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Finding low-cost help to file bankruptcy

Dear Dr. Don,
I am a 44-year-old disabled woman (post polio) with one child. I receive SSI and SSD. I try to do everything on the little money we receive, but it is really hard to make ends meet and pay off these credit cards.

I know I have no one to blame but myself for my credit-card mess. The only thing that I can do now is file for bankruptcy. There is a company called "We The People" that I had planned to go to and file bankruptcy because they were affordable, until someone told me that for $199 all they do is give you the application and that I still had to do all of the footwork myself. It took me six months to save up for We The People, and I don't have any more money to pay a lawyer.

I am really confused about what to do and how to go about filing with little or no money. Can anyone tell me where I can go and who can I talk to for this help? I live in New York City and I am very limited with my traveling. (I am in a wheelchair.) If anyone knows of a place or a person that can help me for little or no money, please let me know.

Thank you so much for your understanding. -- Vernita Venue

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Dear Vernita,
While it's true that you don't have to use an attorney to file for bankruptcy, I don't suggest that you try to take on the task alone. Document preparation services, such as the We The People franchises you reference, use paralegals to help you draft the documents, but they do not serve as attorneys on your behalf.

The Better Business Bureau reliability report for the company's headquarters in Santa Barbara, Calif., doesn't show any unresolved complaints, but it does discuss governmental action against the company on two fronts. The government action included lawsuits filed by the United States Trustee Program and an Federal Trade Commission action. The lawsuits were filed in connection with the preparation of bankruptcy petitions. We The People changed ownership this spring and is now owned by Dollar Financial Corp.

I'd suggest another Better Business Bureau publication, "Finding a Lawyer (New York City)," to help you find low-cost or no-cost representation.

Plus, the U.S. Courts' Web site has a wealth of information including its publication, "Bankruptcy Basics," and a Bankruptcy forms manual.

The new bankruptcy code is now effective, and brings significant changes to the bankruptcy proceedings and paperwork. Filling out the forms accurately and completely is essential to a successful petition. Anything less and your case may be dismissed, wasting both your time and money.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Updated: Oct. 14, 2005
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