If you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Washington D.C., the District of Columbia bankruptcy exemptions can help you keep some or all of your property (in Chapter 7) or reduce the total amount you must pay your unsecured creditors (in Chapter 13). (Learn how bankruptcy exemptions work in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy.)
Below you can learn what property the District of Columbia bankruptcy exemptions protect, whether you can use the federal exemptions in Washington D.C., what happens to exemptions if you are married and filing jointly, and more.
You Can Use Either the District of Columbia or the Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions
If you file for bankruptcy in Washington D.C., you can choose to use either of the following sets of bankruptcy exemptions: the District of Columbia exemptions or the federal bankruptcy exemptions. You cannot mix and match between these sets, you must choose one and use only the exemptions within that scheme.
If you choose to use the District of Columbia bankruptcy exemptions, however, you may also use any of the federal non-bankruptcy exemptions that apply in your situation. The federal non-bankruptcy exemptions protect property such as federal retirement accounts and veterans’ benefits. You can use both the federal non-bankruptcy exemptions and the District of Columbia exemptions; you don’t have to choose between the two lists.
Married Couples May Double the District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Unless otherwise stated, if you are married and filing a joint bankruptcy petition, you can double the amount of the District of Columbia bankruptcy exemption if you both own the property. If only one spouse owns the property, then you cannot double the amount.
Common District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions
Below are some of the most commonly used bankruptcy exemptions. The statute citations, unless otherwise noted, are to the District of Columbia Code.
The District of Columbia has the most generous homestead exemption in the country (it shares this distinction with a few other states). You can exempt the full equity of your home or co-op, as long as you or your dependents live there. §15-501(1)(14) (Learn more about the District of Columbia homestead exemption.)
If you file for bankruptcy in Washington D.C., you can exempt the below types of personal property. Unless otherwise stated, these exemptions are found in §15-501(a).
- appliances, books, clothing, household furnishings, goods, musical instruments, and pets, up to $425 per item and $8,625 total
- cemetery and burial funds (§43-111)
- co-op holdings to $500 (§29-928)
- food for three months
- health aids
- higher education tuition savings account (§47-4510)
- condo deposit (§42-1904.09)
- family pictures
- family library, up to $400
- pain and suffering recovery
- uninsured motorist benefits (§31-2408.01(h))
- wrongful death damages (§15-501(a)(11) and §16-2703)
Motor Vehicle Exemption
In the District of Columbia you can exempt the equity in a car, van, truck, SUV, motorcycle, or other motor vehicle up to $2,575. (Learn more about the District of Columbia motor vehicle exemption.)
Tools of the Trade
You can exempt the following tools used in your trade or profession (§15-501, unless otherwise noted):
- library, furniture, tools of a professional or artist, to $300
- tools of your trade or business, to $1,625
- mechanic’s tools, to $200
- notary public’s seal and documents (§1-1206)
The following wages and earnings are exempt:
- 75% of wages earned but unpaid wages and pension payments, for up to two months. The bankruptcy judge may exempt more wages for low-income debtors. §16-572
- nonwage earnings (including pension and retirement payments) for the head of a family, up to $200 per month for two months. For nonhead of family, up to $60 per month for two months.
- Payments for loss of future earnings.
Tax exempt retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans. 11 U.S.C. § 522.
IRAS and Roth IRAs to $1,245,475. (This amount is adjusted every three years. For the most recent figure, see Your Retirement Account in Bankruptcy.) 11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C)(n); 9-26-4(11).
ERISA-qualified benefits, IRAs, Keoghs, and the like, up to the maximum deductible contribution. §15-501(b)(9)
Stock bonus, annuity, pension, or profit-sharing plan. §15-501(a)(7)
Public school teachers. §38-2001.17; §38-2021.17
Aid to the blind, aged, and disabled. §4-215.01
Crime victims' compensation. §4-507(e); 15-501(a)(11)
General assistance. §4-215.01
Social Security. §15-501(a)(7)
Unemployment compensation. §51-118
Veteran’s benefits. §15-501(a)(7)
Workers' compensation. §32-1517
Disability benefits. §15-501(a)(7); §31-4716.01
Fraternal benefit society benefits. §42-10-4
Group life insurance policy or proceeds. §31-4717
Life insurance payments. §15-501(a)(11)
Life insurance proceeds if a provision in the contract states that the proceeds cannot be used to pay creditors. §31-4719
Life insurance proceeds or avails. §31-4716
Other insurance proceeds, up to $200 per month for two months (head of family) and up to $60 per month for two months (nonhead of family). §15-503
Unmatured life insurance contract, other than credit life insurance. §15-501(a)(5)
Alimony or child support. §15-501(a)(7)
In District of Columbia, you can use the wildcard exemption to exempt up to $850 in any property, plus up to $8,075 if you don’t use the homestead exemption. §15-501(a)(3). (To learn more, see The District of Columbia Wildcard Exemption.)
Confirming the District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions
This list includes some of the more commonly used District of Columbia bankruptcy exemptions. There may be others. In addition, District of Columbia periodically updates its exemption amounts and sometimes adds new exemptions. To find the most current laws, visit the District of Columbia Code section of Washington D.C.’s website. Be forewarned, however, that the exemptions are found in various parts of the code. To save time and ensure you’ve got the correct information, consider consulting with a District of Columbia bankruptcy lawyer.