10 step guide on how to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts without a lawyer. This guide provides an overview of the bankruptcy process for filers seeking debt relief in the Arizona Bankruptcy Court.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated November 4, 2020
It’s no coincidence that the U.S. Constitution enables Congress to create bankruptcy laws. Living and struggling with debt is something even the Founding Fathers knew.
In fact, most early residents in the colonies started their life in the New World as debtors, paying their fare for passage across the Atlantic by becoming indentured servants. Others chose where to settle based on the promise of getting a reprieve from having to pay their debts, as was offered by Virginia in 1642.
If you’re struggling to make ends meet every month, whether that’s due to a job loss, unexpected medical bills, a divorce, or something else, filing any type of bankruptcy can get you back on your feet.
How to File Bankruptcy in Massachusetts for Free
It’s easy to feel like you’re too broke to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy Massachusetts, but there is a way to file your case for free. This guide will take you through the steps of preparing for a bankruptcy filing without having to pay a lawyer.
Collect Your Massachusetts Bankruptcy Documents
The first step in the process of filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts is to collect your bankruptcy documents and organize them in a single location. These documents are used in preparing the bankruptcy forms that get submitted to the bankruptcy court.
Start by collecting all the various collection letters you have received in the last three months and getting a copy of your credit report. Together, these documents will allow you to create a complete list of your debts with the most current address available for each one of your creditors.
Since you need to provide the bankruptcy court with an overview of your monthly expenses, pull a few bank statements to help make sure you didn't miss anything. The bank statements may be needed later on in your Massachusetts bankruptcy case, so don't close any bank accounts without first getting copies of at least the last 6 months of bank statements, just in case.
You’ll also need your last two federal income tax returns and the last six months of paycheck stubs. There may be other documents that’ll be helpful, so if you come across any real estate appraisals or other valuations, deeds, life insurance policy statements etc. keep them nearby.
Take Credit Counseling
Everyone filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts has to complete a credit counseling class before they can do so. It’s a requirement under the Bankruptcy Code that applies to all individuals filing bankruptcy.
The purpose of this bankruptcy course is to make sure you’re aware of all theoptions available to you to deal with your debts. It's intended to make sure that only folks who really need a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts end up filing
The certificate of completion you’ll get at the end of the course is good for 180 days, so you have plenty of time to take this course before filing your bankruptcy case.
Since this credit counseling course is a legal requirement, all companies who offer the course must first be approved to offer it by theUnited States Trustee. Acomplete listing of the providers approved to offer the course to folks filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts is available on the United States Trustee's website. Before you sign up with any specific provider, make sure they are on this list, as the course won't count otherwise.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
To allow the US Courts, and all parties involved in a bankruptcy case, to process all of the filer’s information in an efficient and uniform way, everyone has to use the official national bankruptcy forms when filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts .
If you hire a lawyer, their office will put together the completed forms for your review and signature based on the information you have provided to their office. Since your lawyers won't know what they don't know, it's important to answer all of their questions and requests as completely as possible, without leaving anything out.
If you’re filing bankruptcy without a lawyer (“pro se”), you’re the one responsible for making sure all of the bankruptcy forms are completed. Folks with simple cases can use Upsolve’s free tool to prepare their bankruptcy forms. Whichever route you go, just remember you’re preparing these forms for filing with a United States Bankruptcy Court, and intentionally leaving out information can have serious consequences under federal law.
Get Your Filing Fee
If you’re not eligible to apply for a filing fee waiver as part of the bankruptcy process, make a plan to raise the full court filing fee ($338) before submitting your bankruptcy petition. Since some of the information in your bankruptcy forms is time sensitive, it doesn't make sense to get everything ready to file and then start saving up for the court filing fee, especially if it will take you a few pay periods to do so.
The court accepts cash and money orders from folks filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts, so don't plan on bringing a personal check; the court will not accept that. If you need to file bankruptcy quickly - to stop a foreclosure or wage garnishment for example - you can ask to pay the filing fee in installments.
This allows you to get the bankruptcy process started and get the automatic stay protections. If you go this route, make sure you’re able to make all payments on time (or early!). Missing just one payment can cause the bankruptcy court to dismiss your case.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Whether you’re filing with a lawyer or on your own, at some point someone’ll have to print out a hardcopy of the full bankruptcy petition. That's because you have to actually sign all of the documents that are filed with the bankruptcy court. Without a lawyer, that task falls to you.
Since you’ll be submitting the papers to a federal court, make sure you use regular, white, 8.5" x 11" paper and don’t print double-sided. Don’t staple pages together either. Even though only the original is filed with the court, it's a good idea to either print a second set or make a copy for yourself. That way you have the exact same version of the documents you gave to the bankruptcy court in your own records.
If you’re using Upsolve’s free tool, you will receive a single PDF containing all of the documents you need to file Chapter 7 in Massachusetts . If you completed the forms on your own, and they are all saved in different PDF files on your hard drive, it's a good idea to print outa checklist like this one first, so you don't inadvertently miss anything.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Even though Massachusetts is a single federal district, it has three divisions with a courthouse located in each one of them. Which courthouse you have to visit to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts depends on the city or town you live in.
You can look up the appropriate location for filing your case either by town or zip code. While you can file all of your documents by mailing them to the courthouse, if it’s is not a hardship
(and the courthouse isn’t closed to the public due to the coronavirus), do it in person instead. That way the clerk's office can assist you face to face and let you know right away if there are any issues or missing documents. Plus, you will know your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts has been officially filed right away.
Detailed directions to each one of the Massachusetts Bankruptcy Courts, including public transit options where applicable, are provided on the court's website. If you’re not familiar with the part of town you are going to, it may be a good idea to look up the parking options near the courthouse first. The last thing you want to worry about while filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts is whether you are getting a parking ticket while in the middle of it.
Make sure you bring your copy along with the original you are filing with the court, so the clerk can stamp it for you. Finally, remember that this is a federal building, so you’ll have to pass through security on your way inside.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The Chapter 7 trustee - your trustee - is required to review not only the documents you filed with the court, but they also have to review your tax return and make sure it matches up with the information in your bankruptcy forms. Under the bankruptcy laws, you’ll have to provide a full copy of last year's federal income tax return to your bankruptcy trustee at least 7 days before your creditors' meeting.
At the same time, everyone filing Chapter 7 in Massachusetts has to provide copies of each paycheck stub they received in the 60 days before their case was filed to their trustee. It's important to redact (black out) any sensitive information such as the name and social security number of minors, the full social security numbers of individuals not filing bankruptcy with you, and everything but the last four digits of your social security number, before sending these documents to the trustee.
Finally, it’s possible that your trustee sends you a letter after your case is filed asking you to submit these and certain other documents or information to their office. Since everyone filing Chapter 7 in Massachusetts has a duty to cooperate with their trustee's reasonable requests for information, make sure to keep an eye out for any such correspondence from your trustee after filing your bankruptcy case.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
In addition to the course that is required before filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts, you also have to take a course after filing your case. This course focuses on financial management and is a requirement everyone in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts has to complete before their bankruptcy discharge can be entered.
While there is no hard deadline by which to complete the course, there is a risk that the court will close your case without a discharge if you don't file a certification that you have completed it within 60 days from the date of your creditors' meeting.
A lot of folks use the date set for their creditors' meeting as an informal deadline of sorts, so they don't accidentally forget about it later down the road. Additionally, completing this requirement for your Massachusetts bankruptcy before the creditors' meeting allows you to walk out of the courthouse once the meeting is concluded knowing that you have done everything that everyone filing Chapter 7 in Massachusetts has to do to obtain a discharge. The United States Trustee again has to pre-approve the companies offering the course, and publishes a full list of them on their website.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The creditors' meeting, sometimes referred to as the 341 meeting based on the section of the Bankruptcy Code that requires it, takes place approximately 20 - 40 days after a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts has been filed with the bankruptcy court.
You’ll learn the date and time of your creditors' meeting when you receive this official notice from the court in the mail. Generally, if your Massachusetts bankruptcy case is being handled by the court in Boston, your creditors’ meeting will take place in either Boston or Brockton, depending on where you live. If your case was filed in the Worcester court, your 341 meeting will be scheduled to take place in either Worcester, Pittsfield, or Springfield. But, at the moment, all 341 meetings are being handled by telephone, as a COVID-19 safety precaution.
Most meetings take less than 10 minutes to complete, with the trustee only asking the standard questions they are required to ask everyone filing Chapter 7 in Massachusetts. Your creditors are invited to attend the meeting and, if they do, are allowed to ask you questions as well, though that happens only rarely. If you take just a few minutes to prepare and review all of your bankruptcy forms before going in, the creditors' meeting will be nowhere as stressful as you think it will be.
Dealing with Your Car
Your car plays two important roles in your case. First, it’s an asset in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate, though most of the time it’s an asset with no value if there is a large loan balance leaving no equity.
The second role your car plays is that of collateral for one of your creditors. Your car loan has to be listed as a secured debt on your Schedule D and you have to explain what you want to do with it in your Statement of Intentions. Everyone with a car loan when filing Chapter 7 in Massachusetts gets the same three options on how to deal with their car and the loan it secures.
If your car is in good shape, and the terms of the loan, including the amount of the monthly payment, work for you, you can keep everything essentially the same by entering into a reaffirmation agreement. If the car's value is much lower than the loan balance, and you don't want to have to keep paying on it, you have a couple of options. You can walk away completely, surrender the car to the bank, and discharge your liability on the loan as part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts .
Or, if you can come up with money equal to the car's actual current value, you can redeem the vehicle, essentially purchasing it from the lender to get out of the loan early. This has the effect of allowing you to keep your car without getting stuck with a car loan balance much greater than the car’s worth.
Massachusetts Bankruptcy Means Test
The Massachusetts means test for bankruptcy is one of the documents everyone filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts has to file with the court. The analysis determines whether you’re eligible to file under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. It first compares your household income against the income limits in place for Massachusetts bankruptcy cases. Some folks can show that they’re eligible to file a Chapter 7 case even though they make more than the median by completing the second part of the means test analysis.
Data on Median income levels for Massachusetts
Massachusetts Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Massachusetts
Massachusetts Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Massachusetts Bankruptcy Forms
The Massachusetts Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms are the official forms used nationwide; everyone who files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy uses these forms. The creditor’s matrix, which isn’t an official form as much as it is a list of addresses, should meet these requirements.
Although there are a number of local Massachusetts bankruptcy forms, none of them are needed when you first go to court to file your case. You can find all these local forms on the court'swebsite.
District of Massachusetts Requirements
If you have more than 35 individual creditors when you file your Massachusetts bankruptcy, the court requires that you provide the court with a CD or USB storage device as an ASCII text file.
If you have to file your case outside of normal business hours you can do so, but only if you make prior arrangements with the clerk's office.
Finally, even though reviewing it is not a requirement, the Massachusetts Bankruptcy Court has published a detailed guide for people filing bankruptcy without a lawyer ("pro se"), that can be downloaded for free.
Massachusetts Bankruptcy Exemptions
The Bay State allows folks who have lived in the state for at least 2 years when filing their Massachusetts bankruptcy to choose between Massachusetts bankruptcy exemptions and the federal bankruptcy exemptions. The bankruptcy exemptions provided in Massachusetts’s law are more generous than the federal bankruptcy exemptions. Among other things, you can protect a (declared) homestead with equity of up to $500,000 and a vehicle worth up to $7,500. Massachusetts law even includes a wildcard.
Massachusetts Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
It doesn’t always make sense to save money by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts without a lawyer, especially if the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer is less than the assets you might lose without legal advice. Massachusetts bankruptcy lawyers charge anaverage of $1,400 per case, but it generally varies depending on the complexity of the case.
Massachusetts Legal Aid Organizations
Legal aid in Massachusetts is available for low income individuals and families in civil matters, including Massachusetts bankruptcy cases. If you’re worried about filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Massachusetts by yourself, you can find links for a number of Massachusetts legal aid organizations as well as pro bono lawyer referral resources on thecourt's website.
Community Legal Aid, Inc.
405 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608
Northeast Legal Aid, Inc.
50 Island Street, Suite #203A, Lawrence, MA 01840
South Coastal Counties Legal Services
22 Bedford Street, 2nd Floor, P.O. Box 2507, Fall River, MA 02722
Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
99 Chauncy Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02111
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Massachusetts Court Locations
John W. McCormack Post Office and Court House
5 Post Office Square Boston, MA 02109
Harold D. Donohue Federal Building and United States Courthouse
595 Main Street Worcester, MA 01608
300 State Street
300 State Street Springfield, MA 01105
Massachusetts Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Melvin S. Hoffman|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Joan N. Feeney|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Frank J. Bailey|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. William C. Hillman|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Robert Somma|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Christopher J. Panos|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Joel B. Rosenthal|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Elizabeth D. Katz|
|District of Massachusetts||Hon. Henry J. Boroff|
|Warren E. Aginfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John J. Aquino IIIemail@example.com|
|Joseph H. Baldigafirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Joseph G. Butler||JGB@jgbutlerlaw.com|
|Joseph B. Collinsemail@example.com|
|Gary W. Cruickshankfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Mark G. DeGiacomoemail@example.com|
|John O. Desmondfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Jonathan R. Goldsmithemail@example.com|
|Stewart F. Grossmanfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Jack E. Houghton Jr.||JHoughtonJr@aol.com|
|Donald R. Lassman||Don@LassmanLaw.com|
|David B. Madoffemail@example.com|
|Janice G. Marshfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Harold B. Murphyemail@example.com|
|David M. Nicklessfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|David W. Ostrander||David@Ostranderlaw.com|
|Lynne F. Rileyemail@example.com|
|Gary M. Weinerfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Anne J. Whiteemail@example.com|