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The Upsolve Policy Platform


At Upsolve, we believe that many of the most effective nonprofits combine direct services and advocacy in their work.

In the near term, their direct services work allows them to have a concrete impact on the marginalized communities they serve. Direct services work also enables nonprofits to learn about what public policy issues matter to their beneficiaries, develop a grassroots base of supporters affected by a problem, and build unique storytelling skills that are required for effective advocacy. Too often, public policy ideas come from people who are disconnected from the communities they’re trying to serve. 

In the long term, advocacy allows nonprofits to enact narrative shifts and policy change that can have long term impact at scale. While technology-driven direct services work shares many traits with public policy – namely, scalability and low marginal costs – we must uproot a broken system to ensure long term change. 

In 2016, we started Upsolve as a pure direct services nonprofit. Over the last few years, as we listened to our users, we’ve started to develop a policy platform, driven by their needs. As we grow and learn, our platform will expand and deepen. 

Related Link: Upsolve advisor, Hon. Robert Gordon (Bankruptcy Judge from 2006-2020), writes: "Change the Bankruptcy System to Help End Cycle of Poverty" (Law360)

Complicated legal forms are modern-day literacy tests. There are many ways to simplify the federal bankruptcy forms through plain language and better design without compromising their substantive complexity. 

The main problem is that the bankruptcy forms and process was designed around the assumption that most people would be able to afford a lawyer. This doesn't make sense when bankruptcy is specifically a legal problem you only have when you’re facing severe financial distress. The average Upsolve user has over $50,000 in debt and only a few hundred dollars in total savings. The average bankruptcy lawyer costs over $1,000.

Given that the system is designed around lawyers, it’s not easy for a consumer to figure out what bankruptcy forms they need to complete for a simple Chapter 7 case. The U.S. Courts website requires them to separately print out over a dozen PDFs. When they do print out those PDFs, they must navigate many of the same forms that are used for much more complicated cases filed by business owners, investors, and other so-called "non-consumers" and understand terms like “unsecured nonpriority debt” and “set off.”

Over the last four years, we’ve heard judges and lawyers talk about the high dismissal rate for unrepresented debtors. The government has the power to design simpler, more accessible forms and online experiences that would dramatically decrease these dismissal rates. Upsolve should not need to exist. The federal courts should offer a tool like Upsolve to everyone.

Making rights simpler and easier to access for people who can't afford lawyers should appeal to both conservatives who fight for individual responsibility and liberals who fight for social justice. A simpler legal system is also much cheaper for us to achieve equal protection under the law than providing everyone a free lawyer when they can't afford one.

While we know bankruptcy best, the need for legal simplification applies to most other areas of poverty law. We won't have equal rights as long as it’s impossible for normal people to access their rights without paying fees they can’t afford. Today’s complexity is a civil rights injustice. 

Solutions: Redesign the bankruptcy forms and process around the assumption that individuals filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy will not be able to afford lawyers; get rid of all Latin in the legal system; mandate a 10th-grade reading level or below on all legal websites, forms, and form instructions; introduce design standards and audits.  

Upsolve Member Experiences

1,683+ Members Online
Ms. Bridget Norvell
Ms Bridget Norvell
★★★★★ 5 days ago
This is an awesome service...I would recommend this to anyone who is in need of filing for bankruptcy but can not afford an attorney.
Read more Google reviews ⇾
Nicole Ditimus
Nicole Ditimus
★★★★★ 5 days ago
Helped me to feel able. Nothing but relief and thankfulness in my heart.
Read more Google reviews ⇾
kel allure
Kel Allure
★★★★★ 7 days ago
simple. straightforward. informative
Read more Google reviews ⇾

There are countless legal problems that don’t require someone to go to three years of law school and pay $100,000+ to be competently trained to provide assistance. But that’s the status quo today. This restricts the supply of help available, drives up the cost of legal assistance, and guarantees that we don’t have equal protection under the law. 

These regulations have a particularly pernicious effect on Black and Brown communities. Consider which group of people disproportionately has access to three years and $100,000-plus of graduate school education and which group of people disproportionately cannot afford the legal help they need. Reforming these regulations is a matter of racial justice

The legal fees we make people pay to access their civil legal rights in bankruptcy, housing, family, and social security disability law resemble poll taxes. If you can’t afford the fees, you can’t afford your civil legal rights. 

Fortunately, there’s a movement in America to reform these unjust rules on a state-by-state basis. The Supreme Courts in Arizona and Utah have already taken steps in 2020, and several other states are in the process of enacting change. 

Solution: Allow vetted professionals to provide legal assistance in routine areas of poverty law.   

Further Reading

Over the last few years, we’ve shared our thoughts on a more equitable legal system in articles and podcasts. Our team members have also partnered with institutions like the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Access to Justice Center, the Legal Services Corporation, and TED to educate the general public. 

What’s Next?

Advocacy requires teamwork. If you or your organization care about any of these issues, please send us an email. We’d love to keep a running list of allies, as we think through how we can push our ideas forward. 

If you’re part of the media and you’d like to hear more from us or real Upsolve users about these issues, please reach out. 

If you’re a judge, court administrator, or legislator who has an interest in learning more or taking action, we’d love to support you. Please reach out.

You can email Upsolve CEO Jonathan Petts at


Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families resolve their debt and fix their credit using free software tools. Our team includes debt experts and engineers who care deeply about making the financial system accessible to everyone. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations.

To learn more, read why we started Upsolve in 2016, our reviews from past users, and our press coverage from places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.