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Bankruptcy program offers help to some Ohio residents

Could technology change how people file bankruptcy in the future? One company thinks that it has created a program that just might.

Many people in some of the most economically-depressed areas of Ohio need help to stop the harassing phone calls and steady stream of bills after a lay off, illness or other problem has put them into serious debt.

Unfortunately for the 1,200 or so people from eight counties who sought assistance through Legal Aid in 2017, there wasn't enough help to go around. Legal Aid took on only 190 of the time-consuming cases. The rest were forced to go without the protections guaranteed by law until they could pull together the money for an attorney on their own.

This year, tech comes to the rescue. A nonprofit called Upsolve has offered software for testing to people in those eight counties that's designed to cut down how much time an attorney has to spend assisting each person with one's bankruptcy. What once took more than nine hours can be done in an hour and a half.

The software simplifies the entire bankruptcy process and shows people how to do most of the work themselves. In order to use the program, residents of the counties picked to test the program need to take certain steps:

  • Fill out forms to ensure they meet Legal Aid's financial eligibility requirements. The service is only available to people with low income.
  • If granted access to Upsolve, enter their financial information online. The software, working much like today's at-home tax programs, asks questions about debts, assets and income.
  • Submit digital copies of their proof of income. The software gets their credit reports and taxes. They also watch videos on bankruptcy filing.

A volunteer attorney will then review the paperwork and gives every person a packet they can use to file their bankruptcy with the correct court. Users of the program will have to represent themselves in bankruptcy court -- which might be too daunting a task for some.

Ultimately, the program certainly won't negate the need for legal advice when filing for bankruptcy for many people, but it will help more of those people who have simple bankruptcies and no money to afford legal fees.

Source: Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, "Can't afford to file for bankruptcy? A pilot program can help," Amanda Garrett, Jan. 20, 2018

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