How Much Does It Cost to File For Bankruptcy?

Unfortunately, it’s not free. Here’s what to expect in terms of court, counseling and attorney fees, plus how to minimize them.

Written by Andrew Pentis / June 17, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Filing for bankruptcy can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending primarily on your filing type and legal assistance.
  • Bankruptcy fees are charged by courts, court-approved educational companies and attorneys.
  • It’s the responsibility of the consumer to cover bankruptcy fees, but there are strategies to make them more affordable.
  • Low income-earners could qualify for bankruptcy court fee waivers and potentially find low- or no-cost bankruptcy attorneys.

Since bankruptcy is a last resort, only suited for consumers with budgets beyond repair, you’d think it would be free to undertake.

Unfortunately, how much it costs to file—and who pays for it—are bankruptcy questions with more complicated answers.

“If you file independently, you may only have to pay a few hundred dollars to cover court fees, required credit counseling and a mandatory financial education course,” says Leslie Tayne, a New York-based debt relief lawyer. “However, if you work with an attorney—which is advisable—you can expect to shell out up to several thousand dollars.”

Fortunately, there are ways to request that a bankruptcy court waives its fees or to find a lawyer who works on the cheap (or for free). Let’s review how much it costs to file for bankruptcy and detail these cost-cutting strategies.

How much filing for bankruptcy costs

The cost of filing for bankruptcy varies based on a few factors, most notably whether you’re filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 proceedings. (Chapter 7 discharges your debt after you’ve paid off what you can afford, while Chapter 13 sets up an affordable repayment plan for your debt.) Chapter 13 proceedings are generally more expensive than Chapter 7, says Tayne.

Other factors that affect the cost of bankruptcy include:

  • Your location: Filing in a major city is likely to cost more than if you live in a rural area

  • Whether you file independently or work with an attorney: Going it alone would be cheaper than hiring a bankruptcy lawyer (though it’s not advised, and it’s possible to find low- or no-cost legal support)

Given that context, below is a breakdown of how much filing for bankruptcy could cost. For reference, a trustee fee covers the cost of a court-appointed administrator, and a counseling fee is for the court-mandated educational courses that all bankruptcy applicants must complete.

Fee typeChapter 7Chapter 13
Filing[1]$245$235
Administrative$78$78
Trustee$15n/a
Court-approved financial education[2]$20-$50$20-$50
AttorneyVary widely by state, attorney and your case detailsVary widely by state, attorney and your case details

There are other, typically smaller fees to watch out for, particularly if you don’t follow normal filing procedures. Switching from a Chapter 13 filing to a Chapter 7, for example, would incur a fee of $10. You can find a full accounting of fees via your state’s district of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court—here’s Arizona’s, for example.

As for attorney fees, specifically, it truly is a wide range. The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Los Angeles ranges from $1,200 to $2,000 for simple cases, and $3,000 to $5,000 for more complicated proceedings, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), an association of bankruptcy professionals.

The ABI also estimates that Chapter 13 filings in Los Angeles could cost $4,000 to $5,000.[3] That said, in smaller cities and towns, lawyer fees for Chapter 7 and 13 filings could be closer to, or even less than, $1,000, according to past research.[4]

Who pays the cost for bankruptcy proceedings?

The cost of bankruptcy fees are, unfortunately, the sole burden of the consumer. If you’re considering filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, it’s wise to be aware of the fees and, ideally, make a plan for covering them.

If you don’t have the cash to cover bankruptcy filing fees, there are strategies to raise the funds necessary. While some of these solutions may not be workable for you, hopefully one can help:

  • Survey your budget for expenses that can be trimmed, at least temporarily

  • Sell or rent out unused stuff or property

  • Take on a side hustle with a low barrier to entry, such as a delivery driver

  • Ask for more hours, overtime or a raise at work

Another way to make bankruptcy costs more affordable is to avoid them, if at all possible. Keep reading.

How to pay less for a bankruptcy filing

If you can’t afford to file for bankruptcy, you may qualify for assistance.

There are particularly effective solutions for low income-earners. If your income is below 150% of the federal poverty level, for example, you can request that the court waives its filing fees.[5] If your income is above that threshold—check poverty levels via the Department of Health and Human Services—you can request a payment plan for the fees.

Or, in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you could ask to roll part of your filing costs into your debt repayment plan, Tayne says. That would at least delay the filing charges, wrapping them into your overall debt repayment.

What about avoiding bankruptcy lawyer fees?

The biggest cost of filing for bankruptcy is likely to be the fees that your attorney charges. You might be wondering about a do-it-yourself bankruptcy, but most experts agree that going without professional help should be a true last resort.

“There are some sites that can help people walk through the paperwork on their own, but most of us are not attorneys, so if there is an opportunity to have an attorney review the case, do it,” says Becky House, a former credit counselor and current director of strategic initiatives at American Financial Solutions.

Plus, there are ways to get legal aid for less. If you don’t have the money for a high-powered attorney, consider the following resources:

When hiring a bankruptcy attorney, consider advice that bears repeating: Ask lawyer candidates about their fee structure (flat or by the hour?) and whether they have direct and recent experience dealing with your type of case. For more, check out our guide to hiring bankruptcy lawyers.

Article Sources
  1. “Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule,” U.S. Courts, Dec. 1, 2020, https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/fees/bankruptcy-court-miscellaneous-fee-schedule.
  2. “List of Credit Counseling Agencies Approved Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 111,” U.S. Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/ust/list-credit-counseling-agencies-approved-pursuant-11-usc-111.
  3. “Los Angeles Bankruptcy Attorney Fees – Here They Are,” ABI, https://www.abi.org/feed-item/los-angeles-bankruptcy-attorney-fees-%E2%80%93-here-they-are.
  4. Lois R. Lupica, “The Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study,” December 2011, ​​ABI, https://abi-org.s3.amazonaws.com/Endowment/Research_Grants/CFSFinalReport_Final_Dec7.pdf.
  5. “28 USC 1930: Bankruptcy fees,” U.S. House of Representatives, https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title28-section1930&num=0&edition=prelim.

About the Author

Staff editor Andrew Pentis headshot

Andrew Pentis

Andrew Pentis has used his journalism background to write about personal finance topics since 2015. His work has appeared in over 40 publications, including LifeHacker, U.S. News & World Report and Marketwatch.

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