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 Andrea Wimmer.
Updated February 9, 2022
If you’re in Rhode Island struggling with debt, it’s easy to feel like you’re stranded on a deserted island with nowhere to go for help. Help is available, and you may not have to cash out your retirement account or sell your property to keep afloat. You might be surprised by how much property a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island lets you keep. If you’re in Providence, Warwick, Cranston, or any other town in the Ocean State, and you’re struggling to pay your debts, consider your bankruptcy options before you do anything drastic. A Chapter 7 in Rhode Island could be the quickest path to obtain debt relief and keep your personal property.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Rhode Island
Lawyers are often the most expensive part of bankruptcy, and not everyone can afford to pay for one. This guide outlines the steps to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for free in Rhode Island without a lawyer. This is also called filing “pro se.”
- Collect Your Rhode Island Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Rhode Island Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Rhode Island Bankruptcy Documents
Everyone filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island must submit official bankruptcy forms. To fill out the forms, you’ll need to first collect some financial documents that have the information you need to complete the forms. This will make the bankruptcy process easier.
You can begin by collecting the necessities:
Your tax returns from the last two years,
Your paycheck stubs from the 60 days before you file bankruptcy, and
A bank statement that shows your recent activity. When you file your forms with the court, you’ll also need to provide a bank statement that includes the date you file bankruptcy.
You’ll need these documents whether or not you have an attorney. It will help you to also collect:
Bank statements from the past 6-12 months;
Creditor and collection agency statements, bills, and letters; and
A credit report from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Federal law entitles you to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. If you use Upsolve’s free filing tool, it will pull a report for you. Your credit report will help you verify you’ve listed every creditor on your bankruptcy documents. You can also cross-reference information on your credit report with your bills and letters from debt collectors.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
You’re required to take a credit counseling course in the six months (180 days) before you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island. The course is intended to make sure everyone filing bankruptcy knows all their debt relief options. After you complete the credit counseling course, you’ll get a certificate of completion, which is valid for 180 days. You’ll need to submit this to the court when you file your bankruptcy petition.
You can take the course when it’s convenient for you. It will take 1-2 hours to complete. Most courses are held online or over the phone. Your course must be from a credit counseling agency that has been approved to offer the course in Rhode Island. The course does cost money, but you can apply for a fee waiver to take the course for free if you can’t afford it.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms you’ll need to file are federal forms, which means they’re the same for everyone across the United States. All of the forms you need can be downloaded for free as fillable PDFs, either as one full form packet from the Rhode Island Bankruptcy Court or individually at USCOURTS.gov. You can also download an instruction manual for free to help guide you through all of the forms.
If you hire a lawyer, they’ll fill the forms out for you after you complete a questionnaire from their office and give them your bankruptcy documents. If you’re filing without a lawyer, you can fill out the forms yourself. You may also be eligible to use Upsolve’s free filing tool. If you use the Upsolve tool, you’ll fill out will an online questionnaire, and then the Upsolve software will generate your bankruptcy forms based on the information you provided.
As you’re filling out the forms, be honest and thorough. Remember that you have to sign everything under penalty of perjury when you file your Rhode Island bankruptcy case.
Get Your Filing Fee
The court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island is $338. The court accepts cash (exact amount only), money orders, or cashier's checks. If you’re self-represented, you can pay your filing fee online with a debit card or through an electronic bank transfer, but you can’t use a debit card in person. Paying online is a new option as of April 30, 2020.
If you can’t pay the $338 in full, you have options. You can request a fee waiver or apply to pay with an installment plan.
If your household income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines and you can’t pay the filing fee in installments, you may qualify for a fee waiver. See the Rhode Island Fee Waiver Eligibility table below. In Rhode Island, you must fill out the following forms to apply for a fee waiver:
If your income is more than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you won’t qualify for a fee waiver, but you can apply to pay the filing fee in installments. Rhode Island local rules require that everyone filing Chapter 7 in Rhode Island pay at least 25% of the total fee, which is $84.50, with their initial paperwork. If you’re approved for an installment plan, you’ll get the opportunity to pay the remainder of the fee in three more monthly payments.
It’s usually best to wait until you can pay the full filing fee, but in some cases, people need to file bankruptcy as soon as possible because they’re facing foreclosure, wage garnishment, or other serious collection measures and need the benefit of the automatic stay. When you file your bankruptcy petition, the court issues an automatic stay, which orders creditors to stop collection activity.
If you can, plan on paying the full fee at the time your Rhode Island bankruptcy case is first filed. If you agree to an installment plan and don’t keep the agreement, your bankruptcy case could be dismissed.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Once you have at least the first installment payment for your fee and your forms are complete, you’ll want to print your bankruptcy forms. Print one copy to submit to the court, and print a second copy to keep for your files. Keep a checklist handy so you can double-check that you have all the required forms before you file.
Make sure your documents are printed in the following form:
On regular, white letter-size paper (8 ½” x 11”)
In black ink
On only one side of the page — no “duplex” (double-sided) pages
Be sure to check your printer settings before you print. Also, all your forms must be complete. If there’s a question that doesn’t apply to you, don’t leave it blank. Instead, write or type “none” or “not applicable. Finally, sign in every signature spot.
If you use Upsolve’s filing tool, you’ll receive a bankruptcy document packet as a single PDF download, and there will be dividers that tell you where to sign.
File Your Forms With the Rhode Island Bankruptcy Court
You can file your Rhode Island bankruptcy documents in person or by mail. If you have an attorney, they’ll submit the documents online through the Electronic Court Filing (ECF) system, but this isn’t an option if you’re filing your case without an attorney.
If you don’t have an attorney you can file your bankruptcy petition by email and upload your personal identification documents to Rhode Island’s Electronic Drop Box. This is available to self-represented parties only. You’ll have to fill out an extra bankruptcy form to be officially approved for the email option. There’s also a form for the Electronic Drop Box, so you can file future bankruptcy forms online. Fax filing isn’t allowed.
The Rhode Island Bankruptcy Court is located in Providence. You can find detailed directions, including public transportation options on the court's website. Since the bankruptcy system is based on federal law, you’ll be going to a federal court. This means there will be a security checkpoint at the entrance with a metal detector, and you’ll have to show picture ID. Masks are required, and if you’re asked about vaccines, simply state that you are there for a “public service or benefit.”
Once inside, head to the clerk's office. The clerk will assist you with filing your case. If you need someone else to drop off your documents, call the clerk at the bankruptcy court to make sure it’s okay. Filing options have fluctuated with the COVID-19 pandemic, so be sure to check the Rhode Island bankruptcy court website or call for the latest updates.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The court will assign a bankruptcy trustee to handle your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island as soon as you file your case with the court. Your bankruptcy trustee’s name and contact information will be on the notice of bankruptcy you receive after you file your case.
Trustees have significant powers, and they’ll be reviewing and verifying the financial information in your documents. They’ll work with you and your creditors to process your bankruptcy case. They’re also in charge of making decisions related to your property, assets, and payments.
You’ll have to give the bankruptcy trustee certain documents. If you don’t, your case could be dismissed. You need to send the following documents at least seven days before the 341 meeting (more on this below):
Bank statements that show your transactions and account balance on the date of you filed your bankruptcy paperwork, and
The last two federal tax returns you filed.
Usually, the trustee will mail you a letter letting you know what documents you need to provide. This is generally to confirm your financial situation or to see what assets or money you might have available. A request doesn’t necessarily mean your case is in trouble, it just means the trustee is checking the math.
Take a Debtor Education Course
After filing Chapter 7 in Rhode Island, you must take a debtor education course that focuses on financial management. You must take this course within 60 days of your 341 meeting. The debtor education course is different than the credit counseling course, but there are some similarities. As with the credit counseling course, the financial management course must be from an approved provider.
The course typically takes about 1-2 hours and can be done from the comfort of your own home. There is a small fee for the course. When you’re done, it's important to let the court know you completed the course by sending them your completion certificate. The course provider may file the certificate with the court for you. Alternatively, you can complete and file Form 423 after you complete the class. Rhode Island allows you to file your certificate online.
When you file your certificate for your second financial course in Rhode Island, you’re letting the court know that you’re ready to close your bankruptcy case and receive your discharge. If you don’t take the course, you’re not eligible for a bankruptcy discharge and you won’t get the fresh start you’re looking for.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is also called the meeting of creditors or creditors' meeting. It may sound stressful, but it’s often one of the easiest parts of the Rhode Island bankruptcy process. The 341 meeting is an opportunity for the trustee to ask you questions that they’re required to ask everyone who files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island.
While creditors are invited to attend the meeting and ask questions, this doesn’t typically happen. The 341 meeting takes place approximately 20-40 days after you file your case, but you’ll be notified by the court well before then. As of January 2022, 341 meetings in Rhode Island are still being held by telephone or video conference due to COVID-19.
The Rhode Island bankruptcy court website has a calendar you can check that has more information on the 341 meeting. You must show the trustee your government-issued picture ID and acceptable proof of your Social Security number, such as your original Social Security card or a W-2. You must provide these documents at least one day before the scheduled 341 meeting.
If you have an in-person meeting, try to get to the courthouse early so you have time to park and deal with metal detectors and security. After the 341 meeting, you’ll hear from the trustee, but it could take weeks or months.
Dealing with Your Car
If you’re still making auto loan payments, you have some options:
If you don't want to keep your car because your loan balance is high or your monthly payments are unaffordable, you can surrender your motor vehicle to the lender. If you do this, you’ll no longer owe any money.
If you like your car and the loan, and you’re current on your payments, you can keep things the way they were by entering into a reaffirmation agreement. Similarly, if you’re leasing your car, you’re current on payments, and you want to keep your car lease, you can assume the lease and keep it as-is. If you want to cancel your car lease during bankruptcy, you can. It might make financial sense for you to cancel your expensive lease and buy a car after bankruptcy
If you want to keep your car, but you don’t like your loan you may be able to redeem your vehicle by paying the creditor the fair market value of the car. So, while you’ll still have to pay for your car, this relieves you from having to pay the loan according to its terms, and you could avoid substantially more debt.
Rhode Island Bankruptcy Means Test
Everyone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island must first pass the Rhode Island Chapter 7 bankruptcy means test. The means test looks at your financial situation. It’s intended to disqualify people who might be able to pay their debts under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan. Your income will be compared to the median income of similar households in the Ocean State. You must fall within the applicable income limits to qualify for Chapter 7 — Social Security benefits and certain military-related incomes aren’t included in the formula.
Data on Median income levels for Rhode Island
Rhode Island Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2022
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Rhode Island
Rhode Island Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2022
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Rhode Island Bankruptcy Forms
You can obtain a full set of the Rhode Island Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms from the court's website. Most of the forms are official national bankruptcy forms that are the same across the nation, but some Rhode Island bankruptcy forms are unique to the Ocean State. You can find these forms on the court's website and can download them for free to use in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
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Rhode Island District and Filing Requirements
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Rhode Island is one district and has one bankruptcy judge to serve the entire state. You’ll need at least $84.50 to pay your Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing fee, and you can make the payment online, or by money order, cashier’s check, or cash (exact change only). Your petition can be filed in person, by mail, or via a special email procedure for pro se filers. You can sign up to receive email notices. Check the court website for the most recent COVID-10 information.
Rhode Island Bankruptcy Exemptions
Exemptions determine which of your assets are protected from your creditors after your Rhode Island bankruptcy has been filed with the court. Rhode Island bankruptcy laws give you the option to use the federal exemptions or the Rhode Island bankruptcy exemptions. The Ocean State includes protections for a homestead exemption up to $500,000, a car up to $12,000, and IRAs can be fully protected (except for excess contributions and as required for child support and alimony). A Rhode Island wildcard exemption of $6,000 can be used to protect any property not otherwise protected.
Rhode Island Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Lawyers often charge a flat fee for Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases, and the average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer for a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island is $1,150. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan can take years, so lawyers will charge more for it than for a Chapter 7. When you consider that you can get medical bills, credit card debt, and other types of unsecured debt discharged in bankruptcy, a lawyer can be a wise investment, particularly if you’re filing for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
The cost of your bankruptcy attorney will depend on how complicated your case is and attorney billing practices. Two lawyers could charge different prices for the same case, so shop around. Many attorneys offer free consultations. You can usually get a good idea at the initial consultation if you’ll like working with the attorney.
The cost of a bankruptcy attorney in Rhode Island will be worthwhile if you have assets to protect or you’re not comfortable with a lot of detailed paperwork and instructions. Review websites and ratings and ask people for recommendations. You’ll want to find an attorney you’re comfortable working with because bankruptcy can be stressful.
Rhode Island Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford a lawyer, you might qualify for legal aid assistance. Many organizations in Rhode Island offer free or reduced-cost legal services. If you think you’ll need more help with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Rhode Island than the free legal clinic offered by the court, you can contact one of the Rhode Island legal aid organizations in your area for help. The court provides some links to the organizations in your area on its website.
Rhode Island Court Locations
The Federal Center
380 Westminster Street Providence, RI 02903
Rhode Island Judges
Rhode Island Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Rhode Island||Hon. Diane Finkle|
Rhode Island Trustees
Rhode Island Trustees
|Joseph M. DiOrioemail@example.com|
|Stacy B. Ferrarafirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lisa A. Geremiaemail@example.com|
|Charles A. Pisaturo Jr.||firstname.lastname@example.org|