Updated April 17, 2020
Like other states, Washington state’s exemptions protect the value of your belongings from creditors when you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Typically, you’ll be able to protect some amount of equity in your home and car, as well as household items and retirement accounts.
Find more about preparing for a Washington bankruptcy in How to File Bankruptcy in Washington State.
Washington is one of the few states that will allow debtors to choose between state and federal bankruptcy exemptions. Bankruptcy filers can evaluate both sets of exemptions and select the set that better protects their assets. If you choose to use the Washington exemptions, you’ll be able to use the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions, as well.
If you file a joint bankruptcy with your spouse in Washington, you and your spouse can each claim the exemption amounts for property that belongs to both of you. For example, you can’t use your vehicle exemption to protect your spouse’s car unless both have an ownership interest in the car.
For more information about bankruptcy exemptions, including how they work, which state exemption system applies to you, and special homestead exemption rules, see Bankruptcy Exemptions.
Here are some of the Washington bankruptcy exemptions that bankruptcy filers often use. Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). You’ll find the codes on the Washington State Legislature website.
The homestead exemption protects up to $125,000 of equity in a debtor’s home or principal residence, including a manufactured or mobile home. The exemption is reduced to $15,000 for other personal property used as a residence. (RCW §§ 6.13.010, 6.13.020, 6.13.030.)
You’ll find more details about how the homestead exemption works in The Washington Homestead Exemption.
A debtor can exempt up to $3,250 in one motor vehicle. Spouses filing jointly can each exempt a vehicle. (RCW § 6.15.010(1)(d)(iii).)
A filer can exempt up to $3,000 worth of any type of personal property other than wages with the following limitations: no more than $1,500 total in cash and $500 total in bank accounts (with the exception that you can have $2,000 in bank accounts for consumer debt and $2,500 for educational loans). (RCW § 6.15.010(1)(d)(ii).)
A debtor can exempt up to $10,000 in tools, instruments, and materials used to carry on his or her trade. Special exemptions are available for farmers, physicians, attorneys, and clergymen. (RCW § 6.15.010(1)(e)(i)-(iii).)
A debtor may exempt federal pension benefits except for child support, and retirement disability benefits except for alimony and child support. (RCW §§ 6.15.020(2), (3).) Police and firefighter retirement benefits are exempt. (RCW §§ 41.26.053, 41.20.180, 41.24.240, 43.43.310.) Retirement benefits of teachers are exempt. (RCW §§ 41.32.590, 41.32.052, 41.32.055.) City employee retirement benefits are exempt. (RCW §§ 41.44.240, 41.28.200.)
Tax-exempt retirement accounts such as 401ks and IRAS are exempt under the federal rules, even if you use Washington exemptions. For current amounts, see Your Retirement Plan in Bankruptcy.
You can exempt the following personal property:
Washington’s exemption amounts adjust periodically. The last adjustment was effective as of June 2018. You’ll find the most recent figures on the Washington State Legislature website.