You don’t lose all of your property when you file for bankruptcy. In fact, many people can protect most, if not all of what they own. You’ll know what you can keep by reviewing bankruptcy exemption law.
In this article, you’ll learn:
The federal bankruptcy exemption amounts adjust every three years.
Each state has a set of bankruptcy exemptions that a bankruptcy filer can use to protect assets in bankruptcy. Federal law also has a set of federal bankruptcy exemptions. Exemptions protect property in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
Your state determines whether you must use your state’s exemptions or if you can choose the federal list instead. If you get to choose, you must pick one or the other—you can’t mix and match items from both lists.
Currently, if you live in one of the following states, you can choose the state or the federal bankruptcy exemptions:
Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
If you don't reside in one of these states, you're limited to your own state’s exemptions. Some states allow two state choices—for example, see California’s exemption scheme.
You’ll find current, commonly-used federal exemptions listed below. If you are a married couple filing jointly, you can double the exemption amounts. The amounts are shown for cases filed after April 1, 2016, and cases filed after April 1, 2019.
As of April 1, 2019, you can protect $25,150 of equity in your principal place of residence under the federal exemptions ($23,675 in cases filed before April 1, 2019). (11 U.S.C. § 522(d)(1).) You must live in the home to use the homestead exemption.
The residential property can be:
The homestead exemption isn’t available to protect equity in investment or rental properties.
Personal property includes all property you have other than real estate. Here are some commonly-used federal personal property exemptions and the amount you can claim as of April 1, 2019:
The figures used for cases filed between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2019, are as follows:
Retirement accounts that are exempt from taxation are fully exempt. However, IRAs and Roth IRAS are capped at $1,362,800 ($1,283,025 before April 1, 2019) on IRAs and Roth IRAs. (Learn more in Your Retirement Plan in Bankruptcy.)
You can apply the federal wildcard exemption to any property you own. Currently, $1,325 plus $12,575 of any unused portion of your homestead exemption is available to exempt any property of your choosing. The figures for cases filed before April 1, 2019, are $1,250 plus $11,850 respectively. (11 U.S.C. § 522(d)(5).) To learn more, see the Wildcard Exemption.
Updated: March 13, 2019