If you file bankruptcy on your own, you are filing "pro se." As bankruptcy is full of complex legal terms and requirements, it can be difficult to successfully file a case on your own. The United States Bankruptcy Court explicitly warns potential pro se debtors that filing bankruptcy without the help of a competent attorney is not advised, as you are held to the same standards of law as any attorney. However, filing bankruptcy pro se is not illegal, though you are well advised to research and follow correct federal and state procedures.
Gather financial information. To prepare a bankruptcy petition you must have accurate and up-to-date information on your finances. The bankruptcy court will want to see information on your income, your debts and your assets. Information you should collect includes bank statements, tax returns, pay stubs, creditor statements and a list of your assets.
Take the means test. To help you determine which chapter of bankruptcy to file, you must complete Bankruptcy Form 22A, the "Chapter 7 Statement of Current Monthly Income and Means Test Calculation." The first part of the test will compare your income with that of households of the same size in your state. If you are under the median, you qualify to file Chapter 7. The second part of the test subtracts certain expenses such as housing, utilities and food to determine the amount of disposable income you have every month. If your income is too high, you cannot file Chapter 7 and must instead file Chapter 13.
Choose your bankruptcy chapter. If your income is too high to file Chapter 7, according to the means test, you must pay creditors some of the money you owe in a Chapter 13 repayment plan. If your income is insufficient to make these payments, you can file Chapter 7 in which you do not have to make any payments at all to your creditors.
List your assets. If you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, while you do you have to make payments you do not have to give up any of your property. If you file Chapter 7, you can protect certain assets using state exemptions but only if you properly file them in your bankruptcy petition. You must list all of your personal property on Bankruptcy Schedule B, and list assets protected by your state's exemptions on Bankruptcy Schedule C.
Complete your bankruptcy petition. Most bankruptcy petitions exceed 50 pages, as you must list detailed information about every aspect of your financial life. Your local bankruptcy court will provide you with a list of federal and local rules that you must observe when you file your petition, including which forms are necessary and the order and format in which you must file them.
Take your counseling course. Bankruptcy laws require that you take counseling no more than 180 days before you file a petition.
File your petition and pay the fee. As of February 2011, to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy you must pay a $299 filing fee, while the Chapter 13 fee is $274.
Attend the 341 meeting. About a month after you file your petition, you must appear before your bankruptcy trustee for a review of your petition. Your creditors may also appear and ask you questions about your financial situation.
Take a financial management course. After your 341 meeting and before your discharge, you must attend another court-approved course, this time in financial management.
Get your repayment plan approved. If you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the court must approve your repayment plan. If you file Chapter 7, you do not have to submit a plan as you do not have to make any payments to creditors.
Await your discharge. If no objections to your petition are received by the court, you can receive your discharge 60 days after your 341 meeting. If you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must wait until you complete all of your payments to receive a discharge.
John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served for 18 years as an investment counselor before becoming a writing and editing contractor for various private clients. In addition to writing thousands of articles for various online publications, he has published five educational books for young adults.