10 step guide on how to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Georgia without a lawyer. This guide provides an overview of the bankruptcy process for filers seeking debt relief in the Georgia Bankruptcy Court.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated October 21, 2020
If you need debt relief, a Georgia bankruptcy filing may be the best way to get a fresh start. Residents in the Peach State get the benefit of a generous wildcard exemption when filing bankruptcy. A wildcard exemption allows you to protect any property from your creditors even if it’s not otherwise covered. Once your Georgia bankruptcy petition is submitted to the court, a trustee is assigned to administer (handle) your case. It's the trustee's job to see if you have anything that is not protected by exemptions. Since filing Chapter 7 in Georgia enables you to use the wildcard exemption, most Georgians filers don’t lose any of their belongings. This is true in all three bankruptcy districts.
How to File Bankruptcy in Georgia for Free
One of your biggest questions about a bankruptcy filing is probably how much it will all cost. We'll talk a little bit more about how much Georgia bankruptcy attorneys charge and what kind of Legal Aid resources are available in the Peach State later on in this guide. For now, it’s important to know that you don’t have to hire a bankruptcy attorney when to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Georgia.
Collect Your Georgia Bankruptcy Documents
Gathering everything early on will help you stay organized and reduce the stress. You’ll need to provide a list of your creditors, so the first thing you want to do is get a free copy of your credit report. You’ll also need a list of your assets (everything you own is considered an asset, even if it’s not valuable), all the paycheck stubs you and your spouse have received in the last 7 months (including the month you want to file in) and a general overview of your income and expenses. Your Georgia bankruptcy trustee is also allowed to review your tax returns, and may want to review bank statements, vehicle titles, and deeds to any real estate you own.
Take Credit Counseling
Completing a credit counseling course is one of the steps everyone must take before filing bankruptcy in Georgia. The office of the United States Trustee provides a list of all approved credit counseling providers offering the required course in the Peach State.
The class itself only takes about 1.5 - 2 hours and you can choose to take it in person, over the phone, or online. There’s a small fee for this course, so when you’re getting ready to file Chapter 7 in Georgia, make sure to shop around. Only take the course when you are ready and have all the information you need on how to file bankruptcy in Georgia because the certificate of completion is only valid for 180 days.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
There are two types of forms when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Georgia:
(1) National Forms: These are the Chapter 7 forms that are the same everywhere.
(2) Georgia bankruptcy forms: Some forms are required when filing bankruptcy in Georgia even though they are not required in other states. They’re called "local forms".
If you’re working with a law firm, they’ll use software to generate both sets of forms with the information you provide to them. If you’re using Upsolve, our free tool helps you prepare the forms. Either way, both the national forms and the local Georgia bankruptcy forms can be downloaded from the court's website in all three districts.
Get Your Filing Fee
The bankruptcy court charges a $338 filing fee for Chapter 7 and $313 for Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases. You can’t use a credit card to pay this fee, but in the Northern District you can pay online using a debit card. If your household income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you may qualify for a fee waiver. The Northern District of Georgia provides a detailed overview of how fee waivers work. Folks who can’t wait to file due to an ongoing garnishment can ask the court for permission to pay the fee in installments after the case is filed.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Filing bankruptcy in Georgia requires quite a lot of forms to be filled out, so work diligently and with care to make sure you have everything you need. Once everything is ready for you to take to the court, print one set of everything for the court and make a copy (or print a second copy) of everything for your own files. Georgia bankruptcy courts will not accept any forms printed on double-sided pages. You must print all documents you are giving to the court single-sided.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Once you have everything ready, it’s time to file your bankruptcy case. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Georgia bankruptcy courts have made some changes on how to submit the forms to the court. Make sure you check out the information for your district, so you have a gameplan for filing your case. As soon as your case is filed, the automatic stay protects you from your creditors.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
You’ll find out who your bankruptcy trustee is when you receive Form 309A from the court. The notice is a standard form and the name and contact information for your bankruptcy trustee is listed under number 5 on page 1 of the form.
The Bankruptcy Code requires that you provide a copy of your most recent tax return to your trustee no later than 7 days before your 341 meeting. Your trustee may also ask for bank statements and paycheck stubs or other documents. Your 341 meeting will go much smoother if the trustee gets the documents on time. So, make sure to carefully review everything you receive from the court and the trustee right away.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
The second bankruptcy course has to be completed before you can get your Georgia bankruptcy discharge. This financial management course is similar to the credit counseling course you completed before you filed. You’ll receive quite a few advertisements from companies that offer the second course shortly after filing. It’s important to take the course from a provider that is approved to offer it in Georgia. Once done, you’ll receive a certificate of completion. Some course providers automatically file the certificate with the bankruptcy court for you.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is a meeting with the trustee that takes place about 30 - 40 days after your Georgia bankruptcy is filed - you can find the exact date and time on your Form 309A. A primary purpose of the meeting is for the trustee to verify your identity, so make sure you are prepared and bring a valid picture ID and proof of your social security number.
In most cases, the 341 meeting takes only a few minutes and most folks walk out of the meeting relieved that it's over but also surprised about how straightforward everything was. Your creditors can attend the 341 meeting to ask you questions about information in your bankruptcy forms. Don’t worry though, most 341 meetings are completed without any creditors showing up.
Dealing with Your Car
There are several things related to your car that you have to keep in mind when filing Chapter 7 in Georgia. The value of the car will determine whether the trustee that is handling your case will be interested in it. If you don’t have a car payment, then you can keep your car as long as its resale value (in its current condition) is less than the available exemption (more on Georgia bankruptcy exemptions below).
If you have a car payment you probably don't have non-exempt equity that the trustee would be interested in. In that case, the main question you should ask yourself is whether you can afford the car payment. If it’s not a hardship, it may make sense to keep the car and enter into a reaffirmation agreement with the lender.
The Northern District of Georgia has a Reaffirmation Project and provides a comprehensive guide for self-represented debtors. If you do not want to keep your car after filing bankruptcy in Georgia, you can surrender the car and discharge the debt.
Georgia Bankruptcy Means Test
To file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy you have to make sure you qualify under the Georgia means test. The means test is a way for the court to make sure that folks who have the ability to pay their debts, actually do so as part of a Chapter 13 case. In other words, you can't make too much money in order to get relief under Georgia bankruptcy laws. Median Income Levels for Georgia
Georgia Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Poverty levels for Georgia
Georgia Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Georgia Bankruptcy Forms
In order to file bankruptcy in Georgia you’ll have to complete all the official bankruptcy forms that are the same in all states. Depending on which division your bankruptcy petition is filed in, you may need to submit certain local forms as well. All Georgia bankruptcy forms are available for free online. You should not be purchasing blank forms from anyone.
Northern District of Georgia Requirements
The Northern District is the largest judicial district in Georgia and covers the 56 counties in northern Georgia. If you live in the Northern District, your case will be assigned to one of its four divisions. The county you live in will determine whether your Georgia bankruptcy case will be heard in the Atlanta, Gainesville, Newnan or Rome division.
Since it covers so many counties, the Northern District makes figuring out your division easy with a color coded map. The Northern District requires certain local bankruptcy forms that are the same in all divisions. If you’re filing without a bankruptcy attorney, make sure to file the Pro Se Affidavit required in this District.
As of October 15, 2020, anyone filing in the Northern District of Georgia can pay the court filing fee using this online system.
Southern District of Georgia Requirements
The Southern District of Georgia covers 43 counties and is broken into 6 divisions. The court provides a listing of each of the divisions and the counties they cover on their website. Interestingly, there is no separate disclosure for folks filing without a bankruptcy lawyer in this district. However, there is a specific form regarding your paycheck stubs to complete and file with the court. You can also request to get notices from the bankruptcy court via email in this district.
Middle District of Georgia Requirements
The Middle District of Georgia has an office in Columbus and Macon. Even though there are only two offices for this district, you are able to file your Georgia bankruptcy forms in several locations, depending on the county you live in. If you’re filing in this district and don’t have an attorney, you will find a detailed overview of what you need to know on the court's website.
Georgia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Exemption laws determine which property you can keep when filing bankruptcy. Georgia has opted out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions. If you’ve lived in the Peach State for at least 2 years, you have to use Georgia bankruptcy exemptions. If you don't own a home, you can use the wildcard exemption to protect property that doesn’t fit in any of the other categories.
Georgia Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
If you’re thinking about a Georgia bankruptcy, you’re probably wondering how much bankruptcy attorneys charge. Typically, the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer ranges somewhere between $649 and $1,500, depending on where you live and how complex your case is. Scheduling a free consultation with a local bankruptcy law firm can’t hurt. If there is anything that may be unusual about your case, investing in a Georgia bankruptcy lawyer may be money well spent. They can help protect you from issues you may not even know exist until the trustee asks you about them.
On the other hand, if you don't have any fancy assets you want to protect, the wildcard exemption can make filing without an attorney pretty straightforward. Upsolve’s free tool may be able to help you to prepare your bankruptcy forms and avoid the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer.
Georgia Legal Aid Organizations
Legal aid in Georgia includes a few organizations that can assist you when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Legal Aid Atlanta, in addition to their headquarters in Atlanta, serve the counties of Clayton, S. Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett. Additionally, folks outside of Atlanta can turn to the Georgia Legal Aid or Georgia Legal Services to get help. Finally, if you are a member of the military, the State Bar of Georgia (that's the organization that regulates lawyers) can connect you with an attorney that is willing to provide free or reduced-fee legal services as part of its Military Legal Assistance Program.
Georgia Court Locations
Richard B. Russell Federal Building and United States Courthouse
75 Ted Turner Drive Atlanta, GA 30303
Lewis R. Morgan Federal Building and United States Courthouse
18 Greenville Street Newnan, GA 30263
One Arsenal Place
901 Front Avenue Columbus, GA 31901
433 Cherry Street
433 Cherry Street Macon, GA 31201
Federal Justice Center - The Plaza Building
600 James Brown Boulevard Augusta, GA 30901
Tomochichi United States Courthouse
125 Bull Street Savannah, GA 31401
Frank M. Scarlett Federal Building
801 Gloucester Street Brunswick, GA 31520
Georgia Bankruptcy Judges
|Middle District of Georgia||Hon. James P. Smith|
|Middle District of Georgia||Hon. John T. Laney|
|Middle District of Georgia||Hon. Austin E. Carter|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Wendy L. Hagenau|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Paul M. Baisier|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Paul W. Bonapfel|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Jeffery W. Cavender|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. W. H. Drake Jr.|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Barbara Ellis-Monro|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Lisa Craig|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. James R. Sacca|
|Northern District of Georgia||Hon. Sage M. Sigler|
|Southern District of Georgia||Hon. Edward J. Coleman III|
|Southern District of Georgia||Hon. Susan Barrett|
|Southern District of Georgia||Hon. Michele J. Kim|
|Walter W. Kelley||WKelley@kelleylovett.com|
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|Joy R. Webster||31202|
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