Filing for bankruptcy in California does not always require the services of an attorney. Although there are many documents that must be filled out, they are not difficult to complete. Chapter 7 bankruptcy gives you a fresh start, a chance to have your unsecured debts forgiven. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to reorganize your finances. Filing under either one of these bankruptcy chapters will let you keep your home, car, alimony payments and certain other personal property.
Decide which bankruptcy is right for you. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is for those who do not have enough income to repay debts. It also stops creditors from contacting you. Chapter 13 is for those individuals who can repay their debt, and offers them a three- to five-year period to do so.
Gather all necessary financial information. You will need copies of your tax returns from the last two years, a list of income and assets, and a list of debts owed to creditors. You will also need the addresses and names of all creditors.
Enroll in a credit counseling class approved by the federal bankruptcy court in the state of California. You can find a listing of these classes by visiting the U.S. Trustee Program website at Justice.gov. You will be given a certificate upon completing this class to keep for your records.
Take a means test. This two-part questionnaire determines if you qualify to file a Chapter 7 petition. The first part checks to see if you have the ability to repay your creditors. The second part compares your income against the state median income. As of June 2010, the California median income was $47,969 for a single-member family, $64,647 for a two-member family, $70,638 for a three-member family and $79,194 for a four-member family. Your income must fall below these amounts to qualify for filing Chapter 7.
Submit your bankruptcy petition to your local bankruptcy court clerk. You will need to complete a Statement of Financial Affairs form by using the financial information you gathered earlier. You will also be required to pay $299 to cover filing fees if you are submitting a Chapter 7 petition and $274 if you are filing for Chapter 13. For Chapter 13 petitions, you must also submit a repayment schedule that states when you will be able to repay your creditors. In either case, the court will assign a trustee to manage your financial affairs.
Attend a creditors' meeting with your trustee. When filing for Chapter 7, expect a meeting to occur between 20 and 40 days from filing your petition. If you are filing for Chapter 13, this meeting will occur between 20 and 50 days from filing. In either case, your main responsibility is to answer all financial questions to the best of your ability.
Attend financial management classes if you are filing Chapter 7. For your bankruptcy to be discharged, you will need to complete a state-approved financial management course. Your trustee will assist you in locating one.