Written by Attorney Jamie Lee Ruiz.
Updated July 28, 2020
The sparkle reflecting off of Lake Erie is what makes the "Gem City" feel like new beginnings are always possible. That is what bankruptcy is – a new beginning. Despite the misinformation spread about filing bankruptcy in Erie, the system was designed to help people get back on their feet. When you think of bankruptcy, you probably think of big corporations and businesses filing for bankruptcy, like Payless Shoe Store or famous Pennsylvania native, Milton Hershey. But bankruptcy is a tool available to you and me too! There are two types of bankruptcies consumers can file: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Those with credit card and medical debts are probably best suited for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your debts are discharged, and you will not have to pay them back. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, your income allows you to participate in a payment plan and pay back some of your debt.
When you start diving into the bankruptcy process, you'll hear some terms you may not be familiar with. One of the trickiest is the Means Test. The Means Test is a calculation that determines whether you make enough money to pay off your debts. Another term you'll hear is Trustee. In bankruptcy you will interact more with the Trustee than you would a judge in another type of court case. The Trustee will review your Erie bankruptcy forms, distribute funds to people you owe money, and make a recommendation to the Court if they don’t think you are an honest but unfortunate debtor who deserves a fresh start. Although this may seem very scary, Erie bankruptcy was not designed to haunt you forever. Bankruptcy allows you to build your credit back up, and build a new life. Your bankruptcy will be notated on your credit report for 10 years, but that's really the only place it remains.
If you think filing bankruptcy in Erie is the right choice for you, you can obtain all the forms online for free and use this guide and local legal aid resources to help you through the process.
Erie Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
If you decide you need some assistance filing bankruptcy in Erie, the best resource is a bankruptcy lawyer. A bankruptcy attorney is an attorney licensed to practice law in both the state and federal court system. Bankruptcy attorneys are familiar with the procedures involved in filing bankruptcy in Erie and have appeared before the bankruptcy Trustees and judges in the Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Court. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer on average is $1,222.50 for a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie. This is higher than the national average and can be higher if your situation is more complicated than a typical Chapter 7.
A bankruptcy lawyer is a good investment if your case is a little more complex because they will complete your case from start to finish, usually for one flat fee, saving you time and resources. Bankruptcy attorneys often don’t charge by the hour for this type of work. Additionally, bankruptcy attorneys often don’t charge for the first meeting known as a free consultation. Bankruptcy attorneys will use this meeting to learn more about your case and advise you as to whether filing bankruptcy in Erie is a good option for you. You will, in turn, get to know as much information about the attorney as possible, such as their experience in bankruptcy and how they plan to handle your case.
How to File Bankruptcy in Erie, Pennsylvania for Free
If you decide that you want to give filing bankruptcy in Erie a shot on your own, you can do so for free. You can access all the forms you need online on the Court’s website. Once you have completed all the forms, you will file your Pennsylvania bankruptcy case by submitting the forms to the Court located at 17 South Park Row in Erie.
Collect Your Erie Bankruptcy Documents
The most overwhelming task for your Pennsylvania bankruptcy is probably preparing and filling out your bankruptcy forms. To best prepare for filling out the bankruptcy forms, you should gather the following:
pay stubs for the last 6 months;
tax returns for the last 2 years;
monthly bills, at least one for each one of your creditors; and
bank statements, at least for the last couple of months.
The above will help you complete most of the questions in the forms you need when filing bankruptcy in Erie. You will also file your credit counseling certificate with your bankruptcy forms. This guide will discuss what that is all about next.
Take Credit Counseling
In the180 days before filing bankruptcy in Erie, you have to take bankruptcy course 1, known as the credit counseling course. This is an educational course that will counsel you on your options to deal with your debt, including your Pennsylvania bankruptcy options. The credit counseling course is mandated by the Bankruptcy Code and lasts about one hour. You can take the course online, over the phone, or in person. The nearest in-person class offered by an approved provider is in Pittsburgh, so you may prefer a remote option. When you have completed the course, you will get a certificate of completion that you will file with your other bankruptcy forms. As a part of the credit education requirement, you will take another course, bankruptcy course 2, also known as the financial management course, discussed in detail later in this guide. You will take the second course after you file bankruptcy in Erie.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The Erie bankruptcy forms will paint a picture of your financial health for the Court and your Trustee. From your income and your assets to your expenses and debts, and everything in between, the bankruptcy forms will outline everything about your financial situation. The Voluntary Petition, the first form you will fill out, will detail your biographical information. Schedules A through J will ask you about your income, property you own, contracts and leases you are a party to, the people and businesses you owe, etc. As mentioned before, some helpful resources to speed up the process of filling out these forms are your pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, and monthly bills. To make things easier, you may want to access your bills and bank statements online and save them to your computer or print them out. You can always utilize your public library to use their computers and printers. The most common mistake made is submitting the forms to the Court even though they are incomplete. It’s easy to forget that you inherited money or were paid as a 1099 contractor for a quick side job. Be sure to be as thorough as possible, so that the Trustee doesn’t have to inquire about missing information at your 341 meeting and, as a result, inevitably wonder if you’re trying to hide something in your Pennsylvania bankruptcy case.
Get Your Filing Fee
Now it's time to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie. The filing fee for individuals and married couples seeking Chapter 7 relief is $335. You can also apply to the Court for a fee waiver, if your income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. The fee waiver is an application made to the Court and decided by a judge. The judge takes into account your income, family size, average monthly expenses, property owned, all similar information to what you provide in the bankruptcy forms when filing bankruptcy in Erie. If your application for a fee waiver is granted, the Court may reserve the power to order you to pay the fee, if it’s found that their decision was unwarranted and you are actually able to pay the fee. The Court may also deny your application and propose an installment plan to pay the fee for your Pennsylvania bankruptcy instead. If you’re not eligible to apply for a fee waiver, but would like to pay your fee in installments, you can make a request to do so by submitting an application with your bankruptcy forms.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Once you have completed your Erie bankruptcy forms, you will need to print out at least two copies. One copy will be for your reference throughout the case and to keep in your records. The second copy will be submitted to the Court. The Court provides a checklist of documents that you’ll need to print so that you will not forget to submit anything. If you don’t have a printer at home, you can utilize a printing service such as Staples or Kinko's or the public library. The following public libraries are available to you in Flagship City:
Blasco Memorial Library, 160 East Front Street, Erie - Open 7 days/week
Iroquois Avenue Branch Library, 4212 Iroquois Avenue, Erie - Open Monday through Saturday (hours vary)
Lincoln Community Center, 1255 Manchester Road, Erie - Open Monday through Saturday (hours vary)
Millcreek Branch Library, 2088 Interchange Rd., Suite 280, Erie - Open Monday through Saturday (hours vary)
Do keep in mind there still may be a nominal charge for printing at the public library. Also note, that forms should never be printed double-sided.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
If you are filing bankruptcy in Erie, you will file your bankruptcy forms at the U.S. Courthouse located at 17 South Park Row in Erie. This courthouse services people living in Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Venango, and Warren counties. It’s centrally located across the street from the City of Erie Municipal Building and Perry Square.The Court provides a link for directions to the courthouse. The Court is open from 9 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. The Court is closed on federal holidays and weekends. This location has two city parking ramps, one located between 7th and Peach streets, and the other located at 25 E. 10th Street at State. Metered parking is also available. You can also take a free trolley service that makes a stop at the courthouse. When you enter the courthouse, you will go through security similar to airport security. You will walk through metal detectors, and any bags will be searched. No cell phones are allowed in the federal court building, so plan to leave your cell phone at home or in your car. If you need your cell phone, it will be checked for you at security and given back to you when you leave. After security, you’ll go to the clerk's office to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie. The biggest advantage of filing your forms in person instead of mailing them to the Court is that the clerk will look them over while you’re there to make sure there are no missing forms and/or signatures.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The Trusteeis the go-between for you, the Court, and your unsecured creditors. The Trustee will review your Erie bankruptcy forms and do an investigation to determine if you have any property that can be sold for the benefit of your creditors. In addition to your bankruptcy forms, you’ll have to provide the Trustee with your pay stubs, tax returns, and any other documents they may request. You should submit everything to the Trustee at least 10 days before your 341 meeting, so they receive it more than a week before the meeting. In addition to reviewing your bankruptcy documents, the Trustee will liquidate (sell) eligibleproperty to pay some of your debts. The Trustee may also recover payments you made before the bankruptcy to people you owe. It’s helpful to have your case number handy when contacting the Trustee.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Now that you have filed your Erie bankruptcy, you will need to take the second of the educational courses. This is a financial management course, which will prepare you for life after bankruptcy. You will learn budgeting and planning tips to keep you debt free. Like the credit counseling course, you can take the financial management course online, over the phone, or in person from any company on the list of approved providers. Once you have completed the course, you will receive a certificate of completion, which you have to file with the Court. In order to complete your case and receive your discharge, you must complete this course and file your certificate.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is your opportunity to meet with the Trustee, but it’s also an opportunity for those you owe to ask you questions about your financial situation and the money you owe them. The meeting is held in a small courtroom in the courthouse where you filed your Erie bankruptcy forms. You will find other people who have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie in the room, their attorneys, and the Trustee. The room is open to the public, so anyone may come in and out. When you meet with the Trustee, you will sit down with them one-on-one and address any questions they may have for you. The meeting length will vary depending on the questions the Trustee has. You should dress business casual and avoid flashy jewelry and accessories. You should bring your driver's license and original social security card as a means of identification.
Dealing with Your Car
There are a few options when it comes to dealing with your car and its loan. Most lenders will require you to sign an agreement that you will continue making payments despite your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie. Under some circumstances, you may find it better to return your car to your lender. This may be best if you owe more on your loan than your car is worth because your Pennsylvania bankruptcy will protect you from having to pay the balance after the car is sold auction. If you’re able to come up with enough money to pay for the value of the car, you also have the option of buying it outright while discharging your obligation to pay the loan. If you own your car, you will have to find out how much it's worth and claim an exemption to protect it. Exemptions are addressed in Schedule C of the Erie bankruptcy forms and explained a little later in this guide.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Erie
Pennsylvania Means Test
The Pennsylvania bankruptcy Means Test is a calculation based on your income, your family size, and the type of debt you have. The Means Test exists to determine if you can pay back your debts. You will pass the Means Test if your income falls below the median income in your state for your family size. For example, the median income for a family of 4 in Pennsylvania is $100,078; if you and your spouse have two kids and together make less than $100,078, you pass the Means Test. However, if you exceed the median income, you will have to pass part two of the means test. This will show the Court that you can’t pay your debts after paying reasonable expenses and allow you to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie.
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|
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
You will notice that there are national and local bankruptcy forms. Make sure you take a look at the local forms to see if any apply to you. Some of the Pennsylvania bankruptcy forms require some thought before you can decide whether Erie bankruptcy is the best route for you. For example, Schedule C, which covers the exemptions, is an important part of your pre-bankruptcy planning. Exemptions will protect property you want to keep. The Means Test will also be an important part of your pre-bankruptcy planning as it will determine whether you can file a Chapter 7 or have to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Your pre-bankruptcy planning will include weighing the benefits of the Pennsylvania bankruptcy exemptions versus the federal bankruptcy exemptions. Exemptions are designed to help you live with dignity during and after bankruptcy. Exemptions allow you to keep certain property by claiming them "exempt." A tidbit to note about the Pennsylvania exemptions is that there is no homestead exemption. That is, Pennsylvania does not provide any protection for your home, so, if you own a home, it may be wise to utilize federal bankruptcy exemptions for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Erie.