California Bankruptcy Exemptions

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

Updated October 19, 2020

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

Learn more about filing for bankruptcy in California.

Federal and California Bankruptcy Exemptions

Exemption law determines the property you can protect, such as a home, car, instrument, or retirement account. Some states allow debtors to choose between the state and federal bankruptcy exemptions, but California is not one of them. Instead, California is the only state that lets you choose between two sets of state exemptions. You’ll use either 703 or 704 exemptions (named for the code section in which they appear), whichever protects your property best. You can also use any of the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

Common California Bankruptcy Exemptions

When reviewing some of the more common exemptions below, you’ll want to keep these things in mind that spouses filing together in California can’t double the exemption amounts, except in a few noted cases. Also, all exemptions must be listed on the official bankruptcy forms you file with the court.

Unless otherwise noted, all law references are to the California Code of Civil Procedure (found in the California Code) or to federal law.

California 704 Bankruptcy Exemptions

In addition to the usual exemptions below, filers can take advantage of three new 704 exemptions adopted in 2020 (check the effective date):

  • CCP 704.220 - Deposit accounts of “…an amount equal to or less than the minimum basic standard of adequate care for a family of four…,” or $1,788 under current standards (effective September 1, 2020).
  • CCP 704.225 - Deposit accounts to the extent necessary for the support of the judgment debtor, as well as the judgment debtor’s spouse and dependents (effective January 1, 2020).
  • CCP 704.230 - FEMA benefits (effective January 1, 2020).

Deposit accounts include bank checking and savings accounts. (See Commercial Code section 9102(a)(29) for the full definition of "deposit account.")

California Homestead Exemption

704.730 - Real or personal property occupied at the time of the bankruptcy filing, including a 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 have a 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 six months after the sale.

704.920 – A debtor can file a homestead declaration to protect the proceeds of a voluntary sale up to six 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 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 before 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. (Federal law sets the amount—learn more about retirement accounts in bankruptcy.)

704.110 - Public retirement benefits.

704.115 - Private retirement 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 the 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

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.

California 703 Homestead Exemption

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

California 703 Motor Vehicle Exemption

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

California 703 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. (Federal law sets the amount—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: Assets California Exemptions Don’t Protect

Some people can keep all assets, but that isn’t always the case. Here’s what will happen to your nonexempt property—anything you can’t protect with an exemption:

  • In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee appointed to administer your case will sell any 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, but not all bankruptcy exemptions available in California. Also, review the statutes for qualification requirements and changes in the California Code or by speaking 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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