Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemptions

The federal nonbankruptcy exemptions are a list of exemptions available to bankruptcy filers using their state's exemptions.

By , Attorney

Federal nonbankruptcy exemptions help secure your future by protecting disability benefits, retirement programs, and more after bankruptcy. But looking over a federal nonbankruptcy exemption list will get you only so far. You'll also need to know:

  • how state and federal exemptions work
  • when to use each type, and
  • where to find the exemptions you need.

We'll explain how this works. If you have more questions, try our ten-question bankruptcy quiz—it helps clarify tricky bankruptcy concepts fast.



Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemption: The Shortlist

Reading law can be dry, and the full federal nonbankruptcy exemption list is no exception—especially given that most things won't apply to you. Because we don't want you to miss essential protections, we've condensed the entries into a "most frequently used" shortlist. You'll find the entire list, including the more targeted programs, at the end of the article.

Don't Miss These Biggies

  • Government employees' death and disability benefits (5 USC 8130.)
  • Civil service workers' retirement (5 USC 8346(a).)
  • Tenancy by the entirety protection available in some jurisdictions (11 USC 522(b)(3)(B).)
  • IRS 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; traditional and Roth IRAs to $1,512,350 (amount changes April 1, 2025) (11 USC 522(b)(3)(C); (n).)
  • COVID-19 recovery rebates (stimulus payments) (11 USC 541(b)(11).)
  • Earnings – a minimum of 75% of disposable weekly earnings or 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage, whichever is more. A bankruptcy judge can authorize more for low-income debtors. (15 USC 1673.)
  • ERISA-qualified benefits (29 USC 1056(d).)
  • Veterans' benefits (38 USC 5301(a).)
  • Social Security benefits (42 USC 407.)

How to Use Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemptions: The Shortcut

It's easy to confuse federal bankruptcy exemptions, federal nonbankruptcy exemptions, and state bankruptcy exemptions, and important to use the correct set. Here's how exemptions work together:

  • Each state has its own set of exemption laws.
  • Some states let you use the federal bankruptcy exemptions instead of the state exemptions.
  • If you choose your state exemptions, you can also use federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

Find out if your state gives you an exemption choice to get the process started. Next, inventory your property and decide which system will work best. If it's your state's system, you can also use the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

We've included links to state exemption laws below, and you'll find more state bankruptcy exemptions here if your state isn't listed.

Alabama

Illinois

New Jersey

Pennsylvania

Washington

California

Indiana

New York

South Carolina

Wisconsin

Colorado

Michigan

Ohio

Tennessee

Florida

Missouri

Oklahoma

Texas

Georgia

Nevada

Oregon

Virginia

Complete Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemption List

Here's our list of federal nonbankruptcy exemptions. However, because exemptions change, this might not be a complete list. Be sure to verify all exemptions independently. We last updated it on April 21, 2022.

Retirement, Disability, Death, and Survivor Benefits

  • Government employees' death and disability benefits (5 USC 8130.)
  • Civil service workers' retirement (5 USC 8346(a).)
  • Military survivor annuities (10 USC 1450(i).)
  • Benefits, annuities, and payments to Foreign Service employee survivors (22 USC 4060.)
  • Judges, U.S. court & judicial center directors, administrative assistants to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice (28 USC 376(n).)
  • ERISA-qualified benefits (29 USC 1056(d).)
  • Longshoremen & harbor workers (33 USC § 775; 916.)
  • Military Medal of Honor roll pensions (38 USC 1562(c).)
  • Veterans' benefits (38 USC 5301(a).)
  • Social Security benefits (42 USC 407.)
  • War risk, hazard, death, or injury compensation (42 USC § 1701-1717.)
  • Public safety officers (42 USC 3796.)
  • Railroad workers (45 USC 231m.)
  • CIA employees (50 USC 403.)

Other Federal Nonbankruptcy Benefits

  • Crop insurance proceeds (7 USC 1509.)
  • Military deposits in accounts while on active duty outside the U.S. (10 USC 1035(d).)
  • Service member annuities (10 USC 1440.)
  • Property recovered by trustee's avoidance (11 USC 522(g).)
  • Tenancy by the entirety protection available in some jurisdictions (11 USC 522(b)(3)(B).)
  • IRS 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; traditional and Roth IRAs to $1,512,350 (for bankruptcy cases filed between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2025) (11 USC 522(b)(3)(C); (n).)
  • COVID-19 recovery rebates (stimulus payments) (11 USC 541(b)(11).)
  • Earnings – a minimum of 75% of disposable weekly earnings or 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage, whichever is more. A bankruptcy judge can authorize more for low-income debtors. (15 USC 1673.)
  • Student loan, grant, or work assistance proceeds (20 USC 1095a(d).)
  • Sales or lease proceeds of native lands held in trust (25 USC § 410, 412a.)
  • General Accounting Office annuities (31 USC 776.)
  • Group life insurance and war compensation for veterans (38 USC § 3101(a), 1970(g); 42 § 1717.)
  • Railroad workers' unemployment insurance (45 USC 352(e).)
  • Seamen's wages (except for spousal and child support) (46 USC 11109(a).)
  • Seamen's clothing (46 USC 11110.)
  • FEMA benefits exempt from garnishment (44 CFR 206.110(g).)

Navigating Your Bankruptcy Case

Bankruptcy is an unusual area because it's essentially a qualification process. The laws provide instructions for completing a 50- to 60-page bankruptcy petition, and because all rules apply in every case, you can't skip a step.

One way to keep track of your research is to use the bankruptcy forms as an outline. You'll find links to the exemption-related bankruptcy forms and other exemption resources in the chart below. You can also look at the list of Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy forms to see where this topic fits in the bankruptcy scheme. And this handy bankruptcy document checklist will help you gather the things you'll need to complete the petition.

Bankruptcy Exemption Information

Bankruptcy Forms

Schedule A/B: Property

Schedule C: The Property You Claim as Exempt

Related Information

What Is Bankruptcy? 2021 Rundown

How Chapter 7 Works

Chapter 13 -- Comprehensive Guide

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

What Happens to Your Property in Bankruptcy?

Need More Info?

We want to help you find the answers you need. Go to TheBankruptcySite for more easy-to-understand bankruptcy articles, or consider buying a self-help book like The New Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill.

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by consulting with a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Updated April 21, 2022

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