How do I know whether the court approved my application for a fee waiver?

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Written by Andrea Wimmer, Esq..  
Updated February 3, 2020

Summary

Anyone who earns less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines is eligible to apply for a fee waiver. But, that doesn’t automatically mean they will receive one. The court has full discretion on whether to grant a fee waiver application based on the information contained in the fee waiver application.

After you’ve submitted your bankruptcy forms an application for a fee waiver to the court, make sure to check your mail regularly and keep an eye out for mail from the court. This is important because in most districts the court does not review and rule on your application on the same day that you filed your case. Instead, an Order Granting (or Denying) Debtor’s Application For Waiver of the Chapter 7 Filing Fee will be sent to you by mail. 

If you’re an Upsolve user, you can view your docket, including the notices or orders mailed to you by the court, in your my.upsolve.org account after you enter your case number. In some cases, it may take a fews days for your docket to update. 

How do I know if my fee waiver was granted?

If you receive a document called Order Granting Debtor’s Application For Waiver of the Chapter 7 Filing Fee or an Order on Debtor’s Application For Waiver of the Chapter 7 Filing Fee stating the application is GRANTED then the fee waiver has been approved and you won’t have to pay the filing fee. If the fee waiver was denied, the order will provide you further instructions on when to make payments.

For some debtors, the court will not make a decision about the fee waiver until the 341 meeting has concluded. If this happens the court will send you another notice after the 341 meeting to let you know whether you will need to pay the filing fee and when the payment is due.

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Why would the court deny my fee waiver even though I’m eligible? 

Anyone who earns less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines is eligible to apply for a fee waiver. But, that doesn’t automatically mean they will receive one. The court has full discretion on whether to grant a fee waiver application based on the information contained in the fee waiver application. The same is true for applications to pay the filing fee in installments, if the court determines that can pay the filing fee in one payment (or sometimes because the filers has a history of defaulting on installment payments to the court). 

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My fee waiver application has been denied - now what? 

First - DON’T PANIC. Unless you have a history with the court of filing cases and then not paying the full filing fee, the court will give you the chance to make payments. 

Next - carefully review the notice (order) from the court. It will tell you whether you have to pay the fee in one payment or can make multiple (up to 4) smaller payments. It will also tell you when each payment is due and how much you have to pay by that date. 

TIP: The first payment may be due sooner than you think! This time frame varies from court to court, with some requiring the first payment be made within 1 week of the date on the order. Others allow 14 days or even up to 1 month before the first payment is due. That’s why it’s important to open all mail you get from the court right away! 

Making payments

Pay close attention to the due date(s) for all of the payments and try to make each payment early if you can. If you miss a payment, your case can be dismissed by the court, which will end the protection of the automatic stay

If you don’t think you’ll be able to make each payment by the due date, see if a family member or friend can help you out. It’s totally ok to borrow money from someone you know in order to pay the filing fee. You can also call the court clerk and see if there is anything they can do on their end to extend the payment due date a little bit. Sometimes a clerk can delay processing the missed payment for a few days to buy you a little bit of extra time, but that’s completely up to the clerk and not something they do often (if at all, depending on the district you’re in). 

If you can pay the full filing fee in one payment, do that! It’s always better to pay early if possible, so you don’t have to worry about missing a due date down the road.

Form of payment

If it’s not clear from the order, make sure you call the court before submitting your first payment to check what type of payment they’ll accept. You won’t be able to pay with a personal check and some courts won’t even accept cash, so it’s best to call ahead and find out. 

Keep receipts

Whether you’re mailing in a money order/cashier’s check or dropping of your payment in person, make sure you keep proof of payment. This can take the form of a receipt given to you by the clerk, or a stub from the money order or cashier’s check you mailed in. Put it in your bankruptcy file to keep it handy. You likely won’t need it, but if you do, it’ll be easy to find. 

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About the author

Andrea Wimmer, Esq.

Andrea practiced exclusively as debtors’ counsel in consumer chapter 7 and 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team full time in August 2019. While in private practice, Andrea handled all ban... read more

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Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families who cannot afford lawyers file bankruptcy for free, using an online web app. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations. It's one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our time that low-income families can’t access their basic rights when they can’t afford to pay for help. Combining direct services and advocacy, we’re fighting this injustice.

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