How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Ohio
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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 Eva Bacevice.
Updated April 4, 2022
The decision to file bankruptcy often comes after a person spends several years struggling under the weight of unmanageable debt. This is because bankruptcy is often viewed as a last resort — something to be avoided at all costs. This perception can cause a lot of mental anguish. It’s unfortunate because the bankruptcy process actually reduces stress for many people by eliminating wage garnishments, debt lawsuits, and the constant harassment of creditor letters and phone calls.
The Buckeye State is the seventh most populous state in the United States. Ohio has many large cities, meaning that Ohioans seeking a fresh start through bankruptcy can choose among many bankruptcy attorneys. For simple Chapter 7 cases, however, an attorney isn’t necessary.
How to File Bankruptcy in Ohio for Free
If you’re thinking about filing bankruptcy, one of the first things you need to decide is whether you need or want a lawyer to help you. Lawyers are usually the most expensive cost of filing bankruptcy, but they’re not necessary in a lot of situations. This guide will show you how to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy without hiring an attorney.
Collect Your Ohio Bankruptcy Documents
Filing bankruptcy requires you to collect a lot of financial documents. You’ll be required to submit some of these documents when you file your case, like your last two years of tax returns, your last 60 days of pay stubs, and any statements showing bank account balances on your filing date.
Other documents are helpful to have during the bankruptcy process, but you don’t have to have to submit them to the court. Those documents include creditor statements, bills, letters from collection agencies or debt collectors, and bank statements from the last six to 12 months. You can use the bank statements to help determine your average monthly living expenses.
You’ll need to list all of your creditors on your bankruptcy forms. This includes the names and addresses of everyone you owe, as well as the amount you owe. You’ll list:
Your secured debts, like mortgages and car loans.
Your unsecured debts, like credit cards, medical bills, and student loans.
Your priority unsecured debts, like alimony, child support, and tax debts. Priority unsecured debt and student loans usually don’t get discharged in bankruptcy, but you still need to list them in your schedules.
You should get a copy of your credit report to help you with your creditor list. You’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies every 12 months. Bankruptcy attorneys will usually pull your credit report for you. If you use Upsolve’s filing tool, our software will pull a credit report for you. Be sure to treat your credit report as extra information because not all debt gets reported to the credit reporting agencies.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
It’s extremely important that you complete a credit counseling course within 180 days before your case is filed. You usually take the course online or by telephone. You have to take the course from a state-approved provider.
The fee to take the course is typically less than $50. You can apply for an income-based fee waiver when you sign up if you can’t afford to pay it. You’ll get a certificate of completion after you complete the course. You need to submit that certificate to the court at the same time you submit your bankruptcy petition. The court will dismiss your case if you don’t.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The main forms used in bankruptcy filings are federal and the same nationwide. These forms are available as fillable and printable PDFs free of charge from USCOURTS.gov.
Bankruptcy attorneys usually give their clients a bankruptcy questionnaire, and then either the attorney or their staff complete the bankruptcy forms using the client’s responses. Upsolve users complete an online questionnaire, and then Upsolve’s software fills in the forms based on the user’s input.
Get Your Filing Fee
There’s a filing fee of $338 to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You can apply for a fee waiver if your income is less than 150% of the poverty guidelines in Ohio (see the table for Ohio Fee Waiver Eligibility below). The court must approve your waiver request. If the court denies your request, you can apply to pay in installments.
If you can’t afford to pay the full fee at once and need to file quickly, you can request to pay the filing fee in four installments. For example, if you’ve got a creditor garnishing your paychecks, you may want to file quickly to get the benefit of the automatic stay. This is a protection under the Bankruptcy Code that puts a stop to wage garnishment and other collection actions as soon as you file your bankruptcy case. There’s no minimum first installment amount, but the court can reject your proposed payment plan if it’s unreasonable. Also, the court can dismiss your case if you miss or are late with an installment payment.
If they do, you’re not entitled to a refund. That's why, if you don’t need to file quickly, it’s usually best to wait until you can pay the fee in full. This way you don’t risk the court dismissing your case for nonpayment.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
You’ll need to print your completed bankruptcy forms on regular letter-size (8 ½ x 11-inch) paper. Use black ink and print on white paper. The court won’t accept duplex or double-sided pages, so make sure to print on only one side of the page. Also, don’t use a hole punch on your papers or staple them together. Be sure to print out every required form, especially if you’re printing your paperwork in sections, and sign wherever there’s a signature space.
If an attorney files your case, the attorney will probably have you sign the forms in their office. Your attorney will then electronically file your case and pay the court’s fee online. People using Upsolve receive their forms in a downloadable packet with markers showing where to sign.
File Your Forms With the Ohio Bankruptcy Court
The Ohio Bankruptcy Court is broken into two districts: the Northern District and the Southern District. In both districts, only lawyers can file bankruptcies electronically. You can file in person in both districts, as long as you show valid identification. Depending on which district you’re filing in, you may be able to mail your bankruptcy paperwork to the court clerk. Delivery options may change due to COVID-19, so before you submit your paperwork check the court’s website or call the clerk to confirm.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The court will quickly assign a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee to your case and schedule your meeting of creditors (also called a 341 meeting) after you file. You must send your trustee certain documents at least seven days before the 341 meeting. It’s a good idea to contact your trustee right after you file to ask what documents are needed, even though many trustees will send out a letter telling you this information. Because of the strict deadlines involved in bankruptcies, it’s better to play it safe and avoid mistakes.
The Southern District requires you to send to the trustee your paystubs from the 60 days before filing. In both districts, you should plan on sending those pay stubs, two months of statements for all your financial accounts, copies of your two most recent tax returns, and any certificates of title. Make sure that your most recent bank statements cover the date you filed for bankruptcy since these prove the balance you reported on your bankruptcy schedules. You must comply with the trustee’s reasonable requests for additional documents.
Take a Debtor Education Course
After sending your documents to the trustee, you should take your second required course — a financial management course. This course will help you successfully manage your finances after bankruptcy. You’ll need to send the certificate of completion for this course to the court within the 60 days of your 341 meeting, or your debts won’t be eligible for discharge. Just like the credit counseling course, the financial management course must be from an approved provider.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is called the meeting of creditors because your creditors can attend. Usually, though, the meeting is just with your trustee. The trustee will confirm your identity, review your paperwork, and ask you questions based on your paperwork. All 341 meetings in Ohio are currently held by phone because of COVID-19, but this hasn’t been implemented permanently.
The Northern District of Ohio doesn’t specify documents that you must bring to a 341 meeting. However, you should plan on bringing your identification, proof of your Social Security number (usually just your Social Security card), your paystubs from the 60 days before filing, and all financial statements that cover your filing date.
The Southern District of Ohio’s local rules require that you bring the following documents to your 341 meeting:
Title documents for all real estate and vehicles;
Personal property leases;
Closing statements for any real estate transferred within the year before filing;
An appraisal or tax assessment showing your real estate’s value;
Copies of all mortgages and liens;
Life insurance policies;
Three years of tax returns;
Statements of all financial accounts, including investment accounts, covering the filing date;
Separation agreements and/or divorce decrees entered into during last year;
Retirement account documents;
Security agreements and/or financing statements; and
Copies of stock certificates, bonds, and other investments.
If the trustee finds that you need to provide additional and/or missing documentation, they’ll probably reschedule your 341 meeting to a later date. But in most simple Chapter 7 cases, the trustee will simply dismiss you after a few minutes of conversation. A big part of the trustee’s job is to find non-exempt assets to sell for the benefit of your creditors. But most Chapter 7 cases are no-asset cases, so this won’t apply.
Dealing with Your Car
In your bankruptcy papers, you’ll need to list your car’s fair market value, loan balance, and equity. You’ll then use your bankruptcy exemptions to cover as much of the equity as possible. In Ohio, there’s a $4,000 motor vehicle exemption and a $1,325 wildcard exemption. We’ll talk more about exemptions later.
You have to be current on your car loan payments to keep a financed vehicle during a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The lender may request that you sign a reaffirmation agreement, which reaffirms your responsibility for the loan even after a bankruptcy discharge. If you just want to get rid of the car, you can surrender it to the lender during bankruptcy. Surrendering a car can be very helpful if you can’t afford your car payments because you won’t be responsible for the loan anymore. It will be discharged in bankruptcy with your other dischargeable debts. After your bankruptcy discharge, you can think about buying a more affordable vehicle as your financial situation improves.
You should talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney if you’re behind on your car payments but you want to keep your car. Chapter 13 bankruptcy might be a way to do that. Chapter 13 is a type of bankruptcy where the filer repays their debt through a court-structured repayment plan. Chapter 13 is useful if you’re facing home foreclosure or vehicle repossession because it allows you to catch up on past-due payments on secured debt.
If you’re leasing your car, you’ll list the list in a different part of your bankruptcy paperwork. You can choose to either reject or keep a car lease. Choose whichever works best with your financial situation.
Ohio Bankruptcy Means Test
Under bankruptcy law, potential bankruptcy filers have to go through a means test to see if they qualify for Chapter 7 based on their income. First, you’ll calculate your current monthly income. If this is below Ohio’s median income level for your household size, you pass the test and are eligible to file Chapter 7.
If you don’t pass the first part of the test, you still have a second chance to qualify. You’ll need to do the second part of the means test. The calculation is more involved and takes your living expenses into account. Even if you fail the Chapter 7 means test, it doesn’t mean you’re completely ineligible for bankruptcy. Usually, it usually just means you’re limited to filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for Ohio
Ohio Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Ohio
Ohio 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)|
Ohio Bankruptcy Forms
The main forms used in bankruptcy filings are the same across the country. Filers in the Northern District of Ohio need to go to the court’s local forms page and scroll down to which division they’re in (there are five; see below) to find the local forms needed in their division. Filers in the Southern District of Ohio will need to include a particular cover sheet.
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Ohio Districts & Filing Requirements
Ohio has two bankruptcy districts: the Northern District of Ohio and the Southern District of Ohio.
Northern District of Ohio Requirements
The Northern District of Ohio is divided into five separate divisions:
The Akron Division serves Medina, Summit, and Portage counties.
The Canton Division serves Ashland, Carroll, Crawford, Holmes, Richland, Stark, Tuscarawas, and Wayne counties.
The Cleveland Division serves Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Lorain counties.
The Toledo Division serves Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron, Lucas, Marion, Mercer, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Seneca, Van Wert, Williams, Wood, and Wyandot counties.
The Youngstown Division serves Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, and Trumbull counties.
If you’re filing pro se, you can only file your bankruptcy papers in person at the clerk’s office. If you’re filing with your spouse, both of you need to be present unless one of you holds a power of attorney for the other. You’ll have to present your identification, and you’ll need to pay the filing fee by money order or cashier’s check. The court doesn't accept personal checks or credit cards. If you request to pay the filing fee in installments, there’s no minimum amount for the first installment. You’ll propose a payment plan, and the court can reject it if it’s unreasonable.
If there are COVID-19 procedural changes, they’ll be posted on the court’s website.
Southern District of Ohio Requirements
The Southern District of Ohio is divided into three separate divisions:
The Cincinnati Division serves Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Highland, Lawrence, and Scioto counties.
The Columbus Division serves Athens, Belmont, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Hocking, Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Licking, Logan, Madison, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Union, Vinton, and Washington counties.
The Dayton Division serves Champaign, Clark, Clinton, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby, and Warren counties.
If you’re filing pro se, you can file your bankruptcy papers by mail, courier, or in person at the clerk’s office. You’ll have to present your identification if you file in person. You can pay the filing fee by cash, money order, or cashier’s check. The court doesn’t accept personal checks or credit cards. If you request to pay the filing fee in installments, there’s no minimum amount for the first installment. However, the court must approve your proposed payment plan.
COVID-19 procedural changes are posted on the court’s website.
Ohio Bankruptcy Exemptions
The purpose of bankruptcy exemptions is to protect your property in bankruptcy. Ohio filers are limited to taking Ohio’s bankruptcy exemptions because the federal bankruptcy exemptions aren’t available to them.
If you’re an Ohio homeowner, you’re entitled to a generous homestead exemption, which protects the equity in your home up to $145,425 for single filers. If you’re filing with your spouse and you own the home jointly, you can double that amount. Ohio has a small wildcard exemption of $1,325 that can protect any kind of property. For example, you could combine this with the $4,000 motor vehicle exemption to exempt up to $5,325 of equity in your car. You could also use the wildcard exemption to protect other personal property not listed in Ohio’s exemptions.
Ohio Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
While many people file Chapter 7 and find debt relief without the help of a lawyer, you may want some legal advice. Hiring a bankruptcy attorney can be useful if you have lots of different types of debt or non-exempt property and you want to ensure you get all the bankruptcy protection you can. If so, you’re probably curious what attorney fees are for bankruptcy cases.
Many bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations, and most charge a flat fee for handling a Chapter 7 case. The typical fee for a Chapter 7 in Ohio is low compared to other states, starting at around $690 and ranging up to $1,200 depending on the case’s complexity. Besides cost, you’ll want to consider the lawyer’s experience, online reviews, and communication style before you decide to hire them.
Ohio Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford an Ohio bankruptcy attorney but don’t want to file on your own, you can apply for free or low-cost legal assistance from a legal aid organization. Ohio is a large state and has several of these organizations. To qualify, applicants usually have to make under a certain amount of income and submit an application.
Community Legal Aid Services, Inc.
50 South Main Street, Akron, OH 44308
Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc.
525 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 400, Toledo OH 43604-1371
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
1223 West Sixth Street, Cleveland, OH 44113-1354
Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati
215 East Ninth Street, Suite 200, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Ohio Court Locations
Ralph Regula Federal Building and United States Courthouse
401 McKinley Ave SW Canton, OH 44702
John F. Seiberling Federal Building and United States Courthouse
Two South Main Street Akron, OH 44308
Old Post Office Building
120 West Third Street Dayton, OH 45402
Howard M. Metzenbaum United States Courthouse
201 Superior Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114
James M. Ashley and Thomas W.L. Ashley United States Courthouse
1716 Spielbusch Avenue Toledo, OH 43604
221 East Fourth Street Cincinnati, OH 45202
170 North High Street Columbus, OH 43215
Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and United States Courthouse
10 East Commerce Street Youngstown, OH 44503
Ohio Bankruptcy Judges
|Northern District of Ohio||Hon. John P. Gustafson|
|Northern District of Ohio||Hon. Arthur I. Harris|
|Northern District of Ohio||Hon. Russ Kendig|
|Northern District of Ohio||Hon. Alan M. Koschik|
|Northern District of Ohio||Hon. Jessica E. Price Smith|
|Northern District of Ohio||Hon. Mary Ann Whipple|
|Southern District of Ohio||Hon. Jeffery P. Hopkins|
|Southern District of Ohio||Hon. Charles M. Caldwell|
|Southern District of Ohio||Hon. John E. Hoffman|
|Southern District of Ohio||Hon. Kathryn Preston|
|Southern District of Ohio||Hon. Guy R. Humphrey|
|Southern District of Ohio||Hon. Beth A. Buchanan|
|Lisa M. Barbacciemail@example.com|
|Robert D. Barrfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|Patti M. Baumgartner-Novakemail@example.com|
|Kathryn A. Belfancefirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Virgil E. Brown Jr.||email@example.com|
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|Josiah Locke Mason|
|Ericka S. Parker||ESPARKER@SBCGLOBAL.NET|
|Mary A. Rabinemail@example.com|
|Anne C. Silagyfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|E. Hanlin Bavely|
|Amy L. Bostic|
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|Christal L. Caudillfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|D. William Davis|
|Eileen K. Field|
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|Eric W. Goering|
|Mark Alan Greenberger|
|Clyde C. Hardesty III||Trusteeclyde@roadrunner.com|
|Donald F. Harker|
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|David Willard Kuhn|
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|Frederick Morris Luper|
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|Larry J. McClatchey|
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|David L. Mikel|
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|Paul H. Spaeth|
|Dennis E. Stegner|
|Brent A. Stubbinsemail@example.com|
|Myron N. Terlecky|
|David M. Whittakerfirstname.lastname@example.org|