How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Hawaii
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Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t have to be scary and confusing. We provide helpful tips and resources to help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in your state without a lawyer.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated February 9, 2022
Hawaii is one of the most beautiful states in the country, but nothing can ruin the peaceful scenery like unending calls and angry letters from creditors that you can’t satisfy. Job loss, student loans, foreclosure, and medical bills can easily throw your financial situation into chaos. That’s why bankruptcy exists — to provide relief for people like you who need and deserve a fresh start.
Researching bankruptcy, understanding how it compares to other forms of debt relief, and knowing how long the process takes are powerful first steps in the journey to a brighter financial future. This guide explains the steps of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process in Hawaii. You can follow these steps whether you plan to file on your own or with a bankruptcy lawyer.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Hawaii
You may be dreading the answer to “How Much Does Bankruptcy Cost?” There is a $338 filing fee. But if your income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines you can ask the court to waive the fee.
One of the most expensive costs is hiring an attorney. Luckily, you’re allowed to file bankruptcy without a lawyer in Hawaii. This is called filing "pro se." Filing pro se means you can file your case for free if you put in your own elbow grease and qualify for a fee waiver.
Collect Your Hawaii Bankruptcy Documents
Filing for bankruptcy requires a lot of paperwork. It can be helpful to use our Chapter 7 document checklist to get started. Note that there are two different kinds of bankruptcy documents. First are the bankruptcy forms that you’ll file with the court to start your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in Hawaii. Second are the supporting documents that you’ll use to fill out and verify the information in those bankruptcy forms.
This second category includes:
The last two years of tax returns.
The last six months of paycheck stubs.
Bank statements covering the past year can be a helpful way to understand your expenses. Once you’ve filed, you’ll also need the bank statement covering your filing date.
Your credit report. If you file using Upsolve’s free filing tool, it will pull this for you. Or you can pull a free credit report on your own from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies every 12 months.
Additional documents such as credit card bills, collection letters, and any other debt-related documents you may have. These help you give the court a complete picture of your financial situation.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
Bankruptcy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. To ensure that you fully understand your options and make an educated decision about what strategy works best for your needs, you’re required to take a credit counseling course before filing any kind of personal bankruptcy. You must take a course with an approved provider for Hawaii, and you can complete it at any point in the six months before you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The course isn’t free, but you can apply for a fee waiver if you can’t afford the course fee. When you finish the course, you’ll get a certificate of completion. You need to file this with the court along with the rest of your bankruptcy documents.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
You can get a set of all the Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms, also known as a bankruptcy petition, directly from the bankruptcy court in Hawaii. Most of the forms are the same nationwide. If you plan to fill them out yourself, you can download the forms in a fillable PDF format from the federal judiciary. Since you’re swearing to the truth of the information you’ve provided when you sign, it’s important to take your time and carefully review everything. If you lie on these forms (this is known as perjury) you could face legal penalties.
If you hire a bankruptcy attorney to help you file your case, someone at their office will ask you to fill out a questionnaire. Then they’ll use that information to prepare the forms for you. If you can't afford a lawyer, but you’d like assistance completing the forms, see if you’re eligible to file using Upsolve’s free filing tool. If you file using Upsolve’s tool, you’ll fill out an online questionnaire and our software will generate your forms based on your responses.
Get Your Filing Fee
The court filing fee for Chapter 7 is $338. If you earn below 150% of the poverty guidelines, you’re eligible for a fee waiver. (See the Hawaii Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.) You’ll need to complete an application before you go to the clerk’s office to file your case because you have to submit it with your filing.
If you’re not eligible for a waiver, try to save up the $338 before you head to the bankruptcy court. Then bring it with you either as a money order or cashier's check. You can’t pay the fee using your debit card or a personal check at the courthouse, but you can now pay online through Pay.gov, which allows you to link a bank account or pay with a debit card or PayPal account.
Best-case scenario: You can pay the $338 when you file, so you don’t risk having your case dismissed. But some people can't afford to wait until they have the fee in hand. Once you file bankruptcy, the court issues an automatic stay, which prevents creditors from continuing to try to collect on a debt. This is why people who are facing a wage garnishment or other serious collection measures may want to file before they have the full filing fee in hand.
In this case, you can apply for an installment payment plan. This gives you up to four months to pay the fee after you file your case. If you go this route, make sure you write down all your payment due dates and make your payments early. If you miss even one payment, the court can throw your case out.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you file your bankruptcy in Hawaii without a lawyer, you can’t file your case online. You’ll have to give the court a paper copy of the forms. Some of the documents are time-sensitive, so it’s best to wait to print them until you know you’re ready to file.
Ensure you use regular letter-size paper and print one-sided, using black ink. Print the first page of the court’s form package to use as a checklist. It will help you keep track of everything you’re printing. This is important because a lot of the forms you need to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy look alike.
You’ll also need to sign and date in several signature spots. If you file using Upsolve’s tool, you’ll receive your forms as a single download with dividers that indicate where you need to sign. Print a full set of documents for the court, and then make a copy for yourself for safekeeping.
File Your Forms With the Hawaii Bankruptcy Court
Before you mail or drop off your documents to the Hawaii Bankruptcy Court, check to see if there are COVID-19 measures in place. Only lawyers are permitted to file the initial documents for Hawaii bankruptcy cases online. You have two options for filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy documents:
Visit the courthouse in Honolulu, or
Mail everything to the court. You only have to mail one full set of the required forms. Some folks include a copy of the first page of their Voluntary Petition along with a self-addressed stamped envelope. This way, the court can return it to them once it's been stamped as received by the court.
If you’re on Oahu, you can visit the clerk's office Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. or between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Review the parking information on the court’s website and make a plan for parking as the court doesn’t validate parking. Bring your personal backup copy of your bankruptcy forms with you so the clerk can stamp them as filed. That way you have proof that the documents in your files are the same as the court has.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Once you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Hawaii, the court assigns a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee to your case and schedules your creditors' meeting. You may also hear this called the 341 meeting.
The bankruptcy trustee is kind of a referee between you and the people you owe money to (your creditors). The trustee’s job is to move your case forward toward discharging your debts while making sure your creditors get what they’re entitled to under Hawaii’s bankruptcy laws. Before the creditors’ meeting, your trustee may send you a letter asking for information. You’ll likely have this information already in the documents you gathered to support your bankruptcy filing. Review the trustee’s letter carefully and follow all of the instructions.
If you don’t get a letter from your trustee, you still have to provide certain documents to the trustee's office at least seven days before your 341 meeting. This includes:
A copy of your last two federal income tax returns,
A bank statement that includes the date of your bankruptcy filing, and
Copies of every paystub you’ve received in the previous 60 days.
You can find the bankruptcy trustee's information and mailing address on the official notice you’ll receive from the bankruptcy court shortly after filing Chapter 7 in Hawaii.
Take a Debtor Education Course
Before you can receive your bankruptcy discharge, you have to complete a financial management course. You must do this within 60 days of your 341 meeting. This course is different from the credit counseling course you take before you file your bankruptcy case. Though both must be taken with a state-approved provider.
Once you’ve completed the course, make sure to file your completion certificate with the court. It tells the judge presiding over your case that you’ve fulfilled this requirement and are ready to have your discharge entered. If you don’t submit your certificate within 60 days of your creditors’ meeting, the court can close your case without discharging your debts.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 meeting (aka your creditors' meeting) will take place 20 to 60 days after you file your bankruptcy case. All 341 meetings are currently being held via telephone or video conference due to COVID-19, but live meetings may resume in the future. The court will tell you the date, time, and location of your meeting in the same notice that contains your trustee's contact information.
Anticipation of the unknown can make the 341 meeting an intimidating, nerve-wracking event. But you can dispel those feelings with a little preparation. Knowing what to expect or what could go wrong can help put your mind at ease. Spoiler alert: Not much can go wrong.
You’ll basically meet with your trustee so they can ask you some questions about your financial situation. They’ll want to check your ID and Social Security number, so come prepared with those documents. During the meeting, you’ll answer questions under oath. It will also be recorded. Your creditors can attend the meeting to ask you questions as well, but that is rare.
In addition to your IDs and any documents your trustee requested from you, you must bring:
Your most recent paycheck stub
The most recent bank statement for each one of your accounts
Documentation of the expenses claimed on your means test form
Any appraisal documentation you may have for any personal or real property
As you prepare for your meeting, calm your nerves by keeping your eyes on the prize because as soon as it's over, your fresh start is just around the corner.
Deal With Your Car
If you own a car or any other vehicle when you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Hawaii, you have to list it as an asset. This is true no matter what it’s worth, and it applies whether you own your car outright or you’re financing it with a car loan. If you’re leasing your car, you’re technically borrowing the car from the dealership, so it won’t be considered an asset, though it’s often still noted on the forms as one.
If your car is worth less than the exemption amount (currently $4,000 for cars in Hawaii), you can keep it even after filing Chapter 7 in Hawaii. This applies if you own the car outright or if you’re still making loan payments so long as you’re current on your payments.
If you are still making payments on your car, you have two main options:
Discharge the loan balance. If you owe more on your car than it’s worth, you may want to get out of the loan. You can do this in two ways: You can give the car back and have the loan balance discharged. Or, if you want to keep the car and you have the money, you can pay the creditor the car’s fair market value and have the remainder of the loan discharged. Even if the car’s value is significantly less than the loan balance, you won't have to pay for it because the difference is discharged as part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Hawaii.
Stay the course. If you’re happy with the car, you can manage your monthly payment, and the loan balance isn’t more than the car’s value, you can keep everything the same by entering into a reaffirmation agreement with your lender.
You can buy a car after bankruptcy, but you may want to wait a while to get a good deal.
Hawaii Bankruptcy Means Test
The Hawaii means test for bankruptcy is the calculation that decides who qualifies to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It starts by comparing your household income to the median income for a similar household in the state. If your income is below the income limits, you pass the Hawaii bankruptcy means test, and you’re eligible to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Hawaii.
If not, you’re only eligible to move forward under Chapter 7 if you don’t have the disposable income to pay even a small amount of your debts. This will take your expenses as well as your income into account.
Hawaii Bankruptcy Forms
The main bankruptcy forms are the same across the United States. You can access the Hawaii Chapter 7 bankruptcy form packet on the court’s website. In addition, the court has created certain local forms that you may at a later stage of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Hawaii. You can download all local forms as a fillable PDF for free.
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Hawaii Districts & Filing Requirements
Unlike larger states, Hawaii only has one U.S. Bankruptcy Court district. Full details on bankruptcy filing requirements can be found here. You can pay the $338 filing fee upfront by money order, certified or cashier’s check, or online via Pay.gov. If you can’t afford the fee, you can apply for an installment payment plan or for a full fee waiver. If you’re filing on your own, you can submit your papers to the court in person or by mail. If you mail your documents, send them by certified mail so you have a record of receipt. Your filing date will be the day your papers arrive (not the day you put them in the mail).
Check the court website for guidance on how court operations are being impacted by COVID-19.
Hawaii Bankruptcy Exemptions
Movie depictions of bankruptcy might make you think you'll have to liquidate everything you own, and you’ll be left with nothing. This isn’t accurate! Bankruptcy exemptions are meant to help you keep your property.
For example, if you own your home, the federal homestead exemption means you can protect up to $25,150 of its value from creditors. This doesn’t apply if you owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth.
Other exemptions cover essentials like your car, health aids, pensions, alimony, or child support. Exemptions can even cover items like computers, antiques, or jewelry up to a certain amount.
The Aloha State allows people who’ve lived in the state for at least two years to choose either the federal exemptions or the Hawaii bankruptcy exemptions to protect their assets. Two things to keep in mind:
You have to choose either federal or state exemptions. You can’t mix and match.
If you’re filing with your spouse, you both have to use the same set of exemptions. But each partner is individually entitled to the full amount of the exemptions they’re able to claim on Schedule C of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Hawaii.
Hawaii Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers usually charge a flat fee instead of billing by the hour for Chapter 7 cases. That means all their services are lumped together for a single price. Like many other costs in Hawaii, the average cost of this legal advice is higher than the national average. Hawaiian bankruptcy attorney fees range from $1,199 to $1,500.
Most lawyers representing clients in Hawaii bankruptcy matters offer a free consultation. If you’re up for it, it may be worth a meeting or two to get a sense of how complex your case is (which will help determine the fee) and if you’d feel comfortable working with the attorney. It’s also good to consider your organizational skills, concern for your credit score, and if you feel comfortable managing the filing on your own.
Hawaii Legal Aid Organizations
If you’d like to explore getting an attorney’s help but you can’t afford to do so, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii may be able to provide you with a pro bono (free) lawyer for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Legal Aid Society serves every island but each island has similar smaller nonprofits, such as Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, that provide free legal aid and can often assist low-income individuals with their Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
924 Bethel Street, Honolulu, HI 96813
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Hawaii Court Locations
1132 Bishop Street
1132 Bishop Street Honolulu, HI 96813
Hawaii Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Hawaii||Hon. Robert J. Faris|
|District of Hawaii||Hon. Lloyd King|
|Dane S. Field||DField@hawaii.rr.com|
|Elizabeth A. Kanefirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Richard A. Yanagiemail@example.com|