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 Indianapolis, Indiana.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
If you’re struggling with credit card debts and medical debt and/or your wages are subject to garnishment, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be a good option for you. While some Americans resist bankruptcy because they worry about affording an attorney’s help, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is so straightforward that you can probably file successfully on your own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
There are two primary types of bankruptcy available to filers who don’t own a small business. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is available to most filers. This process requires debtors to construct a repayment plan for their debt, which is paid down over a period of 3-5 years. This is a complex process and generally requires an attorney’s help. By contrast, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only available to low-income filers and doesn’t require a repayment plan. Instead, eligible debts are discharged in as little as 90 days. This process is so straightforward that most filers can prepare their cases on their own, without incurring legal fees.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If your household income exceeds the eligibility limits for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (which are generally referred to as the Means Test for Chapter 7 bankruptcy), you can likely still file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. As previously mentioned, Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires the construction of a 3-5 year repayment plan. This process is far more complex than Chapter 7 bankruptcy is. As a result, you’ll want to connect with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer in your area if you decide to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Although you’ll need to hire a lawyer to have a successful Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you won’t need to worry much about paying your attorneys’ fees. In most cases, these fees are integrated into a filer’s repayment plan. That way, filers pay down their legal fees using funds that would be earmarked for unsecured creditors regardless.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you prefer to work with a professional when preparing your bankruptcy case but you’re worried about affording assistance, you may be able to get legal help for free at a legal aid society. Most legal aid societies will provide Chapter 7 filers with legal services, provided that they meet certain income-based eligibility criteria.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Legal aid societies are run like any busy non-profit organization is run. They don’t have the resources to help everyone in need of legal services, so they conduct eligibility criteria screenings for potential clients. These screenings are generally income-based. Additionally, as their services are usually in great demand, those in need of one-on-one legal help from an attorney are usually placed on a waiting list before they can receive assistance.
Once you move to the top of a legal aid society’s waitlist, you’ll develop an attorney-client relationship with either a lawyer employed by the organization or one who volunteers their time there.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
As legal aid societies are independent operations, each develops their own eligibility criteria. Therefore, you should contact any organization you’re interested in working with to learn if you qualify for their services. As a general rule, you’ll be eligible for help if you don’t earn much income. For example, organizations that receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation (which was established by Congress in the 1970s) are required to provide assistance to those who live in households reporting an income that doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line annually.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Below, you’ll find the phone numbers and additional contact information for legal aid societies based in and around Indianapolis. Remember that each has its own eligibility criteria and wait lists, so if one doesn’t suit your needs, contact another that might.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Have you ever heard a law firm commercial in which a “free consultation” was advertised? Many consumer bankruptcy law offices provide initial consultations at no cost. This initial meeting with an attorney (not a paralegal) will allow you to ask a professional your questions about bankruptcy law and to receive knowledgeable insight related to your legal issues. This meeting won’t commit you to either filing bankruptcy or developing an attorney-client relationship. You’ll receive legal advice at no charge, even if you’re hoping to file bankruptcy on your own.
If the thought of scheduling a free consultation interests you, you can ask a local bar association or the Indiana State Bar Association for the contact information of local licensed bankruptcy attorneys. Another way to find an attorney involves looking up local lawyers on the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney’s (NACBA) website. You can also ask loved ones and colleagues for a recommendation.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you’re interested in filing “pro se” (without hiring a bankruptcy attorney to help you), there are a number of resources available to guide you as you prepare your bankruptcy case. Filing a bankruptcy petition on your own doesn’t mean filing without guidance and a plan of action in place.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Upsolve offers a completely free platform for eligible Chapter 7 filers (no joint filings at this time). This free web tool allows filers to prepare their bankruptcy forms on a secure site. Bankruptcy courts don’t currently allow bankruptcy petitions to be filed electronically. However, Chapter 7 forms can be prepared online and printed out. Working through these forms in a secure, streamlined location can make the filing process much easier to navigate without an attorney’s assistance.
Upsolve is a non-profit organization, funded by generous donors, including Harvard University. Although some of our resources are somewhat limited to certain filers, our Learning Center is accessible to the public at all times. This resource is free and doesn’t require a login. The Learning Center contains hundreds of guides and articles on filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney, scheduling no-cost credit counseling, dealing with debt collector harassment, and the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy processes generally. If you’re struggling to manage your financial situation due to overwhelming debt, the Upsolve Learning Center can help.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
The bankruptcy courts located in Indianapolis also provide self-help filing resources to the public, free of charge. You can pick up these printed materials at any time. In addition to information about filing bankruptcy pro se, you’ll likely be able to find guides related to debt collector harassment, filing fee waiver request procedures, and expectations for your meeting of creditors.
Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse
46 East Ohio Street Indianapolis, IN 46204
Lee H. Hamilton Federal Building and United States Courthouse
121 West Spring Street New Albany, IN 47150
101 NW Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Evansville, IN 47708
E. Ross Adair Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1300 South Harrison Street Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Robert K. Rodibaugh United States Courthouse
401 South Michigan Street South Bend, IN 46601
Charles A. Halleck Federal Building
230 North Fourth Street Lafayette, IN 47901
Choosing to file bankruptcy is a brave step towards a fresh financial start. If filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best debt relief option for your unique circumstances, there are many resources available to help you navigate the bankruptcy process. Whether you choose to work with a bankruptcy lawyer, connect with a legal aid society or file pro se, there is no right or wrong way to approach bankruptcy. The “best” way to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is whatever way works best for you.