Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy in Pennsylvania?
Many people who are thinking of filing hesitate to hire a qualified bankruptcy lawyer to help them. On the surface, that makes perfect sense: after all, you’re already in financial trouble, and the last problem you need is another expense. Right? Wrong. Do not fall into this trap. Avoiding legal help to “save money” will only wind up costing you in the end.
The Dangers of Pro Se Bankruptcy Filing
Before we can address this topic in earnest, we need to address the elephant in the room. “But you’re lawyers,” you’re thinking. “Of course you would recommend hiring an attorney!”
The issue is, it isn’t just our firm which recommends against representing yourself, also known as filing pro se. Several parties would agree with us — including the United States Bankruptcy Courts. To quote the Courts on the matter (preserving the original bolding): “Bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal consequences — hiring a competent attorney is strongly recommended.”
So what are those “long-term financial and legal consequences”? What mistakes — and penalties — can a lawyer help you avoid?
Bankruptcy Mistakes (And Their Consequences)
Bankruptcy code is notoriously complex — now more than ever. The rules and regulations deal heavily in technical jargon and fine-point calculation, and as a result, it’s incredibly easy for even a financially experienced person to make a mistake. In the words of Chief Bankruptcy Judge Judith Wizmur, who sees cases unfold first-hand, “…It is very difficult for a pro se filer to understand and successfully traverse the system.”
Thanks to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, or BAPCPA, the preexisting laws have become even more complicated over the past 10 years.
While an especially savvy and proactive debtor may have been able to achieve pro se success prior to October of 2005, BAPCPA has changed the game substantially. To quote an article published by Third Branch in 2011, “These new requirements, combined with the pro se litigant’s unfamiliarity with general court procedure, made it more challenging to negotiate a complicated system.”
So what happens if you do make a mistake?
For starters, you could ruin your entire case. If you fail to list a single one of your debts, that debt may no longer be dischargeable. If you break rules like missing court dates, leaving out forms, or failing to file the appropriate fees (which are subject to change), your case could be dismissed by the judge.
Not only does that hurt your current bankruptcy, it also haunts you into the next. If your first bankruptcy case contains errors, your next bankruptcy could forfeit the protections of the automatic stay — protections many petitioners rely on to freeze devastating collection actions. Without the automatic stay, you have no protection from creditors.
If you misrepresent information on purpose, the consequences could be even worse than financial damage: you could be prosecuted for criminal activity. To once again quote the federal courts, “Individual bankruptcy cases are randomly audited to determine the accuracy, truthfulness, and completeness of the information that the debtor is required to provide. Please be aware that bankruptcy fraud is a crime.” Common examples of fraud include concealing assets and altering financial records.
Our Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Lawyers Can Help You Today
Bankruptcy can help eliminate your debts, silence your creditors, and preserve your possessions — but only if your case is handled correctly. To schedule your free, confidential legal consultation with one of our bankruptcy attorneys, call the law offices of Young, Marr & Associates today at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online.
☑ Been paying credit card balances that seem to never go down?
☑ Lost your job and are now having trouble keeping up?
☑ Attempted to work out a payment arrangement to no avail?
☑ Been notified of a mortgage foreclosure action?
☑ Been denied for a mortgage or other line of credit?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then bankruptcy may be an option that you should consider.