How To File Bankruptcy for Free in New Jersey
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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 May 11, 2023
If you’re considering bankruptcy you might feel like you’ve done something wrong or don’t deserve help. But this isn’t true. Many New Jersey residents have had to turn to bankruptcy because of circumstances beyond their control. Even the most successful people aren’t immune from financial difficulties. For example, the talk show host Larry King had to file bankruptcy after his divorce took him to the cleaners. Grammy-winning artist Toni Braxton turned to filing for relief from her $3.9 million debt load. New Jersey native Lil Kim turned to bankruptcy to try and save her mansion in Alpine, New Jersey, from foreclosure.
If you’re struggling with debt, bankruptcy may give you the fresh start you need to regain control of your finances and get back to enjoying life in the Garden State. The first step to a successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in New Jersey is knowing your options and how long the process could take. The next step is figuring out whether you want to travel the road to debt relief with or without a bankruptcy attorney by your side.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in New Jersey
The biggest expense for folks filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey is attorney fees. If you can't afford (or don't want) a lawyer you can file “pro se” instead. That means you file your New Jersey bankruptcy on your own.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take regardless of if you have an attorney or not. As you read through each step, think about how comfortable you’d be managing it on your own.
- Collect Your New Jersey Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your New Jersey Bankruptcy Documents
If you take the time to get your ingredients together before you start cooking, making a meal will go more smoothly. Likewise, your New Jersey bankruptcy filing will be much less stressful if you take the time to collect and organize the necessary documents first. Here’s what you’ll need:
A copy of each paycheck stub you (and your spouse, if you’re married) received in the last six months.
A copy of your credit report. You’re entitled to a free report once a year from each of the major consumer credit agencies. If you use Upsolve’s tool to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it will pull your report for you.
The past two years of income tax returns.
A bank statement covering the day you file. You probably won’t have this until after you file, but pulling a current statement is a good start.
Additional helpful documents may include:
Bank statements for the past year to help paint a picture of your ongoing expenses.
Bills for unsecured debts like student loans, medical bills, and child support.
Notices for secured debts like foreclosure on real estate and car repossession notices.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
You have to take a credit counseling course from a New Jersey-approved provider before you can file your bankruptcy petition. There is a fee to take the course but you can apply for a waiver.
Don’t worry, there won’t be a test! The course is required because New Jersey wants to ensure that you understand all your options before you proceed with the bankruptcy filing. You have to take the course in the six months before filing for bankruptcy because the certificate of completion you’ll receive is only valid for 180 days. Make sure you keep it with the rest of your bankruptcy documents and submit it when you file. If you don’t include the certificate when you file, the court may dismiss your case.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms you have to file with the court can be time-consuming to complete. If you use Upsolve’s filing tool or hire an attorney, you’ll fill out a questionnaire about your financial situation. With Upsolve, our software uses that information to generate your forms. With an attorney, someone at their office will fill out the forms for you using the information you provide.
If you don't have a bankruptcy attorney and you’re not eligible to get help from Upsolve or another legal aid organization, then you’ll have to complete the forms on your own. The good news is that all of the official forms and instructions are available for free online. Provide truthful information, even if it's ugly or embarrassing. Lying on these forms is called perjury and it’s is illegal. When you sign your forms, you’re promising that the information on them is true and accurate.
This real housewife from New Jersey is an example of what happens when you try to hide something from the bankruptcy court. It’s ok if you make a mistake — mistakes can be fixed — but do take your time when you go through the forms so you know they’re as accurate as they can be.
Get Your Filing Fee
There is a $338 court filing fee to file bankruptcy in New Jersey. Make a plan for how to pay so you don’t risk having your case dismissed. If you make less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you qualify to have the court fees waived. (Check the Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.)
If you don’t qualify for a waiver but can’t afford to pay the full fee all at once, you can apply to pay in installments. You’ll need to submit the application for an installment plan with at least 25% of the full fee ($85). Some filers choose to do this when they need to file quickly because a creditor has a wage garnishment order against them. In such cases, you get the benefit of the automatic stay. This stops creditors from collecting from you, which may make it easier to pay the rest of the court filing fee.
If you’re able to pay the fee, you have to get a money order or certified check payable to “Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.” The court doesn’t allow filers to pay the filing fee in cash or with a credit card.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you’re filing bankruptcy in New Jersey without an attorney, you can either:
Print a complete set of your bankruptcy forms and bring them to the court in person or mail them in.
File your forms electronically using New Jersey’s Electronic Self-Representation portal. If you choose to file electronically you don’t need to print your forms. Skip directly to the next section!
If you want to print your forms and take them to the court in person, review the court’s overview of all documents you’ll need to file your Chapter 7 case. You may want to print the overview and/or use the court’s checklist as you go to ensure you don’t miss anything.
It's best to print out three copies: two for the court and one to keep for your own records. Print everything on letter-size, white paper, on one side only, using black ink. Some of the information on the forms is time-sensitive, so don’t print your documents until you plan to go to court to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey within the next few days.
Finally, double-check that you’ve signed in every signature spot. If you’re using Upsolve’s filing tool, you’ll receive your forms as a downloadable packet complete with dividers that flag each signature page.
File Your Forms With the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court
In most states, only attorneys have the privilege of filing electronically. Luckily, New Jersey offers e-filing for non-lawyers through a process called Electronic Self-Representation (eSR). This option is only available for individuals and couples filing personal bankruptcy. It can’t be used by businesses like corporations, partnerships, or LLCs.
To use the e-filing system, you’ll need an email account and a computer with Adobe Reader. Once you’ve submitted your bankruptcy petition electronically, you’ll receive a confirmation email with further instructions including an email address to which you’ll send further information. Note: This will be a different email address than the one you received the confirmation email from.
To complete your filing, you (and your spouse if you’re filing together) must respond to the provided email address with the following two short forms. The forms verify that you filed your papers yourself and verify any Social Security numbers related to your filing are accounted for.
Declaration Regarding Electronic Filing — This is a signed statement that you’ve filed the forms as a self-represented debtor.
Statement About Your Social Security Numbers (Official Form 121) — This is to ensure all related parties and Social Security Numbers are accounted for.
The day the clerk receives these additional items will be your official filing date.
If you want to file your papers in person or via mail, your home address will determine where to file your forms. If you mail your forms in, use certified mail so you have a confirmation of receipt from the post office for your records.
If you end up submitting to the clerk’s office in person, review the court’s current COVID-19 guidance for any hours’ changes or safety requirements. Once you know where to go, make a plan for where to park. Keep your picture ID handy and be prepared to pass through security on your way in.
The courts in Newark, Trenton, and Camden currently allow filers to drop their documents off in a drop box. This means someone else can drop off your forms for you if needed. If you’d prefer to hand your documents to the clerk directly, double-check the hours and give yourself extra time in case there’s a line.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, the court will assign a bankruptcy trustee to administer the case. You’ll be notified of your trustee’s information and of the date of your first meeting of creditors (also known as your 341 meeting).
Your trustee’s job is to examine your petition and assets to decide how to best satisfy your creditors before discharging your remaining debt. It’s important to cooperate with the trustee to keep your case moving and ensure you’ll get the discharge you’ve applied for. You need to give the trustee the documents they request.
At a minimum, you must provide the following documents at least seven days before your 341 meeting:
A copy of your most recent federal income tax return. A transcript of the return is also acceptable.
Copies of pay stubs from within the 60 days before you filed your petition.
A bank statement that covers the date of filing.
Keep an eye out for any additional requests from your trustee, and carefully review the instructions on when and how to provide documents.
Take a Debtor Education Course
The main goal of filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey is to have the court enter your discharge order. An important hurdle to clear on your way to getting the discharge is completing a personal financial management course from a New Jersey-approved provider.
This debtor education course is similar to the credit counseling course in that they are both required, but you have to wait until after you file your bankruptcy case to take the debtor education course. It focuses on how to manage your finances and gives you tools to create and follow a budget that makes sense for you.
You must complete the course within 60 days of the first date set for the meeting of the creditors. You also need to file a form with the court along with your certificate of completion in the same timeframe. If you don’t file this certificate, the court can close your case without discharging your debt. This is a significant setback, and you’d need to pay $260 and file a motion to reopen your case to get back on track.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Once you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, your 341 meeting, or creditors' meeting, will be scheduled. It takes place about 30 days after you file. The meeting location will be included in the official notice of Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. Detailed directions are available on the court website.
What should you expect? The meeting itself usually only takes about five minutes. It gives the trustee a chance to put a face to the paperwork, check your ID, and ask you some questions about your bankruptcy forms while you’re under oath. Your creditors may attend the meeting to ask questions as well, but this rarely happens. It’s normal to feel nervous, but rest assured very little can or will go wrong. It may help to know what happens after the meeting.
The 341 meeting is usually the only time everyone filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey has to go to court. But due to COVID-19, all creditors’ meetings are being held via video conference or video calls for now.
Dealing with Your Car
When you file Chapter 7 in New Jersey, you have several options to deal with your car and car loan, if you have one.
If your vehicle is paid off and you own it, then as long as your vehicle is worth less than $4,000 (the current available exemption), it’s completely protected.
The same is true if you have a car loan but you’re current and have paid enough on the car that you have equity.
If you’re leasing your car, you can either keep everything as is or return the car as part of your New Jersey bankruptcy, without having to worry about the remaining balance.
Take a moment to evaluate your car loan and whether it makes sense for you to keep the car. If the payment is manageable and the loan balance isn’t higher than the vehicle's value, it may make sense to sign a reaffirmation agreement. The reaffirmation agreement is one of the more complicated forms to complete, so make sure to review the court's instructions before doing so.
Alternatively, if you want to keep your car but the loan balance far exceeds its actual value, you can redeem the vehicle by paying only its value to the creditor. The remaining loan balance will then be eliminated when the court discharges your debt.
You can also consider buying a car after you file bankruptcy. You may want to wait a while to give your credit time to recover so you can get a better deal if you need financing.
New Jersey Bankruptcy Means Test
To file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, you have to pass the means test. This test looks at your household income and compares it to the median income of similarly sized households in New Jersey. The goal is to make sure you don't make too much money.
If you end up not qualifying, you might want to wait and see if your income ends up changing down the road and try again. Otherwise, Chapter 13 might be an option to explore to get your debts under control. A Chapter 13 plan reorganizes your debt and puts you on a payment plan.
Data on Median income levels for New Jersey
New Jersey Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for New Jersey
New Jersey 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)|
New Jersey Bankruptcy Forms
New Jersey Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms and a handy filing guide are available for free on the court's website. The majority of the forms are national forms, which are the same all across the country. Ignore the section about mandatory local forms, none of them are needed to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey. The fee waiver application and other optional local forms will be useful to some filers.
If you move while your case is pending, it's important to amend the necessary online bankruptcy forms to provide the court and your trustee with your updated address.
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New Jersey Districts & Filing Requirements
New Jersey is a single federal bankruptcy district that has been divided into three divisions. They are headquartered in Camden, Newark, and Trenton and broken down by county. One of the main requirements for people filing printed documents is to provide two full copies of their petition. The process is the same no matter what division you are in, except for the part about where to file.
If you’re paying in installments you must submit at least 25% of the full fee ($85) upfront. You can make this payment with a cashier’s check or certified check.
COVID-19 has impacted court procedures. Check the court's current rules to ensure your plan for filing will work.
For filing requirements, please view the above File Your Forms With the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court.
New Jersey Bankruptcy Exemptions
Exemption laws protect some of your personal property. Legally, any non-exempt assets you have can be liquidated and sold to repay your creditors. But that rarely happens in a Chapter 7 case. Most Chapter 7 filers’ property is fully protected by exemptions. Monthly payments like child support or retirement payments are also safeguarded to ensure you have a stable financial situation.
Unlike many other states, you can choose between using New Jersey bankruptcy exemptions or federal bankruptcy exemptions for your case. A lot of folks filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey choose to use the federal exemptions. This is especially true of homeowners since New Jersey doesn’t have a homestead exemption that allows people to exempt their home equity from bankruptcy liquidation. The federal homestead exemption protects up to $25,150 of your equity in your home.
New Jersey Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers generally charge a flat (all-in-one) fee for their services. Like many things in the Garden State, this fee is more expensive than the national average. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey will cost you, on average, between $965 - $1550 in attorney fees. But keep in mind that no two cases are exactly the same. The details of your situation will determine how much your New Jersey bankruptcy will cost.
Cost is an important factor to keep in mind but there are other important things to consider as well.
New Jersey Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford a lawyer to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, there may be a nonprofit near you that can help. You’ll need to submit information about your income and assets to qualify for assistance, but you have nothing to lose by exploring your options. Legal Services of New Jersey has locations statewide. If you live in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, or Union County, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice may be able to connect you with free legal help.
Central Jersey Legal Services, Inc.
317 George Street, Suite 201, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-2006
Essex-Newark Legal Services Project, Inc.
5 Commerce Street, 2nd Floor, Newark, NJ 07102
Legal Services of Northwest Jersey
90 East Main Street, Somerville, NJ 08876-2218
Northeast New Jersey Legal Services Corporation
574 Summit Avenue, Jersey City NJ 07306-2797
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
New Jersey Court Locations
United States Post Office and Courthouse
401 Market Street Camden, NJ 08101
Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building and United States Courthouse
402 East State Street Trenton, NJ 08608
Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse
50 Walnut Street Newark, NJ 07102
New Jersey Judges
New Jersey Bankruptcy Judges
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Kathryn C. Ferguson|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Rosemary Gambardella|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Michael B. Kaplan|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Christine M. Gravelle|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Andrew B. Altenburg|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Vincent F. Papalia|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. John K. Sherwood|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Jerrold N. Poslusny|
|District of New Jersey||Hon. Stacey L. Meisel|
New Jersey Trustees
New Jersey Trustees
|Bunce D. Atkinsonemail@example.com|
|Karen E. Beznerfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Donald V. Biaseemail@example.com|
|Nicholas J. Delzotti|
|Barbara A. Edwardsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Charles M. Formanemail@example.com|
|Barry W. Frostfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Steven P. Kartzmanemail@example.com|
|Jeffrey A. Lesterfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Jay L. Lubetkinemail@example.com|
|Joseph D. Marchand|
|John M. McDonnell IIIfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Thomas J. Orremail@example.com|
|Eric R. Perkinsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Barry R. Shareremail@example.com|
|Andrew S. Sklarfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Douglas S. Stangeremail@example.com|
|Benjamin A. Stanziale Jr.||firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Daniel E. Straffiemail@example.com|
|Thomas J. Subrannifirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John W. Sywilokemail@example.com|
|Brian S. Thomasfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|David A. Wolffemail@example.com|