I have a lot of debt and I want to file for bankruptcy, but I have a concern. I know the newspaper publishes public record notices—will my bankruptcy case filing show up there? I don't want anyone I work or socialize with to stumble across my bankruptcy filing.
It's important to understand that everything filed in a bankruptcy case is a matter of public record (except confidential information, such as a Social Security number). So technically, your bankruptcy filing would be available for viewing by anyone willing to go through the steps to see it. But, most people wouldn't bother. Here's why.
After filling out bankruptcy paperwork, your bankruptcy petition and schedules get filed in the bankruptcy court and the clerk uploads them into the Pacer system used by the Federal courts to store and access court documents. Everyone with Pacer access can search the system using various queries—including a name—to find and view bankruptcy filings and other legal documents.
Even though accessing Pacer isn't tricky, you need a password to do so—and few people other than bankruptcy attorneys need to use the system regularly enough to warrant getting a password. (You can get a password by registering online. The password allows you to search the records in a particular jurisdiction or to use the Pacer Case Locator to find a case anywhere in the system.)
Even so, it's unlikely that a friend or coworker would inadvertently stumble upon your bankruptcy case. Not only would someone need to suspect that you filed, but that person's curiosity would have to be strong enough that they'd be willing to spend time getting a password and becoming familiar with Pacer's search features.
Keep in mind, however, that a few smaller jurisdictions publish bankruptcy filing notices online. And it's possible that a few might publish filings in the local newspaper, too.
But such practices aren't widespread—and likely not happening in larger jurisdictions where the filing volume would make doing so impractical. It would also be relatively simple to schedule a consultation with a local bankruptcy attorney to find out. You could discuss both your case and the publication practices in your district.
Or, another way to put your fears at rest would be to call the clerk and ask about the publishing practices in your area. You can find the court's phone number by taking these steps:
(If you're ready to file but not sure which bankruptcy chapter would be best for you, start by reading What Are the Differences Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?)