How To File Bankruptcy for Free in New York
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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 June 30, 2022
Whether you live in New York City or elsewhere in the Empire State, worrying about your debt can be extremely stressful. Although it may feel like you’re giving up if you take advantage of the protections bankruptcy offers, you don’t have to feel guilty about getting help. No one is immune from a sudden downturn in their fortunes that can make bankruptcy a lifeline. That includes high-profile New Yorkers like late-night talk show host Larry King.
Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York may be the most responsible option for you and your family. Read on to get a feel for your options, the timeline for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and how you can navigate the bankruptcy process without an attorney.
The rules for how to file bankruptcy are slightly different depending on which of New York’s four bankruptcy districts you live in. Your district is based on the county you live in, so take a moment to find your district so you can keep it in mind as you go:
New York Northern includes Albany, Utica, and Syracuse and their surrounding counties.
New York Eastern includes Richmond (Staten Island), Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties.
New York Southern includes the Bronx, Dutchess, New York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Greene, Ulster, and Westchester counties.
New York Western includes Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in New York
A bankruptcy lawyer is the most expensive cost of filing bankruptcy. If you don’t have the money to pay your bills, you may be wondering how you can afford to hire a bankruptcy attorney to help you file bankruptcy. The good news is, you don’t have to hire an attorney. You can file your case on your own.
What follows is a guide on how to prepare to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York yourself. This option isn’t right for everyone, but if you don’t have any expensive property, your income is below a certain amount, and you can follow some tedious directions, you can absolutely do this on your own!
- Collect Your New York Bankruptcy Documents
- Take Credit Counseling
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Prepare To Submit Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the New York Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Deal With Your Car
Collect Your New York Bankruptcy Documents
The first step in preparing to file your bankruptcy case is collecting your bankruptcy documents. These are the documents you’ll need to fill out your bankruptcy petition.
Must-have documents include:
The last two years of tax returns.
Paycheck stubs for the last six months.
Bank statements that include the date of filing.
There are also some documents that are nice to have, including:
Your credit report: It will be easier to report all your debts for the bankruptcy paperwork if you have your credit report in hand. You’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually. If you are using Upsolve’s tool, Upsolve will pull your credit report for you.
Recent collection notices: Gather all collection notices you’ve received in the last 90 days. This might include credit card bills, student loan statements, or medical bills. This will be helpful since some of them may not yet appear on your credit report.
Older bank statements: Bank statements from the last six months to a year can be useful for painting a picture of your expenses and creating a post-bankruptcy budget.
Take Credit Counseling
To file a bankruptcy petition, you’re required to complete a credit counseling course. This course takes about 1–2 hours, and you can take it online, by phone, or in person, depending on where you live. You need to take the course from a pre-approved provider. There is a fee but you can apply for a waiver if needed.
You have to complete the course at some point in the six months (180 days) before you file your bankruptcy with the court. You’ll receive a certificate of completion when you finish the course. Hold onto this certificate as you’ll need to submit it to the bankruptcy court along with the rest of your bankruptcy forms when you file.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the bankruptcy forms you’ll need to fill out are standard across the country. These forms are available online as free fillable PDFs. If you work with a bankruptcy lawyer, you’ll fill out a questionnaire, and they’ll fill in your bankruptcy forms based on that. If you use Upsolve’s tool, you’ll fill out a questionnaire and our software will fill in your forms for you.
Regardless of which process you choose, make sure to take your time and be as thorough as you can when answering the questions. You’ll be swearing to the truth of your statements when you sign these documents. There’s a penalty if you misrepresent the facts, which is considered perjury.
Get Your Filing Fee
The court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $338. This fee can be waived if you earn below 150% of the poverty guidelines (see the New York Fee Waiver Eligibility table below).
If you’re not eligible to apply for a fee waiver, but you’re having a hard time coming up with the fee all at once, you can file an application to pay in installments. You choose the size of the four installment payments you’ll make totaling $338. The last payment is due within 120 days of your filing.
Paying with an installment plan allows you to file your bankruptcy case faster, which is helpful if you’re facing wage garnishment or other serious collection measures. As soon as you file your case, the court issues an automatic stay, which prohibits your creditors from taking any further action against you. If you don’t make your installment payments completely and on time, the court can dismiss your case. This is why you should wait to file until you have the full filing fee if possible.
All New York State bankruptcy courts accept money orders or certified checks. You can purchase a money order for $1.25 at a U.S. Post Office. The Eastern District also allows filers to pay online through Pay.gov. The Southern District usually accepts cash payment in person at the Manhattan office, but this isn’t currently allowed because of COVID-19. The Western District accepts cash at the Buffalo office.
Prepare To Submit Your Bankruptcy Forms
You can skip printing your forms if you’re planning to e-file your documents online. If you have a bankruptcy lawyer assisting you, they’ll review each form with you and show you where to sign. Then, they’ll submit everything to the bankruptcy court via the court's electronic filing system. If you use Upsolve’s free filing tool, you’ll get your documents in a packet as a single download, complete with dividers that flag each signature page.
If you submit your filing without an attorney, this is where your district can make a big difference. The e-filing rules vary widely depending on where you live in New York State.
File Your Forms With the New York Bankruptcy Court
You can go to any of the courts located in your district to file your forms, even if your case is ultimately assigned to a different division within the district. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, most courts have restricted hours or are offering alternative filing options. Check what your court is doing before planning your trip to the courthouse.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
You’ll receive the name and contact information for your bankruptcy trustee a few days after you file your bankruptcy case. The trustee's job is to administer your case and make sure all your information is correct. They also review the circumstances surrounding your case to determine what (if anything) your creditors will be paid. You’ll meet your trustee in person at your 341 meeting, also known as the creditors’ meeting.
You must provide a copy of the following to your trustee at least seven days before your 341 meeting:
Your two most recent federal income tax returns.
A bank statement covering the date of filing. This shows the trustee how much money you had on the day you filed.
Additionally, some trustees mail out a letter requesting other documents, such as paycheck stubs. Keep an eye out for any such request from your trustee, and make sure you follow their instructions on how and when to submit everything to the trustee's office.
Take a Debtor Education Course
You had to take the credit counseling course to understand the consequences of bankruptcy before filing your case. After you file, you have to take a debtor education course. This course focuses on financial management tools and aims to help you take full advantage of your post-discharge fresh start.
The course itself only takes about 1–2 hours. Like the credit counseling course, it can be taken online, over the phone, or in person. If you were happy with the company you used to complete the first bankruptcy course, find out if it’s approved to offer the financial management course in New York as well. If so, you can go through them again for this second course. You may even be able to get a discount for taking both classes with them. If not, check out the list of providers approved to offer this course for New York bankruptcy cases.
You must complete this course within 60 days of filing your petition. Once you complete it, you’ll receive a certificate, which you have to submit to the court before you can get your bankruptcy discharge. If you don’t submit the certificate, the court can close your case without discharging your debts.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Everyone filing bankruptcy in New York has to attend a meeting of creditors. This is also known as the 341 meeting because that’s the section of the Bankruptcy Code that requires it. The same notice that has your trustee's contact information will also tell you the date and time of your 341 meeting. As a COVID-19 precaution, most 341 meetings are currently being held over the phone or by video.
It’s completely normal to feel nervous about your meeting, but these meetings are fairly routine. Your trustee will confirm your identity and ask you some questions about the information in your bankruptcy forms and about your general financial situation. You don’t need to do much to prepare, though it’s helpful to review all of the bankruptcy forms you filed with the court to refresh your memory before the meeting.
If you find yourself worried about what could go wrong, focus on the light at the end of the meeting tunnel: the discharge of your debts!
Deal With Your Car
Filing bankruptcy in New York gives you the opportunity to deal with your car in a way that makes sense for you. If you own your car outright, you can keep it so long as it’s covered by an exemption. Exemptions allow you to protect some of your property. (More on this later.) The motor vehicle exemption in New York is $4,000.
If you’re leasing your car and you’re current on your payments, you can keep the lease and keep driving the car. If you want don’t want to keep the lease or can’t afford to, you must return the car by “rejecting” the lease.
If you have a car loan and you’re struggling to make the payment every month and/or the balance you owe on the car loan far exceeds the actual value of your vehicle, it may make sense to give the vehicle back to the bank.
If you like your car, can afford the monthly payment, and don’t owe a lot more than your car is worth, it may make sense to keep everything the way it is by signing a reaffirmation agreement with the lender. Since this means that you’ll continue to be responsible for the full loan balance, you should only do this if the car is in decent condition and you can easily make the payment every month.
You’ll be able to buy a car after bankruptcy if you need to. But you may want to wait a while to give your credit time to recover. Waiting will give you a better shot at a good deal if you need financing.
New York Bankruptcy Means Test
The clean slate bankruptcy gives you is pretty amazing, but not everyone who wants to file a Chapter 7 in New York is eligible to do so. Under bankruptcy law, you have to pass a means test, which ensures that only folks who truly can’t pay even a portion of their debts are able to file bankruptcy.
This two-part test first compares your average income to the median income of a similar household in New York. If you’re below the applicable income limits for New York, you pass the means test. If your income is higher than the limit, you may still qualify for Chapter 7 based on your expenses and disposable income. That’s what the second part of the test looks at. If you don’t qualify for Chapter 7, you can look into filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for New York
New York Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for New York
New York 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 York Bankruptcy Forms
Since New York bankruptcy cases are filed in federal court, a majority of the New York bankruptcy forms are national forms used in bankruptcy cases across the United States. You can download every bankruptcy form for free as a fillable PDF.
Additionally, some of the bankruptcy districts in the Empire State have created certain local forms. These New York bankruptcy forms are available for download on the individual websites for the four districts.
|Northern District||Filing packet||online|
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New York Districts & Filing Requirements
New York is divided into four districts. Each district has slightly different filing requirements.
Northern District of New York Filing Requirements
The Northern District comprises the 32 counties in Upstate New York and is divided into three divisions headquartered in Albany, Utica, and Syracuse. The county you live in determines which divisional office your case will be assigned to. If you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York without a lawyer ("pro se") make sure to review this local rule on keeping the court up to date on your best contact information and providing a local (within the Northern District) address if needed.
The Northern Division accepts installment payments in increments of your choosing. You can pay by certified check or money order made out to the “Clerk, U. S. Bankruptcy Court.”
COVID-19-related updates can be found here.
Eastern District of New York Filing Requirements
If you live in the Eastern District, you can file your forms online or in person. As of May 2022, the court has implemented a new Electronic Self Representation System (eSR) that allows pro se filers to file online.
If you file in person make sure to bring a copy of your original bankruptcy forms to the court when you first file your case. The court requires two complete sets. If you’re missing any of the necessary bankruptcy documents when you submit your Voluntary Petition, you must include this affidavit when filing the remainder of your bankruptcy forms.
If you amend (change) your claimed exemptions after filing your case, the local rules in this district require you to send a copy of the amended Schedule C to your case trustee, the United States Trustee, and all of your creditors. Plus, the amendment is not effective until you file proof that you served all required parties, which must be done within seven days.
The Eastern Division accepts installment payments in increments of your choosing. You can pay by cash or money order made out to the “Clerk, U. S. Bankruptcy Court.” (Note: It must be a money order, personal and third-party checks are not accepted). Do not mail cash.
Southern District of New York Filing Requirements
The Southern District has jurisdiction over all New York bankruptcy cases filed by residents of the Bronx, Dutchess, New York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester counties, and has concurrent jurisdiction over Greene and Ulster counties. It has locations in Manhattan, Poughkeepsie, and White Plains.
If you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in this district, you have to submit your paycheck stubs from the 60 days before you filed your case to your case trustee by the date set for the first meeting of creditors, instead of filing them with the court.
The Southern Division accepts installment payments in increments of your choosing. You can pay by money order or cashier’s check made out to the “Clerk, USBC, SDNY.” Include your contact or case information in the memo section of the payment. Personal checks and cash are not accepted.
COVID-19-related updates can be found here.
Western District of New York Filing Requirements
The Western District of New York requires individuals who are filing Chapter 7 without an attorney to provide the court with three full copies of the petition in addition to the original signed copy when filing their case. It has offices in Buffalo and Rochester but holds 341 meetings in a variety of locations within the district.
If you have to update any information in your forms by filing an amendment, make sure to file this cover sheet along with the amended documents, and follow the instructions regarding service on the bottom of the form.
The Western Division accepts installment payments in increments of your choosing. You can pay by money order or cashier’s check made out to “Clerk, U. S. Bankruptcy Court.” The Buffalo location also accepts cash payments, but they must be in the exact amount.
COVID-19-related updates can be found here.
New York Bankruptcy Exemptions
The way bankruptcy is depicted in movies makes it seem like everything you own can be sold for the benefit of your creditors. In reality, exemptions protect what the law considers essential assets from liquidation (being sold). As long as the asset is covered by the exemptions you choose to use, you can keep it. For example, under one exemption scheme, you can exempt household goods including a computer, TV, musical instruments, wedding rings, etc. for $675 an item up to $13,400 total.
If you’ve lived in the Empire State for at least two years when you file bankruptcy, you’re able to choose either New York bankruptcy exemptions or federal bankruptcy exemptions to protect your property.
New York Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Since a bankruptcy petition is fairly routine, attorneys usually charge a flat fee for their services rather than billing by the hour. Hiring a New York bankruptcy lawyer will likely cost you somewhere between $965 and $1,550, which is higher than the national average. The cost depends on the complexity of your case.
There are many reasons to decide you want help from an attorney beyond cost. If you’re having a hard time managing your filing or maximizing the exemptions available to you, the attorney’s fee may be a good investment to protect your credit rating and essential property. Most attorneys will give you legal advice in a free consulation, which you can also use to see how well you work with them.
New York Legal Aid Organizations
New York legal aid organizations assist low-income New Yorkers with a variety of civil matters, including New York bankruptcy matters. If you’d really like an attorney’s help but paying for one is beyond your means, it’s worth exploring legal aid. You can seek assistance from either your district bankruptcy court (again, depending on where you live), or reach out to one of the organizations offering free legal aid in New York.
|District||Legal Clinic and Other Assistance Options|
|Northern District||Pro Se Clinics | Northern District of New York | United States Bankruptcy Court|
|Eastern District||Pro Bono (free) and Legal Services | Eastern District of New York | United States Bankruptcy Court|
|Southern District||New York Southern Bankruptcy Free Legal Clinic|
Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc.
268 Genesee Street, Utica, NY 13502
Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Inc.
95 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12206
Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.
361 South Main Street, Geneva, NY 14456
Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, Inc.
One Helen Keller Way, 5th Floor, Hempstead, NY 11550
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
New York Court Locations
United States Courthouse
355 Main Street Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building
100 State Street Rochester, NY 14614
James T. Foley United States Courthouse
445 Broadway Albany, NY 12207
Alexander Pirnie Federal Building
10 Broad Street Utica, NY 13501
James M. Hanley Federal Building
100 South Clinton Street Syracuse, NY 13261
300 Pearl Street Buffalo, NY 14202
Alexander Hamilton Custom House
One Bowling Green New York, NY 10004
Charles L. Brieant, Jr. United States Courthouse
300 Quarropas Street White Plains, NY 10601
Conrad B. Duberstein United States Bankruptcy Courthouse
271-C Cadman Plaza East Brooklyn, NY 11201
Alfonse M. D'Amato United States Courthouse
Federal Plaza Central Islip, NY 11722
New York Judges
New York Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of New York||Hon. Carla E. Craig|
|Eastern District of New York||Hon. Robert E. Grossman|
|Eastern District of New York||Hon. Nancy Hershey Lord|
|Eastern District of New York||Hon. Louis A. Scarcella|
|Eastern District of New York||Hon. Elizabeth S. Stong|
|Eastern District of New York||Hon. Alan S. Trust|
|Northern District of New York||Hon. Margaret Ruiz|
|Northern District of New York||Hon. Robert E. Littlefield|
|Northern District of New York||Hon. Diane Davis|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Cecelia G. Morris|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Stuart M. Bernstein|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Shelley C. Chapman|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Robert D. Drain|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. James L. Garrity Jr.|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Martin Glenn|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Robert E. Grossman|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Sean H. Lane|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Mary Kay Vyskocil|
|Southern District of New York||Hon. Michael E. Wiles|
|Western District of New York||Hon. Carl L. Bucki|
|Western District of New York||Hon. Michael J. Kaplan|
|Western District of New York||Hon. Paul R. Warren|
New York Trustees
New York Trustees
|R. Kenneth Barnard|
|David J. Doyaga|
|Lori Lapin Jones|
|Kenneth I. Kirschenbaum|
|Paul I. Krohn|
|Richard J. McCord|
|Allan B. Mendelsohn|
|Gregory M. Messer|
|Robert J. Musso|
|John S. Pereira|
|Marc A. Pergament|
|Robert L. Pryor|
|Kenneth P. Silverman|
|Richard L. Stern|
|Andrew M. Thaler|
|James C. Collinsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Philip J. Danaher|
|Christian H. Dribuschemail@example.com|
|Marc S. Ehrlich|
|Mary Lannon Fangio|
|Thomas P. Hughes|
|William J. Leberman|
|Paul A. Levine|
|William M. McCarthy|
|Michael J. O'Connor|
|Randy J. Schaal|
|Douglas J. Wolinskyfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Ian J. Gazes||Ian@GazesLLC.com|
|Robert L. Geltzer|
|Howard P. Magaliff|
|Gregory M. Messer|
|Marianne T. O'Toole|
|John S. Pereira|
|Deborah J. Piazza|
|Kenneth P. Silverman|
|Angela G. Tese-Milner|
|Mark S. Tulis|
|Michael H. Arnold|
|Daniel Evans Brick|
|Wendy J. Christophersen|
|Thomas A. Doreyemail@example.com|
|Kenneth W. Gordon|
|Morris L. Horwitzfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Douglas J. Lustig|
|Mark J. Schlant|
|Mark S. Wallachemail@example.com|