Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated April 9, 2020
The U.S. and West Virginia bankruptcy laws aim to protect folks who are struggling financially so they can maintain a certain minimum standard of living, no matter how much money they owe their creditors. It's similar to the state laws that say a creditor can only take a percentage of your paycheck, not all of it, when they garnish your wages. Even though you feel like a failure just reading about Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia, the fact that you are learning about your options should make you feel a little bit better. First of all, know that you have options. They may not be pretty, and you may not like some parts of it, but the laws were created to provide honest but unfortunate debtors with relief, while being as fair to all the different creditors as possible. Believe it or not, a lot of people end up in a West Virginia bankruptcy even though they've never missed a payment on anything in the life until… until someone lost a job or went to the hospital and everything feel apart. There is a certain point where taking care of your family must become more important than making sure that American Express, MasterCard or Visa make a profit this quarter. If you have to choose between paying your credit card bill or buying food for your children, filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia may provide you with the relief you need.
How to File Bankruptcy in West Virginia for Free
Any person can file a West Virginia bankruptcy case without a lawyer. Additionally, if you are filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia, you can ask the court to waive your filing fee if your household income is low enough and the court finds that you can't afford to pay the fee.
Collect Your West Virginia Bankruptcy Documents
The documents you have to submit to the court when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia will be reviewed closely by a number of interested parties. Additionally, you have to sign the documents under penalty of perjury before actually filing bankruptcy in West Virginia and failure to disclose information can cause serious trouble. That is why the first step to completing the forms is collecting the documents that will help you make sure you are not accidentally leaving anything out. A very helpful tool to make sure you are listing all your debts and have accurate addresses for all creditors is your credit report. You are entitled to a free copy from each one of the three credit reporting agencies every year and can request all of them online. You will also need every paycheck stub you have received in the last 6 months to calculate your current income, and your most recent federal income tax return for historical income information. Finally, since filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia is meant to provide you with a fresh start, you should gather the last few months of bank statements, so you can calculate a realistic budget for life after your West Virginia bankruptcy has been filed.
Take Credit Counseling
It doesn't matter why you are filing bankruptcy in West Virginia, if you want to file, you must complete a credit counseling class in the 6 months before you do, or you will not be eligible to be a debtor in bankruptcy. Congress added this requirement when it last amended the Bankruptcy Code in 2005. The goal, and the reason why you are given a 6 month window to do this, is to make sure you know what options you have to deal with your financial issues. So that everyone taking this course gets the same quality content, it must be taken from a company approved to offer it to folks filing bankruptcy in West Virginia. To keep yourself organized, print a copy of the certificate you will receive confirming that you completed the course and put it with the rest of your bankruptcy documents. That way you are less likely to forget it when you head to the courthouse to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia. Since the certificate is only valid for 6 months it's a good idea to mark your calendar, or write yourself a note for the fridge, to remind you about how long you have until the last the certificate is valid.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The bankruptcy forms are essentially the questionnaires that you have to fill out and file with the court to start your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia. They are a somewhat one-size-fits-all to the extent that someone filing Chapter 7 in North Dakota uses the same forms as someone filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia. Since they are official court forms, they are as user-friendly as possible, but it's nevertheless helpful to have the 49-page instruction manual nearby while completing them. If you are eligible to file through Upsolve, or hire a lawyer to help you, the forms will be completed for you based on the information to provide. If you are filing bankruptcy in West Virginia without a lawyer ("pro se") you can download each one of the forms you will need, as well as this checklist telling you what that means, for free online. It's important to take your time and be diligent during this part of the process. You only get one chance to make a first impression on the court, and if your bankruptcy forms look like you didn't care enough to follow the instructions, it will not be a good first impression.
Get Your Filing Fee
As mentioned before, if your income is less than a certain amount (150% of the federal poverty guidelines to be exact) and the court finds that you won't be able to pay the filing fee even after your West Virginia bankruptcy case is filed, the fee can be waived. If you do not meet these qualifications, you have to pay the $335 fee. Normally, this is done when you go to the courthouse to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia. Since not all courts accept cash, and none of them allow people who are filing bankruptcy to pay via card or check, it's best to purchase a money order at your nearest post office. If you are in a rush to file, so you can prevent a creditor from garnishing your paycheck or stop a foreclosure, you should complete this application to pay the fee in installments. This allows you to move forward with filing bankruptcy in West Virginia right away and get the protections of the automatic stay that will prevent your creditors from moving forward with whatever they were doing, at least for a while.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Everyone filing bankruptcy in West Virginia without a lawyer has to submit their bankruptcy forms to the court in paper. While you can simply mail everything in, it's better to make the trip and handle it in person. This is especially true if you are trying to stop a creditor from doing something and therefore have to file your case before a certain date. Either way, you have to print all of the forms so you can sign them and submit them to the court. If you filled everything out on your own, it's best to use the same checklist you used to figure out which forms you need to complete for printing. All forms look very much alike, making it easy to miss one and print something else twice by accident. Everything should be printed on 8.5" x 11" paper, so if you have a printer at home, you're set to go. If you don’t have a printer at home, you can check if you can use a printer at the local library or visit a nearby Office Depot. Since it's a good idea to have a copy of everything you submitted to the court for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia, consider printing (or making) a second copy.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
The State of West Virginia is divided into two bankruptcy districts, the Northern District and the Southern District. You can find out which district your case will be filed in, and where the courthouses that you can visit to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia are located. Take the time to review the directions provided by the court and review any maps they may include or link to as that will be the best way to find parking near the court. Make sure you have all of the forms, the court filing fee, and a picture ID with you before you head out. You may need to show your ID as you go through building security on your way in and when you are in the clerk's office filing bankruptcy in West Virginia. In addition to checking your ID you will have to pass through a metal detector on your way in, so make sure to take anything that might make the Marshals nervous out of your pockets before you leave home. If you remember to bring your copy of the paperwork with you when you go to the court, you can ask the clerk to stamp it for you. That way you will always know that the documents are the same ones as the documents you filed in your West Virginia bankruptcy case.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Once your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia is filed, a number of things happen: Your case is assigned a case number, a judge and a trustee are chosen at random, a date is set for your creditors' meeting, and the automatic stay goes into effect. Being a debtor in bankruptcy does include certain duties and responsibilities everyone has to abide by in exchange for protection from their creditors. One example of these duties is that everyone filing bankruptcy in West Virginia has to send a copy of their most recent federal income tax return to the trustee assigned to their case at least 7 days before their creditors' meeting. The trustee uses the information contained in the tax returns, along with any other information or documentation they may have requested from you after your case was filed, to verify the information you disclosed in your bankruptcy forms. Even though the trustee does not represent you or your interests, you both share a common goal in that you want your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia to go smoothly and without unnecessary complications. So, keep an eye out for any correspondence from your trustee after your case has been filed and follow any instructions it may provide with respect to the best way to submit the documents the trustee wants.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Everyone filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia shares a common goal - getting their debts discharged. Once the court has confirmed that you have complied with all of the requirements under the Bankruptcy Code, the judge will enter an order discharging your debts; this is called the discharge, or discharge order. One of the requirements you have to meet before the court can enter a discharge in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia is completing a second course. This course can only be taken after your case has been filed and focuses on financial management and debtor education. Since you are not eligible to have your discharge entered without it, you have to complete this course or the court may close your case, thereby terminating the automatic stay and leaving you open to creditor collection actions. If that happens you can have your case reopened to file a certification that you completed the course so the court can enter your discharge and close the case again, but that takes unnecessary time and money. It's better to simply plan on taking this course before your creditors meeting, giving you about a month or so to get it done. As before, make sure you take the course from a provider that has been approved to offer it to people filing bankruptcy in West Virginia.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your creditors' meeting will take place about a month after you go to the court to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia. Even though it sounds like a scary and stressful situation, with just a little preparation and a couple of deep breaths before you head inside it will be over before you know it. First of all, even though it is called a creditors' meeting it is very rare that any creditors show up. Instead, it is mostly a meeting with your trustee, who will put you under oath and then ask you the same questions they ask everyone filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia. Sometimes the trustee notices something they want more information on in the bankruptcy forms as they were reviewing your case. If so, the trustee can take this opportunity to ask you some follow up questions during your 341 meeting. Most of the time, the process takes less than 10 minutes and the biggest complicating factor tends to be whether you brought a government issued picture ID and acceptable proof of your social security number. So, as long as you make sure you have both of those with you, you're more than halfway to a successful 341 meeting in your West Virginia bankruptcy case.
Dealing with Your Car
Depending on whether you own your car outright or still have payments left on a car loan, there are a number of ways to deal with it after filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia. If you own it free and clear, then as long as it is worth less than the applicable exemption everything stays the same. This is because the West Virginia bankruptcy laws acknowledge the fact that every adult in the state should have one vehicle that unsecured creditors cannot take away. If you are still paying on a loan, then you have a few different options on how to deal with it. Some folks filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia take the chance to return their car because it's not worth nearly what they still owe on the loan. Since this surrender is done as part of a West Virginia bankruptcy case, your responsibility to pay the balance left on the loan after the car is sold is discharged. Others are happy with their car and the loan makes sense for them, so they enter into a reaffirmation agreement that basically keeps everything the same as before their Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia was filed. The only way to keep the car but not the loan is to redeem it by paying its current value to the creditor in exchange for a clear vehicle title.
West Virginia Bankruptcy Means Test
Everyone who wants to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia has to pass the West Virginia means test for bankruptcy first. The purpose of the test is to make sure that only people who can't afford to pay any significant amount of their income to their creditors are allowed to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia even though their income exceeds the income limits.
Data on Median income levels for West Virginia
West Virginia 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 West Virginia
West 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)|
West Virginia Bankruptcy Forms
The official online bankruptcy forms available from the federal judiciary are only part of the West Virginia bankruptcy forms. When you first head to the court to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia, the Northern District does not require any local forms created by the court to be filed along with the official forms. The Southern District, on the other hand, requires this local form along with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms if you are not submitting any paycheck stubs.
Northern District of West Virginia Requirements
The Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District holds hearings in Elkins, Martinsburg, Clarksburg, and Wheeling, depending on which county you live in. However, everyone filing a West Virginia bankruptcy case has to travel to either Wheeling or Clarksburg to submit their paperwork in person.
Southern District of West Virginia Requirements
Depending on your county of residence, any hearings for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia will take place in either Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg or Beckley. This district requires that everyone who files a West Virginia bankruptcy without a lawyer by submitting their bankruptcy forms to the court in paper follow these instructions on how the list of their creditors' addresses must be formatted.
West Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions
The laws that protect your property from the trustee are often referred to as the Chapter 7 bankruptcy exemptions. In practice, exemption laws apply to any West Virginia bankruptcy case. If you have lived in the Mountain State for at least 2 years when your case is filed, you have to use the West Virginia bankruptcy exemptions to protect your assets. Anything that is not protected by one of these exemptions can be sold for the benefit of your creditors as part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia.
West Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia is $1,150. If you are having a hard time matching your personal items with the available exemptions, this may be money well spent if it helps you protect your assets.
Attorney cost estimate: $1,100 – $1,200
West Virginia Legal Aid Organizations
Not everyone who needs a lawyer for their Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia can afford to hire one. Folks who make less than a certain amount are eligible for legal aid in West Virginia. To find out whether you are eligible for legal aid, contact Legal aid of West Virginia to find out more.
West Virginia Court Locations
Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse
300 Virginia Street East Charleston, WV 25301
Sidney L. Christie Federal Building
845 Fifth Avenue Huntington, WV 25701
Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and IRS Complex
110 North Heber Street Beckley, WV 25801
West Virginia Judges
West Virginia Bankruptcy Judges
|Northern District of West Virginia||Hon. Patrick M. Flatley|
|Southern District of West Virginia||Hon. Frank W. Volk|
West Virginia Trustees
West Virginia Trustees
|Aaron C. Amore|
|Thomas H. Fluhartyfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Robert L. Johnsemail@example.com|
|Martin P. Sheehanfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Aaron C. Amore|
|Janet S. Holbrookemail@example.com|
|Robert L. Johnsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Arthur M. Standishemail@example.com|