If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida, you can use the Florida exemptions to keep some or all of your property. The Florida bankruptcy exemptions also play a role in Chapter 13 bankruptcy; they impact how much you must repay creditors through your Chapter 13 plan.
(To learn more about how exemptions work in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, see our Bankruptcy Exemptions area.)
In Florida, You Cannot Use the Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions
Although the bankruptcy code has a list of federal bankruptcy exemptions, states decide whether their residents can use them or not. Florida, like many other states, does not allow residents to use the federal bankruptcy exemptions; it requires its residents to use the Florida exemptions in bankruptcy.
Florida’s bankruptcy exemptions are quite favorable to its residents, and include unlimited exemptions for homestead, annuities, and the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy.
Residency Requirement to Use Florida Bankruptcy Exemptions
In order to use Florida’s exemptions, you must be domiciled in Florida for at least 730 days prior to filing your bankruptcy petition. If you were not living in any one state during the two years you filed for bankruptcy, which state exemptions you use depends on where you lived for most of the 180 day period prior to the two years before you filed. (To learn more, see Which Exemptions Can I Use?)
Florida's Homestead Exemption
Florida has one of the most generous homestead exemptions in the country. You can exempt an unlimited amount of value in your home or other property covered by the homestead exemption. However, the property cannot be larger than half an acre in a municipality or 160 acres elsewhere.
Length of Ownership Requirement for Homestead Exemption
In order to claim the full value of the homestead exemption in Florida, you must have owned the property for at least 1,215 days prior to the bankruptcy filing. If you can't meet this requirement, your homestead exemption is limited to $146,450. (To learn more about this requirement, and some important exceptions to it, see The Homestead Exemption.)
Florida Personal Property Exemptions
The following categories of personal property are exempt:
Personal property up to $1,000. Personal property may include such items as furniture, art, and electronics. (Art. 10 Sec. 4, Fl. Constitution)
Education savings, health savings, and hurricane savings. (Fl. Stat. 222.22)
Prescribed health aids. (Fl. Stat. 222.25)
Florida Motor Vehicle Exemption
You can exempt up to $1,000 in motor vehicle equity, more if you are married and filing jointly. For details, see The Florida Motor Vehicle Exemption in Bankruptcy.
Exemptions for Wages in Florida
Wages of a head of family are fully exempt up to $750 per week. This applies to paid and unpaid wages and wages deposited in a bank account during the last six months. (Fl. Stat. 222.11.) Earnings of a person other than the head of family are protected to a lesser amount under the Consumer Credit Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 1673.
Federal government employees’ pension payments that are needed for support and were received up to three months prior to the bankruptcy. (Fl. Stat. 222.21.)
The Florida Wildcard Exemption
A debtor may claim up to $4,000 of personal property as exempt if the debtor does not use the homestead exemption. (Fl. Stat. 222.25.)
Exemptions for Pensions in Florida
The following types of pensions and retirement funds are exempt in Florida:
ERISA qualified retirement plans and pensions (including 401(k)’s, 403(b)’s, profit sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRA’s, and other defined benefit plans) are fully exempt. (11 U.S.C. Section 522 and Fl. Stat. 222.21.) (To learn more, see Your Retirement Plan in Bankruptcy.)
IRA’s and Roth IRA’s are exempt up to $1,171,650. (11 U.S.C. Section 522(b)(3)(C)(n).)
Benefits payable under the Florida Retirement System. (Fl. Stat. 121.131.)
State and County officers and employees retirement system benefits. (Fl. Stat. 122.15.)
Firefighter pensions. (Fl. Stat. 175.241.)
Municipal police pensions. (Fl. Stat. 185.25.)
Teachers’ retirement benefits. (Fl. Stat. 238.15.)
Exemptions for Public Benefits
Although Florida opted-out of the federal bankruptcy exemption scheme, Section 222.201 allows the federal exemptions listed under Section 522(d)(10) of the Bankruptcy Code. These exemptions include: veterans benefits, social security benefits, reemployment assistance, and local public assistance benefits. (Fl. Stat. 222.201
Workers compensation benefits are exempt. (Fl. Stat. 440.22.)
Crime victims’ compensation benefits are exempt, unless the debtor is seeking to discharge debt for treatment of related injury. (Fl. Stat. 960.14.)
Alimony and Child Support Exemptions
Alimony and child support, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the Debtor and any dependent of the Debtor, are exempt. (Fl. Stat. 222.201.)
Exemptions for Insurance Policies and Annuities
The proceeds of a life insurance policy payable to a specific beneficiary are fully exempt. (Fl. Stat. 222.13.)
The cash surrender value of a life insurance policy and the proceeds of an annuity contract are fully exempt. However, annuity proceeds resulting from lottery winnings are not exempt. (Fl. Stat. 222.14.)
Disability income benefits are exempt. (Fl. Stat. 222.18.)
Fraternal benefit society benefits are exempt. (Fl. Stat. 632.619.)
Personal Injury Exemptions
Damages to employees for injuries or death incurred in hazardous occupations are exempt. (Fl. Stat. 769.05.)
Above we've listed the most commonly used exemptions in Florida. There may be other exemptions that apply to your situation. To find the full list, you should review the Florida Statutes, the Florida Constitution, and the Bankruptcy Code. Or, talk to a local bankruptcy attorney. You can find one through Nolo's Florida Bankruptcy Lawyer Directory.