California Bankruptcy Exemptions

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California Exemption Categories
Overview

How Exemptions Work In California

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions NOT Available

California does not allow use of the Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions.

Two Exemptions Systems Offered Under State Law

California  has two systems of exemptions under its state law. You must choose one state system or the other.

And you may use the Federal Non-Bankruptcy exemptions listed below.

The ‘homeowner’ set of California exemptions  — Section 704 offers a more generous homestead exemption up to $626,000, or less, depending on your county, but has no wild card exemption, and has a smaller exemption for motor vehicles but a larger exemption for jewelry.

The ’non-homeowner’ set of California exemptions —  Section 703 set of exemptions, under California Code of Civil Procedure § 703, basically mirrors the federal exemption system under 11 USC section 522, offering a homestead exemption of $29,275, but that exemption can be used as a wildcard exemption for personal property if you don't use that amount to protect real estate.

California does NOT allow doubling

The California State Law exemptions may not be doubled by joint filers.

Other Listings of California Exemptions on the Web

Nolo, and UpSolve both offer listings of California exemptions.

Exemptions in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13

You can protect property covered by an exemption regardless of whether you file for Chapter 7 or 13. But each chapter treats nonexempt property—things not covered by an exemption—differently.

  • In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee sells nonexempt property and distributes the proceeds to creditors.
  • In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you keep everything you own. However your repayment plan must pay the value of the nonexempt property equity, or your disposable income, whichever is more.

The different approaches ensure that creditors receive the same amount regardless of the chapter filed.

Sources of Exemption Laws

Bankruptcy law is federal, but the laws regarding debts, collection, and property have traditionally resided in state law.

State Exemption Laws

Every state has its own set of exemptions laws.

These laws specify what kinds of property are "exempt from attachment" by a creditor in those states. These laws informally known as "exemption laws."

Where State Exemption Laws Are Found

State exemption laws are often are collected under one section of a statute or chapter of the state statutes, but miscellaneous exemption provisions commonly exist throughout the laws of a state — in various provisions about pensions, insurance, and government benefits, for example.

Federal "Non-Bankruptcy" Exemptions

In addition to your state exemptions, various kinds of federal benefits, retirement accounts and other things are exempt under federal law, separate and apart from the Federal Bankruptcy Code — Title 11 of the United States Code (11 U.S.C.). 

In all but 19 states, you must use these laws to protect your property, like your car and your house.

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions Under Section 522 —
an Alternative System Available in 19 States

In 19 states you have the option of using the Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions  found in (11 U.S.C. Section 522(d)) AlaskaArkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin.

Which exemptions system you should choose may depend on the particular facts of your situation, where you live, and what kinds of property you own. 

Exemption Categories

We have categorized state and federal exemptions by category

Real Estate: Homestead

Personal Property:

Doubling Exemptions for Joint Filers?

When a married couple files for bankruptcy jointly, federal law and the laws of many states allow them each to claim the full amount of an exemption.
(11 U.S.C. § 522.) Because a couple gets to claim twice the amount available to those who file alone, this practice is informally known as “doubling.”

Not all states allow doubling, however. (California, for example, does not.) And some states allow married couples to double only certain exemptions (for example, they might be able to double personal property exemptions but not the homestead exemption). In the charts that follow, we indicate exemptions that cannot be doubled (and states that don’t allow doubling at all). Unless you see a note stating that you cannot double, assume that you can.

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions NOT Available in California

California has opted out of the Federal Exemptions (see below)

Does California Adjust Exemptions for Inflation?

California updates its exemption amounts every three years. (§703.150) (The last revision was  in 2022; the next will be April 1, 2025.) As a result, the amounts listed in this chart (from the 2019 revisions) may not match the amounts that appear in the cited statutes. The 2022 exemption amounts can be found on form EJ-156 the California Judicial Council Website.

California Exemption Categories
Homestead

2022 California Exemption Calculator California Homestead Exemption

California residents saw a more generous homestead exemption, as of January 1, 2021, when the standard Homestead exemption increased from $75,000 to a range from $300,000 to  $600,000 depending on your county.  California exemption amouts are adjusted every three years for inflation on April 1, so that amount as of April 1, 2022 is $313,000 to  $626,000 depending on your county.

LegalConsumer.com has added a California Exemption Calculator to help you quickly find what the exemption amount is in your county.

The new law states that the homestead exemption amount is based on:

  • the median county-wide sale price for a home
  • in the previous calendar year
  • But not less than $300,000
  • and not more than $600,000.

The California Homestead calculator shows you the 2021 overall median sales price for every county in California county based on available numbers from the California Realtors Association. The numbers you see in the calculator are based on the 12 month average of monthly median numbers for January 2021 through December 2021. 

State/Region/County

Feb.

2021

Exemption Amt

San Francisco Bay Area

 

 

Alameda

$1,100,000

$626,000

Contra Costa

$817,500

$626,000

Marin

$1,540,000

$626,000

Napa

$931,500

$626,000

San Francisco

$1,786,400

$626,000

San Mateo

$1,900,000

$626,000

Santa Clara

$1,486,250

$626,000

Solano

$509,750

$509,750

Sonoma

$740,000

$626,000

Southern California

 

 

Los Angeles

$686,760

$626,000

Orange

$995,000

$626,000

Riverside

$519,500

$519,500

San Bernardino

$389,900

$389,900

San Diego

$765,000

$626,000

Ventura

$750,000

$626,000

Central Coast

 

 

Monterey

$820,000

$626,000

San Luis Obispo

$700,000

$626,000

Santa Barbara

$1,174,080

$626,000

Santa Cruz

$1,058,000

$626,000

Central Valley

 

 

Fresno

$350,000

$350,000

Glenn

$319,500

$319,500

Kern

$295,000

$313,000

Kings

$280,000

$313,000

Madera

$354,500

$354,500

Merced

$318,750

$318,750

Placer

$599,500

$599,500

Sacramento

$463,000

$463,000

San Benito

$700,000

$626,000

San Joaquin

$436,300

$436,300

Stanislaus

$405,000

$405,000

Tulare

$288,500

$313,000

Far North

 

 

Butte

$397,000

$397,000

Lassen

$208,250

$313,000

Plumas

$329,500

$329,500

Shasta

$329,950

$329,950

Siskiyou

$322,500

$322,500

Tehama

$299,000

$313,000

Other Calif. Counties

 

 

Amador

$406,280

$406,280

Calaveras

$441,500

$441,500

Del Norte

$359,000

$359,000

El Dorado

$577,500

$577,500

Humboldt

$360,000

$360,000

Lake

$326,500

$326,500

Mariposa

$397,500

$397,500

Mendocino

$525,000

$525,000

Mono

$1,435,000

$626,000

Nevada

$519,500

$519,500

Sutter

$395,000

$395,000

Tuolumne

$375,000

$375,000

Yolo

$520,000

$520,000

Yuba

$370,000

$370,000

Source: February home sales and price report - California Association of Realtors



Homestead Exemptions - State System

Homestead Exemption Under California Law

$300,000 to $600,000 depending on county, and median sale price for a home in prior calendar year.

2021 California Homestead Caclulator (by County)

Amount Joint amount

$313,000 to $626,000 depending on county

$313,000 to $626,000 depending on county

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

NOTE: Residency Requirement Caps Maximum Homestead at $189,050 if you've recently moved to a State that allows more than that

Under the 2005 bankruptcy law, you must be have lived in the state for at least 40 months (3 years + 4 months) before you can claim any homestead protection greater than $189,050. (If your state's exemption offers less than this amount, the law is irrelevant to you.) .

IF you are moving to another state, OR you moved to California within in the last two years, click here.

Federal Non-Bankruptcy Homestead Exemptions

These are exemptions under federal law, but and are NOT part of the bankruptcy code list of exemptions in 522(d), so states cannot "opt out" from these exemptions. These exemptions available in every State ONLY IF you are using the state exemptions. You cannot use these exemptions if you are using the federal bankruptcy exemption scheme under § 522(d)

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Homestead Exemptions - Federal System § 522(d)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.

Home Valuation tool

Just add your street address to get an estimate of the value of your house, and all others in your neighborhood. (Note: Does not serve all areas, and valuations are imperfect estimates only.)

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California Exemption Categories
Tenancy By The Entirety

Does California Recognize Tenancy by the Entirety?

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California Exemption Categories
Personal Property

California Motor Vehicle Exemption & Other Personal Property Exemptions

California Personal Property Exemptions — State System

Personal Property Exemptions Under California Law

CAR:

Motor vehicles to $3,825, or $3,825 in auto insurance for loss or damages (husband and wife may not double)

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

Federal Non-Bankruptcy Personal Property Exemptions
(available only if using State System)

Personal Property Exemptions — Federal System § 522(d)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.
Personal Property Exemptions in Other States

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California Exemption Categories
Tools of Trade

California Tools of Trade Exemptions

Tools of Trade Exemptions — State System

California Law Tools of Trade Exemptions

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

Federal non-bankrupcty Tools of Trade Exemptions

Tools of Trade Exemptions — Federal System § 522(d)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.
Tools of Trade Exemptions in Other States

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California Exemption Categories
WildCard

California WildCard Exemption

Wildcard Exemptions — State System

California Law Exemptions

None (use federal non-bankruptcy wage exemption)

Deposit Accounts  to amount "necessary for the support of the judgment debtor, as well as the judgment debtor’s spouse and dependents"(CCP 704.225.) Using this exemption, a family living paycheck to paycheck could likely exempt an entire account balance; however, courts have yet to weigh in on the new law. A debtor must assert this exemption for it to apply.

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

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Federal Non-Bankruptcy Wildcard Exemptions (none)

Wildcard Exemptions -- Federal System § 522(d)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.

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WildCard Exemptions in Other States

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California Exemption Categories
Wages

California Wage Garnishment Exemption

Wage Exemptions -- State System

California Law Wage Garnishment Limits

In California, your wages are protected to 75% of wages or 40 times state minimum wage ($12/hour for large employers, otherwise $11) or local minimum wage; more if debtor proves that higher amount is needed. Garnishment is limited to 50% of amount in excess of 40 times state or local minimum wage.

California earned a "C" from NCLC because its garnishment law protect at least $350 per week.

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

Federal Non-Bankruptcy Law
(available only if using State System)

Federal "non-bankruptcy" law also offers exemption protection for wages.

Wage Garnishment — Federal System § 522 (no exemption)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.
 California collections law and federal labor law (a federal non-bankruptcy exemption) set limits on what wages can be garnished.
 
The Wage Garnishment exemption in bankruptcy is for "earned by unpaid wages"... that is wages you'd earned as of the date you filed, but hadn't been paid for yet.
In a few states, the exemption protects earlier wages deposited in a bank account.
 
As the NCLC pointed out in a 2019 survey of state wage garnishment laws, some states fail to guarantee that a debtor can earn a poverty wage, free of garnishment.

See also on LegalConsumer.com

From Elsewhere on the web:

Wage Garnishment in Other States

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California Exemption Categories
Insurance

California Insurance Exemptions - Life, Disability, Survivors Benefits

Insurance Exemptions — State System

California State Law Insurance Exemptions

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

Federal Non-Bankruptcy Insurance Exemptions
(available if using State System of exemptions)

Federal System § 522(d) — Insurance Exemptions 

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.

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California Exemption Categories
Pensions & Retirement Assets

California Pension and Retirement Exemptions
Will I Lose My Retirement Savings If I File For Bankruptcy?

Virtually all types of tax-exempt retirement accounts are exempt in bankruptcy, whether you use the state or federal exemptions. You can exempt 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, IRAs (including Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE IRAs), and defined-benefit plans.

These exemptions are unlimited—that is, the entire account is exempt, regardless of how much money is in it—except in the case of traditional and Roth IRAs. For these types of IRAs only, the exemption is limited to a total value of $1,512,350 per person (this figure will be adjusted every three years for inflation). If you have more than one traditional or Roth IRA, you don’t get to exempt $1,512,350 per account; your total exemption, no matter how many accounts you have, is $1,512,350.

  • If you are using the federal bankruptcy exemptions, you can find this retirement account provision at 11 U.S.C. § 522(d)(12) and the current exemption amount in 11 U.S.C. § 522(n).
  • If you are using state exemptions, cite 11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C) as the applicable exemption when you complete your bankruptcy papers.

Pension & Retirement Exemptions — State System

Pension & Retirement Exemptions under California Law 

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

Federal Non-Bankruptcy Pension & Retirement Exemptions
(available only if using State System)

Pension & Retirement Exemptions — Federal System § 522(d)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.

Pension & Retirement Exemptions in Other States

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California Exemption Categories
Public Benefits

Public Benefits Exemptions for California

Public Benefits Exemptions — State System

California Law — Public Benefits Exemptions

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

Federal "Non-Bankruptcy" Public Benefits exemptions
(available in if using state system)

Public Benefits Exemptions — Federal System §522(d)

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.
Public Benefits Exemptions in Other States

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California Exemption Categories
Miscellaneous

California Miscellaneous Exemptions

Miscellaneous Exemptions -- State System

Miscellaneous Exemptions Under California Law

See also, "Wildcard"

California Exemption System 1

California Exemption System 2

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Miscellaneous Exemptions Under Federal Non-Bankruptcy Law

Miscellaneous Exemptions -- Federal System § 522

Can California debtors use the Federal Bankruptcy exemptions instead of California exemptions?

No. Federal exemptions not available. Instead, California has two systems of exemptions, one of which closely mirrors the federal scheme. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.130 

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The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions under 11 U.S.C. § 522(d) are available to you if

  • you haven't lived in any state longer than 180 days for a while,
  • or
  • if your state allows the Federal exemptions as a choice.
Miscellaneous Exemptions in Other States

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