5 Things You Need To Know About Bankruptcy Exemptions Before Your Case Is Filed

28 Aug 5 Things You Need To Know About Bankruptcy Exemptions Before Your Case Is Filed

When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, there are some things you get to keep and other things you can’t protect. Knowing the ground rules makes the process easier for all involved.

The bankruptcy laws recognize that when you’re in debt, you shouldn’t be penalized by having all of your stuff carted away and sold for your creditors.

It’s not all for your benefit, however. If you were rendered penniless, it would be difficult for you to keep from becoming a burden on the government in the form of housing, clothing, and public assistance benefits.

Rather than having to give up your stuff when you file for bankruptcy, you can claim what’s called an exemption on certain property up to specified dollar limits.

But all exemptions are not created equal. Here’s what you need to know.

Most Bankruptcy Exemptions Are Local

Though bankruptcy is federal law, many states follow their own exemption schemes.

New York gives you the choice of using federal exemptions from the U.S. Bankruptcy Code or the state-mandated ones.

California doesn’t allow you to use the federal exemptions but has two different sets of state exemptions.

To make things more difficult, the rules may not apply if you moved into your state of residence within the past two years.

Your state looks different than the other ones for bankruptcy exemption purposes, so talk with a bankruptcy in your state before asking whether you’re going to be able to keep your car or home in bankruptcy.

But Some Bankruptcy Exemptions Are Federal

Some types of property are covered entirely by federal law. For example, pensions are exempted under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Bankruptcy Exemptions Are Controllable

When you file for bankruptcy, you want to know what you can keep. So long as you value your property and provide the information to your lawyer before the case is filed, he or she will be able to tell you exactly what’s protected and what’s not.

If there’s an asset you will lose in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can make a decision about whether to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead – or opt to not file for bankruptcy at all.

Either way, it’s your decision to make.

Bankruptcy Exemptions Are A Specialized Art

Yes, you can find the proper exemption amounts in your state law or in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. But without a level of experience in handling bankruptcy cases, you’re rolling the dice.

In fact, many websites get the exemptions wrong in spite of efforts to the contrary.

You can be sure that your trustee won’t get them wrong, though. And when you’re sitting at a meeting of creditors, you definitely do not want to be working under incorrect assumptions.

Disclose, Disclose, Disclose

If you don’t list a debt, you may not be able to wipe it out in bankruptcy.

If you don’t disclose an asset, the trustee can take it away from you. You can’t exempt something you don’t list, after all. You may also face criminal penalties for bankruptcy fraud.


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Jay S. Fleischman is a bankruptcy lawyer with offices in Los Angeles and New York. He can often be found on Google+ and Twitter, where he shares information about consumer protection issues and personal finance.
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