How to find a free Chapter 7 bankruptcy consultation in New York City. A bankruptcy attorney will help you decide between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
Written by Kristin Turner, Harvard Law Grad.
Updated December 1, 2020
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, you probably have a lot of questions. A free bankruptcy consultation can help you understand your options and how to get relief. You might be confused about what to ask and where to get help. This article can help you find and get the most out of a free bankruptcy consultation.
Where to go?
The type of assistance available to you depends on where you live. Since New York is a major city, it has a lot of different options to get bankruptcy help.
The section below can help you think of places to start when you need to get a free bankruptcy consultation.
If you can afford to pay an attorney, it’s probably a good idea to hire one. A bankruptcy consultation ends as soon as the meeting does. A bankruptcy attorney, however, will help you get through the entire bankruptcy process: the paperwork, filing, your 341 meeting, and discharge.
Bankruptcy attorneys are familiar with the process, they’re available to answer any questions that come up and can also help you if anything unexpected or complicated comes up. The National Association of Bankruptcy Attorneys has many experienced attorneys to help with debt relief.
Although bankruptcy attorneys can be very helpful, many low-income Americans simply can't afford an attorney. Bankruptcy attorneys are expensive. On average, you can expect to spend between $1,500 - $3,000 in attorneys fees for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The good news is that most low-income New Yorkers still have options if they need a free lawyer to guide them or just need a little help filing on their own. Here are some options on where to start when you think you need a free bankruptcy consultation.
If you think you need a lawyer but can’t afford to pay for one, legal aid organizations are a great option. Sometimes you can meet with a lawyer who can assist you for free. Much like a free bankruptcy consultation, legal aid organizations will ask you a series of questions when determining whether they can take your case. This will give you a better sense of whether bankruptcy is the right choice for you.
Here are the free legal aid nonprofits available to low-income New Yorkers across the whole city.
Upsolve, Inc. Website: https://upsolve.org/
Mobilization for Justice Website: http://mobilizationforjustice.org/about/contact-us/: (212) 417-3700
New York Legal Services Website: https://www.legalservicesnyc.org/about-us/contact-us: (646) 442-3630
City Bar Justice Center Website: https://www.citybarjusticecenter.org: (212) 626-7383
It’s always a good idea to check with legal aid to see if you qualify, especially if you think that you don’t. Many New Yorkers are surprised to learn that they qualify for legal assistance. It’s also possible that you can qualify at some and not others.
You may qualify even if you do make too much money. For instance, if you’re a senior, veteran, or victim of domestic abuse. That’s why it never hurts to ask! At a minimum, legal aid can tell you where you might be able to get a free bankruptcy consultation in the New York City area based on your situation.
But, because legal aid attorneys are free, don’t be surprised if they can’t help you or have a long waiting list.
Legal Assistance for Union Workers
If you’re part of a worker’s union, one of your benefits may be free legal assistance or a free bankruptcy consultation from a local law firm. Some larger unions have programs that connect workers with in-house legal teams that can help you file. Your union’s website should have more information. If not, just give them a call!
If you haven’t had any luck finding help on your own, calling your local bankruptcy court is a good next step. To be clear, you won’t be able to get a free bankruptcy consultation from the court. But, the court will likely know of free resources that can help.
There are two bankruptcy courts that serve the New York City area:
The Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York serves residents of Manhattan and the Bronx. It is located at One Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004. This is likely where you’ll come to file your paperwork and have your meeting with the trustee.
The Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York serves Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. It is located at 271-C Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, NY 11201-1800.
The Eastern District is unique because it has a “pro se” clerk. While they can’t provide a free bankruptcy consultation, the pro se clerk is available to provide bankruptcy information to individuals who need it—at no cost! A clerk is like an office administrator who can make sure your paperwork is complete and gets to the right place. But they can’t actually help you fill your paperwork out.
What to Ask
A free bankruptcy consultation can help clear up any questions that you have about what the process involves and whether it’s the right move for you. But, since it’s a limited amount of time, you want to make sure that you’re prepared so you can have the right questions answered.
Whether or not you decide to file for bankruptcy, it will be important to have a strong understanding of the process, the benefits, and the overall impact it can have on your situation.
If you discuss the following questions during your consultation, you can feel confident that you are making an informed decision that will help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible.
1. What Is Bankruptcy?
If you leave your free bankruptcy consultation with nothing else, you should at least understand what bankruptcy is, how it works and when somebody should consider filing.
Bankruptcy is an important social safety net that provides relief to hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. It is a way of erasing your debt or making a plan to pay off some of it.
Many people look to bankruptcy if they’re in a lot of debt and struggling to pay their bills. This usually means dealing with lots of calls from creditors, the threat of repossession, their utilities being cut off or their paychecks being garnished.
There are different kinds of bankruptcy called “chapters.” Your free bankruptcy consultation will help you figure out which chapter, if any, is the best choice for you. The two most common chapters for individuals in debt are: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
Chapter 7 is the most common and it usually best for folks who do not own expensive property like a house or expensive cars. It allows you to erase most types of consumer debts within about 3 to 6 months.
Chapter 13 is usually better for folks who need to hang onto expensive property like a house or if you are confident you can repay your debts, but just need more time.
Getting a free bankruptcy consultation will help you understand the differences between the chapters and pick what’s best for you.
For most people, Chapter 7 is often the way to go.
2. Does Bankruptcy makes sense for you?
Once you understand what bankruptcy is and why it exists, you’ll want to use your free bankruptcy consultation to decide whether you should file.
There are usually three groups of people: Those who should file for bankruptcy right now, those who should wait a little bit before filing, and those who should not file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy at all. Getting a free bankruptcy consultation will help you figure out which group you belong in.
Who might want to file . . .
Most people who decide to move forward with bankruptcy have over $10,000 in erasable debt like credit card debt and medical bills.
But there are a few alternatives to bankruptcy that a free bankruptcy consultation will help you think through.
Some people pay back their debts by selling valuables or property. If you own something expensive, selling property might be one option to consider.
Some people first try to negotiate with their creditors. This usually involves going to the people that you owe, explaining that you can’t pay and seeing if you can come to an agreement to pay a lower amount.
Another option is to have a third party repay your debts for you. In these cases, some people choose to take out one loan to repay all their creditors and then just focus on paying that loan back.
Who might want to wait. . .
Some people decide to wait to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if they think you might take on more debt in the near future. If you’re expecting a big debt, like medical bills for an ongoing illness you’d want to wait to include that on your paperwork. Filing at the right time helps make sure you get as much relief as possible. Take a moment during your free bankruptcy consultation to ask if waiting could make sense.
Who probably shouldn’t file . . .
Some people decide not to file because they have debts that can’t be erased. This often includes things like student loans, child support, and certain taxes. During your free bankruptcy consultation, you’ll want to see what kinds of debts are weighing you down the most and if bankruptcy can help.
You also might decide not to file if you are “judgment proof.” Judgment proof means that a court has said that your creditors can’t try collect from you. In this case, bankruptcy might not make the most sense because the people you know aren’t expecting to get paid.
3. Can I do this without a lawyer?
So, say you go to your free bankruptcy consultation and decide that filing for bankruptcy is the right move.
If you need to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and can afford a lawyer, great! You should hire one, especially if you own expensive property like real estate. But if you can't afford a lawyer and don’t own expensive property, there’s a good chance that you can file on your own with the help of a nonprofit like Upsolve!
If filing on your own sounds overwhelming, not to worry! A bankruptcy petition can look like a pretty scary thing. The good news is: people file for chapter 7 bankruptcy on their own every day, and so can you!
In fact, you probably know most of the information off the top of your head! It really mainly comes down to filling out the paperwork. If you're eligible, you can use Upsolve's free filing tool to make sure you're filling out all the right forms. Luckily, Upsolve help you assemble your paperwork so that you can file on your own.
There are a lot of questions that come up when you’re considering filing for bankruptcy. Getting a free bankruptcy consultation is a great way to see if it’s the right choice for you.
Whether you do your own research, reach out to a legal aid organization, contact your local bankruptcy court for resources, New York City is fortunate to have many resources to support you along the way. The most important thing is not to get discouraged.
No matter what path you take, it’s important to know that you have options. All you have to do is take action! A free bankruptcy consultation is the first step in the right direction when you think you need a fresh start.