Bankruptcy Petition Preparers Can Cause Big Trouble
Some unscrupulous non-attorneys take advantage of the poorest and most vulnerable by offering bankruptcy petition preparation services at a discount rate. Maybe you have seen their ads in free community newspapers. These services offer to prepare your bankruptcy petition and avoid the “high cost” of an attorney.
Sounds great, right?
Petition preparers are restricted by federal law to the level of a typing service. Preparers cannot represent you in bankruptcy court and are expressly forbidden from providing any legal advice regarding your bankruptcy case. That means a petition preparer cannot: discuss the benefits of the different bankruptcy chapters and how they apply to your case; explain certain legal exemption rights you may be entitled to in order to protect your property; or tell you what debts or assets must be included or may be omitted from your bankruptcy petition.
When you hire a petition preparer you must file your bankruptcy case yourself. Some petition preparers may try to entice you with promises of waiving the bankruptcy filing fee. The truth is that if you were able to pay a petition preparer, the court is unlikely to waive the filing fee.
While there are no special educational requirements for petition preparers, the federal law requires that they:
• Make a written disclosure of services and fees
• Charge a reasonable fee for services, usually limited by local bankruptcy law
• Not collect or process court filing fees
• File a written disclosure with the bankruptcy court regarding fees and services, including name and tax identification number
While the federal law allows preparers to type petitions, bankruptcy professionals, including judges and attorneys, despise this activity. A main objective of the bankruptcy process is to provide a deserving debtor with relief from crushing debt. In many cases, petition preparers only make matters worse. Debtors need legal counsel to receive the protections and benefits of the bankruptcy laws. Petition preparers are not attorneys and any legal advice they provide, while illegal, may also be devastatingly wrong. Many debtors relying on the assistance of petition preparers have had their cases dismissed, have lost property to creditors, or have experienced other unnecessary complication in their cases.
If you are hurting financially, discuss your situation with a bankruptcy attorney at a free consultation. Your attorney can advise you on your legal options and discuss how you can afford the different fees in bankruptcy.