Written by Attorney Eva Bacevice.
Updated July 28, 2020
Financial hardships can arise anywhere, even in the classic beauty of the “Athens of Missouri.” Financial problems can also strike anyone, including Mark Twain who grew up less than 100 miles from Columbia, Missouri. His problems arose after investing all of his money (including book profits and his wife’s inheritance) into technology for a new typesetting machine which was ultimately unsuccessful. He filed for bankruptcy after that poor investment decision and was able to get back on his feet by arranging a worldwide speaking tour. Most of us, unfortunately, do not have that option available, but filing bankruptcy in Columbia, Missouri is a route available to all. If you are considering filing bankruptcy you want to feel confident that you have made the right decision, so it is wise to consider all of your options.
You can start by learning about the bankruptcy options available to you, typically, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Usually, your particular circumstances will push you toward one chapter over the other. For example, if you are behind on a secured debt, like your mortgage you would likely be you can catch it up through a Chapter 13 payment plan, giving you three to five years to do so. On the other hand, if most of your debt is unsecured (i.e. not tied to any specific property like credit card or medical bills) and your income isn’t particularly high you could probably file a Chapter 7 case which is over much faster, usually in four to six months. If you can, seek help from legal aid when making your decision, because they can often help clarify which is the better path to take for someone in your situation. If you are leaning toward filing a Chapter 7 case you can partner with Upsolve to help you through the process of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Columbia step by step, and if your case is a straightforward one you may be able to proceed without an attorney, assisted by our Guide to Missouri Bankruptcy.
Columbia Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
You might want to meet with an attorney before deciding to represent yourself in this matter. The good news is that most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations, so you can keep your options open without having to pay, even if you meet with a few different lawyers. If you do decide to retain an attorney to represent you, know that the Columbia bankruptcy lawyer cost for a Chapter 7 case is between $800 and $1300. It can be helpful to meet with an attorney to see if your understanding of your situation and options is correct. It is also helpful to find out if there is something unusual or difficult about your case such that hiring an attorney would be a good investment. In that case, Upsolve may be able to help you find a lawyer in your area.
How to File Bankruptcy in Columbia, Missouri for Free
Once you have carefully considered your options and decided that you would like to move forward with filing a Chapter 7, Upsolve can help you step by step through the process of how to file bankruptcy in Columbia. Bankruptcy can seem like a complicated process, but in a straightforward Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Columbia case you should be able to represent yourself (also known as “pro se”) and avoid incurring attorney fees by following this guide.
Collect Your Columbia Bankruptcy Documents
The first step you will need to take is to collect the documents you will need to file your Columbia bankruptcy. This will include official documents confirming your current address and social security number. You will also need to find your paycheck stubs for the last two (ideally, six) months and/or proof of any other form of household income you may have You will need to provide your last two years of income tax returns (both Missouri and federal) and statements for any financial accounts, such as bank accounts, that you may have. If you own your home, you may need a copy of your deed, a recent mortgage statement, and documents evidencing any other liens on the property (like a home equity line of credit), as well as proof of insurance. You should also get the title for your car, if applicable, along with any loan paperwork and proof of insurance. You will need to list all of your assets (items you own) as well as all of your debts (liabilities) so it’s a good idea to get a copy of your credit report (available for free at annualcreditreport.com) to make sure that you are listing all of your creditors when filing bankruptcy in Columbia.
Take Credit Counseling
For anyone filing bankruptcy in Columbia, there is a requirement to complete two credit counseling courses. The first course must be completed before you file your case, and you will need to submit your certificate of completion to the Court, at the time you submit your other bankruptcy forms. You need to make certain that you are using a Court-approved agency for this service. Companies approved to offer both courses to folks filing bankruptcy in Columbia often allow you to sign up for both courses together for one fee, usually around $50. While there are no locations to take the course in person in Columbia, many providers offer either phone or online options. If you prefer to attend in person, the closest options are in Joplin or Springfield where Consumer Credit Counseling of Springfield, Missouri, Inc. has locations.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Filing bankruptcy in Columbia requires several different forms, both federal and local, which have to be completed and submitted to the Court. The purpose of these forms is to provide detailed information about everything you own and everyone you owe. You will also be filling out forms about your income, expenses and overall financial affairs. If you are working with an attorney, they will often have a questionnaire for you to fill out so that they have the answers they need to complete the forms. If you are working with Upsolve for your Missouri bankruptcy we offer an online questionnaire that will populate your answers into the correct forms. If you prefer to handle everything yourself, you can download the forms as fillable PDF documents and check out the instructions on how to use the forms on the Bankruptcy Court’s website.
Get Your Filing Fee
The next hurdle to clear is the court filing fee. It can be frustrating to learn that the amount needed to file a Columbia bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is $335. This may feel like a lot of money to come up with just when you are having financial problems. In the long run, this fee might be better seen as an investment towards improving your financial situation. If it is simply too much to save up while still dealing with your creditors, you do have some options. First, you can apply to waive the filing fee altogether if your income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. If the Court agrees, the filing fee will be waived, and you can file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Columbia for free. Second, you can also apply to pay the filing fee in installments, but keep in mind that the full amount must be paid in full within 120 days of filing in four or fewer installments. Anytime you are paying your filing fee (whether in full or in installments) remember that you can only do so with cash (exact change), a cashier’s check, or a money order.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
You will need to print all of your forms and take them to the Court when filing bankruptcy in Columbia. This will include your federal forms as well as any local forms. You can review the Court'sLocal Rules to make sure you are including everything required. When you are printing the forms, stick to single-sided copies as the Court does not accept double-sided paperwork. If you have access to a printer either at home or at work, you should consider printing an additional copy of everything you are submitting to the Court for your Missouri bankruptcy so you have it in your personal records. If you do not have access to a printer at home or at work, you can see if the Daniel Boone Regional Library offers free or reduced-fee printers or try a local Office Depot store.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
It is usually best to visit the Court in person to file your forms for your Columbia bankruptcy. The Court location you have to visit is in Kansas City at 400 East 9th Street, Room 1800, as the Jefferson City courthouse does not have a bankruptcy clerk on staff The Court closes at 4:30 pm. We recommend going in person during business hours, in case there is a simple correction needed (such as needing an original signature from pro se filers), which you can take care of on the spot. You will also have the peace of mind of seeing your bankruptcy forms time-stamped by the clerk, confirming that your Missouri bankruptcy has officially been filed.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Not long after your Columbia bankruptcy case is filed, it will be assigned to a specific bankruptcy Trustee to oversee it. The Trustee will require that you provide certain documents to them via mail before your scheduled 341 hearing, also known as the “Meeting of Creditors.” In most circumstances, you will receive correspondence directly from your Trustee, listing the documents that they need to receive at least seven days in advance of your 341 hearing. The documents support the information disclosed in your bankruptcy forms, such as your pay stubs from the last six months, taxes from the last two years, recent financial statements, any documents showing ownership of property, and proof of insurance for any real property and/or your car(s) you own. If you do not hear directly from your Trustee 2 - 3 weeks after filing your Missouri bankruptcy case, you should reach out to the Court clerk to find out who was assigned to your case and how to contact them, so that you can provide the correct documentation to the right person well in advance of your hearing date.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
At this point in the process, it is a good idea to complete the second credit counseling course needed for your Columbia bankruptcy. Just like the first course had specific timing and had to be completed before you filed your case, the second course also has a deadline. The second course needs to be completed after the case is filed and generally within 60 days of your 341 hearing. If you finish it before your hearing you will not need to worry about the deadline. It also may be the case that you need to file the certificate with the Court yourself (instead of the provider doing so on your behalf) in which case it might work out that you can file it on the same day as your 341 hearing. You will need to file it with the clerk just like your other forms so that it shows up in your court record and lets the Judge know that you are ready to have your discharge entered in you Missouri bankruptcy case. That is why simply handing it to your Trustee is not enough.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
You need to attend one court hearing, often called the First Meeting of Creditors, for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Columbia. The hearing will be scheduled somewhere between 21 days and 40 days from the date your case was filed. The hearing is in front of your bankruptcy Trustee, not a judge, and should be relatively quick, usually lasting only ten to fifteen minutes. The Trustee will swear you in and then ask questions to verify that the information you provided in your paperwork is true and accurate. If you are nervous about the hearing, you can learn more about the best ways to prepare for it. This is also an opportunity for your creditors to appear and ask you questions about your Missouri bankruptcy case, although it is common that no creditors show up at all. If any of your creditors do attend your 341 hearing, it is most likely one you have a secured debt with (e.g., your car loan), to see if you want to take that debt back on and continue to make your payments, by entering into a reaffirmation agreement.
Dealing with Your Car
Chances are, one of the first questions you had about filing bankruptcy in Columbia was about what will happen to your car if you do. The answer will turn on a few key factors. If you are making car payments, are you current? How much is your car worth? Does it make sense to keep the car if you owe much more than the car is worth? And if you do have equity in the car because it’s worth more than you owe on it, are you able to protect it? To explore these questions we can start at the top. If you have a car payment and you are not current on it at the time you file your case, it probably makes sense to surrender the vehicle and walk away from the missed payments and late fees. If you are current on the payments, the next question to consider is the value of the car. You can determine how much the car is worth by using either Kelley Blue Book or NADA. Once you know the car’s value (or your equity in the car if you are still making payments) you can determine if you can protect it using the available exemptions. In a Missouri bankruptcy, you can exempt equity in a motor vehicle up to $3,000.
Missouri Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Columbia
Missouri Means Test
When you prepare to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Columbia, you have to pass the Missouri bankruptcy Means Test. The Means Test is how you show that you are qualified to file a Chapter 7 case. You can pass the Means Test in one of two ways. First, you can immediately qualify based on your income. If your current monthly household income is less than the median income in Missouri for a family of your size you are set to move forward. If you do not pass simply based on income limits, you can still qualify by completing the full Means Test to examine your income and expenses in detail. If that calculation shows that you have little or no money left after paying your living expenses, you pass the Missouri bankruptcy Means Test and qualify to file your Missouri bankruptcy as a Chapter 7.
Median Income Levels for Missouri
Missouri Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
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Poverty Levels for Missouri
Missouri Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
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Missouri Bankruptcy Forms
When you are filling out the paperwork for your Missouri bankruptcy, you can look to the Missouri Court’s Local Rules to help make certain that you also fill out and file any local Missouri bankruptcy forms. For instance, if you have not been paid in 60 days or more by an employer you will need to fill out the local form called “Debtor’s Evidence of No Employer Payments” and submit it to the Court along with your other Missouri bankruptcy forms.
Bankruptcy laws are federal but each state has the option to decide whether to allow the use of the federal bankruptcy exemptions in addition to their state exemptions. Missouri is an “opt-out” state, so for your Columbia bankruptcy, you can only use the Missouri bankruptcy exemptions to protect your possessions. In Missouri, if you are married and filing a joint bankruptcy with your spouse, you can double all of your exemptions, other than the homestead exemption.