10 step guide on how to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania without a lawyer. This guide provides an overview of the bankruptcy process for filers seeking debt relief in the Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Court.
Written by Attorney Eva Bacevice.
Updated November 21, 2020
Pennsylvania is well known for being home to the first capital of our country, the Liberty Bell, and the first American flag. Pennsylvania also has a number of tasty claims to fame, including the chocolate capital of the United States (Hershey, PA) and the Philly cheesesteak.
What you might not realize, however, is that even though we now associate some food industry giants to Pennsylvania, the road to success was not always easy. Both Milton Hershey, founder of the Hershey chocolate company, and Henry Heinz of Heinz ketchup filed bankruptcy before achieving the success they are known for today.
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania, you can choose between state and federal exemptions. Exemptions are the laws that protect your property from the bankruptcy trustee.
How to File Bankruptcy in Pennsylvania for Free
This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to file a Pennsylvania bankruptcy on your own, one step at a time. Filing on your own, and without an attorney, is called filing “pro se” and is a popular option for low-income filers with simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases.
Collect Your Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Documents
In order to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to gather your financial documents so you can fill out the paperwork properly. To start, you will need paycheck stubs or other proof of income for the past 6 months, your last two income tax returns, most recent two months of statements from all bank and investment accounts, any deeds for property (including mortgage statements and proof of homeowners insurance), any titles for vehicles along with proof of insurance, and copies of all of your bills and creditors’ information.
If you’re not sure of all of your debt information, get a copy of your credit report, which you can get for free through annualcreditreport.com. This will help you make sure that you’re listing all creditors and collection agencies.
Take Credit Counseling
The Bankruptcy Code requires that you complete credit counseling before filing bankruptcy. You can find a list of approved providers for Pennsylvania bankruptcy cases here. There are many providers who offer online or phone options for this first course. There’s a second course you’ll have to take after filing your bankruptcy case.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Once you’ve decided to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania and collected all of your documents, the next step is to complete your bankruptcy forms. If you’re working with a bankruptcy lawyer, they’ll get the necessary information (and documents) from you, then fill out the forms on your behalf.
If you’re filing “pro se,” you can access the forms on the United States Courts’ website. If you’re eligible to use Upsolve’s free tool, you’ll provide the answers in an online questionnaire. The forms are then generated based on the information you provided.
The bulk of the forms are federal forms, but always make certain to check the bankruptcy court’s website for any local forms you may need as well.
Get Your Filing Fee
If you’re not eligible to apply to have the court filing fee waived, it’s best to make a plan about how you’re going to pay it before you head to court. Currently, the filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $335 but it’s set to go up to $338 as of December 1, 2020. Due to COVID-19 related restrictions, the court may not accept cash and require payment by money order instead.
If you can’t wait to file until you’ve saved up the full amount, you can ask the court to pay the filing fee in installments. This gives you the benefit of being able to file (and get protection from creditors) right away. Make sure you confirm how much you’ll need to pay along with your application for an installment plan, so you’re not surprised at the last moment.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Once you have dealt with your filing fee and completed filling out your forms, the next step will be to print out the forms to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania. Wherever you print your forms, make certain to do so on one-sided pages. The court won’t accept double-sided print-outs.
It’s also a good idea to print out or photocopy an extra set for yourself to have with you at your 341 meeting and to keep for your records. If you don’t have access to a printer of your own or a friend’s you can borrow, we recommend checking out rates at your local library or going to a local office supply store, like Kinkos or Staples.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
The next step for filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania is to physically go to the courthouse to file your forms. If you are working with an attorney, they will be able to submit your paperwork electronically, but if you are pro se (filing on your own), you will need to submit your paperwork yourself.
Normally, we’d say that it’s always a good idea to go in person in case there is a quick change or correction you need to make, which will save you a return trip. But, in the time of COVID-19 submitting everything in person may not be an option. Make sure you check out your bankruptcy court’s hours and how pro se filers can submit their bankruptcy forms.
As soon as your paperwork is time-stamped as “filed,” you’ll be protected by the automatic stay, which means all debt collection actions (including garnishments) have to stop.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
You’ll be assigned to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee either when you file your paperwork with the Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Court, or soon after. Once you know who your assigned Chapter 7 trustee is, you can gather together the paperwork they require in advance of your 341 meeting. These documents are likely the very same ones you used to fill out your paperwork initially (proof of income, assets, ownership, insurance and debts).
The trustee’s office should communicate a specific list of what they require with a specific deadline, which is generally at least 7 days before your scheduled 341 meeting. If you’re getting close to that deadline and have not heard from your trustee, it’s ok to reach out to make certain you can provide them the documents required in advance of your deadline.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Bankruptcy law requires that you also complete a second credit counseling course within a specified time-frame of filing your case. It’s best to do so soon after filing your case, and before your scheduled 341 meeting. Make sure you take the course through a credit counseling agency that’s been approved to offer it for Pennsylvania bankruptcy cases.
When done, you’ll get a certificate of completion which needs to be officially processed by the clerk just like when you first filed your Pennsylvania bankruptcy forms. Some credit counseling providers will file the certificate for their clients. If yours doesn’t, make sure you mail a copy to the clerk’s office as soon as possible after getting it.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 meeting, or Meeting of Creditors, will be scheduled about 20 - 40 days after your bankruptcy petition is submitted to the court. It’s part of the bankruptcy process, and everyone filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy has to attend this meeting. It takes place before your assigned Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee, not a judge. The Bankruptcy Code allows for an opportunity for your creditors to appear and participate by asking questions. That rarely happens in consumer bankruptcy cases.
The bankruptcy trustee will ask questions about your bankruptcy forms and pre-submitted documentation to confirm that you provided complete and true information as required by federal law. Check out this video of a mock 341 meeting to learn more about what to expect at your 341 meeting.
Dealing with Your Car
If your car is paid for, you’ll be able to keep it as long as you can protect its full value with an exemption. The federal bankruptcy exemptions have a specific motor vehicle provision, but the Pennsylvania bankruptcy exemptions don’t. So, if you have nonexempt equity in your motor vehicle, the federal bankruptcy exemptions may be better suited for your case.
If you’re still paying on your car loan, you’ll have to let the bank and the court know how you want to handle the debt. Unlike credit card debt or medical bills, which are an unsecured debt, if you stop making payments on a secured debt like a car loan, you’ll face a repossession plus a possible lawsuit for what’s left owing on the loan.
Filing bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code gives you the ability to walk away from your car and car loan. The bank takes the car to sell it at auction and the bankruptcy court erases your obligation to keep paying on the loan.
If you want to keep the car you can do so as long as you’re current with your car payments. You’ll get to decide between signing a reaffirmation agreement to keep everything essentially the same and a redemption. For a redemption, you’ll need to pay the bank the current fair market value of your car in exchange for a clean title. The loan balance will be eliminated by the bankruptcy discharge. Check out Can I Keep My Car If I File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in 2020? in Upsolve’s Learning Center for more.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Means Test
In order to file a Chapter 7 case, you will need to qualify under Pennsylvania bankruptcy laws by passing the Means Test. You can do so in one of two ways. First, based on your monthly income and household size, you might immediately qualify for a Chapter 7 if you are under the average median income in Pennsylvania. Second, even if you earn more than the income limit allows, you may still qualify by completing the second portion of the Means Test.
Data on Median income levels for Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania 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)|
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Forms
The bulk of the forms you’ll need to file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Pennsylvania is made up of the official court forms that are the same across the country. The bankruptcy court in the district you’re filing in may require additional local forms. Pennsylvania is divided into three federal districts - the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and the Western District of Pennsylvania. The Eastern and the Middle District both have a local form that is required by filers who aren’t submitting any paycheck stubs with their bankruptcy petition.
Eastern District of Pennsylvania Requirements
The Eastern District is divided into two divisions with courthouses in Philadelphia and Reading. The Philadelphia division handles cases for Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Philadelphia, and Chester counties. The Reading Division takes care of cases out of Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, and Lancaster counties. There are no special local forms required for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in this district, but the court has specific formatting requirements for your creditor matrix.
Middle District of Pennsylvania Requirements
The Middle District has three divisions with offices in Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, and Williamsport, though the Williamsport courthouse is only used for hearings. Cases are assigned based on the county the filer lives in. The Middle District offers a self-help program to people filing without an attorney. Self-represented debtors can upload their creditor matrix through this online portal.
Western District of Pennsylvania Requirements
The Western District of Pennsylvania has three divisions: Pittsburgh, Erie, and Johnstown. If you want to avoid travelling to any of those locations, this court allows you to submit PDF documents online.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Exemptions
Pennsylvania allows filers to choose between the federal bankruptcy exemptions and the Pennsylvania bankruptcy exemptions. Exemptions protect your property up to varying amounts depending on the type of property you own.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy exemptions in Pennsylvania are unusual in that there is no specific “homestead exemption” or specific “motor vehicle exemption.” Married couples filing together can double the exemption amount for any property that belongs to both of them.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Pennsylvania is about $1,250, but it can range from just under $1,000 up to $1,500 depending on the complexity of the case and where you’re physically located. If you’re hoping to file with the help of a bankruptcy attorney, schedule a free consultation with them to find out how much they’d charge for your Pennsylvania bankruptcy case.
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Organizations
You’ll be able to find a number of organizations that offer legal aid in Pennsylvania. For help with your bankruptcy filing, consider reaching out to Community Legal Services of Philadelphia if you’re in the Philadelphia area. Additionally, you can reach out to any of the following organizations.
Laurel Legal Services, Inc.
16 E. Otterman Street, Greensburg, PA 15601-3066
Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania
625-627 Swede Street, Norristown, PA 19401-4801
MidPenn Legal Services, Inc.
213-A North Front Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101
Neighborhood Legal Services Association
928 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-3799
Northwestern Legal Services
Renaissance Center, Suite 700, 1001 State Street, Erie, PA 16501-1828
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
1424 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Philadelphia Legal Assistance
718 Arch Street, Suite 300N, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Pennsylvania Court Locations
Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. Federal Building
900 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19107
400 Washington Street Reading, PA 19601
600 Grant Street Pittsburgh, PA 15219
17 South Park Row
17 South Park Row Erie, PA 16501
Max Rosenn United States Courthouse
197 South Main Street Wilkes Barre, PA 18701
Ronald Reagan Federal Building
228 Walnut Street Harrisburg, PA 17108
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Richard E. Fehling|
|Eastern District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Ashely M. Chan|
|Eastern District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Magdeline D. Coleman|
|Eastern District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Jean K. FitzSimon|
|Eastern District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Eric L. Frank|
|Middle District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Robert N. Opel II|
|Middle District of Pennsylvania||Hon. John J. Thomas|
|Middle District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Henry W. Van Eck|
|Western District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Carlota Böhm|
|Western District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Thomas P. Agresti|
|Western District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Jeffery A. Deller|
|Western District of Pennsylvania||Hon. Gregory L. Taddonio|
|Terry P. Dershawfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lynn E. Feldman|
|Bonnie B. Finkelemail@example.com|
|Robert H. Holberfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Michael H. Kalineremail@example.com|
|Gary F. Seitz|
|Christine C. Shubert|
|Steven M. Carr||Carr20@aol.com .com|
|Mark J. Conwayfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lawrence G. Frankemail@example.com|
|Leon P. Hallerfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John J. Martinemail@example.com|
|John P. Neblettfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|William G. Schwab||Schwab@uslawcenter.com|
|Robert P. Sheils Jr.||email@example.com|
|Markian R. Slobodianfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lawrence V. Youngemail@example.com|
|Eric E. Bononifirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Natalie A. Cardielloemail@example.com|
|Rosemary C. Crawfordfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John C. Melaragnoemail@example.com|
|Tamera Ochs Rothschildfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Robert B. Sheareremail@example.com|
|Jeffrey J. Sikiricafirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Robert H. Sloneemail@example.com|
|Joseph B. Sperofirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lisa M. Swopeemail@example.com|
|James R. Walshfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Pamela J. Wilsonemail@example.com|
|Charles O. Zebley Jr.||COZ@Zeblaw.com|