If you’re considering filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’re probably concerned about how much it will cost. The rules for bankruptcy are the same across the country, but the cost of hiring a lawyer to help you through the process can vary from region to region. To get an idea of how much California attorneys charge to handle a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, we surveyed our readers in the state to find out about their experiences. Here’s what we learned.
How Much Do California Lawyers Charge for Chapter 7?
Most bankruptcy attorneys charge a flat fee to handle a Chapter 7 cases. As with so many things in life, that expense is a bit higher in California. The largest group of California readers (43%) paid fees between $1,000 and $1,500—which was similar to the rest of the country. But about a third of Californians paid more than that—which brought the average fee in this state up to $1,560, compared to the national average of $1,450. This could simply be a function of the fact that California is among the states with the highest cost of living.
Reasons for Higher or Lower Fees
Most lawyers will charge higher fees to handle bankruptcy cases that are likely to be more complicated and create more work for the attorney. At the other end of the spectrum, some attorneys will offer reduced rates for cases that are very simple to prepare. Here are a few of the issues that might affect what your lawyer will charge:
- High income. If you earn more than most people in your state, it’s likely that you’ll have more assets and a more complicated bankruptcy case. Our survey showed that the more readers earned, the more they generally paid their lawyers. But the increase wasn’t all that much. Readers who earned at least $6,000 a month paid an average of $1,650, only $90 more than the average for all Californians. Multiple sources of income may also lead to higher fees.
- Low/no income. Some lawyers will offer a reduced rate for unemployed people with few assets, people living on disability benefits, or seniors on a fixed income. California readers who were not employed paid their attorneys an average fee of $1,375, about 12% less than average earners.
- Assets. You may have to pay a higher fee if you have certain types of assets (like a business) or you have “nonexempt” property that will be sold in order to pay some money to your creditors. (For details on how this works, see our article on Chapter 7 bankruptcy basics.)
- More financial hot water. Your attorney may charge you more money if you’re facing difficulties like a lawsuit, a pending foreclosure or wage garnishment, liens on your property, or past-due taxes.
- Divorce issues. Your case could be more complicated if you’re separated but not yet divorced, or if you owe spousal support, child support, or an equalizing payment to your ex based on the division of your community property.
- Creditor challenges. If a creditor objects to having the bankruptcy court wipe out a debt and files what is known as an “adversary proceeding,” you will have to pay your lawyer additional fees to representing you in that proceedings. This is rare, however. Our survey showed that 94% of Chapter 7 cases in California moved through the process without a creditor challenge.
(For more detailed information on the issues that can affect attorneys’ fees, see our article on national survey results for how much Chapter 7 bankruptcy costs.)
Other Bankruptcy Costs
In addition to attorneys’ fees, you’ll have to pay the bankruptcy court’s filing fee ($335 in 2016), unless you qualify for a waiver by earning less than 150% of the national poverty guidelines. Also, everyone who files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy must take two bankruptcy counseling courses, which should cost about $60 or less (with discounts for low-income people).