You may represent yourself in your bankruptcy case. The process can be complex and many debtors who do this on their own often do not get the relief they want because they are unfamiliar with the requirements of the law. This includes firm deadlines to get your required information and documents filed with the Court. Hiring an attorney with bankruptcy experience can be affordable. Many bankruptcy lawyers will talk with you for a small fee or no fee upfront.
There are many free resources available to individuals without attorneys, including opportunities to speak or email with attorneys licensed in South Carolina who may help you file bankuptcy for little or no cost. Click here to learn more about available resources.
Information on this site is given as a general overview of the bankruptcy process. It should not be relied upon for your individual situation or taken as legal advice. Talk to an attorney to discuss your financial situation.
No employee of the Court is permitted to give legal advice or to respond to questions which may constitute legal advice. General information regarding filing a bankruptcy case, fees, forms, trustees, Court locations, calendars, etc. is available on this site at no charge. Also, links are provided on this site to other information including the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the South Carolina Bankruptcy Local Rules.
Step 1. Learn About Bankruptcy - Filing for bankruptcy is an important decision. The help provided by the bankruptcy law can get rid of your obligation on some debts, provide you with a breathing spell from creditors, and, in a chapter 13 case, a chance to catch up on mortgage and car payments. At the end of a successful case, a debtor obtains a “discharge.” The discharge order may not apply to all of your debts and does not by itself remove liens against your property.
You should learn about bankruptcy to determine if filing is right for you. The following resources give more background about the bankruptcy process:
- Bankruptcy Basics provides an overview of the bankruptcy process and the limits of bankruptcy relief.
- Bankruptcy Basics will provide you with a detailed overview of the various bankruptcy chapters. You will need to file bankruptcy under one “chapter.“ A bankruptcy chapter is a set of related laws. Most individuals file under chapter 7 or 13. Chapter 7 is generally for individuals who have less income than expenses. Individuals in chapter 7 can keep some or all of their property but some property may be sold to pay creditors. Chapter 13 is for individuals with regular income. In a chapter 13 case, you can sometimes keep all of your property and catch up on past due debts. It is also possible in a chapter 13 case to pay less than you owe to creditors who do not have a lien through a “chapter 13 plan.” This video will help you learn more about bankruptcy chapters.
- If you see legal terms that you do not understand, you can review a glossary of bankruptcy terms here.
- Step 2. -Complete Credit Counseling. Individual debtors must complete credit counseling within 180 days before filing for bankruptcy. You do not have to have credit counseling if you qualify for a limited exemption or waiver from the credit counseling requirement. If you have not completed credit counseling before filing a bankruptcy case, you will be ineligible for bankruptcy and your case will likely be dismissed. To fulfill the credit counseling requirement, do one of the following:
- Step 3. -Complete Required Documents.
- Step 4. Make a list of your creditors. - List the names and addresses of all of your creditors. Write down or type a list of everyone who may have a claim against you or a lien against your property. Examples of a lien against your property would be a mortgage on your house or if you took out a loan to pay for your car. It is crucial to have accurate addresses for your creditors. If you do not accurately list your creditors, you may not have the full benefit of the bankruptcy process. It may be helpful to gather a list of your creditors from a credit report. You can learn about how to get a free credit report from the Federal Trade Commission.
- Step 5. Get a copy of your paystubs.- If you have a job, you will need to file with the Court a copy of your paystubs for the 60 days prior to filing. If you do not have a job, get government assistance (i.e. SSI, Social Security or VA benefits), or are self-employed, you will file a statement telling the court that you do not have paystubs.
- Step 1. Learn About Bankruptcy - Filing for bankruptcy is an important decision. The help provided by the bankruptcy law can get rid of your obligation on some debts, provide you with a breathing spell from creditors, and, in a chapter 13 case, a chance to catch up on mortgage and car payments. At the end of a successful case, a debtor obtains a “discharge.” The discharge order may not apply to all of your debts and does not by itself remove liens against your property.
- Step 1. What to File. File with the Bankruptcy Court the complete packet of the applicable papers, including your certificate of Credit Counseling (Step 3 of Before You File). To start a case, you must at least complete and file:
- Step 2. Where to File. You can file by mailing or delivering the required forms to 1100 Laurel Street, Columbia, SC 29201. If you file by coming to the Columbia office, you will need a photo id to enter the building. Limited electronic filing options are available for pro se debtors. Further information can be found in SC LBR 5005-4.
Step 3. Pay the Fee. A fee is required to start a bankruptcy case. The Clerk’s Office accepts cash, in the exact amount of the fee, certified check, or a money order. The Clerk’s Office only accepts payment at the main office in Columbia. To satisfy the fee requirement, do one of the following:
- Review the Schedule of Fees on the Court’s website to learn the amount that you owe for your type of case chapter. Bring or mail the fee to the Court’s location in Columbia.
- If you are unable to pay the full fee at the time of filing, you can file an Application for Individuals to Pay the Filing Fee in Installments. You must pay a minimum fee with the Application to Pay in Installments and then the remainder of the fee over the next three months. Review the Schedule of Installment Fees for further information.
- If you are filing a chapter 7 case, you can file an Application to Have the Chapter 7 Filing Fee Waived but only if you are unable to pay any filing fee and if your income falls below certain Poverty Guidelines.
- Expect a Notice from the Court about the Filing. This notice will have important information and deadlines. It will tell you when and where to appear for your Meeting of Creditors and, if you filed chapter 13, the date and location of your confirmation hearing. The notice will also have your case number and give you the name and address of your case trustee.
- Expect a Notice from the Court if Your Filing was Unfinished. If you did not file all of the required documents with the petition or you owe a fee, the Court will send you a notice of things that must be done. Most documents needed in a bankruptcy case are time sensitive. If you do not file everything required within that time period, your case may be dismissed. Review the checklist of required documents below:
- Expect You Will Need Copies of Your Tax Return. You must provide a copy of your most recent federal tax return to your trustee 7 days before your Meeting of Creditors, discussed below. Your trustee may request some additional documentation at the Meeting of Creditors. Failure to provide your trustee with requested information or documents may result in the dismissal of your case.
- Expect to Attend a Meeting of Creditors. The Meeting of Creditors, also known as a 341 Hearing, is a meeting with your trustee. The date, time, and location of the meeting will be on one of the first notices you receive from the Court. At the meeting, the trustee will ask you questions about your property, debts, income, and expenses. Your creditors may also attend the meeting and ask questions. If you do not attend the meeting, your case may be dismissed. Click here to watch a video about the Meeting of Creditors and learn more.
- Expect that You Will Need to Complete Financial Management Counseling. Before your case can be successfully concluded, you must take a Financial Management course. It must be taken after filing bankruptcy. A certificate of financial management completion must be filed before you can receive a discharge. Under limited situations, the Court may waive the requirement to complete financial management. To fulfill the financial management requirement, do one of the following:
Successfully completing a bankruptcy case can be very challenging, especially a chapter 13 case. Your chance of success greatly increases if you hire an attorney before or immediately after starting a bankruptcy case. Often, a bankruptcy attorney will only charge a small fee for a chapter 7 case. The attorney may charge a portion of a fee upfront in a chapter 13 case and collect the rest of the fee over the next three to five years through your chapter 13 plan. Some people, who are not lawyers, may ask you to pay them to help you with a bankruptcy case. A bankruptcy petition preparer, paralegal, out-of-state service, or internet service may not obtain for you all of the benefits that a bankruptcy attorney can provide. While they can help with putting together your documents, these services cannot provide the additional support necessary to complete a case and are prohibited from providing legal advice.
Below are a couple of options for obtaining legal help:
- Free Representation. If you meet certain income qualifications, you may be able to receive free legal representation. Contact South Carolina Legal Services for more information at 1-888-346-5592 or find out more here.
- Contact the Court. The Clerk’s Office cannot provide legal advice but may be able to assist you in connecting with an attorney in your area who practices before the bankruptcy court. Call 803-765-5436 for more information.
- Make an Appointment for Bankruptcy Ask-a-Lawyer. The Court in conjunction with the S.C. Bar operates a monthly Ask-A-Lawyer program. The program allows you to speak with a lawyer by telephone for free about bankruptcy. Call 803-765-5045 to make an appointment to speak with a bankruptcy lawyer or click here to learn more about the dates of the program.
- Email for Help. The South Carolina Bar provides free legal advice by email for persons below a certain income level. Visit "Talk to a Lawyer for Free" for more information.
Receive a Lawyer Referral. The South Carolina Bar maintains a list of lawyers in your area willing to meet with you for a small fee. Call the Bar’s referral service at 1-800-868-2284 to learn more.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Local Rules, Operating Orders, and Chambers Guidelines. The procedures in these rules, orders, and guidelines are in addition to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the Bankruptcy Code. They provide information about local requirements.
- Reaffirmation Information Packet. In a chapter 7 case, you may want to keep certain property by continuing to pay the lien against the property. This is called reaffirming a debt. This packet provides further information about the process.
- Electronic Notice. You will receive notices from the Court by mail but you can choose to get these notices to your email address. Electronic notice will provide you with fast and free one time access to documents sent to you by the Court. Other parties in the case must continue to serve you by mail with documents they file. Click here to learn more and complete the form to receive electronic notice.
- Redaction of Privacy Information. If you or someone in your case files a document that contains your full social security number, account number, date of birth, or the names of your children, you can ask that the Court hide this protected information. Applicable forms are found here.
- MyMoney.Gov. This website provides financial literacy information to help you learn how to make the most of your earnings and borrow responsibly.
The Court’s website has different sections that may be helpful in learning more about bankruptcy and completing your case. You may want to review the section and the information below for a more in depth look at the process.
Some debtors have paid companies thousands of dollars for failed loan modifications where such money could have been used to retain a bankruptcy attorney and repay creditors. The Office of the Comptroller of Currency has issued the following Consumer Advisory containing ten warning signs that a loan modification company may be scamming you:
1. “Pay us $1,000, and we’ll save your home.”
Some legitimate housing counselors may charge small fees, but fees that amount to thousands of dollars are likely a sign of potential fraud — especially if they are charged up-front, before the “counselor” has done any work for you. Be wary of companies that require you to provide a cashier’s check or wire transfer before they take any action on your behalf.
2. “I guarantee I will save your home – trust me.”
Beware of guarantees that a person or company can stop foreclosure and allow you to remain in your house. Unrealistic promises are a sign that the person making them will not consider your particular circumstances and is unlikely to provide services that will actually help you.
3. “Sign over your home, and we’ll let you stay in it.”
Be very suspicious if someone offers to pay your mortgage and rent your home back to you in exchange for transferring title to your home. Signing over the deed to another person gives that person the power to evict you, raise your rent, or sell the house. Although you will no longer own your home, you still will be legally responsible for paying the mortgage on it.
4. “Stop paying your mortgage.”
Do not trust anyone who tells you to stop making payments to your lender and servicer, even if that person says it will be done for you.
5. “If your lender calls, don’t talk to them.”
Your lender should be your first point of contact for negotiating a repayment plan, modification, or short sale. It is vital to your interests to stay in close communication with your lender and servicer, so they understand your circumstances.
6. “Your lender never had the legal authority to make a loan.”
Do not listen to anyone who claims that “secret laws” or “secret information” will be used to eliminate your debt and have your mortgage contract declared invalid. These scammers use sham legal arguments to claim that you are not obligated to pay your mortgage. These arguments don’t work.
7. “Just sign this now; we’ll fill in the blanks later.”
Take the time to read and understand anything you sign. Never let anyone else fill out paperwork for you. Don’t let anyone pressure you into signing anything that you don’t agree with or understand.
8. “Call 1-800-Fed-Loan.”
This may be a scam. Some companies trick borrowers into believing that they are affiliated with or are approved by the government or tell you that you must pay them high fees to qualify for government loan modification programs. Keep in mind that you do not have to pay to participate in legitimate government programs. All you need to do is contact your lender to find out if you qualify.
9. “File for bankruptcy and keep your home.”
Filing bankruptcy only temporarily stops foreclosure. If your mortgage payments are not made, the bankruptcy court will eventually allow your lender to foreclose on your home. Be aware that some scammers will file bankruptcy in your name, without your knowledge, to temporarily stop foreclosure and make it seem as though they have negotiated a new payment agreement with your lender.
10. “Why haven’t you replied to our offer? Do you want to live on the streets?"
High-pressure tactics signal trouble. If someone continually contacts you and pressures you to work with them to stop foreclosure, do not work with that person. Legitimate housing counselors do not conduct business that way.
Beware of loan modification companies who provide legal advice and advise you to file bankruptcy or not to file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy has helped many debtors save their home and a bankruptcy attorney should be consulted before making a decision about whether bankruptcy is appropriate for you.
If you believe you have been a victim of a mortgage modification scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357.
Only an attorney is authorized to give you legal advice regarding bankruptcy. Non-attorneys may act as “petition preparers” but these individuals are not authorized to give legal advice. Their role is strictly that of a typing service transcribing for a minimal fee the information a client provides.
• For example, petition prepares cannot:
1. Make suggestions regarding what papers are legally appropriate;
2. Advise you regarding what is legally required when a form elicits information from you;
3. Explain the meaning of a particular statutory provision or rule;
4. Provide advice on the best procedure to accomplish a particular goal;
5. Explain the result of taking or not taking action in a case; or
6. Explain who should receive proper notice or service.
• Beware of petition preparers who:
1. Help you complete your paperwork but who will not sign the bankruptcy petition with you. Petition preparers must sign in a designated area on the third page of a bankruptcy petition. Courts have banned certain individuals from being petition preparers because they have engaged in conduct harmful to debtors. An individual who will not sign the petition with you, is not only violating the Bankruptcy Code but may be someone who has previously engaged in harmful and fraudulent conduct against individuals similar to you.
2. Charge a large fee for bankruptcy forms. Most of the required forms in a bankruptcy case are available free of charge through the Court’s website. The Clerk’s Office can also provide the forms for a minimum charge.
3. Charge a large fee for the services they provide. Because the services a petition preparer can provide are very limited, the fee charged should be minimal. Attorney representation in a chapter 7 case can often be obtained for a minimum fee and the majority of an attorney’s fee in a chapter 13 case can often be paid over the course of the case, both of which negate against the need for petition preparers.
4. Provide legal advice. Attorneys are licensed by the bar to protect the public. Unlicensed individuals cannot provide you with complete and competent advice and may harm those who they may intend to help.
If you have been harmed by a petition preparer, please contact the United States Trustee at 803-765-5250
Loan and mortgage modification may be an effective way to restructure your payments and to retain your home. Unfortunately, a number of companies have harmed individuals through illicit practices. The Federal Trade Commission has identified the following popular scams:
• Phony Counseling or Phantom Help
The scam artist tells you that he can negotiate a deal with your lender to save your house if you pay a fee first. You may be told not to contact your lender, lawyer, or credit counselor, and to let the scam artist handle all the details. Once you pay the fee, the scam artist takes off with your money.
Sometimes, the scam artist insists that you make all mortgage payments directly to him while he negotiates with the lender. In this instance, the scammer may collect a few months of payments before disappearing.
You think you’re signing documents for a new loan to make your existing mortgage current. This is a trick: you’ve signed documents that surrender the title of your house to the scam artist in exchange for a “rescue” loan.
• Rent-to-Buy Scheme
You’re told to surrender the title as part of a deal that allows you to remain in your home as a renter, and to buy it back during the next few years. You may be told that surrendering the title will permit a borrower with a better credit rating to secure new financing – and prevent the loss of the home. But the terms of these deals usually are so burdensome that buying back your home becomes impossible. You lose the home, and the scam artist walks off with all or most of your home’s equity. Worse yet, when the new borrower defaults on the loan, you’re evicted.
In a variation, the scam artist raises the rent over time to the point that the former homeowner can’t afford it. After missing several rent payments, the renter – the former homeowner – is evicted, leaving the “rescuer” free to sell the house.
In a similar equity-skimming situation, the scam artist offers to find a buyer for your home, but only if you sign over the deed and move out. The scam artist promises to pay you a portion of the profit when the home sells. Once you transfer the deed, the scam artist simply rents out the home and pockets the proceeds while your lender proceeds with the foreclosure. In the end, you lose your home – and you’re still responsible for the unpaid mortgage. That’s because transferring the deed does nothing to transfer your mortgage obligation.
Fraudulent foreclosure “rescue” professionals use half truths and outright lies to sell services that promise relief and then fail to deliver.
• Bankruptcy Foreclosure
The scam artist may promise to negotiate with your lender or to get refinancing on your behalf if you pay a fee up front. Instead of contacting your lender or refinancing your loan, the scam artist pockets the fee and files a bankruptcy case in your name – sometimes without your knowledge.
• Where to Find Legitimate Help
A bankruptcy attorney can also review your financial situation and advise you about whether bankruptcy is appropriate for you. Information about finding a local bankruptcy attorney is available on the Court’s webpage.
If you believe you have been a victim of a mortgage modification scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-922-1594. More information for homeowners and consumers is available at http://www.ftc.gov/.