How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Louisiana
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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 March 22, 2022
Life is unpredictable. Even though no one thinks they'll ever have to take advantage of the Louisiana bankruptcy laws, many people do find themselves in a position of needing a fresh start. Fortunately, bankruptcy is there to provide these people with a chance to start anew while giving creditors what they’re due when possible. That doesn't mean you'll be left with nothing though. In fact, the Louisiana bankruptcy laws protect those things that everyone relies on just to live life in the Pelican State.
The decision to file bankruptcy is not one to make lightly. If you do decide to file, rest assured you're not shirking your responsibilities. In fact, you’ll be in good company as Henry Ford, Mark Twain, and Willie Nelson have all filed for bankruptcy at one time or another. Debt relief doesn’t happen overnight. But you won't know whether it can provide you with the relief you need without learning more about it. Remember, knowledge is power.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Louisiana
Most people who end up filing bankruptcy start the process wondering whether they can even afford it, without realizing that you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in Louisiana for free. The most expensive part of filing for bankruptcy is hiring an attorney to help you with the process, but you don't have to hire a lawyer. Filing on your own is called filing “pro se.” This article walks you through how to file for bankruptcy on your own in 10 steps.
- Collect Your Louisiana Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Louisiana Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Louisiana Bankruptcy Documents
Filing bankruptcy means gathering a lot of paperwork. Even though it can take a lot of time, it's important to do things right. The earlier in the process you have the needed documents, the easier filing for bankruptcy will be. There are certain documents that you’re required to submit with your bankruptcy petition when you file your case. This is true whether you file on your own or you have an attorney’s help. These documents include your previous two years' tax returns, your paycheck stubs for the last 60 days, and a bank statement that covers the date of your bankruptcy filing.
There are other documents that you aren’t required to submit when you file your case. But they’re helpful to have as you fill out your paperwork, which asks about your income, expenses, debts, and creditors. They include older bank statements from the past year, a copy of your credit report, all creditor statements and bills, and letters from collection agencies or other third-party debt collectors. Keep in mind, you’re entitled to one free report every 12 months from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
To make sure that you understand all of your debt relief options, the Bankruptcy Code requires you to take a credit counseling course before you can file your case. You need to complete the course in the 180 days before you file your case. You’ll need to submit a certificate of to the court with your other bankruptcy forms. Be sure to take the course from an approved credit counseling provider. While there’s a course fee, you may be able to waive the fee if you can’t afford it.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Completing all the required bankruptcy forms can be tedious, but it’s entirely doable. The main required forms are federal, which means they’re the same throughout the United States. You can get the required forms as fillable PDFs for free on USCOURTS.gov
If you hire a lawyer, they’ll ask you to fill out a questionnaire and then their office will fill out the forms using the information you provided. Later you’ll review and sign them before the lawyer submits them on your behalf. If you decide to file using Upsolve’s free filing tool, you’ll fill out an online questionnaire, and our software will complete the forms based on your replies.
Get Your Filing Fee
There is a $338 court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you can’t afford to pay this amount, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. But keep in mind that if your household income exceeds 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you won’t qualify for this waiver. (See the Louisiana Fee Waiver Eligibility below).
If you have to file quickly and you can’t afford to pay the $338 in full, you can make a down payment toward the filing fee and ask to pay the rest in installments. The court will tell you how much the down payment and installments will be. Some filers choose to do so they can stop collection actions like wage garnishment. As soon as you file for bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect, and the wage garnishment will stop.
If you don't have to file quickly, it’s good to wait until you have the full filing fee though. This way you won’t risk having your case dismissed if you’re late with a payment.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you’re filing without a lawyer, then you’ll have to print out your bankruptcy forms so you can bring them to the bankruptcy court.
Important information to remember:
Use regular, letter-size paper (8.5 x 11 inches).
Forms must be on white paper with black ink only.
Don’t print double-sided.
Sign in all necessary spots.
Double-check that you have printed everything.
If you’re using Upsolve’s filing tool, you’ll receive all your forms in a single downable packet. Also, everywhere you need to sign will be flagged for you. If you’re filing bankruptcy with the help of a lawyer, they’ll file all the forms for your case electronically. You won’t need to worry about printing them out.
File Your Forms With the Louisiana Bankruptcy Court
Louisiana has three federal bankruptcy districts: the Eastern District, the Middle District, and the Western District.
If you decide to file for bankruptcy in person, make sure you have everything you need, including:
Your bankruptcy forms,
Your credit counseling certificate, and
Your filing fee (or application for a waiver/installment plan),
And your picture ID.
Remember, you’re entering a federal court building when filing bankruptcy, so you’ll have to pass through security. Once inside, make your way to the clerk's office, which is where you turn in all of your paperwork. Listen closely and follow any instructions the clerk gives you.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After filing Chapter 7 in Louisiana, the court assigns a trustee to administer the case. Depending on who your trustee is you may also receive a written request to provide some additional documents to their office. You have a duty to cooperate with the trustee, so make sure to stay on top of any request you may receive from them.
Even if you don't receive anything from your trustee, the law requires you to send them the following documents at least seven days before your meeting of creditors:
Your federal income tax return for the last two years, and
A bank statement that includes your bankruptcy filing date.
Also, if you’re in the Middle District, the local rules require that you bring your federal income tax return and your recent paycheck stubs to the creditors’ meeting.
Take a Debtor Education Course
You’re now required to take a second course that covers personal financial management skills and tools. If you don’t complete this course, you aren’t eligible for a discharge. The bankruptcy discharge is the order that wipes out your unsecured debts like credit card debt and medical bills. You need to take the course with an approved provider and file a certificate of completion with the court no later than 60 days after your creditors’ meeting. If you don’t, the court may close your case without discharging your debt.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is also called a meeting of creditors. It’s an opportunity for the bankruptcy trustee who’s handling your case to ask you some questions under oath to verify your identity and the information in your petition. They may ask some follow-up questions to clarify anything that wasn’t clear to them when they looked at your paperwork.
Typically, the date, time, and location of your 341 meeting is listed on the official bankruptcy notice you receive from the court after filing your case. But currently, all 341 meetings are being held via telephone or video conference. This is a COVID-19 precaution and hasn’t been adopted as a standard practice at this time. No matter where or how your meeting is held, be sure to have your picture ID and proof of your Social Security number on you when the meeting takes place.
Some Chapter 7 filers get stressed out about their 341 meeting. But when it’s over, most people realize that it really wasn't necessary to worry.
Dealing with Your Car
Your options to keep your car when you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy vary based on whether you’re leasing or financing your car or if you own it free and clear.
If you own your car, Louisiana allows you to keep it as long as your equity in it isn’t more than $7,500 (as a single filer).
If you’re leasing your car, you’re current on payments, and you’re able to continue making the payments, you can “assume” the lease. This means you keep the lease and keep making payments as usual. If you’re not current on payments or just want to get out of the lease, you can can “reject” the lease and return the car.
If you’re financing your car, you must be current on your payments to keep it. You may need to sign a reaffirmation agreement with your lender. This simply “reaffirms” that you’ll keep making payments as normal.
If you’re not current on your car loan payments, you owe more than the car is worth, or you just want to get out of the loan, you can surrender the vehicle and the loan becomes a dischargeable debt in your Chapter 7 case.
If you decide it’s best not to keep your car, you think about buying a car after bankruptcy. If you give your credit score some time to rebound, you may be able to get a better financing offer.
Louisiana Bankruptcy Means Test
To make sure that people aren’t taking advantage of the Louisiana bankruptcy laws, everyone filing a bankruptcy in the state has to pass the means test. The means test determines your ability to pay your debts. First, you’ll compare your monthly income with the median income for a similar household. If your income is lower than the median, you pass the means test automatically and can file Chapter 7.
If you don’t qualify under the first part, you can take the second part of the test. It takes your expenses and disposable income into consideration. If you don’t pass this part of the test because your income is too high, you can file Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead. Chapter 13 is a type of bankruptcy that allows filers to repay at least some of their debts under a 3-5 year repayment plan. Some people file Chapter 13 because they have several secured debts like a car loan and mortgage, and they want to hang on to their car and/or home.
Data on Median income levels for Louisiana
Louisiana Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Louisiana
Louisiana 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)|
Louisiana Bankruptcy Forms
Your Louisiana bankruptcy forms are a mix of the official federal forms that are the same for filers across the U.S. and some local forms. While the local forms vary by district, they typically include a declaration regarding your payment advices (your pay stubs) and a verification of your creditors' names and mailing addresses in a form called a mailing matrix. See district-specific information below.
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Louisiana Districts & Filing Requirements
There are three districts in Louisiana: the Eastern District, the Middle District, and the Western District. Each has different filing requirements as outlined below.
Eastern District of Louisiana Requirements
With its courthouse located in New Orleans, the Eastern District comprises Louisiana's 13 eastern-most parishes. This district provides instructions on how to file your Louisiana bankruptcy case without the help of a lawyer. The Eastern District of Louisiana has an online filing tool called Electronic Self-Representation (eSR) for individuals filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer. The court encourages individuals to file electronically unless there is some extraordinary circumstance that prevents them from doing so.
If you file your case online, you need to mail the filing fee (or application for a waiver or to pay in installments) and your signature pages to the court within 10 days at:
United States Bankruptcy Court, EDLA500 Poydras Street, Room B-601New Orleans LA, 70130
You can pay your $338filing fee with a cashier’s check, money order, or in cash. If you apply for an installment plan, you’re required to make a $75 downpayment within 10 days of filing your case. The final three installments must be paid within 120 days of filing your petition.
The Eastern District’s homepage includes COVID-19 information.
Middle District of Louisiana Requirements
The Middle District has a population of approximately 1 million people and covers a nine-parish region in south-central Louisiana. If you’re filing bankruptcy on your own, you need to appear in person to file at the Bankruptcy Court Clerk’s office located at 707 Florida Street, Room 119, Baton Rouge, LA 70801. The Middle District doesn’t allow filers to send forms via mail, fax, or online.
This district accepts cash, money orders, and cashier’s checks. If you can’t pay the filing fee in one lump sum, you can complete and submit an application to pay in installments.
Though the court is currently open, it’s good to check the COVID-19 resource page before going to file your case.
Western District of Louisiana Requirements
The Western District is the largest of the three districts and is divided into the following five divisions: Alexandria, Lake Charles, Monroe, Lafayette, and Shreveport. Court is conducted in all of the divisions, but the clerk of the court for the bankruptcy court only has staff in the Shreveport, Lafayette, and Alexandria offices. You can file your case in person at one of those three offices, or mail your bankruptcy petition to the mailing address listed for your division.
This district accepts cash, money orders, and cashier’s checks for fee payments from those filing without a lawyer. It is also in the process of upgrading its systems to NextGen where filers, even those proceeding pro se, will be able to file for bankruptcy electronically. The court doesn’t maintain a COVID-19 page, but you can check the court’s news page for the latest information.
Louisiana Bankruptcy Exemptions
Everyone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy gets to use bankruptcy exemptions to protect some of their assets or property. An exemption allows you to keep property that’s valued up to a certain amount. In some states, filers get to choose between federal exemptions and state exemptions. But if you’ve lived in the Pelican State for at least two years, you have to use the state exemptions because Louisiana has opted out of federal exemptions.
Louisiana bankruptcy laws provide a $35,000 homestead exemption, which protects your equity in your primary residence. There are also protections for your personal property from wedding rings to firearms. Certain other intangible property such as wages and certain retirement accounts are protected as well. Most Louisiana bankruptcy exemptions have a dollar limit, so carefully review the value of your property to make sure it’s fully protected.
Louisiana Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Not all bankruptcies are created equal, and if you feel that your case may be a little more complicated than most, hiring a lawyer can be a good investment. Most bankruptcy lawyers charge a flat fee for a bankruptcy filing, and the average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Louisiana ranges from about $1,450 to $1,800. Most lawyers offer a free consultation for potential clients before proceeding with the bankruptcy process. There are also other considerations besides costs when choosing a bankruptcy attorney.
Louisiana Legal Aid Organizations
Louisiana legal aid organizations make it their mission to provide free legal services to low-income residents of Louisiana. If you can't afford a lawyer to help you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Louisiana, but don't feel like you can go through the process without legal advice, visit one of the organizations providing legal aid in Louisiana for help.
Acadiana Legal Service Corporation
1020 Surrey Street, P.O. Box 4823, Lafayette, LA 70502-4823
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation
1340 Poydras St, Suite 600, New Orleans, LA 70112
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Louisiana Court Locations
300 Jackson Street Alexandria, LA 71301
Hale Boggs Federal Building United States Courthouse
500 Poydras Street New Orleans, LA 70130
Tom Stagg United States Court House
300 Fannin Street Shreveport, LA 71101
The Lemoine Company Building
214 Jefferson Street Lafayette, LA 70501
Louisiana Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Louisiana||Hon. Elizabeth W. Magner|
|Eastern District of Louisiana||Hon. Jerry A. Brown|
|Middle District of Louisiana||Hon. Douglas D. Dodd|
|Western District of Louisiana||Hon. John W. Kolwe|
|Western District of Louisiana||Hon. John S. Hodge|
|David V. Adlerfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Wilbur J. Babin Jr.||email@example.com|
|Ronald J. Hoffirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Barbara N. Rivera-Fultonemail@example.com|
|Samera L. Abidefirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Dwayne M. Murrayemail@example.com|
|Martin A. Schottfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Elizabeth G. Andrusemail@example.com|
|Ted B. Brunsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John C. Conineemail@example.com|
|John W. Lusterfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Mark K. Suttonemail@example.com|
|Thomas R. Willsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|