How to File Bankruptcy for Free in Illinois (2020 Guide)

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In a Nutshell

10 step guide on how to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois without a lawyer. This guide provides an overview of the bankruptcy process for filers seeking debt relief in the Illinois Bankruptcy Court.

Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.  
Updated November 21, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has made a lot of things much harder than they used to be. If you’re reading this, you’re probably having a hard time financially. Minimum payments are taking up more of your disposable income, making it harder to keep up with regular living expenses. And thanks to the coronavirus, there’s no end in sight, either. 

First, know that you’re not alone. According to a recent survey released by the National Endowment for Financial Education®, 48% of respondents are worried about upcoming bills.[0] Keep reading to learn how a personal bankruptcy might offer a much needed bailout for your family. No one really ever wants to learn more about theirbankruptcy options, but recognizing the option exists is a good first step. 

The next step should be to take a deep breath and remind yourself this doesn’t mean that you failed. Or that your future is over. Take Abraham Lincoln for example…did you know that he declared bankruptcy in 1833? That didn’t keep him from becoming president in 1861, nor is it something people remember. 

Similarly, Dippin' Dots, the ice cream of the future, was started in a garage in Illinois and is currently experiencing record growth, reporting sales of $300 million in 2017 alone, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011. You see, bankruptcy doesn’t mean your life’s over. Instead, look at it as a clean slate. This fresh start is especially quick in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy where a discharge can be granted (and all credit card debt, medical bills, and the like erased). 

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the filer is granted debt relief in the form of a bankruptcy discharge.  In exchange, the filer agrees to give up those belongings that aren’t true necessities and are not protected by Illinois or federal law. In most Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases in the United States, the filer is able to keep all of their property, using available exemptions.[0]

How to File Bankruptcy in Illinois for Free

Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois doesn’t have to be expensive. While you may have to pay the court filing fee, you don’t have to pay a bankruptcy lawyer if you can’t afford to. Although hiring a local law firm can often be a great investment, if you have a simple case and aren’t worried about losing expensive items, don’t hold off on filing just because you can’t afford attorney fees. If you know that Chapter 7 is the way to go, following the steps below, you can file bankruptcy in Illinois now. Once the bankruptcy court receives your voluntary petition, your creditors have to stop coming after you. 


Collect Your Illinois Bankruptcy Documents

There are a few documents you’ll need for your Illinois bankruptcy, some so you can look up information while filling out the forms and some to submit to the bankruptcy trustee

You’ll need your income tax returns for the last two years and the paycheck stubs you received in the last 60 days (6 months is even better). Your bank statements, copies of your vehicle titles, and a recent copy of your credit report will be good to have as well. Finally, to make sure you cover every angle, collect all the bills you have received in the last 90 days.

Take Credit Counseling

Every person filing a petition for relief in an United States Bankruptcy Court has to complete a credit counseling class first. Specifically, bankruptcy law directs all consumers to specific credit counseling agencies that have been approved by the United States Trustee Program

The course is intended to make sure you know all of your debt relief options before filing bankruptcy. If you know that you will file your bankruptcy case at some point in the next 6 months, you can complete this course at any time that works for you. But, if you let more than 180 days pass after that, you’ll have to take it again. The course has to be completed some time in the 180 days before you file bankruptcy. 

Complete the Bankruptcy Forms

This is the first part of the process that doesn’t have to be done by you personally. If youhire a lawyer, their office will complete the bankruptcy forms based on the information you provide to their office, then review everything with you before filing your petition with the Illinois Bankruptcy Court. 

If you can't afford a lawyer, there are other resources to help you complete the different bankruptcy forms. First, all of the necessary bankruptcy forms are available online as fillable PDF documents - for free! Since the forms were recently modernized, there’s also a brand new instruction manual explaining in detail what is expected from you. This is also available online for free. 

If, after thumbing through the instructions you feel as though this sounds like it's a little much to handle on your own, check if you’re eligible to have Upsolve help you with this part. If so, you’ll provide the information using our free online tool, which will then generate your bankruptcy forms for you.

Get Your Filing Fee

The bankruptcy courts charge a filing fee for all types of bankruptcy. At the moment, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing fee is $335.  If it’s not a hardship, plan on paying this amount when submitting your documents to the court. 

If you’re unable to pay the fee, whether that's in full at one time, or at all, you can still file for bankruptcy protection. If your income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, and you don’t make enough to cover your basic expenses, the Illinois Bankruptcy Court may waive your filing fee. To ask for a fee waiver, simply submit this fee waiver application to the court along with the rest of your bankruptcy forms.  

If you don’t qualify for a fee waiver, make sure you bring a completed application to pay the court filing fee in installments instead. Most United States Bankruptcy Courts require a downpayment of $40 - $100 or so at the time of filing, so make sure you have at least that amount. You’ll have no more than 4 months to pay rest. If you miss any of the payment due dates set by the court, your case will be dismissed. That's why, if you can pay the full fee at the time of filing Chapter 7 in Illinois, it’s better to do that rather than risk having your case thrown out due to unexpected circumstances.

The truly hard part of getting ready to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois is now done, and your bankruptcy forms are ready to be submitted to the bankruptcy court. If you hired a lawyer, they’ll print all the forms and go over everything with you, getting your signature where necessary, then turn around and file the case electronically. If you don't have a lawyer helping you, you’ll have to submit all your Illinois bankruptcy forms to the court in paper. It's a good idea to print a checklist like this one, to help make sure you don’t miss anything as you go. 

Don't rush this part; give yourself enough time as you print everything, to make sure all of the information contained in the forms is complete and correct and don't forget to sign where indicated in the process. Since filing bankruptcy in Illinois is a legal proceeding, consider printing not one but two full copies of your documents and keeping one for your own files.

Go to Court to File Your Forms

When you head to the court for the purpose of filing bankruptcy in Illinois, it's important to bring a government issued picture ID with you. The building you are going to is a federal courthouse, and you have to pass through security on the way in. Especially if you don’t live or work near the courthouse, make sure to check the court’s website before heading out. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic many courts - while still operating - have limited their in-person services. 

When all is done, you’ll get a case number assigned to your Chapter 7 case. If any of your creditors contact you now, you can simply give them your case number and tell them theautomatic stay protects you. The automatic stay goes into effect the moment your case is filed, and your creditors have to follow it even if the bankruptcy court hasn't yet mailed a notice to anyone.

Mail Documents to Your Trustee

The bankruptcy trustee is assigned to your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case by the clerk when they process your paperwork. If you’re not filing in person, you’ll find out who your trustee is a few days after filing your case when you get Form 309A from the court. 

The trustee's job, among other things, is to verify the information you provided to the court when your bankruptcy case was filed. To that end, the Bankruptcy Code requires that everyone filing bankruptcy send a copy of their most recent federal income tax return to their trustee. To give the trustee enough time to review it, make sure you send it to your trustee so they receive it at least 7 days before the date set for your 341 meeting

Since the trustees are independent contractors, they each have developed their own process for doing the required due diligence in Illinois bankruptcy cases assigned to them. This means that your trustee may ask you to send certain other documents, such as paycheck stubs or bank statements in addition to your tax return.

Take Bankruptcy Course 2

The primary goal of every Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois is for the court to enter a discharge order that will forever ban your creditors from attempting to collect from you. Before a discharge can be entered in their case, all filers have to complete a course on financial management. 

This has to be done after the case is filed. Folks who don't comply with this requirement will learn the hard way that there is no way around it when their case is closed without a discharge. 

The course has to be taken from an approved provider. This list is not necessarily the same list of approved providers for the pre-bankruptcy course, though there is a lot of overlap. Once done, make sure you file the certificate of compliance with the bankruptcy court, so there is a record of the fact that you took the course.

Attend Your 341 Meeting

Everyone filing bankruptcy in Illinois has to attend a 341 meeting approximately 20 - 40 days after their case is first filed. In many cases, this meeting, also called the meeting of creditors, is the only time the filer goes to court. Although the meeting often takes place at the courthouse, it does not actually take place in a courtroom and no judge is present. 

The purpose of the meeting is twofold. First, it provides your case trustee with the opportunity to confirm certain information disclosed in your bankruptcy forms by asking you about it while you are under oath. This is not as scary or confusing as it sounds, as all the questions are about your life and your financial situation. 

The second purpose of the meeting is to give creditors who have questions about your Illinois bankruptcy case an opportunity to ask you those questions. While this is a powerful tool for creditors, most 341 meetings take less than 10 minutes, with not a single creditor appearing.

Dealing with Your Car

Your car will play up to two distinct roles in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois. If you have a car loan, it is a debt that you have to include in your schedules. Since it is a secured debt you will have to disclose your intentions with respect to what you want to do with the car to the court. This is done by filing the so-called Statement of Intentions.

While filing bankruptcy in Illinois is not a way to a free car (after all, that wouldn't exactly be fair to the rest of us), it does give you the opportunity to decide what is best for you. To keep your car, you can reaffirm the car loan, basically keeping everything the same it was before your bankruptcy case was filed, or redeem it by paying the creditor the amount your car is actually worth. 

If you don’t want to keep the vehicle for whatever reason, filing bankruptcy in Illinois gives you the chance to surrender it without having to worry about the balance left on the loan. If you’re leasing your car, you can similarly choose to keep or surrender the vehicle by either assuming or rejecting the car lease. 

The second role your car plays in your Illinois bankruptcy case is that of an asset. You have to disclose your ownership interest in the vehicle (even if it is not yet paid off) and claim the appropriate exemption on your Schedule C. As long as the available exemption amount exceeds your equity in the vehicle, everything will stay the same.

Illinois Bankruptcy Means Test

Everyone who wishes to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois has to qualify for it by passing the Illinois means test for bankruptcy. If your household income is less than below the income limits for Chapter 7, you automatically pass the bankruptcy means test. If your gross income is higher than the median household income for a household of your size, part two of themeans test calculation is needed to confirm that you’re eligible to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois.

Data on Median income levels for Illinois

Illinois Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Household SizeMonthly IncomeAnnual Income
1$4,573.08$54,877.00
2$6,049.42$72,593.00
3$6,979.92$83,759.00
4$8,589.50$103,074.00
5$9,339.50$112,074.00
6$10,089.50$121,074.00
7$10,839.50$130,074.00
8$11,589.50$139,074.00
9$12,339.50$148,074.00
10$13,089.50$157,074.00

Data on Poverty levels for Illinois

Illinois Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020

Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.

Household SizeState Poverty LevelFee Waiver Limit (150% PL)
1$1,063.33$1,595.00
2$1,436.67$2,155.00
3$1,810.00$2,715.00
4$2,183.33$3,275.00
5$2,556.67$3,835.00
6$2,930.00$4,395.00
7$3,303.33$4,955.00
8$3,676.67$5,515.00
9$4,050.00$6,075.00
10$4,423.33$6,635.00

Illinois Bankruptcy Forms

The Illinois Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms are a combination of the official national forms that are the same in all bankruptcy districts across the country, and certain local forms developed by the Illinois Bankruptcy Courts over the years. Each one of the three districts have local Illinois bankruptcy forms that are available for free on the  courts' websites. All of the documents initially required to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois are based on the national forms.

Central District of Illinois Requirements

The Central District of Illinois covers 46 of Illinois' 102 counties and is divided into three divisions, the Peoria Division, the Urbana Division, and the Springfield Division. Each division has its own courthouse, located in the cities of Peoria, Urbana and Springfield, respectively. 

You can find out which division your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois will be filed in using this map. If you are amending any of the documents you filed in your Illinois bankruptcy case in this district, the courtrequires that you file this verification along with the amendment you are filing.

Northern District of Illinois Requirements

The Northern District has locations in Rockford, Chicago, Joliet, Park City, and Geneva. The county you live in determines which of the two divisions within this district will handle your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois and where the 341 meeting will take place

The most helpful resource available in this district, aside from its comprehensive Pro Se Filing Guide, is a detailed table outlining each of the individual trustee's preferences with respect to which documents they require and how to provide it to them.

Southern District of Illinois Requirements

If you are among the 1.2 million people living in the 38 counties in Southern Illinois, your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in Illinois will be assigned to this district. There are three divisions within this district, and court is held in East St. Louis and Benton. Several creditors have provided a preferred address to the court in this district. When you create the creditors' mailing matrix, check this listing and update the addresses for your creditors accordingly.

Illinois Bankruptcy Exemptions

Illinois residents must use Illinois bankruptcy exemptions to protect their assets in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Illinois. While some federal nonbankruptcy exemptions are available, the federal bankruptcy exemptions may not be used. The Illinois bankruptcy exemptions include, among others, exemptions for cars, personal property such as clothing and furniture, and a wildcard exemption of $4,000 that can be used to protect any asset.

Illinois Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost

If you’re having a hard time matching up your assets with the exemptions available to you in your Illinois bankruptcy, hiring a lawyer may be a good investment. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Illinois ranges from, $900 to $1,200 and most Illinois bankruptcy lawyers offer free initial consultations.

If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you may still be able to have a bankruptcy attorney help you, by going through one of the Illinois legal aid organizations. In 2015 alone, legal aid in Illinois assisted more than 140,000 low-income individuals in a variety of matters, including Illinois bankruptcy cases.

Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc.
(618) 398-0574
8787 State Street, Suite 201, East St. Louis, IL 62203

Legal Aid Chicago
(312) 347-8359
120 South LaSalle Street, Suite 900, Chicago, IL 60603-3425

Prairie State Legal Services, Inc.
(815) 965-2134
303 North Main Street, Suite 600, Rockford, IL 61101

Justice Entrepreneurs Project
(312) 546-3282
208 S Jefferson, Suite 204, Chicago, IL 60661

Upsolve
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)

Illinois Court Locations

Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse

Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse
312-435-5694
219 South Dearborn Street Chicago, IL 60604

Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse

Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse
815-987-4350
327 South Church Street Rockford, IL 61101

Paul Findley Federal Building and United States Courthouse

Paul Findley Federal Building and United States Courthouse
217-492-4551
600 East Monroe Street Springfield, IL 62701

Melvin Price Federal Building and United States Courthouse

Melvin Price Federal Building and United States Courthouse
618-482-9400
750 Missouri Avenue East St. Louis, IL 62201

Illinois Judges

Illinois Bankruptcy Judges
DistrictJudge Name
Central District of IllinoisHon. William V. Altenberger
Central District of IllinoisHon. Mary P. Gorman
Central District of IllinoisHon. Thomas L. Perkins
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Pamela S. Hollis
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Janet S. Baer
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Timothy A. Barnes
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Donald R. Cassling
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Jacqueline P. Cox
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Carol A. Doyle
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Benjamin Goldgar
Northern District of IllinoisHon. LaShonda A. Hunt
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Thomas M. Lynch
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Jack B. Schmetterer
Northern District of IllinoisHon. Deborah L. Thorne
Southern District of IllinoisHon. Laura K Grandy
Southern District of IllinoisHon. William V Altenberger

Illinois Trustees

Illinois Trustees
TrusteeContact Info
Charles E. Covey
(309)674-8125
Andrew S. Ericksonaetrustee@aericksonlaw.com
(217) 425-1515
Nina R. Gougis
(309) 282-6325
James R. Inghram
(217)222-7420
Roger L. Prillaman
(217) 384-1300
Jeana K. Reinboldjeana@jeanareinboldlaw.com
(217) 241-5629
Jeffrey D. Richardson
(217)425-4082
Kristin L. Wilsonklwilson@brainardlaw.com
(217) 345-3079
Richard S. Alsterdarsalsterda@nixonpeabody.com
(312) 977-9235
Joseph A. Baldijabaldi@baldiberg.com
(312) 726-8150
Elizabeth C. Bergbergtrustee@baldiberg.com
(312) 726-8150
Ira Bodensteinibodenstein@foxrothschild.com
(312) 666-2861
Joseph E. Cohen
(312)368-0300
Eugene R. Craneecrane@craneheyman.com
(312) 641-6777
Allan J. DeMarsalland1023@aol.com
(312) 726-3377
Michael K. Desmondmdesmond@fslegal.com
(312) 251-5287
Deborah Ebnerdkebner@deborahebnerlaw.com
(312) 922-3838
Richard M. Fogelrfogel@foxrothschild.com
(312) 276-1334
Frances F. Geckerfgecker@fgllp.com
(312) 276-1400
John E. Gierum Jr.
(847) 318-9130
Ilene F. Goldstein
(847) 562-9595
Karen R. Goodmankgoodman@taftlaw.com
(312) 527-4000
Brenda Porter Helms
(773) 463-6427
David R. Herzogdrhlaw@mindspring.com
(312) 977-1600
Cindy M. Johnsoncjohnson@JNLegal.net
(312) 345-1306
Robert B. KatzRkatz@EPITrustee.com
(312) 705-1400
Frank J. Kokoszkafkokoszka@k-jlaw.com
(312) 429-9600
Gina B. Krol
(312)368-0300
David P. Leibowitzdleibowitz@lakelaw.com
(847) 249-9100
Phillip D. Leveylevey47@hotmail.com
(312) 348-9682
Philip V. Martinophillip.martino@quarles.com
(312) 715-5000
Richard J. Masonrmason@mcguirewoods.com
(312) 849-8100
Andrew J. MaxwellMaxwelllawchicago@yahoo.com
(312) 368-1138
Peter N. Metrou
(630) 551-7171
Alex D. Mogliaamoglia@mogliaadvisors.com
(847) 884-8282
Bernard J. Natalenatalelaw@bjnatalelaw.com
(815) 964-4700
Norman B. NewmanNnewman@MuchLaw.com
(312) 521-2000
Joseph D. OlsenJolsenlaw@comcast.net
(815) 965-8635
Gus A. Paloiangpaloian@seyfarth.com
(312) 460-6299
Ronald R. PetersonRpeterson@Jenner.com
(312) 222-9350
Steven R. Radtkesradtke@chillchillradtke.com
(312) 346-1935
N. Neville Reidnreid@fhslc.com
(312) 224-1245
Thomas E. Springer
(630)510-0000
Catherine L. Steegecsteege@jenner.com
(312) 222-9350
Miriam R. Steinmstein@chuhak.com
(312) 855-6109
James E. StevensJStevens@BSLBV.com
(815) 962-6611
Gregg E. Szilagyigs@tailserv.com
(312) 663-0801
Joji Takada
(773) 790-4888
Zane L. ZielinskiZZielinski@fgllp.com
(312) 276-1405
Robert T. Bruegge
Robert E. Eggmann IIIree@carmodymacdonald.com
(618) 222-1900
Dana S. Frazier
(618) 687-5707
Donald M. Samson
(618)235-2226

Sources:

  1. NEFE / The Harris Poll. (2020, April). Survey: Nearly 9 in 10 Say COVID-19 Crisis is Causing Financial Stress. The Harris Poll. Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://www.nefe.org/news/polls/2020/survey-covid-19-crisisi-causing-financial-stress.aspx
  2. American Bankruptcy Institute. (2002). Bankruptcy by the Numbers - Chapter 7 Asset Cases. ABI Journal. Retrieved August 4, 2020, from https://www.abi.org/abi-journal/chapter-7-asset-cases

Written By:

Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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