Do I Qualify for Bankruptcy? Bankruptcy Means Test Standards for Kern County

You may be surprised to learn that whether you can file for bankruptcy can come down to which state and county you live in.

Which type of bankruptcy you qualify for depends, in part, on whether your annual income is more or less than the California median income. Before looking at numbers and formulas, however, you should be familiar with the two main types of personal bankruptcy:

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 allows you to eliminate most unsecured debts in a matter of months in return for giving up all property that is not exempt. (Unsecured debts are debts—like credit card charges or medical bills—that aren’t backed up by specific items of property as collateral.)

Most people who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy have little available property to cover what they owe. What property they still own when they file for bankruptcy is either protected by California exemption laws or pledged to a secured creditor as collateral for a debt, and therefore not available to pay off unsecured creditors. These are known as "no asset" bankruptcies.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 requires you to repay a portion of your debts over three to five years. During that time, you must live within a strict budget that is monitored closely by a bankruptcy court trustee. If you don’t make the required monthly payments, the Chapter 13 bankruptcy fails and you still owe your debts—unless you are able to convert to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 is commonly used by people who are behind on secured debt payments (e.g., mortgages) and want to propose a Chapter 13 plan to catch up on these payments over time.

Which Type of Bankruptcy Is Available to You?

A mathematical formula—called the means test—establishes the kind of bankruptcy you qualify for. (The means test is set out in Section 707(b)(2) of the bankruptcy code.) The means test considers:

If your annual income is less than the California median income for your household size, then you can choose whether to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, assuming you meet other qualifications. On the other hand, if your income is higher than the state median, you must first calculate your expense deductions to estimate your “disposable income” for the next five years. The result of this calculation determines whether you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or are left with Chapter 13 as your only option.

California Median Income

If your average monthly income for the past six months is below the California median income for your household size, below, you meet the requirements of the means test and you meet the first threshold for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Note that the means test is just one of several hoops you must jump through to qualify for Chapter 7. Even if your income is low, a judge may block you from filing Chapter 7 if it appears that you have enough income or property to repay a substantial portion of your debts under a Chapter 13 plan.

More Information

You can use our free Bankruptcy Means Test Calculator for Kern County (based on Official Form 22A) to do the math and learn how you would fare under the means test. The calculator is completely anonymous: You can use it without disclosing your name, email address, or any other identifiable personal information.

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What Are My Alternatives to Filing for Bankruptcy in California?

Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be a life saver, but don’t rush into it before considering whether it’s the best solution for you. Under some circumstances, even if you’re facing a mountain of unpayable debts, bankruptcy may not be your best option.

Who Files for Bankruptcy?

The typical bankruptcy filer is a person already in fragile economic circumstances, often with large amounts of credit card debt, who then suddenly gets hit by hard luck—like job loss, injury, divorce, or uninsured medical expenses—leading to unmanageable payments and insurmountable penalties.

Bankruptcy is designed to help people like this, who need help making a clean break—to get a fresh start on life, rather than struggling under the crushing burden of unpayable debt.

When You Might Not Need (or Want) to File for Bankruptcy

If You're Judgment Proof

It you’re truly broke, you may be what the law calls “judgment proof.” This simply means that creditors can’t grab your property or your salary because there’s nothing the law allows them to take. 

You can check the exemption laws for California to learn what property your state’s law protects. But keep in mind that exemption laws don’t shield property from all types of debts or all types of creditors. For instance, exemption laws typically won’t protect your property if you owe child support or back taxes. And if you bought property and pledged it as collateral—common for car loans and mortgages—the lender can take the property regardless of any exemption law.

If you’re judgment proof, instead of filing for bankruptcy, your best option may be to ride out the hard times and do nothing for now.

If Your Creditors Are Willing to Negotiate Payment Plans or Settle Your Debts

Your creditors may be willing to set up reasonable payment plans or even to settle your debts for less than you owe. For obvious reasons, this can be a stressful process—but you may be able to get help from a nonprofit credit counselor or debt management agency. You can find a list of qualified agencies on the website of the United States Department of Justice. (The Justice Department keeps this list because everyone who files for bankruptcy is required to complete a credit counseling course with an approved provider.)

One drawback to this approach is that you won’t receive the many protections provided by filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can cancel your debts outright and keep creditors off your back for good, but if you fall behind on a plan you’ve negotiated outside of bankruptcy, the cycle of fending off creditors may start right up again.

If Bankruptcy Can't Cancel Your Debts

There are some kinds of debts that bankruptcy simply can’t erase. These are called "nondischargeable" debts. This generally includes child support, most student loans, and most tax debts.

If It's Just Not the Right Time

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the neutron bomb of debt management and asset protection. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually quick—it usually takes just three to six months—and quite complete when it comes to wiping out unsecured debt like credit card and medical debts. You can use Chapter 7 bankruptcy only once every eight years, so you may want to save it for when you really need it. For example, if you don’t have any assets to protect, bankruptcy may be stronger tool than you need. On the other hand, if you’re facing outside pressure like a wage garnishment, it could be the right time to file.

The vast majority of people who end up filing for bankruptcy really do need it.

Making the Decision: Should You File for Bankruptcy?

Deciding whether to file for bankruptcy or choose other alternatives is never as easy as reading through a list of options. It’s best to conduct a thorough review of your income, debts, property, and the alternatives available to you. You may want to pursue this investigation yourself—or you can hire someone to help you.

Bankruptcy Self-Help Resources

For about $30, you can purchase one of Nolo's books: How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time. Either book will walk you through a self-analysis of your situation and explain your options in plain English. These books offer step-by-step discussions of Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, including exempt property, keeping your home, and how to prepare and file your bankruptcy forms. They also alert you to situations that are particularly troublesome and should not be handled without an attorney.

This website supplements the information in Nolo’s bankruptcy books by providing quick access to bankruptcy services and information for your county.

Getting Professional Help

If you just need help with preparing the forms, you can hire a bankruptcy petition preparer. If you want legal advice and analysis of the details of your specific situation, you can hire a California bankruptcy lawyer to advise you. You'll find listings in the Lawyers section of this site. These listings are not endorsements. They are simply designed to help you quickly connect with service providers in your area.

Whether you decide to do it yourself or hire professional help, our goal is to help you become a smarter, better-informed legal consumer and help you steer clear of shoddy services.

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How Does Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Work in California?

For most people, the goal of Chapter 7 bankruptcy is to wipe out as much debt as possible. In legal terms, this is called having your debts “discharged.”

In exchange for your bankruptcy discharge, you must be willing to turn over any of your property that is not exempt under bankruptcy law. The bankruptcy trustee in charge of your case will liquidate (sell) the property to pay as much as possible to your creditors; that’s why Chapter 7 is often called “liquidation bankruptcy.”

This article covers: 

Debts You Can Discharge in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

The short answer is that you can discharge all your debts except those that the law doesn’t allow you to erase. (We list non-dischargeable debts in the next section.) Here are some of the most common dischargeable debts:

Caution—Bankruptcy Does Not Discharge Debts You Incur After Filing!

Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharges only the debts you take on before the date you file your bankruptcy petition. You will be legally responsible for any debts you incur after you file.

Debts That Can’t Be Discharged in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy can’t get rid of every kind of debt. Even if you get a Chapter 7 discharge, the law will still require you to pay:

In addition, you often can’t discharge debts that are “secured” by a particular piece of property. For example, if you have a car loan, the lender may be able to repossess your car. If you have a home loan and can’t show that your home is exempt under bankruptcy law, the lender may have the right to foreclose your mortgage.

How the "Automatic Stay" Stops Debt Collectors

After you file your bankruptcy petition with the court, an order called the "automatic stay" immediately stops most collection actions and civil lawsuits against you. The bankruptcy clerk notifies your creditors and, while the stay is in effect, they generally can't call you, garnish your wages, repossess your property, or sue you.

That said, the automatic stay won't stop certain legal actions against you, including:

In addition, the protection of the automatic stay may be shortened or denied altogether if you've filed for bankruptcy multiple times.

Protecting Your Exempt Property

If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee assigned to your case may sell your property to pay your debts unless the law specifically allows you to keep all or a part of it. The property you’re allowed to keep is called your “exempt property.” For example, exemptions may allow you to keep at least some of the equity in your home, a car, and personal property such as your clothes and household goods.

Bankruptcy exemptions aren’t automatic. You must figure out what is exempt and list that property on your bankruptcy forms, along with the specific laws that allow you to claim the property as exempt. Exemptions are determined by state law; some states have their own exemptions, while others allow you to use the exemptions provided by the federal bankruptcy code.

For more information on California law, see the Exemptions section of this website.

Figuring Out If You’re Eligible for Chapter 7

To qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your bankruptcy forms need to show that you don’t have enough income to repay your creditors a certain amount. You can accomplish this by either:

If your income is above the median income for your state and family size and the means test shows you have enough disposable income to make reasonable payments to your creditors, the bankruptcy court may dismiss your case—or you may be allowed to file bankruptcy under another chapter of the bankruptcy code, like Chapter 13.

Our free means test calculator can do the math for you, so you can figure out whether you'll qualify for Chapter 7.

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

If bankruptcy sounds like it may be the right solution for you, learn more about the process in How to File for Bankruptcy in Bakersfield, California.

Or you may want to jump right into a more in-depth resource like Nolo’s book, How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which walks you through the process step-by-step, including how to fill out and file your bankruptcy forms.

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How Does Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Work in California?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy lets you pay all or part of your debts in installments over a period of either three or five years. Many people who want to declare bankruptcy but have too much income to qualify for Chapter 7 end up filing for Chapter 13. Regular income allows folks in Chapter 13 to keep up with an agreed upon payment plan.

This article covers: 

Advantages of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Most people thinking about bankruptcy will choose Chapter 7 if they qualify for it, because Chapter 7 is usually over in just a few months and it totally wipes out most debts. But Chapter 13 may be right for people who are overwhelmed by secured debt because it offers ways to:

How Chapter 13 Payment Plans Work

Under Chapter 13, you propose a plan to repay your creditors all or part of what you owe, usually using your future income. If the court approves your plan, you will make payments on your debts for either three or five years. The time and amount of your repayment plan will depend on:

If your current monthly income is less than your state’s median income for your family size, your plan will usually be for three years. If your income is greater than the state median income, you must usually propose a five-year plan.

Debts You Can Discharge

While your plan is in force, creditors must stop collection efforts. And after you make all the payments under your plan, the court will officially discharge many—but not all—of your debts. Here are some of the most common kinds of debts discharged through Chapter 13 plans:

Debts That Can’t Be Discharged in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy can’t get rid of every kind of debt. Even if you get a Chapter 13 discharge, the law will still require you to pay:

Bankruptcy Exemptions Under Chapter 13

Bankruptcy exemptions work differently in Chapter 13 bankruptcy than they do in Chapter 7. In Chapter 7, the bankruptcy trustee appointed to your case will sell your non-exempt property to pay your creditors. Under Chapter 13, the trustee won’t sell your non-exempt property—but the value of that property will be used to determine how much you must pay your creditors under your repayment plan. Either way, your creditors get the value of your non-exempt property.

Bankruptcy exemptions may include at least some of the equity in your home, your car, and personal property such as your clothes and household goods. Exemptions are determined by state law; some states have their own exemptions, while others allow you to use the exemptions provided by the federal bankruptcy code.

For more information on California law, see the Exemptions section of this website.

Figuring Out If You’re Eligible for Chapter 13

You may qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy if you have a steady income and your debts are worth less than the dollar amounts set by federal bankruptcy law. In 2019, the amounts are:

These amounts are adjusted every few years and set out in 11 U.S. Code, Section 109.

In addition, to qualify for Chapter 13, you must have filed your state and federal income tax returns for the past four years.

How to File for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

If bankruptcy sounds like it may be the right solution for you, learn more about the process in How to File for Bankruptcy in Bakersfield, California.

Or you may want to jump right into a more in-depth resource like Nolo’s book, Chapter 13: Keep Your Property and Repay Your Debts Over Time, which walks you through the process step-by-step, including how to fill out and file your bankruptcy forms.

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How Much Does It Cost to File for Bankruptcy in California?

In 2021, Chapter 7 bankruptcy costs $338 in filing fees, unless you get a fee waiver from the court. And the filing fees for Chapter 13 are $313. But the cost of filing for bankruptcy is more than just the filing fee. You may also have to pay for:

When all is said and done, your bankruptcy case could cost you as much as $2,500 and as little as nothing at all. The total cost will depend on:

Here’s an overview of some of the costs that may come up during bankruptcy.


$0 to $35

Online information. For the most part, you can learn about bankruptcy by doing what you’re doing now—surfing the web for free information. But web searches may not be the most efficient or systematic way to learn. To get up to speed faster, you may want to turn to the courts, a lawyer, or—our best suggestion—a good, step-by-step bankruptcy book.

Bankruptcy courts. Depending on where you live, you might be able to get some free bankruptcy help and information from the local bankruptcy court. An increasing number of courts offer self-help materials. You'll find links to those resources on our bankruptcy court page for your county. But even if your court provides help, the information will take you only so far. You may get a general overview or self-service packet for people filing without a lawyer, but court clerks still can't answer most questions or offer advice.

Bankruptcy lawyers. Some bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations to help you decide if it makes sense to go forward with a bankruptcy filing.

Self-help books. Consider purchasing a book that lays out the bankruptcy process and includes worksheets and forms. How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, from Nolo, will walk you through the entire process from understanding the alternatives to bankruptcy to deciding whether Chapter 7 is the right fit for you. (If not, there’s a companion book for Chapter 13, too.) If you decide to file, the book gives you step-by-step instructions to make it through the process, from figuring out what property you get to keep, to completing and filing the papers, to getting back on your feet after it’s over.

Many people find it most cost-effective to use a combination of these resources. For example, you might start by spending a few dollars 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 also what a bankruptcy attorney can and should do for you. Then, you could arrange a free consultation with an attorney to discuss specific questions about your case that the book couldn't answer.

An approach like this can help you make the most of your time with a lawyer and, at the same time, helps you evaluate whether the lawyer really knows bankruptcy law.

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Mandatory Credit Counseling

Cost: $0 to $100

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 takes about 90 minutes, and can be done online or over the phone.

Federal bankruptcy law states that approved agencies must provide credit counseling services without regard to a client’s ability to pay and must disclose the possibility of a fee waiver or fee reduction before beginning the counseling session.

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Preparing and Assembling Your Bankruptcy Papers

$0 to $1,800

To file for bankruptcy, you must complete dozens of pages of forms detailing your current debts, property, income, and expenses, as well as your intentions regarding loans that are secured by collateral, such as a car loan. The cost of this phase depends on whether you hire professional help.

Free legal aid. If you qualify for legal aid or have a legal plan through your union or employer, this part may cost you nothing.

Doing it yourself. It’s possible to prepare your own bankruptcy forms. But if you're not the careful, diligent type, think twice about taking this path. Bankruptcy rules and judges can be unforgiving. If you want to go it alone, you must be willing to do careful research and follow instructions to the letter. We recommend that you get a good step-by-step instruction manual, which will cost around $30.

Hiring a professional. If you prefer not to handle it yourself, you can find listings of local bankruptcy lawyers on this website. In a few areas you may also find businesses run by non-lawyers, known as bankruptcy petition preparers (BPPs), who aren’t allowed to give legal advice but can help you fill out your forms correctly. Depending on who you choose and how much help you need, hiring a professional may cost between $200 and $1800.

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Getting Professional Legal Advice

$0 to $2,500

As mentioned in the previous section, at some point in the bankruptcy process, you may decide to hire someone to help you. If you qualify for free legal aid and help is available near you, this could cost you nothing. Or, if you just want help with the mechanical task of completing the forms and don’t need legal advice, you can hire a bankruptcy petition preparer (BPP).

But 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.

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Filing Your Papers With the Bankruptcy Court

$0 to $338

In 2021, the federal court filing fees for personal bankruptcy are:

To confirm the most recent fee schedule, see the information on the website of the U.S. Courts for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. If you are filing for Chapter 7 and your income is very low, you may qualify for a fee waiver or may be allowed to pay the fee in installments.

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Filing Motions & Responding to Creditor Objections

$0 to $200

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

Filing motions (requests) with the court. If creditors' have placed claims on your property (called “liens”) you may be able to have them removed by filing some extra paperwork.

Responding to objections. Your creditors or the bankruptcy trustee will have a certain number of days to object to statements 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 a lawyer to respond effectively.

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.

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Mandatory "Debtor Education" Debt Management Course

$0 to $75

As if you don't have enough hoops to jump through, 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 frequently mistaken 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—and not because you're irresponsible—so you should see if you qualify for free or reduced rates.

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Where Do I File for Bankruptcy in Bakersfield, CA?

Where to file your bankruptcy case depends on where you live and on whether you have a business close to home. Usually, you'll file in the federal district court closest to where you've lived for the past 180 days (six months). But if you run a business in a different district and most of your property is located there, you may have to file in the federal court serving that location.

The reason behind these filing rules is that the bankruptcy court wants the person overseeing your case—called the bankruptcy trustee—to be able to easily find, evaluate, and, if necessary, sell your property.

If you've moved recently, you may have to file at the bankruptcy court serving the county where you used to live. That will depend on where the greater portion of your property has been for most of the past 180 days. For example, if you lived in Oregon for most of your life, but moved to California a month ago, you'll file in Oregon because you lived there for 150 of the past 180 days.

You can handle most interactions with the court, including filing your bankruptcy forms, by mail. However, you will need to visit the courthouse in person at least once, for a meeting with the bankruptcy trustee.

What Happens If You File in the Wrong Place?

If you file your papers in the wrong bankruptcy court, it may delay your case. The bankruptcy trustee will probably bring the matter to the attention of the bankruptcy court judge. If the judge then finds that the trustee could more easily handle your case in another location, the judge may transfer or even dismiss your case. Because of these potential hassles, if you have any questions about the best place to file, it would be wise to get legal help before you submit your papers to a court.

Getting Information From California Eastern District Bankruptcy Court

The 93263 zip code and all of Kern County are in the jurisdiction of the California Eastern District Bankruptcy Court.

Here are a few basic things to look for on any court website:

Local Courthouses

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