Bankruptcy / California / Chapter 7

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy California: 3 Things You Need to Know

Written by Ben Tejes
Updated Nov 27th, 2021

You may have experienced a financial hardship and are considering filing bankruptcy in California, specifically Chapter 7 bankruptcy. 

There are 3 important things to consider when pursuing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California:

  1. Do you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and what does it cost?
  2. What are the alternatives to Chapter 7 bankruptcy?
  3. What is specific need-to-know Chapter 7 bankruptcy information for California?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the most common bankruptcy in the United States. For example, I would not be surprised if the majority of the 45,831 bankruptcies filed in California in the year ending June 30th, 2021 were Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

If you would rather see than read, feel free to estimate qualification and cost using the California Chapter 7 Calculator below.

Let’s get started to understand why Chapter 7 is a popular choice in California.

1) How Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Works in California

Many people we speak with care about two things:

  1. How fast they can get relief from their debt burden.
  2. How much is costs to get out of their debt burden?

When comparing debt-relief options, Chapter 7 bankruptcy often wins in both categories over alternatives such a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, debt negotiation, debt management, and debt payoff planning. Let’s explore those variables in greater detail.

How Fast Do You Get Relief in A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in California

You can often get a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge in as little as 120 days in California. That is the typical time it takes to complete a no-asset Chapter 7 case in California. No-asset generally means that you do not own a home or other assets that may be above the California bankruptcy exemptions.  

How Much Does It Cost To File Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy cost nationwide tends to be between $500 and $3000. That said, Chapter 7 bankruptcy cost in California is different. 

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy cost may even be different if you are filing in San Jose vs. San Diego. For example, you may pay a Chapter 7 bankruptcy attorney fee of $2,000 in San Jose, but pay a bankruptcy attorney fee of $1,500 in Los Angeles.

You should check the cost to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California for specific information about the cost in your city.

Also, there are instances where the cost to file bankruptcy can be reduced based on a filing fee waiver. You should consider seeing the information related to California filing fee waiver.

If you are a more visual learner, see the video below covering Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California.

So, How Do I Qualify For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in California?

Chapter 7 bankruptcies are intended for people who cannot afford to pay any portion of their debts. However, you must first pass an income evaluation to qualify for a bankruptcy discharge (forgiveness of debt) in Chapter 7.

If you pass the California bankruptcy means test (which you can estimate below), you can erase most unsecured debts through Chapter 7. Unsecured debts discharged in Chapter 7 include medical bills, personal loans, some old income tax debt, old utility bills, credit card debts, and most personal judgments. Unsecured creditors hold debts that are not secured by collateral. 

What about secured debts in Chapter 7?

If, however, you want to get rid of secured debts, like car loans and mortgages in Chapter 7, you need to surrender the asset to the creditor. The creditor must accept the asset as full payment of the amount owed. 

Let’s go into how you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

IMPORTANT: Chapter 7 Qualification via California Means Test

An important element in filing for bankruptcy relief is the Bankruptcy Means Test. The Means Test is a bankruptcy form that calculates your average monthly and annual income. The test compares your income against the median income of other households in California.

If your average annual income or median income is below the California median income, you may qualify for a bankruptcy discharge under Chapter 7. You can estimate whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy using the free California Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Means Test Calculator below.

 

Help! My Income Exceeded The Chapter 7 Means Test Allowable in California

If your median income is above the state median income, you may need to look at part 2 of the means test or at an alternative. 

The Means Test is a two-part test, so it is not a simple pass-fail test. If you “fail” the first section, you can “pass” the second section and still qualify under Chapter 7.  

You can learn more about passing the Chapter 7 means test when income exceeds the median.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy California Income Limits

The California median income figures for the Means Test are adjusted periodically, based on IRS and Census Bureau data. California median income for bankruptcy cases filed on or after May 15, 2021, is:

# of PeopleAnnual Income
1$62,938
2$83,435
3$92,735
4$106,530
5$115,530
6$124,530
7$133,530
8$142,530
9$151,530

For California households with more than 9 members, add $9,000 for each additional family member. You should always double-check the US Trustees website for the most current figures when calculating the Means Test.

Will I lose my belongings if I file Chapter 7 bankruptcy? Understand California bankruptcy exemptions

Bankruptcy exemptions protect the equity in your property in a bankruptcy case. Likewise, property not protected by bankruptcy exemptions may be sold in a Chapter 7 liquidation case. Note also that for Chapter 13 cases, non-exempt equity in the property can increase the bankruptcy plan payment. 

The most important asset most people like to protect is their home. See the California bankruptcy homestead exemption below.

The homestead exemption is often broken down by age and whether you are married. 

  • Single and under 65: $600,000
  • Single is 65 or older: $600,000
  • Married and under 65: $600,000
  • Married is 65 or older: $600,000

California specific homestead bankruptcy exemption text: "New Language as of January 1, 2021: Gavin Newsome signed into law the Assembly Bill CA 1885 that passed on September 18, 2020, the updated language: 704.730. (a) The amount of the homestead exemption is the greater of the following: (1) The countywide median sale price for a single-family home in the calendar year prior to the calendar year in which the judgment debtor claims the exemption, not to exceed six hundred thousand dollars ($600,000). (2) Three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000). (b) The amounts specified in this section shall adjust annually for inflation, beginning on January 1, 2022, based on the change in the annual California Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the prior fiscal year, published by the Department of Industrial Relations." (Source)

It is important to review additional California bankruptcy exemptions and choose those exemptions that best protect your assets.

The federal bankruptcy exemptions are detailed in 11 U.S. Code §522. The National Consumer Law Center maintains a list of federal bankruptcy exemptions on its website. California is a state that does not allow you to use federal bankruptcy exemptions

Always check that you use the most current information available when analyzing bankruptcy exemptions. 

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy California Pros and Cons

Like any debt relief option, Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California has pros and cons to consider. For example, you may own a home in Los Angeles with equity well above the exemption. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be at risk of losing your home. Let's cover the different pros and cons.

Pros

  1. Often the least expensive debt relief options
  2. Receive discharge in about 120 days
  3. Potentially keep your home and belongings
  4. Stop debt collection lawsuits
  5. No more deficiences
  6. It can relieve an unaffordable unsecured debt

Cons

  1. Income requirements for qualification
  2. Potentially lose your home and other belongings when above the exemption
  3. Negative credit report impact for 10 years
  4. Negative credit score impact (in some situations)
  5. Non-dischargeable debt
  6. Difficult to prevent foreclosure
Now that we've covered the pros and cons, let's chat about the Chapter 7 bankruptcy alternatives in California.

2) Alternatives to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in California

Let’s cover the Chapter 7 bankruptcy alternatives in California in case you do not qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, have too many assets, or do not wish to pursue Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

a) Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in California

For those who make above the income limit for Chapter 7, debt relief can still come through a filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in California case allows you to restructure your debts into an affordable monthly plan. By restructuring debts, many people can afford to keep their homes and vehicles under Chapter 13.

Chapter 13 stops foreclosures, repossessions, and wage garnishments. Chapter 13 bankruptcy also allows you to pay back mortgage payments, past-due car payments, and tax debt over three to five years through a bankruptcy plan. In addition, California may also allow you to reduce unpaid child support and alimony. However, you must resume your normal domestic support payments to remain in Chapter 13.

In a Chapter 13 plan, some debtors (the person filing the bankruptcy case) can lower their car loan payments and erase second mortgages, if they meet certain requirements. 

Can you afford Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Let’s say you do not qualify for a California Chapter 7 bankruptcy and are wondering whether you should pursue a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Can you afford it? It may be odd to ask whether you can afford bankruptcy, but it’s an important question to ask.

To understand whether you can potentially afford a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you may want to take the Chapter 13 calculator below to estimate whether you can afford the monthly payment. 

b) Debt Settlement in California

Debt settlement can be less expensive than both Debt Management and Debt Payoff Planning because the debt management company is negotiating a lower amount on your total debt. We covered the pricing estimate differences in our article covering debt management vs debt settlement.

You should consider the following if you are pursuing debt settlement: Credit score impact, debt settlement pros and cons, and avoiding Debt Settlement companies with red flags.

c) California Debt Management

Debt settlement companies negotiate lower amounts. Debt management companies negotiate lower interest rates. This is the key distinction. Often these programs last 3 or 5 years. This option is often more expensive than debt settlement and some creditors such as personal loan lenders may not work with the debt management company. There may be debt management credit score implications as well.

Who may debt management in California best for? Debt management may be best for those that have all high-interest credit card debt, and a reduction from 22-30% interest rate to a 10% interest rate would continue to make the debt affordable.

d) California Debt Payoff Planning

You may be able to get out of debt through debt payoff planning, which is often a combination of trying to reduce expenses and putting extra cash into specific debts to avoid interest. You may not be able to do this because of the size of the financial hardship, but if you are interested, we build the Savvy debt payoff planner to help prioritize your debts. The app saves about $2,000 in interest on average by using the savvy debt payoff method instead of the snowball debt payoff method.

3) Specific California Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Information:

Let’s say you went through the 2 steps above and are now considering whether Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the right choice for you. Let’s go through some attributes about filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California that would be helpful to consider.

California Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Credit Counseling and Debtor Education Courses

When you file for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must complete two bankruptcy courses to receive a bankruptcy discharge. This includes a credit counseling course prior to filing a bankruptcy case, and a debtor education course after filing. See below the approved courses for California

The United States Trustee’s office has approved state-specific companies that offer bankruptcy courses. You can access a list of companies in California offering bankruptcy courses on the UST website. Both courses are available online for a small fee.

California Chapter 7 bankruptcy Court Locations

Many 341 meetings of creditors have been over the phone or over Zoom due to the pandemic. That said, you may want to see where the courthouse is in California if there are any meetings that need to take place in person. Below are the court locations for filing bankruptcy based on the bankruptcy district.

Northern District

  • Phillip Burton Federal Building
    & United States Courthouse
    450 Golden Gate Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94102
  • Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building
    & United States Courthouse
    1301 Clay Street
    Oakland, CA 94612
  • Robert F. Peckham Federal Building
    & United States Courthouse
    280 South 1st Street, Room 2112
    San Jose, CA 95113
  • United States Courthouse
    3140 Boeing Avenue
    McKinleyville, CA 95519

Eastern

  • Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse
    2500 Tulare Street
    Fresno, CA 93721
  • Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
    501 "I" Street
    Sacramento, CA 95814

Central

  • 350 W 1st Street, Suite 4311
    Los Angeles, CA 90012-4565
  • 255 East Temple Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012-3332
  • 3470 Twelfth Street
    Riverside, CA 92501-3801
  • 411 West 4th Street, Room 1053
    Santa Ana, CA 92701-4516

Southern

  • 221 West Broadway
    San Diego, CA 92101
  • 333 West Broadway
    San Diego, CA 92101
  • 2003 W. Adams Ave, Ste 220
    El Centro, CA 92243


Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustees California

Below are the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustees in California broken out by bankruptcy district. You can also find the list here

DistrictNamePhone
CentralKarl T. Anderson(760) 778-4889
CentralWesley H. Avery(626) 395-7576
CentralLynda T. Bui(949) 340-3400
CentralThomas H. Casey(949) 766-8787
CentralArturo M. Cisneros(951) 328-3124
CentralCharles W. Daff(657) 218-4800
CentralCarolyn Anne Dye(213) 368-5000
CentralHoward Marc Ehrenberg(213) 626-2311
CentralJeremy W. Faith(818) 705-2777
CentralTodd A. Frealy(951) 784-4122
CentralJeffrey I. Golden(714) 966-1000
CentralAmy L. Goldman(213) 250-1800
CentralRosendo Gonzalez(213) 452-0071
CentralDavid M. Goodrich(714) 966-1000
CentralDavid Keith Gottlieb(818) 539-7720
CentralHoward B. Grobstein(951) 234-0951
CentralWeneta M. A. Kosmala(714) 708-8190
CentralBrad D. Krasnoff(310) 277-0077
CentralHeide C. Kurtz(310) 832-3604
CentralSam S. Leslie(213) 368-5000
CentralRichard A. Marshack(949) 333-7777
CentralPeter J. Mastan(213) 335-7738
CentralSandra K. McBeth(805) 464-2959
CentralJohn J. Menchaca(213) 683-3317
CentralElissa D. Miller(213) 626-2311
CentralJerry Namba(805) 922-2575
CentralKaren S. Naylor(949) 748-7936
CentralJohn P. Pringle(323) 724-3117
CentralJason M. Rund(310) 640-1200
CentralDavid Seror(818) 827-9200
CentralLarry D. Simons(951) 686-6300
CentralSteven M. Speier(949) 561-3749
CentralDiane C. Weil(818) 946-1270
CentralRobert S. Whitmore(951) 276-9292
CentralEdward M. Wolkowitz(310) 229-3367
CentralTimothy J. Yoo(310) 229-3361
CentralNancy J. Zamora(213) 488-9411
EasternSheri L. Carello(916) 444-8149
EasternMichael P. Dacquisto(530) 244-6267
EasternIrma C. Edmonds(559) 221-2233
EasternGary R. Farrar(209) 551-1962
EasternPeter L. Fear(559) 464-5295
EasternAlan S. Fukushima(916) 449-3949
EasternJ. Michael Hopper(530) 757-2033
EasternKimberly J. Husted(916) 635-1939
EasternMichael D. McGranahan(209) 524-1782
EasternEric J. Nims(209) 887-3585
EasternGeoffrey M. Richards(916) 288-8365
EasternJames E. Salven(559) 230-1095
EasternSusan K. Smith(916) 833-2936
EasternHenry M. Spacone(916) 481-3150
EasternJeffrey M. Vetter(661) 809-6806
EasternDouglas M. Whatley(916) 358-9345
NorthernKari Bowyer(408) 641-1327
NorthernLois I. Brady(510) 452-6498
NorthernLinda S. Green(707) 575-6112
NorthernFrode "Fred" S. Hjelmeset(650) 386-5634
NorthernTimothy W. Hoffman(707) 874-2066
NorthernJanina M. Hoskins(707) 569-9508
NorthernDoris A. Kaelin(831) 600-8093
NorthernMichael G. Kasolas(415) 504-1926
NorthernSarah L. Little(510) 485-0740
NorthernPaul J. Mansdorf(510) 526-5993
NorthernE. Lynn Schoenmann(415) 569-4390
NorthernMarlene G. Weinstein(925) 482-8982
SouthernLeonard J. Ackerman(619) 906-5593
SouthernChristopher R. Barclay(619) 255-1529
SouthernGerald Holt Davis(619) 400-9997
SouthernLeslie T. Gladstone(858) 454-9887
SouthernJames L. Kennedy(858) 451-8859
SouthernRonald E. Stadtmueller(858) 564-9310


In addition to the above, review California local bankruptcy rules before filing a bankruptcy case. Some local rules may differ slightly from the Federal Bankruptcy Rules.

Conclusion

Hopefully, now you know much more about Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California. You can take the Chapter 7 bankruptcy means test calculator below if you’re interested to estimate qualification and cost.

For more information about Chapter 7 bankruptcy, check out our Chapter 7 bankruptcy process

Most people work with a bankruptcy attorney in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, but there is the option to file without a bankruptcy attorney. Read filing bankruptcy without an attorney to learn how.