How To File Bankruptcy for Free in South Carolina
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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 Andrea Wimmer.
Updated March 22, 2022
There are few things in life more stressful than having to decide between paying a credit card bill and buying groceries for your family. The Founding Fathers knew all too well that sometimes you can end up in a financial situation that leaves you no choice but to default on your debts. That’s why they authorized Congress to create bankruptcy laws in the first place. In fact, South Carolina bankruptcy laws have been around even longer, with the second version being ratified by South Carolina Governor Francis Nicholson in June 1722.
If you've already defaulted on some of your debts, you know that your creditors will call a lot. Seeking bankruptcy protection by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is one way to end the phone calls from your creditors and give you a much-needed fresh start. It provides some relief the moment you file. This guide is intended to give you a general overview of how the South Carolina bankruptcy laws and procedures operate almost 300 years after the "Act for the Relief of Poor Debtors" was first ratified in the Palmetto State.
How to File Bankruptcy in South Carolina for Free
There is a $338 court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But if you hire an attorney to help with your case, the cost of the attorney will be the biggest cost to file your case. The good news is that you have options when it comes to filing and you can file without an attorney. This 10 step guide walks you through the process.
- Collect Your South Carolina Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the South Carolina Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your South Carolina Bankruptcy Documents
Your bankruptcy documents are the documents the court needs from you to make sure you’ve disclosed all of the relevant information. Bankruptcy laws require you to provide certain documents to the court when you file your petition, and to your trustee after your case is filed, whether or not you have an attorney representing you.
These required documents are:
The two most recent tax returns you have,
Paycheck stubs from the previous 60 days, and
A bank statement that includes your filing date.
There are other documents that aren’t required but are helpful to have as you fill out your South Carolina bankruptcy forms. To help you list your debts and creditor information, pull together any creditor statement, bills, letters, or documents received from collection agencies. It can also be helpful to pull a copy of your credit report to cross-check this information. You’re entitled to one free report every 12 months from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies. Finally, gather any bank statements you have from the last 6-12 months to help you report your expenses.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
To be eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in South Carolina you have to complete a credit counseling course in the six months before you file your case with the court. This class takes about 1-2 hours to complete and covers all of your options for debt relief.
Even though most people filing bankruptcy in South Carolina take the class online or over the phone, there are two providers (CCCS of Savannah Area and Family Services, Inc.) that usually offer this class in person. However, you’ll need to check with these providers to ensure this option is still available during COVID-19. The course isn’t free, but you may be able to have the fee waived or take the course online for as low as $15.
To be valid, you need to complete the course in the 180 days before you file your case, and you must take it from an approved credit counseling provider. You’ll receive a certificate of completion for the course, which you need to submit to the court along with the rest of your paperwork.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Most bankruptcy forms are the same for everybody because they’re federal. Their purpose is to provide the court, your trustee, and your creditors with certain financial information. You can download all these bankruptcy forms for free as fillable PDF forms from USCOURTS.gov.
If you hire a lawyer, their office will complete the forms based on the information and documents you provide to their office. If you’re eligible to use the Upsolve filing tool, we’ll provide a questionnaire for you to complete. Then we’ll generate the bankruptcy forms for you using your responses. Whichever route you choose to complete the required forms, make sure that you don’t leave anything out. After all, you’ll have to sign the documents under penalty of perjury before they can be submitted to the court.
Get Your Filing Fee
There is a $338 filing fee for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you make less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you’re eligible to apply for a fee waiver. See the South Carolina Fee Waiver Eligibility table further down this page.
If you don’t qualify to have your bankruptcy filing fee waived and you need to file your case quickly but can’t pay the $338, you can apply to pay it in installments. Some filers choose to do this because they’re facing wage garnishment and they want the protection of the automatic stay. The automatic stay stops creditors from taking action against you and it goes into effect as soon as you file.
If you apply to pay your fee in installments, make sure to pay attention to the due dates the court sets. If you miss a payment, the court can dismiss your bankruptcy case before you get your discharge.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
This is the last step before you’re officially ready to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Make sure you give yourself enough time for this. If you completed the forms on your own and now have them saved as separate files on your computer, creating or using a checklist may be very helpful when it comes time to print.
You’ll need to print your forms on regular, white letter-size paper (8.5” x 11”) in black ink. Don’t print double-sided. Do be sure to sign in all necessary spots. Finally, double-check that you have printed everything that’s required and filled out all forms completely. Many filers print a complete second copy of everything they plan to submit to the court when filing bankruptcy in South Carolina. This way, they have a copy for their records.
If you’re using Upsolve’s filling tool, you’ll receive your forms packet as a single download. Everywhere you need to sign will be flagged.
File Your Forms With the South Carolina Bankruptcy Court
Only bankruptcy attorneys in South Carolina can file petitions electronically. Everyone else has to submit a paper version of all of their bankruptcy forms to the court. While you can file your case by mailing everything to the clerk's office, many people choose to take the documents in person. That helps avoid any mailing delays. It also gives you the opportunity to correct any errors or add anything that’s missing right then and there.
Even though the court has locations in Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville, only the Columbia office has a fully staffed bankruptcy clerk's office. If you plan on heading to Charleston or Greenville to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in South Carolina, you should give the clerk's office a call first to confirm they can assist you with this. When you get to the courthouse, remember that you’ll be entering a federal building, which means you will have to pass through building security on your way in.
If you choose to mail your forms in, you can send them to:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
1100 Laurel Street
Columbia, SC 29201
You also need to be aware of any COVID-19 specific information there may be regarding filing.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
As soon as you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court will assign a trustee to administer your case and set the date for your creditors' meeting. The trustee verifies the information you provided in your bankruptcy forms. You’re required to give your trustee the following documents so they receive them at least seven days before your meeting of creditors.
Your federal income tax return for the last two years, and
A bank statement that includes the date you filed for bankruptcy
Depending on which trustee is assigned to your case, you may also be required to submit other documentation to their office in preparation for the creditors' meeting. If so, your trustee will likely send you a letter shortly after filing with a list of their requirements. It's important to keep an eye out for such a letter and review and respond to it in a timely manner.
Take a Debtor Education Course
You took credit counseling before filing Chapter 7 in South Carolina. Now you have to take a financial management course before you can get your bankruptcy discharge. Without the course, you aren’t eligible for a discharge, which wipes out your credit card debt, medical bills, and other qualifying debt.
Be sure to take the course from an approved provider and to file the certificate of completion no later than 60 days after your creditors’ meeting. The course provider may file your completion certificate with the court for you. If not, you’ll have to file the certification yourself. Without it, the court won’t know that you’re ready to have the discharge entered and you risk having your case dismissed.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The creditors' meeting is sometimes referred to as the 341 meeting because that’s the section of the Bankruptcy Code that mandates it. It will take place approximately 20-40 days after you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy with the court. The official notice you receive from the court shortly after filing bankruptcy in South Carolina contains all the necessary details about your 341 meeting.
Depending on where you live, the meeting will take place at the courthouse in either Charleston, Columbia, or Spartanburg. It’s important to note that all 341 meetings are currently being held remotely as a COVID-19 measure. But this hasn’t been adopted as a standard practice going forward, so be sure to check your notice for meeting information.
Typically, this is nothing more than a meeting with your bankruptcy trustee, who has to first verify your identity by reviewing a picture ID and your Social Security card or other acceptable proof of your Social Security number. Once that’s done the trustee will put you under oath and ask you a set of standard questions. Take just a few minutes to review the forms you filed with the South Carolina Bankruptcy Court to prepare for the meeting. This way, your memory is fresh when the trustee starts asking questions. Your discharge order will be entered somewhere between 60 to 90 days after your meeting.
Dealing with Your Car
It’s normal to feel concerned about what a Chapter 7 bankruptcy means for your vehicle. The good news is that filing bankruptcy in South Carolina puts you in the driver's seat, meaning you can choose what to do with the car.
If you own your car outright, you can keep it as long as its value doesn’t exceed the exemption limit. South Carolina’s state exemption limit for cars is $5,900. (More on exemptions later.)
If you have a car loan with a manageable monthly payment and the remaining car loan balance isn’t a lot more than the current value of your vehicle, you can choose to keep everything the way it was before you filed. This is done in a reaffirmation agreement. Only sign this if your loan is current and you’re sure that you can make the monthly payments to your lender without issue.
If you have a car loan and you’re behind on the payments or you want to get out of the loan, you can give the car back and have the loan debt erased with your bankruptcy discharge. You can look at buying another car once you are out of bankruptcy.
Finally, if you’re leasing your vehicle, you can keep the lease and the car if you’re current on your payments and you want to continue with the lease. If you want out of the lease, you can return the car.
South Carolina Bankruptcy Means Test
The South Carolina means test for bankruptcy is intended to make sure that only people who really need relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code can get it. Everyone filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in South Carolina first compares their household income to the median income for a household of the same size. This part of the test only considers your gross income (the amount you make before taxes or deductions are taken out). It doesn't account for reasonable and necessary living expenses. If you make more than the applicable income limits allow, you can take part two of the means test. It considers your disposable income and different types of debts.
If you don’t qualify for Chapter 7, you can file another type of bankruptcy like Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In Chapter 13, a filer’s debts are restructured, and they repay what they can in a short-term repayment plan.
Data on Median income levels for South Carolina
South Carolina Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for South Carolina
South Carolina 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)|
South Carolina Bankruptcy Forms
The South Carolina Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms are the forms that almost everyone who files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy nationwide has to submit to the court as part of their case. The majority of them are the online bankruptcy forms available for people filing bankruptcy anywhere in the country. While South Carolina has some local forms, none are required of Chapter 7 filers.
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South Carolina Districts & Filing Requirements
The Palmetto State is a single bankruptcy district broken into three separate divisions. The county you live in determines which division your case will be assigned to. To assist people who may not be able to afford a lawyer for their South Carolina bankruptcy matter, the court offers an Ask-A-Lawyer program. This program allows filers with bankruptcy-related questions to call a number and talk to a lawyer about it for free. The district also provides information for those filing for bankruptcy in South Carolina without an attorney.
The court accepts cash (exact amount only), a certified check, or a money order, payable to "Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court." You can purchase a money order for $1.25 at any U.S. Post Office near you. If you’re approved to pay your filing fee in installments, you’ll need to make four payments as outlined by the court. The first payment of $95 is due at the time of filing.
There is also a page dedicated to the latest COVID-19 updates. It’s good to check the latest protocols before you head to court to file a case.
South Carolina Bankruptcy Exemptions
When you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in South Carolina, everything you own is considered an asset. You’re allowed to keep assets that are protected by a valid exemption. In some states, filers can choose between using federal exemptions or state exemptions. But if you’ve lived in South Carolina for at least two years you’re required to use the South Carolina bankruptcy exemptions. These exemptions allow filers to exempt a car valued up to $5,900, as well as jewelry up to $1,175. South Carolina’s homestead exemption protects up to $60,975 in equity for a single filer, double that for those who file bankruptcy jointly.
In addition to protecting specific types of property, such as real estate and household goods, the South Carolina bankruptcy laws include a so-called wildcard exemption. The wildcard allows you to protect property of your choosing up to $5,900 for a single filer.
South Carolina Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
If you have a complicated bankruptcy case or own a non-exempt property, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in South Carolina. The average cost of hiring a bankruptcy lawyer to file a Chapter 7 in the Palmetto State is $1,100-$1200. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer a free initial consultation, and costs vary depending on how complicated your case is. That said, you’ll want to consider more than just a lawyer’s fees when choosing an attorney.
South Carolina Legal Aid Organizations
If the bankruptcy process feels overwhelming and you want help from a bankruptcy attorney but can’t afford it, see if you’re eligible for legal aid in South Carolina. Legal aid organizations typically help low-income individuals with civil matters like bankruptcy. You can find out more about the legal aid organizations providing services in the Palmetto State and how to obtain free legal advice from the South Carolina Bar Association.
South Carolina Legal Services, Inc.
701 S Main Street, Greenville, SC 29601
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
South Carolina Court Locations
Clement F. Haynsworth Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse
300 East Washington Street Greenville, SC 29601
King and Queen Street Building
145 King Street Charleston, SC 29401
J. Bratton Davis United States Courthouse
1100 Laurel Street Columbia, SC 29201
South Carolina Judges
South Carolina Bankruptcy Judges
|District of South Carolina||Hon. David R. Duncan|
|District of South Carolina||Hon. John E. Waites|
|District of South Carolina||Hon. Helen Elizabeth Burris|
South Carolina Trustees
South Carolina Trustees
|Robert F. Andersonemail@example.com|
|John K. Fortfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Janet B. Haigleremail@example.com|
|Randy A. Skinnerfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Michelle L. Vieira||Michellelvieira@msn.com|