How to File Bankruptcy in the District of Columbia

Find information you'll need to file your District of Columbia bankruptcy case.

December 14, 2017

When your bills leave you overextended at the end of the month, filing a bankruptcy case can get you back to financial health. Most people start the process by deciding between Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The next step is completing the bankruptcy paperwork and filing it with the court.

But finding the information needed to prepare your matter can be tough. This article explains where to find official bankruptcy forms, Washington, D.C. means testing information, credit counseling providers, and your local D.C. bankruptcy court. You’ll also learn about protecting property in in a Washington, D.C. bankruptcy case.

Official Bankruptcy Forms

Before the Washington, D.C. bankruptcy court can forgive your qualifying debt, you must disclose your entire financial situation—property, debt, income, expenses, and financial transactions—on official bankruptcy forms. The forms get filed in the Washington, D.C. bankruptcy court along with a filing fee or fee waiver and proof that you’ve completed a required course (more below).

You’ll find fillable, downloadable forms on the U.S. Courts Forms page.

District of Columbia Bankruptcy Information

Federal law governs bankruptcy filings. However, Washington, D.C.’s laws and procedures still come into play.

Means Testing and Credit Counseling Information

You’ll find helpful information on the website of the U.S. Trustee, including means testing figures and approved credit counseling providers.

  • Means testing information. To file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll need to pass the “means test.” If your family income exceeds the median income for Washington, D.C., you might pass the test after subtracting a set of standard expenses. If your income is lower than the median, you qualify. You’ll do similar calculations to determine your payment for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Select “Means Testing Information” to find the income charts and expense guidelines.
  • Credit counseling providers. Most filers must complete a credit counseling session before filing a case and a debt management course after filing it. You can find the approved providers for Washington, D.C. “Credit Counseling & Debtor Education.”

District of Columbia Bankruptcy Court Location

The Washington, D.C. bankruptcy court website has instructions for filing your paperwork and the court’s local rules (click on “Parties Who Have No Attorney”). The court has one location:

U.S. Bankruptcy Court
333 Constitution Avenue N.W.
Room 1225
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 354-3280

District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions

You might not be able to protect (exempt) all of your property when you file (although some people can). But bankruptcy won’t leave you destitute, either. Whether you keep all your assets depends on whether your property appears on the exemption list you choose (you must pick one): the Washington, D.C. exemption list or the list of federal bankruptcy exemptions.

Any nonexempt property that you have to turn over to the Chapter 7 trustee will be sold for the benefit of your creditors. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can keep all of your property as long as you can afford to pay for the nonexempt property. You’ll have to “buy” it back through your Chapter 13 plan payments.

Filers who choose D.C’s exemptions can supplement with federal nonbankruptcy exemptions. Spouses who file a joint bankruptcy in Washington, D.C. can double the exemption amount as long as both spouses have an ownership interest in the property.

Below are some of the most commonly used bankruptcy exemptions. The statute citations are to the District of Columbia Code.

  • Homestead exemption. The full equity of your home or co-op, as long as you or your dependents live there. (§ 15-501(1)(14))
  • Personal property. Appliances, books, clothing, household furnishings, goods, musical instruments, and pets, up to $425 per item and $8,625 total; cemetery and burial funds (§ 43-111); co-op holdings to $500 (§ 29-928); food for three months; health aids; higher education tuition savings account (§ 47-4510); condo deposit (§ 42-1904.09); family pictures; family library up to $400; pain and suffering recovery; uninsured motorist benefits (§ 31-2408.01(h)); wrongful death damages (§§ 15-501(a)(11), 16-2703)). (Unless otherwise stated, these exemptions are found in § 15-501(a).)
  • Motor vehicle exemption. Up to $2,575 of equity in a car, van, truck, SUV, motorcycle, or another motor vehicle. (§ 15-501(a)(1))
  • Tools of the trade. Library, furniture, tools of a professional or artist to $300; tools of your trade or business to $1,625; mechanic’s tools to $200; notary public’s seal and documents (§ 1-1206). (§ 15-501, unless otherwise noted.)
  • Wages. 75% of earned but unpaid wages and pension payments for up to two months; nonwage earnings (including pension and retirement payments) for the head of a family up to $200 per month for two months; if you’re not the head of the family, up to $60 per month for two months; payments for loss of future earnings. (§ 16-572)
  • Pensions. Stock bonus, annuity, pension, or profit-sharing plan (§ 15-501(a)(7)); judges (§ 11-1570(f)); public school teachers (§§ 38-2001.17, 38-2021.17); police, firefighters and teachers retirement benefits (§ 1-911.03); tax-exempt retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans; IRAS and Roth IRAs to currently allowed amount. (For more information and the most recent figures, see Your Retirement Plan in Bankruptcy.)
  • Public benefits. Aid to the blind, aged, and disabled (§ 4-215.01); crime victims' compensation (§§ 4-507(e), 15-501(a)(11)); general assistance (§ 4-215.01); Social Security (§ 15-501(a)(7)); unemployment compensation (§ 51-118); veteran’s benefits (§ 15-501(a)(7)); workers' compensation (§ 32-1517).
  • Insurance. Disability benefits (§§ 15-501(a)(7), 31-4716.01); fraternal benefit society benefits (§ 42-10-4); group life insurance policy or proceeds (§ 31-4717); life insurance payments (§ 15-501(a)(11)); life insurance proceeds if a provision in the contract states that the proceeds cannot be used to pay creditors (§ 31-4719); life insurance proceeds or avails (§ 31-4716); other insurance proceeds up to $200 per month for two months (head of family) and up to $60 per month for two months (nonhead of family) (§ 15-503); unmatured life insurance contract, other than credit life insurance (§ 15-501(a)(5)).
  • Miscellaneous. Alimony or child support. (§ 15-501(a)(7))
  • Wildcard exemption. Up to $850 in any property, plus up to $8,075 if you don’t use the homestead exemption (§ 15-501(a)(3)).

Washington, D.C.’s exemption amounts are adjusted periodically, and additional exemptions exist. To ensure you’re properly protecting your assets, check the Code of the District of Columbia website or speak with an attorney.

You’ll need additional information and a thorough understanding of the law to file on your own. For more detailed discussions on common bankruptcy issues, consider buying a self-help book such as How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O’Neill and Albin Renauer J.D.

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