How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
by: Baran Bulkat, Attorney
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a court-supervised process that allows individuals to eliminate their personal liability for most types of debt and receive a fresh start. It is also the most common type of personal bankruptcy filed in the United States.
The purpose of this page is to provide basic information about the types of forms and procedures involved in filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It is designed to serve only as a general guide and should not be construed as legal advice. In addition to these forms, each bankruptcy jurisdiction also has its own local forms, rules, and procedures you must follow to successfully complete your case. Because bankruptcy laws can be extremely complex, consider talking to a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney in your area prior to filing your case.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Forms and Schedules
Below, we discuss the most common forms and schedules included in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. However, depending on where you live, your local bankruptcy court may require additional forms.
Thinking About Bankruptcy?
- The Bankruptcy Petition
- Schedule A: Real Property
- Schedule B: Personal Property
- Schedule C: Property Claimed as Exempt
- Schedule D: Creditors Holding Secured Claims
- Schedule E: Unsecured Priority Claims
- Schedule F: Unsecured Non-Priority Claims
- Schedule G: Executory Contracts and Leases
- Schedule H: Codebtors
- Schedule I: Current Income of Individual Debtor
- Schedule J: Current Expenditures
- Summary of Schedules
- Statistical Summary of Certain Liabilities
- Declaration Concerning Debtors Schedules
- Statement of Financial Affairs
- Individual Debtors Statement of Intentions
- Current Monthly Income and Means Test
- Notice to Individual Consumer Debtor
- Filing Your Petition
- What Happens Next?
The Voluntary petition is the introductory form where you disclose your personal information such as your name and address. This is also where you indicate your intention to file for Chapter 7 and provide information about the nature of your debts (such as consumer or business), estimated amount of creditors, assets, and liabilities, and any prior bankruptcies filed within the last eight years.
Credit Counseling Requirement
Before you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must also complete a credit counseling course with an approved agency. Once you obtain your credit counseling certificate, you must complete Exhibit D and attach it to the Voluntary Petition along with your completion certificate.
For more information, see The Credit Counseling Requirement in Bankruptcy.
Schedule A: Real Property
Schedule A is where you disclose any ownership interests you have in real property. This includes your house, condominium, land, or any other type of real estate you own. When you complete Schedule A, provide the description and location of the property, the nature and value of your interest, and the amount of secured claims (such as mortgages or other liens) encumbering the property.
To learn more about the common types of real property interests that must be disclosed in your bankruptcy papers, see Bankruptcy Schedule A: Nature of Interest in Property.
Schedule B: Personal Property
In Schedule B, you must list all of your personal property (property other than real estate). This includes assets such as cash, bank accounts, household goods, clothing, insurance policies, stocks, bonds, annuities, retirement accounts, cars, musical instruments, and any other property of value.
List All Personal Property
Schedule B contains an extensive list of the types of assets that should be included on this form. Be sure to include all of your personal property even if you think it is worthless. If you intentionally omit an asset, you may be denied your discharge and even prosecuted for bankruptcy fraud.
Valuing Your Personal Property
When determining the value of your property in Schedule B, use the property's replacement value. Replacement value is the amount of money it would cost to purchase an item similar in age and condition (what a retail merchant would charge for a similar item).
For more information, see How to Value Personal Property on Your Bankruptcy Petition.
Schedule C: Property Claimed as Exempt
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is commonly referred to as a liquidation bankruptcy. If you file a Chapter 7 case, the appointed bankruptcy trustee has the power to sell your nonexempt assets to pay back your creditors. However, if an asset is exempt, it is safe.
Each state (and the federal system) has a unique set of bankruptcy exemptions (and only certain states allow their citizens to use the federal exemptions). This means that the amount of property you can keep in Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends on the exemption laws of your state. (To learn more about which state’s exemptions you are eligible to use, see Which State Exemption System Can I Use?)
Schedule C is where you list and claim your exemptions for each of the assets listed in your petition -- it is arguably one of the most important forms in your bankruptcy petition. In order to fill out Schedule C, you must determine what bankruptcy exemptions are available to you and research them thoroughly. If you are unsure about whether your property is exempt, talk to a bankruptcy attorney in your area. This is important because if you can’t exempt all of your assets, the trustee can liquidate them to pay back your creditors.
To learn more about how to protect your protect your property in bankruptcy, see our Bankruptcy Exemptions topic area.
Schedule D: Creditors Holding Secured Claims
A secured claim is a loan or obligation for which you have pledged a piece of property as collateral. If you default on the obligation, the creditor typically has a right to take back the property through foreclosure or repossession. The most common examples of secured claims include your mortgage and car loan.
Schedule D is where you list all of the secured claims encumbering your property. When you fill out Schedule D, include the creditor’s name and contact information, the nature and amount of the lien, date it was incurred, and the description and value of the property subject to the lien. If the lien amount exceeds the value of the property, list the difference in the unsecured portion column.
Schedule E: Creditors Holding Unsecured Priority Claims
Certain types of debt (called priority claims) are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Common examples include certain taxes and domestic support obligations such as alimony or child support. You must list these claims on Schedule E.
Schedule E contains instructions regarding which types of debt are considered priority and must be listed on the form. If you believe that only a certain amount of the creditor’s claim is entitled to priority, disclose the entire claim but list the portion not entitled to priority in the appropriate column.
For more information on how to complete Schedule E, see Filling Out Bankruptcy Schedule E.
Schedule F: Creditors Holding Unsecured Non-Priority Claims
Schedule F is where you list all of your general unsecured debts such as credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, and other debts that don’t belong in Schedules D or E.
Make Sure to List All Remaining Debts
You must disclose all of your debts in your bankruptcy schedules even if you want to repay them. If you forget to list a debt, it may not get discharged in your bankruptcy. This means you should carefully review all of your debts to make sure they are included. It is typically a good idea to obtain a copy of your credit report and compare it against your other bills so that you don’t miss anything.
Deficiency Balances After Foreclosure or Repossession
If a secured lender forecloses on or repossesses your property, it will typically sell it at an auction to satisfy its debt. If the sale proceeds are not enough to cover the balance of your loan, you may be on the hook for a deficiency balance (whether you can be held liable for a deficiency depends on the type of property and your state’s deficiency laws). If you have a deficiency balance, you would list it on Schedule F because it is no longer treated as a secured debt.
Schedule G: Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases
Executory contracts and unexpired leases are those contract into which you and a lender have entered and to which both parties are still obligated.
Common Examples of Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases
Common examples of contracts and leases that should be disclosed on Schedule G include:
- car leases
- rental agreements and real property leases
- license agreements
- contracts to buy or sell real estate, and
- personal property leases.
What Happens to Executory Contracts and Unexpired Leases in Bankruptcy?
When you file for bankruptcy, your rights under the contract become property of the bankruptcy estate. The trustee has the power to assume your contract or lease if it will generate value for your creditors. But unless you are paying below market rates or the trustee can otherwise profit from your contract or lease, he or she will not assume it.
If you want to continue with your lease or contract, you can assume it on your Statement of Intention (discussed below). If you want to get out of the lease, you can reject it.
To learn more see, How to Fill Out Bankruptcy Schedule G.
Schedule H: Codebtors
If you have codebtors on any of your debts, you must list them on Schedule H. But keep in mind that your discharge only eliminates your liability for the debt. Not your codebtor’s. This means that your creditors can still go after your codebtors even after you file for bankruptcy relief.
For more information on how to protect your codebtors in bankruptcy, see How Will Bankruptcy Affect Joint Accounts and Cosigners?
Schedule I: Current Income of Individual Debtor(s)
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must inform the court about your approximate monthly budget. Schedule I is where you disclose your marital status, number of dependents, employment information, and income. Follow the instructions on the form to list your income from each source on the appropriate line. Also, keep in mind that if you are married but filing for bankruptcy without your spouse, you still have to include your nonfiling spouse’s income on Schedule I.
For more detailed information on how to fill out Schedule I, see Completing Bankruptcy Schedule I.
Schedule J: Current Expenditures of Individual Debtor(s)
Schedule J works with Schedule I to give the court a snapshot of your monthly budget. Schedule J is where you list all of your monthly expenditures. The amount of your expenses on Schedule J will be deducted from your net income listed on Schedule I to determine how much disposable income you have each month.
The Effect of Your Disposable Income
In order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must first pass the means test(discussed below). However, even if you pass the means test, the court may still determine that you are not eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if your budget shows a significant amount of disposable income each month.
Summary of Schedules
Once you complete Schedules A through J, you must summarize all of the totals on this form. This gives the court and trustee a snapshot of your entire financial situation.
Statistical Summary of Certain Liabilities and Related Data
This form provides the court with a summary of the types of debt you have as well as your income and expenses. When you complete all schedules and the means test, follow the instructions to disclose the necessary information on this form.
Declaration Concerning Debtor’s Schedules
After you complete your bankruptcy schedules, you must declare that they are true and correct to the best of your knowledge by signing this form. Keep in mind that you are signing this declaration under penalty of perjury. If you lie on your bankruptcy papers, your case may be dismissed without a discharge and you can face criminal charges for bankruptcy fraud.
Statement of Financial Affairs
The Statement of Financial Affairs is an extensive form that provides information to the court about your financial dealings. On the Statement of Financial Affairs, you must disclose things like your gross income from all sources for the last two years, recent payments to creditors, lawsuits you are involved in, prior foreclosures and repossessions, transfers of property, closed bank accounts, and information about your business. The Statement of Financial Affairs is a lengthy and complicated form. Review each question carefully to make sure you answer it accurately.
For more detailed information, see Completing Bankruptcy's Statement of Financial Affairs.
Chapter 7 Individual Debtor’s Statement of Intention
If you have secured debts, executory contracts, or unexpired leases, the Statement of Intention is where you tell the court and the creditor what you intend to do with the property and the debt. For secured debts, you must indicate whether you intend to keep or surrender the property. If you want to keep the property, state whether you wish to redeem it or reaffirm the debt.
If you don’t want to keep a certain piece of property such as a car or house, you can walk away by surrendering it to the creditor. When you surrender a piece of property, you essentially give it back to the creditor. When you receive your discharge, your personal liability for the loan is wiped out. The creditor won’t come after you to collect a deficiency if it can’t sell the property for enough money to pay off the loan.
To learn more, see Surrendering Secured Property in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
Reaffirming the Debt
If you want to retain the property, a secured lender may require you to reaffirm your debt. Your bankruptcy discharge eliminates your personal liability for all discharged debts. By reaffirming, you essentially sign a new contract with the lender and agree to make yourself personally liable for the debt again despite your discharge.
Because you are giving up the benefit of your discharge, this is not a decision you should take lightly. If you are unsure about reaffirming a debt, consider talking to a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney to learn about your options. In general, if the amount of your debt significantly exceeds the value of the collateral, it is not a good idea to reaffirm.
To learn more about consequences of reaffirming debts, see Reaffirming Secured Debt in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
You also have the option of redeeming a piece of property you wish to keep. When you redeem an asset in bankruptcy, you pay the lender the replacement value of the property in one lump sum. After you redeem the property, the creditor’s lien is removed and you own it free and clear. The remaining balance of the loan is wiped out by your discharge. But in most cases, this is not possible for many debtors because they don’t have enough money to come up with a lump sum payment.
To learn more, see Redeeming Property in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
Chapter 7 Statement of Current Monthly Income and Means-Test Calculation
In order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your disposable income must be low enough to pass the means test. The means test compares your average gross monthly income for the six-month period prior to bankruptcy against the median income for a similar household in your state.
If your income is below the state median, you automatically pass and don’t have to fill out the entire form. However, if your income is above median, you have to complete the whole form and disclose your expenses to see whether you qualify.
For more detailed information regarding how to complete the means test, see The Means Test in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
Notice to Consumer Debtor(s) Under § 342(b)
The purpose of this form is to provide information about services available to you from credit counseling agencies, the types of bankruptcy available to individuals, and what can happen if you commit a bankruptcy crime.
Statement of Social Security Number(s)
This statement is where you disclose your social security number. Because bankruptcy is a financial proceeding, it is tied to your social security number and will be reported on your credit. The Statement of Social Security Number(s) will not appear on the court’s public docket due to the sensitive nature of the information it contains. As a result, each bankruptcy court will typically have special instructions on how to file this form.
Filing Your Petition
When you have filled out all required bankruptcy forms and schedules, review them carefully to make sure they are complete and accurate. Once you are satisfied, you can file them with the court by paying the appropriate filing fee.
Chapter 7 Filing Fee
Currently, the required court filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $306. But court filing fees are updated periodically and can change. If you can’t afford to pay the filing fee, you may be eligible for a waiver if your combined household income is less than 150% of the applicable poverty guideline in your area.
Creditor Mailing List
In addition to completing the forms listed above, you will need to prepare a creditor mailing list (also called a creditor matrix) for the court before filing your case. The court uses the creditor matrix to send notice of your bankruptcy to all of your creditors. Each court has its own formatting guidelines for creditor mailing lists. Check with your local bankruptcy court to learn the requirements in your area for preparing your creditor mailing list.
What Happens Next?
After you file your bankruptcy, the court will notify you of the date and location of your meeting of creditors (also called the 341 hearing). The meeting of creditors is a mandatory hearing where the trustee and your creditors can ask you questions under oath about your financial affairs and the information disclosed in your bankruptcy petition.
Your meeting of creditors will typically be scheduled for 20 to 40 days after your filing date. If you fail to attend the meeting of creditors, your case will likely be dismissed without a discharge of your debts. As a result, if you can’t make it to your 341 hearing, you must notify the trustee immediately.
For more information on the 341 hearing, see Bankruptcy's Meeting of Creditors.
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