You May Not Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy
From a purely paperwork standpoint, it is not difficult to file bankruptcy. The approved forms are available online. The filing package is more detailed than a tax return and schedules for self-employed people. But the forms are not infinitely more complex. If you can complete a self-employed tax return in four or five hours, you can probably complete the bankruptcy paperwork in four or five days.
The big difference is the post-filing process. There usually is no income tax post-filing process. The audit rate is practically zero. But in a consumer bankruptcy, the filing is just the beginning. These matters always go to court. In many cases, pro se filers will be on their own against their creditors’ lawyers.
Moreover, only an Athens bankruptcy lawyer can unlock some advanced bankruptcy benefits which, in many cases, could save your family thousands of dollars. Moreover, a lawyer can provide services which are outside the scope of a normal bankruptcy proceeding, such as repayment term renegotiation.
The Three As of Working With a Lawyer
Some basic benefits of bankruptcy, such as the Automatic Stay and debt discharge, are available to everyone. Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code immediately stops foreclosure, creditor lawsuits, repossession, wage garnishment, and other adverse actions. Furthermore, bankruptcy discharges (eliminates) most credit card bills and other unsecured debts.
But these basic benefits are just that. They come standard. If you do not work with a lawyer, you are missing out on so much more.
Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding, and only attorneys can give legal advice. This advice begins at your initial consultation. There are several different types of consumer bankruptcy. Unless a lawyer explains the difference, they might all seem alike. Furthermore, not everyone qualifies for every type of bankruptcy. If you get started down the wrong path, you must normally start over from the beginning.
Attorneys also advise clients about the complex exemption and discharge rules. Most exemptions are value-based. For example, Georgia law usually shields $21,500 of home equity. If your equity is above that limit, your house could be at risk. Only a lawyer can advise you of this risk and show you how to minimize it. Furthermore, not all unsecured debts are dischargeable. The court only eliminates some in limited circumstances.
Additionally, bankruptcy debtors can voluntarily keep paying certain creditors. Only a lawyer can explain the pros and cons of reaffirmation. There are other areas as well. For example, discharge might affect future tax returns.
For the most part, income tax forms are fill-in-the-blank. Most taxpayers simply transfer information from one form to another one. Bankruptcy forms are different, especially regarding Schedules A and B. These are the real and personal property schedules. It’s pretty easy to determine the fair market value of a house or car. It’s quite difficult to ascertain an item’s as-is cash value, which the Bankruptcy Code requires.
In other words, an Athens bankruptcy lawyer tells you how to complete the forms. A non-lawyer bankruptcy petition preparer can only plug the data you provide into the form. By law, these individuals cannot offer any further assistance.
As mentioned, the income tax audit rate is usually less than 5 percent. But the bankruptcy audit rate is always 100 percent. The trustee (person who manages the bankruptcy for the judge) always goes over every application with a fine-tooth comb. Even an unintentional error could lead to bankruptcy fraud charges.
Disputes over exemption declarations and debt discharge usually end up before a judge. It’s almost impossible for a debtor without an Athens bankruptcy lawyer to prevail in these situations. Imagine two football teams playing each other, but only one of them has a coach. It’s not hard to predict which team would prevail.
Attorneys also advocate for bankruptcy filers during mediation. Before judges hear disputes over exemptions or discharge, they normally refer these matters to mediation. That’s good news for petitioners who have lawyers. Student loans are a good illustration of this process. Even if the debtor doesn’t technically qualify for student loan forgiveness under the complex rules, a lawyer can normally negotiate and at least obtain a partial discharge.
Lawyers also advocate for petitioners in other venues. We mentioned debt renegotiation above. Basically, bankruptcy gives debtors an advantage in these renegotiations. A lawyer can press this advantage, like the currently low interest rates, and turn it into a favorable deal.
About the Author
Christopher Ross Morgan is a principal attorney in Morgan & Morgan, Attorneys at Law, P.C. He is an active member of several state and national bar associations. In addition to consumer bankruptcy, Chris focuses on workers’ compensation and disability matters. Click here to learn more.
Please be aware that this article was written and published in conjunction with the help of Gorilla Webtactics, Law Firm Marketing Agency, and does not contain legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in this article.