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Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated September 30, 2020
If you're wondering whether filing bankruptcy is right for you, you're making the right decision by first learning as much as you can about it. Even though bankruptcy laws are federal and, therefore, the same no matter which state you file in, Virginia bankruptcy laws and local customs are specific to how Virginians like to do business. This helps make sure that you feel comfortable during the process, which is stressful enough as it is.
The clerk for the Western District of Virginia even included a mission statement on the court's website as a reminder that the bankruptcy court serves everyone. When you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia, you will be required to take a credit counseling course before your case is filed and a financial management course after your case is filed. In addition to attending the 341 meeting, these courses are required in order to obtain bankruptcy relief in Virginia.
How to File Bankruptcy in Virginia for Free
If you are worried about how to make your monthly living expenses while creditors are knocking on your door, you may wonder how to file bankruptcy in Virginia for free. After all, if you had money, you wouldn't be in this situation, right? If you are not filing for Chapter 13, chances are that you may be able to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia without having to pay a lot of money out of pocket. You can file without an attorney (“pro se”) to avoid having to pay attorneys' fees. Additionally, depending on your income, you may qualify to have your court filing fee waived, saving you another $335.00 and making filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia a path you can afford.
Collect Your Virginia Bankruptcy Documents
By the time you are ready to file your Virginia bankruptcy, you will know exactly what your financial life and history looks like. However, since no one really has that information in their head just normally, you should collect certain documents in preparation for filing Chapter 7 in Virginia. This will not only make it easier to fill out the forms you have to file with the court, it will also prepare you for your 341 meeting. There are some documents that the trustee that is handling your case may want to review even though you may not need them to prepare your Virginia bankruptcy documents. These include paycheck stubs, bank statements and your federal income tax return for the last calendar year. Since all of your creditors have to be notified when your case is filed, you should also get a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies as that will give you a good starting point for providing this information to the court.
Take Credit Counseling
Before you can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia, you have to complete a credit counseling course. The course itself will require you to have an idea about your monthly budget and your debts, so it is useful to complete this course after you have collected most, if not all, of your Virginia bankruptcy documents. The certificate of completion is only valid for 180 days, so make sure to keep that in mind if you are not filing for Chapter 7 in Virginia for a few months. There is nothing wrong with taking the course only a few days before filing bankruptcy, as long as it gets done. In addition to making sure you take the course before you file your case, you also have to make sure to use one of the providers approved by the United States Trustee.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Since a lot of the information you have to include in your bankruptcy forms is time sensitive, it makes sense to start this process after you have collected your documents and completed your course. One of the bankruptcy courts provides a link to a checklist of all documents you will need when filing Chapter 7 in Virginia. This checklist does not include any local forms, so it's only a starting point. If you are working with an attorney, they will likely collect the necessary documents from you and get the rest of the information from you directly, then prepare everything pursuant to Virginia bankruptcy laws and procedures. If you are filing without an attorney, you will have to complete and file the bankruptcy forms yourself. Both, the national forms and local bankruptcy forms are available online for free.
Get Your Filing Fee
The bankruptcy court requires that all folks filing Chapter 7 in Virginia either pay the $335 court filing fee or, assuming they are eligible to do so, file an application to have the court filing fee waived at the time they bring in their bankruptcy petition. The filing fee is the same amount for all Virginia bankruptcy cases, regardless of family size, assets, or total debts. If your household income is below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, a fee waiver will allow you to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without having to pay any portion of the filing fee. If you do not qualify for a full waiver, but are unable to pay the full filing fee at the time your case is filed, you can ask the court to allow you to pay in installments. Keep in mind, everyone that is filing bankruptcy in Virginia is struggling financially and the court system depends on the filing fees as a source of revenue, so do not file an application for a fee waiver if you can afford to pay the $335.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
When filing a Virginia bankruptcy without an attorney, you have to bring everything to the court in hard copy format. The first item you should print is the checklist mentioned earlier in this guide on how to file bankruptcy in Virginia. Keep in mind, however, that this checklist is the same in all states and does not include any local forms. Print two complete sets of everything so you have an exact copy of what you gave to the bankruptcy court for your files. If you completed your forms by hand, go to a local print shop to make a copy of the packet for you to keep. The bankruptcy court will not be able to make copies for you.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
The final - official - step on how to file bankruptcy in Virginia is to bring the forms, your filing fee (or application for a waiver) and your credit counseling certificate to the bankruptcy court. The office that will handle this process is called the clerk's office. The clerk's office handles the administrative back end while at the same time functioning as the main point of contact for debtors filing bankruptcy in Virginia without an attorney (“pro se”). Make sure you bring both copies of your bankruptcy forms with you when you go. The clerk will put a stamp on your copy confirming that your Virginia bankruptcy has officially been filed. Since filing Chapter 7 in Virginia is stressful enough, make sure you give yourself enough time to find parking, find the courthouse, and go through security when you head to the courthouse.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The trustee is the official assigned by the court to handle your Virginia bankruptcy. Part of the trustee's job is to make sure that the information you put in your paperwork before filing Chapter 7 in bankruptcy in Virginia is accurate. At minimum, this means that you have to send your most recent federal income tax return to the trustee, so they receive it no less than 7 days before your 341 meeting. You will find out both - who your bankruptcy trustee is and when your 341 meeting takes place - shortly after filing, when the court sends you the official notice of your Virginia bankruptcy. It's important to pay close attention to mail you receive after filing, as the trustee may send you correspondence requesting additional information from you before your 341 meeting.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
In order to receive a discharge in your Virginia bankruptcy, you have to take a second course after your case is filed. This course on financial management aims to provide you helpful tips and tricks on how to create a budget and manage your finances going forward. Similar to the first course, make sure you are taking it through a company approved to provide this course to folks filing bankruptcy in Virginia. Most folks choose to take this course online though some providers may offer it also by phone and in person. The second bankruptcy course tends to be just a little more expensive than the first one, but even here you should expect to pay no more than $50. Just keep in mind the amount of debt you are discharging by filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia and you will see that this final expense is a small price to pay in exchange for your discharge. Finally, make sure you find out whether your course provider will file your certificate of completion with the Bankruptcy Court for you, or if you have to do so yourself.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting tends to be the most stressful part of filing for bankruptcy in Virginia; after all you have to go to court to answer questions under oath. What most people don't realize is that as long as you are prepared and have everything you need (a picture ID and acceptable proof of your social security number) you will probably spend more time waiting for your case to be called than you will answering questions. The meetings are semi-public and usually several folks who have filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia will have the same hearing time as you. Your creditors may appear to ask you some questions as well. This does not happen often, but if it does, just remember to take a deep breath and tell the truth. It's the easiest thing to remember anyway.
Dealing with Your Car
Your car is considered and asset in your Virginia bankruptcy and if it is not yet paid off, then it is also a liability (debt) that has to be dealt with in a way that best sets you up for your fresh start. You can choose to surrender the vehicle to get out from under the loan, or you can reaffirm the debt and keep everything essentially the same. A reaffirmation agreement means that you will continue to be responsible for paying the car loan even after your discharge is entered. If you fail to make all payments as agreed, then the bank can still repossess your vehicle and, since the debt was not discharged, sue you for the balance left owing after the vehicle is auctioned off. If your car is paid for then depending on its value and the exemptions available for folks filing Chapter 7 in Virginia nothing at all may change.
Virginia Bankruptcy Means Test
Not everyone who needs bankruptcy relief will qualify to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia because their household income exceeds the income limits. The first step in every Chapter 7 online bankruptcy means test is a review of your income. If your gross household income is less than the median household income for a household of your size, you can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia. If your income is greater than the median, the second step of the means test allows you to deduct certain expenses from your income, including taxes, health insurance, a housing and vehicle expenses, and payments you make on loans secured by your home or personal property. If you do not have anything left over after deducting the various allowed expenses, you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia.
Median income levels for Virginia
Virginia Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Poverty levels for Virginia
Virginia 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)|
Virginia Bankruptcy Forms
The Virginia Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms are a combination of national bankruptcy forms and certain local forms that are specific to the state. The Eastern District requires that all debtors filing without an attorney ("pro se") file a specific certification about whether anyone helped them prepare the documents filed in their Virginia bankruptcy. While in a slightly different format, the Western District also has a specific statement pro se debtors have to file to disclose this type of information to the court.
Eastern District of Virginia Requirements
The Eastern District is broken into four divisions with courthouses located in Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News. Anyone filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia in the eastern district without an attorney should take a moment to review the Court's detailed overview of what to expect and look out for.
Western District of Virginia Requirements
The Western District has locations in Roanoke, Lynchburg and Harrisonburg and provides a detailed directory of which division handles each case by city and county. Neither Lynchburg nor Harrisonburg accept payments by check or cash, so make sure you bring a money order with you when filing your Virginia bankruptcy in these locations. If you are amending your creditor schedules, the Western District has a local form to provide notice of the amendment.
Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions
When filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia, the applicable exemptions will determine what property, if any, the trustee can liquidate for the benefit of your creditors. Virginia has opted out of using federal bankruptcy exemptions, instead requiring everyone to use Virginia bankruptcy exemptions. If you do not have a home, or your home is upside down, you can use the remaining amount of your Virginia homestead exemption as a "wildcard" exemption to protect personal property.
Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
While any person can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia without a lawyer, sometimes doing so can end up costing you more than the average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer. In Virginia, the cost ranges between $800 - $1200 for a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Cost estimate: $800 – $1,200
Virginia Legal Aid Organizations
There are several resources available for folks looking to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia without an attorney. If your household income is below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, you should contact an organization providing Virginia legal aid in your area to find out how they can help you.
Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc.
204 North High Street, P.O. Box 551, Harrisonburg, VA 22803
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc.
101 West Broad Street, Suite 101, P.O. Box 12206, Richmond, VA 23241-2206
Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia
125 St. Paul's Boulevard, Suite 400, Norfolk, VA 23510
Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Inc.
4080 Chain Bridge Road, 1st Floor, Fairfax, VA 22030
Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc.
513 Church Street, P.O. Box 6200, Lynchburg, VA 24505-6200
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Virginia Court Locations
Walter E. Hoffman United States Courthouse
600 Granby Street Norfolk, VA 23510
Spottswood W. Robinson III & Robert R. Merhige, Jr., U.S. Courthouse
701 East Broad Street Richmond, VA 23219
Martin V.B. Bostetter, Jr. United States Courthouse
200 South Washington Street Alexandria, VA 22314
Commonwealth of Virginia Building
210 Church Avenue Roanoke, VA 24011
Virginia Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Virginia||Hon. Brian F. Kenney|
|Eastern District of Virginia||Hon. Klinette H. Kindred|
|Eastern District of Virginia||Hon. Stephen C. St. John|
|Eastern District of Virginia||Hon. Frank J. Santoro|
|Eastern District of Virginia||Hon. Kevin R. Huennekens|
|Eastern District of Virginia||Hon. Keith L. Phillips|
|Western District of Virginia||Hon. Rebecca Connelly|
|Western District of Virginia||Hon. Paul Black|
|Peter J. Barrettfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Carolyn L. Camardoemail@example.com|
|Thomas B. Dickensonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|H. Jason Gold|
|Donald F. King||DonKing@ofplaw.com|
|Bruce H. Matsonemail@example.com|
|Kevin R. McCarthy|
|Janet M. Meiburgerfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Bruce E. Robinsonemail@example.com|
|David R. Rubyfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Harry Shaia Jr.|
|Tom C. Smith Jr.|
|Clara P. Swanson|
|Lynn L. Tavenner|
|Roy M. Terry Jr.|
|William E. Callahan Jr.|
|Scot S. Farthing|
|Andrew S. Goldstein|
|Steven L. Higgsemail@example.com|
|Hannah W. Hutman|
|W. Stephen Scottfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Robert S. Stevens|
|George I. Vogel II|