Finding the information you need to file a bankruptcy case can be daunting, especially when you’re already stressed over your financial situation. This article will help get you on the right track.
You’ll learn where to find the official forms you’ll need to file with the court, Virginia means testing information, credit counseling providers, and where to find your local bankruptcy court. There’s also information below on protecting your property when you file bankruptcy in Virginia.
(If you’re confused and unsure which bankruptcy type is best for you, start by reading What Is the Difference Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?)
Official Bankruptcy Forms
Before the Virginia bankruptcy court will discharge (wipe out) your eligible debt, you must provide the court with a complete picture of your financial circumstances. You will list in detail your income, expenses, assets, debts, and recent financial transactions on official bankruptcy forms.
You can fill out and download the forms at no cost on the U.S. Courts forms web page. When you’ve gathered all your required paperwork, you will file your case in the local Virginia bankruptcy court along with a filing fee or request for a fee waiver and proof that you’ve completed the required credit counseling class (more below).
Virginia Bankruptcy Information
Although federal law governs bankruptcy filings, there is some information specific to Virginia you’ll need to know to file your case.
Means Testing and Credit Counseling Information
You can find two types of information you’ll need for a Virginia bankruptcy on the website of the U.S. Trustee: means testing figures and approved credit counseling providers.
- Means testing information. When filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your income is subject to a “means test.” If your family income is less than the Virginia median income, you pass the means test. If your family income is more than the median income for Virginia, you could still pass the test after subtracting a list of standard expenses. The income charts and expense guidelines are on the U.S. Trustee’s website under “Means Testing Information.” If you’re filing a Chapter 13 instead, a similar calculation will help determine the amount of your Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment.
- Credit counseling providers. Most filers must participate in a credit counseling session before filing and a debt management course afterward. On the U.S. Trustee website, you can find the approved providers by clicking “Credit Counseling & Debtor Education” and scrolling down to your bankruptcy district.
Virginia Bankruptcy Court Locations
Virginia has two bankruptcy districts—Eastern and Western. Each has multiple locations serving various geographical areas. Clicking on the district name will take you to the court’s homepage. On each site, you can access the district’s local rules and instructions for filing your paperwork.
Eastern District of Virginia
- Division locations. Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News
- Finding your division. Contact the court clerk.
- Presiding judge. Stephen C. St. John
The eastern district serves the following counties: Accomack, Amelia, Arlington, Brunswick, Caroline, Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Essex, Fairfax, Fauquier, Gloucester, Goochland, Greensville, Hanover, Henrico, Isle of Wight, James City, King and Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster, Loudoun, Lunenburg, Mathews, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, New Kent, Northampton, Northumberland, Nottoway, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Prince George, Prince William, Richmond, Southampton, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Surry, Sussex, Westmoreland, York County.
Western District of Virginia
- Division locations. Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Harrisonburg
- Finding your division. Contact the court clerk.
- Presiding judge. Rebecca Connelly
The western division serves the following counties: Albemarle, Alleghany, Amherst, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Buckingham, Campbell, Carroll, Charlotte, Clarke, Craig, Culpeper, Cumberland, Dickson, Floyd, Fluvanna, Franklin, Frederick, Giles, Grayson, Greene, Halifax, Henry, Highland, Lee, Louisa, Madison, Montgomery, Nelson, Orange, Page, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, Rappahannock, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Scott, Shenandoah, Smyth, Tazewell, Warren, Washington, Wise, and Wythe.
Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Filing bankruptcy will not leave you destitute, but you might not be able to protect (exempt) everything you own. You’ll want to understand the following terms.
- Exempt property. You can keep only the property that appears on the Virginia exemption list. Examples of commonly-used Virginia exemptions are below.
- Nonexempt property. If you have to turn over nonexempt property (assets you can’t protect with an exemption), the Chapter 7 trustee will sell it for the benefit of your creditors. Chapter 13 bankruptcy works differently. You’ll keep your nonexempt property, but you’ll pay out the value of the property over the course of a three- to five-year payment plan.
- Doubling exemptions. If you file a joint bankruptcy with your spouse in Virginia, you’ll both be able to take the full exemption amount for assets that you both own, effectively doubling the amount of the exemption.
Here are some of the most common exemptions available under Virginia law:
- Cemeteries and burial funds. 100% of a lot in a burial ground and any preneed funeral contract not to exceed $5,000. (Va Code Ann. § § 34-26, 38.2-4021, 54.1-2823)
- Claims for personal injury and wrongful death actions. Claims and proceeds derived from court awards or settlements. (Va. Code Ann. § 34-28.1)
- Crime victims’ compensation. (Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-386.12)
- Fraternal Benefit Society benefits. (Va. Code Ann. § 38.2-4118)
- Health savings accounts. (Va. Code Ann. § 38.2-5604)
- Homestead or residential property. Up to $5,000 of home equity or property covered by the homestead exemption, plus $500 for each of dependent. Debtors aged 65 and older and disabled veterans (minimum of 40% disability) exempt up to $10,000. Surviving spouses or minors are eligible for a $20,000 homestead exemption. (Va. Code Ann. § § 34-4, 34-18, 64.2-311)
- Insurance benefits. Accident and sickness benefits; funds deposited in continuing care provider accounts; proceeds under an industrial sick benefit insurance policy; and benefits provided by cooperative nonprofit life benefit companies. (Va. Code Ann. § § 38.2-3122, 38.2-3123, 38.2-3339, 38.2-3406, 38.2-3549, 38.2-3811, 38.2.4-904.1, 51-111.67:8)
- Military equipment. (Va. Code Ann. § 44-96)
- Motor vehicles. Up to $6,000 in motor vehicle equity. (Va. Code Ann. § 34-26)
- Miscellaneous. Decedents' family allowance up to $24,000 for surviving spouses and minor children. (Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-309)
- Pension and retirement benefits. Certain public employee retirement benefits are 100% exempt; tax-exempt retirement accounts are exempt as per the federal rules. For current amounts, see Your Retirement Plan in Bankruptcy.
- Personal property. Up to $5,000 in household furnishings; $5,000 for family portraits and heirlooms; $3,000 for firearms; $1,000 in wearing apparel; all pets such as cats, dogs, birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other pets not kept or raised for sale or profit; medically prescribed health aids; prepaid tuition contracts; the family bible; wedding and engagement rings. A surviving spouse can claim an exemption for the personal property of the deceased spouse up to $20,000. If there is no surviving spouse, the children may claim this exemption (Va. Code Ann. § § 23-38.81, 34-4, 34-18, 34-26, 34-27, 64.2-310)
- Public benefits. Earned income tax credit and child tax credit (Va. Code Ann. § 34-26(9)); public assistance aid to the blind, aged, disabled, and general relief (Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-506).
- Spousal and child support. (Va. Code Ann. §34-26(10))
- Trade implements. Up to $10,000 for items needed in a trade or profession. (Va. Code Ann. § § 34-26, 34-27) Agricultural workers can exempt a pair of horses or mules with gear, one wagon or cart, one tractor to $3,000, two plows, one drag, harvest cradle, pitchfork, rake, and fertilizer to $1,000. (Va. Code Ann. § 34-27)
- Unemployment compensation. (Va. Code Ann. § 60.2-600)
- Wages. 75% of weekly disposable earnings, or 40 times the federal minimum hourly wage per week (whichever is greater); special rules apply for support obligations; parents making $1,750 or less are eligible for additional exemptions. (Va. Code Ann. § 34-29, 34-32, 34-33, 34-165, 55-165)
- Wildcard. A debtor can apply any remaining homestead exemption to protect personal property; a disabled veteran can exempt up to $10,000 in cash or property. (Va. Code Ann. § 34-4.1)
- Workers' compensation. (Va. Code Ann. § 65.1-82)
Be aware that more exemptions exist and that Virginia adjusts exemption amounts from time to time. Make sure you have the most recent figures by checking for updates at the website for the Virginia General Assembly.
This overview cannot provide all information you’ll need in a bankruptcy case. Filing for bankruptcy without a lawyer can be challenging, and you’re responsible for familiarizing yourself with the law. Consider using a book with step-by-step instructions like How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O’Neill and Albin Renauer J.D.