How Do Bankruptcy Exemptions Work
If you’re one among the millions of people who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, bankruptcy can help you clear your debts while keeping your retirement assets intact. You won’t lose your stimulus cash, though, because the new bankruptcy “recovery rebate” law preserves stimulus checks, tax credits, and child credits.
Exemptions from bankruptcy play an important role in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Exemptions are used in Chapter 7 bankruptcy to determine how much of your property you get to keep. Exemptions in Chapter 13 bankruptcy help you keep your plan payments modest. Learn more about bankruptcy exemptions and how they work by reading on.
What Are the Different Types of Bankruptcy Exemptions?
Exemptions allow you to keep a specific amount of assets, such as a cheap car, professional tools, clothing, and a retirement account, safe in bankruptcy. You don’t have to worry about the bankruptcy trustee appointed to your case taking an asset and selling it for the benefit of your creditors if you can exclude it.
Many exclusions cover specific property kinds up to a certain dollar value, such as a car or furnishings. An exemption can sometimes protect the asset’s total worth. Some exemptions, known as “wildcard exemptions,” can be used on any of your properties.
Is it okay if I keep my baseball cards? Jewelry? Pets?
The goal of bankruptcy is to give you a fresh start, not to take away all of your possessions. You’ll probably be able to protect other items as well, such as religious literature, a seat in a building of worship, or a burial plot, in addition to the fundamentals. Chickens and feed are even exempt in some states. However, you should not make the mistake of assuming that everything will be well.
- Items of high value. There are no exemptions for boats, collections, pricey artwork, or holiday homes. Instead of filing for bankruptcy, owners with such valuable assets often sell the property and pay off their debts.
- Jewelry. Many states provide protection for wedding rings up to a certain value. Don’t expect to preserve your Rolex, diamond necklace, or antique broach collection, though.
- Pets. The dog or cat you rescued from the shelter is unlikely to fall into the trustee’s hands. Why? It’s not that you’ll have a specific exemption to protect it; rather, the trustee would have to pay more to sell it than it’s worth in most circumstances. However, if you own a valuable show dog or a racehorse with high breeding costs, you may be forced to sell it or pay for it in bankruptcy.
Exemptions: What Are They and How Do They Work?
Whether you’re filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, exemptions play a significant role.
Bankruptcy under Chapter 7
A liquidation bankruptcy is one in which the appointed trustee sells your nonexempt assets to satisfy your creditors. Because the bankruptcy trustee cannot sell exempt property, exemptions assist you protect your assets in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your state offers a $5,000 motor vehicle exemption and you only own one automobile worth $4,000, for example, you can keep it. See Exemptions in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy for more details.
Bankruptcy under Chapter 13
You can keep all of your property and rearrange your debts with a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (which can mean paying less on some of them). The amount you must pay specific creditors, however, is still determined by how much property you can exclude. Unsecured creditors who are not priority (such as credit card companies) must be paid an amount equal to your nonexempt assets. Exemptions assist keep your Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan payments modest by lowering the amount you must pay creditors. See Exemptions in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy for more details.
Bankruptcy Exemptions at the State and Federal Level
There are bankruptcy exemptions in each state. A series of exemptions is also provided by federal law. (See The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions for further information.) Some states force you to use their exemptions, while others allow you to choose between their exemptions and the federal system (you cannot mix and match the two).
The state exemption rules you’ll be able to use will be determined by where you lived in the previous two years (called the “domicile requirements.”). Read Which Exemptions Can You Use In Bankruptcy? for more information on the distinctions between state and federal exemptions and domicile requirements.
Nonbankruptcy Exemptions in the United States
In addition to state and federal bankruptcy exemptions, there are a number of federal nonbankruptcy exemptions. These exemptions work in a similar way to bankruptcy exemptions in terms of preserving your assets. Nonbankruptcy exemptions from the federal government are only available if you use your state’s exemptions (you cannot combine the federal bankruptcy and nonbankruptcy exemptions). You can use nonbankruptcy exemptions in addition to state exemptions if you are using state exemptions. See The Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemptions for further details.