When you are hit by a sudden financial shock and need a fresh start, you naturally ask - can I file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy online? In this article, we’ll explain the different options for filing for bankruptcy online and the pros and cons of each.
Written by Attorney John Coble.
Updated October 20, 2020
You live a lot of your life online. You do your taxes online with Turbotax and you diagnose your medical problems online with WebMD. So when you are hit by a sudden financial shock and need a fresh start, you naturally ask - can I file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy online? The answer is, “mostly, yes.”
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process involves (1) completing bankruptcy forms, (2) filing them with the bankruptcy court, and (3) attending a “341 meeting” with the official overseeing your case. That meeting is in person. But completing your forms can be done online and some courts even allow you to submit them online.
In this article, we’ll explain the different options for filing for bankruptcy online and the pros and cons of each.
Things You Can Do Online When Filing Bankruptcy, No Matter What
Whether you are filing your own bankruptcy or you’re using an attorney, there are many things that you can and should do online. Every person that files a bankruptcy case that includes mostly non-business debts has to complete a court-approved credit counseling course before filing. You are also required to take an approved debtor education course after filing but before your discharge. Most of these agencies allow you to take their course online.
You can get a free copy of the official bankruptcy forms from the federal court system’s website. Local courts may have some additional forms for you to use. These forms are usually available on the local court’s website.
You can get your free credit reports online. Most debts reported will be on all three reports, but you will have some debts that show on one report, but not on another.
It’s critical that you get and read all notices from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. As with most things, you can do this online. Getting bankruptcy court notices online is better because you get the notices quicker and you never lose the notices.
Many courts use the DeBN system which provides free notices to debtors who file the right form with the court. You can find out if your court provides this service by looking at the court’s website or calling the phone number for your court’s clerk’s office. Even if your court doesn’t provide DeBN, you can still use the same electronic bankruptcy noticing (EBN) system that an attorney would use. The difference in DeBN and EBN is that you get one free look at the notices on EBN, so you need to save any PDF image that you receive before closing it. With DeBN, you can look as many times as you want for free.
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, the National Data Center is an essential online tool that you should use. This allows you to see what creditors have filed claims against you, who is getting paid what, confirm that your payments are current, and more. Another helpful online tool for Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers that some trustees’ offices provide, is the ability for the filers to make their Chapter 13 repayment plan payments by online check.
Things You Can’t Do Online When Filing Bankruptcy, No Matter What
Except for those lucky enough to live in the districts that allow eSR or Colorado with its I-File system, people filing their own bankruptcy case will have to file all their paperwork in person or by mail. Some courts have updated their pro se filing options to allow for alternative methods while the court is closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find detailed information about how courts are handling pro se filings in the era of social distancing here.
Even in the eSR and I-File districts, you still have to pay your filing fees by mail or in person, though, again some districts are making adjustments to allow online payments due to the coronavirus. Documents that you're required to send to the bankruptcy trustee must be sent by mail, unless the trustee specifically instructs you otherwise.
While the meeting of creditors normally takes place in person, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in most of them taking place either over the phone or via video conference. That’s expected to continue until at least October 10, 2020.
Court hearings, like reaffirmation hearings, are typically handled in person as well, but that too has changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most courts are handling all hearings telephonically at the moment.
Submitting Your Bankruptcy Forms Online
Most bankruptcy courts don’t allow non-attorneys to submit bankruptcy forms online. Due to the coronavirus, some districts have made accommodations to this, however, so be sure to check your court’s website to find out what options are available.
Electronic Self Representation in Select Courts
In 2014, the Central District of California Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles became the first bankruptcy court to install electronic Self-Representation (eSR) software. eSR is a free online tool that allows users to prepare and submit Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms online. It is intended to help individuals when they have decided to file bankruptcy without an attorney. Unfortunately, as of 2020, only one other district, the Western District of Missouri Bankruptcy Court, has implemented eSR allowing you to file an online bankruptcy.
The District of Colorado has created its I-File system so you can file your bankruptcy online. This system doesn’t have the preparation capabilities that the eSR system does. As everyone knows, Colorado is a mountainous state. Having this system allows people who file their own bankruptcies to avoid some of the long trips, often on mountain roads, to the bankruptcy court. Online web apps like Upsolve can help you prepare your forms online before submitting them through I-File.
Hiring a Bankruptcy Lawyer to Submit Your Forms Online
Bankruptcy attorneys are required to use the U.S. Courts’ electronic filing system, so they are able to submit your bankruptcy forms to the court online. Bankruptcy law firms give you a free initial consultation. Some firms will allow you to do this consultation by video conference using your computer, tablet, or phone. Many are also using an online portal to complete their bankruptcy questionnaire and upload supporting documents to their clients. These online capabilities are very helpful for those who would have to make a long drive to reach the attorney's office. Some bankruptcy attorneys will even meet online after-hours for those who can't get off work. It's important to find a qualified attorney that offers the features that work best for you.
Using a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer Does Not Mean Your Case Will Be Filed Online
Even though you may be able to work with a bankruptcy petition preparer through an online portal, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to file your bankruptcy case online. A petition preparer is any non-attorney that isn’t connected with a law firm that prepares a bankruptcy petition for you and charges a fee for doing it. The Bankruptcy Code requires that these bankruptcy petition preparers are heavily regulated. Different courts have different rules limiting the amount a bankruptcy petition preparer can charge. The maximum fees are usually less than $250.00.
Bankruptcy petition preparers may not offer legal advice under any condition. Some bankruptcy petition preparers have gotten into serious trouble for giving legal advice. The law restricts these petition preparers to being little more than typists. You’re still the one that has to submit the paperwork to the court.
Upsolve is not a bankruptcy petition preparer. We provide you with an online web app to simplify the process of preparing your own bankruptcy forms for free.
Filing Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer Using Upsolve
Upsolve is a digital legal aid nonprofit for folks who cannot afford a bankruptcy lawyer. Upsolve is a nonprofit founded out of Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab with a mission of expanding access to low-income Americans who need a fresh start.
Upsolve only helps low-income users who do not own real estate and want to file for Chapter 7. If you qualify, you’ll be able to create an online account to prepare your bankruptcy forms. You’ll also be connected to an approved bankruptcy counseling provider. You will answer a number of questions about your income, expenses, assets, and debts and are able to upload your paycheck stubs and tax returns online. Upsolve’s tool is available on both desktop and mobile and is completely free.
Although you’ll still be the one to submit the forms to the bankruptcy court, you’ll receive your completed bankruptcy forms with instructions on how to submit them to your local bankruptcy court.
These online tools make the process of preparing and filing your own bankruptcy much more convenient. These tools help to provide a more accurate bankruptcy filing. Though the use of these tools are optional for you, some of these tools could mean the difference in a successful bankruptcy and a failed bankruptcy.
- U.S. Trustee Program. (2020, August). Local 341 Meeting Status. Important News. Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.justice.gov/ust/Local_341_Meeting_Status