FAQs for Debtors
Do I need an attorney to file a bankruptcy?
Individuals are not required to have an attorney to file bankruptcy, although it is highly recommended. Corporations, partnerships and trusts must be represented by an attorney to file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is an extremely technical area of law and many issues can be complicated such as what is considered exempt property, whether or not a debt can be discharged and whether or not the automatic stay applies. In addition, there are a substantial number of documents required to be filed to commence a case, many of which are also extremely technical in nature. An attorney can advise debtors on these issues. The staff at the Bankruptcy Clerk's office cannot give legal advice. If you have questions about filing for bankruptcy or preparing the bankruptcy paperwork, please seek the advice of counsel. If you cannot afford an attorney, please contact one of the following resources: (1) the RI Bar Association, which provides information on finding a lawyer at (401) 421-7799,www.ribar.com; (2) RI Legal Services at (800) 662-5034 or (401) 274-2652; or (3)the Volunteer Lawyer Program at (401) 421-7758.
Pre-petition credit counseling from an approved agency is a requirement for filing bankruptcy. The list of authorized agencies for the state of Rhode Island is listed on the home page of this website.
Is there a fee to file a bankruptcy case?
Yes. There is a filing fee to commence a bankruptcy case which varies by the chapter of case filed, as well as various miscellaneous fees that may apply for filing certain documents or services requested. Because filing fees change frequently, it is recommended that you visit the filing fee page of our website for the most up to date fee information.
Can the case filing fee be waived?
Only in a very limited circumstance and with court approval can the case filing fee be waived. For chapter 7 individual cases only, there is a procedure for proceeding In Forma Pauperis if the debtor’s income is less than 150 percent of the official poverty line applicable to your family size and you are unable to pay the fee in installments. If you cannot afford to pay the fee either in full at the time of filing or in installments, then you may request a waiver of the filing fee by completing Form B3B and filing it with the Clerk of Court. A judge will decide whether you have to pay the fee.
Alternatively, an individual debtor (but not a corporation or partnership) who is unable to pay the full fee at the time of filing may, at the time of commencing the case, file an application to pay the fee in installments using officialForm B3A. If you file an application to pay in installments, you are required by Local Rule 1006-1(c) to pay 25% of the fee at the time you commence your case, and the remainder of the fee in continued payments of 25% commencing within thirty (30) days of the petition date and every twenty-five (25) days thereafter.
What is the Bankruptcy Code?
First enacted in 1978 and substantially revised in 2005, the Bankruptcy Code contains the statutes (laws) that grant legal forgiveness of debt for businesses or individuals in financial difficulty. There are two primary types of bankruptcy relief available under the Code: liquidation (Chapter 7) or reorganization (Chapters 11, 12 and 13). These options are best discussed with a qualified attorney. The Bankruptcy Code is available on line at the court’s website, as well as at local law libraries. The text of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Statute is also available on our website
Where do I go to look up legal terms used in bankruptcy?
There is a glossary of bankruptcy terms on our website. You can look up words used in bankruptcy that are not familiar to you there.
What is the difference between Chapters 7, 11 & 13
Chapter 7: Often called the "liquidation chapter," Chapter 7 is used by individuals, partnerships, or corporations who have no hope for repairing their financial situation. In Chapter 7, the debtor's estate is liquidated under the rules of the Bankruptcy Code. Liquidation is the process through which the debtor's non-exempt property is sold for cash by a case trustee and the cash is distributed to creditors. At the conclusion of this process, individual debtors receive a discharge of their dischargeable debts.
Chapter 11: Often called the "reorganization chapter," Chapter 11 allows corporations, partnerships, and individuals to reorganize their debts, without having to liquidate all their assets. In a Chapter 11 case, the debtor presents a plan to creditors which, if accepted by the creditors and approved by the Court, will allow the debtor to reorganize personal, financial or business affairs and again become financially productive.
Chapter 13: An individual with regular income who is overcome by debts, but believes such debts can be repaid within a reasonable period of time, may file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 permits the debtor to file a plan in which the debtor agrees to pay a certain percentage of future income to the Bankruptcy Court for payment to creditors. If the Court approves the plan, the debtor will be under the Court's protection while repaying such debts.
I've heard I can only file a case under Chapter 13. Is this true?
In 2005, the United States Congress passed bankruptcy legislation which includes new income and expense considerations when filing for bankruptcy, and may require debtors with income above a certain amount to file under Chapter 13 instead of under Chapter 7, depending on their income and expenses. This however is a very individual determination based on each person’s income, household expenses and debts. To properly understand which chapter would be right for you, it is strongly recommended that you contact a qualified bankruptcy attorney. The Clerk's office is not allowed to give legal advice and can't tell you how these new requirements will affect you.
What is the automatic stay?
The filing of a bankruptcy petition automatically stays (stops) most actions, including collections, foreclosures and repossessions, against the debtor or the debtor's property. It is called "automatic" because the stay begins automatically at the time the bankruptcy case is filed with the Clerk's office. Once the stay is in place, creditors are prohibited from taking certain actions against a debtor without court permission. Some creditors, particularly those involved with repossessions or foreclosures, may immediately file pleadings with the court to go forward with foreclosure or repossession actions. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a bankruptcy attorney to verify that the automatic stay is applicable to your specific circumstances!
Will the automatic stay stop creditors from calling my home and work?
Yes, it should. After you file your bankruptcy petition with the court commencing a case, the Clerk's office will send a written notice of your bankruptcy filing to all of your creditors at the addresses you list on your creditor mailing list. Although this notice goes out within one to two days of case filing, it may take up to a week or longer for creditors to receive this notice because of mail time. If a creditor calls after you have filed your petition, simply tell them you have filed for bankruptcy, give them the case number and the district (the state in which you filed), and indicate that they will receive notice of this in the mail. If the creditor was not one listed on your mailing list, you should amend your bankruptcy schedules with the Clerk's office so that future notices about your bankruptcy can be sent to that creditor. Adding a creditor later on requires a miscellaneous fee. It is important to make sure you list all your creditors on your initial creditor list, because if a creditor doesn't get notice of your bankruptcy, his debt might not be discharged in your bankruptcy, and adding them later on will cost you more money.
Once a creditor receives notice of your bankruptcy filing, they may not attempt collection of a debt from you unless they follow certain actions, such as obtaining relief from stay, allowed by the court. If a creditor continues to try to collect a debt from you after being notified of your bankruptcy, you should contact an attorney immediately for advice.
Should I use a Document Preparer to assist me in filing bankruptcy?
There are agencies and individuals who run businesses which assist individuals in preparing legal documents for a fee. These agencies will help debtors by taking information supplied by the debtor(s) and creating the forms necessary for filing a bankruptcy case. They may be helpful to you in explaining general procedures. They are not attorneys and are not allowed to give legal advice as part of their services. They cannot represent debtors in court. Any fee paid to such entities must be reported to the court and cannot exceed a certain amount (Appendix IV)without court approval. If the services of a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer are used, the Preparer must completeForm B19; this form must be filed with the bankruptcy petition and schedules.
Where can I obtain the required bankruptcy forms?
If hiring an attorney is not possible, you can download the necessary bankruptcy filing forms from the Court’s website at the Court Forms menu item. The forms may also be printed at and purchased from the Bankruptcy Clerk's office for a minimal charge. If you come to the Clerk's office to purchase the bankruptcy forms, please bring cash or a money order; as personal checks are not accepted. Many local stationery and office supply stores also carry bankruptcy forms.
Where do I file / How do I file?
Once you have completed filling out the required bankruptcy petition, schedules, statement of affairs and creditor list, you may file these documents at the Bankruptcy Court Clerk’s office at 380 Westminster Street, 6th Floor, Providence, RI 02903, in person or through the mail provided that you supply the Court with a photo ID. In addition, in order for the Court to process your filing, you must accompany it with the required filing fee based on the chapter you are filing under (cashier’s check or money order only, no personal checks). The business hours and phone number for the Clerk’s office are posted on our website. Failure to submit all of the required documents will result in the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Dismiss with a short period of time to cure the deficiency.
What if I have an emergency filing after business hours?
To file an emergency bankruptcy petition with the Clerk after regular business hours, or for any other type of emergency filing, please refer to the emergency section of this Self Help Page on the website for instructions. For electronic filers, the CM/ECF system is available 24 hours a day.
How many copies of court documents do I need to file with the Clerk’s office?
For Chapter 7 cases:
The original documents only (petition, schedules and statements, any attachments). Creditor Mailing List on disk.
For Chapter 13 cases:
The original documents only (petition, schedules and statements, plan with certificate of service & any attachments). Creditor Mailing List on disk.
For Chapter 11 cases:
The original documents AND Four ( 4) complete copies of all documents (petition, all schedules and statements & attachments). Creditor Mailing List on disk.
NOTE: Ch 11 Corporate and Partnership debtors must be represented by an attorney. An Application to Employ Counsel should be filed with the petition. While individuals filing Chapter 11 are not required to have an attorney, it is highly recommended that they do to assist with their bankruptcy. Chapter 7 Corporate and Partnership filers must also be represented by an attorney.
Creditor Mailing List Required for all Chapters:
The Creditor Mailing List (list of creditors and their addresses) must either be filed on a 3.5" floppy diskette or a CD. Please refer to the Creditor List on Disk instructions available on our website. If you do not have access to a computer, you may complete the disk requirement in the Clerk’s office public area using court computers.
Can I get a copy of my Bankruptcy Petition when I file it?
If you would like to have a conformed (file stamped) copy of bankruptcy documents you file with the Clerk's office, you must make one extra copy of these documents for yourself. The Clerk will file stamp the extra copies and return them to you. If you are mailing your documents to the Clerk's office, you must include an extra copy and provide a self addressed, stamped envelope with enough postage to cover return postage for these documents.
You should keep copies of all legal documents, including your bankruptcy petition and discharge order, if granted, in a safe place as you may need them in the future to secure mortgages, loans, and/or to dispute credit reports.