California Bankruptcy Exemptions

Find out whether you'll be able to protect all of your property in a California bankruptcy.

Updated: April 4, 2019

You won’t lose everything when filing for bankruptcy in California. You’ll be able to use California’s bankruptcy exemptions to protect the things you’ll need to work and live, such as your home, personal items, and a retirement account.

Learn more in Filing Bankruptcy in California.

California Exemptions v. Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

California is unique among the states in that it has two different sets of exemptions that you may use when filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Exemptions determine what property you can protect, such as a home, car, instrument, or retirement account.

Some states allow debtors to choose between the state exemption system and a set of federal bankruptcy exemptions, but California is not one of them. In California, you must use one of the state exemption systems below. Be sure to compare each set to see which works best in your situation. In addition to using either 703 or 704 exemptions (named for the code section in which they appear), you can also use any applicable amounts in the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

Common California Bankruptcy Exemptions

Here are some of the more common exemptions in California. When reviewing them, you’ll want to keep these things in mind:

  • Joint filing. Spouses filing together in California can’t double the exemption amounts, except in a few noted cases.
  • List and verify your exemptions. You must claim an exemption by listing it in the official bankruptcy forms. You might qualify for exemptions not included in this article, or be required to meet qualification requirements. Consulting with a local bankruptcy attorney is the best way to ensure that you’re protecting your assets.
  • Legal citations. You’ll find each of the statutes in the California Code or the federal law.

California 704 Bankruptcy Exemptions

Unless otherwise noted, all law references are to the California Code of Civil Procedure.

California Homestead Exemption

704.730 - Real or personal property occupied at time of filing for bankruptcy, including mobile home, boat, stock cooperative, community apartment, planned development or condominium, up to the following limits: $75,000 if single and not disabled; $100,000 if family and no other member has homestead; $175,000 if 65 or older or if physically or mentally disabled; $175,000 if creditors are seeking to force sale of your home, and you are either (a) 55 or older, single and earn under $25,000 per year, or (b) 55 or older, married and earn under $35,000 per year. Sale proceeds are exempt for up to 6 months after the sale.

704.920 - Homestead declaration may be filed to protect the proceeds of a voluntary sale up to 6 months or to protect the exemption amount from a judicial lien.

California Motor Vehicle Exemption

704.010 - Motor vehicle or auto insurance if vehicle lost, destroyed or damaged up to $3,325 (spouses may not double).

Other California Exemptions

704.020 - Food, clothing, appliances, and furnishings.

704.030 - Building materials to repair or improve home up to $3,500 (spouses may not double).

704.040 - Jewelry, heirlooms and art up to $8,725 total (spouses may not double).

704.050 - Health aids.

704.080 - Bank deposits from Social Security Administration up to $3,500 for a single payee ($5,250 for husband and wife payees) and unlimited if funds are not commingled; Bank deposits from other public benefits up to $1,750 ($2,600 for husband and wife).

704.140 & 704.150 - Personal injury causes of action and wrongful death causes of action. Wrongful death and personal injury recoveries that are needed for support.

704.200 - Burial plot.

Learn how to keep non-exempt property when filing bankruptcy.

Wages

704.070 - 75% of wages paid within 30 days prior to filing bankruptcy.

Pensions

11 U.S.C. § 522 - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans).

11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to the maximum amount. (This amount is set by federal law—learn more about retirement accounts in bankruptcy.)

704.110 - Public retirement benefits.

704.115 - Private retirements benefits, including IRA and Keogh.

Government 21255 - Public employees.

Government 31452 - County employees.

Government 31913 - County peace officers.

Government 32210 - County firefighters.

Public Benefits

704.120 - Unemployment benefits and union benefits due to a labor dispute.

704.160 - Workers' compensation.

704.170 - Aid to blind, aged and disabled or other public assistance.

704.180 - Relocation benefits.

704.190 - Financial aid to students.

Tools of Trade

704.060 - Tools, implements, materials, books, uniforms, instruments, one commercial vehicle, equipment, and furnishings up to $8,725 total, or up to $17,450 if used by both spouses in the same occupation.

Insurance

704.100 - Matured life insurance benefits needed for support of unlimited value, or unmatured life insurance policy up to $13,975 in value.

704.120 - Fraternal unemployment benefits.

704.130 - Disability or health benefits.

704.170 - Fraternal benefit society benefits.

Miscellaneous

695.060 - Business or professional licenses.

704.090 - Trust funds of inmates up to $1,750 (spouses may not double).

Corp. 16501 - Business partnership property.

Add any applicable federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

California 703 Bankruptcy Exemptions

Unless otherwise noted, all law references are to the California Code of Civil Procedure.

Special Note: California's Bankruptcy-Only Exemption System

The exemptions in California's 703 series, along with those from seven other states, apply only in bankruptcy. You can’t use them against judgment creditors that try to take your property in other situations. Several courts have ruled that bankruptcy-only exemption schemes are unconstitutional. Although others have determined the opposite – that debtors may use these exemptions.

Although the majority of bankruptcy courts allow debtors to use bankruptcy-only exemption schemes, you may wish to consult with an attorney to determine what exemptions are permitted in your local bankruptcy court.

California Homestead Exemption

703.140(b)(1) Real or personal property, including co-op, used as a residence up to $29,275.

California Motor Vehicle Exemption

703.140(b)(2) - Motor vehicles up to $5,850.

California Wildcard Exemption

703.140(b)(5) - $1,550 of any property plus any unused amount of burial or homestead exemption for use on any property of the filer's choosing.

Other California Exemptions

703.140(b)(1) - Burial plot up to $29,275, instead of homestead.

703.140(b)(3) - Clothing, household goods, appliances, furnishings, animals, books, musical instruments and crops up to $725 per item.

703.140(b)(4) - Jewelry up to $1,750.

703.140(b)(9) - Health aids.

703.140(b)(11) - Wrongful death recoveries needed for support.

703.140(b) (11) - Personal injury recoveries up to $29,275.

Pensions

11 U.S.C. § 522 - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans).

11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to a certain amount. (This amount is set by federal law—learn more about retirement accounts in bankruptcy.)

703.140(b)(10) - ERISA-qualified benefits needed for support.

Public Benefits

703.140(b)(10) - Unemployment compensation, Social Security, Veterans' benefits, and public assistance.

703.140 (b) (11) - Crime victims' compensation.

Tools of Trade

703.140(b)(6) - Tools, books and implements of trade up to $8,725.

Alimony & Child Support

703.140(b)(10) - Alimony and child support needed for support.

Insurance

703.140(b)(7) - Unmatured life insurance policy, other than credit.

703.140(b)(8) - Unmatured life insurance contract accrued interest, dividends, loan, cash or surrender value up to $15,650.

703.140(b)(10) - Disability benefits.

703.140(b)(11) - Life insurance proceeds needed for support.

Miscellaneous

Add any applicable federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

Nonexempt Property—Property You Can’t Protect With a California Exemption

Some people can keep all assets, but that isn’t always true. Here’s what will happen to nonexempt property:

  • In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee appointed to administer your case will sell nonexempt property and distribute the proceeds to creditors. Find out more about the bankruptcy process and the Chapter 7 documents you'll need at each stage.
  • In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it works differently. You can keep everything you own, but you’ll pay creditors the value of the nonexempt property, your disposable income, or your nondischargeable debt (support obligations, most taxes, and the like), whichever is more, through your Chapter 13 repayment plan.

You’ll learn more about Chapter 7 and 13 in Which Type of Bankruptcy is Right for Me?

Confirming California Exemptions

This list includes the majority of bankruptcy exemptions available in California. However, doesn’t include all exemptions. Also, states often create qualification requirements for specific exemptions, and California might have changed the amounts since this list was last updated. Check the California Code or with a local bankruptcy lawyer.

To learn more about bankruptcy exemptions, the state exemption system, and the homestead exemption rules, read Bankruptcy Exemptions – What Can I Keep When I File for Bankruptcy?

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