5 Mistakes People Sometimes Make When Filing for Bankruptcy on Their Own

worried couple sitting on a couch and looking at papers


By:Mike Cibik

Times are tough, money is tight and you are drowning in debt. You have nowhere to turn, and much like Michael Scott on “The Office” you just want to step outside and shout at the top of your lungs, “I. Declare. Bankruptcy!”

But the world doesn’t work like that. Bankruptcy is not a simple or easy thing to do. It’s just a fact that the vast majority of people who try to file for bankruptcy without the assistance of experts like a qualified Philadelphia bankruptcy attorney, run into problems that make the experience much worse.

Some see their cases dismissed, and still, others face far more serious consequences. There are many steps to filing for bankruptcy, and within those steps, there are many places a person can make a mistake. Here are five of the most common mistakes a person filing for bankruptcy in the state of Pennsylvania can make:

One: Filing for the wrong type of bankruptcy

It starts at the beginning. Are you declaring the right kind of bankruptcy?

Choosing the right type of bankruptcy isn’t as straightforward as it looks. Your choice depends on:

  • your goals
  • your assets
  • your exemptions
  • and your eligibility

Make a mistake with any of these points and you could end up filing a type of bankruptcy which won’t serve you properly. At best the bankruptcy will not be successful, at worst, you could end up worse off than before.

The PA bankruptcy lawyers at Cibik & Cataldo go through a thorough onboarding process before we recommend a Chapter to you. Mike and Mike evaluate your assets, debts, and goals to determine the right way to relieve your debt issues. You wouldn’t be the first type of client to come in for a free consultation expecting and wanting to file one Chapter only for our team of bankruptcy law experts to have to tell you that you really want and need the other.

Two: Doing the paperwork incorrectly

Let’s be real here for a hot second: No one likes paperwork. Bankruptcy forms are no exception, as these documents are confusing to deal with. People who file on their own — aka Pro se filers — attempting to fill out bankruptcy schedules face 42 pages of complex instructions. Yes, you read that right, 42 pages!

But wait there’s more. Beyond the 42 pages of paperwork there are all the obligations involved with bankruptcy, and the documents you have to file to prove you’ve met them.

Fail to file even one of these properly, make a mistake or a tiny typo, and you could be setting your case up for failure.

Three: Forgetting to declare some debts

Bankruptcy is not a time to be shy or embarrassed. Filing for bankruptcy requires you to disclose every debt you owe.

If you skip one or two and fail to do disclose you can create some serious problems for yourself. This even includes debts owed to family members or friends. In terms of bankruptcy, a debt is a debt and you need to be upfront about all of them.

While it’s possible to fix the problem if you forgot a debt in good faith, doing so opens you up to accusations that you’re giving some creditors preferential treatment. The creditors that were left out will notice this and push the courts.

Fixing these problems after the fact means even more paperwork, which in turn means more chances to get something wrong.

Four: Forgetting to declare some assets

It’s not just debts you need to be fully transparent about. When declaring bankruptcy you need to be crystal clear on all of your assets.

Hiding assets is a form of bankruptcy fraud. Even if overlooking or omitting a specific asset was an honest mistake, the omission can still open a door for criminal consequences.

Because bankruptcy cases are federal cases, bankruptcy fraud is a federal crime. The wrong mistake could carry a sentence of up to 5 years in a federal prison and be assessed a $25,000 fine which, of course, may not be discharged in any future bankruptcy case.

Five: Thinking the creditors will never push back

Many people think that once you resolve to declare bankruptcy, the people you owe debts to will just roll over and forgive. But that’s not always the case. These are people and institutions who have a debt to collect. This is money for them. Creditors can and do scrutinize your actions before and during your bankruptcy case, especially in Chapter 7 cases where they stand to lose a lot of money.

Creditors notice mistakes you don’t even know you’re making. If the amount you owe them is substantial enough they may challenge your discharge, making the whole process a bigger legal contest with even more paperwork.

It doesn’t happen often, but in pro se cases where someone is filing on their own, the chance for mistakes that prompt creditors to challenge is much higher. It may seem backward, but when a person filing for bankruptcy has a qualified attorney it protects the debtor’s interests.

If the creditor is successful you won’t receive a discharge. You’ll still owe the debt, and your creditors may become more aggressive than ever.

So what do you do?

That’s easy. Get a lawyer! And seek qualified legal advice on how to handle your debt problems.

With an experienced bankruptcy lawyer’s help, Chapter 7 bankruptcies are successful a whopping 99% of the time! Without a qualified bankruptcy attorney’s help, the number plummets to a mere 69%.

Even worse, Chapter 13 cases without good bankruptcy lawyers are successful less than 1% of the time.

These statistics serve as a few of the reasons why the federal government resource USCourts.gov strongly recommends getting a bankruptcy attorney near you to consult with.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re in debt. How can you afford a top bankruptcy attorney?

That’s one of the few things about filing for bankruptcy you shouldn’t worry about! Getting a bankruptcy attorney is easier and more affordable than ever. At Cibik & Cataldo we offer free consultations and reasonable payment plans to ensure no client ever has to risk further debt relief problems because they fear legal fees.

Contact Cibik & Cataldo, Philadelphia’s leading bankruptcy law firm, and get your free consultation today.


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