How to File Bankruptcy for Low Income Individuals

According to the website Debt.org, 936,795 Americans filed for bankruptcy in 2014. This represents a 12.5 percent drop from 2013, but many are still seeking relief from crushing loads of debt. Bankruptcy filings are particularly problematic for low-income individuals, as they have far fewer resources to pay, but there are ways to lower the cost.

Hiring a Lawyer

The first decision in a low-income bankruptcy is whether or not to use a lawyer. Depending on where you live, a non-profit legal aid association may be able to help. Special circumstances, such as being a veteran or dealing with a disability, may lessen the income requirements or make you more likely to qualify for assistance. Some lawyers also perform a certain amount of casework pro-bono. Your state bar association may have information on both of these programs. Some lawyers will allow you to complete some filing paperwork on your own, saving you money.

Filing Fees

Bankruptcy requires a $300 fee just for filing the paperwork. However, you can ask the court for a waiver of that filing fee. To qualify for that waiver, you must have income of less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and be unable to pay the fee in installments. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a family's income must be less than $36,375 per year to qualify for the fee waiver. Even then, approval of the waiver is up to the judge.

Chapter 7 or 13

Many people with low incomes qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, because they cannot make installment payments that Chapter 13 requires. Because of this, low-income filers usually do not have to deal with the increased costs of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. However, if you do file for a Chapter 13, you'll pay monthly debt payments to the trustee to send to your creditors. The trustee keeps a percentage of these payments as a fee for handling the bankruptcy.

Pro Se Filing

A pro se filing means that you file for bankruptcy without a lawyer. You may choose to do this if your case is very simple. A paralegal may be able help you complete the forms and do the calculations needed for the filing for much less than a lawyer would charge.