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How to File Bankruptcy for Free in New York

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In a Nutshell

10 step guide on how to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York without a lawyer. This guide provides an overview of the bankruptcy process for filers seeking debt relief in the New York Bankruptcy Court.

Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.  
Updated October 9, 2021

Whether you live in the city or elsewhere in the Empire State, worrying about your debt load can be a significant burden on you and your family. Even though New York is home to some of the more spectacular bankruptcy cases, such as the case filed by the Lehman Brothers following its collapse in 2008, or the Texaco bankruptcy filed in 1987, it's important to understand that bankruptcy protection is available to all New Yorkers who are struggling financially. 

Although it may feel like you are giving up if you take advantage of the protections the bankruptcy laws offer, you should not look at it this way. Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York may be the most responsible option for you, your family, and your creditors, who are otherwise just competing with one another over money you can't afford to pay them. 

How to File Bankruptcy in New York for Free

Not everyone who needs to file bankruptcy can afford to hire a bankruptcy lawyer. The good news is, you don’t have to. What follows is a guide on how to prepare to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York. This option is not right for everyone, but if you don’t have any expensive property and your income is below a certain amount, you can absolutely do this on your own! 

Collect Your New York Bankruptcy Documents

The first step in preparing to file is to collect your bankruptcy documents. These are the documents you’ll need to fill out your bankruptcy petition. To make sure that you properly schedule all of your debts, get a copy of your credit report from each one of the three credit bureaus. You’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each one of them every year. Additionally, you should also collect all collection notices and letters you’ve received in the last 90 days from debt collectors and collection agencies as some of them may not yet appear on your credit report. 

You’ll also need your two most recent income tax returns as filed with the IRS and each paycheck stub you received in the last 6 months. Since your bank statements will prove useful in creating your budget for your life after filing Chapter 7 in New York, you should collect at least the two most recent ones for each one of your accounts.

Take Credit Counseling

One of the requirements everyone filing bankruptcy has to meet is completion of a credit counseling course. This course takes about 1 - 2 hours and can be taken online, by phone, or, depending on where you live, in person. The company you use to complete this requirement must be pre-approved to offer it in New York State. The Office of the United States Trustee handles the approval process, and publishes a current listing of all approved providers on their website.

It can be completed at any point in the 6 months before your bankruptcy filing. Once done, you’ll receive a certificate of completion to submit to the bankruptcy court along with the rest of your bankruptcy forms.

Complete the Bankruptcy Forms

This is probably the most technical part of any bankruptcy filing. If you’re eligible to file through Upsolve, we will handle the technical parts after collecting all of the necessary information from you. If you’re thinking of completing the forms on your own without anyone's help, make sure to download and review the 49 page instructions manualfor important information about each one of the bankruptcy forms. 

Of course, if you hire a bankruptcy lawyer they’ll do the heavy lifting in drafting all your bankruptcy forms based on the information you provide to their office. Regardless of which process you choose, make sure to take your time and be diligent and thorough in answering all of the questions. You will be signing these documents under penalty of perjury before they’re filed with the court, and errors or omissions can delay or even prevent the entry of your discharge.

Get Your Filing Fee

The court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $338. If you are not eligible to apply for a fee waiver, but are having a hard time coming up with the fee all at once while creditors are still able to collect from you, you can file an application to pay the court filing fee in installments. This will allow you to get your bankruptcy case filed, and immediately initiates the automatic stay which prohibits your creditors from taking any further action against you. 

If you can, you should pay the full fee at the time your case is filed to eliminate the risk of dismissal. The best payment method, accepted at all New York State bankruptcy courts, is a money order. You can purchase a money order for $1.25 at a U.S. Post Office near you.

If you have a bankruptcy lawyer assisting you, they’ll review the information with you and show you where to sign, then submit everything with the bankruptcy court via the court's electronic filing system. If you’re without a lawyer, you unfortunately can’t use the electronic filing system and have to submit a paper version of your bankruptcy forms to the court. To make sure you don't miss anything, it's a great idea to print a checklist like this one to keep you organized as you go through everything. 

If you are in the Western District of New York, you have to bring three copies in addition to your original bankruptcy forms to the court. You can either print everything four times, or, better yet, print everything once, sign where necessary then make four copies; three to file with the court and one to keep for your own records. 

Folks in the Eastern District are required to bring one original and one copy to the court . If you are filing in either the Northern or Southern Districts, only your original is needed, but it's a good idea to call the clerk's office before heading down there to confirm that this is accurate. Either way, you should have a hardcopy of everything you give to the bankruptcy court for your own records, so you can refer to it later if needed.

Go to Court to File Your Forms

The county you live in determines which district your New York bankruptcy will be filed in. 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 alternative filing options. So, before you make the trip to the courthouse, make sure to check what your court is doing

Mail Documents to Your Trustee

You will receive the name and contact information for your bankruptcy trustee a few days after your bankruptcy case is filed. The trustee's job is to administer your case, make sure that you’re not hiding anything, and review the circumstances surrounding your case to determine whether your creditors are entitled to a disbursement. Even though your tax returns are not actually filed with the court, you must provide a copy of your most recent federal income tax return to the bankruptcy trustee

Additionally, some trustees mail out a letter requesting certain other documents, such as paycheck stubs and bank account statements. Keep an eye out for any such request from your trustee and make sure you follow the instructions provided with respect to how and when to submit everything to the trustee's office.

Take Bankruptcy Course 2

You took a credit counseling course before your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York was filed in order to be eligible to be a debtor in bankruptcy. Now that your case has been filed, you have to take bankruptcy course 2 in order to be eligible to receive your bankruptcy discharge. This course focuses on financial management tools and aims to help folks filing bankruptcy in New York take full advantage of their fresh start, while managing their finances responsibly. 

The course itself only takes about 1 - 2 hours and, as before, 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, you should find out if they are approved to offer the financial management course to folks filing bankruptcy in New York as well. If so, you can go through them again for this second course and 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 published by the Office of the United States Trustee.

Attend Your 341 Meeting

Everyone filing bankruptcy in New York has to attend a meeting of creditors, often referred to as the 341 meeting because that’s the section of the Bankruptcy Code that requires it. You’ll find out the date and time your meeting will take place on the same notice that has your trustee's contact information. As a COVID-19 precaution, most 341 meetings are being done over the phone or by video at the moment.  

The trustee that is handling your case will be asking you some questions about the information contained in your bankruptcy forms and your financial situation generally. Not much preparation is needed, though it is helpful to review all of the bankruptcy forms you filed with the court to refresh your memory before the meeting.

Dealing with Your Car

Unless you happen to live in New York City, chances are you need your car to get around, whether that's to and from work, school, the grocery store or wherever. Filing bankruptcy in New York gives you the opportunity to deal with your car in a way that makes sense for you. If you’re struggling to make the payment every month and/or the balance owing 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 and the loan makes sense both in terms of your ability to make the monthly payments and the balance left owing, you can keep everything the way it is by entering into reaffirmation agreement. Since this means that you’ll continue to be responsible for the full balance left on the loan, you should only do this if the car is in decent condition and you can make the payment every month without problem. 

If you own your car outright, then everything stays the same as long as the available exemption is high enough to cover its full value.

New York Bankruptcy Means Test

Not everyone who wants to file a Chapter 7 in New York is actually eligible to do so under the New York bankruptcy means test. The means test calculation is necessary is to ensure that only folks that truly can’t pay even a portion of their debts are able to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. If you’re below the applicable income limits for New York, you pass the means test, meaning you are eligible to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York. If your income is higher than what is allowed, you may nevertheless qualify for Chapter 7 after completing part two of the New York means test for bankruptcy.

Data on Median income levels for New York

New York Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2022
Household SizeMonthly IncomeAnnual Income

Data on Poverty levels for New York

New York Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2022

Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.

Household SizeState Poverty LevelFee 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. While the clerk's office may not be able to provide you with the official forms, you can download each one of them, for free, as a fillable PDF. Additionally, each one of the bankruptcy districts in the Empire State has created certain local forms for use in cases filed within each district. These New York bankruptcy forms are available for download on the individual web pages for the four districts.

Eastern District of New York Requirements

If you live in this district, make sure to bring a copy of your original bankruptcy forms to the court when first filing your case as two complete sets of everything are needed. If you don’t file all of the bankruptcy documents needed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York at the time you file your Voluntary Petition, you must include this affidavit when filing the remainder of your bankruptcy forms. 

In response to COVID-19, this district is making an online portal to submit documents available to folks filing without an attorney. You can access the portal here

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 7 days. 

Northern District of New York Requirements

The Northern District comprises the 32 counties in Upstate New York and is divided into three divisions, headquartered in Albany, Utica and Syracuse, respectively. The county you live in determines which divisional office your case will be assigned to. If you are filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York without a lawyer ("pro se") make sure to review this local rule.

Southern District of New York Requirements

This 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 and is currently handling 90 so-called mega cases

This district requires individuals filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York to submit all paycheck stubs received within the 60 days before their case was filed to their case trustee by the date set for the first meeting of creditors, instead of filing them with the court.

Western District of New York Requirements

The Western District of New York is one of the few districts in the nation that requires people filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York without an attorney ("pro se") to provide the court three full copies of all bankruptcy forms in addition to the original signed forms upon 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 coversheet along with the amended documents, and follow the instructions regarding service on the bottom of the form.

New York Bankruptcy Exemptions

Everything you own is considered an asset in your New York bankruptcy, though only assets not protected by any of the available exemptions can be sold for the benefit of your creditors. As long as all of your assets are covered by the exemptions you choose to use, you can keep everything. If you have lived in the Empire State for at least 2 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

Hiring a New York bankruptcy lawyer will likely cost you somewhere between $965 and $1,550, which is higher than the national average. Keep in mind, however, if you’re having a hard time lining up the assets in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York with the exemptions available to you, the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer may be a good investment to protect as much of your property as the New York bankruptcy laws allow.

If hiring a lawyer to help you with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York is simply not something you can afford, you can seek assistance from one of the organizations offering free legal aid in New York. Since the law only entitles people dealing with a criminal matter to free legal representation, New York legal aid organizations assist low-income New Yorkers with a variety of civil matters, including New York bankruptcy matters.

Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc.
(315) 793-7000
268 Genesee Street, Utica, NY 13502

Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Inc.
(518) 462-6765
95 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12206

Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.
(315) 781-1465
361 South Main Street, Geneva, NY 14456

Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, Inc.
(516) 292-8100
One Helen Keller Way, 5th Floor, Hempstead, NY 11550

Nationwide Service (NYC Office)

New York Court Locations

Conrad B. Duberstein United States Bankruptcy Courthouse

Conrad B. Duberstein United States Bankruptcy Courthouse
271-C Cadman Plaza East Brooklyn, NY 11201

Alfonse M. D'Amato United States Courthouse

Alfonse M. D'Amato United States Courthouse
Federal Plaza Central Islip, NY 11722

Alexander Hamilton Custom House

Alexander Hamilton Custom House
One Bowling Green New York, NY 10004

Charles L. Brieant, Jr. United States Courthouse

Charles L. Brieant, Jr. United States Courthouse
300 Quarropas Street White Plains, NY 10601

United States Courthouse

United States Courthouse
355 Main Street Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

Olympic Towers

Olympic Towers
300 Pearl Street Buffalo, NY 14202

Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building

Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building
100 State Street Rochester, NY 14614

James M. Hanley Federal Building

James M. Hanley Federal Building
100 South Clinton Street Syracuse, NY 13261

Alexander Pirnie Federal Building

Alexander Pirnie Federal Building
10 Broad Street Utica, NY 13501

James T. Foley United States Courthouse

James T. Foley United States Courthouse
445 Broadway Albany, NY 12207

New York Judges

New York Bankruptcy Judges
DistrictJudge Name
Eastern District of New YorkHon. Carla E. Craig
Eastern District of New YorkHon. Robert E. Grossman
Eastern District of New YorkHon. Nancy Hershey Lord
Eastern District of New YorkHon. Louis A. Scarcella
Eastern District of New YorkHon. Elizabeth S. Stong
Eastern District of New YorkHon. Alan S. Trust
Northern District of New YorkHon. Margaret Ruiz
Northern District of New YorkHon. Robert E. Littlefield
Northern District of New YorkHon. Diane Davis
Southern District of New YorkHon. Cecelia G. Morris
Southern District of New YorkHon. Stuart M. Bernstein
Southern District of New YorkHon. Shelley C. Chapman
Southern District of New YorkHon. Robert D. Drain
Southern District of New YorkHon. James L. Garrity Jr.
Southern District of New YorkHon. Martin Glenn
Southern District of New YorkHon. Robert E. Grossman
Southern District of New YorkHon. Sean H. Lane
Southern District of New YorkHon. Mary Kay Vyskocil
Southern District of New YorkHon. Michael E. Wiles
Western District of New YorkHon. Carl L. Bucki
Western District of New YorkHon. Michael J. Kaplan
Western District of New YorkHon. Paul R. Warren

New York Trustees

New York Trustees
TrusteeContact Info
R. Kenneth Barnard
(516) 809-9397
David J. Doyaga
(718) 488-7500
Lori Lapin Jones
(516) 466-4110
Kenneth I. Kirschenbaum
Debra Kramer
(516) 482-6300
Paul I. Krohn
Richard J. McCord
Allan B. Mendelsohn
Gregory M. Messer
Robert J. Musso
Alan Nisselson
John S. Pereira
Marc A. Pergament
Robert L. Pryor
Kenneth P. Silverman
Richard L. Stern
Andrew M. Thaler
(516) 279-6700
James C. Collinscollinslawoffice@aol.com
Philip J. Danaher
Christian H. Dribuschcdribusch@chdlaw.net
(518) 729-4331
Marc S. Ehrlich
Mary Lannon Fangio
Thomas P. Hughes
William J. Leberman
(315) 478-1334
Paul A. Levine
William M. McCarthy
Michael J. O'Connor
Randy J. Schaal
Douglas J. Wolinskydwolinsky@ppelaw.com
Ian J. GazesIan@GazesLLC.com
(646) 662-0626
Robert L. Geltzer
Yann Geron
(212) 209-3050
Salvatore LaMonica
(516) 826-6500
Howard P. Magaliff
(646) 453-7851
Jil Mazer-Marinojmazermarino@msek.com
(516) 741-6565
Gregory M. Messer
Alan Nisselson
Marianne T. O'Toole
(914) 232-1511
John S. Pereira
Deborah J. Piazza
(212) 216-1140
Kenneth P. Silverman
Fred Stevensfstevens@klestadt.com
(212) 679-5342
Angela G. Tese-Milner
(212) 475-3673
Albert Togut
Mark S. Tulis
(914) 747-4400
Michael H. Arnold
(585) 295-4310
Daniel Evans Brick
Wendy J. Christophersen
(716) 852-7373
Thomas A. Doreytdorey@stny.rr.com
(716) 763-7023
Kenneth W. Gordon
Morris L. Horwitzmorris.horwitz@gmail.com
Douglas J. Lustig
Mark J. Schlant
Mark S. Wallachmswtrustee@gmail.com

Written By:

Attorney Andrea Wimmer


Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families who cannot afford lawyers file bankruptcy for free, using an online web app. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations. It's one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our time that low-income families can’t access their basic rights when they can’t afford to pay for help. Combining direct services and advocacy, we’re fighting this injustice.

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