Filing for Bankruptcy in Georgia

In most respects, filing for bankruptcy in Georgia isn’t any different than filing in another state. The bankruptcy process falls under federal law in Georgia.

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Facing financial challenges is a part of life. But if you're one of the millions struggling financially due to COVID-19 or another event, bankruptcy can help. Here, you'll find:

  • an explanation about Chapters 7 and 13
  • checklists to help you understand the process and stay organized
  • Georgia's property exemption laws and filing information, and
  • links to our bankruptcy quiz, an online qualifying tool, and other helpful resources.

However, we couldn't squeeze everything into this article, so be sure to check out its companion What You Need to Know to File for Bankruptcy—you'll find lots more details there.

How Bankruptcy Works in Georgia

In most respects, filing for bankruptcy in Georgia isn't any different than filing in another state. The bankruptcy process falls under federal law, not Georgia state law, and it works by unwinding the contracts between you and your creditors—that's what gives you a fresh start.

But Georgia's laws come into play, too, in a significant way. They determine the property you can keep in your bankruptcy case. You'll also need to know other filing information, which we explain after going over some basics.

Choosing a Bankruptcy Chapter in Georgia

Most people file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. If you don't know the differences between the two, you're not alone. The short explanation below and our handy Chapter 7 versus 13 chart will help clear things up.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 is often a bankruptcy filer's first choice for several reasons. It's quick—it only takes a few months to complete. And it's cheap—you don't pay anything to creditors. It works well for those of us whose property consists of the essential items needed to live and work.

People with more assets could lose them, however, especially if they own unnecessary luxury items. For instance, you might have to give up your RV, baseball card collection, or timeshare in the Bahamas—even your house or vehicle if you have too much equity in it or you're behind on the payments. Unlike Chapter 13, Chapter 7 doesn't have a payment plan option for catching up on late mortgage or car payments. So you could lose your home or car if you're behind when you file.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy. By contrast, Chapter 13 filers must pay creditors some or all of what they owe using a three- to five-year repayment plan. But the payment plan allows Chapter 13 to offer benefits not available in Chapter 7. For instance, not only do you keep all of your property, but you can save your home from foreclosure or your car from repossession. If you need time to repay a debt you can't discharge in bankruptcy, you can use this chapter to force a creditor into a payment plan. The biggest downside to this chapter? It can be expensive. Many people can't afford the monthly payment. Learn more about when filing Chapter 13 is better than Chapter 7.

Caution for businesspeople. Be sure to learn about the ins and outs of small business bankruptcies. The principles discussed apply to consumers only.

Will Filing Bankruptcy in Georgia Erase My Debts?

Bankruptcy wipes out many bills, like credit card balances, overdue utility payments, medical bills, personal loans, and more. You can even get rid of a mortgage or car payment if you're willing to give up the house or car that secures the debt. (Putting property up as collateral creates a "secured debt"—if you don't pay what you owe, the lender gets to take the property back.)

But you can't discharge all debts. Nondischargeable debts, like domestic support arrearages and recent tax debt, won't go away in bankruptcy, and student loans aren't easy to wipe out (you'd have to win a separate lawsuit). You'll want to be sure that bankruptcy will discharge (get rid of) enough bills to make it worth your while.

Steps in a Georgia Bankruptcy

We all know that seeing the forest helps us recognize the trees, so it's probably a good time to consider the significant steps you'll take during your bankruptcy journey. Think of this checklist as a roadmap of sorts, but you can also use it to track your progress. The good news? You've already made headway on the first two items!

Bankruptcy Steps Checklist

Protecting Property With Georgia's Bankruptcy Exemptions

One of the main things you probably want to know is whether you'll lose what you own. You won't. In fact, you might not lose anything at all.

Finding out which of your assets you can protect is as simple as looking at Georgia's exemption laws. You can keep property that appears on Georgia's exemption list and the federal nonbankruptcy exemption list. Also, you might be able to protect stimulus payments, tax credits, and child credits in bankruptcy with the federal COVID-19 recovery rebate exemption.

The type of chapter you file will determine what will happen to any nonexempt property. Here's how it works:

  • In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the trustee appointed to manage your matter will sell any property that isn't exempt for the benefit of your creditors.
  • By contrast, you can keep all of your property in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. But there's a catch. You must pay the nonexempt property value to your creditors through the three- to five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan.

Spouses filing together can double the amount on any property owned together, except the homestead exemption.

You must be a Georgia resident for at least 730 days before filing the bankruptcy petition. If you weren't living in any one state during the two years before filing for bankruptcy, you'd use the exemptions of the state you lived in for most of the 180 days before the two-year period that immediately preceded your filing. Learn more about filing for bankruptcy after moving to a new state.

Georgia Homestead Exemption

You can protect up to $21,500 in equity in real or personal property used as a residence or $43,000 if you're married. $10,000 of unused homestead exemption can be used to protect other property of your choosing, or $20,000 if you're married. (44-13-100(a)(1).)

Georgia Motor Vehicle Exemption

This exemption will let you protect up to $5,000 in a motor vehicle. Spouses can double this amount. (44-13-100(a)(3).)

Georgia Wildcard Exemption

You can protect up to $1,200 of any property of your choosing, plus any unused homestead amount up to $10,000. Spouses can double this amount. (44-13-100(a)(6).)

Other Bankruptcy Exemptions in Georgia

You'll find additional types of property you'll be able to protect in Georgia Bankruptcy Exemptions.

Preventing Bankruptcy Exemption Problems

Exempt your property carefully. The bankruptcy trustee—the court-appointed official assigned to manage your case—will review the exemptions. A trustee who disagrees with your exemptions will likely try to resolve the issue informally. If unsuccessful, the trustee will file an objection with the bankruptcy court, and the judge will decide whether you can keep the property.

Example. Mason owns a rare, classic car worth $15,000, but the state vehicle exemption doesn't cover it entirely. Believing that the car qualifies as art—at least in his mind—Mason exempts it using his state's unlimited artwork exemption. The trustee disagrees with Mason's characterization and files an objection with the court. The judge will likely decide the vehicle doesn't qualify as art.

Purposefully making inaccurate statements could be considered fraudulent. Bankruptcy fraud is punishable by up to $250,000, 20 years in prison, or both.

Qualifying for Bankruptcy in Georgia

If you've never filed for bankruptcy before, you'll meet the initial requirement. Otherwise, check whether enough time has passed to allow you to file again. The waiting period varies depending on the chapter previously filed and the chapter you plan to file. Learn more about multiple bankruptcy filings.

You'll also need to meet specific chapter qualifications.

You'll qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if your family's gross income is lower than the median income for the same size family in your state. Add all gross income earned during the last six months and multiply it by two. Compare the figure to the income charts on the U.S. Trustee's website (select "Means Testing Information").

Want an easy way to do this online? Use the Quick Median Income Test. If you find that you make too much, you still might qualify after taking the second part of the "means test." If, after subtracting expenses, you don't have enough remaining to pay into a Chapter 13 plan, you'll qualify for Chapter 7.

Qualifying for Chapter 13 can be an expensive proposition because the extra benefits come at a hefty price, and many people can't afford the monthly payment. To qualify, you'll pay the larger of:

  • your priority nondischargeable debt
  • the value of nonexempt property, or
  • your disposable income.

Find out more about calculating a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment.

Hiring a Bankruptcy Lawyer in Georgia

Most people find it worthwhile to get counsel. A bankruptcy attorney will help you:

  • qualify for the chapter of your choice
  • determine when it's time to file
  • help you keep the property you want
  • make sure you don't run afoul of fraud or other issues, and
  • explain when you can stop paying the bills you'll erase in your case.

You can expect creditors to call until you file. It's usually best to ignore them because telling creditors about your bankruptcy can encourage them to take more drastic collection steps before losing the right to collect altogether. However, if you hire counsel and refer creditors to your lawyer, they'll have to stop calling you.

Are you curious whether your case is simple enough to file yourself? Our quiz will help you identify potential complications while educating you about the bankruptcy process. You'll find it here: Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?

Filing Your Bankruptcy in Georgia

Now that you've decided to file, the fun begins! Well, not really. The first step—gathering your financial information—can be a bit of a chore. But using our bankruptcy document checklist should help you organize the things you (or your attorney) will need.

Bankruptcy Document Checklist

Bankruptcy Forms, Means Test Multipliers, and Course Providers

After assembling the documents, your next step will be to prepare the paperwork. Here's what you'll need and where to find it.

  • Bankruptcy forms. You'll find free downloadable bankruptcy forms on the U.S. Courts website.
  • Means test multipliers. Go to the U.S. Trustee website to get the figures needed to complete the means test.
  • Education providers. The U.S. Trustee website also lists providers under "Credit Counseling & Debtor Education." Scroll down until you get to your district. And don't give up—it's a long list. (Individuals must complete credit counseling during the 180 days before filing for bankruptcy and a debt management course after filing the bankruptcy case.)

Georgia's Bankruptcy Court Websites and Locations

Your case starts when you file your paperwork with the local bankruptcy court and either pay the filing fee or request a fee waiver. Georgia has three bankruptcy districts—the Northern, Middle, and Southern districts—with multiple locations serving various geographical areas and web pages to access filing instructions and local forms.

Clicking on the district name will take you to the court's homepage.

Northern District of Georgia

  • Division locations: Atlanta, Gainesville, Newnan, and Rome
  • Finding your division: Select "Court Information" from the top navbar.

Middle District of Georgia

  • Division locations: Macon and Columbus
  • Finding your division: Select "Court Info" from the top navbar.

Southern District of Georgia

  • Division locations: Augusta, Brunswick, Dublin, Savannah, Waycross, and Statesboro
  • Finding your division: Go to the lower-left portion of the home screen.

You'll want to check the appropriate Georgia bankruptcy court website to find out if you'll need to use a local form. Contact the court clerk for help.

After Filing for Bankruptcy in Georgia

Your creditors will stop bothering you soon after you file. It takes a few days because the court mails your creditors notice of the "automatic stay" order that prevents most creditors from continuing to ask you to pay them. Here's what will happen next:

  • You'll turn over financial documents proving the statements in your bankruptcy paperwork.
  • You'll attend the 341 meeting of creditors—the one appearance all filers must attend.
  • You'll complete a debtor education course and file the completion certificate.

These things all must happen before you get a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge. Chapter 13 filers will also attend a repayment plan confirmation hearing and complete the three- to five-year payment plan.

Need More Help?

You might not know this, but Nolo has been making the law easy for over fifty years. If you have questions, use the links we've included throughout for more details. Otherwise, you'll find the answers to almost all of your bankruptcy questions at nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/bankruptcy.

Providing all information needed to file for bankruptcy is beyond the scope of this article. If you'd like to file without an attorney, consider buying a self-help book like How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill and Albin Renauer J.D. to help you make well-informed decisions about your bankruptcy matter.

Updated April 22, 2021

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