Live in Texas and need help filing for bankruptcy and can't afford an attorney? Our legal aid nonprofit guides Texas debtors through the chapter 7 process.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated August 5, 2020
Everyone knows that you don't mess with Texas and a bankruptcy filing can help you make sure your creditors can't mess with you either. Seeking protection from the Texas bankruptcy courts allows you to focus on what matters most: making sure you have a roof over your head and food on the table for you and your loved ones. Sometimes life happens in a way that is unexpected and U.S. bankruptcy laws exist to give honest folks who find themselves in unfortunate situations a fresh start. There’s no shame in getting debt relief through bankruptcy.
Former Texas Governor John Connally filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas for his business after the sharp drop in oil prices led to the collapse of the Texas real estate market. Football Hall of Fame inductee Warren Sapp also applied for debt relief through a bankruptcy filing. He may have been making $45,000 per month, but even that wasn’t enough once a creditor started a garnishment.
In short, it's important to remember that filing bankruptcy is not a reflection of who you are as a person. If you are struggling with credit cards, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be the best way to get back on your feet and take care of yourself and your family.
How to File Bankruptcy in Texas for Free
If you’re looking at your debt relief options, you’re probably worried about how much the bankruptcy process will cost you. The good news is that you don’t have to hire a bankruptcy attorney to file Chapter 7. Keep reading to learn how to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas on your own!
Collect Your Texas Bankruptcy Documents
Your first step should be to collect the documents you will need during the bankruptcy process. Some documents, like your paycheck stubs, collection letters you have received from creditors, and a recent copy of your credit report will be useful when filling out your bankruptcy forms.
Other documents, such as the tax returns you filed in the 2 years before filing bankruptcy in Texas will need to be submitted to the bankruptcy trustee before your meeting of creditors. Try to be as organized as possible when you are collecting the documents for your Texas bankruptcy.
Finally, if you’re closing a bank account before filing your bankruptcy, make sure you get a complete copy of your bank statements for the 6 months before the account is closed. Your bankruptcy trustee may want to review your statements, and once an account is closed, it can be time consuming and even expensive to get them from the bank. It may take you a while to collect everything but when you’re ready to take the next step, you’ll feel more prepared.
Take Credit Counseling
Federal law requires that you complete a credit counseling course before filing your bankruptcy case. This requirement is the same in the entire country, but the credit counseling provider you use has to be approved for the Texas bankruptcy district you’re filing in.
Completing the credit counseling typically takes a couple of hours or less, and most providers offer it online and by phone. When done, you’ll get a certificate of completion. This has to be submitted to the court with your bankruptcy petition, so be sure to put it in a safe place. If you prefer one-on-one counseling in person, you can do so through Money Management International at their San Antonio and Sugar Land locations.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Some of the information required for the bankruptcy forms to be ready for filing Chapter 7 in Texas is general in nature. Where you live now and where you've lived in the last 3 years, who your employer is and how much you’ve earned in the last couple of years, your monthly expenses, a list of your debts and a list of yourassets.
Other information, like what Texas exemptions you’re claiming, is a little more technical. The benefit of working with a law firm or using Upsolve’s free online tool is that you’re able to fill out a more user-friendly questionnaire instead. It’s important to carefully read and review each bankruptcy form to make sure you don’t accidentally miss anything. Remember, you’re signing the forms under oath and penalty of perjury, and that’s nothing to be messed with either!
Get Your Filing Fee
You’re probably wondering why on earth someone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy has to pay a filing fee to the federal court. After all, you’re asking for bankruptcy protection because you don't have enough money, right?! Keep in mind, everyone's situation is different. What matters is whether your monthly income allows you to meet your monthly living expenses while leaving you enough money to pay down your debt.
In other words, someone making 3 times as much as you might be in the exact same position you’re in because they can’t pay all their monthly expenses. Recognizing that some folks filing Chapter 7 truly don’t have the ability to come up with the $335, the Texas Bankruptcy Court will grant a waiver to folks that qualify and, importantly, actually apply for a waiver. You can submit the necessary paperwork to obtain a waiver or request to make monthly payments with the rest of your bankruptcy forms. That will allow you to get the automatic stay protections that kick in when your petition is filed without having to come up with the full filing fee ahead of time.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
The last step before filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas is printing all the forms you’ll submit to the bankruptcy court. You want things to go smoothly when you are at the courthouse, so it makes sense to be methodical and take your time putting together your packet. This is especially true if you’re filing without an attorney, as you’ll likely have each form saved as a separate file on your computer.
Print each document on standard sized paper (8.5 x 11 inches) in black and white and make sure you sign each signature page. Don’t print multiple pages on one sheet and don’t print on both sides of the paper. It’ll be helpful to have a hardcopy of the set of forms that you submit to the Texas Bankruptcy Court, so, take a moment at this stage to either print a complete second set, or make a copy of the one set you already printed.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Once you’ve printed your bankruptcy forms, your credit counseling certificate and your filing fee (or application to have the fee waived/pay it in installments), you’re ready to file your Texas bankruptcy case. There are four federal districts in Texas and all of them have several offices covering the Lone Star State.
Once you determine what district you live in, check out your filing options. Filers without a bankruptcy lawyer can either drop off their bankruptcy forms in person or mail it to the bankruptcy court. The coronavirus has caused some courts in the United States to change their methods, so be sure to check out your options before heading out.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Once your case has been filed, a bankruptcy trustee is appointed to handle your case. The trustee will be your primary point of contact during your Texas bankruptcy, especially if you’re filing without a bankruptcy lawyer. The trustee is also the person that will be asking you questions at your 341 meeting.
The Bankruptcy Code requires that you send a copy of your most recent federal income tax return to the bankruptcy trustee before your 341 meeting. Your trustee may also send you a separate letter asking for additional documents or information from you. Since you have a duty to cooperate with the bankruptcy trustee, it’s important to keep an eye out for any correspondence you may receive from them.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Every bankruptcy filer has to take a course on financial management after their case is filed. It’s similar to the course you took before you went to the court to file your bankruptcy forms. This course is intended to teach you how to budget and use your money after your case is filed.
Of course, many folks find themselves filing bankruptcy on account of something entirely outside of their control. Still, everyone who wants to get their debts discharged has to take the course. As with the first course, it’s important to use an approved provider. Once done, you’ll receive a certificate of completion you’ll need to submit to the bankruptcy court.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is a meeting with the Chapter 7 trustee that is handling your case. It’s called a 341 meeting because it is required by Section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code. Everyone filing Chapter 7 in Texas must attend a 341 meeting. The most important part of the 341 meeting, in addition to attending it, is bringing a valid picture ID - like your driver’s license, and acceptable proof of social security number.
To prepare, review the paperwork you provided to the court when you filed your Texas bankruptcy case. Folks that you owe money to may attend the meeting and ask you questions, but that rarely happens. The 341 meeting is a public meeting, so you’ll see a number of folks head into the meeting room at the same time you do. This is nothing to worry or feel strange about. They’re all there for the same reason you are.
Dealing with Your Car
How to deal with your car or truck when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas is one of the most important questions folks usually have. After all, you need your car to get around, go to work, pick up kids from school and do all those things that make the Lone Star State great.
If your vehicle is paid for, it’s yours to keep as long as you are able to claim an exemption for its full value. If you still owe on a car loan, a Texas bankruptcy allows you to keep the car by entering into a reaffirmation agreement. Of course, if the car loan balance is much higher than the value of the vehicle, you can surrender the car. Unlike a repossession outside of bankruptcy, you’ll not have to pay the unsecured portion of the loan - that’s discharged. Finally, if you’re able to raise some funds to buy your vehicle for its current value, you can do that as well.
Texas Bankruptcy Means Test
Everyone who wants to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas has to make sure they are eligible to do so. The first step is to compare your household income to the median household income of the same size in your state. If your household income is greater than this limit, the second part of the bankruptcy means test determines whether your income is enough to meet your reasonable and necessary living expenses and fund a repayment plan in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If not, you’re eligible to file a Chapter 7.
Data on Median Income Levels for Texas
Texas Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty Levels for Texas
Texas Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Texas Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the forms you are going to need for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas are the same everywhere else in the country andavailable online for free. But, there are some Texas bankruptcy forms that have been created by each one of the four districts that you should know about. While there is some overlap across the districts, it’s very important that you know and follow the requirements of your district.
Eastern District of Texas Requirements
The Eastern District has three divisions, with primary offices inBeaumont,Plano, andTyler, as well as somesecondary locations throughout the District. Anyone filing a Texas bankruptcy in this district is required to complete alocal form to verify the address listing for their creditors. Additionally, if you have to amend (change) any information on your schedules and statements you also have to providethis notice to the bankruptcy court.
Northern District of Texas Requirements
The Northern District covers 100 counties in north-central Texas and is divided into 7 divisions. The bankruptcy court has offices in Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Lubbock. The Northern District has its own verification for the list of creditors everyone filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas has to provide to the bankruptcy court. In addition, this district has a form request for a 30-day extension if you’re unable to complete the required credit counseling course due to an emergency.
Southern District of Texas Requirements
The Southern District spans 43 counties and serves nearly 8.6 million people over 44,000 square miles. The county you live in determines which of the 7 divisions in this district will handle your Texas bankruptcy case. This district has a wonderful resource, especially for folks filing without a bankruptcy attorney, that includes fairly detailed descriptions of adebtor's duties and responsibilities when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas posted on its website.
Western District of Texas Requirements
The Western District has four divisions and one unstaffed location in Midland where some hearings and 341 meetings are held. If you’re filing your Texas bankruptcy without an attorney, the Western District has a specific Pro Se Filing Questionnaire you will have to complete and file.
Texas Bankruptcy Exemptions
Even though there are four distinct districts in the state, the exemptions are the same across the entire Lone Star State. You can choose between Texas bankruptcy exemptions andfederal bankruptcy exemptions when you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas.
If you choose the exemptions available under Texas bankruptcy laws, and you own your home, it’s important to file the necessary designation with the county clerk so you can claim the homestead exemption. For personal property, you’re generally limited to a total fair market value of $30,000 if you’re single, or $60,000 for a family, though not all of yourassets count towards that limit. Most Texans filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy don’t have any non-exempt property.
Texas Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Texas is a little higher than the national average and ranges between $975 - $2,000. Often, lawyers offer free consultations to folks wanting to learn more about their options for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas. It makes sense to take advantage of such a free consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer, but make sure you ask how much it will ultimately cost you to hire the attorney.
Texas Legal Aid Organizations
If you can’t afford to hire a bankruptcy lawyer, you can find low-cost legal service providers on the Texas State Bar website. This organization governs lawyers and while it doesn’t provide legal services itself, it does provide acomprehensive referral directory for low-income Texans. Additionally, if you want to learn more about your bankruptcy options, you can find a listing of Texas legal aidin your area by city online.
Texas Court Locations
Bob Casey United States Courthouse
515 Rusk Street Houston, TX 77002
1701 West Business Highway 83 McAllen, TX 78501
Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse
615 East Houston Street San Antonio, TX 78205
Homer Thornberry Judicial Building
903 San Jacinto Boulevard Austin, TX 78701
Earle Cabell Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1100 Commerce Street Dallas, TX 75242
Eldon B. Mahon United States Courthouse
501 West Tenth Street Fort Worth, TX 76102
George H. Mahon Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1205 Texas Avenue Lubbock, TX 79401
J. Marvin Jones Federal Building
205 East Fifth Avenue Amarillo, TX 79101
Wells Fargo Bank Building
660 North Central Expressway Plano, TX 75074
110 North College Avenue Tyler, TX 75702
Jack Brooks Federal Building and United States Courthouse
300 Willow Street Beaumont, TX 77701
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Texas Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Texas||Hon. Judge Bill Parker|
|Eastern District of Texas||Hon. Brenda Rhoades|
|Northern District of Texas||Hon. Barbara J. Houser|
|Northern District of Texas||Hon. Robert L. Jones|
|Northern District of Texas||Hon. Harlin D. Hale|
|Northern District of Texas||Hon. Stacey G. C. Jernigan|
|Northern District of Texas||Hon. Mark X. Mullin|
|Northern District of Texas||Hon. Edward L. Morris|
|Southern District of Texas||Hon. David R. Jones|
|Southern District of Texas||Hon. Jeff Bohm|
|Southern District of Texas||Hon. Marvin Isgur|
|Southern District of Texas||Hon. Jeffrey P. Norman|
|Southern District of Texas||Hon. Eduardo V. Rodriguez|
|Western District of Texas||Hon. Ronald B. King|
|Western District of Texas||Hon. Craig A. Gargotta|
|Western District of Texas||Hon. Christopher Mott|
|Western District of Texas||Hon. Tony M. Davis|
|Michelle H. Chowfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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|Shawn K. Brownfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|James W. Cunningham|
|Marilyn D. Garner|
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