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 Baltimore, Maryland.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 29, 2020
One of the concerns that hold people back from filing for bankruptcy is affordability. “How can I afford legal fees if I can’t make ends meet?” they wonder. Thankfully, filing for consumer bankruptcy is surprisingly affordable. Chapter 13 filers pay back their legal fees over time and Chapter 7 filers can prepare their cases successfully without costly legal assistance.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Not everyone is eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. To file bankruptcy under this particular chapter of the Bankruptcy Code, you must earn very little money when compared to the size of your household. These eligibility limits are outlined in the Chapter 7 Means Test. The United States bankruptcy court system acknowledges that if someone earns so little income that they’re eligible to seek debt relief through Chapter 7 bankruptcy, they almost certainly can’t afford the services provided by a bankruptcy law office. As a result, they keep the process straightforward enough that most filers can prepare cases successfully without consulting a lawyer.
Filing without a lawyer takes time and effort. While the paperwork involved in preparing a Chapter 7 case is straightforward, some filers understandably want or need help completing it. If you’re thinking about filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, know that you can (of course) work with an attorney if that is the best option for you. However, if you’d like to save some money and you are confident in your ability to fill out straightforward paperwork, you can successfully file on your own.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you earn too much money to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can seek legal advice to determine whether filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13 might be a good fit for your situation. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows filers to restructure their debt. For 3-5 years, they are then held to a monthly repayment plan at a manageable rate based on their income and expenses. At the end of that period, any remaining eligible debts are discharged.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t require filers to restructure their debt. Instead, their eligible debts are discharged in as little as 90 days. This is one of the reasons why the Chapter 13 process is far more complex than the Chapter 7 process. Because Chapter 13 filings are much more complicated and time-sensitive, it’s important to hire an attorney for help with your Chapter 13 legal issues. Otherwise, your case will be statistically doomed to failure. You’ll be able to repay your attorney within the scope of your repayment plan, over time. Hiring an attorney is therefore much more manageable for Chapter 13 filers, unlike Chapter 7 filers who pay upfront.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy but can’t afford expensive upfront legal fees, consider connecting with a legal aid society in the Baltimore area. If your income falls within their eligibility limits, you’ll be able to access free or low-cost legal services through that organization.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Legal aid societies operate like private law firms do, with a few exceptions. First, their resources are limited, so they can’t work with “just anyone” who wanders through the door. Generally, they only work with members of low-income households and must therefore screen potential clients according to income level. Second, because their resources are limited, they often have to place clients on waiting lists before they can develop an attorney-client relationship with a staff or volunteer attorney.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The only way to know for sure whether you’re eligible for a specific organization’s services or not is to contact them directly. Each legal aid society sets its own criteria. However, most adhere to the model advanced by the Legal Services Corporation, which was founded by Congress nearly 50 years ago. LSC funds many of the legal aid societies in the U.S. If an organization receives LSC funding, they are required to provide certain low-cost or free legal services to individuals if their household income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line annually.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Phone numbers and other handy contact information for Maryland legal aid societies are listed below. If and when you contact these organizations, remember to ask about eligibility and wait times before committing to becoming a client. If one society doesn’t meet your needs, another might.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you own a small business, multiple pieces of real estate, or unusually expensive property, you’ll want to consult a bankruptcy lawyer before you prepare any paperwork on your own. Your financial situation may be complex enough that you’ll benefit from working with a bankruptcy law firm. However, even if your situation isn’t particularly complex, you can still meet with a lawyer in a no-risk, no-obligation setting. Most bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations to anyone interested in receiving a free case evaluation.
You can find a licensed bankruptcy attorney in your area in a few ways. You can ask loved ones for recommendations, or you can consult a local bar association. The Maryland State Bar Association and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) can also help you locate consumer bankruptcy attorneys who practice near your home or office.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
In the bankruptcy world, the term “pro se” refers to filers who choose to prepare their bankruptcy cases without an attorney’s paid assistance. If you choose to file your case on your own, you may come across this term in some of the many resources available for self-filers.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
You’ll find pro se filing guides and articles about debt management generally on Upsolve’s Learning Center platform. This educational hub is available to the public for free, at all times, and does not require an access login. Some of these guides and articles are geographically specific to Maryland and the Baltimore area. Others explore aspects of bankruptcy law and non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives more broadly. For example, the Learning Center provides articles regarding how to schedule a free credit counseling session, how to manage credit card debt, halting debt collector harassment, and how to request a waiver of bankruptcy filing fees.
Additionally, eligible filers can access a free filing tool on the Upsolve site. This platform allows filers to prepare their bankruptcy forms in a secure, easy-to-navigate location. This tool isn’t the best option for everyone, as it only accommodates filers of “easy cases.” However, it is helpful enough to have all your forms in a single, secure location that it’s worth checking out. If you’re eligible to use this platform, you’ll be able to approach the filing process efficiently and with less guesswork than you otherwise might.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Some filers prefer to learn about the bankruptcy process through printed material. If you head to a Baltimore-area bankruptcy court, you can pick up free, printed information about bankruptcy law. Depending on which guides are available, you’ll learn about halting wage garnishments, types of bankruptcy, preparing for your meeting of creditors, and preparing a pro se bankruptcy petition, among other subjects.
Edward A. Garmatz Federal Building and United States Courthouse
101 West Lombard Street Baltimore, MD 21201
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can serve as a brave step towards achieving a fresh financial start for you and your family. This debt relief option isn’t always the best solution, as it is primarily helpful for those struggling with overdue credit card bills, medical accounts, and other unsecured debts. However, if filing bankruptcy is the best choice for you, know that many resources are available to help you prepare a successful bankruptcy case. You can work with a bankruptcy attorney or file pro se – each approach has its merits. You can feel confident moving forward with whatever approach suits your financial situation best.