Should I file bankruptcy

Perspective on Bankruptcy bill

Choices for failed start up

Credit repair

Creditor rights

Small business bankruptcy

Debts & elders


Site guide

Meet our lawyers

Table of contents

Search the site                   

Bankruptcy in Brief

             a service of the Moran Law Group

pixel.gif (42 bytes)

Exemptions:  What can I keep if I file bankruptcy?

The bankruptcy code allows each individual who files bankruptcy to keep basic assets deemed necessary for the debtor's "fresh start" after bankruptcy.  That property is the debtor's "exempt property".

The debtor claims property as exempt in the schedules that are filed to initiate the case.  If no objections are filed to the exemptions, they become final 30 days after the meeting of creditors.  Exempt property is then no longer property of the bankruptcy estate.

When everything is exempt

Most Chapter 7 cases are no-asset cases:  that is, the debtors give up nothing to the trustee for the following reasons:

        First, the exemption systems permit debtors to retain the means of day- to- day living, free from the claims of their creditors.  The point of bankruptcy is to get a fresh start and that is only possible if the debtor has something to start with.

        Second, used household goods and personal effects have little resale value, and so do not represent a real source of value to repay creditors. 

Pension rights and 401(k) plans, frequently the largest or second largest asset of most families, are not property of the estate.  Since retirement plans are outside the estate, the debtor doesn't have to exempt them to keep them. 

IRA's and other retirement savings may be property of the estate but are frequently exempt.  See Property of the estate and Retirement savings in bankruptcy. The 2005 amendments to the Bankruptcy Code increased the exemption for IRA's for all debtors, regardless of state of residence, to $1million.

Exemptions in Chapter 13

How much can I exempt?

Exemptions are the one place where bankruptcy law varies from state to state.  Congress created a set of exemptions in the bankruptcy code but allowed each state to opt-out of those exemptions in favor of the state exemptions.

Sixteen states allow debtors to elect the bankruptcy code exemptions.  In those states, debtors get their choice between the federal exemptions and those in the law of their state.  For the balance of the states, only the state exemptions can be selected.  You need to consult state law for the list of exemptions available to you. Federal bankruptcy exemptions increase April, 2010.

Which exemptions apply?

The 2005 bankruptcy changes have altered the rules about which exemptions apply. In summary, you must have lived for two years in the state in which you are filing bankruptcy to use the exemptions of that state. If you haven't lived there for 2 years, then the exemptions of the state in which you lived in the six months beyond the two year look back period apply. If no state's exemptions are available, you are entitled to use the federal exemptions.

How do I calculate what's exempt?  

The values in the exemption statutes refer to the present sale value of the item (not its purchase price or its replacement value).  

If an asset is subject to a mortgage or a lien, it is the value of the item after deducting the amount of the lien or liens (the equity) that is used to figure the exemption.  Some liens can be avoided to create exempt equity.  Explore lien avoidance.

The law looks only to the value of the debtor's share of the equity in an item if it is co owned. 

Maximizing exemptions by planning

Exemptions in Chapter 13

Moran Law Group

1674 N. Shoreline Blvd. Suite 140 Mt. View  CA    650-694 4700
    Moran Law Group 1998-2014


Consumer Ledger... Bankruptcy Mastery