Written by Attorney Jacquelyne N. Mosley-Pastrana.
Updated August 18, 2020
Living in Fresno has its perks as it is one of the most affordable cities in California. Fresno County holds the Number 1 teams in the nation with NCAA Champions in baseball and softball. Then there are the great tacos that recently caught Food Network celebrity Alton Brown’s eye as he tweeted about the “legit” tacos from El Premio Mayor. On the other hand, the high unemployment rate makes it tough on Fresno families with especially Payless, Gymboree, Things Remembered, Charlotte Russe all closing stores. If you are one of those affected by these closings, you know better than anyone that life happens. Life happens, not only with employment, but also with high insurance costs, divorce, or unexpected health issues, just to name a few. As bills pile up, remember, you are not alone. You have options to get your new beginning, including filing bankruptcy in Fresno.
Deciding to seek debt relief and file your Fresno bankruptcy can feel like a whirlwind of emotions but many like you have taken this step to make a proactive change in their lives. If you are stressed about creditors calling, filing bankruptcy in California gives you an automatic stay. During an automatic stay, creditors must stop contacting you as you resolve your debts through the Court. Second, a successful bankruptcy results in a bankruptcy discharge. A bankruptcy discharge is an order from the Fresno Bankruptcy Court wiping away most of your debt obligations and offering you a clean slate.
Most people seeking bankruptcy relief qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 relief was created to give honest people who cannot afford to pay their debts a new start. Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno extinguishes most of your debts like credit cards and medical bills. Most debts are discharged, but a select few are nondischargeable debts, such as recent tax debts.
Another Fresno bankruptcy option is Chapter 13 bankruptcy. It is for people who do not qualify for Chapter 7 relief, typically due to high income. With Chapter 13 relief, you establish a repayment plan to pay some of your debts over 3 to 5 years. It’s best to take a credit counseling course to review your options. Then you can make your decision about whether filing bankruptcy in Fresno is right for you. Whatever you decide, you have the resources and opportunities to get your life on track.
Fresno Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
If you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy in Fresno, you may consider hiring an attorney. Many bankruptcy attorneys will usually offer a free initial consultation to get an overview of your case and discuss how to best address your situation. A Fresno bankruptcy lawyer costs anywhere from $1,200 to 1,850 dollars for a Chapter 7 filing. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in the nearby counties is about the same. It may seem like a lot of money, but representation from a knowledgeable Fresno bankruptcy attorney can save you money and help you avoid problems during your case. This is especially true with a more complicated case. An attorney can answer your questions about complex bankruptcy law and procedures, tax consequences, and how to move forward in your best interests. Getting an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the ins and outs of a Fresno bankruptcy and relieve some of the stress of filing can be a good investment.
How to File Bankruptcy in Fresno, California for Free
You can file for bankruptcy at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno at 2500 Tulare Street. It is also known as the Fresno Bankruptcy Court. It handles California bankruptcy cases filed in the 15 incorporated cities in Fresno County and the Counties of Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, and Tulare. There are resources available to help you understand how to file bankruptcy in Fresno.
Filing bankruptcy in Fresno can be confusing, but you can seek free legal help. Organizations like Central California Legal Services, the Self-Help Reference Center at the Fresno County Public Law Library, and the Legal Services Corporation offer free legal assistance. Remember that Upsolve is also available to help. Upsolve provides information to regain financial empowerment and helps low-income families to get Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief.
Collect Your Fresno Bankruptcy Documents
You may wonder how to file bankruptcy in Fresno. The first step is to prepare by collecting all your financial documents. These documents include your most recent tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, retirement/investment/brokerage account statements, valuations or appraisals of any property you own, copies of your vehicle registration, and any other documents related to your debts, assets, or income.
If you cannot find these documents in your possession when filing bankruptcy in Fresno, you can get most of them online or by making a few phone calls. Get the last two years of your tax returns from the online service you used, a tax preparer or through a request to the IRS. For six months of your pay stubs, reach out to your current or former employer. Obtain two months of bank statements online or by stopping by a branch of your bank. Use this same process for your retirement, investment, or brokerage accounts.
You will also need to create a list of all your creditors for your Fresno bankruptcy. Print your credit report because it will help with other information you need, such as balances owed and addresses of your creditors. You must also list individuals and businesses whom you owe money that do not appear on your credit report, including your family and friends.
Take Credit Counseling
Second, it is necessary you take a credit counseling course in the six months before filing bankruptcy in Fresno. The course is offered online, by phone, or in-person and is available in English and other languages. There are no in-person courses offered in Fresno County, but many find the phone and online options most convenient to complete the course before filing their California bankruptcy.
The initial credit counseling course guides you through the basics of financial management and explores if you have options other than filing bankruptcy in Fresno. The course focused on your financial and spending habits to teach about living within your means. During the course, you learn how to make a budget, how to prioritize expenses, and how to plan strategies to spend less money than you make.
Completing the course takes only 60-90 minutes. When ready, simply choose an approved provider, complete the course, get your Certificate of Completion, and make sure to submit the certificate to the Court with your bankruptcy forms.
A credit counselor will review the budget you create. In most cases, the agency will find that you do not have a reasonable way to repay your debt. In some cases, the agency may propose an informal repayment plan for your debt. You should review your financial situation and decide what is best for you. Most who take this course still decide it is best to file bankruptcy and submit the proposed repayment plan with their bankruptcy forms.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The bankruptcy forms dig into your finances by asking questions about how you make money (income), spend money (expenses), and what you own (assets). Perhaps you never considered the family dog an asset, but the court wants a detailed account of everything you own, including Chance the family dog. Take these questions with stride and complete them as thoroughly as you can. Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Petition Packages available on the Court’s website include instructions to guide you in completing the forms for your Fresno bankruptcy.
You will use the financial documents you gathered initially to help you complete the bankruptcy forms. You can download Adobe Acrobat Reader and complete the fillable forms online, or you can print everything and add the information by hand. Review the forms a few times to make sure you include all sources of income within the last six months. The Fresno Bankruptcy Court requires a Master Address List of creditors with names, addresses and zip codes to provide them with notice that you have filed a California bankruptcy. If you are filing for bankruptcy on your own, the Fresno Court requires that you provide a printed master address list at the same time as you submit your other bankruptcy forms. The Fresno Bankruptcy Court has a tool that helps you create your master address list online on its website. When creating this list, double-check your credit report one more time to make sure you include all your creditors along with the correct information for each one.
Get Your Filing Fee
Filing bankruptcy in Fresno will require you to pay a filing fee of $335 for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or $310 for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The filing fee must be paid by cash, money order, or cashier’s check. If you cannot pay this all at one time, you can arrange to make payments on it over 4 months by applying to pay the fee in installments. If possible, pay the fee in full as soon as you can because if something unexpected happens and you miss a payment, your case will be thrown out. If you cannot afford to pay installments and you are filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno, you can submit this application for a fee waiver along with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy documents. The Court will determine whether to grant you a waiver based on whether you fall within 150% of the poverty guidelines, whether you can pay the fee in installments, the information you provided on the fee waiver application, and the information contained in your California bankruptcy schedules and statements. This information helps the Court decide whether you can afford to pay your filing fee. If the Court does not grant your fee waiver, you still have the option to pay the filing fee in installments.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Before you decide to print your forms, make sure you have saved your work. Legal documents, such as your Fresno bankruptcy petition, schedules, and statements, must be printed one-sided, never double-sided. One-sided means that print should appear only on one side of the paper. You can print these forms using any home or office printer, at the Fresno County Public Library, and sometimes at one of Fresno’s legal aid agencies. If you are completing the documents by hand, you can pick up all the blank forms from the Clerk’s Office at the Fresno Bankruptcy Court, to avoid having to print them yourself. After printing the document single-sided, it’s a good idea to double-check all the forms, rereading everything carefully before signing them. Since original signed documents are submitted to the Court when filing bankruptcy in Fresno, the Court recommends that you bring a second copy of your bankruptcy petition for your records and the Clerk will stamp it. If you do not bring a copy and later need one, the Clerk’s Office can make you a copy, but that will cost you $0.50 a page, so it’s best to print (or make) your own copy instead.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
After printing your forms, you will want to file the original at the Fresno Bankruptcy Court at 2500 Tulare Street in Fresno. The Fresno Bankruptcy Court does not provide parking, but you can reach it by bus on the Fresno Area Express. Metered parking is available on the street. Meters are enforced from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. There are two-hour free parking spaces near the Amtrak Station, just two blocks east of the courthouse.
Most people file their California bankruptcy documents in person during regular business hours, Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., excluding federal holidays. When you arrive at the courthouse, be prepared to wait in line to pass through the security scanners. Then make your way over to the Clerk’s Office where you will wait in line to file your documents.
You can mail your paperwork (the original and your copy) to the courthouse by including a self-addressed envelope with the right amount of postage to have your file-stamped copy returned to you, but there are many advantages to filing your California bankruptcy in person. The most significant advantage of filing in person is that the Clerk’s Office has the opportunity to review your forms before you file them. If the Clerk notices anything missing, your California bankruptcy documents will be returned to you as incomplete. Then you have the opportunity to review and resubmit the forms before they can be rejected later in the process, causing an unnecessary delay. Another advantage to filing in person is that you can immediately receive a file-stamped copy of your Fresno bankruptcy documents.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After filing bankruptcy in Fresno, you will be assigned a Trustee and provided with a date for your 341 meeting of creditors. The Trustee manages your case and will review your bankruptcy forms in preparation for the 341 meeting. Your 341 meeting will take place about a month after your California bankruptcy case is filed. Within that time, the Trustee will review your bankruptcy forms to assess your case and look for assets to determine whether any of them can and should be sold for the benefit of your creditors. If the Trustee asks you for additional information or documents, you should be quick to provide them before the 341 meeting based on the specific instructions you receive from your Trustee. Typically, people can submit the information by mail or email to the Trustee.
If you filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno, the Court sends Form 309Ato your creditors to notify them that you filed for bankruptcy relief. If you receive this form more than once yourself, it is returned mail because the address you provided for a creditor was not correct. If that is the case, you need to check your documents and find the proper address so that the creditor can receive notice before the 341 meeting. After you correct the address, you will need to amend (update) your master address list.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
A crucial part of having your debts discharged or wiped out is to complete the second financial education course after filing bankruptcy in Fresno. Taking the course in person is currently not an option within Fresno County, but it can be completed online or by phone. Do not be confused as the second course can have different names such as pre-discharge course, debtor education course, post-filing course. No matter the title, the post-bankruptcy course must be taken from an approved agency. The two-hour course is designed to help you plan for the future. It covers topics such as creating a budget (again), saving money, keeping financial records, using your credit appropriately, and setting financial goals. The course provides tools to help you manage your money that you can use to shape your financial future after filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno.
Do not wait to take this course and file the certificate. One of the top reasons Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases are thrown out without a discharge having been entered, is non-completion of the second financial education course. After taking the course, submit your Certificate of Completion to the Court if the course provider won’t do so automatically. A lot of folks complete the second course before their 341 meeting and submit their certificate to the Court on the day of their 341 meeting, accomplishing two tasks with just one trip to the Fresno Bankruptcy Court.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 Meeting of Creditors is important, and you must show up. Most Chapter 7 bankruptcies do not include assets for the Trustee to distribute. Even if this situation applies to you, you should still prepare. Bring your government-issued identification and your original social security card to the meeting. Many also find it useful to bring a paper and pen in case the Trustee asks for additional information during the meeting. You may also want to bring a copy of your bankruptcy forms and the financial documents you used to complete the forms.
It is a good idea to show respect to the Trustee by dressing appropriately. Business casual is office appropriate in skirt or slacks, blouse, button-down shirt, and close-toed shoes and is generally the recommended attire for your Meeting of Creditors. You should not dress messy or too relaxed as if you just visited the Chaffee Zoo or Yosemite, i.e. in sandals and a tank top.
After passing through security at the Fresno Bankruptcy Courthouse, there is a sign on the wall pointing you in the direction of the Trustee Meeting Rooms. Your 341 meeting will be scheduled in a one-hour slot along with up to nine other people so it will be a short meeting, typically lasting no more than 5-15 minutes.
The meeting will likely be you, your attorney if you have one, and the Trustee. Rarely do creditors attend. During the meeting, the Trustee will ask you a series of questions under oath. Under oath means you promise to tell the truth. The Trustee will ask about the California bankruptcy documents you filed and your assets. Questions include whether you reviewed and understood your [bankruptcy] petition, whether you listed all your debts and assets, and whether you sold any assets within the last three years. Fresnians just like you have sailed through this step in filing bankruptcy in Fresno by by providing truthful and clear answers in as few words as possible.
Dealing with Your Car
Fresno is a city with short 20-minute vehicle commutes to most parts of town. If you drive a car in Fresno, you know how important it is to have mastered defensive driving as the city ranked within the top 20 for worst drivers in the nation and within the top 10 for the most DUIs. When filing your Fresno bankruptcy, deciding what to do with your car may weigh heavily on your mind. Remember that you can explore your options for getting to work, taking the kids to the class trip at the Meux Home Museum, or traveling from downtown to Woodward Park.
You can claim an exemptionto protect a car you own outright during your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno. If you have equity (which is the difference between what you owe on the car and the cash value of the car) claiming the proper exemption will protect the equity even though you do not own your car outright.
If you owe money on your car, the decision about what to do with your vehicle during your Fresno bankruptcy may not be so hard if you owe more than the car is worth. After making transportation arrangements, some in that situation decide to surrender their vehicle to the bank. To do so, simply notify the Court and the lender of your intent to walk away from the vehicle and the loan or lease associated with it by stating as much on your Statement of Intentions. Once the lender gets permission to do so, they will repossess the car and sell it at an auction. Your obligation to pay the loan balance (including a deficiency balance left after the auction) is eliminated by your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno.
If you owe money on your car and you decide you need to keep your vehicle, you may also opt for reaffirmation or redemption. Both options require that you be up to date on the payments for the car. Reaffirmation creates a new agreement between you and the lender where you agree to continue paying for the vehicle. The new agreement should be returned and signed within 45 days of your 341 meeting. You will continue to be responsible for the loan after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno, and as long as you make your payments, you can keep the car. Some people also use a reaffirmation agreement to keep a credit card or two open, though that is not recommended.
If you decide to keep your car by paying the lender the current value of the car, instead of what you owe on the loan, then you are opting for a redemption. Many do not have this kind of cash to pay the lender while filing bankruptcy in Fresno but may choose to contact a redemption lender. You will want to shop around for a redemption lender because the interest rates tend to be high.
An attorney may be a good resource to help you strategize and complete the paperwork. You will want to ask whether the fee for dealing with your car is separate from the fees you paid for representation during your California bankruptcy.
California Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Fresno
California Means Test
Chapter 7 bankruptcy was created to wipe away debt for those who honestly can’t pay their debts. Through BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Act), Congress created the California bankruptcy Means Test, thereby imposing an income limit for those filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The Chapter 7 Means Test starts by measuring income; then, if you do not meet the income limit, you must complete the Means Test Calculator unless you are exempt. Here, an exemption means that you are not required to pass the California bankruptcy Means Test calculation regardless of your income, though this applies only in limited cases.
The Current Statement of Monthly Income of the California bankruptcy Means Test measures your income. You calculate your monthly income by adding up all your income from all sources over the last six months. Income includes cashed out retirement accounts and any payments you have received from any settlements. For example, if your property was destroyed in the wildfires and you received a payout or settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric within the last six months that would be counted as income. Add all your income for the 6 months, then divide it by six to determine your monthly income. Then that number is multiplied by 12 to get the annual income.
You pass the California bankruptcy Means Test if your income falls below the median income of a family of your size in California. You can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno. If your annual income is higher than the median, you will move on to complete the California Means Test Calculator.
The California bankruptcy Means Test Calculator measures your disposable income. Disposable income is the money left after subtracting certain expenses, including taxes. You add up all expenses from the last six months. Remember, some expenses are limited to the national standards imposed by the IRS. Some additional expenses may be added, such as the higher than average utilities in Fresno County, but you need to be prepared to explain the increased expenses to the judge. Take the calculation over the six months and divide by six for the monthly expenses, then multiply by 12 for the annual expenses. Then subtract your yearly income from your expenses. What you have left after subtracting your expenses from your income, both according to the numbers calculated for your California bankruptcy Means Test, is your disposable income.
If the result is negative disposable income, then you passed the California bankruptcy Mean Test, and you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you have positive disposable income, a “presumption of abuse” arises because it is assumed you can pay at least some of your debts. In that situation, consider filing under Chapter 13, which establishes a payment plan. You may also benefit from contacting an attorney to guide you through the process and review your financial situation.
In some cases, you can skip the California Means Test Calculator if you qualify for an exemption. If your debt is not household or consumer debt, then you are exempted and may file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno regardless of your income. For example, if a majority of your debt was incurred during your new business venture, inspired by “Lowriders de Fresno,” this would be considered business debt. Your promotion selling lowrider model cars outside the Fresno Grizzlies games on Taco Tuesday is considered a business venture, and the debt you incurred doing it is a non-consumer debt. If most of your debt is non-consumer debt, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without completing the Means Test Calculation. There are a few other exceptions related to service in the military, and if either of these exceptions applies make sure to complete the Statement from Exemption of Abuseform to submit with your bankruptcy documents.
Median Income Levels for California
California Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
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.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
California Bankruptcy Forms
You can find the petition packet with the California bankruptcy forms on the website for the Fresno Bankruptcy Court. The petition package provides directions and requests information about you and your finances. You must submit a complete packet when filing bankruptcy in Fresno.
You start with the Voluntary Petition, work your way through each form that applies, and attach the corresponding documents required for your California bankruptcy. Remember, to review what is listed carefully and complete it thoroughly. Assets such as costume jewelry and your stereo may not be valuable enough to sell in your opinion, but if you own it, list it. Do your best to set the values for each. One of the most critical California bankruptcy forms is the Verification of Master Address List to confirm that your typed list of creditors provides the Court with the necessary information to notify all of your creditors that you are filing bankruptcy in Fresno. You should also verify that the creditors in your Master List match the creditors listed on your Schedules D, E and F.
Follow the directions when completing each form. It will take some time, but others like you have successfully completed their California bankruptcy forms by taking the time to carefully review everything and making sure all the information is complete and accurate.
Most states allow you to choose between the federal bankruptcy exemptions and state exemptions. Bankruptcy exemptions determine which property you are legally allowed to keep after filing bankruptcy in Fresno. If you have lived in California for at least two years, federal bankruptcy exemptions are not available for your Fresno bankruptcy, but you can choose between two sets of California bankruptcy exemptions.
Section 703 and Section 704 of the California Code of Civil Procedure are the laws setting the California bankruptcy exemptions. If you are married, you can double your exemptions if you are filing jointly. Deciding between 703 and 704 depends on the property you are trying to protect in your California bankruptcy. The exemptions under 703 apply best if you own more personal property (cars, antiques), and want to protect it. The 704 exemption is better if you have more equity to protect in a home or land or higher value personal property. For example, if you wanted to protect your investment in a taco truck that you purchased to compete against La Elegante, under both 703 and 704 you could protect your business vehicle up to $8,000. The amount you can protect could increase to $15,975 if it was a joint business venture with your spouse and you both filed jointly.
Finally, when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Fresno, you may also be able to claim federal nonbankruptcy exemptions in addition to your California bankruptcy exemptions, if you meet the professional or individual qualifications.