Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t have to be scary and confusing. We provide helpful tips and resources to help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in your state without a lawyer.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated February 9, 2022
The decision to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be difficult. Not only do you have to figure out how to do it, but you also have to accept the fact that your monthly income isn’t enough to pay all your bills. It might seem like only certain people declare bankruptcy, but it’s more common than you may realize. Walt Disney, who many consider to be a tremendous creative and financial success story, filed for bankruptcy in 1923. Then there’s the one-time Arkansas Razorbacks coach John L. Smith who filed in 2012.
This guide will help you understand how filing bankruptcy works in Arkansas, even if you don’t have an attorney to help you. Everyone’s financial situation is unique. For some people, bankruptcy makes the most sense, but other people may want to look into other debt relief options first. Read on to learn more about filing bankruptcy in Arkansas federal court and how to do it without a lawyer.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Arkansas
It may be helpful to hire a bankruptcy attorney to file bankruptcy in Arkansas if you have a complicated case. But you don’t have to use an attorney to file bankruptcy. For many filers, the legal fees bankruptcy lawyers charge end up being the most costly part of the bankruptcy.
Whether you have a lawyer or not, there will also be bankruptcy filing fees, but those can be waived if your income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. Below are the major steps for filing an Arkansas bankruptcy without an attorney.
- Collect Your Arkansas Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Arkansas Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Arkansas Bankruptcy Documents
To prepare your bankruptcy petition for the bankruptcy court, you’ll first need to gather documents with your financial information. These documents will help identify all of your debts and show the amount and sources of your income. To start the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, you’ll need to gather the following documents:
Tax returns from the last two years.
Paycheck stubs from the last 60 days.
Recent bank statements. After you file your bankruptcy petition, you’ll need to hang on to the bank statement that covers the filing date, as you’ll need that for the trustee.
While not required, there are other documents that’ll make it easier to complete your bankruptcy petition. They can also help you make financial plans during the bankruptcy process. These documents include:
Bank statements from the past 12 months. These will help you identify your expenses.
A copy of your credit report. You’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Besides helping monitor your credit, these are useful when identifying all of your debts and creditors. If you use Upsolve’s filing tool to file bankruptcy, it will pull your credit reports for you.
Copies of your bills from lenders and creditors.
Any letters from debt collection agencies or third-party debt collectors.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
The course isn’t free, but if you can’t afford the fee, you can apply for a fee waiver. Also, you can’t take just any course. You’ll need to complete a course from a provider that’s approved for Arkansas. You’ll notice that many of these providers are located outside of Arkansas, but their courses can be completed online or by telephone. Usually, you also have some options to take the court in person, such as with Money Management International in Little Rock. But right now these in-person offerings are suspended due to COVID-19.
After completing your class, you’ll get a certificate. Keep this in a safe place. You’ll need to submit it to the bankruptcy court along with the rest of your paperwork when you file your case.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
You can use the financial documents you’ve gathered to complete the bankruptcy forms. Luckily, most of the forms aren’t specific to Arkansas and are the same nationwide. The best way to get the forms is to download them for free as fillable PDFs from United States Courts.
If you hire a bankruptcy attorney or use Upsolve’s filing tool, you won’t fill out these forms yourself. Instead, you’ll fill out a questionnaire and the attorney or Upsolve’s software will use that information to generate the required bankruptcy forms for you.
One of the benefits of using an attorney is that they can make sure your forms are correctly filled out. The court and your bankruptcy trustee understand that mistakes happen. But leaving out information or including wrong information will make them wonder if you’re being dishonest on other parts of your bankruptcy paperwork.
Get Your Filing Fee
The court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Arkansas is $338. But you can apply to have this fee waived if you meet certain eligibility requirements. Generally speaking, to be eligible for the fee waiver, your income must fall below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. To get an idea of whether you qualify, please see the Arkansas Fee Waiver Eligible Table below.
If you’re not eligible for a waiver and you can’t afford to pay the filing fee upfront, you can apply to make filing fee installment payments. This might be a good option if you need to file bankruptcy quickly to invoke the automatic stay. This will stop wage garnishment, foreclosure, and other collection measures. If you’re approved for installment payments, you usually make a down payment toward the filing fee (the court typically decides how much this is), then you pay the remaining balance later in three installments.
If filing quickly isn’t a concern, it’s often better to wait to file bankruptcy until you can pay the full fee. That’s because if you have a filing fee payment plan and you miss a payment, you risk having your Arkansas bankruptcy case dismissed.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you have access to a computer and printer, you’re all set to print out your bankruptcy forms on your own. Although many forms look similar, so it’s easy to forget to include a form or place some pages out of order. Use a checklist to make sure you have every required document, and your packet is in order. You’ll also need to make sure you sign everything in the correct place. If you file using the Upsolve tool, you’ll get all your bankruptcy forms in a single downloadable packet. It includes electronic dividers that flag each page that needs your signature.
When printing out your forms, make sure you do so on regular, white letter-size paper and in black ink. Also, don’t print your pages double-sided or staple them together.
If you don’t have access to a printer, you can go to a branch of your public library, an office supply, copy, and/or shipping store which can usually print out your forms for a fee. If you can afford to, print out an extra copy for your records to refer back to during the bankruptcy process.
File Your Forms With the Arkansas Bankruptcy Court
If you’re filing your case on your own, you can file your bankruptcy forms with the court in person or by mail. Only attorneys can submit documents electronically in Arkansas. Ideally, it’s best to file the forms in person yourself. If you’re mailing in your forms or have someone else drop them off, you won’t have the chance to learn about (and potentially fix) any issues with your filing that the clerk may point out. If you are filing by mail but want a file-stamped copy of your petition for your records, you can include a second copy of your petition and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
If you plan to file your forms in person, you’ll do so in either Little Rock or Fayetteville, depending on where you live. Both courts are located in a federal building, which means you’ll have to go through security to file your documents.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, each courthouse is implementing its own policies for court filings. To see if a coronavirus-related filing policy is in effect for your Arkansas bankruptcy, you can visit the website for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
A bankruptcy trustee is a neutral third party that helps process bankruptcy petitions and ensures you follow Arkansas bankruptcy rules. Part of the trustee’s job is to confirm that you’ve provided all necessary information and done so truthfully. To do this, they need you to send them the following information at least seven days before the 341 creditors’ meeting:
Bank statements for any bank account that you had open when filing your bankruptcy petition. The date of the statement(s) must include the date you filed bankruptcy.
Your two most recent federal income tax returns.
If you’re not sure who your trustee is or exactly what to send, don’t worry. In most cases, your trustee will send you a letter explaining who they are and what they need from you. When interacting with your trustee, remember to be polite and respond promptly. This will help your bankruptcy go as smoothly as possible.
Take a Debtor Education Course
You have to take a credit counseling course before filing bankruptcy. After you file, you’ll need to complete a personal financial management course before the court will discharge your eligible unsecured debts, such as unpaid medical bills and credit card balances. Like the credit counseling course, you must take the debtor education course from a state-approved provider, and you can expect it to take 1-2 hours. You must also complete it within 60 days of the 341 creditor’s meeting.
Though you can take the course from any approved provider, in Arkansas you can also take the course for free from the Chapter 13 trustee. This self-paced course is offered in 10 sessions, with each less than 30 minutes long.
No matter how you choose to take the course, once it’s complete you’ll need to file a certificate of completion with the court. If you don’t, the court could close your case without erasing your dischargeable debts. Some course providers, including the Trustees’ Education Network, will email you the certificate of completion and also file it with the bankruptcy court for you.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Also called the meeting of creditors, the 341 meeting is where you’ll meet with your bankruptcy trustee and any creditors that decide to participate. This meeting is required by section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code, which is the federal law governing bankruptcy. Though the meeting is for the creditors, it’s rare for creditors to participate in this meeting.
Normally, the 341 meeting is between you and the trustee and is held in a meeting room at a location and time provided in an official notice from the court. Please note that due to the coronavirus pandemic, all 341 meetings are currently being held by telephone or video conference. Any changes will be up to each bankruptcy court, so make sure you confirm your court’s procedures for the 341 meeting.
The 341 meeting normally occurs about 20 to 40 days after filing bankruptcy. While it’s not a court proceeding, it’s still a good idea to spend a little bit of time preparing for the meeting. Before the meeting begins, you’ll need to show acceptable proof of ID and your Social Security number.
During the meeting, the trustee will ask you questions about your finances and life. These aren’t trick questions, you’ll know all the answers. Answer honestly and you won’t have any problems. Before you know it, you’ll be done with the creditors’ meeting and ready for the next step in your bankruptcy.
Dealing with Your Car
If you’ve paid off your car or it has positive equity (it’s worth more than what you owe on the loan), then you can keep your vehicle as long as its value is less than the exemption claimed on your Schedule C and you stay current with any applicable car payments.
If your car is worth less than what you still owe on the car loan, then you have a few options based on whether you want to keep the vehicle. If you don’t want it anymore, you can surrender your vehicle during the bankruptcy process. You’ll no longer have the vehicle or the debt attached to the vehicle, so you’ll need another vehicle after your bankruptcy is complete.
If you want to hang on to your car and you can afford to continue making the monthly car loan payments, you can enter into a reaffirmation agreement. You can also redeem your car. This allows you to keep your car by paying its current market value in a lump sum instead of the full balance left on the car loan.
If you’re leasing a vehicle, you want to keep it, and you can afford to continue making lease payments, you can tell the court with a Statement of Intentions. If you want to end the lease, you can get in touch with the lessor to return the vehicle. The terms and conditions will depend on the car lease you signed.
Arkansas Bankruptcy Means Test
Arkansas filers must pass the means test to make sure they’re eligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The means test compares your income with the household median income for a similar household size in Arkansas. If your income is higher than the income limit, it doesn’t automatically mean you can’t file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
If your income is higher than the limit, there is a second part to the means test that looks at whether you have enough disposable income to pay your debts after covering your living expenses. If not, you can file Chapter 7. If you do have money to pay your debts, you may be eligible to file a different type of bankruptcy like Chapter 13. Unlike Chapter 7, Chapter 13 bankruptcy includes a 3-5 year repayment plan. It may be a better option if you have certain types of debt called secured debts, like a home with a mortgage, and your income is too high to file Chapter 7.
Data on Median income levels for Arkansas
Arkansas Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2024
Data on Poverty levels for Arkansas
Arkansas Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2024
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|State Poverty Level
|Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)
Arkansas Bankruptcy Forms
There are no special forms for filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Arkansas. All of the necessary bankruptcy forms for filing bankruptcy in Arkansas will be the same forms that others across the country use.
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Arkansas Districts & Filing Requirements
The Arkansas Bankruptcy Court is divided into an Eastern and Western District, although there’s just one website for both. The county you reside in determines which district you’ll file in and which divisional office will handle your Arkansas bankruptcy case.
The bankruptcy filing requirements are the same in both districts. Both allow you to file by mail or drop off documents in person. You can pay the filing fee in cash (exact change) or with a money order, certified check, or attorney’s check. If you’re paying the filing fee in installments, you must complete Official Form 103A. This includes a proposal for the amount of your installment payments. Whatever you suggest must be approved by the court, and it must result in the full $338 filing fee being paid within 120 days of filing your bankruptcy petition.
Arkansas Bankruptcy Exemptions
The court considers anything you own to be an asset in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But this doesn’t mean everything you own could be taken away by the court or the trustee and sold in a liquidation sale. For the average bankruptcy filer, most property is protected by exemption laws. These exist to let filers get a fresh start and to continue living and working after the bankruptcy is complete. For example, exemptions protect health aids, alimony, child support, household personal property, and equipment used for work.
There are both state and federal exemption laws. In Arkansas, you get to choose which set of exemptions to use. When deciding between federal or Arkansas bankruptcy exemptions, understand that it’s an either-or decision — you don’t get to use some Arkansas exemptions and some exemptions under federal bankruptcy law.
Arkansas Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Most Chapter 7 bankruptcy lawyers charge a flat fee for their services. And before they start charging clients, many Arkansas bankruptcy lawyers offer a free consultation to briefly assess the case, decide if it’s something they can handle, and if so, how much it will cost.
The attorney fee depends on how complicated the case is, but you can expect an Arkansas bankruptcy attorney to charge anywhere from $595 to $1,500. While this fee is a major factor in deciding who to hire, keep in mind that there are other things to consider when choosing a bankruptcy attorney.
Arkansas Legal Aid Organizations
In addition to Upsolve, there are other free or low-cost legal aid services. You should look into these options if you don’t want to hire an attorney, but you aren’t sure you can handle your bankruptcy case on your own and you’d like some legal advice.
Arkansas Court Locations
Arkansas Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Arkansas
|Hon. Richard D. Taylor
|Eastern District of Arkansas
|Hon. Phyllis M. Jones
|Western District of Arkansas
|Hon. Ben T. Barry
|Richard L. Cox
|James F. Dowden
|R. Ray Fulmer
|Hamilton Moses Mitchell
|William L. Owens
|M. Randy Rice
|Richard L. Cox
|James F. Dowden
|Jill R. Jacoway
|Bianca M. Rucker
|Frederick S. Wetzel
|Renee S. Williams