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 September 29, 2023
Montana may be nicknamed the Treasure State, but gold and silver aren’t pouring from the mountains to your porch to help you pay your bills. No matter how much or how little you make, you have options for debt relief. One option is filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to get a fresh start, even if you can’t afford a lawyer. This guide gives you a brief overview of how the Montana bankruptcy process works.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Montana
A lawyer can be the most expensive part of bankruptcy, but you can file bankruptcy in Montana on your own, without an attorney. The court has a helpful handbook you can review if you’re filing on your own (also called filing pro se). The Montana court handbook and this guide will walk you through the steps to help you file bankruptcy in Montana without a lawyer. If you file bankruptcy without an attorney, you’re responsible for following federal law, state law, and local rules as they apply to your bankruptcy proceedings.
- Collect Your Montana Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Montana Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Montana Bankruptcy Documents
You’ll need to collect several documents before you file bankruptcy in Montana, and doing so can take some time. The documents will explain your income, expenses, assets, and debts (liabilities), which will all be addressed in the bankruptcy paperwork. You’ll need this information whether you have an attorney or not. It’s a good idea to gather these documents before you start filling out the Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms. The documents you collect will create a picture of your total current financial situation for the bankruptcy court to review.
At a minimum, you must have:
Your last two years of tax returns.
Your last 60 days of paycheck stubs.
A current bank statement.
Documents that will help you fill out the Chapter 7 bankruptcy paperwork include:
Bills and statements from your creditors
Letters from collection agencies and other third-party debt collectors
Bank statements from the last 6-12 months
Your credit report
The three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — are each required to provide you with a free credit report every year if you request one. If you use Upsolve’s free filing tool, it will pull your report for you. All three credit reports may not have the same information. You can compare your bills, statements, and debt collection letters to the information on your credit reports to create a list of companies you owe. You’ll need your creditors’ contact information and the amount of all your debt to properly fill out your bankruptcy forms.
Be thorough when you fill out your paperwork. It’s important not to leave anything out or you could be accused of fraud. That said, it’s okay if you make a mistake. You can take steps to correct it, but it will require more paperwork. Keep in mind that you’ll be signing your bankruptcy petition under penalty of perjury, which means there are serious consequences for lying.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
You must first take a credit counseling course if you want to file bankruptcy in the United States. The course is intended to ensure you know what your options are when you file your Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. After you complete the course, you’ll have up to 180 days to file your bankruptcy case, so it makes sense to get this done early in the process. Keep your certificate handy. You’ll need to submit it to the court with the rest of your paperwork when you file bankruptcy.
You have to take the credit counseling course must be from a state-approved company. Montana currently only offers courses online or by phone. There is a fee for the course, but you can fill out a fee waiver if you can’t afford to pay it.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Once you've collected all your bankruptcy documents and completed the required counseling course, it's time to start filling out the bankruptcy forms to be filed with the court for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana. The good news is that all of the forms can be downloaded for free from the USCOURTS.gov website. These will be fillable PDFs, and most will be the same nationwide since they are federal forms. The federal courts also created an instruction manual to help you fill out your forms.
If you use the Upsolve app to file your Chapter 7 case, you’ll fill out an online questionnaire, and our software will generate your forms for you based on your answers. If you use an attorney to file bankruptcy, the attorney will likely have you fill out a questionnaire, and then their staff will prepare the bankruptcy forms based on that information.
As of January 4, 2021, individuals who are filing without an attorney can use the state’s Electronic Self-Representation (eSR) to file their case online. If you use this option, you’ll fill out the bankruptcy documents online, and you’ll have 45 days to complete and submit your documents. You can only use this option once during the process, so if you forget any forms, you won’t be able to go back and use the eSR system, you’ll have to submit the forms by mail or in person.
If a question on a form doesn’t apply to you, don’t leave it blank. Instead, put “none” or “not applicable.” Montana has a Local Bankruptcy Rule that says you can’t leave any items blank on your bankruptcy petition.
Get Your Filing Fee
The fee for filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana is $338. If your income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you’re eligible to have your court filing fee waived. If you make more than that and don’t have the money to file, start saving a portion every pay period until you have the full amount. The Montana Bankruptcy Court accepts payments in cash (exact change only), money orders, or cashier's checks. Personal checks and credit cards are not accepted. Money orders and cashier’s checks can be made payable to “Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.”
If you’re facing wage garnishment, foreclosure, or other severe collection measures, you may need to file your case quickly to take advantage of the automatic stay. An automatic stay is an order to stop collection activity, and it starts as soon as you file your bankruptcy petition. If you have an urgent need to file bankruptcy and you don’t have the full filing fee, you can make a down payment and pay the remaining amount of the filing fee in installments. You can propose a payment arrangement on Official Form 103A. More on this below.
If you don’t have an urgent need to file bankruptcy, then it’s best to pay the full amount when you file so you don’t risk a dismissal later because of a missed installment payment.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you’re not represented by a lawyer when filing bankruptcy in Montana, you must submit your bankruptcy documents to the court. If you use the court’s eSR system to file online, you don’t need to print your documents. But if you submit your documents by mail or in person, you’ll need to print them in a specific format:
On regular, white letter-size (8.5” x 11”) paper
In black ink
One-sided (not double-sided)
If you don’t have a printer at home, you can print your documents at a local office supply store, UPS store, or public library. Be sure to double-check the printer settings before you print! You should also check your forms to make sure that each section is filled out and there is a signature everywhere that one is required.
If you’re filing your papers in person or mailing them, Montana has a special requirement for the master mailing list of creditors (creditor matrix). The creditor matrix must be in the following form:
10 point or larger font,
Each name and address no longer than five lines,
Single space between each name and address, and
Several other format requirements that are listed on the court’s website.
If you filled everything out yourself and have each document saved as a separate file, it helps to print a checklist like this Chapter 7 document checklist from the Montana Bankruptcy Court. It tells you everything you need when filing your bankruptcy case though it hasn’t yet been updated to show the new filing fee amount. You only need one full set of your bankruptcy documents to file with the Montana Bankruptcy Court. But it’s a good idea to print a full second copy for your records. That way, you can easily refer to it later if needed.
If you file with Upsove, you’ll receive a downloadable packet that contains all the documents. There will be dividers on each signature page so you’ll know where to sign.
File Your Forms With the Montana Bankruptcy Court
You can mail your Chapter 7 bankruptcy documents to the Montana Bankruptcy Court in Butte, but it’s better to drop off the documents in person if you live within driving distance. You can file documents in the Butte bankruptcy court or the federal district courts in Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula.
If you drop off your documents in person, you’ll avoid post office delays, and the clerk might even point out a simple error that you can quickly revise. If you need someone to drop off the forms for you, call the court clerk to confirm that a courier or other person can file your petition for you. You can’t bring cell phones and electronic devices into a Montana bankruptcy court, you’ll need government-issued identification, and you must pass through a metal detector.
If you use Montana’s Electronic Self-Representation (eSR) system, you can submit some of your forms electronically. This eSR system is different from the CM/ECF filing system attorneys use to file petitions, and you can only use the eSR system once.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana, you’ll receive an official notice of bankruptcy that the court also sends to all of your creditors. This is an important notice. It tells you:
Your case number,
Your bankruptcy trustee’s name and contact information, and
The date and time of your 341 meeting.
The trustee will likely send you a letter asking you to provide certain documents. But even if they don’t, Montana’s bankruptcy court has a local form (LBF 33) listing all of the documents you’ll need to submit to the trustee. These documents must be delivered to the trustee at least 14 days before the first scheduled 341 meeting. You are allowed to submit them to your trustee via email as a pdf. If you don’t do this, the trustee can ask the court to throw out your Montana bankruptcy case.
You’ll be required to provide at least the following documents:
Federal and state tax returns for at least the two years prior to the year you file bankruptcy. The trustee could ask you to provide more than two years of tax returns, depending on your circumstances. For instance, if you had a business the trustee might ask for more than two years of taxes.
Bank statements covering the month that you filed bankruptcy.
Documents that provide proof of ownership and loans for your home, if you own a home. (This includes mobile homes.)
Documents that provide proof of ownership and loans for your cars and recreational vehicles.
Proof of IRAs, pension plans, and life insurance.
Proof of insurance for your car, home, and other assets, if any.
If you don’t have a document, you must explain why you don’t have the document. Getting these documents together before you file bankruptcy will make the process easier.
Take a Debtor Education Course
The debtor education course is a financial management course on managing your personal finances. You must take it after you file bankruptcy. If you don’t complete the second bankruptcy course, you won’t be eligible for a discharge order and your case could be closed.
You need to finish the course and file the certificate of completion with the court within 60 days of the meeting of creditors (your 341 meeting). Just like the credit counseling course, the debtor education course must be taken from a state-approved provider. You can take the course online or over the phone.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting gets its name from the section of the Bankruptcy Code. It's also called a creditors' meeting or a meeting of creditors. But in reality, it's usually a meeting between you and the trustee that’s been assigned to your case. During the meeting, the trustee will verify your identity. Remember to bring two original forms of identification, one of which contains your full Social Security number. During the meeting, you’ll basically be confirming the information you provided in your bankruptcy petition.
The trustee’s job is to verify the information you provided to the court, which they’ll have reviewed prior to this meeting. During the meeting, the trustee will put you under oath to ask you questions about your case. Most meetings are over in less than 10 minutes, and the trustee typically asks only the standard questions everyone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana has to answer. If you’ve amended your original filing or you have a complicated case, the trustee might ask you more questions and your meeting could be longer.
Your creditors are invited to attend the meeting and can either just observe or ask you questions while you are under oath and on the record. The majority of 341 meetings take place without any creditors making an appearance. It’s often not worth a creditor’s expense to attend.
Be sure to check your court notice or call the court to find out if the meeting will be held in person, on the phone, or online. During the coronavirus pandemic, all 341 meetings were switched to be virtual. Creditor meetings, if held in person, are held in the Butte bankruptcy court, or the Billings, Great Falls, or Missoula federal district courts.
Dealing with Your Car
In the rural areas of Montana, it’s difficult to manage without a car. Even if you’re a Bozeman city dweller, a car can be a necessity. Naturally, you worry about how your car will be handled if you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana. You have options, but they vary depending on whether you own your car free and clear, or it’s still being financed or leased.
If you own your car free and clear, you’ll likely be able to keep your car as long as it is fully covered by one of the available exemptions in Montana. Cars are exempt up to $4,000 in Montana for single filers. If you still owe on a car loan or lease and your monthly payments are current and within your budget, you can enter into a reaffirmation agreement with the creditor that holds the loan. If you do this, you agree to continue paying the loan even after filing for bankruptcy.
If you don’t want the responsibility of a lease or loan or you’re behind on your payments, then returning the car is an option. This vehicle surrender usually allows you to walk away without future car loan debt because the bankruptcy discharge will eliminate the unsecured debt. Sometimes it’s better to surrender a car and get a car after the bankruptcy discharge. You can decide which option is best for you.
Montana Bankruptcy Means Test
A Chapter 7 means test isn’t a quiz. It’s a formula that looks at your finances to determine whether you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Generally, if your total household income is below the applicable income limits, which are based on the median income, you pass the means test and you can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana. If your income is over the limit, your eligibility to file depends on your remaining income after certain expenses. Note that there are exceptions for Social Security, military, and veteran-related income.
Data on Median income levels for Montana
Montana Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2024
Data on Poverty levels for Montana
Montana Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2024
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|State Poverty Level
|Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)
Montana Bankruptcy Forms
The Montana Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms are a combination of the official national forms and local forms specifically for use within the Montana Bankruptcy District. All the local forms can be downloaded from the court's website. Be sure to review and sign local form 33 about the trustee documents, complete local form 36, the penalty of perjury declaration, and local form 37, the notice of compliance. The Local Rules require everyone filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana to complete and sign these forms in addition to the standard bankruptcy forms.
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Montana Districts and Filing Requirements
The judicial district of Montana is a single judicial district. Though it’s one of the largest geographic federal judicial districts in the U.S., it only has one bankruptcy judge. Montana state courts can’t hear bankruptcy cases. Federal district courts can hold bankruptcy hearings, and there are four divisions that accept bankruptcy filings: Missoula, Great Falls, Billings, and Butte.
The headquarters for Montana’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court is in Butte, Montana. If you don’t have an attorney, and you’re not using the eSR system to file online, you must mail your documents to the Butte office, or drop them off in person at the Butte bankruptcy court, or the Missoula, Great Falls, or Billings federal district courts. Fax filing isn’t allowed.
Montana’s Bankruptcy Court website has a filing fee schedule with the latest fees. You can fill out Form 103B to have your $338 filing fee waived, or Form 103A to pay your filing fee in installments. You can propose a payment plan of four installments. The court typically approves the proposed installment plan, but they may require a different installment plan.
You can pay your filing fees in cash (bring the exact amount), money order, or cashier's check. The court doesn’t accept personal checks or credit cards. You can make money orders and cashier’s checks payable to “Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.”
Montana Bankruptcy Exemptions
When you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana you can claim exemptions to keep some of your property. Exempt property is protected from your creditors, meaning not even a Chapter 7 trustee can touch it. You can think of an exemption as property you can keep away from the bankruptcy proceeding.
There are federal and state bankruptcy exemptions, but only the Montana bankruptcy exemptions are allowed in Montana. Under Montana law, you also must have lived in Montana for at least two years to use the state exemptions. Unfortunately, Montana doesn’t have "wildcard" exemptions like the federal bankruptcy exemptions. But your personal property, such as jewelry, firearms, sporting goods, and even pets are protected up to a combined value of $7,000, as long as each item is worth $1,250 or less individually. You can exempt a car worth $4,000 in value and tools of the trade up to $4,500.
Montana Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers often charge a flat fee for bankruptcy, but it will depend on how complicated your case is and what type of bankruptcy you file.
In Montana, the fee range from $1,000 to $1,200 on average. You can file bankruptcy on your own, but you must follow detailed instructions and fill out numerous forms. Although you’ll still have to fill out some forms (usually questionnaires) if you hire a bankruptcy attorney, the attorney will check the details and be familiar enough with the federal bankruptcy laws and local bankruptcy rules to give you legal advice tailored to your case.
When you hire an attorney for bankruptcy, cost isn’t the only consideration. Consider how much time a bankruptcy attorney can save you. Not only from filling out forms and filing documents for you, but you also greatly increase the chances of your bankruptcy case processing without too many hiccups. This gets you off to a fresh start sooner.
If you have assets you want to protect or you’re filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it’s well worth the cost to pay a bankruptcy attorney that’s familiar with applying the bankruptcy laws to protect your interests. A bankruptcy attorney brings you peace of mind.
Montana Legal Aid Organizations
There are many organizations that provide free or reduced-cost legal services. These include free legal aid services, universities, and pro bono legal services from private offices or nonprofits. Montana legal aid organizations, such as the Montana Legal Services Association, assist people who can’t afford an attorney but need representation. If you don't feel comfortable going through your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Montana without a legal representative, they may be able to help you.
Russell E. Smith Federal Building
201 East Broadway Street Missoula, MT 59802
Mike Mansfield Federal Building and United States Courthouse
400 North Main Street Butte, MT 59701
Montana Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Montana
|Hon. Benjamin P. Hursh
|Christy L. Brandon
|Darcy M. Crum
|Richard J. Samson
|Joseph V. Womack