Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated July 27, 2020
Phoenicians are pretty familiar with what can go on in Bankruptcy Court from the local news coverage of the Phoenix Coyotes' bankruptcy in 2009, the bankruptcy filed by Basha's, the largest family-owned grocer in Arizona, the same year, or the more recent Skymall bankruptcy, to name just a few. What this news coverage of corporate bankruptcy filings does not include, unfortunately, is a reminder that the Bankruptcy Code protects all of us, not just the big corporations. If you are having a hard time making ends meet, then filing bankruptcy in Phoenix may be a solution for you. The two most common types (or Chapters) of bankruptcy filed by individuals are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix allows you to walk away from your debts and start fresh, as long as you are honest and don't try to hide assets like this Scottsdale lawyer tried to do in his bankruptcy. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy, on the other hand, allows you to reorganize your debts and propose a plan to pay your creditors what your budget allows, instead of the high minimum payments the banks typically insist upon. Some people file a Chapter 13 case because they make too much money to qualify for Chapter 7 relief (more on this so-called Means Test later), or because they can accomplish something in their Chapter 13 case that filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix will not help them accomplish. If you have a mortgage and have fallen behind on your payments, filing bankruptcy in Phoenix under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code not only gives you the opportunity to bring your payments current over time, it also enables you to participate in the Court's Mortgage Modification Mediation Program to find out if you are eligible for a home loan modification. Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix makes sense if you don’t have enough money coming in every month to meet your basic needs, as it allows you to walk away from everything: the house, the expensive car, the boat you thought would be neat to own, all without having to worry about the bank coming after you for a deficiency balance even if they would be able to do so outside of the bankruptcy context. Whatever your situation may be, it's a good sign that you are reading up about the process and learning about your debt relief options, including the various free legal aid options available for low income folks looking to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix.
Phoenix Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
Depending on your situation, hiring a lawyer to help you with your Phoenix bankruptcy case can be a good investment. Most lawyers who help people file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix do so on a flat fee basis, which means that you know what your total fee for the case is before you ever have to agree to pay it. Considering that almost all of Phoenix bankruptcy lawyers offer free initial consultations, it can't hurt to meet with a few of them to find out whether it makes sense for you to hire one of them. The average cost of abankruptcy lawyer in Phoenix is $1,125, though how much your case would cost depends entirely on your situation. Since Chapter 13 cases involve a lot more work and time commitment by the lawyer, they tend to be more expensive, but you are typically able to pay at least some of the total fee after filing bankruptcy in Phoenix, rather than having to pay all of it beforehand. At the end of your initial consultation, the lawyer should be able to provide you with a recommendation on which Chapter of bankruptcy best suits your needs and how much they would charge to represent you. When hiring a lawyer, keep in mind that the cheapest option is not always the best option, and follow your instincts about whether the lawyer's approach to the whole process of filing bankruptcy in Phoenix is a good fit for you.
How to File Bankruptcy in Phoenix, Arizona for Free
Arizona bankruptcy cases go from really straight forward and simple to super complicated and seemingly never-ending, though the latter is more common in the big corporate cases or where the debtor is not being honest. Everyone filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix must complete certain steps and learn about a few important concepts relevant to Arizona bankruptcy proceedings, all of which are outlined in the next few sections of this guide.
Collect Your Phoenix Bankruptcy Documents
Collecting the documents that you'll need to complete the bankruptcy forms is the best first step you can take. This process is already stressful enough, having everything in one spot will make things easier down the road. When filing bankruptcy in Phoenix, you will need to disclose information about your income, your debts, and your general financial situation. You'll need to gather every paycheck stub you've received in the last 6 months. If you're getting paid by direct deposit, your paycheck stubs are probably in your email inbox. If you don’t have them anymore, your best bet is to talk to the payroll department to see if they can give you copies. Since you'll also need historical income data, you should also pull out your last two income tax returns. If you don't have copies, and you can't get in touch with the person or company that prepared them for you, you can request copiesdirectly from the IRS. In addition to collecting all bills and collection notices you've received in the last 90 days, it's a good idea to get a recent copy of your credit report. One of the most important things about your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix is that your creditors are notified about it, so don't skimp on collecting the details and correct addresses for everyone you owe money.
Take Credit Counseling
Everyone filing bankruptcy in Phoenix has to complete a credit counseling course before they can head to Court. Since 2005, Congress requires every individual seeking relief under the Bankruptcy Code to complete a credit counseling course as a precondition to getting bankruptcy relief. The course is about an hour long and you can take it online, over the phone, or in person. Take care to sign up for the course from one of the providers approved by the Office of the United States Trustee for the Arizona Bankruptcy District. Otherwise, you may learn a lot, but still won't be able to file your Phoenix bankruptcy. Only approved providers can issue you the certificate of completion you need to submit to the Court when filing your Arizona bankruptcy petition. If you're not sure yet whether you'll be going this route, it's a good idea to take this course. It should cost you less than $20 and it will give you an overview of all of your options. Your certificate of completion is valid for 180 days, so it's a great opportunity to learn more and get ready to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix all at the same time!
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
This part of the process is usually the biggest burden, as you'll have to fill out about 23 forms in order to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix. The important thing about this part of the process is to remember to take a deep breath and give yourself enough time to read all of the instructions and carefully answer all of the questions on the forms. In addition to making sure that all of your creditors are notified about your bankruptcy, the other most important part about filing bankruptcy in Phoenix is truthfully disclosing everything in your paperwork. You can get fillable copies of all of the different forms online. If you prefer filling things out by hand, consider going to the Phoenix Bankruptcy Court near the Crescent Ballroom and visiting the Self-Help Center on the 6th Floor. You can pick up blank copies of the forms you will need and learn more about the resources they offer to folks to filing bankruptcy in Phoenix while you're there.
Get Your Filing Fee
The Court charges a fee of $335 for filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix. If your income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you're eligible to apply for a waiver of the fee. This waiver will only be granted, however, if the Court finds that you are unable to pay the fee in monthly installments after filing bankruptcy in Phoenix. If you don't qualify for a fee waiver, but you're having a hard time coming up with the full amount at once, you can ask the Court to pay the filing fee in installments after your Arizona bankruptcy case is filed with the Court. Since the Court can dismiss (throw out) a case if one of the payments is missed, it's best to pay the full filing fee at the time you submit your petition for bankruptcy relief, if you can. The Court only accepts cashier's checks or money orders, so be sure to head to a CircleK to get one before heading to the Court to file your Phoenix bankruptcy case.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Even though things are increasingly done online, filing bankruptcy in Phoenix still requires you to print out all of the forms you so diligently prepared so you can sign them by hand and submit them to the Court in paper. Depending on how many creditors you have, the total number of pages you'll be printing is going to be between 50 - 80 pages. Thankfully, the Court doesn't make you provide them with multiple copies - just the one signed original. Since it's a good idea to have a copy of everything you submit to the Court for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix for your records, it's recommended that you either print or make a second copy. Everything is printed on 8.5" x 11" paper, so you can print it from any regular home or office printer, but make sure you don't print anything double-sided; the Court won't accept that.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
While you can technically file bankruptcy in Phoenix by mailing everything to the Court, if you can, you should visit the courthouse in person to drop everything off. That allows the clerk to check everything and make sure it's all in order. When you're done at the Clerk's Office, you know for a fact that your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix has officially been filed. The courthouse is on the south-west corner of First Avenue and Van Buren, so you can easily head there via Light Rail. If you drive to the Court, be aware that you'll have to pay for parking either at one of the garages near the courthouse. You will be entering a federal building, which means going through security. You'll have to show a valid picture ID on your way in and go through a metal detector. The Clerk's Office, where you'll go to filed your Arizona bankruptcy case, is the first door on the left, right after you pass through security.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The Trustee that is appointed by the Court to oversee your case will most likely send you a letter, or email, to let you know what they need from you to prepare for your 341 meeting. You'll find the name of your case Trustee on the official Notice of Chapter 7 bankruptcy you will receive a few days after filing bankruptcy in Phoenix. The Chapter 7 Trustees in Phoenix don't have a uniform document request form, but by and large, they all want similar items: Your most recently filed federal income tax return, your paycheck stubs and your bank account statement covering the dated you filed your Arizona bankruptcy case, and answers on a short questionnaire. If you haven't heard from your Trustee a couple of weeks after filing, you should call their office to find out what they will need. It's possible their letter to you got lost in the mail, and you don't want that to be the cause for a delay in your case. Make sure you follow the instructions you get from your Trustee carefully; they may not represent you, but you do have a duty to cooperate with them in the administration of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
After your case is filed you will have to complete a course on financial management. This so-called Debtor Education course aims to make sure that folks filing bankruptcy in Phoenix are given the tools they need to manage their finances responsibly going forward. As before, it's important that you complete the course from an approved provider. Most Phoenicians filing bankruptcy complete this requirement online. Often times the provider will even submit their certificate of completion to the Court for you. If you don’t complete this course, you will not be eligible to have a discharge entered in your case. Remember, the primary goal of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix is a discharge. This is a Court order that tells our creditors they can't ever ask you to pay them back. Ever again. If you don't complete this course within 90 days from filing your case, the Court may close your case without granting you your discharge. To get your discharge, you'll have to ask the Court to reopen your case, and pay another filing fee. You can avoid this added stress and financial burden by taking the course shortly after filing bankruptcy in Phoenix.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Approximately one month after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix is filed, you'll have to head back to Court for your 341 meeting. This meeting, also called the "creditors' meeting" is the one time that everyone filing bankruptcy in Phoenix has to go to Court. Even though it takes place in the courthouse, you won't even have to go into one of the courtrooms. That's because no judge is present for the meeting. Typically, it's just you and your Trustee, though creditors are able to attend and ask you questions while during this meeting as well. That happens only rarely though, as most folks filing bankruptcy in Phoenix, especially Chapter 7 bankruptcy, have mostly credit card and other unsecured debts. It's rarely worth it for a company like Buckeye Title Loans or a credit card company to hire a lawyer to ask you questions, when there is little to no chance that they'll collect any money from your bankruptcy case. You do have to prove your identity and bring a document that shows your full social security number. This allows the Trustee can verify it's the same one that you used when you filed bankruptcy in Phoenix. Your original social security card is your best option but a recent W-2 from your employer will work as well.
Dealing with Your Car
If you have a car, you're probably wondering how filing bankruptcy in Phoenix will affect it. The answer to that question depends on a few different factors. First, is the car paid off? If so, as long as it's worth less than $6,000, you can keep it. If it's not paid off, you'll have to decide how you want to handle it. You have several options you don't have outside of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix, like walking away from the car and the loan without a large deficiency balance looming over your head. If you don't make enough money to comfortably make your car payment every month, this is likely the best option for you. If the car is worth only very little, and you have the ability to come up with that amount after filing bankruptcy in Phoenix, you can redeem the car, and discharge the loan. Finally, if the loan is affordable and the car is in good condition, you can opt to keep everything the same by entering into a reaffirmation agreement. In it, you agree that your responsibility to pay the car loan will not be wiped out by your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Phoenix. In exchange, you are able to keep the vehicle.
Arizona Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Phoenix
Arizona Means Test
The Arizona bankruptcy Means Test determines whether a filer is able to seek relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code when filing bankruptcy in Phoenix. If your income exceeds the Chapter 7 income limits, you will have to complete the second part of the Arizona bankruptcy Means Test to show the Court that you don't have the means to complete a Chapter 13 payment plan.
Median Income Levels for Arizona
Arizona Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Poverty Levels for Arizona
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
When filing bankruptcy in Phoenix, you have to submit completed Arizona bankruptcy forms to the Court. For the most part, the Arizona bankruptcy forms are comprised of the official federal forms. However, Phoenix bankruptcy filers are required to submit a copy of all paycheck stubs they received in the 60 days before filing their case along with a Declaration regarding Employer Payment Advices. If you're not sure which forms you need, and you're not eligible to work with Upsolve, make sure to download the Court's Chapter 7 filing packet with instructions so you don't accidentally miss one of the required Arizona bankruptcy forms.
Exemptions are specific laws that protect a filer's property from being sold for the benefit of their creditors. The Grand Canyon State has opted out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions. This means that anyone filing bankruptcy in Phoenix has to use Arizona bankruptcy exemptions. The Court has a list detailing all available Arizona bankruptcy exemptions on its website.