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
If you’re struggling with massive debt and finding it hard to pay your bills, you’re not alone. According to the Federal Reserve, household consumer debt reached $15.24 trillion in the third quarter of 2021. Most of this debt was from mortgages, student loans, and credit cards. If you’re facing more debt than you can handle, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be the right decision to give you and your family a fresh start.
Before you file bankruptcy, you may want to seek debt relief alternatives by working with your creditors. Debt relief programs sometimes offer repayment plans on your debt. But sometimes signing up for a debt relief program could put you in a worse financial position, and seeking bankruptcy relief may be a better option. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t have to be super complicated, and the entire process may only take about four to six months from start to finish. You can also file for bankruptcy without hiring a lawyer.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in North Carolina
There are two types of bankruptcy for individuals: Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy tends to be more expensive than Chapter 7, and you also have to have a steady income to file for Chapter 13. Because of this, most people choose to file under Chapter 7.
Debt is generally dischargeable if it’s unsecured debt, meaning there’s no collateral placed on the debt. Examples of dischargeable debt include credit cards, medical bills, back rent, and personal loans. Certain tax debts and personal injury lawsuit judgments are also dischargeable. Certain debts aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy for public policy reasons, such as alimony and child support.
Bankruptcy costs include court filing fees, credit counseling fees, and if you hire a bankruptcy lawyer, attorney fees. You may be able to have the court and credit counseling fees waived if you can show you can’t afford them. Attorney fees are the most expensive part of filing bankruptcy. This article will guide you through the process of filing for bankruptcy without having to hire a lawyer.
- Collect Your North Carolina Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the North Carolina Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your North Carolina Bankruptcy Documents
When you file for bankruptcy, you need to submit the following documents, even if you’re filing with an attorney:
Your past two years of tax returns
Your paycheck stubs for the past 60 days
A bank account statement that covers the bankruptcy filing date
Aside from that, there are a number of documents you can collect that will make filling out your bankruptcy forms (or a questionnaire about the bankruptcy forms) easier because they’ll have certain information you’ll need. Some of the documents that have proven helpful for people as they prepare their bankruptcy petition are:
Bank account statements showing your expenses for the past six to 12 months
Your credit report
Creditor statements/bills for any types of debt that may not appear on your credit report
Letters from collection agencies or other third-party debt collectors
You can get a free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies every year, and you can request them online.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
The federal Bankruptcy Code requires anyone filing for bankruptcy to complete an approved credit counseling class within six months before they file. Congress requires this six-month window so you can learn about your options before you decide to file for bankruptcy. You must submit your course completion certificate to the bankruptcy court.
There is a fee to take the course, but you may be able to get a fee waiver if you can show you can’t afford to pay the fee.
North Carolina has three bankruptcy districts: the Western District, the Middle District, and the Eastern District. In North Carolina, Bankruptcy Administrators approve pre-bankruptcy credit counseling organizations. Each district has a list of approved credit counseling providers on its website:
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
To start the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process without an attorney, you must fill out some lengthy forms. The forms are the same regardless of where you’re filing for bankruptcy, and they include instructions on how to fill them out. The forms are available as fillable PDFs for free online from the USCOURTS.GOV website. Go through the forms carefully and make sure you fill everything out completely.
If you hire a bankruptcy attorney, the attorney or their staff will typically fill out the form based on the information you give them.
Get Your Filing Fee
To file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll have to pay a filing fee of $338 Bring the fee with you when you go to file your case, preferably as a cashier’s check or money order, payable to "Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.” If your current income is below 150% of the poverty guidelines, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. (See North Carolina’s Fee Waiver Eligibility Table below).
Once you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the automatic stay goes into effect. This ‘stays’ or ‘stops’ creditors from taking certain actions against you to collect on your debt. A creditor may be planning on wage garnishment, foreclosure, or repossession. The automatic stay prevents the creditor from doing these things - at least for a certain period of time - so you may be in a hurry to file to get this protection.
If you can’t afford to pay the filing fee all at once, you can ask the court for a payment plan. You’ll likely have to pay a minimum initial amount and then equal monthly installment payments. This way, you can file and get the protections of the automatic stay.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you’re filing for bankruptcy in North Carolina without a lawyer, you must print out the bankruptcy forms, sign them, and submit them to the bankruptcy court. Print the forms on regular, white letter-size paper (8.5" x 11"), in black ink, and single-sided. Make sure you sign in all of the signature spots and that you’ve submitted all the necessary forms (a lot of them look alike). If you can, make a copy of everything you’re submitting to the court so you have it for your records.
File Your Forms With the North Carolina Bankruptcy Court
North Carolina has three bankruptcy districts — the Western District of North Carolina, the Middle District, and the Eastern District. You’ll file your bankruptcy petition in the district where you live. The Middle District of North Carolina has a list of the counties in each of the three districts.
Attorneys may file bankruptcy documents online through the court’s Electronic Court Filing (ECF) system. Everyone else must file their documents in paper form, except in the Eastern District, which allows you to submit documents to the court online. Although you can mail in your documents, it’s best to deliver them personally to the clerk’s office at the courthouse. This way, the court clerk can confirm that you have all the documents you need to file and that you’ve signed everything you need to sign.
You’ll also want to check your district’s most recent COVID-19 measures as some filing options have changed due to the ongoing pandemic.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
When you file for bankruptcy, the court will assign a number to your case and appoint a bankruptcy trustee to handle various aspects of your bankruptcy case. The court will notify you who the trustee is and typically your trustee will reach out to you, too.
The court will then schedule a date for your creditors' meeting. You must submit a copy of your two most recent federal income tax returns to your trustee at least seven days before the creditors' meeting. You also must send your trustee a bank statement that covers the date of your bankruptcy filing. The trustee uses these documents to verify that the financial information you’ve given them is accurate. The trustee may ask for more documents if your information is incomplete.
It’s important to comply with the trustee’s requests. Although the trustee doesn’t represent your interests, providing the trustee with everything they need will make the process go more smoothly and quickly.
Take a Debtor Education Course
After the bankruptcy court determines you’ve complied with the bankruptcy requirements, the court will enter an order discharging your debts. To be eligible for discharge, you must first complete an approved debtor education course. The debtor education course teaches financial management. You must take the course within 60 days of your creditors’ meeting, either before or after the meeting. You also must file a certificate of completion with the bankruptcy court. If you don’t complete the course, the court could close your case without entering a discharge.
In North Carolina, Bankruptcy Administrators approve debtor education courses. Each district maintains a list of approved debtor education providers on its website.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting, or creditors' meeting, will happen about a month after you file for bankruptcy. A creditors’ meeting is an informal meeting that’s usually held in a courthouse office, but not in a courtroom. You must bring a government-issued picture ID and acceptable proof of your Social Security number.
Though your creditors can attend the meeting of creditors, they often don’t. Most meetings are just between the filer and the trustee. The trustee will place you under oath and ask you a series of standard questions. The trustee may ask additional questions if they need more information.
Creditors’ meetings usually last about 10 minutes. The primary issue that comes up at the meeting is where the debtor has forgotten to bring identification or acceptable proof of their social security number. Once the creditors’ meeting is over, the bankruptcy process is almost complete.
As part of recent COVID-19 precautions, creditors’ meetings are temporarily being held via telephone or video conference in North Carolina.
Dealing with Your Car
You might want to know if you can keep your car after you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Usually, you can, but it depends on your specific situation. If you own your car free and clear (you’re not making any monthly payments), and if it’s valued below the exemption amount, you can keep it. In North Carolina, as long as you didn’t buy your car with cash in the three months before filing bankruptcy, your vehicle’s worth is protected up to $3,500.
You may be leasing (renting) your car or financing it (making monthly payments until you own it). If you’re still making monthly loan payments, you have a few options.
You can surrender your car, and you won’t have to pay the rest of what you still owe on it. This might be a good idea if you owe more than the car’s worth and the payments are more than you can afford.
If you want to keep your car and continue making your car payments, you’ll have to enter into a reaffirmation agreement.
If you want to keep your car but not the loan, you’ll have to pay the car’s current value to the creditor in exchange for a clear vehicle title. This is called redeeming the vehicle.
If you want to buy another car after bankruptcy, it’s best to wait until after the court enters the discharge order. You also want to make sure you can afford any new monthly payments. You don’t want to get back into unmanageable debt.
North Carolina Bankruptcy Means Test
Before filing bankruptcy you’ll have to complete the bankruptcy means test specific to North Carolina. The means test is required in all states, but the amount of income you can have depends on the North Carolina numbers. The court first looks at your household’s monthly income and compares it to the median income in North Carolina. If your income exceeds the income limits for filing for bankruptcy, then the court considers your disposable income after monthly expenses. If your North Carolina means test shows that you don’t have any disposable income to pay creditors, you’ll qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Otherwise, you may still be eligible for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for North Carolina
North Carolina Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for North Carolina
North Carolina 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)|
North Carolina Bankruptcy Forms
The bankruptcy petition forms you fill out are federal forms, and they’re the same for every state. As noted, there are three bankruptcy court districts in North Carolina — the Western District, the Middle District, and the Eastern District. You fill out the same forms and pay the same filing fee, regardless of where you file.
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North Carolina Districts & Filing Requirements
North Carolina has three bankruptcy districts, and each district has different filing requirements.
Western District of North Carolina Requirements
The Western District of North Carolina includes 32 counties, with divisions in Charlotte, Statesville, and Asheville. The bankruptcy court also holds creditors’ meetings in Shelby. Payments must be made by certified check or money order to the Charlotte office:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
Western District of North Carolina
401 West Trade Street, Suite 2500
Charlotte, NC 28202
Phone (704) 350-7500
Middle District of North Carolina Requirements
The Middle District includes 24 counties, with offices in Greensboro, Durham, and Winston-Salem. Only Greensboro and Winston-Salem offices are staffed by the bankruptcy clerk. The Middle District has a comprehensive guide on its website for people filing for bankruptcy without an attorney.
The court website also includes contact information for the filer, including directions to the Greensboro and Winston-Salem courthouses, court hearing locations, and creditors’ meeting locations. The court also has a great frequently asked questions (FAQ) section for filers.
You can mail or bring your document to the appropriate court. The courts are open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but if you need to pay a fee or file a document that requires fees, these aren’t accepted after 4:30 p.m.
In Greensboro, documents can be filed at:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
101 S. Edgeworth St.
Greensboro, NC 27401
In Winston-Salem, documents can be filed at:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
226 S. Liberty St.
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Eastern District of North Carolina Requirements
The Eastern District of North Carolina includes 44 counties and has five divisions. The court’s website has a comprehensive pro se guide (including videos) for people filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney. The court also offers information on how to fill out the forms to reaffirm your car loan correctly.
The court also allows filers without an attorney to submit a bankruptcy package electronically (known as an eSR) to the court. Once the court receives the package and determines that all pre-filing requirements are met, the court will file your case and assign it a number. The automatic stay won’t go into effect until the court assigns the case number.
North Carolina Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy laws allow for certain property to be exempted or excused from being taken to pay debts. Exemptions allow you to maintain a certain standard of living even though you’re in bankruptcy and maintain access to essential things such as transportation and housing.
Exempt property usually includes day-to-day items you own and use, as well as vehicles and homes up to a certain value. Some property is completely protected by an exemption, regardless of value, such as certain retirement accounts or pensions.
Federal bankruptcy law provides for various federal bankruptcy exemptions. But states can opt out of the federal law exemptions. North Carolina is an opt-out state, which means it recognizes only the North Carolina state bankruptcy exemptions.
Personal property (furniture, appliances, household goods, clothes, books, etc.) is exempted if it’s worth less than $5,000. Up to $35,000 in home equity is also exempted. If you don’t use the entire household exemption, you can use up to $5,000 on anything else that’s not otherwise protected.
North Carolina Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers generally charge a flat fee for Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings. In North Carolina, you’ll likely pay between $1,100 and $1,200 for a bankruptcy attorney. The amount you’ll pay will depend on the complexity of your case as well as the attorney’s years of experience and skills. While no one likes to pay attorney fees, it may be worth paying a little more to someone with lots of experience in handling bankruptcy cases, especially if your case is complicated.
That said, cost isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing an attorney. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer an initial free consultation, which can help you get a sense of the cost and a feel for how well you’d work together.
North Carolina Legal Aid Organizations
North Carolina has several legal aid organizations, which provide free or low-cost legal services for eligible individuals. If you can’t afford a lawyer, but you want help with your bankruptcy case, contact one of these organizations for guidance with the bankruptcy process.
North Carolina Court Locations
434 Fayetteville Street
434 Fayetteville Street Raleigh, NC 27601
United States Post Office
200 West Broad Street Statesville, NC 28677
150 Reade Circle
150 Reade Circle Greenville, NC 27858
Federal Law Center
101 South Edgeworth Street Greensboro, NC 27401
Gateway Plaza Building
402 West Trade Street Charlotte, NC 28202
Charles R. Jonas Federal Building
401 West Trade Street Charlotte, NC 28202
300 Fayetteville Street Raleigh, NC 27601
North Carolina Judges
North Carolina Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of North Carolina||Hon. Stephani W. Humrickhouse|
|Eastern District of North Carolina||Hon. David M. Warren|
|Eastern District of North Carolina||Hon. Joseph N. Callaway|
|Middle District of North Carolina||Hon. Catharine R. Aron|
|Middle District of North Carolina||Hon. Lena M. James|
|Middle District of North Carolina||Hon. Benjamin A. Kahn|
|Western District of North Carolina||Hon. Laura T. Beyer|
|Western District of North Carolina||Hon. Craig Whitley|
|Western District of North Carolina||Hon. George Hodges|
North Carolina Trustees
North Carolina Trustees