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 May 10, 2023
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely under a lot of financial stress. You may be facing crushing credit card debt and trying to figure out how to feed your family and pay your bills. If you’re struggling with how to juggle your debts, then Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be a good solution for you.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is aimed at giving debtors relief while being fair to creditors. Although sometimes it’s better to seek debt relief instead of filing for bankruptcy, bankruptcy may be the best option to give you a fresh start with your finances. If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed. If the prospect of filing feels overwhelming, know that filing for bankruptcy is easier than most people think. Plus, the entire Chapter 7 process may take only four to six months. Also, you can file for bankruptcy for free and without having to hire a lawyer.
How to File Bankruptcy in West Virginia for Free
Bankruptcy costs include court filing fees, credit counseling fees, and attorney fees if you hire a bankruptcy lawyer. Attorney fees tend to be the most expensive part of filing for bankruptcy. But you don’t need an attorney to file bankruptcy. This article will guide you through the process of filing a Chapter 7 case without a lawyer.
You may be able to file for bankruptcy in West Virginia without paying any costs. The bankruptcy court may be willing to waive the filing fee if you can show that you have a low income and can’t afford the fee.
- Collect Your West 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 West Virginia Bankruptcy Court
- Mail Documents to Your Trustee
- Take a Debtor Education Course
- Attend Your 341 Meeting
- Dealing with Your Car
Collect Your West Virginia Bankruptcy Documents
When you file bankruptcy, you’ll have to submit the following documents to the bankruptcy, even if you’re filing with an attorney:
Your last two years of tax returns,
Your last 60 days of paycheck stubs, and
A bank statement that covers the filing date.
There are also some documents that are good to have on hand as you fill out the required bankruptcy forms.
Bank statements for the past six to 12 months will help you list your expenses.
Creditor statements/bills and letters from collection agencies or other third-party debt collectors can help you list all your debts and creditors in your bankruptcy paperwork.
Your credit report will help list your creditors and debt amounts as well.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
The federal Bankruptcy Code requires anyone filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to complete an approved credit counseling class within six months before they file. Congress requires this six-month window so you have time to learn about the options for addressing your debt before you file. Keep your course completion certificate because you’ll have to submit it to the bankruptcy court with your other paperwork. Finally, although you have to pay a fee to take the course, you may be able to get a fee waiver if you can’t afford the cost. West Virginia has 96 approved credit counseling providers.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
To start the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, you must fill out several forms. The bankruptcy forms are federal, so they’re the same nationwide. The forms are long, but they come with a detailed guide you can use if you’re filling them out on your own. You can download the forms as fillable PDFs for free online from USCOURTS.gov. Take your time and be diligent during this part of the process.
If you decide to file using Upsolve’s free filing tool you’ll fill out an online questionnaire. Then our software generates the forms based on the information you provide. If you hire a bankruptcy lawyer, you’ll typically fill out a questionnaire, and the attorney (or their staff) will prepare the bankruptcy forms.
Get Your Filing Fee
The fee for filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $338. If you’re eligible, the fee can be waived by the court. You’re eligible to apply for a fee waiver if your current income is below 150% of the poverty guidelines. See West Virginia’s Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.
Once you file for bankruptcy, an automatic stay takes effect. This means that as soon as your bankruptcy case is filed, your creditors can no longer take certain actions to collect on your debt. You may be in a hurry to file for bankruptcy to prevent a creditor from taking money from your paycheck through wage garnishment or to stop a foreclosure.
But what if you can’t pay the full filing fee? In this case, you can ask the court to let you pay the filing fee in installments. The court will decide the minimum amount you must pay at the time of filing. This lets you move forward with filing bankruptcy right away and get the protections of the automatic stay.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Taken together, the bankruptcy forms are called your bankruptcy petition. You may or may not need to print your bankruptcy petition, depending on the filling options in your West Virginia district. We’ll cover each district more in-depth blow.
If you live in the Northern District, you can file your bankruptcy forms online (see more about this below).
If you’re in the Southern District, you don’t have this option, so you need to print the forms to submit them to the court.
If you fill out everything on your own, use the same checklist you used to figure out which forms you need to complete for printing. The forms look alike, so make sure you print out all sections. Print the forms on regular, white letter-size paper (8.5" x 11"), in black ink, and single-sided. Keep copies for yourself. Also, the forms contain numerous signature spots, so make sure you don’t miss any.
If you use Upsolve’s free Chapter 7 filing tool, you’ll get your packet as a single download, with dividers that flag each signature page.
File Your Forms With the West Virginia Bankruptcy Court
If you’re filing without an attorney you can mail everything in or hand-deliver your forms to the court regardless of which district you live in. Taking your forms to the bankruptcy court clerk in person can help you make sure you have all of the documents needed to file your petition. You’ll want to check the court’s most recent COVID-19 protocols before filing your case.
If you live in the Northern District of West Virginia, you also have the option to file using the court’s online system called Electronic Self-Representation (eSR). This is an online system for preparing all required Chapter 7 documents before filing.
If you have an attorney, your attorney can file your documents online through the court’s Electronic Court Filing System (ECF) in either district.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
When you file for bankruptcy, a few things happen. First, the court will assign a number to your case. The court will also appoint a bankruptcy trustee to handle your bankruptcy case. The court will then either notify you who the trustee is or the trustee will contact you directly. As soon as you file, the automatic stay goes into effect, and the court will set a date for your creditors' meeting. (More on this later.)
You must send a copy of your two most recent federal income tax returns to your trustee at least seven days before the creditors' meeting. You also must send your trustee a bank statement that includes the date of your bankruptcy filing. The trustee uses the tax return information and any other information to verify the information you disclosed in your bankruptcy forms. The trustee may ask for additional information as well.
Take a Debtor Education Course
Once the bankruptcy court confirms you’ve complied with the requirements under the Bankruptcy Code, the court will enter an order discharging your debts. Before you become eligible for a discharge, you must complete an approved debtor education course. The debtor education course teaches you financial management skills.
Although you can take the course before the creditor’s meeting, you must take it no later than 60 days after the creditors’ meeting. You also have to file your certificate of completion with the court in that time period. If you don’t complete the course, the court could close your case without entering a discharge. West Virginia offers 120 approved debtor education courses.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Your 341 meeting is also called your creditors’ meeting. You’ll attend your creditors' meeting about a month after you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A creditors’ meeting is usually held in a conference room (not a courtroom) in an informal setting. You must bring a government-issued picture ID and acceptable proof of your Social Security number to the meeting.
Creditors rarely show up at creditors' meetings. Usually, just you and your trustee attend the meeting. Your trustee will put you under oath and ask the same questions they ask everyone filing Chapter 7 in West Virginia. The trustee may ask you some additional questions if they need more information. Creditors’ meetings usually last only 10 minutes and proceed without problems. The most typical issue is that the filer forgets to bring identification or acceptable proof of their Social Security number. After the meeting, you’re almost done with the bankruptcy process.
As part of recent COVID-19 precautions, creditors’ meetings are currently being held via telephone or video conference.This is currently a temporary measure, so be sure to verify things haven’t changed when you get your notice.
Dealing with Your Car
People filing for bankruptcy often want to know if they can keep their car, especially if they’re still making monthly payments on it. If you own your car free and clear (you’re not making any monthly payments), and if it’s valued below the exemption amount, you can keep it. West Virginia exempts motor vehicles for up to $7,500 in equity.
If you’re still making car loan payments, you have a few options.
If you decide to surrender your car, you won’t have to pay the balance left on the loan. This may be a good strategy if you owe more than what the car is worth.
People who want to keep making their car payments will have to enter into a reaffirmation agreement. You need to be current on your payments to do this.
If you want to keep your car but not the loan, you’ll have to pay the car’s current value to the creditor in exchange for a clear vehicle title. If there’s remaining debt on the car loan (because you owe more than it’s worth), it’ll then be discharged in your bankruptcy.
If you’re leasing your car, you have similar options. You can keep the lease if you’re current on your payments. This is called “assuming” the lease. If you aren’t current on your payments or you want to get out of the lease, you can reject the lease and give the car back.
Most filers have no trouble buying another car after bankruptcy. But it may be good to wait a while to let your credit score rebound, so you can get good financing offers.
West Virginia Bankruptcy Means Test
Federal law sets out the bankruptcy laws under the Bankruptcy Code. To be eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must qualify under the means test. The starting point for the means test is your income. If your household income is less than the median income for a similar-sized household in West Virginia, then you qualify for Chapter 7.
If your income exceeds the limits for filing for bankruptcy, but you still can’t afford to pay all of your debts, the bankruptcy court will then consider your disposable monthly income after your monthly expenses. If you don’t have enough disposable monthly income to pay even part of your debts, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
If under the means test you have enough disposable income to repay enough of your debts, you can file Chapter 13 bankruptcy and repay part of your debt with a 3-5 repayment plan. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are the most common forms of consumer bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for West Virginia
West Virginia Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for West Virginia
West Virginia Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2023
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 federal judiciary provides official bankruptcy forms that are the same for every state. The Northern District of West Virginia doesn’t require any local forms in addition to the federal forms. The Southern District, however, requires an additional local form if you’re not submitting any paycheck stubs.
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West Virginia Districts & Filing Requirements
West Virginia has two bankruptcy districts: the Northern District and Southern District. You’ll need to file your bankruptcy petition in the district where you live.
Northern District of West Virginia Requirements
The Northern District includes the following counties: Barbour, Grant, Hardy, Pendleton, Lewis, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur, Webster, Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan, Braxton, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Pleasants, Preston, Ritchie, Taylor, Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, Wetzel, and Tyler. The Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District provides online instructions for people filing for Chapter 7 without an attorney.
The Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District holds bankruptcy hearings in Elkins, Martinsburg, Clarksburg, and Wheeling. You’ll attend your hearing in the county where you live. If you want to file your bankruptcy in person, you must submit your paperwork to the Wheeling courthouse. Filers in the Nothern District can also submit their paperwork online. If you choose to mail your documents, send them to:
US Bankruptcy Court
Frederick P. Stamp, Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse
P.O. Box 70
Wheeling, WV 26003
The Northern District of West Virginia requires filers to pay fees in cash or with a money order. If you submit your petition online, you need to pay the filing fee (and submit a Declaration Form and Statement of Social Security Number) in person at the courthouse or via mail. Your case isn’t considered filed until you’ve done so. If you can’t afford the filing fee you can submit a waiver or installment plan application.
The Northern District of West Virginia has enacted some temporary COVID-related policies.
Southern District of West Virginia Requirements
The Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District has five court locations serving 23 counties. Some locations aren’t staffed or have limited hours, so it’s best to check the location closest to you before you go to file a case if you want to go in person. If you want to mail your petition in, you can send it to:
Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse
300 Virginia Street East, Room 3200
Charleston, West Virginia 25301
Individuals filing without an attorney need to pay their filing fee in cash, cashier’s check, or money order. You need to pay the filing fee when you submit your petition, or you can file an application for a fee waiver or installment payment at that time.
The Southern District Bankruptcy Court provides a useful Pro Se Pamphlet for individuals filing without an attorney’s help. The court has enacted some temporary COVID-related policies, and it’s good to check the latest protocols before heading to the courthouse.
West Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Under federal bankruptcy laws, some of your property is protected through bankruptcy exemptions. This property can’t be sold to pay off your debt. Exemptions protect most day-to-day items you own like household goods, cars, and homes up to a certain value. Certain exemptions protect entire categories of property such as some pensions and retirement accounts, regardless of value.
Federal bankruptcy law recognizes certain federal bankruptcy exemptions. Each state, however, can opt out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions. West Virginia doesn’t recognize the federal exemptions and instead has its own bankruptcy exemptions. If you’ve lived in the Mountain State for two years or longer, you must use the state exemptions. West Virginia recognizes an exemption of up to $25,000 for a personal residence. West Virginia law also allows exemptions for certain kinds of personal property. Unlike most states, however, West Virginia puts a cap on the value of every category of personal property subject to an exemption.
West Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Bankruptcy lawyers generally charge a flat fee for Chapter 7 cases. West Virginia bankruptcy attorneys generally cost between $1,100 and $1,200, but the amount you’ll pay will depend on the complexity of your case. Also, bankruptcy attorneys with lots of experience tend to charge higher fees. It may be worth it to pay more to an attorney with many years of experience so you can rest assured you’re getting the best services and legal advice for your money. That said, cost isn’t the only thing to consider when hiring an attorney.
West Virginia Legal Aid Organizations
Numerous organizations in West Virginia provide free or low-cost legal services to low-income individuals filing bankruptcy. If you’re not comfortable filing for bankruptcy on your own, contact one of these organizations to see if they can help you.
West Virginia Court Locations
Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and IRS Complex
110 North Heber Street Beckley, WV 25801
Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse
300 Virginia Street East Charleston, WV 25301
Sidney L. Christie Federal Building
845 Fifth Avenue Huntington, WV 25701
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. Fluhartyemail@example.com|
|Robert L. Johnsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Martin P. Sheehanemail@example.com|
|Aaron C. Amore|
|Janet S. Holbrookfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Robert L. Johnsemail@example.com|
|Arthur M. Standishfirstname.lastname@example.org|