Filing bankruptcy without an attorney in Tennessee can be risky

When Tennessee residents are feeling so overwhelmed with their financial struggles that they are considering bankruptcy, they may be tempted to try to save money by foregoing the assistance of a lawyer and completing the process themselves. They may also look to a bankruptcy petition preparer for help, believing that such preparers can offer the same level of assistance as an attorney but at a lower cost. What people may not realize is that they are setting themselves up for failure by filing bankruptcy without an attorney and may end up costing themselves more money in the long run.

Mistakes can cause harm

Bankruptcy laws are complex, and filing for bankruptcy properly requires detailed knowledge of those laws. Bankruptcy attorneys will not only know all of the technical requirements for filing a successful petition, they can also explain the long-term impact of filing bankruptcy to their clients, assess what type of bankruptcy is best for their clients and how to best take advantage of bankruptcy exemptions for their clients.

Making errors when filing bankruptcy can have a devastating impact on a person's bankruptcy petition. If a person fails to meet all of the filing requirements, the court will dismiss the petition. A study conducted using data from the Central District of California found that only 0.4 percent of Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed pro se, or without attorneys, resulted in the court confirming a repayment plan that would lead to a debt discharge for the filer. In contrast, 55 percent of the cases filed by attorneys resulted in plan confirmations.

What can be even more damaging than having a petition dismissed is that the court can deny the filer the right to file another bankruptcy case for a certain amount of time, or the filer may lose some protections offered by filing bankruptcy, such as the automatic stay on debt collection, in future cases.

Limitations on non-attorneys

Those who seek the assistance of bankruptcy petition preparers when filing bankruptcy may believe that they will avoid the potential pitfalls those who file bankruptcy pro se face, while still not incurring the expense of an attorney. However, section 110(e) of the Bankruptcy Code expressly forbids anyone except a licensed attorney from offering legal advice to those filing bankruptcy. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court's website specifically states that the role of such petition preparers is limited to typing information on the petition.

Petition preparers may not offer advice on how to answer any of the questions in the petition and may not assist in court. Those who use bankruptcy petition preparers face the same risk of making mistakes as those who file pro se - with added expense. In some cases, bankruptcy petition preparers charge two or three times as much as an attorney would charge for full representation.

Speak with a lawyer

If you are having financial difficulties and are thinking of filing bankruptcy, consult with a board-certified bankruptcy attorney who can discuss all of your debt relief options with you to find the solution that best meets your needs.