Written by Attorney Jacquelyne N. Mosley-Pastrana.
Updated August 10, 2019
Bakersfield is known as the oil capital of California, country music capital of the west and the ninth-largest city in California. As a part of Kern County, you can find the Kern County Scottish Games at the Fairgrounds, drag racing with NASCAR, Rig City, and Dewar’s Candy Shop. Despite the mix of residents and transplants helping Bakersfield boom, the empty storefronts can’t be ignored as Payless ShoeSource, Catherine, and even stores such as Charming Charlie’s close their doors. Small businesses and residents of Bakersfield are affected by these changes. Not being able to pay your bills is more common than you think. It’s a sinking feeling when you don’t know how you will pay your medical bills because of a job loss or divorce. If you can’t find the money to pay for unexpected expenses and creditors give you no peace, you should know that there are options available to you, including filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield, California.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is recognized as the most common type of bankruptcy. Created for people who can’t pay any of their creditors, it wipes away the debt in about six months. Those who don’t qualify to file for Chapter 7 have the opportunity to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy doesn’t immediately extinguish debt, instead creating a payment plan over 36-60 months. After paying down the debts owed, a Chapter 13 eliminates the balance at the end of the case. Most people filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield never planned to do so, but after filing they’re glad to shed the burden of uncertainty that comes with unpaid debt.
You can find free legal help through the Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, and the Debtor Home Page on the Eastern District of California website to assist you in filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield. Upsolve is also a resource that can help you with your bankruptcy and with finding help. It’s important to remember that even though some hearings may take place in the Bakersfield U.S. Bankruptcy Court, all documents for your bankruptcy are required to be delivered to the Fresno Division U.S. Bankruptcy Courthouse. Many in Kern County take advantage of the DeBN (Debtor electronic Bankruptcy Noticing) system because it emails all documents filed in their case to them. Using the DeBN will let you know about what is going on with the case more quickly than waiting for the mail.
Bakersfield Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
Hiring an attorney to help you with your Bakersfield bankruptcy has its benefits. Some attorneys provide a free initial consultation to lay out your options. Experienced lawyers can identify potential issues in your case, and local practitioners tend to know the ins and outs of filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield. A Bakersfield bankruptcy lawyer costs about $1,525 for a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is no small amount of money, but many find the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer is worth the expense if your case is a little more complicated than most as an attorney can explain the law and how to best protect your fresh start. An attorney can also advise you on the property you can keep, if you should keep paying creditors, and the tax consequences of filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield.
How to File Bankruptcy in Bakersfield, California for Free
The process for filing a Bakersfield bankruptcy does not start when you arrive at the courthouse. Like training for the Bakersfield marathon, it starts well before you arrive. It starts with your preparation and continues even after filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield.
Collect Your Bakersfield Bankruptcy Documents
In preparation to file your Bakersfield bankruptcy, you will need to find your financial documentation outlining your income, debts, and property. Some of the documents you will need are six months of paycheck stubs and your W-2s, two months of bank statements, two years of your tax returns, loan/bill statements, vehicle registration, real estate valuations, and statements for your investment or retirement accounts, if any. If these are not where you thought you left them, you can reach out to your former/current employer for your check stubs. You can also reach out to your banks, investment/retirement account holders for statements. Your credit report is a good tool to track down the loans and credit cards you have. Contact your tax preparer or the IRS for a copy of your tax returns. These are not the only documents you will need when filing for bankruptcy in Bakersfield. It is good to have documents that outline things like alimony or child support you pay (or receive) handy for a full picture of your financial situation. It’s also helpful to create a list of those not listed on your credit report, who you owe money to, so you can make sure they are notified about your California bankruptcy.
Take Credit Counseling
In preparation for your California bankruptcy, you will take the required credit counseling course. In this course, you will evaluate the way you spend money and how it impacts your financial situation. A credit counselor will review your situation and help you better understand your options. To complete this requirement, you have to take the course from a Trustee-approved provider and complete it in the six months before you file for bankruptcy. Your certificate of completion is submitted to the Court with your other Bakersfield bankruptcy documents. The closest location to take the course in person is over 1.5 hours away, so most living in Bakersfield find it more convenient to take the course by phone or online.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Your bankruptcy petition forms help layout your financial situation to support your Bakersfield bankruptcy. These forms and instructions are available for download on the website for the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California. You will complete information detailing what you make, owe, spend, and own. It can feel like a lot of odd questions about the clothes and pets you have, but power through. Remember this is standard. Other Kern County residents, like you, have gotten through the paperwork. You will enter the same information on different forms, so it’s a good idea to keep track of your answers. You will also need to complete your own calculations, but don’t get discouraged because you do not need to be a math whiz to complete the forms for your California bankruptcy successfully. Do your best to estimate a value for your property, including your season tickets to see the Bakersfield Condors in action. Keep in mind that your Verification of Master Address List requires that the attached Master Address List be typed. If you need help creating yours, the Court has an Online Master Address List application to guide you.
Get Your Filing Fee
The fee for filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield is $335. If you are having trouble paying the fee to file a Chapter 7 case, you can submit an application to pay the fee in installments or apply for a fee waiver, if you make less than 150% of the poverty guidelines. Installment payments are monthly payments over a period of time until you’ve paid the amount owed. In the case of a California bankruptcy this means up to four installments may be made to pay the $335 filing fee. A fee waiver means you’re not required to pay this fee based on the Court’s assessment of your financial situation. Your application for the installment or waiver will be submitted with your bankruptcy documents. The Court decides on your installment/waiver application based on your ability to pay, whether you are below the income threshold, and based on your bankruptcy forms. Usually, the judge decides on your waiver without a hearing, but if the judge has more questions, you will be notified that a hearing has been scheduled. If your fee waiver is denied, then you will pay your filing fee in full or in installments within 120 days of filing your Bakersfield bankruptcy. It’s extremely important that your California bankruptcy filing fee is taken care of as soon as possible. If for any reason you don’t pay or receive a waiver of your filing fee, your case can be thrown out and any payments you’ve already made will be lost.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Your bankruptcy forms are legal documents and are required to be printed one-sided. The forms alone will be 70 pages or more. The Bankruptcy Court strongly recommends you print two copies of your completed California bankruptcy documents, so you can have a file stamped copy after your case is filed. Otherwise, if you ever need a copy of your Bakersfield bankruptcy filing, the court charges fifty cents a page. Residents of California can print at any Kern County library location for $0.15 a page, and at stores such as Office Depot, you can print starting at $0.13 a page plus tax.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
The process for filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield is different because the Bakersfield Bankruptcy Court, where some hearings are held, is not where you will file your California bankruptcy documents. The Bakersfield location of the California Bankruptcy Court doesn’t accept documents for filing because it does not have a staffed Clerk’s Office. You will find that when you enter the city of Bakersfield and your zip code on the Court’s website, residents of Kern County are instructed to file or mail their California bankruptcy documents to the Fresno Division U.S. Bankruptcy Court at 2500 Tulare Street, Suite 2501, Fresno, CA 93721-1318. The court is open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., excluding federal holidays.
For some cautious Bakersfield bankruptcy filers, the two-hour trip to Fresno is worth the travel as the Clerk’s Office has given filers a chance to have their documents reviewed for common errors and completeness before filing. The Fresno Bankruptcy Court does not have parking, but there is metered parking and paid parking nearby. Some in Bakersfield have taken a bus or Amtrak from Bakersfield to the Fresno Santa Fe Transit Station, which is only a three-minute walk to the courthouse.
You also have the option to mail your California bankruptcy documents to the Fresno Court at U.S. Bankruptcy Court, 2500 Tulare Street, Suite 2501, Fresno, CA 93721. The Court recommends mailing two copies of your bankruptcy documents and enclosing a self-addressed envelope with the exact postage so a file-stamped copy can be mailed from Fresno back to your home in Bakersfield. After filing your Bakersfield bankruptcy, the Court will provide your case number, assign you a Trustee, and provide a date for your Meeting of the Creditors. It’s helpful to apply for the DeBN electronic noticing system to keep you informed about your case.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
You will be assigned a Trustee to manage your case after filing your Bakersfield bankruptcy. The Trustee will operate quickly to review your case, search for any assets, and request information from you before your 341 Meeting of Creditors, which takes place about a month after you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield. The Trustee usually requests a copy of your most recent tax return, so they should be delivered to the Trustee. The date for your 341 meetings will quickly approach, so it is crucial you provide any information the Trustee requests promptly.
When you filed your California bankruptcy, the Court mailed each of your creditors Form 309A letting them know that you filed for bankruptcy. If you receive more than one Form 309A in the mail, this indicates an incorrect address has left at least one of creditors is uninformed about your bankruptcy. You may think, “oh well,” but it is necessary that all creditors get notice. Don’t fret because others in similar situations have been able to act quickly to fix the issue. They located the correct address for the creditor, mailed the notice to the correct address, and amended the address on their Master Address List, as required.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
After your Bakersfield bankruptcy is filed with the Court, you can move on to taking your second bankruptcy course. This may be the easiest step a filer can take to guaranteeing their debt is discharged, but it’s also the most forgotten step. This post-bankruptcy or pre-discharge course provides participants with tools for managing money and using credit. It includes a creating another budget and creating a plan for the future. Although general advice is provided, you can use the financial tools you learn about here to mold your plans for your life after your debt is wiped away by your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield. You can easily take this two-hour course from a Trustee-approved agency by phone or online (it’s not available in person in Kern County). After you complete the course, you will receive a certificate proving you have completed the course. File the course certificate with the Fresno Division Bankruptcy Court to let the Court know you’ve completed this requirement.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your Meeting of Creditors will take place about a month after you file your California bankruptcy. The Court sends you information about the date, time, and location of the meeting by mail. Prepare by bringing your photo identification and your original social security card. Typically, your 341 meeting takes place where you filed your bankruptcy, but Bakersfield residents get to stay close to home. Your meeting will take place at the Bakersfield Meeting Room at 1300 18th Street, Bakersfield, CA. Keep in mind, that if you show up at the Bakersfield Bankruptcy Court on 19th Street, you are in the wrong place, but you can just cross the river, and a 3-minute drive or 12-minute walk will have you at your 341 meeting.
This location does not have parking in the building, but metered parking is available nearby. Be prepared to pass through security and make your way to the meeting room. It’s important that you arrive on time and wait to hear your name called to discuss your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield. You meet with the Trustee in a room with a conference table, there is no judge, but you should dress simply, modestly, and respectfully. Typically, you and about ten other people are assigned to meet with the Trustee within the hour, so the process moves very quickly. When it’s your turn to meet with the Trustee, you will present your identification and social security card. Don’t be surprised if it’s just you, your attorney if you have one, and the Trustee. Creditors usually don’t come to these meetings. The Trustee will ask questions about your financial situation and your assets, if any. Keep in mind that the meeting should last 5-10 minutes, so the Trustee will welcome clear and concise answers.
Dealing with Your Car
You may enjoy driving State Route 99, Country music blaring (or not), while heading to the Panorama Bluffs for hiking. Perhaps you drive to pick up the kids from school at Centennial, run errands or enjoy the Moonlight drive-in. During your Bakersfield bankruptcy, you will need to make some tough decisions about what to do about your car. You may be able to protect a car you own and owe no money for by using an exemption. Exemptions determine what property the law lets you keep even after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield.
Some decide to surrender their car, finding an alternative solution for commuting instead. It may also be an easier decision to surrender the car if it has a high-interest rate, or you owe a lot more than the car is worth. The debt for the car loan will be discharged through your California bankruptcy, and many find that they can get a car for less money later on.
Your Bakersfield bankruptcy will help you get out from your debt, but if you decide to keep your car that particular debt will not be discharged. You must decide what is best, for your situation. If you decide to keep that particular car, reaffirmation, or redemption are options. If you can afford to make the car payment each month without issue, you may opt for a reaffirmation. Although a reaffirmation keeps you on the hook for the car loan, you get to keep the car. You negotiate with the lender about the terms of your reaffirmation agreement, though it’s usually the same as the prior terms. On the other hand, by paying a lump payment, you can redeem the vehicle. Through redemption, you pay one lump sum equal to the value of the vehicle and you keep the car. Both of these require you to file a request, called a motion, for Court approval. Your motion is required to be delivered to the Fresno Division U.S. Bankruptcy Court at 2500 Tulare Street, Suite 2501, Fresno, CA 93721. You will be provided the time and location of your hearing, which usually takes place at the Bakersfield Bankruptcy Court at 510 19th Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301.
California Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Bakersfield
California Means Test
Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act to increase requirements to make sure those filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy genuinely can’t afford to pay their debt. To file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield, you must pass the California Bankruptcy Means Test. You calculate your monthly income through the Monthly Income Statement and compare your average annual income to the median income for families of your size in California. If your income is more than the median, you move on to calculate your disposable income through the Means Test Calculation. If your disposable income is negative, you pass the California bankruptcy Means Test and can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield. If it’s positive, you may need to recalculate, contact an attorney, or consider whether Chapter 13 bankruptcy is right for you, because it appears you have money left to pay at least a portion of your debt.
The California bankruptcy Means Test applies to personal debts. Some service members accruing debt while on active duty, and certain types of debt are exempt from the Means Test. Exempt means that the Means Test Calculation does not apply. For example, if you accrued the debt opening a pub-style skating rink with a mean ice cream sandwich in order to compete with the BLVD’s bowling alley and brookie sundae, the debt is considered business or non-consumer debt because you had the motive to make a profit. If this non-consumer debt is more than half of your total debts, you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield without having to worry about the California bankruptcy Means Test.
Median Income Levels for California
California Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
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Poverty Levels for California
California Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
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California Bankruptcy Forms
It’s important to carefully complete your California bankruptcy forms for consistency. There are additional instructions for the petitions to assist you. Remember when filing bankruptcy in Bakersfield that the US Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District requires your Master Address List to be typed. It also requires that as a resident of Kern County, all your California bankruptcy forms be filed in the Fresno Division Bankruptcy Court.
To file your California bankruptcy and claim the California bankruptcy exemptions requires residency in California for at least two years prior to filing your Bakersfield bankruptcy. Exemptions shield your money or property during your bankruptcy. While the federal bankruptcy exemptionsare not available for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Bakersfield, if you meet the residency requirement, you can choose between the 703 exemptions (protect less valuable personal property) or 704 exemptions (protect higher valuable real property).