Filing Bankruptcy in New Jersey Without a Lawyer

Find out about the information you'll need to file your New Jersey bankruptcy.

December 17, 2017

If you run out of income when paying the bills each month, a New Jersey bankruptcy might bring you some relief. But finding the information to prepare your bankruptcy paperwork can be intimidating. This article will provide some resources to get you started.

(If you’re confused about which bankruptcy chapter is best for you, check out What Is the Difference Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?)

Official Bankruptcy Forms

Before you can discharge (wipe out) debt in a bankruptcy case, the bankruptcy laws require that you disclose information about your bills, the property you own, how much money you make, and your monthly living expenses.

You’ll enter all of this information on official bankruptcy forms you’ll find on the official bankruptcy forms page, then file the forms with your local bankruptcy court along with a filing fee or fee waiver and proof that you completed the mandatory prefiling education course (more below).

New Jersey Bankruptcy Information

You’ll be filing your bankruptcy case in a federal bankruptcy court, but the laws of New Jersey are still relevant. Here’s where to get started.

Means Testing and Credit Counseling Information

When you visit the U.S. Trustee website, you’ll find two types of information you’ll need.

  • Required education providers. Most filers also have to complete a session with an approved credit counselor before filing a bankruptcy case. After you file your case, you’ll take a debt management course. You’ll find the approved course providers on the U.S. Trustee website by clicking “Credit Counseling & Debtor Education” and scrolling down to your bankruptcy district.

New Jersey Bankruptcy Court Locations

The New Jersey bankruptcy court has three divisions, each with a separate courthouse. You’ll file your bankruptcy case at the courthouse that serves your county.

Newark

Trenton

Camden

Martin Luther King, Jr. Fed Building
50 Walnut Street
Newark, NJ 07102
Phone (973) 645-4764

Clarkson S. Fisher US Courthouse
402 East State Street
Trenton, NJ 08608
Phone (609) 858-9333

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
401 Market Street
Camden, NJ 08101
Phone (856) 361-2300

On the New Jersey bankruptcy court website, you’ll find instructions for filing your paperwork and the local rules (under “Filing Without an Attorney”) and directions to the 341 meeting of creditors (under “Court Info”).

New Jersey Bankruptcy Exemptions

When you file for bankruptcy, you won’t lose all that you own, but you might not be allowed to exempt (protect) everything. Whether you can keep all your property will depend on whether your assets appear on either the New Jersey exemption list or the federal bankruptcy exemption list. As a resident of New Jersey, you can choose the exemption scheme that benefits you better, but you cannot pick and choose from both lists.

If your property doesn’t appear on your chosen exemption list, it is nonexempt and can be sold by the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee for the benefit of your creditors. In a Chapter 13 case, you won’t have to turn over any property to the trustee. Instead, you’ll pay your creditors the value of the nonexempt property as a part of your Chapter 13 plan payments over three to five years.

  • Cemeteries and burial funds. Cemetery property, lands held for burial purposes by a cemetery company, charitable, religious, or fraternal organization and the trust funds and securities and income of any cemetery property. (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 8A:5-9, 8A:5-10, 8A:5-11.)
  • Crime victims’ compensation. Crime victims’ compensation for expenses resulting from an injury claim. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 52:4B-18.)
  • Homestead or residential property. There is no homestead exemption in New Jersey. However, under bankruptcy law, the survivorship interest of a spouse in property held as tenancy by the entirety is exempt from creditors of the other spouse (11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(8)).
  • Insurance benefits. Life insurance proceeds if policy prohibits proceeds from being used to pay creditors; life insurance proceeds in favor of a person other than the insured; up to $500 a month in annuity benefits, unless fraudulently obtained; proceeds of health insurance, disability provisions in life insurance contracts, and other disability benefits but not claims for necessities contracted for during the period of disability; proceeds of group life and group health insurance, but not claims for necessities contracted for during disability period. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 17:18-12, 17B:24-6, 17B:24-7, 17B:24-8, 17B:24-9.)
  • Motor vehicles. New Jersey doesn’t have a motor vehicle exemption, but you can exempt up to $1,000 in equity in your car or another vehicle by using the general personal property exemption.
  • Pension and retirement benefits. Public employees’ pensions (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 43:15A-53); pensions for teachers, judiciary members, prison employees, alcohol control officers, city employees, county workers, probation officers, court interpreters, police officers, and firefighters (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 18A:66-51, 18:13-112.53, 18A:66-116, 18:5-80, 43:6A-41, 43:7-13, 43:8A-20, 43:10-14, 43:13-9, 43:13-22.60, 43:10-18.22, 43:10-18.71, 43:10-57, 43:10-105, 43:13-37.5, 43:13-44, 43:15A-53, 43:18-12, 43:19-17, 43:16-7, 43:16A-17, 53:5A-45.) Even if you choose New Jersey exemptions, you can claim certain nonbankruptcy federal exemptions for retirement funds.
  • Personal property. Clothing; up to $1,000 in household goods and furnishings, pay and benefits owed to a debtor for participating in the state militia. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 2A:17-19, 2A:26-4, 38A:4-8).
  • Public assistance. Aged assistance. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 44:7-35.)
  • Tenancy by the entirety. Tenancy by the entirety is not exempt, but is subject to rights of the non-debtor spouse.
  • Unemployment compensation. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 43:21-15, 43:21-53.)
  • Wildcard exemption. Up to $1,000 of any personal property, stocks, or corporate interests. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 2A:17-19.)
  • Workers’ compensation. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:15-29.)

The amounts in the New Jersey exemption list are adjusted periodically. To ensure that your figures are the most recent, check for updates on the official website of the New Jersey Legislature. (Go to "Laws and Constitution" in the left navbar and select "Statutes.")

This overview provides some, but not all, of the necessary information needed in a bankruptcy case. Filing for bankruptcy without a lawyer can be challenging. You’re responsible for familiarizing yourself with the law. Consider purchasing a do-it-yourself 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.

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