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 May 17, 2022
Folks choose to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy for many reasons. Whether it’s the result of a job loss, unexpected medical expenses, or just a series of unfortunate events, if you’re having a hard time paying all your bills each month, just know, you’re not alone. Last year there were more than 600 bankruptcy cases in Maine, and all but 100 were Chapter 7 cases.
Sometimes, life just happens. If your monthly income isn’t enough to pay for necessities and make the minimum payments to your creditors each month, and other debt-relief options haven’t worked out, filing bankruptcy may be the best choice. The fact that you’re reading this guide means that you’re making good choices by educating yourself about your options and the bankruptcy process. This article gives a general overview of what to expect if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Maine
Bankruptcy expenses can add up, especially if you hire a lawyer. Fortunately, you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine without a lawyer. This is called filing "pro se." Here, we break down the steps for how to file bankruptcy on your own.
Collect Your State Bankruptcy Documents
Filing bankruptcy in Maine involves quite a bit of paperwork. You’ll need to give the U.S. Bankruptcy Court a complete and truthful picture of your financial situation. Some of the information you need to fill out the forms is the kind of stuff you know off the top of your head. To answer other questions, you’ll need to review and refer to your personal financial records. These personal records are your bankruptcy documents.
You'll specifically need to provide:
The last two years of tax returns,
Your paycheck stubs for the past 60 days, and
A bank statement that covers your bankruptcy filing date.
Older bank statements from the past 6-12 months can also be helpful to figure out your expenses.
You also have to provide a thorough listing of all of your debts, including the current mailing address for each one of your creditors. To make sure you don’t forget anyone, you should get a copy of your credit report from each one of the three credit reporting agencies. If you use Upsolve's free tool to file your Chapter 7 case, it will pull your report for you. It can also be useful for you to gather any statements or bills from your creditors, as well as letters from collection agencies and debt collectors.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
You have to complete a credit counseling course within 180 days before filing your bankruptcy case. The primary purpose of the course is to educate you on all the options you have to deal with your debts. It will take 1-2 hours to complete the course, and having the bankruptcy documents you collected nearby can be useful as you go through it.
Most people filing bankruptcy in Maine take the course online or over the phone. You can choose whatever method you’re most comfortable with. Just make sure that you take the course from a state-approved provider. There are more than 40 approved providers in Maine.
When you’re done, you’ll receive a certificate confirming that you completed this requirement. The certificate is valid for 180 days. As long as you plan to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine in the next six months, you can go ahead and get this out of the way now.
Although the course costs money, it is possible to get a fee waiver.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Most bankruptcy forms are federal forms, meaning they’re the same nationwide. Completing the forms prior to filing bankruptcy in Maine is probably the most time-consuming part of the process. These forms are available for free online from USCOURTS.gov. In addition to your Voluntary Petition for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy, you have to complete all schedules, plus a Statement of Financial Affairs, a Statement of Intentions, and several other required documents.
If you have a lawyer, you’ll fill out a questionnaire using the information you gathered about your financial situation. Then, the law firm staff will generate the federal forms based on your information. If you don't have a lawyer, you can see if you’re qualified to use Upsolve’s free filing tool. People who use Upsolve to file their Chapter 7 case fill out an online questionnaire. Our software then generates all the necessary bankruptcy forms using the information you provide.
Whether you complete the forms yourself or have someone help you, remember that you’ll be signing the bankruptcy petition under oath and penalty of perjury. That means you need to be honest and thorough. Additionally, since you only have one chance to make a first impression and show the court that you’re taking your Maine bankruptcy case seriously, it’s important to be diligent and forthcoming with all of the requested information.
Although you can amend or update your forms later, if you leave out too much information at the outset, the trustee handling your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine may wonder if there’s anything else you failed to disclose, either accidentally or intentionally.
Get Your Filing Fee
A Chapter 7 case costs $338 to file. You can apply to pay the fee in up to four installments within 120 days of filing the bankruptcy case. Generally, it’s a good idea to wait to file until you can pay the full amount at once. If you miss an installment of your payment plan, your case could be dismissed and you’d have to start over.
However, if you need to file your case quickly because you’re facing wage garnishment or other serious collection measures, you can make a down payment toward the filing fee. The court will tell you the minimum down payment when you file, and you can ask to pay the rest later in installments. Once you file your case, the court will put an automatic stay in place. This means that your creditors have to pause all debt collection actions, such as wage garnishment and foreclosure, for the duration of the case.
If your income falls below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you can also apply to waive the filing fee. You can find more information on this in the table below.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Once you’ve completed the required forms, it’s time to get everything ready to file with the court. It’s helpful to print out a checklist to make sure you didn’t miss anything when completing the forms. Since all the forms look somewhat similar, it's also helpful to check off each form after printing it so you don't lose track, especially if you’re printing each section individually.
When printing, make sure to use regular, white letter-size paper. You should print everything in black ink and on one side only. Though it may be tempting, don’t print the copy for the court double-sided and don’t staple the forms together. Many people also make a copy (or print a second copy) of everything for their own records. This can come in handy later.
Review each document to make sure you’ve signed in every signature spot. It’s a good idea to have a trusted friend or relative go through the paperwork to see if you missed any signatures.
Upsolve users will receive their filing packet as a single download, which includes dividers that flag each signature page to make it as easy as possible for our users.
File Your Forms With the Maine Bankruptcy Court
Since only lawyers are allowed to use the court's electronic filing system, folks filing bankruptcy in Maine without a lawyer have to provide a physical copy of all of the required documents.
The Maine Bankruptcy Court has locations in Bangor and Portland. The county you live in determines which courthouse you’ll have to visit to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine.
You can either bring your documents directly to the courthouse or mail them. Although someone else can drop the forms off for you, it’ll be easier to address any issues that come up if you go in person. Since filing bankruptcy in Maine is a federal proceeding, entering the courthouse means you’re entering a federal building, so you’ll have to pass through a security check on your way in. Once inside, there should be signs pointing to the clerk's office where they’ll accept your bankruptcy forms for filing with the court.
Because of COVID-19, Maine has additional options for people filing their bankruptcy cases.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The court will assign a trustee to administer your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine. Trustees aren’t court officials, but they act as a kind of third-party administrator. Their job is to ensure that you can receive a discharge and to make sure your creditors receive any money they’re entitled to.
One of the trustee's jobs is to review the information you gave the IRS on your federal income tax returns. Under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, it’s your job to send your trustee certain paperwork at least a week before the 341 creditors' meeting takes place. Specifically, you must send them your two most recent federal income tax returns, as well as a bank statement that covers the date of your bankruptcy filing.
Since each bankruptcy trustee has their own system for preparing for the meeting, you may receive a letter from your case trustee shortly after filing bankruptcy in Maine that lists the documents or information they need from you. If you don't provide this information promptly or you fail to submit your tax return, the trustee can schedule a second meeting of creditors to make sure you follow through on providing it. This will delay your discharge.
Take a Debtor Education Course
The Debtor Education Course gives you tools for managing your finances after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy is over to make the most of your fresh start. Similar to the credit counseling course, you must go to a state-recognized provider.
You can take this course before or after your 341 meeting, but if you don’t file your certificate of completion with the court within 60 days of the meeting, the court could close your case without discharging your debts. If that happens, you’ll have to file a request to reopen your case and pay a new court filing fee.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting — often referred to as the creditors' meeting — is generally the one time everyone filing Chapter 7 in Maine actually has to appear in person. Since it’s not a court proceeding in the sense that it doesn’t require a bankruptcy judge to be present, these meetings are scheduled in various locations throughout the state. That way, not everyone filing bankruptcy in Maine has to travel to Bangor or Portland for the 5-10 minutes the meeting typically takes.
At the moment, ALL creditor’s meetings across the country are being held either on the phone or through a video conference. This may not be a permanent practice, so make sure to read every notice you receive so you know how to prepare for the meeting.
The 341 meeting allows the trustee to ask you some questions about your case and your financial situation. As long as you remember to take a deep breath and listen to the trustee carefully, you won’t have trouble answering any of them.
You can prepare for the meeting by reviewing the documents you filed with the court. Creditors are invited to attend the meeting and ask you questions if they want to, but that rarely happens. The most frequent complication at 341 meetings is people forgetting to bring a valid picture ID and acceptable proof of their Social Security number. As long as you have both of these, this part of your Maine bankruptcy proceeding will probably be over before you know it.
After your meeting, the court will grant your discharge in 60 to 90 days, as long as you submit your debtor education course certificate. Congratulations!
Deal With Your Car
People often wait to file bankruptcy in Maine because they’re worried about what will happen to their car. What most people don't realize is that if you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you get to decide how to deal with the car in the way that makes the most sense for you.
If you own the car outright, and it’s worth less than $5,000, you don’t have to do anything — your car is protected by a state law bankruptcy exemption. If it’s worth more than $5,000, you may have to sell it and buy a cheaper car.
If your car is financed and you’re still paying on the car loan, you can decide whether or not to keep the car so long as you’re current on the payments. If you know your car loan is more than you can reasonably handle, you can surrender, or return, the car to the lender without worrying about the balance you owe on the loan. The balance will be eliminated by the bankruptcy.
If you like the car but you owe more on the loan than the car is worth, you may be able to redeem the car. To redeem the car, you’ll need to be able to make one lump-sum payment in an amount equal to the car's value. Everything else will be discharged.
If you’re filing bankruptcy and you’re happy with your car and car loan, you can keep everything the way it was by entering into a reaffirmation agreement with your lender.
If you’re leasing the car and can keep current with loan payments, you should be able to keep the vehicle. Contact the company you’re leasing from to understand your rights.
Maine Bankruptcy Means Test
Before you can file a Chapter 7 in Maine, you must complete the Maine means test to see if you’re eligible. This is a two-part test.
In part one of the means test, you compare your annual income (based on how much you made in the last six months) to the Chapter 7 income limits. If you "fail" this part of the test because you make more than the median income for Maine, you can still file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you pass part two.
In the second part of the means test, you’ll compare your disposable income to the size of your debt to figure out how much of the debt you’d actually be able to pay in the next five years. If your household expenses, which have a set value according to the IRS, are high compared to your income, you may still be eligible to file under Chapter 7.
Maine Bankruptcy Forms
In general, when you file bankruptcy in Maine, you’ll use the same federal forms other files use across the country. The Maine bankruptcy forms are a combination of the forms you bring to the court when you first file your bankruptcy case and forms that may be needed later on in the case. Maine doesn’t require any local forms for Chapter 7 cases.
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Maine Districts & Filing Requirements
The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maine serves the entire state and has offices in both Portland and Bangor. A Chapter 7 case costs $338 to file. You can apply to pay the fee in up to four installments within 120 days of filing your bankruptcy case. The court will decide the minimum amount you need to pay.
In Maine, you need to pay the filing fee with a bank check or a cashier’s check. The court doesn’t accept personal checks, credit cards, or cash. You must pay the fee when you file your bankruptcy case. Depending on which county you live in, you’ll file your paperwork by either mailing it to Portland or Bangor or dropping it off in the appropriate city.
You can visit the District of Maine’s website for the latest information regarding COVID-19 filing options and precautions.
Maine Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy exemption laws protect some of your property. This means that creditors can’t take it from you during your bankruptcy case to pay off your debt. Selling property to pay off debt is called liquidation.
For example, in Maine, you can keep your car as long as it’s worth less than $5,000 and your commercial fishing boat as long as it’s 46 feet long or less. Other items, such as Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, alimony, and child support benefits, are exempt without any limitations. Maine also provides a homestead exemption that protects up to $47,500 worth of equity in your home or any other real estate that acts as your primary residence.
Maine is an opt-out state, meaning it doesn’t recognize federal exemptions. You need to look at Maine’s bankruptcy exemption laws to protect your personal property if you’ve lived in the Pine Tree State for at least two years. Maine does have a wildcard exemption that protects jewelry, musical instruments, books, clothing, and furniture, with a total coverage limit of $400. Anything above this amount is nonexempt property and can potentially be sold in a liquidation sale.
Maine Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy law can be complicated. Hiring a lawyer can be a good investment if you own property that you can’t exempt in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Maine. Bankruptcy attorneys usually charge a flat rate for Chapter 7 cases.
The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer varies by state and ranges from $1,200 to $1,500 in Maine for typical cases. This range is usually based on how complicated your case is. Other types of bankruptcy, including Chapter 13 bankruptcy, have higher legal fees.
Remember: While cost is important, this shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when hiring a bankruptcy lawyer. You’ll also want to make sure they’re a good fit and have a good reputation. Most lawyers offer a free initial consultation where you can get a sense of how well you’d work together.
Maine Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford an attorney and aren’t comfortable filing papers on your own, you can also explore free or low-cost legal aid options. These organizations operate throughout Maine to assist low-income individuals needing help with civil matters, including bankruptcy.
The Maine State Bar Association is a great place to look for Maine legal aid resources near you.
Maine Court Locations
Maine Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Maine
|Hon. Peter G. Cary
|District of Maine
|Hon. Michael A. Fagone
|Nathaniel R. Hull
|Anthony J. Manhart
|Pasquale J. Perrino Jr.
|Jeffrey T. Piampiano