California Bankruptcy Exemption Laws

State Info

California
Population: 33,871,648
Capital: Sacramento 95823
North: Oregon
East: Nevada
South: Arizona
West: Hawaii


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California Homestead | Personal Property (Including Vehicles) | Public Benefits | Pensions |Tools of Trade |Wage Garnishment | Wild Card|

CA Bankruptcy InformationCalifornia Bankruptcy Exemption Laws

(Portions reprinted by permission from How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Nolo © 1989-2009)


Federal Exemptions NOT Available
in California (see below)

California Homestead Exemption

Real or personal property you occupy including mobile home, boat, stock cooperative, community apartment, planned development, or condo to $75,000 if single & not disabled; $100,000 for families if no other member has a homestead (if only one spouse files, may exempt one-half of amount if home held as community property and all of amount if home held as tenants in common); $175,000 if 65 or older, or physically or mentally disabled; $175,000 if 55 or older, single, & gross annual income under $25,000 or married & gross annual income under $35,000 & creditors seek to force the sale of your home; forced sale proceeds received exempt for 6 months after; separated but married debtor may claim homestead in community property still occupied by other spouse. (Husband & wife may not double)  (more...)

Auto/Truck (aka Motor Vehicle)

Motor vehicles to $3,050, or $3,050 in auto insurance for loss or damages (husband and wife may not double)   (more...)

Other Property

Jewelry, heirlooms & art to $8,000 total (husband and wife may not double)Health aids
Building materials to repair or improve home to $3,200 (husband and wife may not double)
Tools, implements, materials, instruments, uniforms, books, furnishings, & equipment to $8,000 total ($14,975 total if used by both spouses in same occupation); amount of exemption for commercial motor vehicle not to exceed $4,850 ($9,700 if used by debtor and spouse in same trade)    (more...)

Wild Card Exemption

None (use federal non-bankruptcy wage exemption)   (more...)

California Wage Garnishment Exemption

Minimum 75% of wages paid within 30 days prior to filing   (more...)

 


More California Exemptions...

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


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Updates & Errata

I've been maintaining these tables since 1997. I try to update them twice a year. Laws change, and, even with a 99.9% accuracy, there are thousands of citations here, so a few might have a glitch or two. If I've missed something important, or something has changed, let me know. I'll fix it. Other users will thank you. - Albin Renauer


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Close What are Bankruptcy Exemptions?

Every state has laws that designate certain types of property (your home, some personal possessions, tools of your trade) that are off-limits to "unsecured" creditors -- that is, creditors who do not have a lien on your property. Credit card debt and medical bills are the two the most common types of unsecured debt (unless you have a special 'secured' credit card).

Unsecured creditors cannot force you to sell your exempt property to pay off the debt. Even if the creditor goes to court wins a court judgment against you, and takes steps to attach a 'judgment lien' to your property, you are still entitled to your exemption amount before any sale proceeds are distributed to the unsecured creditor. (However, some debts, like child support, may be an exception.)

If you eventually do sell your property voluntarily, the creditor has a right to have its lien paid from the sale proceeds before you receive anything. As a practical matter, most people facing bankruptcy only own property that is exempt, and have no interest in selling what they have. If all of your property is protected by exemption laws, you are said to be "judgment proof" -- whether or not you file for bankruptcy.

If you do file for bankruptcy and all your property is exempt, your case is known as a "no asset" bankruptcy--which really means you have no non-exempt assets.

In bankruptcy, a court official called the "bankruptcy trustee" represents the rights of all unsecured creditors. The trustee can assert whatever rights the creditors would have if they had a court judgment against you.

Another important thing to remember about exemptions is that it only protects the "equity" in your property. That is the difference between the value of the property, and what you owe to secured creditors.

If you contractually agreed to pledge your property as collateral for a debt, this property is known as "secured property," and the debt is called a "secured" debt, and the person you owe is a "secured creditor" and they have a "security interest" in the property. If the debt was incurred to purchase the property itself (e.g. a car loan or first mortgage), the creditor is said to have a "purchase money security interest" (PMSI). Exemption laws offer no protection against such contractual agreements that give the creditor a PMSI.

EXAMPLE:

If you owe $10,000 on a $12,000 car, you have only $2,000 in equity. If your state has at least a $2,000 exemption for motor vehicles, that will be enough to protect the car in bankruptcy --(but you'll still need to make the car payments to the secured creditor.

On the other hand, if you own the vehicle free and clear, then your equity is the full value of the vehicle, and a $2,000 exemption would not enough to protect it. The trustee would force the sale of the car, you would get your exemption amount, and the trustee would get the rest of the proceeds to distribute to the unsecured creditors.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

How to file lien avodance motions in bankruptcyThis topic is covered in more detail in Chapters 3, 4 and 5 of How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, 17th Edition, 2011.

Buy now: Nolo (publisher)

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CloseWhich State's Exemptions Must You Use?

Legal test under the new bankruptcy law:

IF you have not lived in California for at least two years...

Then, which state did you consider to be your domicile two years ago?

(If more than one state, choose the state in which you lived most for the six months ending two years ago from this date.)

How to File for BankruptcyExcerpt from
How to File For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

17th Edition, (Nolo 2011)
Elias, Renauer, Leonard

New Residency Requirements for Using State Exemptions

Prior to the new bankruptcy law, filers used the exemptions of the state where they lived when they filed for bankruptcy. Under the new rules, however, some filers will have to use the exemptions of the state where they used to live. Congress was concerned about people gaming the system by moving to states with liberal exemptions just to file for bankruptcy. As a result, it passed residency requirements filers have to meet before they can use a state’s exemption system.
Here are the new rules that apply to exemptions for everything but a home:

  • If you have lived or made your residence in your current state for at least two years, you can use that state’s exemptions.
  • If you have lived or made your residence in your current state for more than 91 days but less than two years, you must use the exemptions of the state where you lived for the better part of the 180-day period immediately prior to the two-year period preceding your filing.
  • If you have lived or made your residence in your current state for fewer than 91 days, you’ll need to wait until you have lived there for at least 91 days before you can file (and then use whatever exemptions are available to you according to the rules set out above).
  • If the state you are filing in offers a choice between the state and federal bankruptcy exemptions, you can use the federal exemption list regardless of how long you’ve been living in the state.
  • If these rules deprive you of the right to use any state’s exemptions, you can use the federal exemption list. For example, some states allow their exemptions to be used only by current state residents, which might leave former residents who haven’t lived in their new home state for at least two years without any available state exemptions.

A longer residency requirement applies to homestead exemptions: If you acquired a home in your current state within the 40 months before you file for bankruptcy (and you didn’t purchase it with the proceeds from selling another home in that state), your homestead exemption will be subject to a cap of $125,000, even if the state homestead exemption available to you is larger. For detailed information on homestead exemptions, see Ch. 4.

NOTE - a potential 'Catch 22': In some states, exemption rules can only be used by a resident, or if you have your "domicile" there. But the federal rule says you must use the state you moved away from. So.... IF your former state's exemption laws, for which you may "qualify" under the federal formula, do not apply to non-residents -- then your your answer gets more complicated. See the site exemptionsexpress.com/How.htm for a more detailed explanation of this issue.

Close

CloseCommon Exceptions to Exemptions:

Child support
Taxes
Secured claim holders
Close

CloseSpecial Rules for Retirement Accounts:

Under a new provision of the bankruptcy law, enacted in October 2005, virtually all types of pension and retirement accounts recognized by the IRS are completely exempt regardless of what state you live in.

This provision exempts "retirement funds to the extent that those funds are in a fund or account that is exempt from taxation under Sections 401, 403, 408, 408A, 414, 457, or 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code."

This list covers 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, IRAs (including SEP and SIMPLE plans), as well as defined-benefit plans.

The exemption applies whether you rely on the list of federal bankruptcy exemptions (11 U.S.C. 522(d)(12)) or the exemption laws of your own state (See 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(3)(C)). Section 522(b)(4) spells out the specific requirements for qualifying under these provisions.

These exemptions are unlimited, except for Roth and traditional IRAs, which are capped at an aggregate IRA account value of $1 million per individual (adjusted every three years for inflation). (See 11 U.S.C. 522(n))

SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, along with all other types of non-IRA retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, are completely exempt.

More Info

For more details, see an excellent summary of how retirement accounts are treated under the new bankruptcy law from the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning.

References to the Internal Revenue Code

The new bankruptcy law exemption for retirement accounts includes all funds "exempt from taxation under section 401, 403, 408, 408A, 414, 457, or 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986."
Those sections cover:

  • 401 (a qualified pension, profit-sharing and stock bonus plan created under a trust established by an employer for the exclusive benefit of employees or beneficiaries)
  • 403 (qualified annuity plans that are established by an employer for an employee under IRC 404(a)(2) or 501(c)(3))
  • 408 (IRAs)
  • 408A (Roth IRAs)
  • 414 (other retirement plan for controlled groups of employees such as churches, partnerships, proprietorships, and governments)
  • 457 (eligible deferred compensation plans) or
  • 501(a) (retirement plans established and maintained by tax-exempt organizations, e.g. churches, nonprofit organizations)

Special 'exclusion' of education accounts

Under the new bankruptcy law, education savings accounts or education IRAs created under sections 529 or 530 of the Internal Revenue Code are 'excluded' from the bankruptcy estate (not quite the same as 'exempt' but with the same result).

See, 11 U.S.C. 541(b)(6), (529 Education Tuition Plans) and 11 U.S.C. 541(b)(5) (530 Coverdell IRAS)

NOTE: Even though these education accounts are excluded from the bankruptcy estate, you still must list them on your forms (See section (11 U.S.C. 521(c).)

Also excluded are:

  • benefits governed by ERISA (Click here for government info on ERISA and pensions.)
  • 414(d)(governmental retirement plans),
  • IRC 457 (deferred compensation)
  • 403(b)( tax deferred annuity plan including church plans, etc)

See 11 U.S.C. 541(b)(7)Close

CloseInsurance Exemption Glossary:

Insurance exemptions use a lingo all their own and some familiarity with the jargon is essential to understanding what is exempt.

Three kinds of insurance assets

You may own a property interest in life insurance in three different ways: you may own an unmatured life insurance contract (with no cash value - e.g. a term life insurance policy), you may own cash value in an unmatured life insurance policy (e.g. a whole life policy), and you may, as a beneficiary, be entitled to proceeds from a matured life insurance policy.

"Matured" simply means that the conditions of the policy have have been met. A matured policy is paying proceeds to the beneficiary of the insured.

An unmatured policy is not paying proceeds, but, can still have a current value in two ways:

1. In the case of a "term life" policy, the continued existence of the contract itself can be said to have value, even if it cannot be converted to cash.

2. Other kinds of of policies can have accumulate value over time, and that value that can be borrowed against, or turned into cash if the policy is 'surrendered' (see "avails" below).

Reading insurance exemptions

Many states have unlimited exemptions for insurance proceeds. However, most states offer only limited exemptions for the cash or loan value of an unmatured policy.

A few states, however, offer unlimited exemptions for the cash value of such policies, or policies offered by 'fraternal benefit societies.' In such states, life insurance is often an important component of an overall asset protection strategy.

Other terms

Avails: Any amount available to the owner of an insurance policy other than the actual proceeds of the policy. Avails include dividend payments, interest, cash or surrender value (the money you'd get if you sold your policy back to the insurance company) and loan value (the amount of cash you can borrow against the policy).

 

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CloseOther Listings of California Exemptions on the Internet

The following websites offer information on California exemptions, but be careful to check whether the information is up to date. Here are a few generally reliable, resources, which may or may not be up to date.

AssetProtectionBook.com A site geared toward the very rich with millions n assets, looking for ways to shield them. Good discussion of using insurance as an exemption. Extensive state by state review of exemptions. Site is updated "when they get around to it" -- no guarantees of currency.

CCH Business Owner's Toolkit Generally, a good reference site for lawyers and small business owners. Exemption summaries do not have citations, nor can you tell when the information was last updated. Exemptions are not up-to-date for several states.

If you have recently moved

ExemptionsExpress offers a handy 50 state table and analysis to deal with the problem of how to comply with potentially conflicting state and federal banrkruptcy exemption laws if you have recently moved from one state to another.

Other Places to research California Law

The Library of Congress offers a directory of state resources for each state

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CloseHow do I eliminate judicial liens on exempt property?

If there is a lien on your property as a result of a court judgment against you, you may have the right to remove it if it "impairs" an exemption on the property. That is, if the equity in your property is protected by an exemption, you can get the judicial lien on it removed by the bankruptcy court as another element of the "fresh start" that bankruptcy is designed to provide.

If there are judicial liens on your property, be sure to determine which ones can be eliminated through the "lien avoidance" procedure. Some liens cannot be removed however, including a judicial lien that secures a domestic support obligation. 11 U.S.C.A. § 522(f)(1)(A).

How to file lien avodance motions in bankruptcyFor more information on lien avoidance, when it's available and step by step procedural guidance how to do it, see How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, 14th Edition, by Elias, Renauer & Leonard. Buy now: Nolo :: Powell's :: Amazon

Note that some judicial district web sites have links for those who provide free legal assistance to debtors who need representation in a lien avoidance proceeding.

Close

CloseDealing with Secured Auto Loans in Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy offers the option of keeping your secured property by immediately paying it's current replacement value of the object rather than the loan amount. This can be an attractive option for those with auto loans where the value of the car has most likely depreciated faster than the loan balance. However, coming up with the full amount in cash can be difficult if not impossible. In the past few years, a few alternatives have arisen.

Vendors of "Redemption Financing"

The companies listed below specializes in making auto loans to bankrupt debtors seeking the bankruptcy option of "redemption" of their vehicle, whereby the debtor keeps the car by immediately paying the vehicle's current market value (replacement value) rather than the full loan amount over time. These companies will finance a new auto loan (generally through a bank) to produce the cash to pay the redemption amount to your original creditor, and then you pay the redemption amount to the new lender over time. Of course, if you miss payments under the new loan, you'll still lose the vehicle, but at least your monthly payments should be smaller. The new lender takes ownership of the lien on your car. Debtors must have an otherwise good credit history to qualify, and the car must be in good enough condition (i.e. worth enough) to protect the bank's loan.

722 Redemption Financing (via US Bank)

This company specializes in making auto loans (through US Bank) to debtors seeking the option of "redemption" available to those in bankruptcy whereby the debtor can keep a car by paying the current market value (replacement value) of the automobile rather than the loan amount. The company will finance redemption of your existing automobile, or arrange financing for a replacement automobile. Debtors must have an otherwise good credit history to qualify. See the site for more information.

The site has special home pages for debtors, debtors attorneys, creditors, creditors attorneys, bankruptcy trustees, auto dealers.

Of course, if you can't make the payments on this revised amount loan, you'll still lose the car, just to a different lender. So this option is only a solution if you can make the payments on the reduced amount.

FreshStart Loan Corporation

Fresh Start Loan Corporation, a Delaware Corporation, dba Redemption Financial Services™ is a duly licensed Consumer Loan Company that began its operations in 1999. The company is now licensed in 12 states*, with licenses pending in 6 states** as of January, 2005.

Paul D. Kirschner, President, General Counsel, Fresh Start Loan Corporation . All employees of Fresh Start Loan Corporation, its loan officers, loan processors, customer service and intake employees are located at our headquarters in Gig Harbor, Washington.

* Licensed in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Utah and Washington
** Licenses Pending in California, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, Nevada and Ohio

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Protecting Your Assets in Bankruptcy: California Property Exemption Laws

Property you get to keep*

The law of what has come to be called "Asset Protection" is actually a mixture of laws that allow you to keep certain property no matter what, even if you owe money to others. Every state has laws that designate specific property you get to keep so that you can continue living a productive life. That is, even if you owe a trillion dollars to someone, the law won't make you sell the shirt off your back to pay it. And in Texas and Florida, they won't even make you sell your million dollar mansion, or in Nevada, your gun.

These rules are called "property exemptions." They vary from state to state. They designate what property is off limits to your 'creditors '-- the legal name for those who claim you owe them money.

When you fill out your bankruptcy forms (Form 6, Schedule C), you will be asked what property you claim as exempt -- and a citation of the law that allows it.

This page gives you those citations and gives a brief summary of the exemption.

The help topics on the right provide additional information.

*Exemptions & "secured debts"

Note that property that is collateral for a purchase-money loan (such as a car securing a car loan or a home securing a first mortgage) is not protected by exemptions from repossession actions by that lender. Any equity you may own in the property is protected and may give you certain rights against holders of judgment liens and second or third lien holders.

Let's repeat that first point before we go further: Exemption laws do NOT protect you from losing property if you've voluntarily pledged the property as security for a loan and you don't make the payments.

Example:
Unsecured vs Secured Debts

So... for example. If you owe $30,000 to credit card companies, that debt is "unsecured". There is no collateral attached to it. No matter what they threaten, the credit card company can't take any of your exempt property. Likewise, most medical bills and lawsuit settlements are "unsecured" debts. If an unsecured creditor bothers to go to court get a judgment against you, they can get the court to attach a "judgment lien" to your property. But if the property is exempt, you typically can (and should) ask the bankruptcy court to remove that lien from your property (but you have to ask -- its not automatic).

Continuing the example ... If you were persuaded to pay off your credit cards and other unsecured debts with a lower interest, "secured" loan, say, from a loan consolidation company, you probably pledged your home equity or other property as collateral.

As a general principle, once you've voluntarily (i.e. through a contract or signing something) pledged your property as security for a loan, the exemption laws no longer protect you. The creditor can repossess the property you pledged regardless of whether it is protected by an exemption.

Note that this is a general principle, among other factors -- more than we can go into here.... That's why we wrote a book... Specific facts might lead the court to apply other principles to, for example, undo a recent transaction if it unfairly benefited a single specific creditor at the expense of many others.

See Chapters 3, 4 and 5 of the How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy for more about this.

 

Conditions of use & common sense advice before you use this information — Permission to use these materials is given only on the condition that the user will be solely responsible for verifying the accuracy of the information contained here.

This list was last updated, March 2009. Laws can and do change. Before relying on this or ANY information you find on the internet, confirm that it is current. (If you find something incorrect or out of date, please report it here. Thanks. )

Every effort has been made to report these laws accurately. However, there could be errors or omissions which could change the effect of the law in a particular case.

If you see a law listed here and want to know how it applies to you -- that's what lawyers are for. A lawyer can tell you whether and how a law would apply to your specific situation, and give you other ideas of how the laws might work in your favor, in your particular case. There are resources on this website to help you locate a lawyer in your area.

Laws are interpreted and applied by trustees and judges, and often even the judges don't agree on what the law means and when it applies. Over time, and hundreds of cases, there develops a pretty clear picture of what exemptions are allowed or routinely challenged within the local bankruptcy practice. Local customs can vary one district to the next, or even depend on the trustee. An experienced local bankruptcy professional should have a good sense of what flies and what doesn't with your local judge and trustee.

See the disclaimer, for other important limitations regarding this information.

The Long Tradition of Property Exemptions

The most famous asset protection law is the "unlimited homestead exemption " invented in the 1800s by the Republic of Texas as a way of attracting settlers. Other states across the plains, and Florida added unlimited homesteads to their laws and today several states still have them. Several years ago Nevada greatly expanded its exemption laws in hopes of becoming a haven for those seeking asset protection. Its generous homestead protection may be partly responsible for the Las Vegas real estate boom. Unfortunately for debtors in the rest of the country, most states offer far less protection.

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California Exemptions

Federal vs. State Exemption Statutes and How to Read Them

Some states offer you a choice of their State law exemptions or the Federal bankruptcy exemptions.

Other states require you to use their state exemptions.

Some states have special exemptions that apply specifically to bankruptcy, while others apply exemption laws that affect any kind of court-ordered collection activity.

As such, the wording of these statutes commonly speak in terms used in court-ordered procedures such wages not being subject to or "garnishment" or of property or pension funds not being subject to "attachment" ...they're not talking sentimental attachment... they mean liens -- that are "attached" to property -- and sometimes can be "stripped" away or "avoided" (i.e. eliminated) in bankruptcy.

Also, unlike what you see on this web page, most states don't list their exemptions in a neat little table.

What appears on this page is a rather simplified summary of exemption laws to let you know what laws are out there and where to find them.

Users should check the actual citations for specific limitations or qualifications or updates of these exemptions.

One more thing... Some states change the emeption amounts by adminstrative order, so the numbers in the statute are old, and don't match current amounts, which you'll see here.

In states where that is the case, I make a note of that.

A few courts offer a simplified list of current exemptions and their amounts, but most don't. Wouldn't hurt to ask the clerk.

 

Federal Bankruptcy Code Exemptions Not Available in California

Although the federal bankruptcy code provides a list of exemptions, these exemptions are not available in California. California law requires you to use the exemptions found in state law -- not the U.S. bankruptcy code.

Federal "non-bankruptcy" exemptions are available

However you are entitled to use so-called federal "non-bankruptcy" exemptions in addition to your state law exemptions. Non-bankruptcy exemptions are those found provisions of U.S. law that are not part of the bankruptcy code.

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,
  • Veterans Benefits

Other so called "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, seamen, and longshoremen.

Special Notes regarding California exemptions:

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions not available. California has two systems; you must select one or the other. Most law references are to the California Code of Civil Procedure. Many exemptions do not apply to claims for child support.

Joint filers cannot double California exemptions. Unlike most states, under California law, joint filers may not double exemptions with specific dollar limitations unless clearly stated otherwise in the exemption law. Code Civ. Pro. § 703.110 ("Where the property exempt under a particular exemption is limited to a specified maximum dollar amount, unless the exemption provision specifically provides otherwise, the two spouses together are entitled to one exemption limited to the specified maximum dollar amount, whether one or both of the spouses are judgment debtors under the judgment and whether the property sought to be applied to the satisfaction of the judgment is separate or community.")

Note: California's exemption amounts are no longer updated in the statutes themselves. California Code of Civil Procedure section 703.150 deputizes the California judicial council to update the exemption amounts every three years. (The last revision was in 2016; the next will be 2019.) As a result, the amounts listed in this chart (from the 2016 revisions) may not match the amounts that appear in the cited statutes. The current exemption amounts can be found on the California Judicial Council Website. http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/documents/ej156.pdf

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California Homestead Exemption

Home Valuation tools

Zillow.com Recommended! Wonderful tool that shows home values in your neighborhood. This link will take you to a listing of the average home value in your zip code. 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.)

Yahoo Real Estate offers comparable home sales in your neighborhood.

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 $125,000. (If your states 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 California within in the last two years, click here.

California System 2 Exemptions

  • Real or personal property, including co-op, used as residence to $26,800; unused portion of homestead may be applied to any property
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.140 (b)(1)
    In re Talmadge, 832 F.2d 1120 (9th Cir 1987)

California System 1 Exemptions

  • CA Exemptions
  • May file homestead declaration to protect exemption amount from attachment of judicial liens and to protect proceeds of voluntary sale for 6 months.
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.920
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.950
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.960
  • Real or personal property you occupy including mobile home, boat, stock cooperative, community apartment, planned development, or condo to $75,000 if single & not disabled; $100,000 for families if no other member has a homestead (if only one spouse files, may exempt one-half of amount if home held as community property and all of amount if home held as tenants in common); $175,000 if 65 or older, or physically or mentally disabled; $175,000 if 55 or older, single, & with gross annual income under $25,000 or married & gross annual income under $35,000 & creditors seek to force the sale of your home; forced sale proceeds received exempt for 6 months after; separated but married debtor may claim homestead in community property still occupied by other spouse. (Husband & wife may not double)
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.710
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.720
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.730
    In re McFall, 112 B.R. 336 (9th Cir. B.A.P. 1990)
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 703.150 (c)

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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. The website AssetProtectionBook.com does particularly thorough job of covering California insurance exemptions.

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

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Miscellaneous other exemptions

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

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

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Pensions & retirement savings

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. Section 522(a)(3)(C). (See Help Topic: Special Rules For Retirement Accounts.)

The law protects any pension or retirement fund that qualifies for special tax treatment under Internal Revenue Code sections 401, 402, 403, 408, 408A.

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

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Personal property exemptions

Auto Valuation Tools:

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

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

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.

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

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Public benefits exemption

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

California System 1 Exemptions

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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.

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

  • Commercial vehicle (Vehicle Code § 260) to $4,850 ($9,700 total if used by both spouses in same occupation)
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.060
  • Tools, implements, materials, instruments, uniforms, books, furnishings, & equipment to $8,000 total ($15,975 total if used by both spouses in same occupation);
    Commercial motor vehicle to $4,850 ($9,700 if used by debtor and spouse in same trade)
    Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 704.060

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Wage garnishment exemption

Federal non-bankruptcy law limits how much of your pay can be taken for collection purposes. Most state laws also cover this and may offer more protection. Most states have special limits for collection of spousal or child support.

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

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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.

California System 2 Exemptions

California System 1 Exemptions

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 in March 2009.)

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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Welcome, California users of Nolo's

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
LegalConsumer.com helps you find local information and services to help you file for bankruptcy.

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Exemption Laws of Other States

Alabama Bankruptcy Exemptions

Alaska Bankruptcy Exemptions

Arizona Bankruptcy Exemptions

Arkansas Bankruptcy Exemptions

California Bankruptcy Exemptions

Colorado Bankruptcy Exemptions

Connecticut Bankruptcy Exemptions

Delaware Bankruptcy Exemptions

District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions

Florida Bankruptcy Exemptions

Georgia Bankruptcy Exemptions

Hawaii Bankruptcy Exemptions

Idaho Bankruptcy Exemptions

Illinois Bankruptcy Exemptions

Indiana Bankruptcy Exemptions

Iowa Bankruptcy Exemptions

Kansas Bankruptcy Exemptions

Kentucky Bankruptcy Exemptions

Louisiana Bankruptcy Exemptions

Maine Bankruptcy Exemptions

Maryland Bankruptcy Exemptions

Massachusetts Bankruptcy Exemptions

Michigan Bankruptcy Exemptions

Minnesota Bankruptcy Exemptions

Mississippi Bankruptcy Exemptions

Missouri Bankruptcy Exemptions

Montana Bankruptcy Exemptions

Nebraska Bankruptcy Exemptions

Nevada Bankruptcy Exemptions

New Hampshire Bankruptcy Exemptions

New Jersey Bankruptcy Exemptions

New Mexico Bankruptcy Exemptions

New York Bankruptcy Exemptions

North Carolina Bankruptcy Exemptions

North Dakota Bankruptcy Exemptions

Ohio Bankruptcy Exemptions

Oklahoma Bankruptcy Exemptions

Oregon Bankruptcy Exemptions

Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Exemptions

Rhode Island Bankruptcy Exemptions

South Carolina Bankruptcy Exemptions

South Dakota Bankruptcy Exemptions

Tennessee Bankruptcy Exemptions

Texas Bankruptcy Exemptions

Utah Bankruptcy Exemptions

Vermont Bankruptcy Exemptions

Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions

Washington Bankruptcy Exemptions

West Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions

Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions

Wyoming Bankruptcy Exemptions

 

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