Live in New Jersey and need help filing for bankruptcy and can't afford an attorney? Our legal aid nonprofit guides New Jersey debtors through the chapter 7 process.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated April 8, 2020
If history tells you anything, it's that there is no shame in seeking the protections filing a bankruptcy case in New Jersey offers. Take the James Candy Company, for example, a New Jersey original, founded in 1880 and home of Fralinger's Original Salt Water Taffy since 1885. JCC filed a New Jersey bankruptcy just last year to restructure their finances and be able to continue selling its delicious treats. New Jersey bankruptcy laws protect JCC, and all honest but unfortunate debtors. If you are struggling with debt, bankruptcy may give you the breathing spell you need to right your ship and get back to enjoying life in the Garden State. The first step to a successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey is knowing your options. The next step is figuring out whether you want to go through the process with or without a lawyer by your side.
How to File Bankruptcy in New Jersey for Free
The biggest expense for folks filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey usually takes the form of attorney's fees, followed by the $335 court filing fee. Folks who can't afford (or don't want) a lawyer for their New Jersey bankruptcy don't have to have one and can file "pro se" instead. Additionally, if you make less than $1,600 per month (or $2,200 if you are married), you qualify to have the court fees waived.
Collect Your New Jersey Bankruptcy Documents
Filing bankruptcy in New Jersey takes a lot of paperwork. It is best if you accept that from the outset and start off organized by collecting all the documents you will need. You will need a copy of each paycheck stub you (and your spouse, if you are married) received in the last 6 months. You should also get a copy of your credit report and make sure you have your most recent federal income tax return and bank statement handy. Since your credit report may not be completely up-to-date, go through your recent mail to make sure you haven't received any collection letters from companies that aren't reporting yet. Your New Jersey bankruptcy will be much less stressful for you if you take this time to collect and organize everything first. Then, when you're ready to sit down and take the next step, you'll have everything you need within reach; like an open-book test.
Take Credit Counseling
The first time when your documents will come in useful is when you are taking your credit counseling course. It doesn't matter why you are filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey; you have to take this course. In order for you to be able to file bankruptcy, you have to take this course from a provider that is approved for New Jersey bankruptcy cases. It makes sense to do this before you fill out the forms needed in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey. The information you review during this course deals with your personal financial situation, and will put everything in the right context for the next step in the process. When the course is completed, you receive a certificate of completion that is valid for 180 days. Make sure you keep it with the rest of your bankruptcy documents as you will need it again when you are ready to file.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
This step is where things tend to get a little bit complicated. The bankruptcy forms you have to file with the court for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey are long and a little bit tedious to go through. If you don't have an attorney, and are not eligible to get help from Upsolve or another legal aid organization, then you will 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. You have to sign all the forms under penalty of perjury before filing your bankruptcy in New Jersey, and this real housewife from New Jersey is an example of what happens if you are not 100% truthful in your forms. Remember, filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey is a serious step, so take your time when completing your bankruptcy forms to avoid problems down the road.
Get Your Filing Fee
The court filing fee for anyone filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey is $335. It has to be paid in full while you are at the courthouse filing your case. It's important to bring this fee with you in the form of a money order or certified check, as the bankruptcy court does not allow you to pay this fee by card or even cash. If you make less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you can ask the court not to pay it, by filing an application to have the filing fee waived. This document has to be filed at the same time you file your New Jersey bankruptcy documents with the court, so make sure to prepare it ahead of time. If you find yourself somewhere in between, you can also ask the court to give you some time after your case is filed, and your creditors have backed off, and pay the filing fee in installments.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
If you are filing bankruptcy in New Jersey without an attorney, you will have to bring your bankruptcy forms to the court in person. The court provides this overview of all documents that are needed to commence a Chapter 7 case, complete with helpful notes and guidance. It's best to print out three copies all at once: two for the court, and one to keep for your own records. Even though the documents are legal documents, print everything on regular-sized plain white paper. Some of the information on the forms is time-sensitive, so do this when you know you will be able to go to court to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey within the next few days.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Your place of residence will determine where you will have to go to file your forms, so check this guide from the court, to make sure you are headed to the right place. Once you know where to go, find out where to park once you get there. Since you don't know how long it will take once you get inside (especially since there may be others in line ahead of you), avoid the additional stress that comes with short-term parking around the courthouse. Finally, you are going to have to enter a federal courthouse to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey. This means making sure you have your picture ID handy and be prepared to pass through security on your way in. The actual act of filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey is done in the clerk's office which is only open to the public until 4 PM, so make sure you plan your day accordingly.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey is filed with the court, a trustee is assigned to administer the case. The court sends a copy of your bankruptcy documents to the trustee electronically. However, some of the required documents, such as your income tax returns, don't get filed with the court. It is your job to send your most recent federal income tax return to your trustee more than 7 days before your creditors meeting. Additionally, depending on your trustee's process to verify the information you provided to the court when filing bankruptcy in New Jersey, you may also be asked to provide recent bank statements, paycheck stubs, or other documents to his or her office. Since you are required to cooperate with the trustee, keep an eye out for any such requests, and make sure to follow the instructions provided by your trustee on when and how the documents have to be submitted.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
The primary goal of filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey is having the court enter your discharge order. This will not happen if you do not take a second course after your case is filed. It is similar to the first credit counseling course, but you have to wait to until after your case is filed to take course 2. It focuses on financial management to set you up with the tools necessary to create and follow a budget that makes sense for you. Again, it is important to go through a company that is approved by the Office of the United States Trustee for the District of New Jersey. If you are in the Cherry Hill area, you can take this course - for free - with one of the Chapter 13 trustees in New Jersey. You can take advantage of this even though you are not in a Chapter 13, but a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey because the course is the same for both chapters.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Once your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey is filed, your 341 meeting, or creditors' meeting, will be scheduled to take place about 30 days later. There are a number of locations where these meetings are held - you can find out where yours will be on the official notice of Chapter 7 bankruptcy case from the court. To make things easier, the New Jersey bankruptcy court has put detailed directions to each of the locations right on their website. The meeting itself usually only takes about 5 minutes as it is mostly an opportunity for your trustee to put a face to the paperwork, check your IDs, and ask you some questions about your bankruptcy forms while you are under oath. Occasionally a creditor may attend the meeting to ask some questions as well, but that does not happen very often. The 341 meeting is the only time everyone filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey has to go to court.
Dealing with Your Car
Filing Chapter 7 in New Jersey gives you several options on how to deal with your car, and specifically, your car loan. If you don't have a car loan, then as long as your vehicle is worth less than the available exemption, it is completely protected. The same is true if you have a car loan but have paid enough on the car that you have equity. If your car is a lease, 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 on the lease agreement. If you do have a car loan, it's important to take a step back and look at whether it makes sense for you to keep the car. If the payment is manageable and the loan balance not outrageous when compared to the vehicle's value, you can enter 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 it's value to the creditor and have the discharge entered in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey eliminate the remaining loan balance.
New Jersey Bankruptcy Means Test
Most folks who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey have to qualify to file under the means test, which compares your household income to that of similar-sized households in New Jersey to make sure you don't make “too much” money. If your debts are mostly from business ventures or investments gone bad, you may be able to file even if your income is higher than allowed by the New Jersey bankruptcy means test, by using the business debt exception. This exception provides that if more than 50% of your debts are business related, the means test is not necessary.
Data on Median income levels for New Jersey
New Jersey Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for New Jersey
New Jersey Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
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 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. The court does have some mandatory local forms, but none of them are needed to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey. 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.
District of New Jersey Requirements
New Jersey is a single federal district that has been divided into 3 divisions, headquartered in Camden, Newark, and Trenton and broken down by county. One of the main requirements for you to remember is that you have to bring 2 full copies of your bankruptcy documents to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey.
New Jersey Bankruptcy Exemptions
Exemption laws determine what property is protected from your creditors. 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 the federal exemptions that are available. This is especially important if you own a home as New Jersey does not have a homestead exemption.
New Jersey Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer is a little above the national average in the Garden State. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey will cost you, on average, somewhere between $965 - $1550 in attorneys’ fees. Keep in mind, however, that no two cases are exactly the same. That's why the details of your particular situation will determine how much your New Jersey bankruptcy will cost.
Attorney cost estimate: $965 – $1,550
New Jersey Legal Aid Organizations
If you are unable to afford a lawyer to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, there may be a non-profit near you that can help. Legal Services of New Jersey has locations statewide, and, if you live in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, or Union County, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice can connect you with a pro bono attorney to assist you. Legal aid in New Jersey is only available for low-income folks, and you will most likely have to provide information about your income and assets to them in order to qualify for assistance.
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)
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New Jersey Court Locations
Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse
50 Walnut Street Newark, NJ 07102
Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building and United States Courthouse
402 East State Street Trenton, NJ 08608
United States Post Office and Courthouse
401 Market Street Camden, NJ 08101
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|