, visit the Office of the U.S. Trustee's website and check their list.[3][4]
    • You may be eligible for an exemption from the counseling requirement if there isn't an approved agency in your area – but this usually isn't a problem since credit counselors will meet with you over the phone.
    • Approved agencies may have websites that you can visit so you can get a better idea of the services they offer and their general focus before you commit to one over the others.
    • Once you've chosen your agency, call and make an appointment. Tell them you want the required credit counseling to file for bankruptcy.
    • You must pay a fee for your credit counseling, typically around $50. In some circumstances the agency may waive the fees if you are in dire financial straits and have extremely limited income.
  2. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 2
    Gather financial documents. You must provide the credit counselor an accurate and up-to-date picture of your finances, so you'll need your most recent account statements, as well as pay stubs or other proof of income.[5][6]
    • You may have been avoiding your mail and allowing late notices to accumulate, but from the point you decide to file for bankruptcy it's imperative that you open all of your mail.
    • You need to know your status for all accounts, especially those that are past due. If a creditor decides to sue you, your bankruptcy petition acts as an automatic stay on that lawsuit, as well as any other collection activities.
    • You'll need the most recent account statements for any credit cards or other lines of credit you have, as well as information about secured loans (such as your car loan) or mortgages.
    • In addition, you'll need copies of your tax returns for the past few years and proof of income such as W2s and pay stubs.
    • It also is a good idea to gather deeds, titles, or other ownership documents you have for various assets and make copies.
  3. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 3
    Get copies of your credit report. While you are entitled to one free credit report per year, you need to get credit reports from all three major reporting bureaus since some creditors report to only one bureau.[7][8]
    • You can get your annual free credit report from This is the only website authorized by the federal government to get the free report as required by law.
    • There are three major credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Make a note of the one you request from the free report site so that you can request reports from the other two.
    • You'll pay a small fee for your other two credit reports, but the fee is generally less than $20. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to receive these reports in the mail and go over them.
    • Generally, you want to try to order your credit reports at least two months before you do your credit counseling.
  4. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 4
    Meet with your counselor. If the agency is located near you, the counselor may set an appointment for you to come into the office in person. If you're unable to make a trip to the office, you typically have the option of doing the meeting over the phone.[9]
    • You'll have to submit financial information and documents to your credit counselor in advance of your meeting. The agency typically will give you a checklist of documents and information you must provide.
    • Keep in mind you'll need all this information when you prepare your bankruptcy petition anyway, so preparing for your credit counseling is good preparation for filing for bankruptcy.
    • After your information and documents are received, a counselor from the agency will get in touch with you to schedule a meeting to go over their recommendations.
  5. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 5
    Evaluate the counselor's budget and plan. Based on the debt and income information you've provided, your credit counselor will draw up a proposed budget for you, along with a plan for repaying your debt.[10][11]
    • Sometimes your counselor may conclude that bankruptcy is your only option. If they do draw up a repayment plan, you're not required to accept it.
    • However, keep in mind that any plan proposed by your credit counselor must be submitted to the court along with your bankruptcy petition. Even if you don't like the counselor's plan, the court may decide to adopt it.
    • Review the budget and plan carefully before you make a decision. Keep in mind that bankruptcy is intended to be a last resort, and can have serious financial consequences.
    • If the counselor's plan seems doable to you, it may be possible to enter into that plan and forego bankruptcy.
  6. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 6
    Get a certificate of completion. Since credit counseling is required, you must get a certificate from your credit counselor that certifies you've fulfilled this requirement. Your certificate must be filed along with your petition.[12][13]
    • If the counselor proposed a repayment plan, this also must be filed with your certificate of completion so the judge can review it.
    • In some circumstances, such as if you are trying to prevent wage garnishment, you may not have time to complete credit counseling before you file your bankruptcy petition.
    • If this is the case, you must provide written proof of your reasons for having to file your petition immediately, and you still must complete credit counseling within 30 days of the date you file your petition.

Part 2
Filing Your Petition

  1. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 7
    Download the required forms. The U.S. bankruptcy courts make all forms required to file for bankruptcy available to the general public free of charge. You can download them from the court's website or pick up paper copies at the court clerk's office.[14][15]
    • There are national forms which will work in any bankruptcy court, but you'll need to check the website of the court where you plan to file for any specific local forms that are required.
    • You can look on the U.S. courts website at to find out which court has jurisdiction over your case.
    • Generally, you'll want to file your bankruptcy petition in the U.S. bankruptcy court that has jurisdiction over the city or county where you have your primary place of residence.
  2. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 8
    Read the instructions carefully. Each court form comes with instructions for how to fill it out and what information is required. The bankruptcy courts also publish a "pro se guide" which you can download from the court's website.[16][17]
    • The court's pro se guide includes step-by-step instructions for completing the required forms, as well as copies of the forms themselves so you can follow along as you read the instructions.
    • You also may be able to find checklists that you can use to gather your documents and information before you begin filling out your forms.
    • Keep in mind that when you fill out and sign your forms, you'll be doing so under oath with penalties for perjury if any information is false, inaccurate, or incomplete. You also risk having your petition dismissed.
    • For this reason, don't start filling out your forms until you are absolutely certain that you understand the information that each section of the form requires.
  3. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 9
    Consider getting self-help books. If you're confused by the instructions and guide published by the court, and still don't have confidence in your ability to complete everything yourself, you might consider buying a step-by-step guide to help you.[18]
    • Look for a guide that was published or updated within the last year or so, as bankruptcy laws and court rules can change frequently.
    • Read the biographies of the author or authors of the book. Make sure any book you choose was written by attorneys with extensive experience in bankruptcy law.
    • If you can't afford to buy a book, check your local library. Most libraries have extensive legal sections that include many "do it yourself" titles.
    • If there's a particular book you're interested in that your library doesn't have, talk to the librarian about ordering it for you.
  4. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 10
    Complete your forms. Gather all the documents and information you'll need, and start filling out your forms. You'll have to provide information about all of your debts, as well as your income and assets. If you're filing joint bankruptcy with a spouse, you'll need their information as well.[19][20]
    • For privacy reasons, you shouldn't put your full Social Security number or account numbers on your court documents. Once filed with the court, they will become a matter of public record and can be accessed by anyone.
    • Your full Social Security number will be required only on one form. Elsewhere, use the last four digits. For accounts, include only the last four digits of the number.
    • The main form you must complete is the eight-page petition. This form is fairly self-explanatory, although it may require some digging find the information necessary to answer each question completely.
    • You may want to consider hiring a petition preparer. These professionals are not attorneys, and cannot advise you on your case.
    • However, they are skilled bankruptcy preparers and can ensure your petition and other forms are completed without any mistakes that could result in the delay or dismissal of your case.
  5. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 11
    Take your forms to the clerk's office. When you've filled out all required forms completely and accurately, sign and date them, and then make a couple of copies of each of the completed forms. To initiate your bankruptcy proceeding, you must file them with the clerk of the bankruptcy court that will handle your case.[21][22][23]
    • When you file your paperwork, you'll have to pay a filing fee of $335. You have three options to pay these fees – you can either pay them in full when you file your petition, or you can fill out a form to pay in installments.
    • The third option is only available for Chapter 7 filers whose income is below 150 percent of the U.S. poverty guidelines who are unable to pay in installments. These filers may apply to have their fees waived.
    • Filing fees can be paid using a bank check or money order. You also can pay the clerk in cash, but you must have the exact amount of the filing fee as the clerks don't keep cash on hand and cannot make change.
    • Each bankruptcy court has a "pro se clerk" who is there specifically to answer questions from people who are filing for bankruptcy without an attorney.
    • The pro se clerk can answer questions about forms or court procedures, but he or she cannot give you any legal advice about your case.
  6. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 12
    Have the appropriate parties served. If particular circumstances apply to your situation, such as if you have been evicted or are facing a wage garnishment, you may have to provide notice that you have filed for bankruptcy.[24][25]
    • This notice is satisfied by having a U.S. marshal hand-deliver your petition to the judgement creditor, or to your landlord. Make sure the proof of service form is filed with the court.
    • It also may be possible to have the appropriate parties served by mailing your petition using certified mail with returned receipt requested.
    • You can ask the clerk about appropriate methods of service for your situation. You also may want to ask about fees for completion of service of process.
    • Keep in mind that if you're required to serve notice of your bankruptcy to anyone, there may be an additional form that you must fill out and submit to the court with your petition.

Part 3
Attending Your Creditors' Meeting

  1. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 13
    Receive your notice from the court. Once you've filed your petition, the court will send you a notice in the mail with a date, time, and location for your creditors' meeting – also known as a "Section 341 hearing" after the part of the U.S. bankruptcy code that requires it.[26][27]
    • Despite the name, your creditors typically won't come to this meeting. Usually it will just be you and the trustee, who is a court officer in charge of your case.
    • The meeting provides an opportunity for the trustee (and the rare creditor who might attend) to ask you questions about your debts, income, and assets.
    • The trustee is not a judge (although trustees often are attorneys), and there won't be a judge present at your meeting. However, you'll still be under oath when you answer the trustee's questions.
    • The hearing typically will be held in a meeting room in a government office building – it won't be at the courthouse.
  2. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 14
    Prepare for the hearing. Before your meeting takes place, organize the documents, such as your petition and related forms, that you'll need to take with you. Study your bankruptcy forms carefully so you can answer the trustee's questions.[28][29][30]
    • You'll need to bring your Social Security card and two forms of government-issued identification.
    • You also want to bring your copy of all the paperwork you filed with the court, as well as any documentation that supports the information you included on your petition and other court documents.
    • Organize your documents and prepare carefully. If you do your creditors' meeting right the first time, your bankruptcy won't be delayed – but this can only happen if you are completely and adequately prepared.
  3. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 15
    Send required documents to your trustee. At least seven days before your creditors' meeting is scheduled, you must send your trustee copies of your most recent tax return, as well as pay stubs or other proof of income.[31]
    • Your notice will provide information about the documents that must be sent and the address to which you can mail them.
    • Make sure you black out all but the last four digits of your Social Security number wherever it appears on the records you send.
  4. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 16
    Appear on the scheduled date. Make sure you show up prepared and on time for your creditors' meeting, or your case may be dismissed. If you're unfamiliar with the location, you may want to make a dry-run the day before so you know we're you're going and aren't pressed for time.[32][33]
    • Even though it's not a court hearing, you still want to make a good impression. Dress conservatively in neat, clean clothing. There's no need to wear a business suit, just think in terms of wearing something that you would wear to a job interview.
    • Keep any paperwork you have with you organized carefully so you don't have to delay or shuffle papers to find what you need to answer a question.
    • These meetings are public, and they usually schedule several at the same hour, so there probably will be other debtors waiting their turn as well.
  5. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 17
    Answer questions from the trustee. When the trustee calls your name, you'll be sworn in and asked a number of questions about your bankruptcy. While specific questions vary widely from trustee to trustee, they all ask the same general questions to ensure you've been honest and accurate in your court documents.[34][35]
    • Remember that you are under oath. If anything has changed since you filed your petition, let the trustee know. They may require additional documents to support your statements.
    • Stick to the facts, and answer the trustee's questions honestly. If you don't know the answer to a question, simply say "I don't know."
    • If you don't understand a question, ask the trustee for clarification before you answer. This way you'll avoid giving the wrong information because you misinterpreted the question.
  6. Image titled File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney Step 18
    Find out the trustee's decision. Your creditors' meeting will be concluded once the trustee has all the information they need. If the trustee asks a question that you can't answer, or that requires additional documentation, the trustee may continue your meeting to a later date to give you time to get that information together.[36][37]
    • Even when the creditors' meeting is concluded, this doesn't mean your debts will be discharged right away.
    • After your creditors' meeting is concluded, your creditors still have 60 days to object to your discharge.
    • During that 60 days, you must attend a financial management course approved by the court and file your certificate of completion.
    • Provided the 60 days passes without any objections being filed and you complete the required course, you'll receive your bankruptcy discharge.


  • Bankruptcy attorneys often provide a free initial consultation. Even if you're committed to filing bankruptcy on your own, it's probably worth it to at least speak with an attorney and get a better understanding of what to expect.[38]


  • Filing bankruptcy without an attorney may mean you have to appear for more court hearings than you would if you'd hired an attorney. These hearings often can't be rescheduled, so you may have to take off work to appear.[39]

Sources and Citations

Show more... (36)

Article Info

Categories: Bankruptcy