Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated October 28, 2019
Living in the largest suburban city in the country definitely comes with a lot of advantages. Wonderful amenities, opportunities for higher education, and the tight-knit and family-oriented community in Mesa all make living there a day in the sunshine, almost every day. Unfortunately, wages have not kept up with the cost of living generally, and if you're like many Americans all over this country, you may only be one disaster away from complete financial ruin. Whether you are still teetering on the edge, or are already dealing with non-stop phone calls from debt collectors, you should know that you have options. Dealing with insurmountable debt can affect not only your daily finances, but your health and your family's happiness. While filing bankruptcy in Mesa may not be something you ever imagined yourself doing, it's good that you are here and at least reading about it. Knowing your options is half the battle. This article will take you through what it takes to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa without an attorney. There are of course other types of bankruptcy, but they tend to be more complicated and successfully completing them without the help of competent counsel is difficult at best. Chapter 7 is the traditional liquidation bankruptcy chapter. A bankruptcy trustee is assigned to each case, and their job is to determine whether the filer owns any property that could be sold for the benefit of their creditors. Don't fret, though, the idea here is not to take away everything you own. In fact, in about 96% of cases, no property is sold for the benefit of creditors at all. That's because both the bankruptcy laws and the Arizona state law include property exemptions. Exemptions are laws that designate certain types of property as protected from creditors, no matter how much money a person owes them. If you do own an expensive piece of property that you wish to keep even though it's not strictly necessary (and therefore not exempt), you may want to consider filing bankruptcy in Mesa under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. In a Chapter 13 case, you can generally keep all property, as long as your repayment plan gives your creditors at least as much as they would have gotten had you filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa. If you're not 100% comfortable with the idea of filing bankruptcy on your own and without a lawyer (that's called filing "pro se"), keep in mind that there are several legal aid organizations in the Valley that may be able to help you in a more hands on kind of way.
Mesa Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
Even though there is nothing that says that you have to hire an attorney to file bankruptcy in Mesa, it often makes sense to at least speak to one or two before deciding to go it alone. A lawyer may be able to flag issues for you that you didn't realize even existed and advise you on how to handle them. Most Mesa bankruptcy lawyers cost between $750 - $1,500 for a typical Chapter 7 case. Of course, you won't know if your case is typical unless you take the opportunity to meet with a bankruptcy lawyer for a free initial consultation. This is an investment of your time that you should make before making any final decisions. Ultimately, if you can afford to hire a lawyer, make sure you hire one whose style and system works for you. And, if you can't afford to hire a lawyer, just remember to take a deep breath and take advantage of all the resources available through Upsolve and the Bankruptcy Court's Self Help Center.
How to File Bankruptcy in Mesa, Arizona for Free
Whether you decide to hire a lawyer to help you file bankruptcy in Mesa or not, it's always helpful to have an idea of the process involved. What follows is a 10 step guide on how to file bankruptcy in Mesa without an attorney.
Collect Your Mesa Bankruptcy Documents
One of the main tenets of bankruptcy law is full disclosure of everything. Your assets (which is everything you own, believe it or not), your debts, your income, your expenses, and general information about various financial transactions you have been a party to in the last few years. To make sure that you're not inadvertently leaving anything out, the first step you should take when preparing to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa is collecting certain documents. This is true even if you hire a lawyer, as they'll want to see the same documents from you anyway. You'll need the last 6 months of paycheck stubs showing how much you've made and at least two years of tax returns. Since you'll need to submit a full listing of your creditors and their current address to the court, it's typically a good idea to get a copy of your credit report. This, plus any collection notices or bills you've received in the last 90 days or so should give you a full picture of everyone who needs to be notified of your Arizona bankruptcy filing.
Take Credit Counseling
The Bankruptcy Code requires every individual or married couple filing bankruptcy in Mesa or anywhere, really, to complete a credit counseling class before doing so. The purpose of the course is to make sure that everyone gets an overview of all of their options before deciding to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa. There are a number of credit and financial counselors all over the Valley, so make sure you choose one that is approved to offer this pre-bankruptcy course. If they're not on this list published by the Office of the United States Trustee, then taking the course with them won't fulfill this requirement. Once done with the course, make sure to put your certificate of completion with the rest of your bankruptcy documents, as you'll need it again later.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Completing the bankruptcy forms needed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa can be a bit overwhelming at first. Ultimately, what you have to remember is that the forms are basically a giant questionnaire. The questions may at times seem strange or confusing, but ultimately, they're asking for information about you. You have all of the answers, it may just take a moment to get through the question to figure out the answer. If you're eligible to work with Upsolve, we'll do the hard part for you by having you fill out a simple questionnaire instead of the forms. If you're going through everything by yourself, it's a good idea to first print out a copy of the official instructions for the forms. Finally, anyone filing bankruptcy in Mesa can make an appointment with the Court's Self-Help Center to have one of the attorney volunteers take a look at their completed forms. They won't be able to provide you legal advice but they can "translate" the questions that don't make sense, so you can figure out what your answer is.
Get Your Filing Fee
Even though it may seem a little counter-intuitive, the Arizona Bankruptcy Court actually charges a court filing fee of $335 for everyone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa. The fee is due at the time your petition is submitted to the Court and has to be paid in via money order or cashier's check. The Bankruptcy Court does not accept cash. If your household income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you can ask the Court to waive your filing fee. The decision will be up to the judge, who will review your application to determine whether you can afford to make payments after filing your case. Once your case is filed, the automatic stay goes into effect which means any garnishments or other collection actions have to stop. That may free up enough funds to pay the court fee. If you know that you're not eligible to have your filing fee waived completely, but you can't save everything up before filing bankruptcy in Mesa, don't worry. You can ask the Court to pay the fee in up to four installments after your case is filed instead.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
While attorneys have to submit everything to the Court through an online filing system, filers who don't have an attorney have to submit everything to the clerk's office in paper. This, of course, means having to print out your forms. Since filing bankruptcy in Mesa is a legal proceeding, it's important to print only on one side of the paper. The good news is that it's regular 8.5" x 11" paper, so pretty much any standard home or office printer can handle it. If you don't have access to a printer, consider asking a friend, family, or church member to use theirs. Since the packet will be at least 50 pages, offer to bring your own paper, especially since you really should print everything out twice.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Since individuals (or married couples) filing bankruptcy in Mesa can't use the court's online filing system, you'll have to submit your forms to the court another way. One option is to mail everything in. However, if you can make the trip to Phoenix to visit the courthouse in person, you should do so. The courthouse is located in downtown Phoenix, at the corner of First Ave and Van Buren. Parking can be a little tricky around that part of town (and tricky mostly means expensive, as there are a number of garages around the area) so consider taking the light rail instead. It'll drop you off right near the courthouse and allow you to avoid the worst of city traffic. Once you pass through security (be prepared to show a picture ID), you'll find the clerk's office on your left. That's where you'll go to file your Arizona bankruptcy case. If you bring your second copy of the bankruptcy forms, be sure to have them stamp it for you so you have an official copy of what you submitted to the court in your files.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Every Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa will be assigned a trustee to handle it. The trustee acts as somewhat of a representative for your unsecured creditors, but they have certain independent duties as well. One of these duties involves reviewing your income, so you'll be required to send a copy of your most recent federal income tax return and recent paycheck stubs to them after filing your Arizona bankruptcy case. Most Arizona bankruptcy trustees send out a letter shortly after being appointed to a case to let the filer know exactly what they need and how to best submit it to their office. Keep an eye out for that letter and make sure to send everything in on time, so there is no reason for a delay in having your bankruptcy dischargeentered.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Ever since Congress amended the Bankruptcy Code in 2005, individuals filing bankruptcy in Mesa have to complete a debtor education class before the court can grant them a discharge. You can't take the course before filing your case - it has to be done after you filed your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa. Once filed, however, you don't have to wait for your creditors' meeting or any other date to pass, you can take the course right away. As before, it's important to go through one of the providers approved for this course. When done, find out if the provider will submit your certificate of completion to the court for you. If not, make sure you file this certification with the Court instead.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Every bankruptcy case has to have a Meeting of Creditors, or 341 meeting, whether the filer is an individual, a married couple, or a business. Chapter 7 creditors' meetings for Mesa bankruptcy cases take place at the Bankruptcy Court in downtown Phoenix, though you won't have to go before a judge or even go into a courtroom. Instead, you'll be meeting with your trustee, who will ask you certain questions about the information you disclosed in your bankruptcy forms. As part of their due diligence, they will also check your picture ID and proof of your social security number to make sure you are who you say you are! Creditors may attend the hearing and can even ask filers questions while they're under oath, but that rarely happens. Most folks are done with their 341 meeting in less than 10 minutes and feel a huge sense of relief knowing the most stressful part of filing bankruptcy in Mesa without an attorney is done.
Dealing with Your Car
If you have a car, you're probably wondering how filing bankruptcy in Mesa will affect it. If you own your vehicle outright and are no longer paying on a loan, you can keep it as long as it's worth less than the $6,000 exemption. If you're still making payments on a car loan, you'll have to decide what you want to do. If you want to keep the car, you can either reaffirm the loan or redeem the car. Reaffirming the loan means it won't be discharged as part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Mesa. You get to keep the car and keep making payments on the loan until it's paid off. Redeeming the vehicle, on the other hand, allows you to buy the car from the lender not for how much you still owe them, but for the often much lower market value of the vehicle. Finally, if the car is not right for you or it simply doesn't make economic sense to keep it, you can also surrender it as part of your Mesa bankruptcy case.
Arizona Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Phoenix
Arizona Means Test
Median Income Levels for Florida
Arizona Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
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Poverty Levels for Florida
Arizona Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Arizona Bankruptcy Forms
Everyone filing bankruptcy in Mesa has to use the Arizona bankruptcy forms. For the most part, they are comprised of the official federal bankruptcy forms. There is a specific local Arizona bankruptcy form to submit as sort of a cover sheet for your paycheck stubs. If you're not sure if you have everything you need, consider making an appointment at the Self Help Center before filing everything.
Exemptions are laws that protect certain assets from creditors both in and out of bankruptcy court. If you have lived in Arizona for at least 2 years when you file bankruptcy in Mesa, you're limited to the Arizona bankruptcy exemptions and may not use the federal bankruptcy exemptions.