Updated January 21, 2019
When your income doesn’t cover your bills, filing a bankruptcy case might help you take control of your financial life and give you a fresh start. But finding the information you need to get your Georgia bankruptcy case started can be difficult. The basics are here, including information about:
- property you can exempt (protect)
- income-qualifying (means testing) data
- credit counseling providers
- official bankruptcy forms, and
- your local Georgia bankruptcy court.
Qualifying for Bankruptcy in Georgia—Means Testing
The first step is learning about the two primary types of bankruptcy available to most individuals and deciding which will be best for you. Then you’ll determine whether you meet the chapter’s qualification requirements.
- Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You’ll meet income qualifications by passing the “means test.” If your family income is lower than the median income of your state, you pass and can receive a discharge in a Chapter 7 case. You might still pass the means test after subtracting certain allowed expenses.
- Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If your income exceeds the Chapter 7 limits, you can repay some or all of what you owe in a five year Chapter 13 repayment plan. The tricky part is that you must have enough income to pay all required debts. To determine your Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment, you’ll do a calculation similar to that in Chapter 7. You’ll pay the greater of your disposable income, the value of your nonexempt property, or the amount of your nondischargeable debt (such as support obligations and tax debt).
If you aren’t sure which chapter is best, try starting with What Are the Differences Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy? You’ll find income charts and expense guidelines on the U.S. Trustee’s website (select “Means Testing Information”).
Protecting Property With Georgia’s Bankruptcy Exemptions
An important part of deciding the best chapter for you is determining whether you’ll lose property. You won’t lose everything. In fact, you might not lose anything at all.
Finding out which assets you can protect is as simple as looking at Georgia’s bankruptcy exemptions (examples below). Unlike in some states, the federal bankruptcy exemptions aren’t available in Georgia, but you can supplement with federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.
What will happen to nonexempt property—property you can’t protect with an exemption—will depend on the chapter you file.
- 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 who file a joint bankruptcy in Georgia can double the exemption amount in each category as long as both spouses have an ownership interest in the asset.
Here are some commonly-used Georgia bankruptcy exemptions (citations are to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated).
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.
More Bankruptcy Information
Next, you’ll likely want to gather together financial documents. You’ll also need the information that follows to prepare your paperwork and file your case.
Georgia Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Information
Individual filers must take two financial courses—one before filing and another before receiving a discharge (debt forgiveness). Approved providers are listed under “Credit Counseling & Debtor Education” on the U.S. Trustee’s website (scroll down to your district).
Georgia’s Bankruptcy Court Websites and Locations
Georgia has three bankruptcy districts—the Northern, Middle, and Southern district—with multiple locations serving various cities. Each court has a webpage with helpful information, such as:
- location, mailing address, and phone number
- operation hours
- parking information, 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.
- Presiding judge: Chief Judge Wendy L. Hagenau
Middle District of Georgia
- Division locations: Macon and Columbus
- Finding your division: Select “Court Info” from the top navbar.
- Presiding judge: Chief Judge James P. Smith
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.
- Presiding judge: Chief Judge Edward J. Coleman III
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.
Bankruptcy Costs, Filing Fees, and Forms
Most people must pay something to file for bankruptcy, but it’s usually worth the cost. Here’s what you can expect.
- Official bankruptcy forms. Before the Georgia bankruptcy court wipes out qualifying debt, you must disclose all aspects of your financial situation—income, expenses, property, debt, and property transactions—on official bankruptcy forms. These forms are free. After filling out the bankruptcy forms online on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court forms webpage, you’ll file your paperwork in your local bankruptcy court (more below) along with a filing fee or fee waiver.
- Bankruptcy filing fees or fee waiver. You’ll pay a filing fee when you file your paperwork with the court unless you qualify for a fee waiver. Find out about both in Bankruptcy Filing Fees and Costs.
- Bankruptcy lawyer fees. The cost to hire a lawyer varies depending on the area. Many people benefit from retaining counsel. Find out the benefits of being represented by an attorney.
This overview cannot provide all of the information you’ll need to file a bankruptcy case. For more detailed information, consider consulting with a local bankruptcy lawyer or buying a self-help book such as How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O’Neill and Albin Renauer J.D.