How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Iowa
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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 May 10, 2023
Medical bills, credit card debt, and other debt can add up fast and prevent you from being able to pay your daily expenses. For many people in this situation, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can provide some much-needed stability. While there are other debt relief options, most people who file bankruptcy feel a great sense of relief. Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy protects you from creditor actions like foreclosure and wage garnishment and ultimately gives you a fresh start by erasing your unsecured debt, like credit card debt and medical bills.
There are two main types of personal bankruptcy: Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a faster process. This article explains how to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Iowa.
How To File Bankruptcy in Iowa for Free
Sometimes people are reluctant to file bankruptcy because they can’t afford a bankruptcy attorney. Fortunately, you can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney. This article takes you through the bankruptcy process in Iowa in 10 steps.
Collect Your Iowa Bankruptcy Documents
To file bankruptcy, you need to submit a lot of paperwork. The information you need to fill out that paperwork will come from several financial documents. Some of these you’ll also need to submit with your bankruptcy forms when you file at the court. This is true whether or not you file your case with a lawyer. Required documents include:
Your tax returns from the past two years,
Paycheck stubs from the last 60 days, and
A bank statement for each of your accounts. When you submit your bankruptcy petition, these statements will need to include the date you filed your bankruptcy.
You’ll also need to compile information about your expenses and what you owe to creditors. Certain documents can help you easily find this information, including:
Bank statements from the previous 6-12 months,
Any statements or bills from your creditors,
Any letters that collection agencies have sent, and
A credit report.
You can get a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. If you’re using Upsolve’s free filing tool, it will get your credit report.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
The U.S. Bankruptcy Code mandates that you take a credit counseling course before you file. The course covers your debt relief options, including Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, so you can make an educated decision on how to deal with your debt. You have to take the course from an approved provider, and you must complete the course within the 180 days before you file your Chapter 7 case. The course has a fee, but you may be eligible for a waiver if you can’t afford it.
Once you complete the course, you’ll receive a certificate. You need to include this document in your filing.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
It can take a lot of time to fill out the bankruptcy forms, but many people have successfully filed them out on their own. You can find all the required forms and download them for free as fillable PDFs at USCOURTS.gov. Most of the forms are the same for filers across the U.S. because bankruptcy is a federal process.
When you use Upsolve’s free tool to file a Chapter 7 case, Upsolve simplifies the process. You’ll fill out a questionnaire, then Upsolve’s software will generate the forms using your answers. If you file with a lawyer, you’ll also answer a questionnaire. Then the lawyer or their staff will fill out forms based on your answers.
Get Your Filing Fee
You’ll have to pay a $338fee for filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy no matter where you live. You can qualify for a waiver if you make less than 150% of the poverty level. To see if you’re eligible, look at the Iowa Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.
If you don’t qualify for a waiver, but you can’t pay the full fee all at once, you can also apply to pay through installments. It’s generally best to pay in full because if you have an installment plan and you miss a payment, you risk having your case dismissed. That said, some people want to file bankruptcy immediately because once they do so they’re protected from their creditors.
For example, if you’re facing wage garnishment, once you file your bankruptcy case, you can stop the wage garnishment because of the automatic stay. The stay won’t apply to garnishments that are due to alimony and child support, but it will stop most other collections activity.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you hire a bankruptcy lawyer, they’ll submit your forms online with the court. If you file on your own without a lawyer, you need to manually fill out the forms, print them, and submit them to the court. It’s good to print each section separately so you don’t forget to include any documents. Ensure that you print all the required forms on white, 8.5 x 11-inch paper in black ink. Only print on one side of the page, and don’t staple the pages together. Finally, make sure you sign in every required signature spot.
If you file using Upsolve’s tool, you’ll receive all your forms in one downloadable packet. It will also have dividers to show which pages you should sign.
File Your Forms With the Iowa Bankruptcy Courts
The Iowa Bankruptcy Court is divided into two districts: the Northern District and the Southern District. Neither allows individuals filers without a lawyer to file their bankruptcy petition online. This means you’ll need to file your forms either in person at the courthouse or by mailing them to the court. See more information on how to do this in your district below.
Currently, both courts are open. You may want to check to see if there are any changes due to COVID-19 before you file.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Once you file, the court will assign a bankruptcy trustee to your case. The trustee confirms that the information you submitted is accurate. Once you file, the court will send you the trustee’s name and contact information.
Even though the court sends your information to the trustee, you’re required to send the following documents at least seven days before you meet with the trustee at the 341 meeting (more on this soon):
Your most recent tax turns from the last two years, and
A statement from each of your bank accounts that includes the day when you filed your petition.
Trustees also sometimes request:
Real estate records
Recent divorce decrees
Child support orders
If the trustee does request additional information from you, be sure to provide it to ensure your case progresses smoothly.
Take a Debtor Education Course
U.S. bankruptcy law requires you to complete a debtor education course from an approved provider after you file for bankruptcy. If you don’t, you won’t get your bankruptcy discharge. The course covers personal financial management skills like budgeting, so you can make the most of your financial clean slate after your debts are discharged.
You need to take the course no later than 60 days after your 341 meeting or the court can dismiss your case. Once you complete the course, you have to file the certificate that proves you took it.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is also referred to as the creditors’ meeting (or meeting of creditors) because your creditors might go to the meeting to ask you questions under oath. This usually doesn’t happen though. More often it’s just you and the trustee who wants to verify your identity and information. To do so, you’ll answer questions under oath at your 341 meeting. The trustee will ask you your name and Social Security number to confirm that the information on your bankruptcy forms is accurate. Usually, the 341 meeting doesn’t last more than 10 minutes.
It’s not too hard to prepare for the meeting. You just need to remain calm and answer truthfully. After you complete it, you’ll be even closer to your bankruptcy discharge. Right now, all 341 meetings are being held remotely due to COVID-19.
Dealing with Your Car
Many people worry about losing property as part of their Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is especially true for people who rely on their cars. Luckily, you have many options for dealing with your car. If you’ve paid off your motor vehicle, you can keep it if its value is less than the applicable exemption limit. Generally, the exemption you will claim will be the vehicle exemption, which is limited to $7,000 in Iowa. (We’ll talk about exemptions more below.)
If you’re still making payments, you can hang onto the car if you’re up to date on your payment plan. You’ll need to continue making payments to keep your car. You may need to sign a reaffirmation agreement with your lender. If you don’t want to keep your car or continue a lease, you can surrender it and quit making payments.
If you’re leasing and you're current with your payments, you can do something similar by “assuming” the lease. For either a loan or a lease, if you decide to quit making payments and to surrender the car, your debt will be erased as part of the bankruptcy.
It will be difficult to get an auto loan while you’re going through bankruptcy, but once the bankruptcy process is complete, you’ll likely be able to receive a more favorable bankruptcy loan.
Iowa Bankruptcy Means Test
To be eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must pass a means test. The test first compares your average monthly household income to the median income of an Iowa household of the same size. If your income is less than the median income, then you pass the means test and can file Chapter 7.
If your income is more than the median income, you can take the second part of the test. This gets more complicated, but the goal is to see if you have enough disposable income to repay even a portion of your unsecured debt. Upsolve’s Means Test Calculator for Chapter 7 provides detailed information on this part of the test.
If you don’t pass the means test, it’s worth considering filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This kind of bankruptcy has you make debt repayments over 3-5 years.
Data on Median income levels for Iowa
Iowa Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Iowa
Iowa Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2023
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Iowa Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the forms you need to complete will be the same as in any other state. There are no local forms Chapter 7 filers are required to submit when they open their case.
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Iowa Districts & Filing Requirements
Iowa has two districts, the Northern District and the Southern District. Each district has slightly different requirements, so you’ll want to review the guidelines for the district court that serves your county.
Northern District of Iowa
The Northern District serves about half of Iowa. You can look at this map to see if you live in a county covered by the Northern District. The district has strict guidelines about how you should format your bankruptcy filing. You must create a particular mailing matrix, which is a list that has the names and addresses of the creditors that you owe. The court also has a checklist on how to prepare.
You’ll have to pay a $338 filing fee when you file your bankruptcy petition or include an application for a fee waiver or installment plan. You can pay the filing fee with a money order or cashier’s check. You can’t use cash, a personal check, or a credit card. If you’re unable to afford the filing fee, you can ask to pay through installments by filling out this form.
You can bring in the forms or mail them to either of the following locations:
111 7th Avenue SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
US Bankruptcy Court
Northern District of Iowa
111 7th Ave. SE, # 15
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
320 6th Street
Sioux City, IA 51101
US Bankruptcy Court
Northern District of Iowa
320 6th Street, Room 126
Sioux City, IA 51101
The Northern District court is currently open. There have been changes regarding COVID-19, so it’s worth checking current measures before you go to file your case.
Southern District of Iowa
The Southern District covers the other half of Iowa. You can check this map to see if your county is covered by the Southern District. The court provides detailed instructions for individuals filing without an attorney. It also has specific formatting requirements for the mailing matrix. You also need to sign a document that attests your matrix is correct to the best of your knowledge.
You must pay a $338 filing fee when you file your Chapter 7 case or submit an application for a fee waiver or installment payment plan. You can pay the fee with a cashier’s check or money order.
You can bring in your forms or mail them to:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
300 U.S. Courthouse Annex
110 East Court Avenue, Suite 300
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
Iowa Bankruptcy Exemptions
When you file for bankruptcy, the trustee can sell off any of your valuable possessions that aren’t protected by exemptions. Fortunately, most Chapter 7 filers hang on to most of their property by using exemptions. In some states, filers can choose between federal or state exemptions, but Iowa state law doesn’t recognize federal exemptions. You’re only entitled to the exemptions offered by Iowa. If you’ve lived in Iowa for less than two years, you’ll have to use the federal exemptions unless your previous state of residence allows non-residents to use its exemptions.
In Iowa, the motor vehicle exemption covers a vehicle worth up to $7,000. There’s also a wildcard exemption, which you can use to cover just about any item you choose that’s worth $1,000 or less. Filers can also use an exemption to protect up to $10,000 of farming equipment.
Iowa Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Using a bankruptcy attorney can make the bankruptcy process less complicated. Generally, bankruptcy lawyers charge a flat fee, rather than charging by the hour. The cost for a bankruptcy attorney in Iowa ranges from $965–$1,500. The fee will also be impacted by how complicated your case is. Since money is tight, you may be tempted to go with the cheapest attorney. But you should try to find a lawyer that’s a good fit. There are a few factors to weigh when choosing an attorney.
Iowa Legal Aid Organizations
You might want to hire a lawyer but feel you can’t afford one. If your income is low enough, you can receive legal advice through a legal aid organization. These groups provide legal services either at a reduced cost or for free if you meet the income requirements.
Iowa Legal Aid
1111 Ninth Street, Suite 230, Des Moines, IA 50314-2527
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
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|