Need to file bankruptcy but don't think you can afford an attorney? Learn how to get free legal help to get your fresh start in in Phoenix, AZ.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 16, 2020
Too many people think that they are too broke to file for bankruptcy. It’s easy to fall into this mindset when you’re struggling with debt, have debt collectors and credit card companies calling you constantly, or are worried about a wage garnishment.
What many don’t realize is that you don’t need to hire an expensive lawyer to file bankruptcy. If you can't afford it, you may not have to hire a lawyer at all.
Do I Need a Lawyer To File Bankruptcy?
The bankruptcy court allows individuals in need of debt relief to file on their own.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the most common consumer bankruptcy proceeding in the United States is often a straight-forward process. It provides the filer with a fresh start in as little as 3 - 4 months from the date the bankruptcy petition is first filed. Many American successfully navigate the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process without a lawyer every year.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the second most commonly filed type of bankruptcy for individuals (and married couples). Unlike Chapter 7, Chapter 13 is much more complicated as the Bankruptcy Code requires the filer to come up with a repayment plan as part of the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process.
While it’s not the right thing for everyone, if your income is less than the median income in your state and you don’t have any expensive property that is not protected by an exemption, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer is absolutely possible.
Are you filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization bankruptcy?
Most people filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy do so because they make too much money to qualify for a fresh start under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. While your financial situation may not allow you to pay all of your debts as they come due, the means test calculation required since the bankruptcy law was amended in 2005 says you can pay back at least a part of your debt.
Getting legal advice from a knowledgeable bankruptcy lawyer is often a great investment (if you’re able to make it) in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. But especially in Chapter 13, where the failure rate of cases filed without the help of a bankruptcy lawyer is about 98%, it usually doesn’t make sense to try and go through it without legal help.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Even though the United States Constitution guarantees services to criminal defendants, the same is not true in civil matters. To fill this gap, legal aid organizations provide legal assistance to low income individuals and families with issues like evictions, divorce, employment law etc.
What Is It Like Working With Legal Aid?
When you work with legal aid you’ll get the benefit of having a lawyer to represent you. Not everyone is comfortable going through the bankruptcy process alone. If you're worried about the paperwork, or don’t want to attend the meeting of creditors without a bankruptcy lawyer by your side, consider contacting a local legal aid organization.
You’ll have to go through an initial screening process to make sure you are eligible for assistance. Usually, this is done by a member of the organization's staff. Just like when you call a law firm and a legal assistant schedules sets up your appointment.
Because everyone they serve gets one-on-one help from a lawyer, there may be a waiting period before you can get help. Make sure to keep this in mind and reach out to the organization well before a debt collector files a lawsuit against you.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible For Legal Aid?
Since resources are limited, legal aid organizations have strict eligibility requirements on who they can assist. Essentially, your income has to be below a certain level to qualify for their free services.
Generally speaking, the federal poverty level is used to make this determination. Some legal aid organizations only assist folks who earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level. In 2020, that translates to monthly household income of $2,127.
Organizations receiving funding from the Legal Services Corporation can assist folks making up to 125% of the federal poverty level, or 1,329 per month for a single person household.
Since it’s never a good idea to guess with important matters like getting assistance with legal issues, your best bet is to call the legal aid organizations in your area to find out if you meet their requirements.
What Are The Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
To allow you to skip the search, we’ve compiled a list of Arizona legal aid organizations and their contact information.
Community Legal Services, Inc.
305 South 2nd Avenue, P.O. Box 21538, Phoenix AZ 85036-1538
DNA-Peoples Legal Services, Inc.
Route 12, Highway 264, P.O. Box 306, Window Rock, AZ 86515-0306
Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
Continental Building, 2343 East Broadway, Suite 200, Tucson, AZ 85719
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation From a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Even if you’re not eligible for free legal services from one of the legal aid organizations in your area, you can talk to a bankruptcy attorney about your case - for free. That’s because most consumer bankruptcy lawyers offer free initial consultations to potential new clients.
Yes, that means that they’ll talk to you about what would be required to establish an attorney-client relationship with an attorney in their law firm. But there is nothing that says you have to. These free evaluations are no-obligation, so you only have to invest your time. When you call to schedule the initial consultation, make sure to confirm you’ll be meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer, not a legal assistant.
If you know someone who has recently gotten a fresh financial start through bankruptcy, ask them for a referral. Otherwise, consider checking the websites for a local or state bar association, or the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA).
Filing Without A Bankruptcy Attorney
As mentioned at the beginning you don’t have to hire a bankruptcy lawyer to file bankruptcy. Filing bankruptcy on your own, or filing bankruptcy “pro se” is allowed. If you don’t own expensive real estate or run a small business that is dealing with legal issues of its own, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro se may be right for you.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool To File Bankruptcy On Your Own
If you’re planning on filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own but aren’t really sure where to even start with the bankruptcy forms, Upsolve’s free web tool may make life easier for you.
Eligible individuals can use Upsolve’s free tool to generate their bankruptcy forms. You complete a questionnaire (similar to one you’d have to fill out if you were working with a law firm) and submit certain supporting documents. All of this is done online!
Upsolve will pull a credit report for you and, once you’re done with the mandatory pre-bankruptcy credit counseling course (that everyone has to complete) and have submitted all of the information needed, our software generates your bankruptcy forms.
We have helped thousands of people get a fresh financial start by using this app. There’s even a Facebook group for our users where folks are able to ask questions about the process and offer each other encouragement. So, you’ll be filing your case on your own, but you’ll have a whole group of Upsolvers cheering you on.
Upsolve’s free tool is not right for everyone. If you own real estate or other expensive property or plan to file your bankruptcy case jointly with your spouse, you won’t be able to use Upsolve’s software to prepare your forms. You can, however, learn more about all things bankruptcy in our Learning Center.
Self-Help Resources At The Bankruptcy Court
Whether you're using Upsolve or not, make sure you check out the self-help resources available at your local courthouse. The bankruptcy court in Phoenix has a self-help center where you can schedule free initial consultations with a local bankruptcy lawyer. If you’re not in the Phoenix metro area, you can even schedule a telephonic appointment.
Arizona Bankruptcy Court
230 N 1st Ave, Ste 101, Phoenix, AZ 85003
James A. Walsh United States Courthouse
38 South Scott Avenue Tucson, AZ 85701
John M. Roll United States Courthouse
98 West 1st Street Yuma, AZ 85364
The most important thing to remember if you’re struggling with debt is that you’re not alone. There are a number of free resources available to get your financial situation back on track. Whether you end up filing with a bankruptcy lawyer you met during a free consultation, using legal aid, or filing on your own, bankruptcy is a powerful debt relief tool for those in need.
If you’re just starting to consider your financial situation and aren’t quite sure whether bankruptcy is right for you, keep doing what you’re doing and read up on your options for debt relief. A great place to start may be the article titled Should I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy? in our Learning Center.