If I Can't Pay Bills and Can't Afford Bankruptcy, What Are My Options?


Not having money to either pay your bills or file for bankruptcy puts you in a tough position. Eventually creditors may file lawsuits against you, winning court judgments and possibly garnishing your bank account or wages. That is a hard way to live, and you are better off finding a way to file for bankruptcy, even if you can't afford to do it.

Fee Waivers

  • Chapter 7 is the simplest form of bankruptcy and is perfect for quickly eliminating unsecured debt such as credit cards. The filing fee is $299 as of 2011, but people who cannot afford to pay are eligible for a waiver, allowing them to file bankruptcy for free. Eligibility is determined after a review of your financial situation. However, Chapter 7 is not open to everyone. Income limits vary by the state and usually only people with lower incomes qualify.

Installment Plans

  • Chapter 7 and another popular form of bankruptcy, Chapter 13, also offer installment plans for the filing fee. People who do not qualify for Chapter 7 can opt for Chapter 13, which takes three to five years to complete. Chapter 7 is usually completed in just months. The filing fee for Chapter 13 is $274, with the installment plan making it affordable for most people even if they have to sell household goods to raise the cash.

Free Legal Representation

  • Some nonprofit organizations such as Legal Aid offer free help from local bankruptcy attorneys for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Some people who qualify under the income guidelines choose Chapter 7, receive a waiver of the filing fee and then secure a free attorney through Legal Aid.

Self Representation

  • It is also possible for people to represent themselves in bankruptcy, although the United States Bankruptcy Court warns against it. The court notes that bankruptcy is often overwhelming for people without a legal background, and that mistakes are commonly made by people representing themselves. However, qualifying for a fee waiver or installments and choosing self-representation is sometimes preferable to not filing at all and possibly being subjected to judgments and garnishment.

Getting Help

  • People overwhelmed by debt without an ability to pay should seek counseling from a government certified counselor, such as those affiliated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Or take a free initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney. A for-profit attorney will not represent you for free, but you can use the free consultation to learn about the bankruptcy process and whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. The local public library can provide local contact information for government-certified credit counselors.

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