A bankruptcy petition preparer is defined as “a person other than an attorney or an employee of an attorney, who prepares, for a fee, a document for filing by the debtor in the United States Bankruptcy Court.” Anyone other than a lawyer can be a petition preparer. There are no specified criteria for someone to become a petition preparer, and there are no restrictions such as an age limit, educational qualifications or experience requirements. There are no tests to clear and no mandatory background checks either.
Limitations of the Bankruptcy Petition Preparer
A petition preparer is not qualified to give any legal advice and cannot advise the client on which chapter to file under. He cannot use the word ‘legal’ or any related term to describe or advertise his services.
He cannot comment on how the petitioner should respond to any questions in the bankruptcy forms or any exemptions that may be available to the debtor. The petition preparer is not permitted to give advice on bankruptcy procedures and rights, and cannot collect any bankruptcy filing or court fees from or on behalf of the petitioner. This has to be done by the debtors themselves.
Bankruptcy Petition Preparer Fees
A petition preparer must draw up a written contract outlining his services and fees. The fees that the petition preparer charges cannot be more than those specified by
the US Supreme Court or the US Judicial Conference, which can range somewhere between $100 to $200. This is inclusive of miscellaneous expenses such as photocopying and courier services. This does not include the court fees and filing fees. Any violations of the fee limits by the petition preparer can attract a fine of $500. In extreme cases, the fine may be triple this amount.
The bankruptcy petition preparer must provide a copy of the guidelines related to bankruptcy to the debtor, along with a notice identifying himself and his charges. The notice must be in simple language and should clearly indicate that the petition preparer is not a lawyer and is not licensed to practice law.
The petition preparer must also file a fee disclosure statement with the court indicating what he has charged you for the services rendered. He must also include his social security number or tax identification number (TIN) on all the documents that he prepares.
Seeking Legal Aid
Though a petition preparer is competent enough, he however does not possess the skills a qualified attorney has. You should entrust your bankruptcy filing to a petition preparer only if your attorney asks you to do so. Bypassing an attorney and relying on a petition preparer might be a bad move. Let an efficient bankruptcy attorney make the decisions on your behalf.