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:
- whether you qualify for fee waivers
- whether you qualify for free legal aid services (if they are available where you live)
- whether you handle the form preparation and filing yourself or pay someone to help you, and
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Filing Your Papers With the Bankruptcy Court
$0 to $338
In 2021, the federal court filing fees for personal bankruptcy are:
- $335 for Chapter 7, and
- $310 for Chapter 13.
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.
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.
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.