Before Filing for Bankruptcy
Before Filing For Bankruptcy FAQ List
Impact of Filing for Bankruptcy
Why File for Bankruptcy?
a) An individual generally files for bankruptcy in order to obtain one or more of the following benefits:
(1) have certain debts discharged completely or sort out which debts are dischargeable from those debts which will still be owed;
(2) receive extra time to pay debts;
(3) receive a break from creditor calls while debt relief is arranged;
(4) have the assistance of a trustee to pursue lawsuits or other claims that the debtor owns so that the money obtained can be used to pay creditors; or
(5) Eliminate certain judgment liens if those liens impair an exemption.
b) A business files for bankruptcy to obtain similar benefits, including the possibility of operating the business while debt relief is arranged. A business other than a sole proprietorship is not entitled to receive a discharge of debts in a chapter 7 case.
There are negative consequences of filing for bankruptcy, and these may outweigh the benefits. For example, a potential debtor may need to resolve one debt (such as a mortgage), but if the home does not have any equity, there may not be any benefit to filing for bankruptcy. It is highly recommended that an individual or business owner who is considering filing for bankruptcy consult with a bankruptcy attorney to learn how a bankruptcy may affect its financial situation.
Can I Still File for Bankruptcy Under the New Law?
The new bankruptcy laws went into effect on October 17, 2005. These laws do not prevent a debtor from filing bankruptcy, though the new bankruptcy laws contain some differences.
The main procedural difference is in the information that a debtor must provide to the bankruptcy court in order to open a bankruptcy case and to obtain a discharge.
Other differences include:
(1) how long an individual must wait to obtain a discharge if the debtor had a prior bankruptcy;
(2) the income level required in order to obtain a discharge in a chapter 7 case;
(3) how long the Automatic Stay lasts; or
(4) the procedure for reaffirming a debt on an automobile or a credit card.
It is highly recommended that an individual or business owner consult with a bankruptcy attorney to learn how the changes in bankruptcy laws may impact the particular financial situation.
What Does A Debtor Have to Do After Starting a Bankruptcy Case?
After starting a bankruptcy case, a debtor must stay closely involved with all activities in a bankruptcy case until a discharge is received AND the bankruptcy case is closed. In some ways, bankruptcy is like a deal that Congress has made with a debtor. If a debtor follows the bankruptcy rules and meets certain financial tests, a debtor obtains debt relief. But if a debtor does not pay attention to the bankruptcy case and does not follow the bankruptcy rules, rights will be lost, benefits delayed, and if the bankruptcy case is closed without a discharge being entered, a debtor may have to pay extra to reopen the bankruptcy case to achieve the debt relief desired. In some situations a bankruptcy case may be dismissed. Some ways that a debtor must remain involved with the bankruptcy case are:
a) Read all Mail Sent by the Court and Other Parties Related to the Bankruptcy Case – Pay close attention to all information sent by the court because a good way for a debtor to protect its rights is by staying informed about the bankruptcy case. For example:
1) The court may notify a debtor that certain forms were not filed, and there will be a deadline for filing the forms to avoid dismissal of the case. Generally all information is required to be filed no later than 14 days after a bankruptcy case was opened, and if not filed, the bankruptcy case may be dismissed with an order barring the debtor from filing again for a specific period of time (i.e., 180 days or more).
(2) A creditor may file a lawsuit to have its debt deemed non-dischargeable, and it is imperative that the complaint be answered within thirty (30) days of a summons being issued by the court.
For more information about lawsuits in bankruptcy cases, see FAQ After Filing #18.
(3) A creditor may file a motion asking the judge to allow the creditor to take action against the debtor. The written notice of motion will indicate the deadline for filing a written response, usually fourteen (14) days before the hearing. For more information about motions, see FAQ After Filing #15.
b) Notify the court of any change in mailing address — If a debtor has a change of mailing address, it is the debtor’s responsibility to promptly file a change of address form so that the clerk’s office, trustee, and creditors know where to mail documents to the debtor. Click here for the Change of Address form. The debtor should also mail a copy of the change of address form to the trustee, U.S. Trustee, and all creditors.
c) Understand the Concept of Due Process for all Parties – Due Process means that all parties must have the opportunity to prepare for the court hearing before the court makes a ruling. To prepare for a court hearing, a party must have time to prepare and review issues so that the party can determine the right action to take or which arguments to address. Bankruptcy court is not like television court programs. It is not appropriate to surprise the judge or surprise the trustee or creditor by showing up at a hearing with new witnesses or new evidence. The court only becomes involved when there are two sides that need a resolution. This means that the court AND the other party must be allowed to prepare for a court hearing. Therefore:
(1) A debtor must be presented with evidence in time to respond with its own evidence;
(2) A trustee or creditor must be presented with evidence in time to respond with its own evidence; and
(3) The court must be provided with evidence from all parties far enough in advance of a court hearing so that the court can properly review and consider all arguments and evidence.
d) Follow all Deadlines for Filing Documents and Submitting Evidence – When court hearings are scheduled or when the clerk’s office is preparing to take action, a debtor will be sent a notice by the court, the trustee, or a creditor. The notice will clearly state the deadline for completing the action required, such as filing a document with the court, filing a written response to a motion, and/or mailing the response to the trustee or creditor. Therefore, pay close attention to deadlines for filing documents, deadlines for filing evidence to support a legal argument, and making court appearances because there may be serious financial consequences.
(1) If there is a deadline for filing a document or other evidence (and serving it on the opposing party), that deadline is the date the document must be received by the court. If a debtor mails a document to the court, generally allow at least three business days so that it is timely received. The postmark date does not count. Generally, documents and evidence must be filed with the court AND mailed to the other party fourteen (14) days before a hearing.
(2) Judges will generally not allow anyone to argue facts and the law at a hearing if the arguments were not written and timely filed and served on the opposing party.
(3) Following deadlines gives the opposing party confidence that the debtor is involved and is acting responsibly and participating in the process. Communication is a good way to get the opposing party to be patient and work collaboratively.
e) Promptly Communicate With Attorney – If a debtor has an attorney, and the attorney contacts the debtor about a court date or other papers that need to be filed, the debtor should call the attorney immediately. Do not wait until the last minute, as there are court deadlines that must be complied with, and it is not reasonable to expect the attorney to meet the deadline without a debtor’s cooperation and information. Just because a debtor has an attorney does not mean that the court will reset hearing dates or give extra time to submit evidence and file documents. Failure to meet court deadlines or be present at court hearings can result in a bankruptcy case being dismissed or in the court granting a motion in favor of a creditor, EVEN IF A DEBTOR HAS AN ATTORNEY.
f) Attend the Mandatory 341(a) Meeting of Creditors – Within thirty (30) to forty-five (45) days after a bankruptcy case is filed, the debtor must show up at the Office of the United States Trustee so that a trustee and creditors can ask questions about the debtor’s financial situation. This meeting is required under section 341(a) of the Bankruptcy Code and is called a 341(a) Meeting of Creditors. The clerk’s office mails a notice that contains the date, time, and location of the 341(a) Meeting.
g) Attend all Court Hearings – Most court hearings are scheduled because a trustee or creditor filed a motion. If the court sets a hearing date to rule on a motion, the debtor should timely respond to the motion AND attend the hearing, regardless of whether or not the debtor has an attorney. For information about court hearings on motions, see FAQ After Filing #16.
(1) At a court hearing, the judge generally will explain the ruling to a debtor, and if the debtor has filed a written motion or response, the judge will allow the debtor to state the debtor’s position on the motion.
(2) If a debtor has an attorney, this is an excellent time to talk with the attorney before and after the court hearing. Often a debtor has no defense to the motion. However, attending a court hearing is a good method for understanding the judge’s ruling.
(3) Often a debtor is not represented by an attorney, and therefore the debtor may need to talk with the judge to understand the impact of a ruling. This is important because often a judge’s ruling will be made in a simple order that either “denies” or “grants” a motion, without any other explanation or reasoning. A debtor will NOT be able to obtain an explanation by calling the judge’s staff, calling clerk’s office staff, or writing a letter to the judge.
h) Be Honest– Never hide information from the court or trustee and never be untruthful about details of financial condition. The bankruptcy case trustee, U.S. Trustee, or other parties can ask the court to deny a discharge of debts if a debtor provides false information. This may result in the loss of property and dismissal of a bankruptcy case without a discharge and loss of the bankruptcy case filing fee. The debtor may have transferred or given property to a friend or relative before or after the bankruptcy case was filed, and the court or trustee has the right to examine such transactions. Do not hide this information, as the bankruptcy court process is designed to benefit all creditors in a certain priority and plan for fairness. Sometimes property must be returned to the bankruptcy estate so that it can be distributed in accordance with these rules, and hiding information can be considered bankruptcy fraud and may result in criminal prosecution
Does Every Debtor Get a Discharge of Every Debt?
A discharge is a court order that forgives a debtor of certain specific debts. The discharge order prohibits a creditor from attempting to collect from a debtor a debt that has been discharged. However, not all debts are dischargeable. Parties can file written requests (adversary complaints) to have the court determine if a debt is dischargeable.
a) Creditor, Trustee, or U.S. Trustee Asks the Court to Determine if There is a Discharge
(1) Some unsecured debts are not dischargeable because Congress has determined they are types of debts that should not be discharged because of public policy reasons. These debts are listed in Section 523 of the Bankruptcy Code and usually require that a debtor prove the debt should not be discharged. Examples are:
(A) spousal and child support obligations;
(B) certain tax debts;
(C) most educational loans;
(D) debts related to injuries or death caused by driving while intoxicated; and
(E) debts arising from fraudulent conduct.
(2) It is also possible for a debtor to be denied a discharge of all unsecured debts if a debtor has not been honest, forthcoming, or cooperative in the bankruptcy case. These scenarios are listed in Section 727 of the Bankruptcy Code and usually involve the U.S. Trustee, a trustee, or a creditor filing a lawsuit in a chapter 7 bankruptcy case to determine that the debtor should be totally denied a discharge.
(3) Debts that are secured by real or personal property are not dischargeable. For example, a creditor may be able to seize property even after a discharge is granted because the debtor has not kept up with payments. Even though the creditor may not collect on the unsecured portion of the debt, the property can still be foreclosed upon (residence, automobile, etc.).
b) Debtor asks the court to determine if a debt can be discharged — Some creditors have obtained court judgments, and then filed a “lien” which can be used to sell property of the debtor. In some situations, a debtor may file a motion asking the court to remove such a lien. For information about motions, see FAQ After Filing #15. Also, a debtor may file an adversary proceeding asking the court to rule that other debts are dischargeable. For information about lawsuits in bankruptcy cases, see FAQ After Filing #18.
If I had a Prior Bankruptcy, How Soon Can I get Another Discharge?
If this is not a debtor’s first bankruptcy case and the debtor received a discharge of any debts in a prior case within the last eight years, the debtor may not be entitled to a discharge in the current bankruptcy case. It depends upon the chapter number of the prior bankruptcy case, the chapter number of the current bankruptcy case, and the number of years that elapsed between the date that a prior bankruptcy case was filed and the date that the current bankruptcy case was filed. It is important to consult a bankruptcy attorney and to refer to Section 727(a) and Section 1328(f) of the Bankruptcy Code. General rules:
a) Prior bankruptcy = Chapter 7 or 11, and Current bankruptcy = Chapter 7:
8 years after date that the prior bankruptcy case was filed – Bankruptcy Code Section 727(a)(8)
b) Prior bankruptcy = Chapter 7 Current bankruptcy = Chapter 13:
4 years after date that prior bankruptcy case was filed – Bankruptcy Code Section 1328(f)(1)
c) Prior bankruptcy = Chapter 13 Current bankruptcy = Chapter 7:
* No mandatory waiting period if 100% of claims were paid in the prior Chapter 13 bankruptcy –
Bankruptcy Code Section 727(a)(9)(A)
* No mandatory waiting period if 70% of claims were paid in the prior Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the Chapter 13 Plan was proposed in good faith and was the debtor’s best effort – Bankruptcy Code
* 6 years after date that prior bankruptcy case was filed, if less than 70% (and up to 100%) of claims were not paid in the prior Chapter 13 bankruptcy case – Bankruptcy Code Section 727(a)(9)
d) Prior bankruptcy = Chapter 13 Current bankruptcy = Chapter 13:
2 years after date that the prior bankruptcy case was filed – Bankruptcy Code Section 1328(f)(2)
Can I Choose to Keep Property by Entering into a Reaffirmation Agreement?
An individual debtor can choose to keep certain personal property (such as an automobile) by entering into a Reaffirmation Agreement and having the Reaffirmation Agreement approved by the court. A Reaffirmation Agreement turns a debt that would be discharged into a debt that will not be discharged. This is a decision that should rarely be made and should only be done if the creditor is giving up something in exchange, such as a reduction in loan amount or interest. The Reaffirmation Agreement can be entered into after the bankruptcy case is filed, and there are very detailed and specific requirements which must be complied with. Click here for instructions on preparing and filing a Reaffirmation Agreement and for obtaining forms that must be used to enter into a Reaffirmation Agreement.
Court Hearing Not Required – It is not necessary for the bankruptcy judge to approve a Reaffirmation Agreement if a debtor is represented by an attorney during negotiations for the Reaffirmation Agreement and the attorney signs all appropriate sections of the Reaffirmation Agreement.
Court Hearing Required – A bankruptcy judge must review a Reaffirmation Agreement during a court hearing if the debtor is not represented by an attorney during negotiations for the Reaffirmation Agreement. The debtor must attend the court hearing so that the bankruptcy judge can ask questions of the debtor and examine the Reaffirmation Agreement and make sure that it is in the best interest of the debtor to approve the Reaffirmation Agreement. The judge may decide to disapprove the Reaffirmation Agreement even if the debtor has signed it.
How Much Does it Cost to File for Bankruptcy?
Filing Fees to Start a Bankruptcy Case must be paid at the time a Bankruptcy Petition Package is filed:
Chapter 7 Petition Package = $306.00.
Chapter 13 Petition Package = $281.00.
Chapter 11 Petition Package = $1,046.00.
Click here for a list of fees that apply when other documents are filed.
What if I Cannot Afford the Fee to File for Bankruptcy?
In some situations, the court may approve a filing fee to be paid in installments or waived completely. Note that if an installment payment plan is approved, the payment schedule must be complied with or the bankruptcy case may be dismissed without the debtor obtaining a discharge of debts.
Chapter 13 Petition Package – In chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, it is generally not allowed to have a filing fee waived or to pay in installments. The purpose of chapter 13 is to keep current with payments, and therefore if the filing fee is not affordable, the court will question a debtor’s ability to succeed in a chapter 13 case.
Chapter 11 Petition Package – In chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, fee waivers or installment payments usually are not allowed.
Chapter 7 Petition Package - If a debtor files a chapter 7 bankruptcy case and the debtor’s income is less than 150% above the federal H.H.S Poverty Guidelines (which varies depending on your family size), the court may waive the filing fee completely or approve payments in installments. The debtor must make a written request to the court and submit the request at the clerk’s office intake window at the time the bankruptcy petition is filed. The intake staff will contact the judge to whom the bankruptcy case is assigned, and the judge will make a decision as soon as is possible. This may require the debtor to wait at the courthouse for a few hours if the judge is not available right away, or the debtor may have to return on the next day that the court is open. Even if the court does not waive the filing fee, the court may allow a debtor to pay the filing fee in installments.
Click here to download the proper Fee Installments and Waiver Application.
What is the Automatic Stay, and does it Protect a Debtor from all Creditors?
Automatic Stay — Immediately after a bankruptcy case is filed, an injunction (called the “Automatic Stay”) is generally imposed against certain creditors who want to start or continue taking action against a debtor or the debtor’s property. Bankruptcy Code Section 362 discusses the Automatic Stay.
Protection for the Debtor – It is important to read relevant statutes from the Bankruptcy Code and/or to consult with a competent bankruptcy attorney about the Automatic Stay because in some situations there is no Automatic Stay at all, or there is only an Automatic Stay if the debtor obtains a court order which imposes the Automatic Stay. There are many different time frames and deadlines, and creditors (such as child support services) may still take action to collect from a debtor.
For information on Motions to Continue or Impose the Stay, see FAQ After Filing #13.
Creditors Obtaining Relief From the Automatic Stay — If a creditor properly files and serves a Motion for Relief from the Automatic Stay, and a bankruptcy judge grants the Motion, the Automatic Stay will either be removed or modified so that the creditor can resume collection efforts against the debtor.
For information on Motions for Relief from the Automatic Stay, see FAQ After Filing #12
Will Filing for Bankruptcy Stop an Eviction?
Depending on the facts, the Automatic Stay may or may not prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant that has filed bankruptcy. For information about the Automatic Stay, see FAQ Before Filing #9. Consult with a bankruptcy attorney for information on how a bankruptcy filing affects enforcement of an eviction proceeding
What is the Bankruptcy Code and do Other Rules Apply in Bankruptcy Cases?
Bankruptcy Code – The Bankruptcy Code is a collection of statutes that govern the rights and duties of individuals, businesses, trustees, and attorneys that are involved in a bankruptcy case. These statutes will often be cited in a bankruptcy case by parties who are discussing various rights and duties. The Bankruptcy Code is also called “Title 11 of the United States Code” or “11 U.S.C.”
A copy of the Bankruptcy Code is available in law libraries, or may be purchased from the Government Printing Office or some law bookstores.
Click here to read the Bankruptcy Code on the internet.
Bankruptcy Procedure- Procedural rules regarding bankruptcy cases are found in the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (“FRBP”) and Local Bankruptcy Rules for the Central District of California (LBR). Individual judges may also have their own procedures, forms and instructions.
Click here to read the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure.
Click here to read and download the Local Bankruptcy Rules.
Click here to read special procedures for individual bankruptcy judges.
Related Laws – Other laws of federal, state, or municipal governments may be applicable in a bankruptcy case because there are many situations that a debtor may be in at the time a bankruptcy case is filed. Examples are family law, contracts, real estate transactions, unsecured loans, taxes, medical situations, personal injury, etc. It is recommended to consult a bankruptcy attorney to discover which rules apply to the situation.
What do the Different Chapter Numbers of the Bankruptcy Code Mean?
The common chapters of the Bankruptcy Code are:
CHAPTER 7 – Chapter 7 refers to a “liquidation” bankruptcy and can be used by an individual to obtain a discharge of many debts without making payments in the future. It may also be used by a business that wishes to liquidate its business assets under the protection of the bankruptcy court.
A trustee is appointed to take control of certain asserts of the debtor and to sell or distribute these assets for the benefit of creditors. A trustee can also recover certain assets that have already been distributed and bring those assets back into the bankruptcy estate.
Creditors generally have the right to file “claims” which identify the amount of money owed and the documents supporting the claim. In some situations may be able to file a written request (motion) to the court for an order allowing the creditor to take back a residence, automobile, or other property.
CHAPTER 11 – Chapter 11 is often called the “reorganization chapter,” and it allows a corporation, partnership, or individual to reorganize property and debts without liquidating all assets. The basic goal is for a debtor to retain control of property and present a “Plan of Reorganization” for repaying creditors. If the creditors accept the Plan of Reorganization, and the court approves the plan, a debtor is able to reorganize personal, financial, or business affairs.
A trustee may be appointed if a motion is filed with the court and the court agrees that a trustee is needed to manage the affairs of the debtor.
Creditors have the right to file “claims” which identify the amount of money owed and the documents supporting the claim. The can also object to a debtor’s plan proposal, and in some situations file a written request (motion) for an order allowing the creditor to take back a residence, automobile, or other property.
CHAPTER 13 — Chapter 13 refers to reorganization of debts by an individual who has regular income and debts that are below certain statutory limits. A Chapter 13 debtor proposes a “Chapter 13 Plan” which proposes a repayment schedule. The plan essential identifies details for the debtor to retain control of property, keeping up with current debts, and repay at least some of the past due debts.
A trustee is appointed to monitor activity in the case and report to the court on whether or not the debtor is meeting obligations. If a debtor is not meeting obligations, the trustee or a creditor can ask the court to dismiss the bankruptcy case. If a debtor’s income rises, the trustee or a creditor can ask the court to increase the amounts paid to creditors.
Creditors have the right to file “claims” which identify the amount of money owed and the documents supporting the claim. The can also object to a debtor’s plan proposal, and in some situations file a written request (motion) for an order allowing the creditor to take back a residence, automobile, or other property.
Click here for additional information on the basics of bankruptcy law.
Credit Counseling and Personal Financial Management Classes
Is Credit Counseling different from Personal Financial Management?
An individual debtor must complete TWO DIFFERENT CLASSES to obtain a discharge. The names for these courses are: 1) Credit Counseling; and 2) Personal Financial Management. The courses are different in two ways: (a) When the class must be taken; and (b) What type of individual debtor must take the class. If a bankruptcy case is filed jointly, each spouse must take both classes. For information on notifying the court that each class has been completed, see FAQ Before Filing #15.
CREDIT COUNSELING, Before Filing For Bankruptcy – The Bankruptcy Code ordinarily requires an individual debtor (not a business debtor) to complete an approved course in Credit Counseling within 180 days before filing a bankruptcy case. Click here for a list of courses approved by the U.S. Trustee. The course can be completed in person, over the internet, or by telephone, and the credit counseling service will provide a certificate that the course was completed. For information on notifying the court that the class has been completed, see FAQ Before Filing #15.
PERSONAL FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT, Very Soon After Filing for Bankruptcy – In order to obtain a discharge of debts, an individual debtor (not a business debtor) must complete an approved course in Personal Financial Management within 60 days after the 341(a) Meeting of Creditors. Click here for a list of courses approved by the U.S. Trustee. The course can be completed in person, over the internet, or over the telephone, and the course provider will provide a Certificate of Completion. For information on notifying the court that the class has been completed, see FAQ Before Filing #16.
Does each Debtor get a Certificate of Completion for Both of These Classes?
Yes, the agency that provides the credit counseling service will provide a certificate that the course was completed, and the agency that provides the Personal Financial Management service will provide a certificate that the course was completed. If spouses file a joint bankruptcy case, both spouses must take each class and obtain their own separate Certificates of Completion for each class.
When do I File the Credit Counseling Certificate and Exhibit D?
Credit Counseling Certificate + Exhibit D – At the same time that a bankruptcy petition is filed, an
individual must fill out a document titled “Exhibit D” and file Exhibit D and the Certificate of Completion with the court. Click here for Exhibit D. Many judges will dismiss a bankruptcy case if an individual does not strictly comply with this rule. There are very few situations in which a bankruptcy case may go forward without a credit counseling class being completed. To avoid having a bankruptcy case dismissed, it is strongly recommended that an individual consult a bankruptcy attorney to understand the credit counseling requirements. Important rules are Bankruptcy Code Sections 109(h) and 521(b) and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure Rule 1007.
Do I File the Personal Financial Management Certificate?
Form B23 + Number of the Personal Financial Management Course Certificate – Within 45 days after the first 341(a) Meeting of Creditors, individuals must file a mandatory court form (Form 23/B23). Click here for Form 23. It is not necessary to file the Certificate of Completion. Instead, the debtor is required to insert the certificate number on Form B23, and a joint debtor must fill out and file a separate Form B23 with a separate certificate number. If an individual delays in doing this, the bankruptcy case will likely be closed (not dismissed) without a discharge of debts being granted. If the case is closed, an individual debtor will have to file a motion to reopen the bankruptcy case (and pay a substantial filing fee) and to extend the time to have Form B23 placed on the court docket and a discharge order entered. Important rules are Bankruptcy Code Sections 727(a)(11), 1141(d)(3), and 1328(g).
Preparing Documents to File a Bankruptcy Case
Are all Debtors and Creditors Required to Have an Attorney?
Business Debtor – A corporation, partnership, or unincorporated association may not file a bankruptcy petition or other court documents, or appear in court, without an attorney. See Local Bankruptcy Rule 2090-1(g)(1).
Individual Debtor or Creditor – An individual debtor or creditor is not required to have an attorney in order to file a bankruptcy petition, file other documents, or represent themselves at court hearings. This is true regardless of a chapter 7, chapter 11, or chapter 13 bankruptcy case. However, it is difficult for an individual to be aware of and protect all rights without the assistance of a competent bankruptcy attorney.
Can you Recommend a Good Attorney?
ttorneys — The bankruptcy court is prohibited from directing you to a particular attorney. However, click here for a list of local county bar associations and regional bankruptcy law groups.
Free or Low Cost Legal Assistance — An individual debtor who is unable to afford an attorney may qualify for free legal representation. Click here for a list of phone numbers for low cost and free legal assistance.
Friends or Bankruptcy Petition Preparers – The court often encounters debtors who cannot afford to pay an attorney to help them prepare bankruptcy forms. Sometimes a debtor pays a few hundred dollars to a “friend” to help file for bankruptcy. Often this is a mistake because there are many forms to fill out, many important deadlines, and many notices that a debtor will receive from the court. Often, this “friend” does not have access to the correct forms or gives bad advice to the debtor. Bad advice may be worse than waiting to file for bankruptcy because bad advice may result in a bankruptcy case getting dismissed. A debtor does not get a refund if the bankruptcy case is dismissed, and a debtor may not even get the relief that was hoped for.
It is recommended that a debtor spend time on the court’s website studying all of the required forms instead of relying on a person who may not be properly informed or educated in bankruptcy processes, or may not have the debtor’s best interest in mind. An individual who cannot afford an attorney may come to the court before filing for bankruptcy and obtain a list of phone numbers for low-cost or free bankruptcy assistance.
Click here for Debtor Assistance Project.
There are some legitimate non-attorney services that can provide help in filing for bankruptcy, but click here for contact information of the Office of the United States Trustee to find out if the service a debtor is considering is legitimate, as the service must comply with certain bankruptcy laws in order to be legitimate. Some bankruptcy petition preparation services have been penalized by the court for providing unauthorized services, including having the court order the service to stop their operations.
What are the Names of the Different Bankruptcy Forms?
Petition Package – This is a compilation of all forms required to start a particular chapter bankruptcy case.
Petition – The document called a “Petition” is the official request to open a bankruptcy case, and the Petition contains basic information about a debtor’s contact information, attorney, chapter number, and signature.
Other Forms – While a Petition opens a bankruptcy case, this is only the beginning of the process. Approximately thirty (30) more documents are required so that the court and trustee knows how to properly treat a debtor and the debtor’s financial situation:
These documents have various titles including: “Schedules (A to J),” “Exhibits (C and D)” and then a combination of other forms titled “Statements,” “Declarations,” “Summary,” “Disclosure,” “Verification,” “Notice,” “Debtor’s Certification,” “Plan” (chapter 13 only), and “Venue Disclosure” (chapter 11 only). It requires time and organization to fill out all of the forms and be educated on the bankruptcy process, so please budget enough time to gather the information and complete the petition package documents before you need to file a bankruptcy case.
Where are updated Bankruptcy Petition and Other Forms?
Court Website – Click here to read and download free copies of the petition package (a petition, schedules, statements, declarations and forms) for bankruptcy chapters 7, 11, and 13. The format of these documents is updated often, so please verify that you are using the latest version. Also, make sure to file all of the documents that pertain to the bankruptcy chapter you are filing (7, 11, or 13). Also, make sure that all papers are signed wherever a signature is called for.
Courthouse Filing Window – A package of the forms may also be purchased from the Clerk’s Office.
What Happens if the Wrong Schedule, Statement, Plan, or Other Form is Used?
It is a debtor’s duty to ensure that the correct version of a document is filed with the bankruptcy court. If a debtor discovers that the wrong version was filed, that debtor should fill out the correct version together with the court-approved Amendment Form, and file them both with the court. The Amendment Form will be listed separately on the electronic bankruptcy case docket and lets the trustee and creditors know that a new version of a form has been filed. Sometimes the court will send a notice to a debtor, which points out that an incorrect version of a form has been filed and sets the deadline to file the correct version.
Click here for a copy of an Amendment Form.
Can the Court Dismiss a Bankruptcy Case if All Forms are Not Filed?
Avoid Dismissal of a Bankruptcy Case – In order for a bankruptcy case to proceed, it is a debtor’s responsibility to provide the court with all information that is required by the law. If this information is not provided, a bankruptcy case may be dismissed without a debtor obtaining a discharge of debts. Click here to review the Petition Forms page for a complete list of all forms required.
At the beginning of a bankruptcy case, if all of the required information is not filed with the court, the clerk’s office will usually mail to the debtor a notice that identifies which documents or signatures are missing. The bankruptcy case will be dismissed without a hearing if this information is not provided within 14 days after a bankruptcy case is filed, unless permission is obtained from a judge to extend this deadline. Some items are due no later than 45 days after the bankruptcy case is filed, and after the 45-day period the court may dismiss a bankruptcy case without a hearing. In some cases, the court will prohibit a debtor from filing another bankruptcy case for 180 days or more.
How can I Protect My Personal Identification in Bankruptcy?
Click here to review a full copy of the policy.
(1) Social Security Numbers: All 9 digits of the SSN – A debtor is required to submit a Statement of Social Security Number(s) (Form B21) containing the full nine-digit SSN at the time a petition is filed. The bankruptcy court clerk’s office staff will use the information to open a bankruptcy case docket, but the actual Form B21 will not become part of the docket that is viewable by the public. Last 4 digits only – For all other documents in which an individual’s SSN must be included, ONLY insert the last four digits of the SSN. If a debtor needs to amend a social security number, 3 forms must be filed. Click here to download the forms for Amending a Social Security Number.
(2) Financial Account Numbers: If financial account numbers are relevant, only the last four digits of these numbers should be used.
(3) Dates of Birth: If an individual’s date of birth must be included in a document, only the year should be used.
c) Excluding Names of Minor Children — If the name of a minor child must be mentioned in a document, only the initials of that child should be used.
Filing Documents to Open a Bankruptcy Case
Who is Authorized to File Documents Electronically?
The court uses a system called “CM/ECF” for attorneys (and some other organizations that file lots of documents) to electronically file, view and copy bankruptcy case documents. Only attorneys who have registered with a court and been provided with a CM/ECF password are entitled to file documents electronically.
For information about CM/ECF training and Administrative Procedures, see FAQ General Information #20.
Click here for the CM/ECF Home Page to register for training.
How Many Copies of a Bankruptcy Petition Package Must be Filed?
FOR DOCUMENTS FILED AT THE COURTHOUSE OR MAILED TO THE COURTHOUSE
Bankruptcy Petition Packages
* Chapter 7 petition and schedules: Original only.
* Chapter 11 petition and schedules: Original only.
* Chapter 13 petition and schedules: Original only.
All subsequent documents: The original document and one copy.
If a debtor or party wishes to have a “filed” stamped copy of the petition or other document, then one additional copy is required.
To have the court mail a “filed” stamped copy back to your address, a self-addressed, stamped envelope must be submitted with the extra copy with sufficient postage to cover the cost of mailing the “filed” copy.
FOR DOCUMENTS FILED USING CM/ECF – For bankruptcy petition packages and other documents that are filed using CM/ECF, one copy of that document must also be delivered the same day to the intake section of the clerk’s office by mail or personal delivery. The copy must be accompanied by a copy of the CM/ECF receipt, called a “Notice of Electronic Filing” or “N.E.F.”
Click here to review the CM/ECF Administrative Procedures
Must I File Documents in Person, or Can They Be Mailed or Filed Electronically?
Filing in Person at Intake Window– A bankruptcy petition package or other document should be filed in person if cash is used to pay the filing fee or if a “Filed” stamped copy of the document is desired. Although there may be a number of people in line, the wait is generally very short.Filing by Mail – Bankruptcy petition packages and other documents may also be mailed to the Court. If a debtor is filing a document that requires a filing fee, the debtor must include a cashier’s check or money order, as personal checks are not accepted. The cashier’s check or money order must read: “Pay to the Order of United States Bankruptcy Court.”
Click here for a list of filing fees. For information on making payments, see FAQ Before Filing #28.
Whether filing a document in person or by mail, determine the correct filing location by using the zip code of the debtor’s residence or principal place of business.
For court locations, see FAQ Before Filing #26. To use the bankruptcy case number to determine the correct location, see FAQ After Filing #.3
Attorneys – In most situations attorneys are required to electronically file petition packages and other documents using the CM/ECF system. Click here to register for CM/ECF and read the Administrative Procedures. Click here for more information about lodging orders electronically
What is the Address of the Court Where Documents are Filed?
The Bankruptcy Court has five divisional offices located throughout the Central District. of California. Divisional Offices are located in Santa Barbara, Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and Riverside. If you need to file a document in person at the bankruptcy court, you should filed the document at the intake window of the clerk’s office of each division for cases that have been filed in that particular division only.
The specific location is determined by the zip code of a debtor’s residence address or location of principal assets of the business. Click here for court addresses.
If a document is being filed electronically through CM/ECF, the electronic filing automatically routes the document to the correct bankruptcy case docket, regardless of the division in which the bankruptcy case was filed.
What is the Payment Method for Bankruptcy Court Fees?
Fees are required to file many documents with the court, including a bankruptcy petition package, a lawsuit (Complaint), certain motions, and other documents. Photocopies or certified copies of documents are available for a fee. Acceptable payment method of filing fees depends upon whether documents are filed electronically via CM/ECF or at the intake window of the clerk’s office.
a) Petition Package or Document Filed Electronically via CM/ECF — If an electronically filed document requires a fee, the fee must be paid by credit card (AMEX, VISA, MC, Discover, or Diner’s Club).
b) Petition Package or Document Filed at the Intake Window of the Clerk’s Office –
Fees Paid by an Individual Person – If an individual debtor files a bankruptcy petition package or other document at the courthouse, the bankruptcy court does not accept credit cards, but the fee may be paid with:
(1) CASH (United States currency only);
(2) U.S. POSTAL SERVICE MONEY ORDER; or
(3) CASHIER’S CHECK issued by an acceptable financial institution.
Fees Paid by an Attorney – If an attorney files a bankruptcy petition package or other document, in most situations the attorney must file the documents electronically via CM/ECF. However, if a document is not required or allowed to be filed using CM/ECF, and is filed at the intake window of the clerk’s office, the fee may be paid by:
(1) CREDIT CARD (AMEX, VISA, MC, Discover, or Diner’s Club);
(2) BUSINESS CHECK made payable to the “U.S. Bankruptcy Court” that includes a current
pre-printed name, street address, telephone number, and California attorney bar number;
(3) CASH (only coins and currency issued by the United States);
(4) U.S. POSTAL SERVICE MONEY ORDER; or
(5) CASHIER’S CHECK issued by an acceptable financial institution.
c) Requesting Photocopies or Certified Copies of Documents – The payment policy for obtaining copies is the same as the payment policy for filing documents. See above.
What are Normal Filing Hours and can Emergency Bankruptcy Petitions be Filed?
Normal Court Hours to File Documents Filed at the Courthouse – The bankruptcy court filing window is normally open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. For a list of Federal Holidays on which the court is closed, see FAQ General Information #3.
Petition Packages and Documents Filed by CM/ECF – The CM/ECF system ordinarily accepts filing of bankruptcy petitions and documents 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Click here for a system maintenance schedule when CM/ECF is not accessible.
Filing Emergency Petitions or Documents After Normal Court Hours – For a debtor or creditor who is not filing a bankruptcy petition package or other document through ECF, and needs to file the petition package or document after court hours, it may be possible to do so, but only by a pre-approved appointment. Contact the appropriate intake office to arrange for an emergency filing:
Santa Barbara: (805) 884-4878
San Fernando Valley: (818) 587-2865
Los Angeles: (213) 894-6751 or 894-3141
Santa Ana: (714) 338-5330
Riverside: (951) 774-1102