When you're 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.
You live a lot of your life online. You can do everything from filing your taxes online to diagnosing a medical problem. If you're facing a wage garnishment or repossession, you’re probably wondering if you can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy online. The answer is, “mostly, yes.”
The Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy process involves:
Things You CAN Do Online When Filing Bankruptcy
Taking the credit counseling and debtor education classes.
Getting the official bankruptcy forms and any local forms your bankruptcy court requires.
Getting your credit report, bank statements, paycheck stubs, and any other documents about your financial situation.
Getting notices about your bankruptcy case via email.
Keeping track of your repayment plan if you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
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Things You Can’t Do Online When Filing Bankruptcy
The information in this article is based on regular U.S. Bankruptcy Court operations. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most United States Bankruptcy Courts have temporarily changed their operations. You can find detailed information about how courts are handling pro se filings in the era of social distancing here.
Filing Your Bankruptcy Forms
Except for those lucky enough to live in the districts that allow electronic self-representation, anyone filing their own bankruptcy case has to submit all their paperwork in person or by mail.
Electronic Self Representation in Select Courts
In 2014, the Central District of California Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles became the first bankruptcy court to use electronic Self-Representation (eSR) software. This is a free online tool that allows users to prepare and submit their bankruptcy forms online. It’s intended to help individuals filing bankruptcy without an attorney.
Paying the Court Filing Fees
Even if you can file your bankruptcy case online, you usually still have to pay your bankruptcy fees by mail or in person. If you’re able to pay online, make sure you use a debit card, not a credit card.
Dealing With Your Trustee
Every bankruptcy trustee determines how they wish to receive the documents from the bankruptcy filers whose cases they oversee. While local bankruptcy bar associations have made some inroads in the past to move this process away from mailing hard copies, many bankruptcy trustees still require just that.
The Meeting of Creditors
The 341 meeting of creditors normally takes place in person. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Trustee has permitted trustees to conduct these meetings either by phone or via video conference. Trustees verify the filers’ Social Security number either via video or by asking for documentation in preparation for the meeting.
Attend Court Hearings
Most court hearings require that you personally appear before the bankruptcy judge. This includes reaffirmation hearings for car loans.
Hiring a Bankruptcy Lawyer to Submit Your Forms Online
Bankruptcy attorneys are required to use the U.S. Courts’ electronic filing system, so they’re able to submit your bankruptcy forms to the court online. You may be able to use an online questionnaire to provide your lawyer’s customer support team with the information they’ll need to prepare your bankruptcy petition. Depending on the law firm, you may also be able to pay your attorney fees through an online portal. As with the filing fees paid to the bankruptcy court, make sure not to use a credit card.
Using a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer Doesn't 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-lawyer who prepares a bankruptcy petition for you and charges a fee for doing it. Under the Bankruptcy Code, 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.
Bankruptcy petition preparers can't offer legal advice under any condition. 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.
There are several online tools you can use in the process of getting a bankruptcy discharge. You can take the bankruptcy counseling courses online. You can gather a lot of the information you’ll need to complete your bankruptcy forms online and use an online tool like Upsolve to generate your bankruptcy forms.
But with few exceptions, the federal courts don’t yet allow pro se bankruptcy filers to submit their bankruptcy forms online.
Why This Matters:
Your automatic stay depends on when the bankruptcy court gets your forms. The automatic stay is the bankruptcy law that prevents a creditor from moving forward with a foreclosure, garnishment, or repossession. Until the court has received your bankruptcy petition, there is no automatic stay. If you need to file by a certain date, make sure you have a game plan for how to submit your bankruptcy petition to the court.