When you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must complete a packet of forms. On one of those forms, Schedule J: Your Expenses, you list your average monthly expenses and describe any increases or decreases you anticipate to occur within the year after you file for bankruptcy.
(To learn about the other forms you must file in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, see Completing the Bankruptcy Forms.)
On Schedule J and Schedule I, you provide the court with detailed information about your current income and expenses. The court uses this information to determine if your Chapter 7 case is an “abuse” and you should instead file for Chapter 13. This can happen if your income substantially exceeds your expenses, even if you passed the means test (the test that determines if you qualify for Chapter 7). If you file for Chapter 13, this information helps the court and creditors determine if you will realistically be able to fund your proposed Chapter 13 plan, among other things.
You can find the most recent version of Schedule J on the U.S. Court’s website at uscourts.gov/forms/bankruptcy-forms. (To learn more about getting this and other forms, see The Bankruptcy Forms: Getting Started.)
On Schedule J you’ll provide a breakdown of your monthly expenses for you and your family. As with all forms, it is important to be accurate.
If you are filing a joint bankruptcy petition with your spouse, but you don’t live with your spouse, you must check the appropriate box. Your spouse must then complete Schedule J-2: Expenses for Separate Household of Debtor 2. Schedule J-2 is completed the same way as Schedule J – simply follow the instructions below. You can also find Schedule J-2 on the U.S. Court’s website at www.uscourts.gov.
You must list all of your dependents. Do not include names -- just the dependent's age and relationship to you. To learn who counts as a dependent for purposes of this form, see Listing Dependents on Schedule J of the Bankruptcy Petition.
When you complete the form, be sure to prorate your expenses so that they represent monthly amounts. Do not include payroll deductions that you have already listed on Schedule I.
You are required to list all of your expenses, even if the expense category is not included on Schedule J. If you don’t see an appropriate place to list one of your expenses, use the “other” category. Examples of things you might list include pet supplies (such as food and litter), and gym memberships. Be prepared to explain why these expenses are reasonable.
Some people want to underestimate their expenses so they don’t look like they were living high on the hog. This could lead the trustee to believe you have enough money to fund a monthly Chapter 13 plan. On the other hand, others want to overestimate expenses so they are more likely to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, excessive expenses can trigger the trustee to ask you to provide proof in the way of receipts. Either way, resist this temptation. It’s your job to provide accurate information and if you don’t, you could run into trouble.
At the bottom of the form, you subtract your average monthly expenses (from this Schedule) from your average monthly income (calculated on Schedule I) to come up with your monthly net income.
If you expect your expenses to change within the year after you file for bankruptcy, explain those anticipated changes in the last section of the form.
This article provides general information only. There are many legal issues involved and important decisions to be made when filing for bankruptcy. You must understand the entire bankruptcy process, learn about the applicable federal and state laws, and determine how those laws will affect your particular situation before you complete the bankruptcy forms. If you want to file bankruptcy without a lawyer, use a good do-it-yourself book like Nolo's How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy to ensure you make well informed decisions about your bankruptcy case.