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Written by Attorney Tina Tran.
Updated August 17, 2020
Norfolk, Virginia is known for its art, entertainment, history, tradition, and culture. From museums in the Neon District to Historic Ghent, the City of Norfolk is a great place to live, work and play. But nothing can take away the enjoyment it all has to offer like the anxiety and stress that comes with mounting debts and bills you cannot afford to pay. If you live in Norfolk working longer and longer hours just to pay bills, then filing bankruptcy in Norfolk may be able to give you the peace of mind you have been longing for. Bankruptcy is a legal process available to every American that allows individuals and companies to legally eliminate debts they can’t pay. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk can get rid of all your debts without requiring you to make any payments. In most instances, you will also be able to keep all your property, other than property used as security for a loan (like a car for a car loan) that you voluntarily choose to give back. There are two types of bankruptcies primarily intended for consumers. Chapter 7, which was just described above, and Chapter 13. Between the two, Chapter 7 is the fastest bankruptcy to complete from start to finish and the easiest to file on your own for free. Chapter 13 bankruptcy also eliminates all of your debt, but it does so by reducing the amount of each debt and then consolidating all of it. You then make a fixed payment on the aggregated debt for a period of three-to-five years. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is often used by individuals who own their homes, earn a high monthly income and, unlike many, can afford to hire an attorney to help them prepare a plan that will pay off all of their debt in the required amount of time.
Norfolk Bankruptcy Lawyers – Estimated Cost
You may be saying to yourself, “Well don’t I need to hire an attorney to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk bankruptcy?” The answer to that question is “No, you are not required to hire an attorney to file bankruptcy.” The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer in Norfolk is between $800 and $1,200. You can file your own bankruptcy for free! Hiring an attorney to represent you in Norfolk bankruptcy, especially if it’s a Chapter 13, is a good investment if you can afford one. But if you can’t, filing your own Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk and successfully getting the discharge order that eliminates all of your debt is easier than you think.
How to File Bankruptcy in Norfolk, Virginia for Free
If the possibility of being debt free in as little as three months excites you, then you can start the process right now. The following guide will explain what a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk entails, whether you are a good candidate for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and the steps required to prepare and file your own Norfolk bankruptcy.
Collect Your Norfolk Bankruptcy Documents
Your first step to financial freedom by filing bankruptcy in Norfolk begins with collecting your Norfolk bankruptcy documents. In order to file for bankruptcy, you need to prepare a picture of your current financial situation for the Bankruptcy Court. This begins with collecting your financial documents such as your pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, bank statements, vehicle titles, deeds, and 401k or pension statements. You also need to collect your credit card bills, medical bills, utility bills, lawsuits, garnishments, and collection notices. You probably also want to get a copy of your credit report to make sure that you list any creditors with debts that have been charged off or sent to collections. In addition to all of the above, you will also need your driver’s license, state identification card, or passport and your original social security card.
Take Credit Counseling
Once you have collected all of your bankruptcy documents, you will need to get one more document before you can file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk, the credit counseling certificate. Every individual who files a Virginia bankruptcy must complete a credit counseling course before doing so. You need a certificate of completion from this course to include with your Norfolk bankruptcy petition. You can obtain a list of approved credit counseling agencies in your area from the Office of the United States Trustee. Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Hampton Roads, Inc. covers the entire Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads area, offering the required course on the internet and in person. Their principal office is located on 2021 Cunningham Drive Suite 400, Hampton, Virginia 23666. They are a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the Alliance for Children and Families and accredited by the Council on Accreditation.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
No matter what preliminary steps you complete, at some point you are going to have to complete your Norfolk bankruptcy forms. In general, your Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms will ask about your current financial situation. Beginning with general information such as your name, address, and social security number. This will be followed by questions about your Virginia bankruptcy case, like “Which Chapter are you filing?” “Have you ever filed for bankruptcy before?” “How will you be paying the filing fee?” and “What is the nature of your debts?” You will then have to complete forms referred to as “schedules” that ask about the property you own, the debts you have, how much you earn, what your expenses are, and similar questions about the current state of your financial affairs. While the forms needed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk ask for a lot of information and you must provide all of the information requested, much of it is fill-in-the-blank or check the box. In addition, many of the questions will probably not apply to you and you can simply check the “no” box.
Get Your Filing Fee
One of the questions that will be asked early on in your Norfolk bankruptcy petition is “How will you be paying the filing fee?” This is because everyone who files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk must pay a $335 filing fee to the Court. You are being asked “how will you be paying the fee” because you can either pay the entire fee upfront when you file your bankruptcy petition or request to pay it in installments. If you cannot afford to pay the fee at all, you can request to have the fee waived, but only if you earn less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. If you don’t request to pay your fee in installments or ask to have the fee waived, you may pay the fee by cash, money order, or cashier’s check. You may not pay the fee with a personal check or a credit card.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
You will eventually have to print the bankruptcy forms that make up your Norfolk bankruptcy petition packet. First and foremost, you should double-check everything and make sure you have provided full and accurate responses to all of the questions in the forms. Once you are satisfied that all the forms are accurate and complete, you will need to either print two copies of all the forms for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk or print it once, sign everywhere you need to sign, then make a photocopy. In addition to the original copy that will be submitted to the Court, you will need a copy for yourself. The average Chapter 7 petition packet is sixty to one hundred pages long so make sure you have enough paper and ink (or toner) before you begin printing. If you don’t have access to a printer at home or at work, the Norfolk Public Library offers black and white printing for $0.15 per page at all of its locations.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
The Virginia Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District is located on 600 Granby Street in the Neon District. The Court is a two-minute walk from Scope Arena, a six-minute walk from the Hunter House Victorian Museum, and a ten-minute walk from the Chrysler Museum. Your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk has to be filed at the Court’s Norfolk division, which is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Photo identification is required to enter the courthouse and cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices are not allowed in. Visitors must enter the courthouse through the building’s main entrance on Granby Street. The Court is closed on weekends and government holidays.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Every Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk a Trustee assigned to it shortly after it’s filed. A Trustee is an individual appointed by the Bankruptcy Court to review your Norfolk bankruptcy petition and handle your case for the Court and, importantly, your unsecured creditors. Other than special requests that you make to the Court, called “motions,” you will not have to deal with the judge assigned to your case. Instead, you will deal directly with your court-appointed Trustee. You are required to mail the Trustee a complete copy of your most recent federal income tax return. Your Trustee is not required to request this from you and may not do so. It’s your responsibility to mail them to the Trustee so that they receive them at least one week prior to your scheduled creditors’ meeting. You will be provided with the name and address of your Trustee on the Notice of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Filing that you will receive shortly after filing bankruptcy in Norfolk.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
While you were taking your first credit counseling course you may have been told that the same cmpany offers a a second bankruptcy-related credit counseling course. This second bankruptcy-related credit counseling course is known also known as the Debtor Education course. You must take this course before you can receive your Chapter 7 discharge in your Virginia bankruptcy. This Debtor Education course is designed to introduce you to the basic aspects of financial planning. It covers how to prepare a monthly budget, how to manage credit, consumer protection laws and agencies, and how to deal with a financial crisis. The course will typically take at least two hours to complete and will cost $50 or less. When you complete the course, you must mail a copy of your certificate of completion to the Court. If you do not take the course, or forget to file your certificate of completion, your Norfolk bankruptcy could be closed without your discharge being granted first.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
If you have already completed your post-petition bankruptcy course and mailed all required documents to your Trustee, one of the last things you have to do before receiving your discharge is go to your 341 meeting of creditors. A 341 meeting of creditors is an informal meeting between you, your Trustee and your creditors. The meeting is usually held at your local federal courthouse but not in a courtroom. Instead, the Trustee will usually meet with you in a conference room or side room inside the courthouse along with any of your creditors who choose to attend the meeting. You should bring your personal identification such as a driver’s license, state identification card, or passport to the meeting, along with your original social security card. You should also have all of your Norfolk bankruptcy documents with you including any documents you may have inadvertently forgotten to mail to the Trustee. The 341 meeting of creditors is where you will affirm that all of the information you have provided to the Trustee is accurate and answer any questions they have regarding your Virginia bankruptcy case. Creditors who show up will also be allowed to ask you questions regarding your case and any debts owed to them. In most instances, from start to finish the creditors’ meeting takes about ten minutes or less, because creditors rarely show up.
Dealing with Your Car
Unless you have a very expensive car, you’ll probably be able to keep your car if you want to, even after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk. On the other hand, if you are buying or leasing a very expensive car then you may not be able to keep your car. This is because cars are considered collateral for secured debts like car loans. Collateral is any property that you own that is used to secure or guarantee a loan, like a car for a car loan that can be taken away or repossessed if you don’t pay. Secured debts must be listed on Schedule D of your Norfolk bankruptcy forms. In addition, for each secured debt, you must indicate on Official Form 108 - Statement of Intention whether you intend to keep the collateral or give it back. If you want to keep your car you will have to either enter into a reaffirmation agreement with the lender or redeem the car. A reaffirmation agreement is an agreement between you and the bank where you agree to keep paying the car loan even after your discharge is entered. Redeeming the car means paying a lump sum of money to pay the lender the “market value” of the car. Market value means what the car is worth according to generally accepted guides like Kelley Blue Book or Edmonds. Once you make this payment, the lender must give you clear title to the car and the rest of the loan is discharged. If you do not want to keep the car, surrendering it simply means arranging a place and time for the lender to pick it up or simply waiting for them to come and get it.
Virginia Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Norfolk
Virginia Means Test
While it is very rare, bankruptcy fraud does occur from time to time. To combat this, the federal government has developed something known as a Means Test to pre-screen individuals who may be intentionally, or unintentionally, trying to abuse the bankruptcy process. The Virginia bankruptcy Means Test compares your household income to that of a similar-sized family in Virginia. If your household income exceeds the median income then something known as a presumption of abuse exists in your case. A presumption of abuse means you should be able to meet your day-to-day expenses and still pay your debts. If a presumption of abuse exists, the government wants to know why it is that you have to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk. This is done by requiring you to list all the expenses you pay every month and then deducting the total from your monthly income. The result is your monthly disposable income. If this result, multiplied by sixty, is less than a certain amount under the Virginia bankruptcy Means Test, then you have “overcome” the presumption of abuse. If it does not, then you cannot file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk, unless one of the exceptions applies to you. Please note, not all of your expenses will be allowed and some expenses like groceries and rent will be capped based on national standards set for Norfolk bankruptcy cases.
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
You will be filling out a lot of Virginia bankruptcy forms before you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Norfolk. Other than some specific local forms, all of these forms can be accessed from the Bankruptcy Court’s website. However, even if you have someone helping you fill out your Virginia bankruptcy forms, you should still review all of them to get familiar with the information and the type of documents you will need to fill them out. For example, Schedule I requests information on where you work, if you are employed, and your monthly income. So, you will probably need documents like your recent pay stubs, W-2s, and tax returns to properly and accurately complete Schedule I of your Virginia bankruptcy forms.
Title 34 of the Code of Virginia governs the exemptions individuals are allowed to claim in their Virginia bankruptcy. The Virginia bankruptcy exemptions are monetary allowances (basically, dollar amounts) granted for most of the property owned by almost all people who file a Norfolk bankruptcy. These exemptions cover such property as your home, car, clothing, jewelry, tools, bank accounts and wages, usually up to a certain amount. Any property covered by a Virginia bankruptcy exemption is protected from being taken and sold by your Trustee to pay your creditors. Not all property is exempt and even property that is protected may be worth more than the exemption covers. For example, Virginia law allows you to exempt $3,000 in firearms. If you had a vintage firearm that was worth $5,000, $3,000 of its value would be exempt. The other $2,000 would not be exempt and the Trustee could take the $2,000 and distribute it to your creditors. The best way to protect as much of your property as possible is to familiarize yourself with the Virginia bankruptcy exemptions and how they work. If you are having a hard time matching your property up to the available exemptions, consider talking to a lawyer about it, as spending a little money on a lawyer now can possibly save you a lot of money down the road.