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Washington Bankruptcy Records

Bankruptcy in Washington

In the State of Washington, bankruptcy is a legal process where an individual who is in debt can legally have a new financial beginning. This means creditors will be prevented from seeking restitution once an individual in debt files for bankruptcy. Washington state bankruptcy laws ensure that individuals who are unable to pay their debts can start afresh through liquidation of their assets or a repayment plan. These are used to repay what they owe to creditors. The bankruptcy laws are there to protect failing businesses and to provide an organized distribution of the proceeds from the liquidation and reorganization to creditors.

Bankruptcy cases in Washington State begin when a debtor files a petition at either the Washington Western Bankruptcy Court or the Washington Eastern Bankruptcy Court. The petition may be filed by an individual, a married couple, a corporation, or any other organization. The creditors will receive notice from the clerk of court about the bankruptcy petition from the debtor. The debtor can file a bankruptcy petition under the chapter that best applies to their situation.

What are Washington Bankruptcy Records?

In Washington, courts generate bankruptcy records when a debtor initiates a bankruptcy claim in the federal bankruptcy courts. Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their outstanding debts. Because the federal bankruptcy code provides the right to file this claim, bankruptcy cases are addressed within the federal court system and not the state court system. Therefore, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington and the United States Bankruptcy Courts for the Eastern District of Washington handle bankruptcy claims filed in Washington. Filing the case allows the debtor to mitigate or sort their debt liabilities under the law's protection. Hence, bankruptcy records are court records that contain the details of the activities in a case. They typically include dockets and other documents generated during a bankruptcy case proceeding.

What Do Washington Bankruptcy Records Contain?

Because a bankruptcy case is targeted at solving financial problems, most data or information involved are financial. As a result, Washington bankruptcy records primarily contain the voluntary petition used to commence a bankruptcy claim or action. This petition provides details on the debtor's properties, assets, income, and owed creditors' names and addresses. However, although the information in these records is predominantly financial, they may vary depending on the type or chapter of the bankruptcy case filed with the court.

Regardless, a general bankruptcy record will provide explicit information about the debtor's other financial affairs, such as:

  • The entity's most current federal income tax return (or a transcript of the tax return)
  • Statements of the entity's checking, savings, and investment accounts
  • Payment advice or pay stubs

These documents usually have originally signed declarations attached to them. Additionally, the bankruptcy record will contain the proceedings of the 341 creditors' meeting, the case status, and the court's eventual ruling on the case.

Are Bankruptcy Records Public Information?

Yes, court proceedings of bankruptcy cases are public records accessible by members of the public via the appropriate channels, usually provided by the courts. Correspondingly, federal laws subject these records to public review by allowing citizens to inspect and obtain copies from the public agencies that maintain them. Bankruptcy records generally include submitted and court-generated documents in all available formats, including electronic or paper. Provided federal laws do not specifically exempt any information or document from disclosure, the record will be made subject to public review.

Record seekers may also obtain bankruptcy records from third-party websites. These non-governmental data platforms often come with tools that help simplify the search for single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. Most third-party sites require some information to process a search. Interested parties may need to provide:

  • A bankruptcy case number (if known)
  • The name of the debtor on record

How to Get Washington Bankruptcy Records

Because debtors file bankruptcy cases in the federal bankruptcy courts, bankruptcy records are accessible and obtainable directly from the courts in all formats. Interested persons may visit the courts in person for physical copies, or request case information online or via mail. Inquirers can obtain electronic bankruptcy case information by visiting the public terminals in the court clerk's offices during work hours:

Eastern District Bankruptcy Court
Spokane office
904 West Riverside Avenue, Suite 304
Spokane, WA 99201

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 2164
Spokane, WA 99210-2164

Yakima Office
402 East Yakima Avenue, Suite 200,
Yakima, WA 98901

Western District Bankruptcy Court
Seattle Courthouse
700 Stewart Street, Suite 6301
Seattle, WA 98101
Phone: (206) 370-5200

Tacoma Courthouse
Union Station
1717 Pacific Avenue, Suite 2100
Tacoma, WA 98402-3233
Phone: (253) 882-3900

Federal Building
500 West 12th, 2nd Floor
Vancouver, WA 98660

Port Orchard
Kitsap County Courthouse
614 Division Street
Port Orchard, WA 98366

Everett Station
Weyerhaeuser Room (4th Floor)
3201 Smith Avenue
Everett, WA 98201

Additionally, citizens looking to obtain court information can get electronic access to the court's electronic case management system: Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). They can access this inexpensive public service with their devices from the comfort of their homes. Although PACER services are relatively affordable, there are still mandatory registration and fees required. Therefore, individuals seeking free access can obtain basic court information through the Voice Case Information System (VCIS). The voice system is connected to the bankruptcy court's electronic case file system. It is accessible from any touch telephone by dialing (866) 222-8029. They can request to hear case information in English or Spanish. However, the VCIS only provides basic information such as:

  • Case number
  • Name of debtor
  • Debtor's attorney and contact information
  • Trustee's name
  • Name of the presiding judge
  • Filing date
  • Date of discharge
  • Case status
  • Date of creditors' meeting

Finally, individuals can obtain physical copies from the court clerk's office. They can either visit the office with the request, or ask that the desired copies be sent via mail. For mail requests, the inquirer must send a written request with the following information:

  • The debtor's name
  • The case number
  • Relevant details of the requested document
  • The requester's name and phone number
  • The address to which the court should send the copied documents

The request must also include the copy fee of $0.50 per page or an $11.00 fee for each document that requires certification. The court does not accept cash via mail; therefore, all costs must be paid with a cashier's check or money order made out to the "U.S. Bankruptcy Court."

If the inquirer is seeking access to records or documents filed before May 17, 2001, the records may be at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Seattle, Washington. The court will typically provide enough information about a record's location on request. If the requested record is archived, the clerk's office will request NARA's file and contact the inquirer when the file arrives. The retrieval fee for the first box containing the requested record is $64.00 and $39.00 for each additional box. The requester may pay the court the exact amount in cash, or use a cashier's check and money order to pay.

Alternatively, the inquirer may obtain details of the record box location and the transfer number. The individual can then contact NARA over the phone to request the record, or request the copy online by visiting the department's website. In such cases, NARA fees apply. Additionally, archived court records can be requested via mail, fax, or email. For mail, fax, or email requests, the inquirer will need to visit the NARA's website, download the Bankruptcy Form, and complete it with a name, address, payment, and location information.

How Do I Find Out if My Bankruptcy Case is Closed in Washington?

Typically, when an entity files for bankruptcy in Washington, the court clerk provides them with periodic updates and developments on the case. Per the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, when the court issues a discharge order, the bankruptcy clerk sends a copy of this order to the debtor, the debtor's attorney, the creditors, and the U.S. trustee in the case. Therefore, when a case is closed, the court clerk will directly inform the entity or their attorney of the case status via mail. If there is a delay in disseminating this information, the concerned party may visit the clerk's office for more details. Otherwise, they may use the Voice Case Information System (VCIS) to verify the case status.

To use this service, requesting parties may dial (866) 222-8029 from a touch telephone. The operator will require them to provide the necessary information to enable the location of the case file. This can include the filing state's name, court name, and the district where the bankruptcy claim was filed. For example, for cases filed in the Western District of Washington, they may respond, "Washington Western." They can also select the appropriate court by inputting codes on the keypad. The individual may Select '73' for the Western Washington Bankruptcy Court and '7' for the Eastern Washington Bankruptcy Court. According to the operator's instructions, individuals may search the database with a case number, party name, and social security number. If the inquirer is exploring using the participant's name, they may enter the participant's name by typing the entity's last name, first name, and middle initials. The system will provide the relevant information about the case, including the case status.

Can a Bankruptcy Be Expunged in Washington?

Generally, the federal court system handles bankruptcies according to the U.S. bankruptcy code. This code does not explicitly grant presiding judges the authority to expunge bankruptcy records. Regardless, according to section 105 of the code, they have the blanket authority to issue any order or judgment deemed necessary or relevant to execute the bankruptcy code's provisions. Additionally, the regulation mandates that the judges protect entities from defamatory issues reflected in the court records. Therefore, if the court judge believes that the only way to fulfill these provisions is by ordering a record to be deleted, then the order of expungement will be permitted. Otherwise, bankruptcy records are public record matters that will remain visible to the public forever, but momentarily on the entity's credit report.

Under § 605 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if the court does not order the expungement of a bankruptcy record, it will be deleted automatically from the entity's credit report after seven years or ten years from the bankruptcy filing date, depending on the chapter filed. Chapter 13 bankruptcy records are deleted seven years from the filing date, while Chapter 7 bankruptcy records are deleted ten years from the filing date.

Although it is uncommon, parties to a bankruptcy case can file a motion to delete a bankruptcy record. However, the entity must prove to the court that the documents and information in that record are scandalous or defamatory to them or that the bankruptcy case was initiated fraudulently. Occasionally, if the court does not order an expungement, it may have personal identifying information redacted from the records before making it public.

What is the Downside of Filing for Bankruptcy in Washington?

  • Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy causes you to create a payment plan where you have to use your post-bankruptcy income for the duration of the Chapter 13 plan period.
  • Legal fees are more expensive due to the complexity of a Chapter 13 filing.
  • Stockbrokers can not file for Chapter 13 petition
  • A Chapter 13 bankruptcy case lasts for 3 to 5 years.
  • If you have a cosigner of a loan, they can also be affected by your debt when you file for a chapter 7
  • You can lose a non-exempt property which a trustee can sell under Chapter 7
  • An automatic stay created by a chapter 7 filing is temporary when facing a foreclosure on your home.
  • A second Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing can only be done 8 years after you filed a previous case and received a discharge of your debts.

What is Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in Washington?

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy provides an option for businesses going under or businesses that have failed financially. Businesses that file under this chapter can reorganize and restructure their finances. This is done in order to give employees jobs, pay creditors, provide returns to stakeholders while carrying out normal operations. Individuals can file under this chapter even though it was primarily created for businesses. In this chapter, the debtor offers a plan to creditors that if accepted by creditors and approved by the courts, allows a debtor to reorganize. Debtors can also offer a plan of liquidation or cease doing business. There is no trustee in this chapter unless one is deemed necessary by a judge. A trustee takes control of the property or business if appointed by the judge.

What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Washington?

When a debtor files for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Washington, the debtor’s non-exempt property is liquidated or sold and the proceeds are distributed to creditors. It is known as the ‘fresh start” type of bankruptcy. For individuals, debtors are allowed to pick certain properties as exempt. In exchange, the debtors get a discharge prohibiting them from paying certain types of debts. Partnerships and corporations do not get discharges. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing case usually gets discharged in 3 to 6 months.

What is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Washington?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as the “wage earner’s plan”. Individuals who file under this chapter have a regular income and are able to develop a payment plan. This enables them to repay either all the debts they owe or part of them within a 3 to 5 year period. In Chapter 13, payments are made to a standing trustee who distributes the payments to creditors according to the confirmed plans provided. This chapter will allow debtors to keep valuable property like a car or a home that could have been lost to a foreclosure or repossession. These are kept by the debtors if they can make the required payments to the creditors according to the bankruptcy laws.

What is the Difference Between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Washington?

Chapter 7 is for individuals, partnerships, and corporations that have financial problems and are unable to pay their debts. A trustee will take possession of the debtor’s non-exempt properties, liquidate it for liquid cash and use it to pay creditors according to the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 on the other hand, helps salary earners to repay their debts over a long period of time under court supervision and protection. This chapter may require full or partial payment. Payments are made to a trustee who distributes the proceeds to the creditors over a legally approved plan. It allows debtors to retain valuable properties that would have been foreclosed or repossessed.

What is Bankruptcy Protection in Washington?

Bankruptcy Protection is when the Washington State exemptions ‘protect’ the value of the debtor’s properties from creditors when they file for bankruptcy. With this protection, the debtor can protect some equity amount in their home, cars, retirement accounts, or household items. This Bankruptcy Protection is also called an ‘automatic stay’.

This stops creditors from proceeding with any activity that involves the collection of money or property from the debtor. For creditors to carry out any action against a debtor, they must get permission from the Bankruptcy Court. If they do not, they can be charged for punitive damages and lawyers’ costs.

The automatic stay prevents the creditor from carrying out certain actions such as:

  • contacting the debtor by phone or email to request payment
  • repossessing the debtor’s properties
  • Proceeding with foreclosures
  • Starting lawsuits
  • Deducting from a debtor’s salary

The automatic stay is usually restricted to a month or it may not be put in place; however, debtors can ask the court to prolong the stay or put it in place. In some cases, the creditor can make a request with the court to suspend an automatic stay. The Bankruptcy Protection does not cover the launch of certain civil actions in Washington. Previous cases dismissed within a year before the filing of a new case may not be given an automatic stay or the stay may be for a short time period unless the debtor takes action to be granted one.

What are Washington Bankruptcy Exemptions?

Washington Bankruptcy Exemptions are properties or proceeds from selling property the debtor gets to keep after filing for bankruptcy. The amount and types of property the debtor gets to keep are determined by Federal or State (Washington) law. The debtor gets to choose between the federal or the state exemptions but is not allowed to customize between both. It is important to choose the best exemptions laws in order to avoid losing property. If a married couple files for bankruptcy together, the exemptions will be doubled.

For a debtor to claim an exemption under Washington law, the debtor must reside in the state of Washington for a 730 day period before filing a bankruptcy petition. If not, the Washington State law where a debtor resides in the state for 180 days preceding the 730 day period will be used. The following are some of the exemptions under Washington State Exemption law:

  • Homestead: This can be the house, mobile home, or land in which the debtor resides. The exemption covers $15,000 for personal property used as a homestead and $125,000 for land, improvements, and mobile homes
  • Any vehicle that is used for personal transportation. On one vehicle, a debtor can have an exemption of up to $3,250. Couples can exempt a vehicle individually if they file jointly.
  • A 100% of their wages
  • $10,000 worth of tools, instruments, and materials the debtor uses to carry out their trade.
  • Pension and Retirement benefits excluding child support and alimony
  • $3,500 for clothing that includes furs, jewelry, personal ornaments per person
  • Household goods that are not over $6,500 per person or $13,000 for a married couple. No single item must exceed $750.
  • Personal injury recovery benefits not exceeding $20,000 per individual

What are the Other Types of Bankruptcy in Washington?

The state of Washington recognizes Chapter 9, Chapter 12, and Chapter 15 bankruptcy cases.

  • Chapter 9 gives the municipality permission to continue operating while it works on a repayment plan for its creditors. The municipality can not liquidate its assets to repay debts.
  • Chapter 12 gives family farmers with financial problems the opportunity to repay debts from future earnings over a certain time period. This chapter is only used by individuals whose income is primarily from a family-owned farm.
  • Chapter 15 cases are filed by a foreign representative so that a foreign proceeding can be recognized in the country. This chapter gives the foreign representative the right of direct access to the country's courts.

How Much Does It Cost to File a Bankruptcy Petition in Washington?

All Washington debtors are mandated to pay a filing fee. This can be done either by cash payment, cashier's check or money order to file a case at a Washington Bankruptcy Court. Checks issued by the bank through electronic bill payment agreements (Bill Payers Check) are not allowed. Personal checks are also not accepted by debtors. Lawyers can pay all filing fees electronically. Below are filing fees for each Bankruptcy chapter in the state of Washington:

  • Chapter 7 - $338
  • Chapter 9 - $1,738
  • Chapter 11 - $1738
  • Chapter 12 - $278
  • Chapter 13 - $313
  • Chapter 15 - $1,738