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 Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 7, 2020
If you’re thinking about filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can file on your own, hire a private bankruptcy attorney or seek free or low-cost legal services through a legal aid society. Access to a “free lawyer” in bankruptcy matters is rare. However, this process is so straightforward that you should be able to file on your own if you want to.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
If you’re struggling with overdue credit card bills and other debt, you may benefit from scheduling a free credit counseling session with an accredited, non-profit credit counseling agency. After reviewing your income, expenses, and debts, a credit counselor will provide you with a personalized action plan to help you manage your debt. Depending on the details of your unique financial situation, the counselor may recommend that you file for consumer bankruptcy. You’ll likely be able to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you don’t earn much money or Chapter 13 bankruptcy if you have a steady, reasonable income.
Unlike filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, which is a notoriously complex bankruptcy process, filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7 is almost always straightforward. Unless you own a lot of expensive property, are a small business owner, own real estate other than your house, or are dealing with some unusually complex financial circumstances, you should be able to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 on your own.
Preparing a bankruptcy petition without the help of a law firm isn’t the best option for everyone. Even if your financial situation is straightforward, the thought of filling out a lot of legal paperwork on your own might be too stressful for you. Alternatively, you might not have time to file bankruptcy quickly without help or you may require assistance due to advanced age or disability. There isn’t a right or wrong way to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you’re eligible to seek Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, you can use whichever approach works best for you.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
The income limits that restrict eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief are outlined in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy means test. If you earn too much money to pass this test, you’ll want to consider Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is commonly referred to as “reorganization bankruptcy,” as it allows filers to restructure their debt. Once their debt is reorganized, filers make manageable monthly payments for 3-5 years. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is exclusively available to low-income filers because the process doesn’t require repayment before eligible debts are eliminated.
To ensure that your repayment plan will be manageable and that your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case will be a success, you’ll want to consult a bankruptcy lawyer who advertises Chapter 13 bankruptcy as a practice area. Because this process is so complex, most Chapter 13 cases prepared without an attorney’s help aren’t successful. Failing at a Chapter 13 bankruptcy attempt will leave you in a worse financial position than you are now, so you’ll want all the knowledgeable legal advice you can get.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you don’t earn much money, a legal aid society may be able to provide you with free or low-cost legal services. Working with legal aid is generally the only way to find a “free bankruptcy lawyer.”
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Being a client of a legal aid society is a lot like being a client of a private law office. You’ll develop an attorney-client relationship with a licensed attorney (who may be a staff member or a volunteer from a local private law firm) who will help you with your legal issues.
The main differences between getting help from legal aid and getting help from a private law office are that legal aid societies are often overextended. They rely on grants and donations to remain operational, so they can’t help everyone and they can’t even help all low-income clients immediately. After being screened to ensure that you’re eligible for assistance, you may be placed on a waiting list before you can meet with an attorney.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
You won’t know for sure whether you qualify for free or low-cost assistance until you start contacting local legal aid societies individually. Before organizations offer potential clients an initial consultation, they screen them for eligibility, usually based on income. Although this isn’t the model used by every legal aid society in the United States, many follow the model set by the Legal Services Corporation. The LSC requires any organization that receives its funding to serve, at a minimum, members of low-income households whose annual income isn’t greater than 125% of the federal poverty line.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
If you’re interested in connecting with a civil legal aid society in New Mexico to determine whether you’re eligible for services, you can use the phone numbers and additional contact information noted below.
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you don’t end up working with legal aid, whether you think you might want to file on your own or hire a private attorney, you can benefit from scheduling a no-risk case evaluation. Most attorneys who practice bankruptcy law offer free consultations to anyone interested in asking questions about types of bankruptcy, whether bankruptcy is the best debt relief solution for their situation, etc. You don’t have to work with a lawyer moving forward after taking advantage of a free consultation opportunity. Consultations are learning tools and don’t obligate you in any way.
To find a law firm that offers free consultations with an experienced attorney (not a paralegal), consider typing your location into the “find an attorney” feature on the NABCA website. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, like many local bar associations, and the New Mexico State Bar Association, offers an attorney search function on its site.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to prepare your bankruptcy petition without an attorney’s assistance, you’ll be referred to by the court as a “pro se” filer. Pro se is Latin for, “in/on one’s own behalf.” If you meet with an attorney for a case evaluation but don’t hire them moving forward, you’re still considered a pro se filer.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Filing pro se doesn’t have to mean filing without guidance. There are a number of reputable, free self-filing resources available online. For starters, the Upsolve Learning Center features hundreds of articles and guides about both the pro se Chapter 7 filing process specifically and consumer debt management generally. If you’re looking to benefit from a fresh financial start, exploring the Upsolve Learning Center is a great place to begin.
If you meet certain eligibility requirements, you may also be able to prepare your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case on Upsolve’s free filing tool platform. This resource allows filers who have “simple cases” to access and fill out their bankruptcy forms in a secure, online format. This is a particularly convenient resource because tracking down bankruptcy forms and figuring how to fill them out is arguably the most stressful aspect of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. The filing tool eliminates this guesswork.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
At any time that a bankruptcy court in Albuquerque is open, self-filers can ask the clerk to direct them to free, printed material related to filing bankruptcy. You can usually find material related to requesting a filing fee waiver, holding debt collectors accountable for violations of theautomatic stay, preparing for your meeting of creditors, and other common self-filing scenarios.
New Mexico Legal Aid
505 Marquette Ave NW, Suite 700, Albuquerque NM 87125
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
If you choose to manage your debt through the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, you have great options available to you. You can save money by using free resources to file on your own. You can also minimize stress by working with an attorney. Either way, you can use this process to achieve the fresh financial start you’re in need of. Bankruptcy may not be the best option for all situations. However, if it’s the best option for your situation, there are numerous ways to navigate this process successfully.