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Bankruptcy Questions Answered: Can I File For Bankruptcy Online in 2021?

Can I File For Bankruptcy Online?

As we close in on the second half of the year, experts are giving us reasons to hope that soon, life will be closer to what we used to consider normal. In-person events and meetings are happening more frequently, workers are returning to offices, and travel is possible again. But what does the return to in-person spell for bankruptcy proceedings? Can you file for bankruptcy online going forward? 

Virtual Court Hearings – Here to Stay?

As we noted in a previous blog, the pandemic forced the courts’ hand and drove nearly all aspects of bankruptcy filing online. From initial consultation with a lawyer to hearings and the 341 meeting, debtors, creditors, and attorneys the nation over were meeting virtually. And from what we’ve heard, this was a very popular shift. Online access to the internal workings of the courtroom may have also helped to increase overall transparency and boost public confidence in the bankruptcy process. 

But now that restrictions are lifting, will virtual filing continue to be an option in Ohio? We’re sure that lots of folks are hoping it will be, but we can’t say either way. In the meantime, for anyone filing for bankruptcy going forward in 2021 let’s run through what traditionally can and cannot be done online.

Filing for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Ohio

When it comes to handling the procedural aspects of your bankruptcy filing, there have been and continue to be a few steps that can easily be done online:

  • Enrolling in classes for credit counseling and debtor education 
  • Obtaining standard bankruptcy forms and any additional forms your local bankruptcy court requires
  • Gaining access to documents that explain your financial situation (i.e. credit report, bank statements, paycheck stubs)
  • Opting in to email notifications about your bankruptcy case
  • Keeping track of your Chapter 13 repayment plan

Certain aspects of your bankruptcy proceedings that have been virtual for the past year will likely return to in-person as restrictions lift:

Filling out and filing bankruptcy forms

There could be a potentially long list of forms that you’ll be required to fill out prior to getting the filing underway. Unless you are working with a bankruptcy attorney, you will need to submit paper versions of forms to the court, either in person or by mail.

Paying court filing fees

Fees have traditionally been paid in person, and that isn’t changing. Common forms of payment – cash, check, money order – are still valid. If it does become possible to pay fees online, a debit card (not credit card) is the way to go. And as usual, if circumstances are difficult you can apply for a waiver to pay the filing fee in installments. 

Meeting with creditors and the trustee

Until 2020, what’s known as the 341 meeting has always been done in person. As restrictions are lifted this norm could be reinstated as the standard. Dealing with your trustee has always required mailing hard copies of important documents. Remember that documents must be accurate down to the smallest detail. If changes took place between filing and the initial meeting, or if mistakes were made, advance planning is key to ensure that updated hard copies are delivered on time. 

Corrected forms still need to be in the trustee’s hands by the meeting date. There has been a push to move to a digital format, but this still isn’t typical. While there is merit in providing virtual options, we can’t say what the future holds on this front.

Court hearings

Many of us got used to attending court hearings on virtual platforms. But this is not the established norm. According to bankruptcy law, hearings require that you personally appear before the presiding bankruptcy judge. We can’t say whether regulations will shift in the future, but if they do, know that we will be here to guide you through.

Working Virtually with Your Ohio Bankruptcy Attorney

 As Ohio bankruptcy lawyers, we use the U.S. Courts’ electronic filing system and are able to digitally submit forms on behalf of our clients. We have also created an easy-to-use online portal for clients to send us their documents, and are able to accept payment online. If you’re a client who’s interested in this option, we can make a link available via text or email that will take you to an online payment platform. Or you can opt to set up a scheduled, auto-deducted payment plan. 

Online bill payment and texting are just two ways that we have worked hard to bring new options to the table during what have proved to be very uncertain times. Now that proceedings are generally returning to pre-pandemic norms, we will continue to serve clients with easy, tech-based solutions that help to streamline bankruptcy filing.

Bankruptcy Petition Preparer or Bankruptcy Attorney?

A word of caution is fitting here – not everyone who offers online petition preparation is a lawyer. Many of these individuals or entities have no legal qualifications. They will charge a fee for preparation, which only serves to increase your total bankruptcy cost. At the same time, they often have no legal background and are prohibited from offering legal advice. They also cannot actually submit documents to the court – that’s still the filer’s responsibility. So the cost here is essentially for secretarial work, not legal help.

Knowing the facts about these preparers upfront can save you from making costly mistakes while preparing to submit your bankruptcy documents. The only way that you can enjoy the respite that an automatic stay brings is by properly submitting forms and necessary documents to the court by the required date. Working with a trusted bankruptcy attorney is a way to ensure that you’re getting accurate information, sound advice, and that you have an advocate as you traverse what can be a very challenging time. 

Bates & Hausen Are Your Trusted Ohio Bankruptcy Lawyers

As we transition back to in-person bankruptcy court procedures in Ohio and throughout the nation, know that Bates & Hausen, LLC is here to help. We’ll keep you updated on changing requirements and will always be sure to include you in the process. Bankruptcy is stressful enough – work with a trusted expert to simplify the experience and gain the best possible outcome.

If you have specific questions or concerns regarding our use of technology or would like to schedule a free, virtual bankruptcy consultation, reach out to us online or with a call or text. And if you’re facing chapter 7 bankruptcy, chapter 11 bankruptcy, or chapter 13 bankruptcy but aren’t sure how to proceed, get in touch – our Northeast Ohio Bankruptcy Attorneys can weigh in. We proudly serve the Akron, Canton, Wooster, and Dover/New Philadelphia communities and are here to help. Reach out today!

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