Written by Attorney Jamie Lee Ruiz.
Updated July 27, 2020
Living in Buffalo, New York, you’re probably all too familiar with the 3 B’s - Bisons, Bandits, and Bills. I’m sure that bankruptcy is a B word you’d never thought to include in that list. Bankruptcy has become sort of a bad word in the financial and legal world; quite frankly, it could “make you wanna shout.” But truly, filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo can be a fresh start for you. Bankruptcy is a powerful tool for folks who can’t afford to pay their debts due to no fault of their own. Bankruptcy has shed its negative stigma and taken on a more positive reputation in recent years. Did you know that if you file for bankruptcy you can be relieved of most, if not all of your unsecured debt? Did you also know that bankruptcy doesn’t ruin your credit forever, and can actually help you improve your credit faster? If you didn’t, keep reading. A discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows those with too much debt to be relieved of those debts and start building their credit from scratch. Shortly after filing bankruptcy in Buffalo, you can start to rebuild your credit score and practice healthy financial habits to prevent debt in the future.
There are two types of bankruptcies available to the typical consumer like you and me. Chapter 7 is geared to lower-income candidates who can’t pay back their debt because they don’t make enough money and have overwhelming monthly expenses. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is geared towards individuals with a higher income who can pay back some of their debt, just not all of it. Those who file Chapter 13 bankruptcy will pay back a portion of what owe through a payment plan set up by them and approved by the Chapter 13 Trustee and the Court. Once the payment plan has been completed after 3 - 5 years, whatever did not get paid is discharged as part of the Chapter 13 case.
If Chapter 7 bankruptcy seems like the right fit for you, there is good news! If you truly need to, you can file bankruptcy totally free! This guide will give you the knowledge you need to file bankruptcy in Buffalo on your own for no cost. In as little as 4 to 6 months you can be on your way to achieving a fresh start for you and your family.
Buffalo Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process can be daunting, especially if you don’t have the resources to find the right forms. No need to sweat it! Following the steps provided in this guide can help you file for bankruptcy solo for free. However, if the process gets too overwhelming, it may be best to consult a Buffalo bankruptcy attorney. If you can afford it, a bankruptcy attorney is a great investment for a couple of reasons. First, a bankruptcy attorney is familiar with all the forms and processes associated with filing bankruptcy in Buffalo. They know the ins and outs of the Bankruptcy Court and have appeared before the judges and Trustees. Second, they will provide guidance to you every step of the way; you can ask questions and receive support from your attorney so that you don’t have to go at it alone. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Buffalo ranges from $965 to $1,550. This typically does not include the $335 filing fee and any other associated costs. The good news is that meeting with your bankruptcy attorney for the first time is typically free. Bankruptcy lawyers know that their clients need help and understand that funds are limited. In the initial meeting, the attorney will learn more about your debts, your income, and any property you own. In turn you should ask the attorney some of the following questions:
What chapter bankruptcy should I file?
Will I have to pay any of my debts back?
Will I have to sell any of my property?
What work does your fee include?
A bankruptcy attorney can be a great resource because they are well-versed in local and national bankruptcy laws. But, if hiring a bankruptcy attorney is simply not in your budget, know that you can receive free legal help in filing for bankruptcy protection.
How to File Bankruptcy in Buffalo, New York for Free
Filing bankruptcy in Buffalo is a 4 to 6 month process in a typical Chapter 7. In addition to filing the appropriate forms with the Court, you will have to take two financial courses before and after your bankruptcy is filed to educate yourself on options to deal with your debt and learn healthy financial practices. Once your forms have been filed with the Court and reviewed by the Trustee, there is typically only one Court appearance you will have to makeーthe 341 Meeting, which we will talk about just a little later in this Guide. If all goes smoothly, you’ll be on your way to a discharge and a debt free life after that!
Collect Your Buffalo Bankruptcy Documents
Luckily, all the forms you will need to file your Buffalo bankruptcy are available for free online. In addition to the voluntary petition and the bankruptcy schedules, you will also need to provide a certificate of completion of the credit counseling course and a list of people that you owe and their addresses (this is referred to as the creditor matrix), among other forms. In a lot of cases, you have all the information you need to fill out these forms either at home or online. Some helpful resources you may already have are your pay stubs, bills, bank statements, and income tax returns. If you don’t have your pay stubs from the last couple of months anymore, you can check with your employer or your employer’s payroll servicer. If you don’t have your income tax returns you can request make a paper or online request by visiting the IRS website. It’s also helpful to request a copy of your credit reportand get your bank statements from the last two years; you may need them later.
Take Credit Counseling
The credit counseling course is the first of two courses you must take in order to complete your Buffalo bankruptcy. This first course, the credit counseling course, is approved by the United States Trustee’s office and is a part of the requirements for filing for bankruptcy. This educational course will provide you with information about options for dealing with your debt. You can take the course in-person, online, or by phone. If you prefer to take the course in person, the nearest approved course is Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, Inc. located at 308 W. Ferry in Buffalo. The course will last approximately 1 hour. Once you have completed the course, you will receive a certificate of completion. For good measure, make a copy for your records and prepare to submit the original to the Court when you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
When you are completing the bankruptcy forms needed to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo, keep this in mind: you are telling the Court your financial story. The Trusteeand the Court don’t know you and it’s important to give them a complete and accurate picture of what you’re going through. The forms will ask you everything about your current financial situation - your debts, who you owe, what type of debts they are, your income, your expenses and what property you own. For your convenience you can fill out the bankruptcy forms on your computer and make any changes you want before filing them with the Court. It’s always good to review you forms for accuracy after filling them out. The most common mistake in filling out the forms is not providing all of the requested information or only painting half a picture with the information you do provide . It’s super easy to forget a temp job you worked or a bill for an overnight stay at a hospital. Try to be as inclusive as you can and your experience in filing bankruptcy in Buffalo will be less stressful for it.
Get Your Filing Fee
The cost to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo is $335. The filing fee is the same for those filing as an individual or those filing with their spouse. If you can’t afford the filing fee, you have options. The first is to file an application for a fee waiver. The fee waiver application will ask you about your income and expenses, much like Bankruptcy Schedules I and J respectively, and then a judge will determine if your fee should be waived. Alternatively, a judge can deny your fee waiver application and propose an installment payment schedule instead. If you don’t qualify for a fee waiver, but can’t pay it all at once , you can make an application to pay the fee in installments after filing bankruptcy in Buffalo, once the automatic stay is in effect.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
When it comes time to print your Buffalo bankruptcy forms, it’s recommended that you print two sets of forms: one to give to the Court, and one for your own records. A tip for printing would be to print one set of forms and sign where necessary, then make a copy of that set. It’s also good to have a set for your records as well. Also know that your forms must be one sided. If you don’t have a printer at home, consider using a friend or family member’s printer but make sure to bring the paper, as it’s quite a few pages. If that’s not an option, you can also visit the public libraries in Buffalo or check out a local Office Depot or similar store that offers printing services.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
When your Buffalo bankruptcy forms have been printed and are in their final form, it’s time to go to Court and file them. The courthouse you will file your forms in is located at 2 Niagara Square, Buffalo. By filing your forms with the Court, you make your case official and start the bankruptcy process. When you arrive at the courthouse, you will need to go through security, which includes metal detectors and a possible search by federal marshals. Note that electronics, such as cell phones or laptop computers are not allowed in the courthouse and have to be checked at security upon entering. You can retrieve your electronics when you leave the courthouse. Once past security, you will go to the bankruptcy clerk's office to file your forms. One of the advantages of filing bankruptcy in Buffalo in person is that the clerk will quickly review your forms to check if you are missing a form or signature. This saves you an unnecessary trip back to the courthouse later, because you can fix it right then and there. Generally, the courthouse is open from 9 AM to 5 PM and closed on weekends and federal holidays. When you go to Court it’s best to dress business casual.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The Trustee is somewhat of a representative for the Court and your unsecured creditors. They will be the person in charge of reviewing your Buffalo bankruptcy documents, conducting your 341 meeting, retrieving any funds recently paid to those you owe, and selling any unprotected property you may have to satisfy your debts. In advance of your 341 meeting, the Trustee will need the following documents: your pay stubs, recent bank statements, and your income tax returns. It’s best to get these documents to the Trustee at least 7 days before your 341 meeting to allow the Trustee time to review and verify any information contained in the forms. If you need to contact your Trustee, it’s best to check on the US Trustee's website for their contact information. The Trustee will typically let you know what and how to send it a couple of weeks after filing bankruptcy in Buffalo.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
The second course you will need to take can only be taken after you file bankruptcy in Buffalo. This is the financial management course. This course will help prepare you for life after your New York bankruptcy by instilling healthy financial habits so that you may never find yourself in serious debt again. As with the credit counseling course, you can take the financial management course in person, by phone, or online. The course must be approved by the US Trustee's office and often times the servicer that offered your credit counseling course will also offer the financial management course. As with the pre-bankruptcy course, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, Inc. is approved to offer this course, and holds it in-person in their 308 W. Ferry, Buffalo, New York.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is most likely the only Court appearance you will need to make after filing bankruptcy in Buffalo. It’s typically held in the same courthouse you filed your bankruptcy forms, but, in Buffalo, there are various locations, and your meeting location depends on where your Trustee conducts the meetings. You will need to check with your Trustee to confirm the location. At your 341 meeting, you will meet with the Trustee to discuss your Buffalo bankruptcy forms, answer any questions the Trustee may have, and possibly answer questions any creditors may have. The people you owe have a legal right to show up at the 341 meeting and ask you questions about the information you've provided in your bankruptcy forms. It’s extremely rare that that happens. Others who have filed for bankruptcy, their attorneys, if they have one, and possibly the general public will also be present for your 341 meeting.
When you are called to meet with the Trustee, they will ask you to verify your identity by showing your driver's license and original social security card. After going over some ground rules, the Trustee will ask you any questions they have about your bankruptcy forms. You’ll also have the opportunity to address anything you have not included in the forms when first filing bankruptcy in Buffalo. This meeting should take no longer than 10 to 15 minutes depending on the number of questions the Trustee has for you. You should dress business casual for this meeting and avoid any fancy jewelry or flashy clothes.
Dealing with Your Car
Dealing with your car can be the most stressful part of the bankruptcy process and poses the most questions for people filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo. If you own your car, you will have to determine what your car is worth, and if the exemptions (state or federal) protect your car. In New York, you can protect up to $4,550 of equity in your car. If you have an outstanding loan on your car, you have a few options to address the loan. You can enter into a reaffirmation agreement, where you agree to keep making payments on your loan and keep the car. But, if you fail to make the agreed-upon payments the car will be repossessed, and you’ll still be responsible for the loan balance. You can also redeem your car, which means that you can buy out your car for its value, and be cleared of the outstanding loan by your New York bankruptcy. Lastly, you can surrender your car if the value of the loan outweighs the value of the car and/or you can’t make the monthly payments anymore. For example, if you owe $20,000 on your loan, and your car is worth only $5,000, it may be best to give it back and discharge the loan.
New York Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Buffalo
New York Means Test
The New York bankruptcy Means Test is by far the trickiest form of all the Buffalo bankruptcy forms. But don’t let this form get you hot like Gabriel Gate’s wings! The Means Test exists to determine if, all things considered (your income, expenses, and your debts), it would be possible for you to pay at least some of your debts. The Means Test uses the median income for your family size as an initial gauge. If you make less than the median income for your family size in your state, you pass the New York bankruptcy Means Test and don’t have to fill out any additional forms to show that you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo.
Median Income Levels for New York
New York Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Poverty Levels for New York
New York 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 York Bankruptcy Forms
Some of the most significant information is contained in the bankruptcy schedules of the New York bankruptcy forms. For instance, Schedule I will be the place where you list your income. This form will come in handy when filling out your fee waiver application and possibly even the Means Test. Schedule J, where you list your expenses, will likely also come in handy when filling out the fee waiver application and the Means Test. The hardest part about filling out your Buffalo bankruptcy forms is being complete, so make sure to take your time and be thorough when completing them.
New York Exemptions
New York bankruptcy exemptions are designed to allow you to live with dignity and grace while going through the bankruptcy process and afterwards. Bankruptcy exemptions allow you to keep property you need in your daily life, like your car and home. The bankruptcy exemptions fall under state and federal law, and it’s up to you to decide which exemptions will be most advantageous. You can only choose one set of exemptions, and those filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Buffalo may find that the state exemptions are a bit more generous. Federal bankruptcy exemptions are still available if you feel those match up better with your property.