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 Andrea Wimmer.
Updated March 22, 2022
Consumer debt in America has increased significantly in the past few years. Millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet, and they’re saddled with debts on student loans, credit cards, medical bills, homes, or vehicles. If you’re facing significant debt and you’re worried you can’t pay it, you may want to consider filing for bankruptcy to get a financial fresh start.
Bankruptcy isn’t the only approach to debt relief. You could alternatively sign up for a debt relief program and restructure your debts with a repayment plan. But this doesn’t bring everyone the relief they need. Sometimes bankruptcy is the best choice. The good news is that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy isn’t very complicated, and you don’t have to hire a bankruptcy attorney to do it. Moreover, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process usually lasts between four to six months.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Virginia
No matter what state you live in, filing for bankruptcy is covered by federal law set out in the federal Bankruptcy Code. Usually, people file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is known as liquidation, and it’s a way to get certain debt discharged. When your debts are discharged in bankruptcy, this means you no longer owe the debt, and creditors can’t try to collect on it.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy, often referred to as reorganization, is used to prevent a person’s property from being sold off. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is usually more expensive than Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and you have to have a steady income to file, so most individuals file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy instead.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy costs include court filing fees, credit counseling fees, and attorney fees. Attorney fees are the most expensive cost of bankruptcy. Fortunately, you don’t have to hire a lawyer to help with your bankruptcy case. Also, you may be able to get the bankruptcy court to waive your filing and credit counseling fees if your income is low enough.
- Collect Your Virginia Bankruptcy Documents
- Take a Credit Counseling Course
- Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
- Get Your Filing Fee
- Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
- File Your Forms With the Virginia Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your Virginia Bankruptcy Documents
To file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must collect and submit certain documents to the court. This is required even if an attorney is representing you. These documents include your tax returns for the past two years, two months of your latest paycheck stubs, and bank account statements that cover the bankruptcy filing date.
Some documents won’t be required by the bankruptcy court but will help you fill out the documents that form your bankruptcy petition. These include: up to a full year of past bank account statements, your credit report, creditor bills, and letters from debt collectors.
All Americans are entitled to get a yearly free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. You can request your free credit report online.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
You have to take a credit counseling class within the six months before you file for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy law requires this so you can learn about your options and whether bankruptcy is best for you. There is a fee to take the course, but you may qualify for a fee waiver if you can’t afford it.
Be sure to take the course from a state-approved provider. When you’re done with the course, you must file a certificate of completion with the bankruptcy court when you file your bankruptcy petition.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
You’ll have to fill out some lengthy forms when you file for bankruptcy. They’re the same no matter where you live, and you can download them as fillable PDFs for free at USCOURTS.gov. Follow the detailed instructions for filling them out and make sure you don’t miss any forms. A lot of them look alike! If you’ve hired a bankruptcy attorney, you’ll most likely fill out an informal questionnaire, and your attorney or their staff will fill out the official forms for you.
Get Your Filing Fee
In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the filing fee is $338. You may be able to get the court to waive the fee if your current income is below 150% of the poverty guidelines. (See Virginia’s Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.) When you file your documents, the court clerk will require you to pay the fee.
Once you file your bankruptcy case, the court assigns you a case number. As soon as this happens, an automatic stay goes into effect. The stay means that during the bankruptcy action your creditors can no longer come after you to collect on your debts. If you’re in a hurry to file for bankruptcy because a creditor is starting proceedings to garnish your wages but you can’t afford the $338 filing fee, you have options.
You can ask the court to let you pay the fee in monthly installments. You must pay an initial minimum amount of 25% of the filing fee within 30 days of filing the petition. After that, you pay monthly installments of no less than 25% of the filing fee. You have to pay off your full filing fee in no more than four installments. This is a good option for people who need to file in a hurry to stop the creditors’ debt collection actions. That said, make sure to make your payments or the court could dismiss your case.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
You need to print your bankruptcy forms in a particular format for the bankruptcy court to accept them. They should be one-sided and printed in black ink on white, letter-size (8.5" x 11") paper. When you’re printing out the bankruptcy forms, make sure you sign everywhere you need to sign. It’s also a good idea to make copies for your own records. If you take an extra copy to the court when you file the court can stamp your assigned case number onto your copy.
File Your Forms With the Virginia Bankruptcy Court
Virginia has two bankruptcy districts: the Western District and Eastern District. Your options for filing your bankruptcy forms will depend on which district you live in and whether you’re filing with or without an attorney. In both districts, attorneys can file bankruptcy cases online using the courts’ Electronic Court Filing System (ECF). Individual filers in the Western District can submit their documents electronically using the court’s Electronic Self-Representation (eSR) filing system. The eSR system is not currently available in the Eastern District.
No matter where you live, you can always file your documents in person or mail them to the court. If you’re filing in person, take your documents to the court clerk’s office. The clerk will ask for a picture ID when you come to file your documents. You’ll also need your filing fee or an application for a fee waiver or to pay in installments.
It’s a good idea to review the court’s current procedures in light of COVID-19 to make sure your preferred filing option is still available.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
The court will appoint a bankruptcy trustee once it opens your bankruptcy case. The trustee is an independent third party whose job is to manage the property in the bankruptcy estate and to verify all the information you provided. The court will either notify you once the trustee is appointed, or the trustee will contact you directly.
Next, the court will schedule a meeting of creditors where you’ll meet with the trustee to answer some questions (more on this soon). At least seven days before the creditors’ meeting, you must give your trustee your last two years of federal income tax returns and a bank statement that covers your bankruptcy filing date. You may also have to submit recent pay stubs. If the trustee asks for any other documents, it’s important to cooperate and hand over all of the documents they ask for to ensure your case continues smoothly and your debts get discharged.
Take a Debtor Education Course
Before the court discharges your debt, you must take a debtor education course. This course covers financial management skills and tools to help you get the most from the fresh start bankruptcy provides.
You can take the course before or after your creditors’ meeting as long as it’s no later than 60 days after the meeting. When you’re done with the course, submit a certificate of completion to the court. The bankruptcy court may close your case without discharging your debts if you don’t take the course and submit your certificate to the court within the 60-day deadline. As with the credit counseling course, you’ll need to take the debtor education course from an approved course provider.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 meeting is also known as a creditors’ meeting or meeting of creditors. It’s likely to be short and informal. These meetings are usually held in a courthouse office but not in the courtroom. Though they can, creditors don’t usually attend these meetings, so it’s likely to be just you and your trustee. The creditors’ meeting usually happens about a month after you file for bankruptcy.
At the creditors’ meeting, you must show a government-issued picture ID and acceptable proof of your Social Security number. If you don’t have these items, the meeting can’t go forward. The trustee will place you under oath and ask you some routine questions. The trustee may ask more specific questions about your case if they have them. When you’re done with the meeting, you’re close to getting your debts discharged.
Creditors’ meetings usually go off without a hitch, but things can sometimes go wrong. Usually, it’s when people forget their ID or proof of their Social Security number.
In Virginia, creditors’ meetings are currently being held through telephone or videoconference a COVID-19 precaution.
Dealing with Your Car
Any vehicle that’s titled in your name is part of your bankruptcy estate This means the trustee can sell it to pay your debts — but only if it’s not protected by an exemption (more on this soon). Most people who file Chapter 7 can protect all their assets, including cars, against liquidation. Your options for keeping your car depend on the car’s fair market value, whether you’re still paying for it, and whether you can afford the payments.
If you own your car free and clear, you can keep it if its fair market value is less than the applicable exemption limit. The Virginia motor vehicle exemption limit is $6,000 for cars that are strictly for personal use and $10,000 for cars that are used for work.
If you’re still paying for your car, you don’t need to worry about protecting the car’s entire value, only your equity. The trustee will almost never liquidate a car you’re still paying for. If you want to keep your car and continue to make the same monthly payments, you’ll need to be current on your loan payments, and you’ll likely have to sign a reaffirmation agreement. In this, you reaffirm with the lender that you’re going to continue to make your monthly payments.
If you’re behind on payments or your car is worth less than what you still owe on it, you might be better off surrendering the car. If you do this, you won’t have to make any more monthly payments on it. Another option is to pay the lender the car’s current value in one lump sum. This is called redemption. In exchange, you don’t have to make any more monthly payments, and you own the car free and clear. The difference between the car’s value and what you owed on the loan will be discharged as an unsecured debt as part of your bankruptcy.
If you’re leasing your car, it’s not titled in your name. This means it’s not part of your bankruptcy estate, and you don’t need to worry about exemptions. You should still list the lease on Schedule G in your bankruptcy forms. If you’re current on your lease payments, you can continue the lease and keep making payments. This is called assuming the lease. Bankruptcy also lets you get out of your lease without incurring fees or penalties. This is called rejecting the lease.
Remember, you can always buy another car after bankruptcy, though it may be wise to wait a while to let your credit score recover so you can get a good deal on financing.
Virginia Bankruptcy Means Test
To be eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you have to pass a means test. This compares your average household income to the median income for similar households in Virginia. If your income is less than the median, you qualify to file Chapter 7. If it’s higher than the median income, you must show you can’t pay your debts with your current disposable income. Your disposable income is your monthly income minus your monthly expenses.
If you don’t pass the Chapter 7 means test, you can look into filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case instead. A Chapter 13 plan allows individual debtors to reorganize their debts and repay them over 3-5 years with a payment plan.
Median income levels for Virginia
Virginia Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2022
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Poverty levels for Virginia
Virginia Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2022
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Virginia Bankruptcy Forms
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia, you’ll need to fill out both federal forms and some local forms.
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Virginia Districts & Filing Requirements
Virginia has two districts for filing for bankruptcy — the Eastern District and the Western District. You’ll need to file for bankruptcy in the district where you live.
Virginia's Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms use both national bankruptcy forms as well as certain local forms that are specific to the state. If you’re filing in the Eastern District, you must fill out a document certifying whether someone helped you prepare your documents. The Western District has a similar form.
If you live in any of the following counties or areas, you’ll file your bankruptcy petition in the Western District: Albemarle, Alleghany, Amherst, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Buckingham, Campbell, Carroll, Charlotte, Clarke, Craig, Culpeper, Cumberland, Dickson, Floyd, Fluvanna, Franklin, Frederick, Giles, Grayson, Greene, Halifax, Henry, Highland, Lee, Louisa, Madison, Montgomery, Nelson, Orange, Page, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, Rappahannock, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Scott, Shenandoah, Smyth, Tazewell, Warren, Washington, Wise, and Wythe, and any city or town geographically within the exterior boundaries of these counties.
If you live in any other county or area in Virginia, you will file your bankruptcy petition in the Eastern District.
Eastern District of Virginia Requirements
The Eastern District has four divisions, with courthouses in Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News. The court has a useful how-to guide on its website for people who file without an attorney. The district has modified some of the federal forms and requires filers to use its local forms in place of the federal forms.
The Eastern District has COVID-19 information posted on its website.
In the Eastern District, you can pay with cash, money order, or cashier’s check. (Note that the Newport News Divisional Office doesn’t accept cash. Also, you must pay the exact amount if you use cash in the Alexandria, Richmond, and Norfolk offices.) The court doesn’t accept personal checks or credit cards from individual filers. If you pay with a cashier’s check or money order, make it payable to “Clerk, U. S. Bankruptcy Court.”
Western District of Virginia Requirements
The Western District has locations in Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Harrisonburg and provides a detailed directory for how each division handles each case by city and county. The Western District allows filers without attorneys to submit their documents online through an Electronic Self-Representation (eSR) system. The website lists the counties within the Western District. Filers who live in these counties can use the eSR system.
Neither Lynchburg nor Harrisonburg accept payments by check or cash. Pay in these locations with a money order. The Western District has a local form to provide notice of any amendments to your creditor schedules.
The Western District also has COVID-19 information posted on its website.
Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy laws recognize that you should be allowed to keep certain property in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This property is protected through exemptions. Exemptions protect all kinds of real and personal property up to a certain amount. Personal property includes appliances, clothing, books, and jewelry. Real property includes your home and the land it sits on. There are both federal and state exemptions. Some states allow filers to choose between the federal and state exemptions, but Virginia has opted out of the federal exemptions. This means Virginians filing for bankruptcy have to use the Virginia bankruptcy exemptions if they’ve lived in the state for at least two years..
One notable exemption in Virginia is the homestead exemption, which is $25,000. That means up to $25,000 of your equity in your home is protected. If you don’t own a home, you can use the homestead exemption as a "wildcard" exemption to protect other personal property.
Even though you have to use the state exemptions, you still get some protections from federal law. Under federal law, certain pensions, Social Security benefits, and certain death and disability benefits are exempt in bankruptcy, regardless of their value.
Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers in Virginia typically charge fees of between $800 and $1,200, although the cost depends on how complicated your case is. More experienced bankruptcy attorneys tend to charge higher fees as well. While no one wants to pay attorney fees, it may be worth doing if your case is complicated. And remember, cost isn’t the only thing to consider when hiring a lawyer. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer a free initial consultation.
Virginia Legal Aid Organizations
If you don’t feel comfortable filing bankruptcy on your own but you can’t afford to hire a bankruptcy attorney, you have another option. You can contact one of Virginia's legal aid organizations to get free or low-cost legal advice about your bankruptcy case. Legal aid organizations are nonprofits that help low-income Virginians with civil legal matters such as bankruptcy.
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
Spottswood W. Robinson III & Robert R. Merhige, Jr., U.S. Courthouse
701 East Broad Street Richmond, VA 23219
Walter E. Hoffman United States Courthouse
600 Granby Street Norfolk, VA 23510
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. Barrettemail@example.com|
|Carolyn L. Camardofirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Thomas B. Dickensonemail@example.com|
|H. Jason Gold|
|Donald F. King||DonKing@ofplaw.com|
|Bruce H. Matsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Kevin R. McCarthy|
|Janet M. Meiburgeremail@example.com|
|Bruce E. Robinsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|David R. Rubyemail@example.com|
|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. Higgsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Hannah W. Hutman|
|W. Stephen Scottemail@example.com|
|Robert S. Stevens|
|George I. Vogel II|