Are you considering filing for bankruptcy in Washington? For the most part, the bankruptcy filing process is governed by federal law. But there are some Washington rules and laws that you’ll need to understand in order to successfully file for bankruptcy in Washington. You can find most of this information online. Read on to learn where and how.
(For more articles on the filing process, see Filing for Bankruptcy.)
Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling and Pre-Discharge Debtor Education in Washington
Prior to filing your bankruptcy, you must complete a credit counseling course from an approved agency. You can take the course online, over the phone, or in person. The online option is most often the fastest and most inexpensive. You must complete the course within 180 days before filing your case, or you will be required to retake the course and file your bankruptcy again. Once your case is filed, you are also required to take a debtor education course. You must complete this second course or you will not be issued a bankruptcy discharge. (To learn more about this requirement, including the rare exceptions, see Credit Counseling & Debtor Education Requirements in Bankruptcy.)
- You can find the list of approved Washington credit counseling agencies here.
- You can find the list of approved Washington debtor education agencies here.
Washington Bankruptcy Exemptions
Washington has a its own set of bankruptcy exemptions which establish what property you can keep when you file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 and play a role in how much you repay unsecured creditors when you file under Chapter 13. (To learn more, see our Bankruptcy Exemptions area.)
Washington allows you to choose from the federal bankruptcy exemptions, provided under 11 U.S.C. 522(d), or the Washington state exemptions. However, you cannot mix and match these exemptions.
To learn about Washington’s exemptions for your home and car, see The Homestead Exemption in Washington and The Motor Vehicle Exemption in Washington. For a list of other common exemptions in Washington, see Washington Bankruptcy Exemptions.
Completing the Bankruptcy Forms in Washington
In order to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you must complete a number of documents in which you are required to disclose information, including your assets, debts, and income. One of the forms is a lengthy calculation called the “means test” (for Chapter 7) and a similar form for Chapter 13.
(For a list of the forms you must complete, see The Bankruptcy Forms: Getting Started.)
Getting and Completing the Official Bankruptcy Forms
For more information about each of the official forms, including how to find them and fill them out, see Completing the Bankruptcy Forms.
Finding Means Test Information for Washington
When you file for bankruptcy in Washington, you must compare your annual income to the annual median income for a household of the same size in Washington. If your income falls below the median, you are eligible to file under Chapter 7 and if you choose to file for Chapter 13, you can select a three-year repayment plan instead of five years. This is called the means test.
If your income is above the median, you may still qualify to file under Chapter 7. To determine whether you qualify, you’ll have to provide detailed information about your expenses and secured debts payments. Most Chapter 13 filers also have to provide this information.
For information about each of these forms, including how to complete them, see:
- Form 22A – Statement of Current Monthly Income and Means Test Calculation (for Chapter 7), and
- Form 22C – Statement of Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period and Disposable Income (for Chapter 13).
Here’s where you can find the Washington-specific figures for the means test:
Washington’s median income. For a single-person Washington household, the median income is $51,671. The Washington median income for a married couple with no dependents is $61,919. You can find figures for other household sizes in Washington here.
Example. Chloe and her husband Aaron have one child. Their combined annual income is $62,000. They will pass the means test without having to complete further calculations because their household income is below $69,195.
Standard deductions. Forms 22A and 22C list expenses, such as housing, childcare, food, and utilities. For some of those categories, such as childcare, you provide the actual amount you spend. For others, you deduct a predetermined amount, which is sometimes a national standard and other times based on the county or region in which you live.
You can find all of the Washington county-specific figures you’ll need for Forms 22A and 22C on the U.S. Trustee’s website at www.justice.gov/ust. Click on “Bankruptcy Reform” and then “Means Testing Information.”
Example. In Washington, the standard amount you list on your bankruptcy papers for housing varies by county. If you live in Clark County, your allowable utilities expense is $370 for a one-person household. If you live in Lincoln County, your utilities expense is $367. You can find housing expense standards for each Washington county here.
Getting Local Bankruptcy Forms
Some judicial districts and bankruptcy courts require bankruptcy filers to complete additional local forms. To find out if your court requires additional forms, contact the bankruptcy filing clerk. Some courts post these forms online on the court’s website. (Below you’ll find a link to Washington's bankruptcy court.)
Filing in the Washington Bankruptcy Courts
There are two district bankruptcy courts in Washington: the Eastern District and the Western District. You can file in either:
- the district where you have been living for the greater part of the 180-day period before you file, or
- the district where you are domiciled—that is, where you maintain your home, even if you have been living elsewhere temporarily (such as on a military base).
You can look here to see the areas covered by the Eastern District court. The remaining gray areas on the map are covered by the Western District.
You can use the Court Locator tool on the U.S. Trustee’s website to find bankruptcy court locations and websites. The Washington Bankruptcy Court websites can be found at the following links:
- Eastern District. Offices are located in Spokane and Yakima. 341 hearings (also called the meeting of creditors) are sometimes held in Richland, Moses Lake, and Wanatchee.
- Western District. The Western District courthouses are located in Seattle and Tacoma. 341 hearings may be held in Vancouver, Whatcom County, Marysville/Everett, and Port Orchard/Bremerton.