Emergency Bankruptcy Filing

When you need to file for Chapter 7 or 13 fast, use the “emergency bankruptcy filing” or “skeleton bankruptcy filing” procedure.

By , Attorney

Debtors facing an emergency like a wage garnishment or home foreclosure can use the streamlined "emergency" or "skeleton" bankruptcy filing procedure to stop collection actions fast. Learn what you need to know about emergency filings, including:

  • how to get started
  • the forms you'll prepare, and
  • the deadline for completing your filing.

Also, take a moment to learn how bankruptcy works and what you should know about bankruptcy. And don't forget our quick ten-question bankruptcy quiz–it can help you spot potential bankruptcy issues fast.



What Is an Emergency Bankruptcy?

A bankruptcy becomes an "emergency bankruptcy" when the debtor must act quickly to prevent a creditor from taking a valuable asset, such as a home, car, or wages. The automatic stay the court puts in place after a bankruptcy filing immediately stops most creditors from pursuing debt collection actions.

Learn when the automatic stay might be limited or not go into effect due to multiple bankruptcy filings.

What Is a Skeleton Bankruptcy Filing?

A "skeleton bankruptcy filing" is another name for an emergency bankruptcy. Instead of filing a complete set of bankruptcy forms, a debtor with little time to spare can take advantage of the automatic stay by filing a shorter or "skeleton" version of the bankruptcy petition and filling the remaining forms within 15 days.

Steps in an Emergency Bankruptcy Filing

Your bankruptcy case will start after you file the completed forms necessary for an emergency or skeleton bankruptcy. Here's what you'll file in an emergency bankruptcy:

  1. Voluntary petition. The bankruptcy petition is the cover sheet of your bankruptcy filing. You'll disclose past personal and business names, your address, the chapter you're filing, whether you've filed before, and more.
  2. Creditor list or matrix. This list includes creditors and others you must notify about your bankruptcy. You'll find format requirements in your bankruptcy court's local rules.
  3. Social Security number. Your Social Security number is on a separate form for security purposes.
  4. Credit counseling certificate. You must take a court-approved credit counseling class online or by telephone less than 180 days before filing unless prevented due to a disability or in an active combat zone.

You'll pay a $338 filing fee for Chapter 7 and $313 for Chapter 13 along with the skeleton petition unless you include a fee waiver application (check your court's requirements).

Before Filing a Chapter 7 Emergency or Skeleton Bankruptcy Filing

Make sure a Chapter 7 filing will solve your financial problems because filers don't have an automatic right to dismiss a Chapter 7 case. You'll want to know whether you can:

Debtors can pass the Chapter 7 means test in two ways. You'll qualify for Chapter 7 if your household's gross income doesn't exceed your state's median income for a family of the same size.

If your gross income is higher, you'll deduct allowed expenses. You'll qualify if you don't have enough remaining to pay into a Chapter 13 plan.

Before Filing a Chapter 13 Emergency Bankruptcy Filing

One of the benefits of Chapter 13 is that you can dismiss the case if needed, but you'll still want to be sure Chapter 13 will work for you. Start by checking whether you can do the following things:

  • "exempt" (protect) property important to you
  • "discharge" (erase) enough debts to make filing worthwhile (you can't wipe out nondischargeable debts), and
  • qualify by proposing a Chapter 13 payment plan the court will approve.

Most filers need enough income to pay monthly living expenses for five years and all overdue support obligations, recent taxes, and other priority debts. If you'd like to keep a financed car or home, you'll also need to catch up on any arrearages.

Be sure to make the first plan payment within 30 days of your initial emergency bankruptcy filing, even though the court won't have approved your plan by that time.

What Should I Do After I File an Emergency Bankruptcy?

You must complete and file the remaining bankruptcy forms within 15 days. If you need more time, request a new deadline from the court.

The court will dismiss your matter if you don't file the remaining forms. You'll find links to fillable, downloadable bankruptcy forms at the end of the article or on the U.S. Courts bankruptcy form webpage.

Do I Need to Hire an Emergency Bankruptcy Attorney?

Suppose your house is on the auction block, or a wage garnishment will go into effect soon. When facing those and other urgent situations, you should hire an emergency bankruptcy attorney.

An emergency bankruptcy attorney can help you quickly complete a skeleton bankruptcy filing and file it within days. Once filed, most foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, and other collection actions stop, giving you time to address your financial situation in Chapter 7 or 13.

Find out what to do when you can't afford a bankruptcy lawyer.

Can You File For Emergency Bankruptcy Online?

Yes. The online bankruptcy process is always available, regardless of time. However, you'll need to hire a bankruptcy attorney to file online in most areas.

A few jurisdictions explored allowing filers online filing access during the pandemic. You can check availability by visiting your local bankruptcy court's website. The Federal Court Finder can help you find your court's website address.

Navigating Your Bankruptcy Case

Bankruptcy is essentially a qualification process. The laws provide instructions for completing a 50- to 60-page bankruptcy petition, and because the rules apply to every case, you can't skip a step. We want to help.

Below is the bankruptcy form for this topic and other resources we think you'll enjoy. For more easy-to-understand articles, go to TheBankruptcySite.

More Bankruptcy Information

Bankruptcy Forms and Document Checklist

Voluntary Petition for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy

Your Statement About Your Social Security Numbers

Chapter 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Forms

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Document Checklist

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We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Updated October 28, 2022

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