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 in El Paso, Texas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 29, 2020
If you’re being hounded by debt collectors and want to achieve a financial fresh start, filing for bankruptcy may be a good option for you. If you don’t earn much income, you may be eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This process is almost typically so straightforward that you may not have to hire a lawyer to navigate it successfully.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Members of low-income households are, by law, generally allowed to seek debt relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. This debt relief process has been purposefully constructed to be so easy to file that most individuals don’t need to seek paid legal assistance to prepare their cases successfully. Some Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers prefer to seek legal help and some need help with particularly complex cases and/or unusual circumstances. However, most filers don’t have to incur attorneys’ fees if they don’t want to. Instead, they can access free self-filing resources to help them prepare their bankruptcy petitions with relative ease.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Only filers who pass the Chapter 7 means test are eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The means test compares a filer’s income to the Chapter 7 eligibility income limits. If you evaluate your income per the means test and discover that you earn too much money to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can speak with an experienced lawyer about filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows filers to make their monthly debt payment obligations more manageable. By restructuring debt, this process makes it easier for filers to obtain a fresh start. After 3-5 years of consistent payments, any remaining eligible debt is eliminated. This process is far more complex than the Chapter 7 process though, so if you’re thinking about filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13, you’re going to need an attorney to guide you. You can pay their fees within your repayment plan, which makes affording this legal help manageable.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
You don’t necessarily need to hire a bankruptcy attorney to receive professional legal advice during the bankruptcy process. If you don’t earn much income, you may be eligible for free or low-cost legal services through a local legal aid society.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Imagine walking into a busy law office. Before you’re given an appointment with an attorney, you’re asked some questions about your income and your debts. If the law firm is particularly busy, you might not be able to meet with a bankruptcy lawyer right away. Instead, your appointment will be scheduled out. However, when you meet with your lawyer, you’ll quickly establish an attorney-client relationship that allows you to move forward with your bankruptcy case.
This is essentially what it’s like to work with a legal aid society. You’ll be screened for eligibility, possibly put on a waitlist, then you’ll be given access to knowledgeable assistance with your legal issues by a licensed attorney. Legal aid societies have limited resources and tend to be very busy. However, their staff and volunteers tend to be truly dedicated to their clients.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal aid societies are independent organizations. As a result, they set and enforce their own eligibility criteria. Therefore, the best way to learn about an organization’s approach to eligibility is to contact them directly. With that said, most organizations determine eligibility based on household income relative to the federal poverty line. For example, any organization that receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation is obligated to make its services available to members of households whose income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line annually.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
You can use the phone numbers and contact information for legal aid societies in El Paso for easy reference as you determine whether you’re eligible for assistance. When you call each legal aid society, ask about their eligibility criteria and expected wait times before you commit to making an appointment.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Did you know that you can schedule a confidential, risk-free initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney, even if you think you will probably file for Chapter 7 consumer bankruptcy on your own? Attorneys understand that most people struggling with debt need some guidance before they can make an informed decision about their debt-related legal options. As a result, many offer free consultations. Note that this initial meeting with a lawyer won’t obligate you to work with a law firm moving forward or to file bankruptcy.
To find an experienced bankruptcy attorney in El Paso, you can contact a local bar association or the Texas State Bar Association. To locate an attorney anywhere in the United States, consider using the “find an attorney” feature on the NACBA website. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys is a reputable organization and provides valuable information for those interested in speaking with a lawyer.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you’ve already done some research about the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, you may have come across the term “pro se.” To file pro se is to file without an attorney’s assistance. Unless your circumstances are particularly complex, you can file pro se if that is a process you feel comfortable taking on solo. There are many free resources available to help you file pro se.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
A great place to begin learning about the ins and outs of the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy processes is the Upsolve Learning Center. This hub features hundreds of articles designed to help both pro se Chapter 7 filers and anyone else interested in making an informed decision about the debt relief and debt management options readily available to consumers. This hub is always free, is available to everyone, and doesn’t require a login.
Additionally, Upsolve has created a free web tool that can be used by pro se filers to prepare “simple cases.” U.S. bankruptcy courts don’t currently allow filers to submit their paperwork online. However, eligible filers can use this platform to prepare their bankruptcy forms in a secure, streamlined setting. This tool makes a relatively straightforward process that much easier and quicker to navigate. Not having to track down required forms and record requested information by hand can make filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy much less stressful.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Other helpful resources related to filing bankruptcy pro say can be found at the bankruptcy courts in and around El Paso. These printed materials cover a range of topics. Depending on which guides are available, you may learn about how to request a filing fee waiver, what to expect at your meeting of creditors, alternative types of bankruptcy, and answers to frequently asked questions about bankruptcy law generally.
Bob Casey United States Courthouse
515 Rusk Street Houston, TX 77002
1701 West Business Highway 83 McAllen, TX 78501
Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse
615 East Houston Street San Antonio, TX 78205
Homer Thornberry Judicial Building
903 San Jacinto Boulevard Austin, TX 78701
Earle Cabell Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1100 Commerce Street Dallas, TX 75242
Eldon B. Mahon United States Courthouse
501 West Tenth Street Fort Worth, TX 76102
George H. Mahon Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1205 Texas Avenue Lubbock, TX 79401
J. Marvin Jones Federal Building
205 East Fifth Avenue Amarillo, TX 79101
Wells Fargo Bank Building
660 North Central Expressway Plano, TX 75074
110 North College Avenue Tyler, TX 75702
Jack Brooks Federal Building and United States Courthouse
300 Willow Street Beaumont, TX 77701
The thought of preparing a bankruptcy petition on your own can be understandably intimidating. Thankfully, there are many resources available for those who choose to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code pro se. You can choose to use these resources, to hire a private attorney, or to work with a legal aid society if filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best debt relief option for your situation. There is no “correct” approach to this process, only the “best” approach for your needs, priorities, and circumstances.
If after reading this guide, you remain unsure of whether you should file for bankruptcy, that’s okay. Consider scheduling a totally free credit counseling session at an accredited, non-profit credit counseling agency in your area. A qualified credit counselor will create a personalized plan of action so that you can seek a fresh financial start in whatever way makes the most sense for your financial situation.