What bankruptcy costs

The cost of filing for bankruptcy is more than just the filing fee. There are fees for:

  • mandatory pre-filing credit counseling
  • mandatory debt management ‘education’
  • advice and information to help you decide whether to file
  • preparing your forms for filing, making the required number of copies, and assembling them in the proper order
  • other court procedures that may be required or beneficial.

Here’s a rundown of the costs you’re likely to incur:


Time and Money for …

$0 to 35

Research (Figuring Out What You Need to Do)

It’s what you’re doing now — surfing the Web for information.

Surfing the Web is fine, but not all that efficient. To get up to speed faster, you can buy a step-by-step book that lays out the bankruptcy process and includes worksheets and forms.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to get some free bankruptcy help and information from the court, specifically for people filing bankruptcy without an attorney. An increasing number of courts offer such materials and you’ll find links to those resources on the bankruptcy court page. Most bankruptcy courts used to offer little or no real help to non-attorneys. (There were a few happy exceptions to this general rule, but only a few.)

Even so, this information goes only so far. Court clerks still can’t answer most questions or offer advice, but most now do offer some sort of self-service packet or people filing without an attorney, or who are at least curious about what is involved, before they decide to hire an attorney.

You may want to consult a bankruptcy lawyer early on, if you can get a free consultation.

Many people find that it’s cost-effective to do some combination of both:

  • First, spend few bucks on a high quality book. Take an evening or two to learn about bankruptcy. Learn what bankruptcy can and can’t do for you, and what a bankruptcy attorney can and should do for you.
  • Then use the free consultation with the attorney do discuss the more difficult aspects of your case that the book couldn’t answer.

This approach helps you make the most of your time with the attorney, and helps you evaluate whether the attorney really knows bankruptcy law.

Bankruptcy is a specialized area of law. If you hire a lawyer, you want want one who really knows the subject and is familiar with local bankruptcy court rules and customs.

Bankrate.com’s Bankruptcy Adviser column offers four reasons to hire a bankruptcy lawyer. It’s a good article, but the dire warnings about ‘misinformation’ in that article can be avoided by buying a good, up-to-date book on the subject.

$25 to $100*

* If your income is low, the bankruptcy law says that you are entitled to free counseling or reduced rates but the law doesn’t say who pays for it.

Mandatory Pre-Filing Credit Counseling

Before you file for bankruptcy, you must participate in a credit counseling session and get a certificate proving that you have done so. This typically costs around $50 to $75 and takes about 90 minutes, and can be done online or over the phone. If you are planning to file jointly with your spouse, you can both attend the same counseling session, but each of you must get a separate certificate.

The new bankruptcy law states that these agencies must provide credit counseling services without regard to a client’s ability to payand must disclose the possibility of a fee waiver or fee reduction before beginning the counseling session.

Many critics of the new bankruptcy law see the credit counseling requirement as just another bureaucratic obstacle for already-desperate debtors. Perhaps so. But try to make the most of this 90-minute session by getting as much free information as you can. Use it as a way to get a second opinion about your financial situation, to gauge whether bankruptcy is, indeed, the right choice for your situation. However, by law, a credit counselor cannot actually advise you whether you should file for bankruptcy.

So far (since the credit counseling requirement began in October 2005), counselors are reporting that of the vast majority of the debtors they’re seeing are in such dire financial shape that bankruptcy is the only realistic option left for them.

$35 to 1,800*

* If you qualify for legal aid or have a legal plan through your union or employer, they will fill out the forms for you.

Preparing and Assembling Your Bankruptcy Papers

Filing for bankruptcy requires you to fill in 50+ pages of forms detailing all of your current debts, assets, income, and expenses, as well as your intentions regarding loans that are secured by collateral (such as car loans).

In addition to providing this information, you’re required to make decisions about what you plan to do about your secured debts (that is, debts that are secured by property you own).

The cost of this phase depends on whether you hire professional help.

Do-it-yourself – under $30

With some diligence, you can prepare all these forms yourself… but if you’re not the careful, diligent type, self-help might not be for you. Bankruptcy rules can be unforgiving, and became more so since the passage of the 2005 law. There was a time when incomplete filings could be easily amended once the errors were called to the filers attention.

Under the new law, it’s extra important to have all your ducks in a row before you file — and there are quite a few ducks… in the form of many pages of forms to fill in and supporting documentation that you must gather and organize before you’re ready to file.

You must be willing to take the time to read a good step-by-step instruction manual and follow the instructions carefully. Such materials cost under $30.

Professional Help – $150 to $1800

If you prefer not to handle it yourself, you can find listings of localbankruptcy lawyers on this website, in the yellow pages and on online lawyer directories, such as the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA).

In a few areas you may also find businesses run by non-lawyers, known as Bankruptcy Petition Preparers (BPPs), who can fill out your forms but not offer legal advice.

$150 – $2,500*

* If you qualify for legal aid or have a legal plan through your union or employer, they will fill out the forms for you.

Getting Professional Legal Advice

As mentioned in the previous section, at some point in the bankruptcy process, you may decide to hire someone to help you. If you just want help with the mechanical task of completing the forms and do not need legal advice, you can hire a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer (BPP).

If you have questions about how to interpret a particular form, or want an opinion about how bankruptcy law, state exemption laws or federal tax laws apply to your particular situation, you may want to hire a bankruptcy lawyer, at least for an initial consultation.

A good bankruptcy lawyer should be able to advise you on strategies to maximize the economic benefit of your bankruptcy filing, and be familiar with the local practices of the court. On the other hand, if your bankruptcy is a simple matter of too much unsecured credit card debt, and all of your assets are exempt, you may not need all that much help to get through your bankruptcy.

When you go for credit counseling, ask your counselor whether your situation seems routine, and what risks you face in fling for bankruptcy — in your particular case. They’re prohibited by law from giving you advice about whether you should file, but you may be able to get a pretty good sense of whether your case is simple or unusual, and whether your situation is so dire that bankruptcy is your best remaining alternative.


* Low income households may qualify for fee waivers or reduced fees.

Filing Your Papers With the Bankruptcy Court

There are several fees to pay when you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy:

  • $245 filing fee
  • $46 administrative fee
  • $15 trustee surcharge.
  • TOTAL $306

Chapter 13 is slightly less.

  • $235 filing fee
  • $46 administrative fee.
  • TOTAL $281

Other fees

Item  Fee




Audio Recording


Amended Bankruptcy Schedules


Record Search


Adversary Proceeding Fee


Document Filing/Indexing


Title 11 Administrative Fee


Record Retrieval Fee


Returned Check Fee


Notice of Appeal fee


Lift/Stay Fee



Meeting with Trustee and Creditors (341 Meeting)

Within 20 to 40 days after you file your papers, you’ll have a “meeting” with the bankruptcy court trustee. It’s not a meeting in the traditional sense. You show up at a certain time, with a bunch of other people who have their meeting that day, and sit and wait for your name to be called.

At this meeting the trustee can ask you questions about the information you put on on your forms. Creditors can ask questions and object to or challenge the applicability of exemptions you are claiming.


Filing Motions & Responding to Creditor Objections

Depending on your circumstances these are two things you may or may not need to do.

Filing Motions (Requests) With the Court

There may be some liens (creditors’ claims against your property) that you can have removed by filing some extra paperwork after your original bankruptcy forms have been filed.

Responding to Objections

Creditors or the trustee have 30 days after the ‘close’ of the creditors’ meeting object to something on your forms. You may (but are not required to) respond before the court has a hearing on the matter. Depending on the objection you may need to hire some lawyer to properly respond to it.

Tip: If you are hiring an online service to prepare your bankruptcy papers, be sure to ask whether the standard fee includes filing motions for lien avoidance, or responding to the trustee’s or a creditor’s objection, or whether that costs extra.


Mandatory “Debtor Education” Debt Management Course

As if you don’t have enough hoops to jump through already, when you’ve completed all the other parts of your bankruptcy, you still don’t get that magic piece of paper called the “discharge” until you complete a course in debt management.

This is yet another requirement motivated by Congress’s assumption that people who file for bankruptcy wouldn’t be broke if they weren’t so careless with their money. Chances are, you really are broke, so you should see if you qualify for free or reduced rates. The law says you’re entitled to it. Demand it.


to $2,500

Total Cost to File Bankruptcy

The actual total cost of your bankruptcy will depend on:

1. Whether you qualify for a fee waiver.

2. Whether you are lucky enough to qualify for free legal aid services that happen to be available where you live.

3. Whether you handle the form preparation and filing yourself or pay someone to help you or do it for you.

4. How complicated your financial situation is — for example, whether you’re facing imminent foreclosure, whether your debts involve child support or back taxes, and whether you have valuable assets that are not fully protected by an exemption, such as a home.

The costs listed here do not include the value of any property you may need to give up in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or the amount you would have to pay over three to five years into a Chapter 13 plan. This is only the cost of going through the filing process.

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