How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Missouri
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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 9, 2022
When life takes an unexpected turn, there’s no shame in admitting that you need help. Even former Cardinals star Jack Clark had to take advantage of Missouri bankruptcy laws to get a fresh start.
This guide to Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Missouri is a great place to start learning about the bankruptcy process, one of many debt relief options you can explore. We’ll cover the steps to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which helps you get protection from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. If you feel like you’re drowning in debt, bankruptcy may give you the chance to get a fresh start in less than six months.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Missouri
Lawyers are often the most expensive part of filing bankruptcy, but in a simple case they often don’t do anything you can’t do on your own. This guide will walk you through the steps to filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Missouri without a lawyer. This is called filing “pro se.”
Collect Your Missouri Bankruptcy Documents
Filing bankruptcy is like telling a story about your financial situation. To give the court a complete picture of why your debts should be discharged, you need to gather financial statements to tell your story.
At a minimum, you’ll need:
The last two years of your tax returns, which you can request online from the IRS if you can’t find them.
At least 60 days of paycheck stubs. If you can’t don’t have these, ask your employer’s payroll department for a copy.
The bank statement that covers the filing date. You can go online to download this from your account after filing your case (you won’t have a “filing date” until then).
It’s also a good idea to collect some additional documents, such as statements and letters from creditors, debt collectors, and collection agencies. You should also pull up 6-12 months of older bank statements and your credit report. You’re entitled to a free report every 12 months from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies. Your credit reports list all your debts and creditors. Upsolve pulls credit reports for all its users.
Gathering these documents ahead of time will make it easier to fill out the paperwork and tell a complete story without accidentally leaving anything out.
Take Credit Counseling
The documents you just collected will be helpful when you take the required pre-bankruptcy credit counseling course. This class takes you through your financial situation and your monthly budget. It will take one to two hours, and you can take it over the phone or online.
Make sure you take the course from a provider that’s approved by Missouri. Once you finish, you’ll receive a completion certificate that you’ll need to include with your bankruptcy petition. You need to take the course sometime in the six months before you file Chapter 7. The course costs money, but you can ask for a fee waiver if you can’t afford it.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the bankruptcy forms are set by federal law and are the same nationwide. They’re available for free online from USCOURTS.gov. The court also provides a guide to filling out the forms. Go slowly through the paperwork and take the time to get it right.
Bankruptcy forms are the reason that some people hire lawyers to represent them in Chapter 7 cases. Filing out the forms can be a lot of work. When you hire a lawyer, you’ll still have to pull your financial information together and take the credit counseling class. But your lawyer will prepare your Chapter 7 forms using information from a questionnaire you fill out about your financial situation.
If you file using Upsolve's free filing tool, you’ll fill out an online form, and our software will generate your bankruptcy paperwork for you.
Get Your Filing Fee
Chapter 7 bankruptcy costs $338. You can ask the court if you can make the payment in up to four installments over 120 days, but it’s a good idea to wait to file until you can pay the fee in full. That’s because if you miss an installment payment, the court can dismiss your case without a refund.
That said, people who are facing serious debt collection actions, like wage garnishment or foreclosure, often choose to start the bankruptcy sooner so they can take advantage of the automatic stay. This will make all debt collectors stop their collection activity. They can’t call you or send you notices in the mail. They also have to stop garnishing your wages and put lawsuits, like foreclosures, on hold until your bankruptcy case is done.
If you make less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. To see if you’re eligible, look at the Missouri Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
It’s a good idea to print everything right before you file your bankruptcy because your bankruptcy paperwork includes a lot of time-sensitive information. Make sure you print your documents on regular, white letter-size paper (8.5x11 inches). The bankruptcy paperwork should be single-sided and printed in black ink. Don’t staple any of the pages together.
Since there are several different forms, it's helpful to go through a checklist to make sure you have everything you need. Read everything carefully and make sure you sign in all the correct spots.
If you file with Upsolve, you get all your documents as a single downloadable PDF that includes dividers flagging each signature page.
You should keep a second copy of your bankruptcy documents for your records.
File Your Forms With the Missouri Bankruptcy Court
You have three options to file your bankruptcy case in Missouri:
You can go in person to the courthouse in either St. Louis if you live in the Eastern District, or in Kansas City if you live in the Western District.
You can mail your paperwork in if you don’t want to go to the courthouse in person. You'll send it to either the Eastern or Western District’s courthouse, depending on where you live.
You can file your bankruptcy petition online. Both districts in Missouri allow pro se filers to file online through their websites.
If you choose to file in person at the courthouse, look up directions and where to park before you go. Also, check the latest COVID-19 security measures. Some people choose to file their paperwork directly with the court because the clerk can let you know if you’re missing anything while you’re there.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
A bankruptcy trustee is the an official who checks all the information you listed in your bankruptcy forms. After you file your paperwork, the bankruptcy court will send you a notice about who your trustee is.
Your trustee may send you letters asking for specific documents, like pay stubs. You’ll need to give the trustee all the documents they ask for to make sure your case goes smoothly. Under the Bankruptcy Code, you’ll need to send the trustee two things at least seven days before your 341 meeting:
Your two most recent federal income tax returns, and
A bank statement covering the date you filed bankruptcy.
Take a Debtor Education Course
After you file your bankruptcy paperwork, you’ll need to take a debtor education course. This personal financial management course will show you some tools you can use to manage your finances and take full advantage of your financial fresh start.
It's important to take this course from a state-approved provider. You can take it online or over the phone. When you’re finished, make sure to file the completion certificate with the court to make sure you get your discharge.
If you don’t take the course and give the certificate to the court within 60 days of your creditors’ meeting, the court can dismiss your Chapter 7 case without a refund. You can take the course before the meeting as well. Many filers choose to do that, so they can get it out of the way.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
About 30 days after filing your Chapter 7 paperwork, you’ll have to attend your meeting of creditors. This is also known as a creditors’ meeting or 341 meeting. At the meeting, you’ll need to show your ID and answer questions about your financial situation and bankruptcy forms. For some people, this can be the most stressful part of a Chapter 7 case. But if you take time before the meeting to review your papers and remember to breathe, you’ll be fine.
A creditor is someone you owe money to. Your creditors might send a representative to the meeting, but this rarely happens. More often than not, the 341 meeting is a short but formal, meeting with your trustee to discuss your case. At the moment, all of these meetings across the country are being held over the phone or online. This is a COVID-19 safety measure and may change. Read every document you receive from the court or your trustee carefully so you know what to do for your meeting.
After the meeting is over, as long as you’ve submitted your completion certificate from the personal finance course, you can expect a discharge from the court within 60-90 days.
Dealing with Your Car
It’s important to decide what you want to do with your car when you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. There are many options, depending on your financial relationship with your motor vehicle.
If you own the car and it’s worth less than $3,000, you can keep it under a Missouri bankruptcy exemption.
If you’re still making payments on a car loan and you can’t afford your car payment, you can surrender the car and walk away from the loan. The loan balance will be discharged as part of your bankruptcy.
If you’re still making payments on the loan, but you owe more than your car is worth, you can redeem the car by paying the lender the car’s market value, not the value of the loan. The remaining amount will be discharged.
If you’re still making car payments and you like the car and can afford your payments, you can reaffirm the car loan. When you reaffirm the loan, you’ll continue making payments as normal. Similarly, if you’re leasing the car and like the lease agreement, you should be able to continue paying your lease each month.
After your bankruptcy is discharged, it might actually be easier to buy a new car because your credit score will start to increase.
Missouri Bankruptcy Means Test
You’ll have to pass the Missouri bankruptcy means test to be eligible to file Chapter 7. This test was designed to keep people who make too much money from abusing the system.
The means test compares your household income with the median income of a similarly sized household in Missouri. If you make less, you’ll “pass” the test and be eligible to file. If you make more than this amount, you can take the second part of the test, which compares your disposable income with your household expenses and debts. If you don’t pass the second part of the means test, you can look into filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead.
Data on Median income levels for Missouri
Missouri Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Missouri
Missouri 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)|
Eastern District of Missouri Requirements
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri serves more than 50 counties on the eastern side of the state. This district is broken into three divisions. The Eastern Division’s courthouse is located in St. Louis. The Northern Division is based in Hannibal, and the Southeastern Division is located in Cape Girardeau. Everyone in the Eastern District should file their paperwork in the St. Louis location because the other two courthouses don’t have permanent bankruptcy staff.
The court has several COVID-19 safety precautions in place, including limitations on who can enter the federal courthouse. Make sure you read the rules carefully before you go. If you decide not to go to the courthouse, you can also file your bankruptcy by mail or use the court’s Electronic Self Representation (eSR) tool to file online.
You can pay the filing fee by bringing cash in exact change to the courthouse. You can also bring a cashier's check or money order to the clerk’s office, or mail it in. If you’re paying in installments, you must pay at least 50% of the bankruptcy fee within seven days of filing your petition.
Western District of Missouri Requirements
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri serves the western half of the state. It has courthouses in Kansas City, Jefferson City, and Springfield. The court also holds hearings in Carthage and St. Joseph. Everyone living in one of the counties covered by the Western District will file their paperwork in Kansas City by mail or in person. You can also use the Electronic Self-Representation tool (eSR) to file your bankruptcy petition online.
You can pay your filing fee with a money order, cashier’s check, or cash.
Before you go to court, look at the latest COVID-19 safety precautions.
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Missouri Bankruptcy Forms
Missouri bankruptcy forms are a combination of national forms and local forms specific to your district. All of them are available for free online.
Missouri Bankruptcy Exemptions
Missouri is an opt-out state, meaning that you can’t use federal bankruptcy exemptions in your case. Instead, you’ll use Missouri bankruptcy exemptions. Bankruptcy filers use exemptions to protect certain types of personal property and real estate from being sold at a liquidation sale to pay off their creditors.
You can protect up to $3,000 worth of household goods, like clothing and furniture. State exemptions protect up to $750 of child support and alimony (spousal support) each month. Other benefits, like veteran’s benefits, have no limit. There is also a $600 wildcard exemption you can use to protect property that doesn’t fit into an exemption category.
If you’re married, you may be able to double some of the exemptions available to you. But unfortunately, you can’t double the homestead exemption, which protects your home up to $15,000 if you own the land, or $5,000 if you own a mobile home but not the land it sits on.
Missouri Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Sometimes having a bankruptcy attorney in your corner is worth it. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in the Show-Me State ranges from $800 to $1300, depending on how complicated your case is. Most lawyers provide a free consultation so you can decide which law firm is right for you. Cost isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re shopping for attorneys — experience is also important. If your assets don't match up nicely with exemptions, an experienced lawyer’s legal advice can help you protect your property.
Missouri Legal Aid Organizations
Legal aid organizations provide free and low-cost help for civil matters like bankruptcy to folks who can’t afford a lawyer. You may want to work with a legal aid organization if you aren’t comfortable filling out the Chapter 7 paperwork on your own.
Legal Aid of Western Missouri
4001 Blue Parkway, Suite 300, Kansas City, MO 64130
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Inc.
4232 Forest Park Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63108
Legal Services of Southern Missouri
809 N. Campbell Avenue, Springfield, MO 65802
Mid-Missouri Legal Services Corporation
1201 West Broadway, Columbia, MO 65203
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Missouri Court Locations
Charles Evans Whittaker United States Courthouse
400 East Ninth Street Kansas City, MO 64106
Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse
111 South Tenth Street St. Louis, MO 63102
Christopher S. Bond United States Courthouse
80 Lafayette Street Jefferson City, MO 65101
Missouri Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Missouri||Hon. Kathy A. Surratt-States|
|Eastern District of Missouri||Hon. Barry S. Schermer|
|Eastern District of Missouri||Hon. Charles E. Rendlen|
|Western District of Missouri||Hon. David Gregory Kays|
|Western District of Missouri||Hon. Beth Phillips|
|Western District of Missouri||Hon. Brian C. Wimes|
|Western District of Missouri||Hon. Douglas Harpool|
|Western District of Missouri||Hon. Stephen R. Bough|
|Western District of Missouri||Hon. Roseann A. Ketchmark|
|Seth A. Albinfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|Tracy A. Brownfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|Kristin J. Conwellfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|Thomas K. O'Loughlin IIemail@example.com|
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