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How to File Chapter 7 with No Money?

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In a Nutshell

Even though there are bankruptcy fees in the form of court fees, credit counseling course fees, and attorneys fee, eligible filers can file their Chapter 7 bankruptcy for free.

Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated July 12, 2023

Filing bankruptcy doesn't have to be expensive. Some people are able to file bankruptcy for free by asking the bankruptcy court for a filing fee waiver. Consumer bankruptcy, so Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, aims to provide debt relief to folks struggling with too much debt. 

Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves a repayment plan and is reserved for folks with a regular monthly income. As a result, filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code usually means the filer is not eligible for a filing fee waiver. Additionally, the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is pretty complex, so hiring a bankruptcy lawyer is typically a good investment. Even if it means you have to pay attorneys fees for the legal help. 

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, on the other hand, gives folks with little or no income a fresh start. This type of bankruptcy can be filed for free by eligible filers. Let's start by taking a look at what types of fees are involved in filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy: 

What Costs Are Involved In A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

  • Bankruptcy court filing fee

  • Credit counseling and financial management course fees

  • Attorney fees

What Costs Can Be Avoided When Filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

  • Bankruptcy court filing fee

  • Credit counseling and financial management course fees

  • Attorney fees

That’s right. Eligible filers are able to file Chapter 7 for free. If your household income is less than 150% of the federal poverty level, you can ask the bankruptcy judge to waive your court fees with a simple application submitted along with your bankruptcy petition. Plus, you’ll be eligible to ask for a fee waiver for the credit counseling and financial management courses. 

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You Can Avoid Attorney Fees by Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney

You don’t have to hire a bankruptcy lawyer to file your case. Bankruptcy law allows individuals (and married couples) to file without one (“pro se”). You can complete the bankruptcy forms on your own or (if you’re eligible) with Upsolve’s free web tool. That’s not to say that filing without a lawyer is always the best way to go. While the typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is pretty straightforward, if your financial situation is more complicated, hiring a lawyer may help you save money in the long run. 

If you don’t want to file on your own and you’re eligible for a filing fee waiver from the bankruptcy court, you may qualify for free help from a local legal aid organization. 

How Much Does A Lawyer Charge For Chapter 7? 

The average cost nationwide is probably around $1,500, but it’s really impossible to tell what that means for you. An experienced bankruptcy lawyer will meet you for a free consultation so they can learn more about your situation. At the end of this meeting, they’ll have an idea of how complex (or straightforward) your case is and will quote you a fee based on that. 

If you’re not eligible for legal aid and need the help of a bankruptcy lawyer for your case, there are things you can do to pay for the attorney’s fees. Most bankruptcy attorneys realize that coming up with the fees in a lump sum can be hard and offer payment plans to their clients. So, when they say you have to pay the attorneys fees “up front” they often mean “before your bankruptcy case is filed” and not that you have to come up with a lump sum payment somehow. 

Lightbulb with Text: If you’re not facing a garnishment and have a little bit of time before you have to file, consider the following options.
  1. Use your tax refund to pay the attorney’s fees: Consumer bankruptcy filings in March and April are much higher than the rest of the year because many people take advantage of their tax refund to pay for legal help. 

  2. Stop paying your unsecured debts, like credit card debt, and use that money to make payments to the law firm you’ve hired. 

  3. Sell something that’s not protected by an exemption. Any property you own when you file bankruptcy that isn’t protected by an exemption can be sold by the bankruptcy trustee to pay your creditors. If you already know that something you own won’t be protected, it’s ok to sell it for it’s fair market value and use the funds to pay your bankruptcy lawyer. 

Your best bet is to talk to schedule a free consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer and ask about their recommendations on how to come up with the money to pay them. 

How To File Chapter 7 With No Money If You’re Not Eligible For A Filing Fee Waiver

If your household income exceeds 150% of the federal poverty line, you may still easily pass the means test and qualify for debt relief under Chapter 7, but you won’t be eligible for a filing fee waiver from the bankruptcy court. 

If you’re subject to a garnishment, it may be impossible to come up with $338 all at one. In that case, you can ask the court for a payment plan to pay the court filing fee. You submit the payment plan application along with your bankruptcy petition and a down payment (usually around $80, but that varies from court to court). The automatic stay will kick in and the wage garnishment will have to stop. That will then give you the chance to pay the rest of the court filing fee so your bankruptcy case can continue. 

Let’s Summarize...

Even though there are bankruptcy fees in the form of court fees, credit counseling course fees, and attorneys fees, eligible filers can file their Chapter 7 bankruptcy case for free. 

If you can’t afford to hire a bankruptcy lawyer, have a simple case, and are comfortable going through the process without legal help, you may be able to use Upsolve’s free web tool to generate your bankruptcy forms, including an application to waive the filing fee. 

Written By:

Attorney Andrea Wimmer


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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