Filing bankruptcy is a very document intensive process. In this article, we’ll look at what documents you’ll need to gather to ensure your case proceeds smoothly and without unnecessary complications.
Filing bankruptcy is a very document intensive process. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the petition the filer submits to the bankruptcy court can be up to 100 pages long. Since preparing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be stressful, scary, and confusing, it can be helpful to use checklists to keep yourself on track. In this article, we’ll look at what documents you’ll need to gather to ensure your case proceeds smoothly and without unnecessary complications.
Bankruptcy documents vs. bankruptcy forms
To make the Chapter 7 process easier, it’s helpful to see a difference between bankruptcy forms and bankruptcy documents. Bankruptcy forms are documents with spaces to be filled in with your information. Think of them as a “skeleton” for the legal process of bankruptcy. Bankruptcy documents are sources of information and used as evidence to help fill in the forms.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms are required by law to be used for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. You can find all the forms and instructions for free on the United States Courts’ website. Keep on reading for a simple Chapter 7 document checklist.
Documents you need
There are certain documents every filer has to submit to either the court or their bankruptcy trustee, or both. Without these documents, a case won’t lead to a successful discharge. But, not all of the required documents will be necessary in every case. The best way to think about this is “Do I have a reason to have X?” as in “Do I have a reason to have divorce decree?” Obviously, if you’ve never been divorced, you don’t and therefore needn’t worry about this particular item on the checklist. So, as you read through this checklist, keep in mind all these documents are required only if they apply to your situation.
Tax returns: Assuming you were required to file returns, you will need the tax returns you filed in for the two calendar years before your bankruptcy case is filed. If you no longer have access to copies of your tax returns, you can request a tax return transcript from the IRS. Note that even though the Bankruptcy Code only requires you to have your federal tax returns, most trustees will ask for a copy of the state tax returns as filed also.
Pay stubs: You’ll need documentation to prove and calculate your current monthly income for you and your spouse if you’re filing jointly. You can use pay stubs or ask your employer or agency for a statement that includes deductions. Go back at least 60 days before you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, 6-7 months is preferable. If you weren’t employed, you don’t need pay stubs. But if you had more than one employer, be sure to get pay stubs from each employer. Income will go on your Chapter 7 Statement of Your Current Income, Schedule I, and the Statement of Financial Affairs (Form 107); all of which has to be filed with the bankruptcy court. If you make too much, you might have to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and complete a repayment plan before getting your discharge.
Profit and loss statements: If you have a business or farm, produce profit and loss statements from the past year, gross receipts, and proof of necessary business expenses.
NOTE: Do NOT send social security benefit statements, tax returns or tax forms like 1099s and W-2s to the court. These documents can be sent to the trustee after the case is filed, if they request them.
Certificate of completion for credit counseling
You’ll need two credit counseling courses when you file bankruptcy. Both must be through a provider approved by the U.S. Trustee’s office. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy laws require you to take a credit counseling course within 180 days (6 months) before filing a bankruptcy petition. You’ll get a credit counseling certificate that expires in 180 days, and it must be filed within 14 days of filing your bankruptcy petition.
Then, to get your Chapter 7 discharge, you’ll need to take the second course to receive a financial management certificate for filing. You can only take this course after your case has been filed with the court. That certificate needs to be filed within 60 days from the date of the first meeting of creditors.
Identification: Your driver’s license and social security card will be needed at the Chapter 7 meeting of the creditors. If you don’t have your driver’s license, you can use a passport, student ID, a resident alien card, or a Mexican consulate card for your photo identification proof. Medical insurance cards, IRS statements, and Social Security reports are acceptable proof of your social security number.
Retirement documents: Collect your retirement fund account statements that show your account balances, account numbers, effective dates, and transactions (if any). It will look like a bank statement. There are protections for IRAs and retirement accounts in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but transactions matter. ERISA retirement accounts will be protected. Social Security benefits will be exempt.
Education IRA: You’re required to file a record of your education IRAs. If you have an educational savings plan under 530(b)(1) or a 529 plan, dates, beneficiaries and transactions are reviewed. Get statements from your IRA provider.
Documents that are helpful to have
Of course, the information needed to complete the bankruptcy forms goes well beyond what you’ll be able to glean from the required documents. So, let’s take a look at what other documents you’ll want to collect so you’re ready to prepare and file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Information about your debts
Bills (creditor statements): Gather statements and agreements from credit card companies, store cards, medical bills, and every other creditor. You can get a copy on the billing company’s website if you can’t find one at home. You’ll list names, addresses, account numbers, and amounts on Schedule E/F (Form 106E/F). An automatic stay will stop bill collectors, and unsecured creditors will be discharged.
Collection notices: Save your collection notices. Note where the debt originally came from. Some creditor debts may have been sold to a collection agency.
Legal notices (lawsuits): Gather legal notices. Legal actions such as garnishments or orders for child support, alimony, court fines, and criminal actions need to be reported. If you’re a party to a civil action, you’ll have to list it on a Statement of Financial Affairs (Form 107) and having documents from the case is helpful to make sure you get all of the information you need.
Credit reports: You can get a free credit report once a year. If you’re filing a bankruptcy case, it’s a good time to get one. You’ll get confirmation of creditors and debt, and you can check for errors.
Information about your expenses
Expenses are what you spend, not a past due debt. For instance, your past due cell phone bill from your old carrier is a debt. The cell phone bill you pay every month for your current cell service is an expense.
Utility, Phone, Internet, and TV bills: You must include all of your utility type expenses. To make it easier for you, here’s a list of common household expenses: heating and cooling, garbage pickup, cell phone and landline phone, internet, satellite, cable television or internet service. Get a copy of a bill for each service you have and call the company and ask for a statement of last year’s bills. If you have bills for the last year, you can use those. You may be able to get a copy online at the company website. Your old utility bills are debt, and your current utility bills are expenses. A bankruptcy case may temporarily help with a shut-off notice.
Car loan statements: If you have any car loans, you’ll need your loan contracts and a record of payments. Get a copy from your loan company.
Mortgage or rental statements: Get your most recent statement for your mortgage, home equity loan, or a copy of your rental agreement. The courts will take into consideration taxes, homeowners’ insurance, home maintenance, repair, and upkeep, so check your credit card statements and receipts.
Bank statements: Collect all bank statements with your name and proof of certificates of deposit (CDs). Get copies from your bank or online. The trustee will review these for expenses, assets, and joint accounts, to make sure all of the information on your bankruptcy forms matches up with what’s in your bank statements.
Medical and childcare: If you have ongoing medically necessary expenses, gather receipts for the past year. If you have childcare expenses necessary for work, gather receipts for the past year.
Religious and Charitable: If you tithe or give to charity, get a yearly statement from the church or charitable organization.
Entertainment: You can count some entertainment expenses. Gather receipts or bank statements that show movies, memberships, subscriptions, and kids’ activities.
It’s not easy to remember your expenses, but this document checklist for Chapter 7 bankruptcy will give you a place to start. If you forget an expense after filing your petition, you’ll have to amend (update) your forms, so it’s always better to be thorough the first time around.
Information about your assets
An asset is property you own and can be tangible or intangible. Personal property, real estate, and ownership interest in a legal action are all examples of assets. If you are part owner in your brother’s restaurant or your son’s car, that interest will count as an asset.
Car and vehicle titles: Get titles for all vehicles in your name. State laws, loan terms, and personal circumstances will determine what you can keep and what will be sold. If you have a secured loan, the replacement value may need to be determined.
Life Insurance: If you have life insurance, the trustee may want to see a statement showing its cash value (if any) and identifying the named beneficiary.
Stocks, bonds and retirement accounts: You will need proof of investments including the name of the institution and the current value. This will be listed on Schedule A (Form B 106A/B) with your bankruptcy petition.
Divorce Decree: If you’ve been divorced in the 10 years before your bankruptcy filing, your bankruptcy trustee will most likely want to see your divorce decree. They use the information in the decree to double check that the information contained in your forms is accurate.
Property tax bills: If you own your home, you’ll need a property tax bill to show debt and expenses. Call your town clerk for a copy. The appraisal value on the property tax form is not proof of real property value for bankruptcy.
Proof of real property value: “Real property” is your house or land (real estate). Get a comparable market analysis from an agent or hire a real estate appraiser to give you a value. You’ll be able to discuss the appraisal.
Proof of personal property value: Cars, boats, recreational vehicles, and manufactured homes can be valued using the NADA value. The Kelley Blue Book can determine fair market value for cars. Fine art and expensive jewelry will need a formal appraisal. Get your appraisals ready.
A Chapter 7 document checklist smooths the bankruptcy process. A lawyer can’t help you find your documents, but they can help with managing assets and complex bankruptcies. Have a tough case? You can find a bankruptcy attorney and set up a consultation. If you’re good at checklists and managing documents, you can use Upsolve’s free online web app to help you file a pro se Chapter 7 bankruptcy without having to pay a law firm.