Bankruptcy is a system of federal law, so the process to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is nearly identical in every state, including Washington D.C. However, the law in the District of Columbia plays an important role, particularly in setting property exemptions, which determine what property you get to keep (if you file for Chapter 7) and how much you have to repay your creditors (if you file for Chapter 13). There are also important bankrutpcy resources available to you in the District of Columbia.
Before you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the District of Columbia, you will have to complete mandatory credit counseling with an agency that’s been approved by the United States Trustee’s Office. Here’s a list of agencies in the District of Columbia that have been approved to provide this counseling.
Where to File
In the District of Columbia, the bankruptcy court is located in the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. At the court’s website, you can find information on forms, local rules, and more.
Like each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia has its own set of property exemptions. (To learn more about how property exemptions work generally and which exemptions you may use, see Bankruptcy Exemptions: What Do I Keep When I File for Bankruptcy?)
In Washington D.C., you may use either the the District of Columbia exemptions, or the federal bankruptcy exemptions.
The District of Columbia has one of the most generous homestead exemptions in the nation. You can exempt any property or co-op used as a residence to unlimited value. Other D.C. exemptions include alimony and child support, various pensions and public benefits, tools of the trade to $1,625, motor vehicles to $2,575, and up to $8,075 of any unused homestead exemption, among other things. Here’s a more comprehensive list of the District of Columbia exemptions.
The Means Test
When you file for bankruptcy, you must compare your income to the median income for a household of your size in the District of Columbia. If your income is less than the median, you will be eligible to file for Chapter 7 and, if you choose to file for Chapter 13, you can use a three-year repayment plan (rather than five years).
Currently, the median income for a one-person household in Washington D.C. is just over $50,500; these figures change periodically. You can find the most recent amounts on the website of the U.S. Trustee at www.justice.gov/ust. Click on “Bankruptcy Reform,” and then “Means Testing Information.” Or go directly to the Census Bureau table here.
After you file for bankruptcy but before you receive your discharge, you must take a debtor education course. Like the mandatory credit counseling you must take before filing your forms, you must receive debtor education from an agency approved by the U.S. Trustee’s Office. Here a list of agencies approved to provide this course in the District of Columbia.
Getting Help From a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you're considering bankruptcy, you may want to talk to an experienced Washington D.C. bankruptcy lawyer.