Updated December 31, 2018
Filing for bankruptcy can help you take control of your financial life. But finding the information you need to get your Florida bankruptcy case started can be confusing.
In this article, you’ll learn how to find much of the information you’ll need, including:
- lists of property you can exempt
- official bankruptcy forms
- income-qualifying (means testing) data
- credit counseling providers, and
- your local Florida bankruptcy court.
Protecting Property With Florida 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 Florida’s exemption laws. You can keep property that appears on Florida’s exemption list and the federal nonbankruptcy exemption list. What will happen to nonexempt property will depend on the chapter you file.
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.
Here are some commonly used Florida property exemptions (spouses filing together can double the amount on property that they own together, except the homestead exemption).
- Florida Homestead Exemption. Filers can protect an unlimited amount of equity in a residential home. larger than half an acre in a municipality or 160 acres elsewhere. (Florida Statutes Annotated § 222.01-02.)
- Florida Motor Vehicle Exemption. A debtor can use this exemption to protect up to $1,000 in one motor vehicle. (Florida Statutes Annotated § 222.25(1).)
- Florida Wildcard Exemption. Filers who don’t use the homestead exemption can protect any property of their choice valued up to $4,000. (Florida Statutes Annotated § 222.25(4).)
For a more detailed list of other common exemptions, see Florida Bankruptcy Exemptions.
More Florida Bankruptcy Information
The information that follows usually isn’t needed unless you’re ready to prepare your paperwork and file your case. If you don’t know which bankruptcy chapter is right for you, try starting with What Is the Difference Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
Florida Means Testing and Credit Counseling Information
You’ll find two types of state-specific information on the U.S. Trustee website: figures to complete the means test and information for approved credit counseling providers.
- Means testing information. To file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll have to 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 file a Chapter 7 case. You might still pass the means test after subtracting certain standard expenses. You’ll find the necessary income charts and expense guidelines on the U.S. Trustee’s website (select “Means Testing Information”). To determine your Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment, you’ll do a similar calculation.
- Bankruptcy education providers. 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 (be sure to scroll down to your district).
Bankruptcy Costs, Filing Fees, and Forms
Most people have to pay some amount to file for bankruptcy, but it’s usually worth the cost. Here’s what you can expect.
- Official bankruptcy forms. Before the Florida 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 web page, 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. Find out the benefits of being represented by an attorney.
Florida’s Bankruptcy Court Websites and Locations
Florida, being a large state, has three bankruptcy districts—Northern, Middle, and Southern. Each has multiple locations serving various geographical areas and web pages where you can access the following court information:
- physical address, mailing address, and phone number
- hours of service and parking, and
- court filing fees and local forms.
Clicking on the district name will take you to the court’s homepage.
Northern District of Florida
- Division locations: Gainesville, Panama City, Pensacola, and Tallahassee
- Finding your division: Select “Locations” from the lower left navbar.
- Presiding judge: Chief Judge Karen K. Specie
Middle District of Florida
- Division locations: Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa
- Finding your division: Select “Locations/Phonelists” from the left navbar.
- Presiding judge: Chief Judge Michael G. Williamson
Southern District of Florida
- Division locations: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach
- Finding your division: Go to the lower right portion of the home screen.
- Presiding judge: Chief Judge Laurel M. Isicoff
Be sure to check your Florida court website for local forms required in your Florida bankruptcy court district. If you need help, contact the court clerk.
This overview cannot provide all of the information you’ll need to file a bankruptcy case. For more detailed information, consider buying a self-help book such as How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O’Neill and Albin Renauer J.D.