Live in Iowa and need help filing for bankruptcy and can't afford an attorney? Our legal aid nonprofit guides Iowa debtors through the chapter 7 process.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated July 30, 2020
Iowa bankruptcy options exist to help folks find a way out of a bad situation. Everyone has a point where something has to give in order for things to be right again, and if you have reached this point and can't figure out how to get all your bills paid and put food on the table, then one of these options may be right for you. Although it can feel like you failed, filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa actually allows you to pay your debts as much as the Iowa bankruptcy laws say you can, and discharges (forgives) the rest. A large majority of all Chapter 7 cases are so-called no-asset cases where creditors don't receive anything because most debtors don't actually own anything that is not legally protected already. As you go through this process, just remember, there is nothing wrong with seeking the bankruptcy protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. They exist to protect you. Chances are you have already paid your bank more than you originally borrowed from them; so, don't feel like you are not living up to the promises you made.
How to File Bankruptcy in Iowa for Free
Filing Chapter 7 in Iowa normally comes with a court filing fee of $335, which can be an insurmountable obstacle for some people. If this is more than you can pay, even if given the chance to make payments over time, you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa for free by asking the Bankruptcy Court to waive it with this application to waive the court filing fee.
Collect Your Iowa Bankruptcy Documents
The first step in the process of filing bankruptcy in Iowa is to collect your bankruptcy documents. These documents, even though they are not filed with the court, contain a lot of the information you will need as you go through this process. Your bank statements will come in helpful in putting together a list of your expenses for the month, if you are not already following a set budget. Your paycheck stubs are required to calculate your income and make sure you are actually eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa, and your credit report will provide you with a lot of the necessary information to complete your creditor schedules. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. If you are unsure how to request it, you can either visit the website for the three credit report agencies, utilize this online tool, or follow the instructions provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Finally, even though it might not provide any useful information for you as you complete your bankruptcy forms, make sure you put your most recent tax return with the rest of your bankruptcy documents as you will need to provide it to your case trustee after filing Chapter 7 in Iowa.
Take Credit Counseling
In order to make sure everyone completely understands their options before filing bankruptcy in Iowa, the Bankruptcy Code requires that you take a credit counseling class. This class is a requirement to be a debtor in bankruptcy, so, even if you already know your options and have a game plan that works for you, you still have to take the course. The course itself takes only about 2 hours and you are given the option to take it online, over the phone, or in person. A lot of people take advantage of the online course offerings, as that can be done on your schedule and without even having to leave the house. It makes sense to take this course before you start filling out the paperwork needed for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa as it will help put you in the right frame of mind for the type of information that the forms ask for. Additionally, the certificate of completion is valid for 180 days, so you have plenty of time to get everything done after taken this course. Before you sign up for a course with a provider near you, make sure to check this listing of approved providers for Iowa, to confirm that they are able to offer the course you need before filing Chapter 7 in Iowa.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
This is the step where having a lawyer can be most helpful, as they typically ask you to fill out an easy to follow questionnaire, and then do the legwork of plugging all of that information into the somewhat confusing official bankruptcy forms. Don’t worry if you can't afford a lawyer to help you with this process, as you don't need one. Plenty of folks figure out how to properly complete the bankruptcy forms themselves, and you don't legally have to have a lawyer to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa. Before going too far down this path, see if you are eligible to have Upsolve help you, as that will take a lot of the burden of following the instructions on how to complete the forms off your shoulders. Ultimately, regardless of how you get your bankruptcy forms completed, the most important thing to remember when filing bankruptcy in Iowa is that you have a duty to truthfully disclose all of the requested information. So be deliberate and think hard to make sure that completed bankruptcy forms paint a full picture for the court and the trustee. You only get the chance to tell your side of the story once; if it turns out that you missed important information on your schedules, everyone will wonder what else you might have left out in your Iowa bankruptcy forms.
Get Your Filing Fee
To find out whether you are able to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa for free by applying for a waiver, first check to see if you income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. If it is, and it's clear from your monthly budget that there is no way that you can ever pay the full $335 needed when filing Chapter 7 in Iowa, then complete this fee waiver application and put it with the rest of your bankruptcy documents so you don't forget it when you head to the courthouse to hand in your paperwork. If your income is greater than that, you will not be able to get your court filing fee waived. If you have to file relatively quickly because your creditors are threatening to foreclose on your home or garnish your wages, consider asking the court to allow you to pay the court filing fee monthly installments after your Iowa bankruptcy has been filed with this application. This allows you to get the protections that go into effect after filing bankruptcy in Iowa right away, while giving you up to 4 months to pay the fee. It's not a good idea to do this if you don't have to file right away, though. In that case, it's best to take your time to collect the court filing fee in full beforehand. Otherwise, you risk having your Iowa bankruptcy case thrown out if something outside of your control prevents you from making the installment payments on time.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Now that the hardest part is done, you are ready to pull together everything you've so diligently collected and prepared and take the next step towards filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa. Most bankruptcy districts, including Iowa, only allow lawyers to use the court's electronic court system. If you are filing without a lawyer ("pro se") you will have to bring a paper copy of all of your forms to the courthouse. Although you only need one copy of everything for the court when filing bankruptcy in Iowa, it's a good idea to take the time to print (or make) a second copy for your own records. That way you know you have everything that the court has and can refer back to it later if you need to. The documents you will provide to the court for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa may add up to 50 pages or more, depending on how many creditors you have. Even though it may seem like a waste, don't print anything double-sided; the court won't accept that. Use regular, white, 8.5" x 11" paper and don't forget to sign where necessary.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
When you head to the courthouse, in addition to everything else, make sure you bring a picture ID; after all, you will be entering a federal building and have to pass through security on the way in. Iowa is broken into two bankruptcy districts - the Northern District and the Southern District. If you are in the Southern District, you will have to head to Des Moines for the purpose of filing bankruptcy in Iowa. The Northern District has multiple locations, and while the county you live in ultimately determines which division your Iowa bankruptcy case is assigned to, you can file your paperwork in whichever courthouse within the district is most convenient for you. If you are not familiar with the area of town the courthouse is in, take a moment to find out the best spot to park before you leave home. You're probably already nervous enough about going to court by yourself, there's no need to make that worse by adding parking complications. Finally, when you go to the courthouse to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa, you will not see a judge. Instead, you will visit the clerk's office, who will accept your documents for filing with the court. If you bring the second copy of your documents with you when you go, you can ask them to stamp it with your case information, making it an easy place to find all the details of your case after filing Chapter 7 in Iowa.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Everyone who files Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa has a trustee assigned to their case. The trustee is the person who will administer (or handle) your case. This allows the court to make sure everything is done in an efficient and orderly manner, because generally speaking no one will have to deal with any of your creditors on an individual basis. So, while they don't represent you (if anything, they represent the interests of your unsecured creditors), your trustee does have the authority to ask the court to either delay the entry of your discharge, or have it revoked once entered, if you don't cooperate with them during your case. Filing Chapter 7 in Iowa requires you to provide certain documentation to the trustee so they can verify the information contained in your bankruptcy forms. You have to make sure that you send your most recent income tax return to your trustee so they have it at least a week before your meeting of creditors is scheduled to take place. After filing bankruptcy in Iowa, you may also receive a letter from your trustee outlining any other tasks they may want you to complete in preparation for your creditors
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Taking bankruptcy course 2 is the only step, other than attending your meeting of creditors, that is absolutely required of everyone filing bankruptcy in Iowa. Similar to the course you took before your Iowa bankruptcy case was filed, this course can only be taken from a company that is preapproved to offer it. You will probably get quite a few offers about this course in the mail after your case is filed; before you choose one of them, check this listing to make sure the company that sent it to you is approved to offer the course to folks filing bankruptcy in Iowa. When you are done with the course, a certificate of completion is filed with the court. This lets everyone know that you have complied with this requirement, and, once the requisite amount of time has passed, prompts the court to enter your discharge order.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The creditors' meeting, or 341 meeting, is the one event for which everyone filing bankruptcy in Iowa has to go to court about 20 - 40 days after their Iowa bankruptcy is filed. Even though it typically takes place at a courthouse, it is not a formal court proceeding in front of the judge. Instead, it's a semi-public meeting with your trustee. It's semi-public because a number of cases are scheduled for each half hour time slot, thereby allowing the trustee to meet with a number of debtors at one time. When your case is called, you have to make sure that you have your picture ID and acceptable proof of your social security number to provide to the trustee. Without it, your 341 meeting cannot continue. Once the trustee has verified you are who you say you are, the trustee will put you under oath and ask you some questions about your case. If you are not first on the calendar you will get another opportunity to prepare by listening to the trustee ask someone else filing Chapter 7 in Iowa the same questions you will have to answer. Creditors are notified of the meeting date and time and are permitted to attend the meeting (and may even ask you some questions), though that is not typical.
Dealing with Your Car
Other than a home, the family car is often the most expensive asset people filing Chapter 7 in Iowa own. The good news is that Iowa bankruptcy laws give you the opportunity to deal with your car in a way that best fits your individual situation. If you own your car outright, and are not making any loan payments, you get to keep the car as long as it is worth less than $7,000. If you are still making payments on your car and your payments are more than you can handle, then filing bankruptcy in Iowa is you opportunity to surrender the vehicle and give it back to the bank without having to worry about paying the loan balance. Of course, if you want to keep the car you can, but you have to keep the loan that's associated with it by entering into a reaffirmation agreement. The only way to get out of the loan while keeping the car is to redeem the vehicle by paying the car's fair market value to the creditor as a lump sum payment.
Iowa Bankruptcy Means Test
Everyone's case is different than the next guy's, except for the fact that everyone who wants to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa has to pass the Iowa bankruptcy means test to confirm they are eligible to do so first. This test starts out by calculating your annual income to determine if you make more than the applicable income limits. If you make more than that, the second step is to subtract predetermined amounts to account for your living expenses. If subtracting these amounts, based on national standards set by the IRS, does not leave you with enough money to pay your debts, you pass the Iowa means test for bankruptcy and are eligible to file a Chapter 7 case.
Data on Median income levels for Iowa
Iowa Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Iowa
Iowa 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)|
Iowa Bankruptcy Forms
The Iowa bankruptcy forms are comprised in large part of the national forms, including the Voluntary Petition, the Schedules, the Statement of Financial Affairs and the Statement of Intentions, among others. A list of all of the forms required in an Iowa bankruptcy case can be found here. In addition to the items on the official checklist, and the specific information required by each district with respect to your creditors' mailing addresses as outlined below, there are two local Iowa bankruptcy forms. If you are in the Northern District, you have to use this coversheet to submit your paycheck stubs. The same form does not exist in the Southern District; there, you have to file this declaration instead, but only if you did not receive any paycheck stubs in the 60 days before you filed your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa.
Northern District of Iowa Requirements
The Northern District is very particular about how to best create your creditors' mailing matrix so that it is in a format that acceptable to the clerk's office for filing with the rest of the documents needed for your Iowa bankruptcy. Additionally, in order to ensure efficient processing of your documents, the court requires that all of your bankruptcy forms are in a specific order when you bring them in. Even though it is not technically a requirement, the court also provides a checklist on how to best prepare for your day in court, and an outline of proper courthouse etiquette, both of which can be helpful tools in navigating your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa
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Southern District of Iowa Requirements
The Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District has prepared a detailed instructions packet for individuals filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa. Even though this district does not have any local rules, it does require your creditors' mailing matrix to be in this specific format. Additionally, if you are filing your case in paper (not with the help of a lawyer who can file all documents electronically), you have to make sure you include a signed copy of this verification.
Iowa Bankruptcy Exemptions
While some states allow debtors to choose between the exemptions available under state law or the federal bankruptcy exemptions, Iowa does not. Everyone who has lived in the state for at least two years before filing their Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa must use the Iowa bankruptcy exemptions. In addition to protecting a vehicle with a value of up to $7,000, they protect those things that everyone living in the Hawkeye State should be able to keep, such as clothing, furniture, your family bible and more.
Iowa Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Lawyers who assist their clients in filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa typically charge between $965 and $1,500 for each case. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer is slightly above the national average; however, most lawyers offer free initial consultations for Iowa bankruptcy cases.
Attorney cost estimate: $965 – $1,500
Iowa Legal Aid Organizations
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to get free legal assistance from the organizations providing legal aid in Iowa. Folks who need to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa can visit the website for Iowa Legal Aid to find out if they are eligible for assistance. Information regarding other resources for Iowa bankruptcy matters can also be found on the website for the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District.
Iowa Court Locations
United States Courthouse Annex
110 East Court Avenue Des Moines, IA 50309
Iowa Bankruptcy Judges
|Northern District of Iowa||Hon. Thad J. Collins|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. John A. Jarvey|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Stephanie M. Rose|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Rebecca Ebinger|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. James E. Gritzner|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Robert W. Pratt|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Charles R. Wolle|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Helen C. Adams|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Celeste F. Bremer|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Stephen B. Jackson|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Ross A. Walters|
|Southern District of Iowa||Hon. Thomas J. Shields|
|Michael C. Dunbarfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Larry S. Eide|
|Wil L. Forkeremail@example.com|
|Renee K. Hanrahanfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Wesley B. Huisinga|
|Donald H. Molstad|
|Sheryl L. Schnittjer|
|David A. Sergeant|
|Wesley B. Huisinga|
|Donald F. Neiman|
|Deborah L. Petersen|
|Robert G. Schlegel|
|Charles L. Smith|