Under the Bankruptcy Act of 2005, anyone who gives bankruptcy advice is now called a "Debt
Relief Agency", and must include specific language stating that they are a debt relief agency and they assist people with
filing bankruptcy cases. Even people who don't actually file bankruptcy cases for people may be included in the definition
of a Debt Relief Agency. This language is required to be included in any advertisements or on anything that might be a way
for new clients to find them. Additionally, certain Notices and Disclosures are required to be given to all potential assisted
persons (debtors) within a few days of the first advice.
There is no test you have to take to become a Debt Relief Agency and the definition isn't clear. You just are one if you
give any advise about bankruptcy. One thing that I have noticed is that if you speak to someone about bankruptcy and
you don't see the required language, you can be sure that the person is probably not even aware of the very basics of the
bankruptcy laws. (Now if you do see it, it doesn't mean they are knowledgeable - just that they know they have to use the
There is some question about whether a lawyer is a Debt Relief Agent at all, or whether or not all the requirements for Debt
Relief Agents can be held against lawyers.
If lawyers are Debt Relief Agents, then all bankruptcy lawyers are Debt Relief Agents. However, not all Debt Relief Agents
are lawyers so this designation can be misleading. Someone might be a Debt Relief Agency under the law, but they might not
have any qualifications to provide advise about bankruptcy nor can they help someone file for bankruptcy.
Be sure you know who you are speaking to, what their qualifications are, and that you know they are skilled in their field.
There is no test or course you have to pass to be a "Federal Debt Relief Agent." Remember, only a lawyer can give legal
To require a lawyer to call themselves a Debt Relief Agent is, in my opinion, a very silly rule that was put into the new
law. As a bankruptcy attorney with over 20 years experience concentrating in bankruptcy law, I resent the government lumping
me into a category that implies that a non-qualified/non-lawyer does the same thing that I do.
The only reasons I can think of for Congress requiring this language is that they thought that people were being tricked
into bankruptcy and wanted all advertisements to be clear on the nature of services. Perhaps it was an issue but it was probably
wasn't involving a lawyer. Or maybe they just wanted to make it harder for people to find lawyers hoping it would cut down
on the number of bankruptcy cases filed. I don't really know, but it seems stupid to me.
I have never encountered anyone who was tricked into bankruptcy, at least not by an ethical lawyer. I, and the lawyers
I know, usually prominently display "Bankruptcy" as a service we provide and we are clear about what we are doing for the
I have known people who were tricked into bankruptcy, most often by non-lawyers in scams involving mortgages. But the
people who tricked debtors into bankruptcy aren't following the laws to begin with and they probably aren't using the required
Debt Relief Agency language either. I have seen instances where cases were filed by companies or individuals who prepared
bankruptcy documents, and who said they were helping people try to stop foreclosures or settling their debts and the people
didn't really understand that they were filing bankruptcy. I have seen cases where the preparers even forged signatures so
the people didn't even know they had filed bankruptcy (The people that I met with needed to hire me to help fix the mess
the non-lawyers created, and for many there were problems that I just couldn't fix anymore.)
The main thing to be sure of is to pick your representation carefully. You want someone qualified to help you and who
will take the time to explain the law to you and be sure your questions are answered. Don't rely on the fact that they call
themselves a Debt Relief Agency because it doesn't mean very much.
It generally accepted under the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, anyone who gives bankruptcy advice of any
kind must include the language that the are a Debt Relief Agent in all advertisements, and this can include petition preparers,
some Credit Counselors (Debt Management Programs), or even non-bankruptcy lawyers who mention bankruptcy, ministers and financial
counselors! People with no experience must include the language too, so don't rely on the title to indicate that they know
what they are doing. My guess is that the majority of people complying with this law are the bankruptcy lawyers who are following
all the rules anyway, and that many of the people who should comply and give the Debt Relief Agency notifications are not
A few lawsuits have been filed by lawyers challenging certain of the Debt Relief Agency requirements, but until the law
is settled many bankruptcy lawyers are complying with the Debt Relief Agency provisions. I
may be required to call myself a Debt Relief Agency, but what I really am is a lawyer who has concentrated in bankruptcy law
since 1988! And not every Debt Relief Agency can say that.
Why Are Bankruptcies On The Rise?