Can I File For Bankruptcy Online?
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 tricky, but 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 and filing them can be done online.
In this article, we’ll explain the different options for filing for bankruptcy online and the pros and cons of each.
1. Law Firms
If you google “filing bankruptcy online”, the first links that pop up will often be law firms.
Law firms, like all business, need to do marketing. So the law firms are usually offering for you to enter your bankruptcy information online and then represent you as a client.
To review your information, you will probably meet them in person. Sometimes, attorneys will also meet you over video conference.
Keep in mind, the cost for an average Chapter 7 representation by an attorney is $1,500.
That’s good value if you can afford it. But for those who can’t afford an attorney and need a true online solution, this won’t work.
2. Electronic Self-Representation in Los Angeles
eSR is a free online tool that allows users to prepare and submit Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms online. It is a intended to help individuals when they have decided to file bankruptcy without an attorney.
This tool has become increasingly popular for filers living in the Los Angeles area. And it will be rolled out to other bankruptcy courts in the future.
But, for now, eSR is only available in Los Angeles.
3. Bankruptcy Petition Preparers
When you google “file for bankruptcy online,” another common search result are for-profit companies offering to help you complete paperwork for $50 to $200. These companies are called bankruptcy petition preparers.
Although these companies will tell you that they can guide you through the process online, federal law prohibits them from providing legal advice or any help other than typing out forms.
The amount that petition preparers are allowed to charge you for preparing the forms by law varies in each of the 50 states, but is often around $200. With that said, many petition preparers will provide additional upsells that extend far beyond $200. "I have had debtors who have paid thousands of dollars for assistance that was useless or non-existent," according to Bankruptcy Judge Maureen Tighe of the Central District of California.
Using a bankruptcy petition preparer is risky as many engage in the unauthorized practice of law.
If you decide you need to use one, do some research. "There is a wide range of BPPs, from those who are well-meaning but still are giving legal advice, to out-and-out fraud perpetrators—and the down-and-out consumer debtor doesn't know the difference most of the time,” writes Judge Tighe.
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 is funded by the federal government (the Legal Services Corporation), and leading philanthropists like Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google. Here is a video from our founders.
Upsolve only helps low-income users who do not own real estate and want to file for Chapter 7. If you qualify, though, you can go to upsolve.org to create an account.
On the site, you will take a credit counseling course to make sure bankruptcy is a good fit for you and there aren’t other methods for repaying your debt. You will also answer upload or take photos of financial documents like tax returns and pay stubs. And you will answer a number of questions about your income, expenses, assets, and debts.
From your answers, Upsolve will create your bankruptcy forms which will be reviewed by an Upsolve attorney. The attorney will reach out with any questions. Then they will email you the forms with instructions on how to bring or mail them at your local bankruptcy court to file them.
That’s the hardest part. But Upsolve’s website guides users through the rest of the process to getting a fresh start.
Upsolve can be completed on a smartphone and is completely free.
If you cannot afford a bankruptcy lawyer, there are options for filing online at a lower cost. Try ESR in the Los Angeles area. Or head over to Upsolve.org to see if you qualify for our nonprofit’s free Chapter 7 service. You’ll be glad you did!