In the United States, bankruptcy cases are filed in federal bankruptcy courts. States have passed laws regarding exemptions from bankruptcy – property a debtor can protect in a bankruptcy case – but for the most part, bankruptcy law is federal law.
The person or entity that files the petition is the debtor; the parties to which they owe money are their creditors.
Choosing the Type of Bankruptcy Process
The first step for filing a bankruptcy case in Georgia is to decide the chapter under which to file.
- Chapter 7 (liquidation bankruptcy) is available to individuals, married couples and companies.
- Chapter 11 (reorganization bankruptcy) is also available to individuals, married couples and companies.
- Chapter 13 (wage earner’s plan) is available to individuals and married couples.
Locations of Bankruptcy Courts in Georgia
Georgia has three bankruptcy courts:
Each bankruptcy court has several locations. A debtor should file for bankruptcy in the district where they live. If the debtor is a business, it should file in the district where the business is headquartered.
Middle District of Georgia
Northern District of Georgia
Southern District of Georgia
How Bankruptcy Works in Georgia
The general process of filing for bankruptcy in Georgia involves steps common to filing for bankruptcy in any U.S. bankruptcy court in any state. The process follows the same steps in all three districts of Georgia and is the same for all chapters of bankruptcy. The steps, in order, are:
- Hire an attorney. (It is not mandated that a debtor hire an attorney, but legal advice is highly recommended.)
- Complete a credit counseling course from a government-approved organization within 180 days before filing.
- File the bankruptcy petition with the court and pay the filing fee. Filing fees are the same in the Middle District of Georgia, the Northern District of Georgia and the Southern District of Georgia. They are $338 for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy; $1,738 for a non-railroad Chapter 11 bankruptcy; and $313 for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
- Attend the "341 meeting" of creditors.
- Finish a post-filing debtor education course. (The debtor may not finish the course at the same time as credit counseling.)
- Court issues an order to discharge the debt.
- Court closes the case.
A debtor can find the appropriate forms for filing for bankruptcy on the U.S. Courts’ bankruptcy forms website.
What Happens After Bankruptcy?
When the court closes a bankruptcy case under any chapter, the debtor’s creditors may no longer collect on discharged debts, but can continue to collect on undischarged debts. The debtor should rebuild their credit score. Typically, this involves making regular payments on time to creditors.
Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases remain on a debtor’s credit report for up to 10 years after the debtor filed the bankruptcy case. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on a debtor’s credit report for up to seven years from the date of filing.
Georgia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Bankruptcy exemptions are laws that protect personal and real property in bankruptcy. In Georgia, a debtor must use the Georgia state exemptions.
Unlike in some other states, Georgia bankruptcy petitioners cannot choose between the federal exemptions and the Georgia exemptions. A person who uses Georgia state exemptions can also use the federal non-bankruptcy exemptions.
The state's wildcard exemption protects property not protected under other exemptions. Exemptions not listed in the table below include public benefit and insurance exemptions. Georgia offers a slightly higher vehicle exemption than does the federal exemption.
Georgia state exemption
$27,900. The exemption can be doubled for married couples filed jointly for a total of $55,800.
Up to $21,500 in equity in real estate or personal property. Up to $43,000 if married and the property is owned by only one spouse.
$700 per individual item, with a total of $14,875 for appliances, books, clothes, furnishings and household goods. Also $1,875 for jewelry.
Up to $21,500 in equity in real estate or personal property. Up to $5,000 in appliances, books, clothing, furnishings, household goods and musical instruments. Up to $300 per individual item. Also $500 total for jewelry.
Tools of the Trade
$1,475 plus up to $13,950 of the unused part of the homestead exemption.
$1,200 of any property and up to $10,000 of the unused part of the homestead exemption.
Which Type Fits You?
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the right choice for a debtor who wants to liquidate their assets to pay off debts. If they have a business, filing Chapter 7 means the business will close and not reopen.
A Chapter 11 bankruptcy works for a debtor who wants to keep control of the business and have it stay open while paying off their debts.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is appropriate for a debtor with a regular, stable income. The debtor will be required to make payments for three to five years.
Appropriate for individuals, married couples and businesses
Appropriate for individuals, married couples and businesses
Appropriate for individuals and married couples
Takes between 4 and 6 months
Takes between 6 months and 2 years
Takes between 3 and 5 years
The debtor's nonexempt assets are sold. The proceeds are used to repay debts to creditors.
The debtor keeps possession of their business or estate as they reorganize it. They develop a plan to repay their debts.
A debtor with a regular income creates a plan to repay all or part of their debt,
No minimum or maximum amount of debt disqualifies a debtor.
No minimum or maximum amount of debt disqualifies a debtor.
No minimum amount of debt disqualifies a debtor. For cases filed April 1, 2022 and later, the limits are $1,395,875 for secured debt and $465,275 for unsecured debt. For cases filed before 4/1/22, the limits were $1,257,850 for secured debt and $419,275 for unsecured debt.
Qualifying for Bankruptcy in Georgia
A debtor qualifies for Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy if they are an individual, a married couple or a company. There are no minimum or maximum amounts of debt needed to qualify under these chapters. A debtor qualifies for Chapter 13 bankruptcy if they are an individual or married couple.
There is no minimum amount of debt necessary to qualify under Chapter 13. For cases filed April 1, 2022 and later, a debtor qualifies by having up to $1,395,875 for secured debt and $465,275 for unsecured debt. For cases filed prior to April 1, 2022, a debtor qualifies by having up to $1,257,850 for secured debt and $419,275 for unsecured debt.
Secured debt is debt backed by collateral, meaning personal or real property worth the amount of the debt. Unsecured debt is debt not backed by any collateral.
Disqualification of a Debtor
A court can disqualify a debtor if the debtor chooses not to answer questions or follow orders of the court, such as to make payments according to their payment plan. A court disqualifies the debtor by dismissing their bankruptcy case.
Finding a Bankruptcy Lawyer
A debtor may find a bankruptcy lawyer in their area by performing a search online or in telephone directories for bankruptcy attorneys. Alternatively, they can contact the Georgia State Bar’s enhanced directory. This online directory helps a client find a law firm near them who will practice the specific type of law they need. The Georgia State Bar does not directly refer clients to lawyers.
A debtor may also find a bankruptcy attorney through a local bar association such as the Atlanta Bar Association. An individual can call the Atlanta Bar Association at 404-521-0777 or submit an online request. A staff member will contact the potential client within the next business day with an attorney’s information.
Referrals for the Atlanta Bar Association are free, but there may be a charge of $45 for certain types of legal consultations. The Atlanta Bar Association will tell the potential client whether their matter qualifies for a free or a reduced-fee consultation.
Joint Tax Liabilities in Georgia
A married person can file for bankruptcy jointly or separately. Only the individual or entity that files bankruptcy will see their state tax debts stayed (put on pause while the case remains open) and be able to request a discharge.
This rule applies to a situation in which one spouse files for bankruptcy, but the married couple filed joint tax returns. The spouse who did not file bankruptcy will not see their debt discharged; they will still be subject to collection actions.
Business Trust Fund Taxes
An individual who is involved in a legal business entity, such as a corporation or a limited liability company, can be held personally liable for delinquent trust fund tax debts of the business entity. These include unpaid state sales tax and withholding tax.
When the business entity files for bankruptcy, this does not protect the individual or make such debts subject to discharge. An individual filing bankruptcy does not protect or make the business entity’s debts to the state subject to discharge.
Refunds From Department of Revenue
The Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR) usually offsets a taxpayer’s refund to a tax debt from another year, but if the taxpayer is in bankruptcy, DOR may do so only in limited circumstances. A tax refund owed for a period before the filing can be offset to a debt for a period before the bankruptcy.
A refund due after filing bankruptcy can only be offset to debt from a period after the bankruptcy filing. If debtors are jointly liable for a tax debt and only one of the debtors has filed for bankruptcy, a refund for the debtor who is not in bankruptcy can still be offset to the joint tax debt.
FAQs About Bankruptcy in Georgia
What is the maximum income for Chapter 7 in Georgia?
There is no minimum or maximum income to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, in Georgia or another state.
Can I keep my car if I file Chapter 7 in Georgia?
Georgia’s vehicle exemption allows a debtor to exempt up to $5,000 for a vehicle. If the equity in the vehicle is $5,000 or less, the bankruptcy trustee – the person in charge of selling assets in the estate – cannot sell it to pay off a debt. If the vehicle is worth more than $5,000, the debtor can apply the unused wildcard exemption to cover the vehicle.
How long do you have in Georgia to file bankruptcy?
An individual, married couple or company can file a bankruptcy case at any point. In order to file in Georgia, the debtor must have been a resident of the state for at least 730 days (two years).
As to waiting periods between the same chapters of bankruptcy, if a debtor previously filed for the same type of bankruptcy and got a discharge, they must wait:
- Chapter 7: eight years from the date of the prior case filing.
- Chapter 11: no time limit to wait for a repeat filing.
- Chapter 13: two years from the date of the prior case filing.
If the court dismissed a prior case without a discharge, the debtor could file again right away. The rules regarding the waiting periods are more complex if a debtor filed under one chapter and later wants to file under another.
What is the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 in Georgia?
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy differ in Georgia in the same way that they do in other states. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is resolved with the liquidation, or sale, of the debtor’s assets to repay creditors. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is resolved by the wage earner according to a repayment plan.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy usually takes between four to six months. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy usually takes between three to five years.
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia: Homepage
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Georgia: Homepage
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Georgia: Homepage
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia: Fees
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Georgia: Payment of Filing Fees
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Georgia: Fee Schedule as of December 1, 2020
- Atlanta Bar Association: Lawyer Referral Information Service
- State Bar of Georgia: Find a Lawyer
- Federal Trade Commission: Filing for Bankruptcy, What to Know
- U.S. Courts: Bankruptcy Forms
- 11 U.S. Code 522: Exemptions
- Atlanta Bar Association: Find a Lawyer
- Georgia Department of Revenue: Bankruptcy
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.