Written by Attorney Eva Bacevice.
Updated September 8, 2020
Aiken, South Carolina has long had a reputation as "a place for a splendid time to be had." The combination of charm and history in this beautiful equestrian community still lives up to that claim today. It is not, however, immune from being a place where bankruptcy is sometimes the last and only resort for meaningful debt relief. Whether you were impacted by Prestige Appliance’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2017 or are currently enduring your own financial hardships, Aiken may be the place where you decide to file bankruptcy. To determine if the decision is right for you and your circumstances, learning more about bankruptcy is an excellent place to start. It’s important to learn about both, the different types of bankruptcy and the different types of debt. Individuals (and married couples filing jointly) have the option to file either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. Chapter 7 is likely what you think of as a traditional bankruptcy or “straight” bankruptcy. It’s essentially the personal version of a business liquidation through Chapter 7, much like what Prestige Appliance filed in 2017. But, most Chapter 7 cases don’t result in the sale of any property. Chapter 7 typically takes between four and six months, and in the end, you’re relieved from most (or all) of your debt. Chapter 13, by contrast, is a personal reorganization, where you submit a plan to make payments to some (or all) of your creditors for three to five years. After that, most remaining debts are eliminated when your bankruptcy discharge. Debts fall into three separate categories that are treated differently in bankruptcy cases. First, there are secured debts, where the obligation to pay is tied to something specific, like a mortgage on your house or a loan on your car. Next, there are unsecured debts that usually make up the bulk of personal debts. These debts are not tied to a specific piece of property, and the most common unsecured debts by far are medical bills and credit card debt. Finally, there are non-dischargeable debts that, as the name implies, can’t be eliminated in a bankruptcy. The most common examples of non-dischargeable debts are child support, alimony, and most government obligations. Determining which chapter of bankruptcy is right for you will depend on both your debts and your circumstances. If you’re not certain which is best for you, many legal aid agencies can help you figure it out. If you are burdened by mostly unsecured debts and need relief, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken might be the best decision for you, and Upsolve can help.
Aiken Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
Contemplating a bankruptcy can feel overwhelming. It is common to feel out of your depth and want to rely on an attorney to help you through the process. You might not, however, be able to afford an attorney based on your finances. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Aiken is between $1,100 and $1,200, which is a significant amount to get your hands on when you’re already in financial distress. The good news is, however, that most bankruptcy lawyers offer free initial consultations so you can explore the option. If it turns out you are looking at a straightforward Chapter 7 case and you’re eligible, you may be able to avoid attorney costs altogether by filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken on your own (also known as “pro se”) with Upsolve by your side every step of the way.
How to File Bankruptcy in Aiken, South Carolina for Free
If you are looking to file a straightforward Chapter 7 case and are eligible to use Upsolve, we can help you through the process, and potentially even help you file your Aiken bankruptcy for free. Upsolve can walk you through every step of the South Carolina bankruptcy process.
Collect Your Aiken Bankruptcy Documents
There are many documents that you will need to get together to show that you are eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken and to fill out the required paperwork. To begin, you’ll need proof of your income (pay stubs, etc.) for the last six months to show you are eligible through the Means Test, which we will discuss in detail later in this article. You will need documents that show the past sixty days of your income by the time of your 341 meeting (again, to be discussed later on) so the further back you can go at this point, the better. You’ll also want to make sure to keep all paystubs you get going forward. Next, you will need documents to support all of your financial information, such as your state and federal income tax returns from the past two years, and current statements for any financial accounts (bank, retirement, etc.) You also need to show everything you own (your assets) and everything you owe (your liabilities.) For the latter, it can be very helpful to get a free copy of your credit report to confirm you are listing everyone you owe a debt in your South Carolina bankruptcy.
Take Credit Counseling
In addition to all of the paperwork you also are required to take two credit counseling courses; one before and one during your South Carolina bankruptcy. The first course must be completed before filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken, as you need to provide the certificate of completion when you file your case. You will need to use an agency approved by the United States Trustee for the District of South Carolina. If you prefer to go in person be prepared to take a drive. There are only two options in South Carolina, and both are more than 100 miles away from Aiken (CCCS of Savannah Area in Beaufort and Family Services, Inc. in Charleston). There are, however, many other approved agencies who offer their services online or over the phone.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Once you have gathered your paperwork and completed the first credit counseling course, you are ready to fill out and complete the bankruptcy forms you’ll need for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken. If you are working with an attorney, they will fill the paperwork out on your behalf based on the information you provide. If you are moving forward pro se with Upsolve, you can answer our online questionnaire which will populate into the proper forms. You are also able to download the forms for free as fillable PDF forms along with a detailed instruction manual and fill them out yourself. However you go about filling out your Aiken bankruptcy forms, it’s important to be truthful and complete since you will be signing them under penalty of perjury.
Get Your Filing Fee
Before you file your Aiken bankruptcy you will need to address the filing fee. The cost to file your South Carolina bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is $335. This fee will need to be paid when you file your case, either in cash (exact change) or certified funds (money order or cashier’s check.) If you can’t afford to pay the filing fee and can show that you earn less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines you can apply to have the Court waive the filing fee in full. If you are not eligible to waive the filing fee but still can’t pay it in full upfront, you can also apply to pay the filing fee in installments. Just be mindful of timing to complete the payments (must be paid in full within 120 days of filing) and the number of allowed installments (four or less.)
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
The final step before you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken is to print out your forms. You will need a complete set of all of the forms as well as the credit counseling certificate to file your South Carolina bankruptcy case. If you can print it out at home or work and have the opportunity to also print a copy for yourself, you should do so as it can be a helpful resource during your case. Make certain to print on one side of the paper only; the Court will not accept double-sided forms. If you don’t have convenient access to a printer on your own you can try the Aiken County Public Library or your local Staples for printing services.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Go to court to file your formsUnited States Bankruptcy Court, so you will likely have to travel to file your Aiken bankruptcy case. There are three locations, one in Charleston, Columbia, and Spartanburg. Luckily the closest to Aiken is (the Columbia office), is the one that is fully staffed by a bankruptcy clerk.
At this point, you are ready to officially file your Aiken bankruptcy with the Court. It is often recommended that you file your case in person in case there are any some details or corrections you need to address to properly file your South Carolina bankruptcy. South Carolina is a little unusual in that the entire state is included under one United States Bankruptcy Court, so you will likely have to travel to file your Aiken bankruptcy case. There are three locations, one in Charleston, Columbia, and Spartanburg. Luckily the closest to Aiken is (the Columbia office), is the one that is fully staffed by a bankruptcy clerk.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
You will be assigned a Chapter 7 Trustee to oversee your Aiken bankruptcy after your case is filed. Your Trustee will reach out to you via mail to request several documents before your 341 meeting. They will state in their letter which documents they specifically want, but it will likely include your past two years of income taxes (federal and South Carolina),so it’s a good idea to have those ready. The Trustee will need to receive these documents at least seven days before your meeting date, so if you have not heard anything two to three weeks after filing your South Carolina bankruptcy, you may want to reach out directly to your Trustee.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
It’s a good time to complete your second required credit counseling course while you are waiting to attend your 341 meeting, so that once the meeting is concluded you will have completed all the necessary steps for your Aiken bankruptcy to result in a discharge order. Just like for the first course, you will need to use an agency approved by the US Trustee for South Carolina bankruptcy cases. Make sure that your certificate of completion is filed with the Court after you’re done because it will need to show up on your South Carolina bankruptcy docket. Some agencies may be able to file to the certificate on your behalf but most of the time it will be your responsibility to do so.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 Meeting of Creditors will take place between 21 and 40 days after you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken. This meeting will be before your bankruptcy Trustee, who will swear you in and ask questions to verify the information contained in your Aiken bankruptcy paperwork. You will need to bring along proper identification and proof of your social security number. If you’re anxious about attending this meeting some preparation may help to set your mind at ease. It tends to be a fairly quick proceeding, usually lasting between ten and fifteen minutes. Once the Trustee is satisfied that all of your information is true and accurate, they will conclude the hearing. At that point, all you need to do is to simply wait out the remainder of your case to receive your notice of discharge, which signifies the moment when you are officially free of your burdensome debts.
Dealing with Your Car
If you own or lease a car, it’s important to know upfront how filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken may impact your vehicle and factor that into your decision to file. Whether or how your car is impacted will depend on several factors. The first thing to determine is if you are fully current on loan or lease payments. If you are behind on payments at the time you file your South Carolina bankruptcy, there won’t be an opportunity to catch up on payments in Chapter 7. As such, if filing Chapter 7 in this situation you should be planning on surrendering the car. There are benefits to this because in addition to walking away from any continued obligation to make payments, you also walk away from any missed payments, interest charges, and late fees. If you are current on your payments and intend to keep your car the lender may ask that you sign a reaffirmation agreement to have the loan remain in place after the bankruptcy is complete. If you own your car outright you should be able to protect it through claiming the right exemption in your bankruptcy forms, depending on the current value of the car.
South Carolina Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Aiken
South Carolina Means Test
To file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Aiken you first have to show that you are eligible for Chapter 7 by completing the South Carolina bankruptcy Means Test. You can pass the Means Test if your current monthly income is less than the median income for your family size in South Carolina. If that is not the case, you can also pass the Means Test by going through a detailed calculation of your income and allowable expenses to show that you have little or no income left at the end of the month.
Median Income Levels for South Carolina
South Carolina Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
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Poverty Levels for South Carolina
South Carolina Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
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South Carolina Bankruptcy Forms
The South Carolina bankruptcy forms are comprised primarily of the federal forms. To file your Aiken bankruptcy, you will need to complete and file one full set of the approximately twenty-four forms.
South Carolina Exemptions
You can use exemptions in your Aiken bankruptcy case to protect your possessions up to varying dollar amounts. Some states offer a choice between the state and federal bankruptcy exemptions, however, in South Carolina, you are required to use only South Carolina bankruptcy exemptions.