Massachusetts Bankruptcy Exemptions

You can protect property in a Massachusetts bankruptcy with either Massachusetts' bankruptcy exemption laws or federal exemptions.

Updated February 7, 2019

You’ll get to keep the property you’ll need to maintain a home and employment when filing for bankruptcy in Massachusetts. Massachusetts’s bankruptcy exemptions all you to protect important property, such as furnishings, clothing, and a retirement account.

In Massachusetts, you have another choice. You can use the federal bankruptcy exemptions if doing so will allow you to keep additional assets.

Learn more about filing a Massachusetts bankruptcy.

Massachusetts Exemptions v. Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

Some states, including Massachusetts, allow residents to choose between the state and federal bankruptcy exemptions. You can’t protect property by using exemptions from both lists—you must pick the system that will work best for you. If you elect to use Massachusetts’s state exemptions, the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions will be available to you, too.

Common Massachusetts Bankruptcy Exemptions

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

  • Joint filing. Unless otherwise noted, when spouses file together in Massachusetts, each spouse can claim the full amount of the exemption (informally called “doubling”) as long as each spouse has an ownership interest in the property.
  • 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 Massachusetts General Laws or the federal law.

Massachusetts Homestead Exemption

188-1 through 4 – You’ll automatically be entitled to exempt up to $125,000 of equity in a homestead used for your principal residence. A mobile home will qualify. The exemption amount increases to $500,000 if you record a homestead declaration that complies with Massachusetts law. Spouses can’t double the exemption; however, owners with a disability or who are at least 62 years old might be entitled to additional benefits.

In certain situations, tenancies by the entirety might be exempt as to the debts of one spouse, regardless of value, unless the debt was "incurred on account of necessaries" for either spouse or a family member.

Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Exemption

235-34(16) – Equity in a motor vehicle up to $7,500. The amount increases to $15,000 if used by an elderly filer or a filer with a disability.

Massachusetts Wildcard Exemption

235-34(17) - $1,000 in personal property, plus up to $5,000 of unused exemption amounts for an automobile, tools of the trade, and household furniture.

Other Massachusetts Exemptions

Personal Property

235-34(4); 235-28A - Two cows, 12 sheep, two swine, four tons of hay. Beds and bedding; heating unit, stove, refrigerator, freezer, and hot water heater; clothing. Bibles and books to $500 total. Burial plots, tombs, and a church pew. Cash to $500 per month for utilities. Cash to $2,500 per month for rent, in lieu of homestead exemption. Cooperative association shares to $100. Food or cash for food to $600. Jewelry to $1,225. Household furnishings to $15,000. Sewing machine, computer, and television to $300. Cash and bank deposits to $2,500.

79-6A - Moving expenses for eminent domain.

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). IRAS and Roth IRAs to the maximum amount. (This amount is set by federal law. See Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions for updates on this dollar amount.)

32-19 - Public employees.

32-41 - Private retirement benefits.

168-41 & 168-44 - Savings bank employees.

171-84 - Credit union employees.

235-34A & 246-28 - ERISA-qualified benefits, IRAs and Keoghs to specific limits.

Public Benefits

115-5 - Veterans' benefits.

149-178B – Public employee payroll deductions.

151A-36 - Unemployment compensation.

152-47 - Workers' compensation.

235-34 - Public assistance.

Tools of Trade

235-34 - Tools, implements and fixtures up to $5,000 total; materials you designed and procured up to $5,000; boats, nets, and fishing tackle of angler up to $1,500; required arms, uniforms, and accouterments.

Insurance

175-110A; 175-36B - Disability benefits up to $400 per week.

175-119A - Life insurance proceeds if policy prohibits use to pay creditors.

175-125 - Life or endowment policy, proceeds, dividends, interest, loan, cash, or surrender value.

175-126 - Life insurance policy if the beneficiary is a married woman.

175-132C - Group annuity policy or proceeds.

175-135; 175-36 - Group life insurance policy.

175F-15 - Medical malpractice self-insurance.

176-22 - Fraternal benefit society benefits.

Other

108A-25 - Business partnership property.

Add any applicable federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

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

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

  • In a 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 Massachusetts Exemptions

This list includes the majority of bankruptcy exemptions available in Massachusetts, but not all. Specific exemptions could have qualification requirements, and amounts might have changed since this list was last updated. Check the Massachusetts General Laws 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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