What Do I Need to Do to Start the Bankruptcy Process?

By Cara O'Neill, Attorney
Find out what it takes to file for bankruptcy.

The process starts after you complete official bankruptcy paperwork and file it with the court. To meet your credit counseling course requirement, you’ll include a certificate of completion from an approved credit counseling provider. Also, you’ll pay a filing fee unless your income is less than 150% of the national poverty guidelines. If that’s the case, you can submit a fee waiver application, instead. If you don’t have the entire filing fee, you can request to pay in installments.

(Find out more about the pre-filing counseling requirement in What Is the Credit Counseling Requirement in Bankruptcy?)

A good way to start preparing for your bankruptcy filing is by downloading the fillable petition and schedule forms. While reviewing the forms, you can make a list of all of the information you’ll need to answer the questions. Next, you’ll gather together your financial documents, including the following:

  • two most recent tax returns
  • bank, retirement, and investment statements
  • credit card, utility bill, and other debt statements, and
  • paycheck stubs, or, if you run a business, profit and loss statements.

For a more detailed list, read Bankruptcy: Preparing to Meet with a Lawyer. You can find the official forms on the U.S. Court website.

While you might be able to complete most of the paperwork on your own (if not all), some aspects can be challenging. For instance, if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll need to prove that you’re qualified to do so by filling out lengthy means test forms. Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires you to complete another complicated task—preparing a workable repayment plan (and showing that you have enough income to support it).

Also, it’s essential to understand how bankruptcy will affect your property before you file. Making a mistake on your petition can lead to an irreversible loss of an asset, and a sizeable loss might completely overshadow any debt savings you would have received otherwise. If you’re not sure how bankruptcy works or aren’t comfortable looking up the law, it’s advisable that you consult with a bankruptcy attorney.

Go to the main bankruptcy FAQ page.

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