3 Steps to getting a fee waiver in bankruptcy court (Guide)

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Written by Karra Kingston, Esq.  
Updated May 21, 2020

Summary

If you can’t pay the filing fee, you may be able to get the filing fee waived, if you’re eligible, or pay the fee in installments after filing your bankruptcy case, once you’re protected by the automatic stay. Here we discuss the different fee-waiver forms you will need and how to fill them out.

Everyone who files for bankruptcy must pay a filing fee to the Court. For a Chapter 7 case, the filing fee is $335 and for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the filing fee is $310. The filing fee is used to pay administrative costs for your bankruptcy. When you file bankruptcy, a trustee is assigned to your case to oversee the process. They handle your case from beginning to end to make sure that everything you listed on your bankruptcy forms is true and correct. They also make sure that you don’t own assetsthat are not exempt. The filing fee is used towards paying them for their work for administering and overseeing your case, among other things. If you can’t pay the filing fee, you may be able to get the filing fee waived, if you’re eligible, or pay the fee in installments after filing your bankruptcy case, once you’re protected by the automatic stay. Below we will discuss the different fee-waiver forms you will need and how to fill them out.

1. Determine eligibility

If you are thinking about filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you will need to complete Official Form 103B, Application to Have the Chapter 7 Filing Fee Waived. You must show the Court that you can’t afford to pay the fee at all. To be eligible for a fee waiver, your income must be below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. These limits are published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to the income limit on eligibility, you must also show the Court that you can’t pay the filing fee in installments over 120 days after your case has been filed to be granted a fee waiver. There is no guarantee that the Court will grant your fee waiver request. 

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2. Complete the application

To complete the fee waiver application, you will need to provide the Court with information about your income and assets. You must show the Court that you are below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. Some of the information the Court will want to know about is your household income, family size, monthly expenses, bank account balances, personal property, real estate, and cash on hand. You should note that your family size includes your unmarried partner and any person who lives with you and whom you share your household expenses with. This may be different than what you put on your Schedule I and J. You will need to use the bankruptcy forms you filled out to make sure the information in your fee waiver application matches the information in your schedules. It is important to explain to the Court why you can’t pay the filing fee. 

If you’re an Upsolve user….

… and you’re eligible for a filing fee waiver, Upsolve will prepare the application for you based on the information you provide to us. It will be a part of the filing packet that you generate when your case is ready for filing. 

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3. File bankruptcy and submit application

Once you have finished completing your forms, you will need to bring them to the Clerk’s office and file them with the Court. Your application for a fee waiver is submitted to the Court at the same time as your bankruptcy petition. The Court will not accept your application without having your petition. Once your forms are filed, the judge will either grant your fee waiver application, deny it, or ask you to attend a hearing in Court. If the bankruptcy judge asks you to attend a hearing, you have to appear in Court at the date and time set for the hearing. At the hearing, the judge may ask you more questions about your financial situation to determine if a fee waiver should be granted. If an application is denied, it’s often because the judge thinks that the filer can pay the fee in the span of four months after filing their case. In that case, the Court will enter an order directing you to pay the filing fee in up to 4 monthly payments. If the judge denies your application and does not allow you to pay your filing fee in installments, you will need to pay it in full. 

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What can I do if I’m not eligible for a filing fee waiver? 

If you don’t qualify for a fee waiver, then you can ask the Bankruptcy Court to pay the filing fee in up to 4 installments. To ask the Court for permission to pay the fee in installments, you will need to complete Official Form 103A, Application for individuals to Pay the Filing Fee in Installments. This form will ask you about your household income and your finances. 

To complete Form 103A, Application for individuals to Pay the Filing Fee in Installments, you will need to tell the Court the amounts that you propose to pay and the dates you plan to make the payments. The Court will want you to certify that you will pay your entire filing fee before you make any more payments or transfer any more property to an attorney, bankruptcy petition preparer or anyone else for services in connection with your bankruptcy filing. You will also need to certify that you understand your debts will not be eliminated until your entire fee is paid in full. Finally, if you fail to make any of your installment payments when they are due, your case may be dismissed (or thrown out) and you won’t get a refund for the amounts paid already. 

If you’re an Upsolve user….

… and you’re planning to pay the Court filing fee in installments, we will prepare the application for you based on the information you have provided to us. It will be a part of the filing packet that you generate when your case is ready for filing. Call the bankruptcy court clerk's office ahead of time to find out the minimum amount you'll have to pay to file your case.

Conclusion

Don’t hold off on filing bankruptcy because you’re worried that you don’t have the full filing fee. Get the application ready along with everything else you need to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and get the process started. If the Court finds that you’re not eligible for a full waiver, chances are good that you’ll get to pay the fee over time. If you are thinking about filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy but can’t afford an attorney, see if you’re eligible to have Upsolve help you. Upsolve is a non-profit organization that helps low-income individuals file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney, for free. 

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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.

To learn more, read why we started Upsolve in 2016, our reviews from past users, and our press coverage from places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.