The question I am asked most often is, “How much does it cost to file bankruptcy?” Most people are not happy with my answer, “It depends.” The only set fee is the filing fee, which is paid to the court at the time the petition and schedules are filed. The Chapter 13 filing fee is $274 and the Chapter 7 fee is $299. Additionally, prior to filing bankruptcy, a debtor must complete a credit counseling course through a court approved agency, which costs anywhere from $15 to $60. These are standard costs that will be the same regardless of where you file.
The amount of attorneys fees charged for a bankruptcy case varies widely depending on your geographic location, the size of the firm, and, most importantly, the complexity of the case. Not all cases are created equal. For instance, a straightforward Chapter 7 filing is going to cost a lot less than a complex Chapter 7 case with a lot of non-exempt assets and/or other issues. When an attorney is determining how much to charge, he or she must consider how much time will be devoted to that particular case.
Chapter 13 fees are set by the court. In the Eastern District of Missouri, the Chapter 13 flat fee is $3000. This seems like a lot of money, but it is typically paid out over a five year period of time, which averages out to about $50/month. Some firms choose to take a reduced fee of $2300, but are then able to file fee applications if the time spent on your case exceeds that amount, which can sometimes result in the attorney being paid in excess of $3000. Make sure you understand the fee structure before you sign an attorney fee agreement/retainer.
It’s hard having to come up with money to file for bankruptcy when the reason you are filing is because you are broke. However, do not make the mistake of picking an attorney based solely on price or, even worse, choose to try to proceed without an attorney. Bankruptcy is quite complicated, and proceeding without an attorney (pro se) may result in slew of complications. Plenty of attorneys offer free consultations and that is a good place to start.
The best thing to keep in mind when considering the cost of filing bankruptcy is the amount of debt you will be walking away from versus the much smaller amount you will pay to have an experienced attorney get you through the process. The question should become: how can I afford to not hire an experienced St. Louis bankruptcy attorney?