District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions


(Portions reprinted by permission from How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Nolo © 1989-2019 )

District of Columbia Bankrupcty Exemptions Summary

(details below...)

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions Also Available
(see below)

Homestead

Any property used as a residence or co-op that debtor or debtor's dependent uses as a residence

  (more...)

Auto/Truck (aka Motor Vehicle)

Any property used as a residence or co-op that debtor or debtor's dependent uses as a residence

  (more...)

Personal Property

Any property used as a residence or co-op that debtor or debtor's dependent uses as a residence

   (more...)

Wild Card

Any property used as a residence or co-op that debtor or debtor's dependent uses as a residence

  (more...)

Wage Garnishment Law

Any property used as a residence or co-op that debtor or debtor's dependent uses as a residence

  (more...)

More District of Columbia Exemptions...

[Click here for more info & citations...]

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District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions

District of Columbia Offers a Choice of Federal or State Exemptions

District of Columbia law allows you to use the exemptions found in the U.S. bankruptcy code (11 U.S.C. § 522(d)) or the exemptions provided under District of Columbia law. However, you cannot mix and match exemptions from the federal bankruptcy code and state law. You must choose one system or the other.

However, if you use the state law exemptions, there are a few U.S. 'non-bankruptcy' exemptions (that is, exemptions that exist outside of federal bankruptcy code) that you can use in addition to your state law exemptions. The four most significant non-bankruptcy exemptions are for:

  • Wages (a general cap on what percentage of your wages can be garnished)
  • Social Security benefits
  • Civil Service benefits, and
  • Veterans Benefits

Other non-bankruptcy exemptions mostly deal with various benefits to government and military personnel, with a few odd laws regarding specially regulated labor markets such as railroad workers, merchant sailors, and longshoremen.

NOTE: Federal Exemption amounts listed below reflect the April 1, 2019 adjustment for inflation every three years, and therefore do not match the figures shown in the federal exemption statutes. Click here for the April 1, 2019 inflation adjustments to Federal bankruptcy exemption amounts, published in the Federal Register.

Can you double exemptions for joint filers? (General principles)

If you are married and filing together, you and your spouse must use the same law; one cannot use federal law while the other uses state law. However, the exemption law chosen applies separately to each spouse. Thus, it is generally possible to double the amount of state law exemptions, Cheeseman v. Nachman, 656 F.2d 60 (4th Cir. 1981) (married couple filing a joint petition was entitled to double the Virginia homestead exemption), unless state law (e.g. California) specifically prohibits a couple from doubling certain exemptions. See First National Bank v. Norris, 701 F.2d 902 (11th Cir. 1984)(Alabama); Granger v. Watson, 754 F.2d 1490 (9th Cir. 1985)(California).

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

Citations and links to primary law and secondary sources are provided for those who wish to do further research. Every effort has been made to make this information up to date and accurate, but laws can and do change without notice. Persons relying on this information are responsible for confirming its timeliness and accuracy before relying on it. (This information was updated for April 2019.)

Also bear in mind that these brief summaries do not list every detail or exception to these exemptions. For example, there are often exceptions for collection of child support debt and/or taxes. These listings are designed to inform you of laws that exist for your benefit, so that you may exercise what rights you may have.

Finally, this website is intended to provide information only. It cannot answer whether your property does or does not qualify for a specific exemption.

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District of Columbia Homestead Exemption

Almost every state provides protection for equity in the family home, and many states have increased the amount of protection in recent years. Seven states offer unlimited protection. Most states are not as generous.

New Federal Residency Requirement

Under the new bankruptcy law, you must be have lived in the state for at least 40 months (three years and four months) before you can claim any homestead protection greater than $160,375. (If your state's exemption offers less than this amount, the law is irrelevant to you.) The law is poorly worded but seems to say that if you move from one home to another in the same state, you can claim that state's homestead protection.

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


District of Columbia Exemptions

  • DC Exemptions
  • Any property used as a residence or co-op that debtor or debtor's dependent uses as a residence
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(14)

Federal Exemptions

  • Real property, including co-op or mobile home, or burial plot to $25,150; unused portion of homestead to $12,575 may be applied to any property
    11 U.S.C. 522 (d)(1), (d)(5)

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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Tenancy by Entirety Exemption

Tenancy by the Entirety (TBE) is a form of property ownership, based on traditional English common law, that is still recognized in about 1/2 of states and the most common form of martial property ownership in many of them.

It protects property that is jointly owned by a married couple as an "entirety" -- which is to say, as a single marital entity, not as individuals.

Tenancy by the Entirety (TBE) was originally conceived as a debt shield -- a way of protecting wives and children from being left homeless and penniless as a result of the debts of a husband. Under the English common law TBE doctrine, a husband could not sell property owned by "the entirety", or give it away, or pledge it as security for a loan without the consent of his wife.

Today, 25 states still recognize some form of tenancy by the entirety, but they differ on the extent to which the property is exempt.

District of Columbia Exemptions

Federal Exemptions

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District of Columbia Insurance exemptions

Virtually all states protect life insurance proceeds in some manner or another. Some restrict it to proceeds paid to a dependent. Many states also protect the cash-value or loan-value of insurance policies.

If a substantial amount of your assets are in life insurance, you may want to consult a professional to determine the extent to which those policies are exempt.

District of Columbia Exemptions

  • Disability benefits
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(7)
    D.C. Code Ann. 31-4716.01
  • Fraternal benefit society benefits
    D.C. Code Ann. 31-5315
  • Group life insurance policy or proceeds
    D.C. Code Ann. 31-4717
  • Life insurance payments
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(11)
  • Life insurance proceeds if clause prohibits proceeds from being used to pay beneficiary's creditors
    D.C. Code Ann. 31-4719
  • Life insurance proceeds or avails
    D.C. Code Ann. 31-4716
  • Other insurance proceeds to $200 per month, maximum 2 months, for head of family; else $60 per month
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-503
  • Unmatured life insurance contract other than credit life insurance (a)(5)
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(5)

Federal Exemptions

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Miscellaneous other exemptions for District of Columbia

This category covers items like partnership property, alimony & support payments.

District of Columbia Exemptions

Federal Exemptions

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District of Columbia Pensions & Retirement Savings Exemptions

The new federal bankruptcy law now automatically exempts a virtually all tax-exempt pensions and retirement savings accounts from bankruptcy, even if you are using state law exemptions. 11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C). (See Help Topic: Special Rules For Retirement Accounts.)

The law protects up to $1,283,025 of any pension or retirement fund that qualifies forspecial tax treatment under Internal Revenue Code sections 401,402, 403, 408, 408A, 414, 457, or 501(a).

Federal Exemptions

  • All types of retirement funds and accounts that tax-exempt under IRC section 401, 403, 408, 408A, 414, 457, or 501(a) ; IRAs & Roth IRAs limited to $1,362,800 (excluding rollover contributions); limitation can be overidden by judge.
    11 U.S.C. 522 (d)(12)
    11 U.S.C. 522 (n)

District of Columbia Exemptions

  • Any stock bonus, annuity, pension, or profit-sharing plan
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(7)
  • ERISA-qualified benefits, IRAs, Keoghs, etc. to maximum deductible contribution
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (b)(9)
  • Judges
    D.C. Code Ann. 11-1570 (f)
  • Police officers, fire fighters, and teachers retirement benefits
    D.C. Code Ann. 1-911.03
  • Public school teachers
    D.C. Code Ann. 38-2001.17
    D.C. Code Ann. 38-2021.17

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District of Columbia Personal Property Exemptions

This category covers your car, your non-retirement bank accounts, and most of your other personal possessions, other than your house.

States vary widely on how generous they are in this area. Some exemptions may be for any combination of property up to an aggregate amount. Other exemptions apply only to specific items, such as jewelry.

Remember that an exemption will not protect your car from being repossessed by the holder of the car loan you used to purchase the vehicle if you pledged the vehicle as security for the loan. To keep the car, you will have to pursue other options such as 'redemption' or 'reaffirmation.' See the help topics and How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy for more on this.

District of Columbia Exemptions

  • All family pictures; and all the family library, to $400
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(8)
  • Appliances, books, clothing, household furnishings, and goods, musical instruments, pets to $425 per item or $8,625 total
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(2)
  • Cemetery and burial funds
    D.C. Code Ann. 43-111
  • Cooperative association holdings to $500
    D.C. Code Ann. 29-928
  • Food for 3 months
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(12)
  • Health aids
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(6)
  • Higher education tuition savings account
    D.C. Code Ann. 47-4510
  • Motor vehicle to $2,575
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(1)
  • Payment including pain & suffering for loss of debtor or person depended on
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(11)
  • Residential condominium deposit
    D.C. Code Ann. 42-1904.09
  • Uninsured motorist benefits
    D.C. Code Ann. 31-2408.01 (h)
  • Wrongful death damages
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(11)
    D.C. Code Ann. 16-2703

Federal Exemptions

Auto Valuation Tools:

Both of these websites offer interactive tools to determine the current value of your used car.

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District of Columbia Public Benefits Exemptions

Most states exempt public benefits, consistent with the notion that such benefits are intended as a safety net for the recipient.

District of Columbia Exemptions

Federal Exemptions

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District of Columbia Tools of Trade Exemptions

These are the things you use to make a living. An automobile or truck can be a tool of trade if you use it as such. Commuting to work doesn't count, but if driving is a necessary component of transacting your business, you can claim your vehicle is a tool of trade.

District of Columbia Exemptions

Federal Exemptions

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District of Columbia Wage Garnishment Laws

Most states have a wage garnishment law. In some states, wage garnishment laws can be used in bankruptcy as an exemption to protect income that you had coming due, but not yet received, as of the day you filed, for work you had already done -- so called "earned but unpaid wages".

In some states, the wage garnishment law protects not only wages owed to you, but also wages already in your possession and saved over time preferably holding it in a separate bank account. In other states wage garnishment laws do not protect wages once they are they are in your possession.

District of Columbia Exemptions

  • Minimum 75% of earned but unpaid wages, pension payments; bankruptcy judge may authorize more for low-income debtors
    D.C. Code Ann. 16-572
  • Nonwage (including pension & retirement) earnings to $200/mo for head of family; else $60/mo for a maximum of two months
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-503
  • Payment for loss of future earnings
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (e)(11)
  • Wages of prisoners in a work release program
    D.C. Code Ann. 24-241.06

Federal Exemptions

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District of Columbia Wild Card Exemption

Most, but not all, states allow a so-called "wild-card" exemption that can apply to any property. The wild card exemption can be of particular help if one or more of your other exemptions falls short of protecting your equity. You may split your wild card exemption amount over multiple items and stack it atop other exemptions as needed to protect exposed equity.

District of Columbia Exemptions

  • Up to $850 in any property, plus up to $8,075 of unused homestead exemption
    D.C. Code Ann. 15-501 (a)(3)

Federal Exemptions

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