How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Maryland
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Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t have to be scary and confusing. We provide helpful tips and resources to help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in your state without a lawyer.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated February 10, 2022
Maryland is known for its miles of stunning shoreline, picturesque harbors, and world-famous seafood. But the spectacular landscape is hard to enjoy when you feel like you’re drowning in debt. Interest and fees can pile up quickly, even when you’re making your monthly payments. You can find yourself struggling to cover your other bills, and yet, for all your hard work, it feels like you’re barely making a dent in your balance.
Maryland’s bankruptcy laws are designed to help consumers break free from the debt cycle. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can eliminate most of your debt in a few months, giving you a fresh start at a debt-free life. Getting out of debt isn’t impossible, and you don’t have to do it alone. The best way to start is by researching your options and taking the next step.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Maryland
The biggest cost of bankruptcy is almost always attorney fees. Hiring a lawyer can make filing bankruptcy easier, and an experienced attorney is essential if your bankruptcy case is complex. But if your case is fairly straightforward, like most Maryland Chapter 7 bankruptcies, you can save a lot of money by filing bankruptcy without a lawyer. This guide walks you through each step of the Maryland bankruptcy process.
- Collect Your Maryland Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Maryland Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Maryland Bankruptcy Documents
Before you jump into filling out your bankruptcy forms, it’s extremely helpful to gather up all the documents you’ll need along the way. Even if you hire a bankruptcy lawyer, you’ll still need to bring in certain key documents so your legal team can complete your case. The most essential documents are the ones you — or your lawyer if you hire one — must send to your bankruptcy trustee. (You’ll learn more about your trustee later in this guide.) These include:
Pay stubs or a printout from your employer showing your income and all deductions for the past 60 days.
Your most recent bank statement.
Tax returns for the past two years.
Also, try to gather as many of the following documents as you can:
Bills or statements showing how much you owe and the creditor’s contact info.
Collection letters or lawsuit paperwork.
A recent credit report from at least one of the major credit reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax).
You won’t have to send these documents to the trustee, but they’re helpful to have on hand. Your bankruptcy forms must include a list of all your debts, including balances as well as your creditors’ names and addresses. You can get most of that information from these documents.
Bank statements for the past six months (or more) can also help you to estimate your monthly expenses and to remember any debt payments you’ve made recently. Finally, pay stubs or income printouts for the past six months will help you complete the Maryland means test forms.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
Anyone who files a Maryland bankruptcy, either with or without an attorney, must first complete a credit counseling course from a state-approved provider. The course covers various kinds of debt relief options and explains the different chapters of bankruptcy. Most providers offer the course by telephone or online. One provider, Money Management International, also usually offers the course in person at its Silver Spring location, though this is temporarily unavailable due to COVID-19.
When you finish the course, the provider will send you a certificate. You’ll need to submit this certificate along with your other forms when you file your bankruptcy case. The certificate is valid for 180 days after it’s issued. If you don’t file bankruptcy within this 180-day period, you’ll need to take the course again.
Providers typically charge anywhere from $15-$60 for the credit counseling course. If you’re filing bankruptcy jointly with your spouse, the fee usually includes both of you if you take the course together. Many providers will waive the course fee if you qualify based on your income.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Filling out your bankruptcy forms can seem like a daunting task, but completing the forms is much easier after you’ve gathered the necessary documents. Most of the forms you’ll need are federal forms, meaning they’re the same for everyone in the United States. You can download all the federal forms for free, along with the federal instructions, from USCourts.gov. Each form is available as a fillable PDF.
If you’re working with a lawyer, you won’t need to do this. You’ll usually just fill out a questionnaire and your lawyer’s office will complete the forms for you based on your information.
If you’re filing on your own, you’ll need to download and complete each form individually. You won’t need to complete every form on the U.S. Courts site, though. Follow the Maryland bankruptcy court’s Chapter 7 checklist to make sure you have all the forms you need. If you have questions about completing the forms, the Maryland bankruptcy court has created a comprehensive guide to help people who are filing pro se (without an attorney).
Get Your Filing Fee
The bankruptcy court charges a $338filing fee to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In most cases, you must pay the filing fee at the same time you file your bankruptcy petition with the court. Sometimes, though, you need to file bankruptcy right away, even if you don’t have the money for the full filing fee.
For example, if a creditor is garnishing your wages, you need the bankruptcy’s automatic stay protection to take effect and stop the wage garnishment as soon as possible. In these cases, you can apply to pay the filing fee in installments. Keep in mind that installment payments should only be used in urgent situations. If you miss one of the payments, the court could dismiss your case.
If you can’t save up the full $338 and can’t afford installment payments, you may ask the court to waive your filing fee. To qualify for a fee waiver, your monthly income must be less than 150% of the Maryland poverty guidelines for your family size. Check the Maryland Fee Waiver Eligibility table below to see whether you qualify.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
When you’re finished filling out all the necessary forms, you’ll need to print them out for filing. Keep this checklist on hand to make sure you have every form you need in the correct order. Print your forms using black ink on regular, letter-size (8.5 x 11 inches) white paper. There will be a lot of pages to print, but don’t use double-sided printing. Forms printed on both sides of the paper can’t be easily scanned into the bankruptcy court’s electronic system.
Sign your printed forms in each place a signature is required, using blue or black ink. The Maryland bankruptcy court urges debtors to print out one original and one copy of each form. The court clerk will file the originals and return the copies to you, stamped with your bankruptcy case number and filing date.
File Your Forms With the Maryland Bankruptcy Court
The District of Maryland bankruptcy court has clerks’ offices in two locations: Baltimore and Greenbelt. The county you live in determines which location you should use to file your case.
If you live close enough to one of these cities, you can file your bankruptcy forms in person at the correct clerk’s office. You’ll need to bring either your filing fee, an application to pay the fee in installments, or an application to waive the fee.
Both locations are open Monday through Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. After-hours drop boxes are available from 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. in Greenbelt and from 4:00 p.m. until midnight in Baltimore. If you need to file your case right away, such as to stop a garnishment, filing in-person during business hours is the quickest way to file.
You can also file your bankruptcy forms by mailing them to the correct clerk’s office. You’ll need to include either your filing fee or your request for installment payments or a fee waiver. You should also include a stamped, self-addressed envelope so the clerk can mail your stamped copies back to you. Make sure your return envelope is big enough and has enough postage to hold all the forms — a standard envelope and stamp won’t work.
The bankruptcy court’s official electronic case filing system is only available to licensed attorneys. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the court has also launched an Electronic Document Submission System Pilot Program. This may become a permanent filing option. Information about this program and instructions for electronic filing are available online. The court may also have other temporary measures in place due to COVID-19.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Shortly after you file your bankruptcy forms, the court system will assign a Chapter 7 trustee to your case. Some of the trustee’s main duties are to review your forms and verify that all the information listed is complete and accurate. Your trustee’s name and contact information will be on the notice the court sends you about your 341 meeting (more about this meeting later). The court usually sends this a few days after your case is filed.
The Bankruptcy Code and District of Maryland Local Rules require you to send certain documents to your trustee at least seven days before your 341 meeting. These documents help the trustee verify your identity and other information. They include:
Copies of your two most recent tax returns.
Bank statements for any checking or savings accounts. You must send the statement that includes the date you filed your bankruptcy. For example, if your case was filed on March 24th, send your bank statement for March 1-31.
A copy of your Social Security card or a statement from the Social Security office showing the number.
A copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID. This ID must be valid and not expired.
All paycheck stubs you received in the 60 days before you filed your case. A printout from your employer will work if it shows your gross pay, all deductions, and your net (take-home) pay for each pay period during the 60 days.
Your trustee may need other information or may ask to see additional documents. Usually, a few days after you file your bankruptcy, your trustee will send you a letter telling you exactly what to send and where to send it.
Take a Debtor Education Course
Just as the law requires everyone to take a credit counseling course before they can file bankruptcy, the law also requires everyone to complete a debtor education course before they can get a bankruptcy discharge. This second course, which is sometimes called a financial management course, covers smart financial tactics that will help you make the most of your fresh start after bankruptcy.
Like the credit counseling course, you must take the course from a state-approved provider. Most providers offer debtor education online, by telephone, or both. When you finish the course, the provider will send you a certificate of completion. Some providers will also file your certificate for you in bankruptcy court. If your provider doesn’t file your certificate on your behalf, you’ll need to download and complete Form 423, then file it with the court.
You can take the debtor education course any time after filing your case, but no later than 60 days after your 341 meeting. If you don’t file your Form 423 within 60 days after your 341 meeting, the court can close your case without a discharge — meaning you still owe your debts.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Around 20-45 days after you file your bankruptcy, you must meet with the Chapter 7 trustee assigned to your case at an official meeting called the 341 meeting. It’s called that because it’s required under Section 341(a) of the Bankruptcy Code. This meeting is sometimes called the first meeting of creditors or just the meeting of creditors. Don’t be alarmed by this, though: Your creditors are invited to attend the 341 meeting, but they rarely do.
You must attend your 341 meeting. Typically, Maryland 341 meetings are held in Baltimore, Greenbelt, Hagerstown, and Salisbury, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re all being held remotely currently. Make sure you know when and where your meeting will take place. You’ll need to bring proof of your Social Security number and a valid, government-issued photo ID to the meeting. Your trustee won’t have the meeting if you don’t have both of these.
Your 341 meeting gives your trustee a chance to verify your identity and resolve any questions they have about your case. In Chapter 7 cases, each meeting usually lasts less than 10 minutes, but you may have to wait a while for your case to be called. While you wait, you can listen to the questions the trustee asks each debtor. They’ll probably ask you the same questions. After the meeting, the court will usually grant your bankruptcy discharge within 60-90 days, assuming you’ve filed your Form 423 about completing your debtor education course.
Dealing with Your Car
What happens to your car in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends primarily on how much your car is worth, whether you own or lease it, and how much you owe on it. If you lease your car, you can keep it and continue making the payments as if you hadn’t filed bankruptcy. This is called assuming the lease. You must be current on your payments to assume a lease. If you want out of the lease or your payments aren’t current, you can reject the lease and return the car. After this, you won’t have to make any more payments.
If you own your car but you’re still paying for it, you can keep it and continue making your usual payments. You must be current on your loan payments to choose this path. Your lender may ask you to sign a reaffirmation agreement. If your income isn’t enough to pay your current car payment and your other expenses, you’ll need to explain how you’ll be able to afford the ongoing payments.
If you owe more than your vehicle is worth or are stuck with a car loan you can’t afford, you may choose to turn the car over to the lender. You won’t owe any more payments. After bankruptcy, you can look for a car that better fits your budget.
If you own your car free and clear of liens, you can keep it unless the car’s value is more than the Maryland property exemption limits. Maryland doesn’t have a designated vehicle exemption, but most people use a combination of the wildcard exemption ($6,000) and the additional bankruptcy wildcard ($5,000) to protect their vehicle. If your car’s current value is higher than $11,000, the trustee may want to sell it to pay some of your debts.
Maryland Bankruptcy Means Test
The means test determines whether you have the “means” to pay your debts. If you can afford to pay your debts, then you don’t qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The first part of the test compares your household income to the median income for similar households in Maryland. If your income is less, you automatically qualify for Chapter 7. If your income is above this limit, you must complete the second part of the means test.
The second part of the test calculates how much money you should have left over each month after subtracting your payments for secured and priority debts and deducting standard living expenses. The amount left over is called your disposable income.
If you have enough disposable income to pay at least 25% of your unsecured debts through a Chapter 13 repayment plan, then you don’t qualify for Chapter 7. If you’ve already filed under Chapter 7, the court will convert your case to a Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead.
Data on Median income levels for Maryland
Maryland Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Maryland
Maryland Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2023
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Maryland Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the bankruptcy forms you’ll need are federal forms, meaning they’re the same in every state. The only document you’ll need to file that isn’t among the federal forms is a creditor matrix (sometimes called a “creditor mailing matrix”).
The creditor matrix is just a list of all your creditors’ names and mailing addresses. The list must be formatted a certain way so the court can use it to create mailing labels to mail information about your case. Follow the instructions in the Maryland bankruptcy court’s guide to create your creditor matrix form.
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Maryland Districts & Filing Requirements
All Maryland bankruptcies are filed in the District of Maryland. This district has the following bankruptcy requirements:
Filing methods: You can file your bankruptcy forms in person or by mail. Check the court’s COVID-19 page for any changes or temporary measures due to the ongoing pandemic.
Installment payments: If you’re paying your filing fee in installments, you must pay at least 25% of the fee ($84.50) when you file your case, according to Local Rule 1006-1. You must pay another 25% within 30 days, another within 60 days, and the final installment within 90 days after filing your case.
Payment methods: You can pay your filing fee using a money order or cashier’s check payable to “Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.” You may pay in cash if you’re filing in person during normal business hours.
Maryland Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy exemption laws say that some of your personal property is exempt from liquidation in bankruptcy. In other words, if property is exempt, the court can’t make you sell it to pay your debts. If you’ve lived in Maryland for two years or longer, you must use Maryland’s state exemptions. If you’ve lived in Maryland for less than two years, you may be able to use the federal bankruptcy exemptions.
Some of Maryland’s exemptions are limited to a certain dollar amount. For example, you can only claim up to $1,000 worth of household goods as exempt assets. Other exemptions are unlimited, such as the exemption for state employee pensions. Maryland has a “cash” exemption of up to $6,000 that applies to many different kinds of property, as well as a wildcard exemption of up to $5,000. Most people who file Chapter 7 in Maryland can protect all their belongings with the state exemptions.
Maryland Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy attorneys usually charge a flat fee for handling Chapter 7 cases. In Maryland, this fee typically ranges anywhere from $899 to $3,500, depending on the lawyer’s experience and the complexity of the case. For most people considering bankruptcy, cost is usually a big factor in many decisions. But bankruptcy can have serious and permanent consequences. Don’t choose a bankruptcy attorney based on cost alone.
Maryland Legal Aid Organizations
If you can't afford a lawyer but aren’t comfortable filing bankruptcy on your own, you may be able to get help from one of Maryland’s legal aid groups. These organizations provide free or low-cost legal assistance to eligible Maryland residents. If you don’t think you need a lawyer, but you have a few more questions about filing your Maryland bankruptcy case, you can get legal advice from a volunteer bankruptcy lawyer by scheduling a free consultation through the Debtor Assistance Project.
Maryland Legal Aid
500 East Lexington Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Maryland Court Locations
Edward A. Garmatz Federal Building and United States Courthouse
101 West Lombard Street Baltimore, MD 21201
Maryland Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Maryland||Hon. Nancy V. Alquist|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Thomas J. Catliota|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Stephen Derby|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Robert A. Gordon|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Michelle M. Harner|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Duncan W. Keir|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Wendelin I. Lipp|
|District of Maryland||Hon. David E. Rice|
|District of Maryland||Hon. James F. Schneider|
|District of Maryland||Hon. Lori S. Simpson|
|Monique D. Almyfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Marc H. Baeremail@example.com|
|Mark J. Friedmanfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Charles R. Goldsteinemail@example.com|
|Steven H. Greenfeld|
|George W. Liebmannfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Sean C. Loganemail@example.com|
|Laura J. Margulies|
|Janet M. Nessefirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Cheryl E. Rose|
|Gary A. Rosen|
|Michael G. Wolffemail@example.com|