How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Illinois
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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
Whether it’s from a medical emergency, job loss, or other unexpected problem, sudden and/or prolonged loss of income can lead to unmanageable debt. Even if a person’s income situation improves, it can still be difficult or even impossible to catch up on bills and pay down that accumulated debt. It can take a year or more struggling like this for people to decide to file bankruptcy. This is unfortunate, because dealing with wage garnishments, debt lawsuits, and constant creditor letters and phone calls is stressful, and many people actually experience stress relief going through the bankruptcy process.
Bankruptcy laws exist to help people out of these kinds of difficult financial situations. Filing Chapter 7 can help you get a fresh start. Filing bankruptcy in the Prairie State doesn’t have to be expensive, and you may not even need an attorney.
How to File Bankruptcy in Illinois for Free
Before you begin the process of filing for bankruptcy, you need to decide whether you want to hire an attorney. If you’re an organized person who does well with paperwork, you might not need an attorney to help you. If you’re not or your case is complicated, then an attorney might be well worth the money.
Attorney fees are usually the biggest expense of filing bankruptcy, but they’re not usually necessary for a simple Chapter 7 (a “liquidation” or “straight” bankruptcy) case. This guide will show you how to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy without hiring an attorney.
- Collect Your Illinois Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Illinois Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Illinois Bankruptcy Documents
The first task you’ll have to tackle before you can file bankruptcy is collecting financial documents required by the Bankruptcy Code. At a minimum, you’ll need:
Your last two years of filed tax returns,
Your last 60 days of pay stubs, and
Any statements that show your current bank account balances.
You’ll need to list the names and addresses of everyone you owe and the amount you owe to each of them. You’ll include:
Your secured debts like mortgages and car loans;
Your unsecured debts, including credit card debt, medical bills, student loans, and personal/family loans; and
Priority unsecured debts like alimony, child support, and tax debts. Student loans and priority unsecured debts usually don’t get discharged in bankruptcy, but you still have to include them in your bankruptcy papers.
To get this information, it’s helpful to gather any creditor statements, bills, collection agency/debt collector letters, and bank statements from the previous six to 12 months. Getting a current copy of your credit report can also help you double-check this information. You can’t rely on a credit report to list every debt, but it’s still helpful as a source of extra information. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies every 12 months. If you hire a bankruptcy attorney or use Upsolve’s filing tool for your Chapter 7 case, you’ll have a credit report pulled for you.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
Bankruptcy law requires that you take and complete an approved credit counseling course in the 180 days before you file bankruptcy. In the course, you’ll learn about all your debt relief options. The U.S Trustee lists approved providers for the Central District, the Northern District, and the Southern District. Most credit counseling courses can be taken online or by telephone.
Most course providers charge a small fee, up to $50. If you can’t afford the fee, ask the provider if you’re eligible for a fee waiver. You must include a course certificate of completion when you submit your bankruptcy petition with the court.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The main forms used in bankruptcy filings are the same across the county and can be found for free on USCOURTS.gov.
You can also access the forms from the state. In Illinois, there are three district bankruptcy courts: the Northern District, Central District, and Southern District. The Northern District provides a basic filing packet and an additional documents packet for Chapter 7 pro se filers. Pro se means you’re filing without an attorney. The Central District provides a list of forms required in Chapter 7 filings.
Bankruptcy attorneys commonly design their own questionnaires for their clients, and then they use the client responses to complete the bankruptcy forms using special bankruptcy software. If you use Upsolve’s free filing tool, you’ll complete an online questionnaire. Then, Upsolve’s software uses your information to fill out your bankruptcy forms.
Get Your Filing Fee
There’s a $338filing fee to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines (see the table for Illinois Fee Waiver Eligibility below), you’re eligible to apply for a filing fee waiver. The court may hold a waiver hearing. If the court denies your waiver request, you can apply to pay the filing fee in installments.
An installment payment plan may be a good option if you’re in a hurry to file but you don’t have the full filing fee. For example, if you’re facing wage garnishment, you may want to file quickly to get protection from the automatic stay. This stops all collections, including wage garnishment, as soon as you file your bankruptcy petition.
If you’re able, it’s usually best to wait to file until you can pay the entire filing fee. This is because the court can dismiss your case if you miss one of your installment payments. You won’t be entitled to a refund if the court dismisses your case before you’ve finished with your installments.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Before you can submit your bankruptcy forms to the court, you first need to print them. Print using black ink on white letter-size paper. Also, print the forms one-sided because the court will reject double-sided pages. Because there are so many forms in a bankruptcy filing, you may find it helpful to print out your forms by section. If you do that, you’ll need to be especially careful that you print out each and every form that’s required.
Finally, slowly go through and sign on every signature line. A bankruptcy attorney will typically have you sign your forms in their office during a signing meeting. Then they’ll electronically file your case using digital versions of the documents. Upsolve users will receive their packet of forms in a downloadable file, with markers showing where to sign.
File Your Forms With the Illinois Bankruptcy Court
Your filing options in Illinois depend a lot on where you live. The Northern District, Southern District, and Central District each have very different rules for people filing bankruptcy without an attorney. You can find district-specific information below.
Keep in mind that delivery options may change because of COVID-19. Be sure to check the court’s website or call the clerk to confirm your filing options.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After you file your forms and open your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the court will assign a bankruptcy trustee and schedule your meeting of creditors (also called a 341 meeting). You’ll need to send your trustee certain documents at least seven days before the 341 meeting. Many trustees send out a letter detailing their document requests, but you can be proactive and contact them to ensure you meet the deadline.
In Illinois, the required documents vary by district. The Northern District requires that you send the following documents to the trustee at least seven days before the 341 meeting:
Your most recent year’s tax return,
Proof of filing tax returns for the past four years, and
Copies of all pay stubs or other evidence of payment received in the 60 days before filing your petition.
The Southern District of Illinois requires that you send the following documents to your trustee at least seven days before the 341 meeting:
Your most recently filed tax return, including W-2s, and
All paystubs you received in the 60 days before filing.
The Central District doesn’t specify the documents needed by the trustee before the 341 meeting. You should call your assigned trustee as soon as possible to ask.
Take a Debtor Education Course
After filing, you need to complete your second required bankruptcy course — a financial management course. You can take this course any time after filing. Many people take this course before the 341 meeting just to get it out of the way. You need to submit the certificate of completion to the court within 60 days of your 341 meeting. If you miss that deadline, your debts won’t be eligible for discharge. You must take the course from a provider that’s approved in Illinois.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is also called the meeting of creditors. It’s simply a meeting that includes you, your trustee, and any creditors who want to attend. Usually, creditors don’t come, especially in simple cases.
During the meeting, the trustee will first confirm your identity. All three Illinois Districts require filers to bring photo identification and a Social Security card to the 341 meeting. Then the trustee will review your bankruptcy papers and ask you some questions. If a creditor is there, the creditor is allowed to ask you questions, too.
Most Chapter 7 cases are no-asset cases, which make for pretty quick 341 meetings. The trustee may dismiss you after asking only a few questions. Sometimes, though, the trustee will decide that you need to provide more documentation. If that happens, they’ll probably just reschedule your 341 meeting to a later date.
All 341 meetings in Illinois are currently held by phone because of COVID-19, but this may change in the future.
Dealing with Your Car
You can keep your car through bankruptcy if you can cover its value with your bankruptcy exemptions. On your paperwork, you’ll need to list your car’s fair market value, the balance of any loans you owe on it, and your equity. If you lease a car, you’ll need to list the lease in a different part of your bankruptcy papers, since leases are treated differently than owned property in bankruptcy.
You can keep a financed vehicle through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but you have to be current on the loan. Also, the lender may require that you sign a reaffirmation agreement that re-commits you to the loan after the bankruptcy. Sometimes, especially if the monthly payments are high, it makes sense to just get rid of the car. Bankruptcy is a great time to do that because surrendering a vehicle during bankruptcy lets you off the hook for the entire loan. This puts you in a far better position to buy a more affordable car after your bankruptcy is finished.
Often, people want to keep their car but they’re behind on their car payments. If that applies to you, Chapter 7 might not be the right decision. Instead, you may want to speak with a qualified bankruptcy attorney about Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are both commonly used by consumers. But Chapter 13 is a type of bankruptcy that allows people with regular income to repay their debt through a court-structured repayment plan. Chapter 13 protection is often used by people facing home foreclosure or vehicle repossession. It allows them to catch up on past-due secured debt payments through the Chapter 13 plan.
Illinois Bankruptcy Means Test
You’ll have to go through a two-step means test to determine whether you qualify for a Chapter 7. In the first step, you add up all the income you received in the six months before filing. Then you divide by six to get your current monthly income. If your current monthly income is below the median income for your household size in Illinois, you pass the first test and can file Chapter 7.
If you don’t pass the first part of the test because your income is too high, you can still qualify for Chapter 7 if you pass the second part of the test. It takes your living expenses into account to see if you have enough disposable income to repay some of your debt. If you fail both tests, it usually means that you’re limited to filing a Chapter 13.
Data on Median income levels for Illinois
Illinois Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Illinois
Illinois 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)|
Illinois Bankruptcy Forms
The main forms used in bankruptcy filings (the petition and the schedules) are federal, so they are the same nationwide. The Northern District, Southern District, and Central District each have local forms posted on their websites. Chapter 7 filers generally won’t need the local forms, except for a cover sheet required for the creditor matrix in the Southern District.
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Illinois Districts & Filing Requirements
Illinois has three bankruptcy districts: the Northern District of Illinois, the Southern District of Illinois, and the Central District of Illinois.
Northern District of Illinois Requirements
The Northern District of Illinois is divided into two divisions:
The Eastern (Chicago) Division serves Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, Will, Grundy, LaSalle, and Kendall counties.
The Western (Rockford) Division serves Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago counties.
You can file your bankruptcy papers by mail, drop box, email, or in person. The Northern District also has an Electronic Self-Representation (eSR) system, which allows individuals to file electronically. If you file in person, you’ll need to show government-issued photo identification. If someone files on your behalf, they must show their identification as well yours.
The filing fee must be paid in cash (exact change), cashier’s check, certified check, or money order. The clerk won’t accept personal checks or credit cards. If you request to pay your filing fee in installments in the Northern District, the rules are as follows:
The full filing fee must be paid in four equal installments payments of $84.50.
The due dates for the installments are 30, 60, 90, and 120 days after filing.
At least half of the filing fee must be paid within 60 days of the filing date.
Southern District of Illinois Requirements
The Southern District of Illinois has two court locations: East St. Louis and Benton. Cases are split into the following groupings:
The East St. Louis Division serves Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Monroe, St. Clair, and Clinton counties.
The Benton Division (North) serves Fayette, Effingham, Cumberland, Clark, Marion, Clay, Jasper, Crawford, Richland, and Lawrence counties.
The Benton Division (South) serves Randolph, Washington, Perry, Jackson, Union, Alexander, Pulaski, Jefferson, Franklin, Williamson, Johnson, Massac, Wayne, Hamilton, Saline, Pope, Edwards, Wabash, White, Gallatin, and Hardin counties.
The Southern District provides a helpful flowchart that lays out the steps of filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy with the court. If you’re filing without a lawyer, you must file your bankruptcy papers in person with the appropriate clerk. You can pay the filing fee by money order, cashier’s check, debit card, or cash. The court doesn’t accept personal checks or credit cards. If you request to pay your filing fee in installments in the Southern District, the minimum amount for the first installment is 50% of the total fee ($169).
The court posts COVID-19 protocols and changes on its website.
Central District of Illinois Requirements
The Central District of Illinois has three divisions:
The Peoria Division serves Rock Island, Mercer, Henderson, Hancock, McDonough, Warren, Henry, Knox, Fulton, Bureau, Stark, Putnam, Marshall, Peoria, Woodford, and Tazewell counties.
The Springfield Division serves Adams, Pike, Brown, Schuy, Mason, Cass, Morgan, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Shelby, Christian, Sangamon, Menard, Logan, McLean, De Witt, and Macon counties.
The Urbana Division serves Livingston, Kankakee, Ford, Iroquois, Piatt, Champaign, Vermilion, Moultrie, Douglas, Coles, and Edgar counties.
If you’re filing pro se, you can file by mail, in person (or dropbox, if it’s in effect), or via the court’s Electronic Document Submission System (EDSS). You can pay the filing fee by money order or cashier’s check. If you file in person, you can also pay using cash in the exact amount. The court doesn’t accept personal checks or credit cards. If you request to pay your filing fee in installments, there’s no minimum amount for the first installment. However, the court can deny an unreasonable proposed payment plan.
The court posts current COVID-19 protocols on its website.
Illinois Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy exemptions protect your property and other assets so the trustee can’t take and sell them to pay your creditors. While there are both federal and state exemptions, Illinois filers can’t use the federal bankruptcy exemptions. They can only take Illinois bankruptcy exemptions.
If you’re a homeowner in Illinois, you can use the homestead exemption to protect the equity you have in your home up to $15,000 for single filers and $30,000 for joint-filing spouses who co-own property. If you own a car, the Illinois motor vehicle exemption only protects up to $2,400 of your equity in the car. That said, Illinois also has a wildcard exemption that protects any personal property of your choosing up to $4,000. You can’t use the wildcard to protect real estate like a home or land you own.
Illinois Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Though many people file Chapter 7 cases successfully without an attorney, you may want some legal advice. If so, you’re probably wondering what it costs to hire an attorney. Many bankruptcy lawyers charge a flat fee for handling Chapter 7 cases. The typical attorney fee for a Chapter 7 case in Illinois is between $900 and $1,200. The cost depends on how complex the case is as well as things like the attorney’s experience.
Many attorneys offer free consultations. Besides cost, you’ll also want to consider a lawyer’s experience, reviews and/or reputation, and communication style.
Illinois Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford an attorney but you’re not comfortable filing on your own, you may qualify to receive free or low-cost legal assistance from a legal aid organization in Illinois. Usually, applicants must make under a certain amount of annual income to qualify.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc.
8787 State Street, Suite 201, East St. Louis, IL 62203
Legal Aid Chicago
120 South LaSalle Street, Suite 900, Chicago, IL 60603-3425
Prairie State Legal Services, Inc.
303 North Main Street, Suite 600, Rockford, IL 61101
Justice Entrepreneurs Project
208 S Jefferson, Suite 204, Chicago, IL 60661
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Illinois Court Locations
Paul Findley Federal Building and United States Courthouse
600 East Monroe Street Springfield, IL 62701
Melvin Price Federal Building and United States Courthouse
750 Missouri Avenue East St. Louis, IL 62201
Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse
327 South Church Street Rockford, IL 61101
Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse
219 South Dearborn Street Chicago, IL 60604
Illinois Bankruptcy Judges
|Central District of Illinois||Hon. William V. Altenberger|
|Central District of Illinois||Hon. Mary P. Gorman|
|Central District of Illinois||Hon. Thomas L. Perkins|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Pamela S. Hollis|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Janet S. Baer|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Timothy A. Barnes|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Donald R. Cassling|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Jacqueline P. Cox|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Carol A. Doyle|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Benjamin Goldgar|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. LaShonda A. Hunt|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Thomas M. Lynch|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Jack B. Schmetterer|
|Northern District of Illinois||Hon. Deborah L. Thorne|
|Southern District of Illinois||Hon. Laura K Grandy|
|Southern District of Illinois||Hon. William V Altenberger|
|Charles E. Covey|
|Andrew S. Ericksonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Nina R. Gougis|
|James R. Inghram|
|Roger L. Prillaman|
|Jeana K. Reinboldemail@example.com|
|Jeffrey D. Richardson|
|Kristin L. Wilsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Richard S. Alsterdaemail@example.com|
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|Karen R. Goodmanemail@example.com|
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|David R. Herzogfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Cindy M. Johnson||cjohnson@JNLegal.net|
|Robert B. Katz||Rkatz@EPITrustee.com|
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|Andrew J. Maxwell||Maxwelllawchicago@yahoo.com|
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|Bernard J. Nataleemail@example.com|
|Norman B. Newman||Nnewman@MuchLaw.com|
|Joseph D. Olsen||Jolsenlaw@comcast.net|
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|Ronald R. Peterson||Rpeterson@Jenner.com|
|Steven R. Radtkeemail@example.com|
|N. Neville Reidfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Thomas E. Springer|
|Catherine L. Steegeemail@example.com|
|Miriam R. Steinfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|James E. Stevens||JStevens@BSLBV.com|
|Gregg E. Szilagyiemail@example.com|
|Zane L. Zielinski||ZZielinski@fgllp.com|
|Robert T. Bruegge|
|Robert E. Eggmann IIIfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Dana S. Frazier|
|Donald M. Samson|