Written by Attorney Jamie Lee Ruiz.
Updated July 28, 2020
Bankruptcy is a fresh start. It allows you to build your credit from scratch after taking care of your existing debt. Think of your credit as the bricks you use to build your financial house. After some time, life happens, your bricks begin to break down and you need to repairs. Think of bankruptcy as the repairman and his materials. Filing bankruptcy in Pittsburgh will allow you to repair your financial house with new sturdy bricks. It’ll feel as good as a Steelers Superbowl title!
The difference between filing bankruptcy in Pittsburgh under Chapter 7 (a.k.a. liquidation) and Chapter 13 (a.k.a. the repayment plan) is this: under Chapter 13 you will have to repay some of your debts. Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pittsburgh allows you to liquidate your debts, which means they are wiped clean and you do not have to repay them (under most circumstances).
Some telltale signs that you'd be a good fit for bankruptcy would be the type of debt you have. If you have mostly credit card debt, you may be a good fit for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pittsburgh. If you have mostly medical debt, you may also be a good candidate for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you have a mixture of medical, credit and tax debt, you may be a good fit for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The type of debt you have, combined with your assets (your house, your car, etc.), will determine what chapter bankruptcy you file.
One of the biggest misconceptions about filing bankruptcy in Pittsburgh is that it destroys your credit forever. Bankruptcy does not destroy your credit forever. Bankruptcy is simply a mark on your credit. Once you receive your discharge, you will be able to start rebuilding your credit again. You can restart rebuilding your credit immediately after discharge. The notation on your credit report that shows you filed for bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for 10 years. However, since you achieved your fresh start with bankruptcy, you will be able to improve your credit score so long as you maintain healthy financial health habits after your bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy has been used to help many people achieve a fresh start and you wouldn’t believe these famous people filed for bankruptcy: Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln (who filed twice for bankruptcy), Henry Ford, Mike Tyson, and most commonly known for his bankruptcy, MC Hammer.
As Roberto Clemente once said, I was born in 1934 and again in 1955 when I came to Pittsburgh. And that is sort of like bankruptcy; having your finances be born again. And what better place to do it then in your hometown of Pittsburgh.
You will learn below what you need to do to file for bankruptcy in Pittsburgh for free.
Pittsburgh Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
Sometimes the process a bankruptcy can get overwhelming. This may be the time to consult a Pittsburgh bankruptcy attorney. This attorney will be well-versed in both Pennsylvania and Federal law and know their way around the Bankruptcy Court. A bankruptcy attorney is a good investment because they will be familiar with all the bankruptcy forms, will have experience with the various trustees and judges, and will provide you their expertise throughout the process. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer can range anywhere from $1000-$2500. A typical Pittsburgh bankruptcy lawyer costs $995 to $1,450.
Typically bankruptcy attorneys do not charge for your initial meeting. This is called a free consultation. In this meeting, an attorney will complete an intake form that has a variety of information on it. Attorneys will ask for general information, for example, your name, your address, if you're married, if you have kids, etc. They will also ask for more detailed information about your financial situation. They will want to know what kind of debts you have and how much (your liabilities) and what you own (your house, your car, etc.). However, the attorney should not be the only one asking questions. You should ask a series of questions as well. Some questions you may consider asking are:
Does the attorney specialize in bankruptcy?
Are they handling any bankruptcy cases right now?
How much is their fee?
What information will they need to move forward with my case?
How soon can they file my case?
How long will it take me to get a discharge?
How to File Bankruptcy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for Free
Collect Your Pittsburgh Bankruptcy Documents
Filing for bankruptcy in Pittsburgh will require you to complete all the bankruptcy forms, pay the fee, and file your forms with the Court. You will also need to make sure your trustee receives your bankruptcy forms. After you file for bankruptcy, you will need to attend your 341 meeting and take the second part of your credit counseling requirement.
Some of the forms you will need are:
Your voluntary petition for bankruptcy (which includes Schedules A through J);
Statement of Your Monthly Income a.k.a. the Means Test;
Credit Counseling Course Certificate;
Statement of Intention.
In filling out the bankruptcy forms, you will need information from your pay stubs and your old tax returns. If you do not have your tax return, you can request your tax transcript from the IRS. You can do this online or by mail. If you do not have your pay stubs, you can contact your previous HR manager or if you know your employer’s payroll service you can contact them directly.
Take Credit Counseling
Before filing bankruptcy in Pittsburgh, you will need to take a credit counseling course. This one hour course will lay out your options to deal with your debt including bankruptcy. The trustee keeps a list of approved, accredited credit counseling courses that you can take by phone, online or in person. You will notice that some of these credit counseling companies are not located in Pittsburgh. That's okay. You can take a course online or over the phone that is in another state so long that it is approved. Local courses may be best for you if you decide to take a course in person. Once, you complete the course, you will receive a certificate of completion. That certificate will be submitted to the trustee when you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Once your bankruptcy is completed and you have received your discharge, you will need to take a second course on financial planning and management.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
As mentioned earlier, you will fill out a series of forms known as your voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pittsburgh. These forms will give the Court a detailed picture of your financial situation. You can expect to reference information in your tax returns, pay stubs, and credit report among other documents. Having these documents handy will help you fill out your forms.
A common error in filling out the forms is leaving information out. For example, Schedule B of the bankruptcy forms will require you to list all your personal property. This may be confusing because we accumulate a lot of things over the years. It is important to be as thorough as possible and list everything to the best of your ability. Items you may want to list and Schedule B are your furniture, clothes, any collectibles, handbags, etc.
Get Your Filing Fee
The fee to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Pittsburgh is $335. The filing fee enables you to file your documents with the Court and have access to those documents and progress in your case online through the Federal Court ECF filing system. In some circumstances, you can apply for a fee waiver. The Court will take into consideration your income and ability to pay the fee. A judge determines whether you qualify for a fee waiver. The fee waiver application is submitted with your bankruptcy forms. The Court may also allow you to pay your fee in installments.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
When you are satisfied that you have completed your Pittsburgh bankruptcy forms, you will need to print them and submit them to the Court. It is smart to print a few sets of these forms: one set for yourself, one set for filing with the Court, and one set for submission to the trustee. If you do not have a printer, you can visit your local library to print forms or any printing service company such as Staples or Kinkos. Please note, that your bankruptcy forms should never be printed double-sided!
Go to Court to File Your Forms
If you are filing bankruptcy in Pittsburgh, you will file your forms in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court is located at 600 Grant St. in Pittsburgh.
There are a few things that you should know when visiting a federal courthouse. Security is taken very seriously in the federal courthouse, like any other government building. Federal marshals serve as security in federal courthouses. They screen each person before entering. You will go through a metal detector and have to submit any belongings to go through a metal detector. Often electronics are not allowed in the federal courthouse. You will be asked for your cell phone, which will be stored safely in a locker and returned upon your exiting the courthouse.
After security, the clerk's office is your next stop. That is where all forms are submitted to the Court. The advantage of submitting your documents to the clerk is that they may point out if a form or signature is missing, saving you time and perhaps a second trip.
It is advised to dress business casual when visiting the courthouse. The courthouse is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4:30 PM except for federal holidays which include New Year's Day Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day. The courthouse is not open on weekends.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
A trustee is a legal representative of the bankruptcy Court. When you file your bankruptcy forms with the Court, the Court assigns a trustee to oversee your case. You will submit to the trustee your bankruptcy petition, tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements one week before your 341 meeting.
It is the trustee’s job to review your bankruptcy forms to evaluate what resources you have to pay your debts. Some of the roles of the trustee include: rounding up your property to be sold to satisfy your debts, selling any property, challenging any claims against you regarding money you owe, distributing funds from your property to pay back those you owe and in some circumstances objecting to a just truck discharge.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Once you have filed your Pittsburgh bankruptcy, you are required to take a second bankruptcy course. This course will equip you with the tools that you need to plan for life after bankruptcy. It will cover financial planning and budgeting to make sure you have the foundation for building your new life debt-free. As with the course you took before filing your bankruptcy, you will need to take the course at an accredited provider. You can take the course online, by telephone or in-person. Upon completion, you will receive a certificate as you did with the first course.
Some local providers include:
Advantage Credit Counseling Service, Inc.
2403 Sidney Street Suite 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Advantage Credit Counseling Service, Inc.
One Northgate Square
Greensburg, PA 15601
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is a hearing between you, the trustee, and the people you owe. The trustee will have received and reviewed your Pittsburgh bankruptcy forms before the meeting and will ask you any questions surrounding them. This is also an opportunity for the people you owe to ask questions about the debts they are owed.
Typically, this is the only appearance you will make at the bankruptcy Court. You can expect to meet the trustee in a small-sized courtroom in the same federal courthouse you filed your forms. There will be other people who have filed for bankruptcy present in the courtroom waiting to see the trustee. This is a public meeting, so others will be in the room when your meeting takes place. You should bring your driver's license and Social Security card as a means for identification at the meeting. This meeting takes normally 10 to 15 minutes depending upon the number of questions the trustee has for you. You should dress business casual and avoid wearing any flashy jewelry, clothing or accessories.
Some questions the trustee may ask you are:
Have you reviewed all the information in your bankruptcy forms?
Is all the information in your bankruptcy forms true and accurate?
Are there any changes in the information in the forms that you wish to make now?
Did you list all your property in your bankruptcy forms?
Have you filed for bankruptcy before?
Dealing with Your Car
This is a question most people ask when determining whether Pittsburgh bankruptcy is for them: “what happens to my car?.” The answer is: you have options when it comes to your car. One of the choices you will hear about is “reaffirmation.” Reaffirmation allows you to keep your car and continue making the payments on it. You will sign a reaffirmation agreement with your lender agreeing to make the payments owed regardless of your bankruptcy filing. This doesn’t mean you do not include your car when you list your property in the bankruptcy forms. You will list your car under Schedule B of the forms and later on in the Statement of Intention.
You may also consider surrendering your car. This option is most attractive when you owe more than the car is worth. By surrendering your car, this will wipe out your debt entirely. The lender will repossess the car after your bankruptcy has been completed.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Means Test
The Means Test is the information you will fill out in the Statement of Your Current Monthly Income. The information is a comparison of your income and your debts and your ability to pay them back. The Means Test requires that a person filing for Pittsburgh bankruptcy has an income lower than the “median family income” in Pennsylvania (or the state they are filing for bankruptcy in). This income takes into account your family size. For example, if you have a family of four in Pittsburgh, your income will need to be less than $100,078 to pass the Means Test.
The purpose of the Means Test is to prevent abuse of the bankruptcy system. If you have mostly consumer debts, a.k.a. credit cards and medical debts, and you make enough money to pay them back, the Means Test will determine that you do not qualify for bankruptcy. This is known as the “presumption of abuse.” There are some exceptions to the “presumption of abuse” rule if your income is higher than the state median income, like military service or having debts other than consumer debts.
If you do not qualify for an exception, you will be required to fill out Form 122A-1Supp
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
The Pennsylvania bankruptcy forms can quite possibly be the most exhausting part of the bankruptcy process. Below is a list of some of the forms that may be tricky and what you will need to include in them. This list and its explanations will make filling out the bankruptcy forms as easy as going down to Giant Eagles and buying a hoagie!
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Schedule A/B: Property
Pennsylvania bankruptcy schedule A/B requires you to make a list of ALL the property you own. This may seem easy, but it is not hard to forget items like your toaster, lawn mower, and other miscellaneous items that are in your home. Be as complete as you can when filling out this form and the others.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Schedule C: Exemptions
Pennsylvania bankruptcy schedule C addresses exempt property. Exempt property is property you intend to keep. You will be thinking about exemptions as part of your pre-bankruptcy planning. You will choose which exemptions will help you protect the property you plan to keep. You can take advantage of the State or Federal exemptions in Pennsylvania (but not both!).
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Schedule D: Creditors Who Hold Claims by Secured Property
In this schedule, you will be required to list property that has a debt tied to it and can be sold to satisfy the debt. This may include your house or your car.
Pennsylvania bankruptcy schedule G: Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases
The key to this form is inclusivity. Of course you will remember to list your car lease and apartment lease here, but you will need to include other contracts you are a party to as well. Think of that storage unit you lease monthly!
Chapter 7 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income 122A-1
The “Means Test” is by far the most challenging form of them all. Overall, the Means Test is a comparison of your income, debts, and your ability to pay back those debts. You will compare your income to the average income of a family of your size in your state. If your income is below the state average, you pass the means test. If it is not, there is a “presumption of abuse,” and you will be required to fill out an additional form addressing if you either 1) meet any exception to the presumption or 2) have non-consumer debts. The purpose of the Means Test is to prevent abuse of the bankruptcy system and preserve it for those who truly need it.
Also, be aware that there are a series of Local Forms that the Court uses.
Pennsylvania bankruptcy exemptions are used to protect the property you'd like to keep. Bankruptcy exemptions exist to help maintain dignity and quality of life during your bankruptcy. Bankruptcy exemptions are set by both state and federal law. Pennsylvania allows bankruptcy filers to use federal exemptions, where some states do not (such as Nevada, California, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio). Federal exemptions may be more advantageous than state exemptions, particularly for exempt property such as your home. However, you can only utilize state OR federal exemptions - not both. You will need to designate the exemptions you are going to use for each piece of exempt property. Some property that you may wish to list as exempt is your clothing, books, and household items such as your television and computer.