How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Tennessee
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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 Eva Bacevice.
Updated May 10, 2023
Tennessee is home to music giants, such as Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton, and giant mountains, like the Great Smoky Mountains. But it’s also home to giant mounds of medical bills. In fact, Tennessee leads the nation in bankruptcies related to medical debt.
Some people, like Willie Nelson, can sing their way out of debt, but most of us aren’t that lucky. Michelle Johnson, the executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center stated that 70% of Tennesseeans have medical debt. If you can’t sing your way out of debt in the Volunteer State, bankruptcy might be the best way to get debt relief in just a few months.
How to File Bankruptcy in Tennessee for Free
Paying a lawyer can be the most expensive cost of bankruptcy. The filing fee is the second most expensive part. But it’s significantly less expensive than attorney fees, and you may qualify to have the fee waived. While a lawyer can be helpful, you don’t have to hire one to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This guide will walk you through the steps to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee without an attorney.
- Collect Your Tennessee Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms with the Tennessee Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Tennessee Bankruptcy Documents
There are many documents you’ll need to collect before you file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee. These documents will help you fill out the information in the forms you need to file bankruptcy. There will be many forms with several detailed questions about your personal financial situation.
Generally, everyone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee will need to provide:
Tax returns from the last two years,
Paycheck stubs from the last 60 days, and
A recent bank statement.
There are many documents that you’ll need for reference, including:
Bank statements from the last 6-12 months,
Bills and debt collection letters, and
A recent credit report.
These documents will help you create a detailed list of all of the debt you owe, your income, and your expenses. Make sure you collect all your bills for medical debt and credit card debt. You’ll also need the contact information for each of your creditors, and this is where the credit reports come in handy. You can request a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus once a year. Once you have your reports, you can compare your bills and collection agency letters to the information on your credit report. This is helpful if you can’t remember everyone you owe money to.
If you have a mortgage or car loan, be sure to collect your mortgage and car loan documents, including the vehicle titles to your motor vehicles. If you owe child support or alimony, a copy of your court order will help you fill out your documents.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
Under the bankruptcy laws for Chapter 7, all filers have to take a credit counseling course before filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. The purpose is to make sure that you’re aware of your debt relief options. Most agencies offer online or phone options to complete these courses, but you may be able to complete your course in person, depending on current COVID-19 regulations and which provider you choose to take the course from.
You need to complete the course 180 days before you file your bankruptcy case, and you have to take it from an authorized provider. The course will cost money, but you can apply for a fee waiver to take the course for free. You’ll also need to take a second debtor education course after you file bankruptcy, and some credit counseling agencies offer both courses for one fee.
You won’t be stuck for the whole day in class, the course usually only takes an hour or two. When you’re done with the course, you’ll get a certificate of completion. You need to file the certificate with the rest of your documents when you file for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case at the bankruptcy court.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
To file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee, you’ll need to fill out more than 20 federal forms. These forms are the same for everyone across the United States because the forms are from the federal court system. If you want to prepare the forms yourself without an attorney, you can download the federal forms from USCOURTS.gov as fillable PDFs. You may also need to fill out some local bankruptcy forms, depending on your district and the specifics of your case. We’ll talk about this more later.
If you hire an attorney, the attorney will prepare the forms for you, though you’ll likely fill out a questionnaire first. If you’re using the Upsolve online tool to file bankruptcy in Tennessee, you’ll fill out a questionnaire, and the Upsolve software will generate your bankruptcy forms. You’ll get a complete PDF file with all of the forms filled out based on your answers in the questionnaire.
Get Your Filing Fee
The court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee is $338. If you earn less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines you can apply for a fee waiver. To see if you qualify, look at the Tennessee Fee Waiver Eligibility table below. To qualify for a fee waiver in Tennessee, you need to have income below the guidelines and be unable to pay the fee in installment payments.
If you make too much to qualify for a fee waiver, but you can’t pay the fee all at once, you can either save up to pay the fee or apply to pay your filing fee in four installments. The court gets to choose whether to approve each installment plan, but most are granted. You’ll need to pay at least $85 as your first installment at the time you file your case. An installment plan is a good option if you’re facing foreclosure, wage garnishment, or other serious debt collection. When you file your bankruptcy documents with the court, you get the protection of an automatic stay. This stops collection activity.
If you don’t have an emergency, it’s safer to pay the full filing fee when you file your bankruptcy documents to start your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. That’s because, if you’re approved for an installment plan and then miss a payment, your case can be dismissed and creditors can resume collection activity.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Courts can be picky about documents. When you print the required forms to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in Tennessee, you need to follow a certain format. Print the forms:
On white, standard letter-sized paper (8 ½” x 11”),
In black ink only,
With fonts no smaller than 10 point, and
On one side of the page only.
Review your printer settings before you print. There are a lot of forms to print! If you don’t have a printer at home, you can print your documents at a local library, office supply store, or UPS store. After you print your forms, don’t staple them together.
You should also review your forms to make sure all the spaces are filled in. If not, you can write on your forms after they’re printed. Write “none” or “not applicable” in the blanks for things that don’t apply to you.
Finally, make sure you sign your forms. Local rules in the Eastern District and Middle District require filers to include their address, phone number, and email beneath each signature. You may want to use blue ink to sign your forms so you can tell the original from the black and white copy. After you sign your forms, make a copy of everything for your records. You might need to refer to these later in the bankruptcy process.
If you use Upsolve’s filing tool, you’ll receive your forms combined in one PDF packet. Upsolve will flag the signature pages for you. If you use a bankruptcy attorney, you won’t have to worry about printing bankruptcy forms to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee.
File Your Forms with the Tennessee Bankruptcy Court
In Tennessee, you must file your bankruptcy documents by mail or in person. Only attorneys can file electronically. You can call the court clerk to see if another person can drop off the forms for you, but it’s best to go in person in case you’re missing a signature or there’s a simple technical error you can fix.
When you go to the bankruptcy court to file your case, you must have your filing fee or application for a waiver or installment payments, your bankruptcy documents, and a list of all of your creditors. If you don’t bring all of these, your petition to file bankruptcy can be rejected, and you won’t be able to file. As soon as your case is time-stamped the protection of the automatic stay goes into effect, and creditors will not be able to harass or contact you directly.
Before you go to file your case, check the court’s current COVID-19 measures to make sure your preferred method of filing is available.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Once you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the court will assign a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee to oversee your case. The name and contact information for the trustee will be on your notice of bankruptcy. The notice of bankruptcy will have the date of your meeting of creditors and should arrive two weeks before the meeting. Your Chapter 7 trustee will want to see copies of some of your financial documents as they review your case.
At a minimum, you must provide the trustee with the following, no later than seven days before your 341 meeting (more on this soon):
A bank statement that includes your filing date, and
Your most recent two federal income tax returns.
Your trustee may send you a notice by mail asking for these and other documents. They may also ask you to provide:
Documentation of expenses
Proof of investment accounts
Deeds for real property like your home
Proof of insurance
Your recent pay stubs (or a Statement of Payment Advices if you don’t have pay stubs)
Recent divorce decrees or child support orders
If you don’t give the trustee the documents they request, your case can be dismissed and you won’t have your debt discharged through bankruptcy.
Take a Debtor Education Course
Before you can get your bankruptcy discharge, you must take a second debtor education course that covers financial management skills from an approved provider. Similar to the credit counseling course, this will last only 1-2 hours. Most providers offer courses online or over the phone.
You can take this course any time after you file your case, but no later than 60 days after your 341 meeting. As with the credit counseling course, you’ll receive a certificate of completion when you finish the course. You must file your certificate with the court within this 60-day timeframe or your case can be dismissed without a discharge. Some providers will file the certificate for you. Once your certificate is filed, you’re one step closer to discharge!
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 meeting — often called the creditors’ meeting or meeting of creditors — is a mandatory meeting with the trustee, though your creditors are also invited. The 341 meeting is named after the section of the Bankruptcy Code, which is the federal law that requires it. These meetings are usually short, and creditors often don’t attend. If you have no assets or money to pay a creditor, there’s rarely a reason for them to attend.
The hearing will be set 20–40 days from your petition filing date. You should receive your notice of bankruptcy by mail with the hearing date listed within 15 days of filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee. If you elected to receive court notices via email, you’ll receive the notice of bankruptcy in your email. If you don’t receive the notice in that time period, you should reach out to the court clerk right away to find out when your meeting is scheduled.
When you meet the trustee, you must bring:
Your driver’s license (or other picture identification issued by a governmental unit) or other personally identifying information that establishes your identity, and
Evidence of your Social Security number or a written statement that such documentation doesn’t exist.
During the meeting, the trustee will ask you questions based on the documents you filed to verify that the information is true and accurate. You’ll be put under oath. Everything you say will be under penalty of perjury, so keep your answers honest and short. Many people get nervous about the creditors’ meeting, but you can relieve some of that stress by learning more about the process. This 341 meeting preparation video goes over some of the questions you’ll be asked. Note that Tennessee is currently holding all 341 meetings via video conference or telephone due to COVID-19.
Once your 341 meeting is over, you can relax and congratulate yourself for getting this far in the bankruptcy process!
Dealing with Your Car
Many people filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee have concerns about what will happen to their car when they file. Your options will depend on whether you owe money on your car and whether your payments are current. But the good news is that you have options. In fact, you have even more than if you weren’t filing bankruptcy!
If you have a car lease when you file a Chapter 7 case, you can choose to keep the lease if you’re current with your payments, or you can drop it and return the car. If you’re behind on your payments, or if the car has high mileage or damage, you’ll save money by turning in the car. Since a car lease isn’t a secured debt, if you choose to drop the lease, you can get the remaining amount owed on the lease discharged along with your other unsecured debts.
If you’re paying on a car loan and you’re up to date with your payments, you can likely sign a reaffirmation agreement with your lender. This is a new agreement where you promise to keep making payments. If you don’t stick to the agreement, your car could still get repossessed. If you like your car but you owe more than the car is worth, you might be able to buy your car for its value through a process called redemption. You’ll have to pay a lump sum for the car if you use the redemption option, but the remainder of the loan will be discharged and you’ll own the car outright. But keep in mind, you can always make plans to buy a car after bankruptcy.
Since you’re filing bankruptcy, it’s possible you’re behind on your car payments (like many other people filing for bankruptcy). If that’s the case and your car is at risk of repossession, you can voluntarily surrender your car and get the remaining amount you owe on the loan discharged. This might help you get a fresh start. You can choose to surrender your car even if you’re not behind on the payments. You might choose this option if you’re stuck in a loan with very high interest or unaffordable payments or if you owe more than the car is worth.
If you own your car, you might be able to use a bankruptcy exemption to protect it during the bankruptcy process. Tennessee exemptions are state laws that tell you what types of property you can protect from certain creditors. In Tennessee, there is an exemption that allows you to protect $10,000 of personal property, and you can use that exemption to protect your car from creditors.
Tennessee Bankruptcy Means Test
You need to prove that you’re qualified to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee. You prove this through a means test, which examines your income to see if you can pay off your debts. In the means test, you compare your income to the median income of Tennesseans with your household size. If your income is lower than the median, you “pass” the test and are eligible to file Chapter 7. If it’s higher than the median income, you can take the second part of the test, which considers your expenses and disposable income.
If your income is too high to file Chapter 7, you can look into Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead. This is for filers who have at least some ability to repay part of their debts. It includes a repayment plan and takes longer than a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for Tennessee
Tennessee Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Tennessee
Tennessee 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)|
Tennessee Bankruptcy Forms
Tennessee bankruptcy forms utilize a mix of federal bankruptcy forms and local bankruptcy forms. The federal bankruptcy forms are the same for every state. Each Tennessee district has its own set of local forms as well. You can view the local forms for your district to see if there’s a particular form that applies to your case. Check your district below.
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Tennessee Districts & Filing Requirements
The Tennessee bankruptcy courts are divided into three districts: the Eastern District, the Middle District, and the Western District. Each district has several court locations. To pay your filing fee, you must pay in exact cash, money order, or cashier’s check. See certain exceptions by district below. You can make the cashier’s check or money order payable to “Clerk, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.”
Eastern District of Tennessee
The Eastern District of Tennessee has four locations in Chattanooga, Greeneville, Knoxville, and Winchester. But the Winchester office is unstaffed. You can pay your filing fee at any of the staffed locations.
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.
Winchester covers Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Moore, Warren, and Van Buren counties.
The Eastern District requires certain local forms. If you don’t have pay stubs to submit to your trustee, you’ll need to fill out the local form Statement Regarding Payment Advice, which basically just states you have or haven’t attached pay stubs from the last 60 days. You can also fill out a local form to request court notices be sent by email instead of traditional postal mail. Finally, you need to submit a list of your creditors and their mailing addresses called a creditor matrix. The court has strict but clear formatting requirements for your creditor matrix.
The East Tennessee bankruptcy court website has a dedicated page for COVID-19 updates.
Middle District of Tennessee
The Middle District of Tennessee’s main office is located in Nashville. If you’re in the Middle District, you must mail or pay your fees at the Nashville office. The Middle District also maintains two satellite offices in Columbia and Cookeville. The Columbia and Cookeville offices are unstaffed.
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.
If you want the court to email you notices, you’ll need to complete the Debtor’s Electronic Noticing Request. For pro se Chapter 7 filers with a straight-forward case, no extra local forms are currently required. That said, this district has strict requirements for preparing your creditor matrix, which is a mailing list for all your creditors. You can view the complete requirements on page 2 of the Local Rules of Court document.
The Middle District court doesn’t maintain a COVID-19 webpage, but you can call the court clerk with any questions.
Western District of Tennessee Requirements
The Western District of Tennessee offers two locations: Memphis and Jackson. If want to pay your filing fee in cash, you can only do so at the Memphis office. The Western District bankruptcy court has a pro se handbook for bankruptcy filers without an attorney. The information is useful, but the filing fees are outdated.
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.
There are currently no required local forms for Chapter 7 pro se filers in Western Tennessee. You can complete a local form to receive email notices from the court. You also need to submit a list of creditors and a mailing matrix that lists each creditor’s address. This list must be specially formatted. Formatting requirements can be found on page 3 of the Local Rules document and you can also view a court example of a mailing matrix.
The Western District court doesn’t maintain a COVID-19 page, but you can call the court clerk with any questions.
Tennessee Bankruptcy Exemptions
Most people who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee can protect all their property using Tennessee’s exemptions granted through state law. Bankruptcy exemptions are protections for property like your home, car, household goods, and certain types of income. Property that isn’t protected can be sold or liquidated to pay your creditors. However, this rarely happens in Chapter 7 cases.
Some states allow bankruptcy filers to choose between federal exemptions or state exemptions, but Tennessee has opted out of the federal exemptions, so you must use state exemptions if you’ve lived in Tennessee for at least two years.
Tennessee recently increased its homestead exemption. On January 1, 2022, the $5,000 basic homestead exemption was raised to $35,000. That means you can protect up to $35,000 of equity in your home if you own it. Unlike some other states, there’s no specific motor vehicle exemption in Tennessee, but there is a personal property exemption of $10,000 that you can use to protect your car. You could also use this to protect money in your bank account.
Tennessee Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers in Tennessee usually charge a flat fee. The average cost for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Tennessee is around $1,100 – $1,200. The cost will depend on the type of bankruptcy you file, how complicated your case is, and how experienced your lawyer is. For example, a Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy case will be priced differently because a Chapter 7 can often be completed in six months, but a Chapter 13 bankruptcy with a repayment plan could take 3-5 years.
An attorney may be worth the price if you have assets to protect. Even if you don’t have assets to protect, an attorney will give you peace of mind that you’re following all the federal laws and state laws along with the rules for the specific bankruptcy court you file in. You won’t have to worry about printing forms and filing forms by a specific date. Your attorney will do this and remind you of important dates.
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.
Tennessee Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford a lawyer but you want some legal advice or help with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms, you might be able to get legal assistance from one of Tennessee’s many legal aid organizations. These organizations offer free or low-cost legal services for low-income individuals or specific groups like veterans and older adults.
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
Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse
800 Market Street Knoxville, TN 37902
United States Customs House
701 Broadway Nashville, TN 37203
Historic United States Courthouse
31 East 11th Street Chattanooga, TN 37402
James H. Quillen United States Courthouse
220 West Depot Street Greeneville, TN 37743
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|