Can Bankruptcy Court Fees Be Waived?

Maintaining a court system is expensive. So when you file for bankruptcy, the court charges a filing fee to cover costs. People who can’t afford the filing fee don’t have to pay as long as they meet qualification requirements. Another alternative is requesting to pay the filing fee in installment payments. In this article, you’ll learn how to make both requests.

Who Can Get a Fee Waiver?

To qualify for a fee waiver, you will have to meet certain criteria—but even then, it’s up to the court to decide whether to grant your request.

You’ll meet the preliminary requirements if you:

  • file an individual Chapter 7 bankruptcy (businesses can’t get fee waivers)
  • have a combined family income below 150% of the Department of Health and Humans Services poverty guidelines
  • satisfactorily explain why you can’t pay the fee in installments
  • disclose whether you have paid an attorney or bankruptcy petition preparer to help file your case, and
  • submit a fee waiver application along with your bankruptcy petition and schedules.

The court might grant your request based on your application or set a hearing an ask you to provide more proof of your inability to pay. If the court denies your waiver, you’ll have a short time to pay the fee or set up an installment plan.

Keep in mind that if, after granting your fee waiver, developments in the case show that you aren’t qualified to receive it—such as you have more income or property than you disclosed—the fee waiver can be vacated (undone), and you will be required to pay the fee.

Installment Payments

If you don’t qualify to have your fee waived, or the court denies your request, you can ask to pay the fee in three or four payments over up to 120 days. You’ll tell the court when you want to make each payment. Usually, the filer makes the first payment at the same time that the case gets filed. However, rule changes in 2017 made clear that payment doesn’t need to accompany the petition.

If you begin making installment payments, you can later ask for a waiver, but it would only apply to the outstanding fees. Also, if you miss an installment payment, the court can dismiss your case.

Chapter 13 Fee Payment Options

A debtor can’t waive filing fees in a Chapter 13 case. The thinking is that if you can afford to make plan payments, then you can afford to pay your filing fee.

The court in your jurisdiction might allow you to pay the filing fee in installments. But, since most Chapter 13 filers pay attorneys’ fees as part of the plan payment, as a practical matter it would likely be easier to pay the entire filing fee when you file your case and a bigger chunk of attorneys’ fees through the plan.

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