If you’re a New Yorker with debt problems, you may feel that you don’t have the money to hire a bankruptcy attorney. With creditors closing in, there may be a strong incentive to cut costs to the bone, and one way to accomplish this, you may think, is to hire a bankruptcy petition preparer. However, there are several reasons why hiring a petition preparer instead of a qualified bankruptcy attorney may actually work against you, as only a qualified bankruptcy attorney can advise you if bankruptcy is the best strategy in your specific circumstances.

The decision to file bankruptcy is a complicated one. It should be based upon a number of factors pertaining to your individual situation. Bankruptcy petition preparers are forbidden from providing any kind of legal advice. Lawyers, on the other hand, understand the legal ramifications of their clients’ circumstances, which can influence such things as how they advise clients, which chapter to file under or which exemptions to choose. These fundamental and critical issues are precisely what bankruptcy petitioners are barred from discussing with debtors. Because they aren’t lawyers, state bar authorities closely monitor petition preparers to ensure they aren’t engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

Bankruptcy attorneys are also knowledgeable about non-legal information that debtors need to know, even if they don’t ask, such as the tax implications of filing bankruptcy. In addition, bankruptcy lawyers have greater knowledge about keeping your confidential financial information safe.

The bankruptcy code devotes an entire section to bankruptcy petitioners, including remedies for when prepares make errors. Indeed, as far as the U.S. Trustees Office is concerned, all bankruptcy petition preparers are allowed to do is type up documents for a reasonable fee (which you could do yourself for free, if you want to risk making mistakes.)

Petition preparers aren’t the “lawyer-lite" that you’re meant to think they are. Filing bankruptcy is a serious step. Protect your rights by obtaining qualified legal counsel before making any decision on filing.