Live in Tennessee and need help filing for bankruptcy and can't afford an attorney? Our legal aid nonprofit guides Tennessee debtors through the chapter 7 process.
Written by Attorney Eva Bacevice.
Updated July 27, 2020
Tennessee, known as the “volunteer state” is home to the Great Smoky Mountains, the longest running radio program, Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, and country music luminary Dolly Parton. You will also find Graceland, home to the King of Rock N’ Roll, Elvis Presley. With so many music heroes from the state, it is not surprising to find multiple music giants who encountered the need to file bankruptcy, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Isaac Hayes. If you are considering a Tennessee bankruptcy, you’re in good company (depending on your taste in music)!
How to File Bankruptcy in Tennessee for Free
When you decide to file for bankruptcy in Tennessee one of the first decisions you will need to make is whether you intend to do so on your own (also known as “pro se”), or with the assistance of an attorney. States vary on how much assistance they offer to pro se filers. Tennessee bankruptcy laws do not offer a lot of specific resources to pro se filers. Only one of the three districts (Western District of Tennessee) has specific instructions for pro se filers and the instructions themselves are replete with warnings against filing on your own. Despite bankruptcy courts in Tennessee having an obvious bias for debtors being represented by attorneys, it is still feasible that you can succeed on your own filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee. If you are curious about the various types of bankruptcy please feel free to read about Chapter 7 versus Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but below we will walk you through the process for a Chapter 7.
Collect Your Tennessee Bankruptcy Documents
To begin the process for filing Chapter 7 in Tennessee you will need to gather specific documents to assist you in determining whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 (more on this below), and to fill out the necessary forms to file your case. You will need to have documentation regarding your income for the last six (6) months. You should also make sure you have documents regarding any major financial transactions for the last two years; monthly living expenses; debts (secured andunsecured); and property (all assets and possessions, not just real estate). You should also collect your tax returns for the last two years, deeds to any real estate you own, your car(s) titles, and the documents for any loans you may have. It is a good idea to get a copy of your credit report at this point (you can obtain a free copy at AnnualCreditReport.com) so that you can be certain you are including all the relevant information regarding your debts (including collection agencies, if any).
Take Credit Counseling
Pursuant to Tennessee bankruptcy laws, you will need to complete a credit counseling course prior to filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You will also need to take a second debtor education course later in the process. We will discuss that timing later on, but it is good to be aware of it in advance because many of the credit counseling agencies will offer both courses for one fee. Make certain that you are going to an approved agency in Tennessee for both of the courses. Most agencies offer online or phone options to complete these courses. If you prefer to take the courses in person you can do so at The University of Tennessee Extension which offers multiple brick and mortar locations in all three districts: the Eastern District, the Middle Districtand the Western District. The Middle District also has physical locations at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Midwest, Inc and the Western District has The Kingdom Ministries, Inc for anyone who prefers to go in person.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
If after your initial research into bankruptcy and your first credit counseling course, you are still not entirely convinced the bankruptcy is the best solution for you this screening toolmay be of assistance. Once you have made up your mind, it is time to tackle the paperwork. You will need to complete all the relevant forms to file for Tennessee bankruptcy, which includes more than 20 federal forms, as well as any necessary local forms depending on your district. If you are working with an attorney they will get the necessary information from you to complete the forms for you. If you are doing so on your own make certain to follow the instructions on each form carefully. If you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee using Upsolve, the online questionnaire will populate your answers directly into the forms.
Get Your Filing Fee
There is a fee required for filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee. The current Chapter 7 filing fee is $338. Unless there is another arrangement in place this amount must be paid in full at the time you file your bankruptcy with the court. You are not able to charge the filing fee so make certain to have cash (exact change) or a certified cashier’s check ready when you go to the court. If you feel you cannot afford the fee, it is possible to request a fee waiver with the court. Review the instructions carefully to see if you qualify by earning less than 150% of the federal poverty line with all combined family income. If you do not qualify for a fee waiver you can request to pay the filing fee in installments.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee entails physically going to the courthouse with your paperwork to turn it in and have it time-stamped. You will need to print out all of the documents (single sided only - double-sided will not be accepted) to file your case. If you are working with an attorney they will be able to file electronically, on your behalf. If you are continuing pro se, however, it will be up to you to print all the required forms. If you do not have access to a printer at home or one you can use at work you might check the rates at your local library or go to a local office supply store, like Kinkos or Staples.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
As indicated above, the next step in filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee is to go to the courthouse to file your case. We highly recommend reaching out to the court clerk in advance (Eastern, Middle, Western) to make certain you are filing in the proper district and to confirm their open hours. It is also best to go yourself rather than send someone else in case there is a missing signature or quick correction to make. As soon as your case is time-stamped the protection of the automatic stay will go into effect, and creditors will not be able to harass or contact you directly.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
When you file your Tennessee bankruptcy, or very soon after, you will be assigned a Chapter 7 trusteeto oversee your case. Your Chapter 7 trustee will require copies of specific documents in advance of your scheduled 341 hearing, or “Meeting of Creditors.” You should hear directly from your trustee with a specific list of documents they require at least seven (7) days before the hearing. This will most likely include documents required under Under Bankruptcy Rule 4002(b)(2): (1) evidence of current income such as your most recent payment advice;(2) unless the trustee or U.S. Trustee instructs otherwise, statements for each of your depository and investment accounts (including checking, savings, and money market accounts, mutual funds and brokerage accounts) for the time period that includes the date of the filing of the petition; and(3) documentation of the monthly expenses claimed by you. You will also likely need to provide your tax returns for the past two years (state and federal), any deeds for real property, mortgage statement and proof of insurance for same. It will also include any car title that your name appears on as well as proof of insurance.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
The second credit counseling course is due to the court after the case has been filed, and prior to receiving your discharge. The certificate is due specifically within 60 days of your 341 hearing date, but it is best to complete it and get it out of the way earlier. It is helpful to aim to have it completed by your 341 hearing date, so that if you receive the certificate of completion directly from the agency, then you can file it with the courthouse clerk. Otherwise, you may need to file Local Form AOB423 for the Western District with information about the course you completed. Do not include this in documents you send to or give to your Chapter 7 trustee, the certificate needs to be time-stamped and included in your official court record pursuant to Tennessee bankruptcy laws.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The next step in your Tennessee bankruptcy is to attend the 341 hearing, also called the “Meeting of Creditors.” This hearing will take place in front of your Chapter 7 trustee and is generally pretty quick, usually lasting between five and ten minutes. You can learn more about what to expect at this hearing in this 341 meeting preparation video. The hearing will be set between 20 and 40 days from your petition filing date. You should receive your notice about this hearing within 15 days of filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee. If you do not receive the notice in that time period, you should reach out to the court clerk right away. At the meeting of creditors: Under Bankruptcy Rule 4002(b)(1), you must bring:(1) a driver’s license (or other picture identification issued by a governmental unit) or other personal identifying information that establishes your identity; and(2) evidence of your Social Security Number(s), or a written statement that such documentation does not exist. The trustee will ask questions based on your filing and the documents you provided in advance to establish that the information is true and accurate.
Dealing with Your Car
Many people filing bankruptcy have concerns about what will happen to their car when they file. Usually the best mechanism to protect personal property is through the use of exemptions, which allow you to protect equity in various items up to certain amounts. Tennessee bankruptcy exemptions, however, do not offer a specific vehicle exemption. This means that the only way to protect equity in a car is to include it in the Tennessee exemption § 26-2-103 for other personal property to the aggregate value of $10,000. You can determine the equity in your car by taking the fair market value by using either Kelley Blue Book or National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and then subtracting any lien amounts on the vehicle. If you are still making payments on the car you have three options: (1) Keep the car and continue making payments until it’s paid off;(2) Keep the car by paying it off in a lump-sum payment (this could be less than you owe); or (3) Return the car to the creditor and owe nothing more. If you can afford to keep the secured property and continue making payments, you will be asked to sign a reaffirmation agreement.
Tennessee Bankruptcy Means Test
When filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee you need to prove that you are qualified to do so. You can show that you are qualified for a Chapter 7 based onthe Means Test. If your current monthly income is below a certain threshold or income cutoffs, you will qualify for a Chapter 7. Even if your income is higher than the cutoff you can still show that you qualify for a Chapter 7 by going through a more extensive review (or full Means Test.)
Data on Median income levels for Tennessee
Tennessee Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Tennessee
Tennessee Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Tennessee Bankruptcy Forms
Tennessee bankruptcy forms utilize a mix of the federal bankruptcy forms and local bankruptcy forms. Tennessee is divided into three federal court districts, the Eastern District, the Middle District and the Western District.
Eastern District of Tennessee Requirements
The Eastern District of Tennessee offers four locations in Chattanooga, Greeneville, Knoxville and Winchester. Please note, however, that the Winchester office is unstaffed. The court has jurisdiction over 41 counties. Chattanooga serves Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties. Greeneville covers Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. Knoxville serves Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier and Union counties. Finally Winchester covers Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Moore, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Middle District of Tennessee Requirements
The Middle District of Tennessee’s main office is located in Nashville. The Middle District also maintains two satellite offices in Columbia and Cookeville. The Nashville Division serves the counties of Cannon, Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson, and Wilson. The Columbia Division serves the counties of Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Marshall, Maury, and Wayne. The Cookeville Division covers the counties of Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb,Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, and White.
Western District of Tennessee Requirements
The Western District of Tennessee offers two locations: Memphis and Jackson. The court's jurisdiction includes the entirety of West Tennessee (Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, McNairy, Obion, Perry, Shelby, Tipton, and Weakley) plus Perry County in Middle Tennessee.
Tennessee Bankruptcy Exemptions
Tennessee is one of the states which has opted out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions . As a result, when Tennessee law is used to determine bankruptcy exemptions, debtors can only use the Chapter 7 bankruptcy exemptions in Tennessee. Please see below for the top 5 Tennessee bankruptcy exemptions:
Homestead exemption - up to $25,000, depending on age and family status
Personal Property - $10,000 aggregate value, plus $1,900 in tools of the trade, clothing, health aids, family books, and more
Vehicle - none, but you may use personal property exemptions
Wages - 75% of disposable earnings or 30 times the federal minimum wage; can be increased by $2.50 per week for each dependent child under 16 years old
Pension/retirement - Qualified retirement plans are exempt, plus protections under federal law (with limits on IRAs and Roth IRAs)
Tennessee Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer can vary significantly. It is generally more expensive if you live in a more pricey area of Tennessee. The good news is that many bankruptcy attorneys in Tennessee offer a free consultation so you can meet with a lawyer to discuss your case before committing to any fees. The costs for a chapter 7 are typically around $1,000 or slightly above ($1,200) in Tennessee.
Attorney cost estimate: $1,100 – $1,200
Tennessee Legal Aid Organizations
Tennessee offers many different options when it comes to Legal Aid options. While many of the programs are income-based, others may be for specific populations (such as veterans) or age-based. Legal Aid organizations offer assistance in all types of legal issues. Many Legal Aid organizations are full service, addressing any legal issues that might arise. Both Legal Aid society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and Knoxville Legal Aid Society, Inc. Pro Bono Project specifically cover bankruptcy so those are a great place to start.
Legal Aid of East Tennessee
607 W Summit Hill Dr, Knoxville, TN 37902-2011
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
1321 Murfreesboro Pike Ste 400, Nashville, TN 37217-2665
Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc.
Falls Building, 22 N. Front Street, 11th Floor, Memphis, TN 38103-5013
West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.
210 W. Main Street, P.O. Box 2066, Jackson, TN 38302-2066
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Tennessee Court Locations
One Memphis Place
200 Jefferson Avenue Memphis, TN 38103
United States Customs House
701 Broadway Nashville, TN 37203
Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse
800 Market Street Knoxville, TN 37902
James H. Quillen United States Courthouse
220 West Depot Street Greeneville, TN 37743
Historic United States Courthouse
31 East 11th Street Chattanooga, TN 37402
Tennessee Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Tennessee||Hon. Marcia Phillips Parsons|
|Eastern District of Tennessee||Hon. Shelley D. Rucker|
|Eastern District of Tennessee||Hon. Suzanne H. Bauknight|
|Eastern District of Tennessee||Hon. Nicholas W. Whittenburg|
|Middle District of Tennessee||Hon. Marian F. Harrison|
|Middle District of Tennessee||Hon. Randal S. Mashburn|
|Middle District of Tennessee||Hon. Charles M. Walker|
|Western District of Tennessee||Hon. David S. Kennedy|
|Western District of Tennessee||Hon. Jennie D. Latta|
|Western District of Tennessee||Hon. George W. Emerson|
|Western District of Tennessee||Hon. Paulette J. Delk|
|Western District of Tennessee||Hon. Jimmy L. Croom|
|Elisabeth B. Donnovinfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|D. Stephen Duncan|
|Trudy M. Edwards|
|Jerry D. Farinashemail@example.com|
|Dean B. Farmer|
|Michael H. Fitzpatrickfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|William M. Fosteremail@example.com|
|Margaret B. Fugatefirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Terry D. Gregory|
|Andrea D. Haydukemail@example.com|
|Douglas R. Johnsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|David H. Jones|
|F. Scott Milligan|
|Ann Reilly Mostolleremail@example.com|
|John P. Newton Jr.|
|Douglas L. Paynefirstname.lastname@example.org|
|W. Grey Steed III|
|Robert J. Wilkinsonemail@example.com|
|Jeanne Ann Burton||Jeanne.firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Thomas Larry Edmondsonemail@example.com|
|Erica R. Johnsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Eva M. Lemehemail@example.com|
|Susan R. Limorfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John C. McLemoreemail@example.com|
|Timothy G. Niarhos|
|David G. Rogersfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Robert H. Waldschmidtemail@example.com|
|Bettye S. Bedwellfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Edward L. Montedonico Jr.||email@example.com|
|Michael T. Taborfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lynda F. Teemsemail@example.com|
|Marianna G. Williamsfirstname.lastname@example.org|