Written by Attorney Eva Bacevice.
Updated August 17, 2020
Times have been tough in Janesville’s “Park Place” for over a decade since the General Motors’ plant closed down during the 2008 Great Recession. Bower City residents kept hope alive for many years that GM might come back as the Janesville plant was one listed as being in “limbo” status in GM’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, but that hope ended in 2015 when GM permanently closed the plant. As a result, many Janesville residents have been dealing with financial issues for a long time and might be looking for their own bankruptcy relief. Whether this has impacted you personally or some other circumstances outside of your control have led to financial difficulty, know that filing bankruptcy in Janesville is a remedy that is available to you as well.
Individuals (or married couples) can file for personal bankruptcy much like companies are able to do. You can reach out to legal aid for assistance in making your decision. You will likely be making a choice between filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which allows you to walk away from some (or all) of your debts, and a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, where you enter into a reorganization plan (much like a company’s Chapter 11) to pay a part of your overall debt. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Janesville is pretty quick by legal standards as it usually only takes between 4 to 6 months to complete. A Chapter 13 case, by contrast, will require a minimum duration of three years during which you make plan payments, to a maximum of five years. Usually, your personal circumstances will dictate which type of Janesville bankruptcy is best for you. For example, if you are behind on a secured debt, like your mortgage and facing a possible foreclosure, you would probably aim for a Chapter 13 case to catch up on your payments. Alternatively, if the bulk of your debts are unsecured (not tied to specific property, like credit card and medical bills) and you just need to get out from under the debt, a Chapter 7 may be your preferred route, in which case you can use Upsolve’s Wisconsin Bankruptcy Guide to help guide you through the process.
Janesville Bankruptcy Lawyers - Estimated Cost
You may decide to seek the assistance of counsel for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Janesville. If so, the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer will probably run between $1,250 and $1,665 for your Chapter 7 case. Many Janesville bankruptcy lawyers will offer a free initial consultation, but you are under no obligation to hire them at the conclusion of your meeting. The consultation can be very helpful to determine if you are understanding your situation and your options fully and to see if you click with the lawyer. If it turns out that you have a relatively straightforward Chapter 7 case, you may well decide to move forward representing yourself, also known as “pro se.” Bankruptcy is a complicated process and it might be intimidating to consider doing it pro se, but by partnering with Upsolve, if you are eligible to do so, you can get through the process without missing any important steps.
How to File Bankruptcy in Janesville, Wisconsin for Free
This article will help you learn how to file bankruptcy in Janesville for little or no cost. If you determine that a Chapter 7 is right for you, Upsolve can help walk you through the process of your Janesville bankruptcy step by step, beginning with the below:
Collect Your Janesville Bankruptcy Documents
The first step toward your Wisconsin bankruptcy is to collect the documents you need to confirm your eligibility for Chapter 7 relief and to fill out your bankruptcy forms. You also need documents to confirm your identity such as your driver’s license or state ID and a document that shows your full social security number (like your social security card or an original W-2 from your employer). You will also need the last two months of paystubs or other proof of income, your last two years of income taxes (federal and state), and the most recent statements for any financial accounts you may have. For completing your Janesville bankruptcy forms, you will need documents that confirm what you own (assets) and who you owe (liabilities/debts.) If you own your home, you will need your deed, property tax statement, mortgage statement(s) with the most recent balance, any overdue water bills, and proof of home owner’s insurance. If you own a car you will need the title, most recent loan statement if you have a car loan, and proof of car insurance. You can also obtain a free credit report to make certain that you are properly listing all of your debts and creditor addresses.
Take Credit Counseling
The next step before filing bankruptcy in Janesville is to complete the first of two mandatory credit counseling courses. Many agencies will allow you to pay for both sessions at once, which should be around $50. You are required to file a certificate of completion for the first course at the time you file your Wisconsin bankruptcy case. There are a number of agencies approved to offer the course in Wisconsin with options to complete it by phone or online. If you prefer to attend the course in person, you can go to Family Services of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, Inc. located right in Janesville or head to La Crosse to the Family Service Association of Sheboygan, Inc. The second course does not happen until after your Janesville bankruptcy has been filed and will be addressed in more detail later in this article.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
At this point, you are ready to fill out your Janesville bankruptcy forms. Keep in mind that there are quite a few of them, between the federal forms and local forms there are more than 20 to complete. The website for the Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of Wisconsin includes a checklist to follow, as well as instructions for the various forms. Additionally, if you are eligible to file using Upsolve, you can answer an online questionnaire that will populate your answers into the proper forms. A local Janesville bankruptcy form you will need to fill out and include with your other paperwork when you go to Court to file your case is the Payment Advices Cover Sheet.
Get Your Filing Fee
There is a filing fee required for any Wisconsin bankruptcy case. For a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Janesville, the cost is $338. The full $338 must be paid at the time you file your case, in cash (exact change, only an option in the Madison office), cashier’s check or money order. There is an option to request a waiver of the filing fee if you earn less than 150% of federal poverty guidelines. Additionally, you can also file an application to pay the filing fee in installments, so long as it is paid in four or fewer payments and in full within 120 days of filing your case.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
After you finish filling out the forms for your Janesville bankruptcy, you will need to print at least one copy to submit to the Court. If you have a printer at home or have access to one at work, it is never a bad idea to print an extra copy for your records. Be certain to print the forms one-sided because the Court will not accept double-sided documents. If you do not have access to a printer you can check at the Hedberg Public Library for reasonable printing rates. The other option is to go to a local office supply store that offers printing services, like the UPS Store of Janesville.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
The Western District of Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court has two locations, Madison and Eau Claire, but considering that Eau Claire is over 200 miles away from Janesville, chances are you will be filing your case in Madison at 120 North Henry Street, Room 340. The Court where you file your Wisconsin bankruptcy is open on weekdays only, from 8 am to 4:30 pm, and is closed on federal holidays. It is recommended that you go in person to file your Janesville bankruptcy forms because if you need to make a quick correction or ask a question you will have an opportunity to do so. Just keep in mind that the clerks cannot answer legal questions.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
You will be assigned to a bankruptcy Trustee after your Janesville bankruptcy case is filed with the Court. The Trustee is the individual who will review and oversee your case, and conduct your 341 hearing. Your Trustee will require documentation supporting your Wisconsin bankruptcy paperwork in advance of the hearing, which should be mailed directly to their office so it is received no less than 7 days before your 341 hearing. You should receive a letter directly from your Trustee soon after filing your case with the Trustee’s contact information and any other important information they want you to know before your hearing. If more than three weeks have gone by since you filed your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Janesville, you should think about contacting your Trustee to get the information, so there is no risk of missing a deadline. Usually, the Trustees request documents very similar to the documents you used to fill out your forms in the first place, like your tax returns and most recent pay stubs. If you don’t hear anything and aren’t able to reach them in time, make sure to mail at least your most recent federal income tax return to their office so they have it at least 7 days before your hearing.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
It’s a good idea to complete your second credit counseling course for your Janesville bankruptcy before your 341 hearing so that the hearing itself is the last step to complete before waiting for your order of discharge to be entered. If you paid for both of your courses together you can get back in touch with the court-approved agency you used for your first course to complete the second as well. You should check with the agency to see if they will submit the certificate of completion to the Court for you or if you have to file it yourself. If it is the latter you will file it with the Court’s clerk’s office just like your original paperwork. Your Trustee may ask to see it at your 341 hearing but showing it to them there is not sufficient; it will need to be properly reflected on the court record to successfully complete your Wisconsin bankruptcy.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
As a part of your Janesville bankruptcy, you will need to attend one hearing called the 341 hearing or the Meeting of Creditors. This hearing is before your Trustee and will be set by the Court between 21 and 40 days from your filing date. The hearing itself is usually relatively brief but any Court proceeding can cause some nerves, which is completely understandable. It may well be that preparation can help to alleviate your concerns. The Wisconsin bankruptcy hearing will primarily consist of the Trustee reviewing your forms and documents and asking questions on the record to determine that the information you provided is true and correct. It is possible that one or more of your creditors appear and ask questions, although that is less common. Typically, the only creditors who might appear are those with whom you have a secured loan that you may wish to keep current, like your car lender coming to determine if you want to keep the payment obligation and if so asking you to consider signing a reaffirmation agreement to memorialize the arrangement.
Dealing with Your Car
It is very common for people to have questions about how a Wisconsin bankruptcy case might impact their car. The answer depends on a few things, including whether you have a loan and are making payments. If so, and you are current on the loan, you may decide to keep the car and maintain the payments through a reaffirmation agreement. In the event the car is worth a lot less than what you owe you may consider exploring whether a redemption (paying what it’s worth rather than what you owe) is possible instead. If you are behind on payments at the time you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Janesville, it makes sense to surrender the car as a part of the bankruptcy. The benefit to this is that in addition to walking away from any remaining payments you can also absolve yourself of any missed payments and late fees. The other important factor to know about your car is whether you can protect the equity in it. You can determine this by starting with a Fair Market Value (FMV) for your vehicle using either Kelley Blue Book or NADA based on the age and condition of your car. Next subtract the amount owed on the car, if any, and the figure remaining will be the equity. In a bankruptcy case, you can protect your vehicle, as long as the equity is less than the amount protected by the available exemptions, which is up to $4,000 if you are using state exemptions.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Means Test, Bankruptcy Forms, and Exemptions for Janesville
Wisconsin Means Test
To be able to file your Janesville bankruptcy as a Chapter 7 case, you will need to first show that you are eligible to do so. You can show eligibility through the Wisconsin bankruptcy Means Test in one of two ways. The initial threshold is based on your income. So long as your current monthly household income is less than the Wisconsin median income for a family like yours, you will be immediately qualified for a Chapter 7. If you do not qualify solely based on your income you can through a full Means Test calculation to show that there is little to no disposable income remaining at the end of the month after taking into account all of your reasonable monthly expenses.
Median Income Levels for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
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Poverty Levels for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
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Wisconsin Bankruptcy Forms
The Wisconsin bankruptcy forms required for your Chapter 7 are mostly the federal bankruptcy forms. The Western District of Wisconsin also requires one local Janesville bankruptcy form called the Payment Advices Cover Sheet. This local form must be filed along with your pay stubs for the past 60 days. If you have not been paid by an employer during that period you can submit a statement that you have not received any income in the same period of time instead.
Wisconsin is one of approximately ⅓ of the states to offer a choice between state and federal exemptions. Exemptions are what you use in a bankruptcy case to protect your property. When filing bankruptcy in Janesville you can review both options, the Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions and the federal bankruptcy exemptions, and choose whichever is best for your situation. It is important to be aware, however, that you must choose one set in its entirety, you cannot mix and match between them.