Tennessee Bankruptcy Exemptions

You can protect property in a Tennessee bankruptcy with Tennessee's bankruptcy exemption laws.

Updated January 30, 2019

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

Find out more about filing a Tennessee bankruptcy case.

Tennessee Exemptions v. Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

Some states allow residents to choose between the state and the federal bankruptcy exemptions, but that option isn’t available in Tennessee. You’ll use Tennessee’s state exemptions and, if helpful, the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

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?

Common Tennessee Bankruptcy Exemptions

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

  • Joint filing. Unless otherwise noted, when spouses file together in Tennessee, 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 Tennessee Code or the federal law.

Tennessee Homestead Exemption

26-2-301 - $5,000 in equity for a single filer and $7,500 for a married couple. The amounts increase to $12,500 for a single filer and $25,000 for filing spouses if all parties are over 62 years of age ($20,000 if both spouses file but only one is over 62 years of age). A spouse or a child of a deceased owner can claim the exemption. The exemption can be used on a life estate or a two to 15-year lease. Tenancies by the entirety are exempt without limit as to debts of one spouse.

Tennessee Wildcard Exemption

26-2-103 - You can exempt up to $10,000 of any type of personal property. The exempt personal property below is in addition to this amount.

Other Tennessee Exemptions

Personal Property

26-2-104 - Clothing and storage containers; schools books, pictures, portraits, and a bible.

26-2-105 - Health savings accounts.

26-2-111 - Health aids; lost earnings payments for yourself or a person you depended upon; personal injury recoveries up to $7,500; wrongful death recoveries up to $10,000.

26-2-305 & 46-2-102 - Burial plot up to one acre.

Wages

26-2-106 & 26-2-107 - The greater of the following: 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage or minimum of 75% of disposable weekly income, plus $2.50 per week per child. A judge can approve more for low-income debtor. Note: In re Lawrence, 219 B.R. 786 (E.D. Tenn. 1998) ruled that wage garnishment is not an exemption in 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 maximum (amount changes).

8-36-111 - Public employees.

26-2-105 - State and local government employees.

26-2-111 - ERISA-qualified benefits.

45-9-909 - Teachers.

Public Benefits

13-11-115 - Relocation assistance payments.

26-2-111 - Unemployment compensation; veterans' benefits; Social Security; local public assistance.

26-2-111 & 29-13-111 - Crime victims' compensation up to $5,000.

50-6-223 - Workers' compensation.

71-2-216 - Old-age assistance.

71-4-117 - Aid to blind.

71-4-1112 - Aid to disabled.

Tools of Trade

26-2-111 - Tools, books, and implements of trade up to $1,900.

Alimony and Child Support

26-2-111 - Alimony and child support which is owed for at least 30 days prior to filing for bankruptcy.

Insurance

26-2-110 - Disability, accident or health. benefits, for a resident and citizen of Tennessee.

26-2-111 - Disability or illness benefits.

56-7-203 - Life insurance or annuity.

56-25-1403 - Fraternal benefit society benefits.

Other

49-4-108 - Educational scholarship trust funds and prepayment plans.

Add any applicable federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

Nonexempt Property—Property You Can’t Protect With a Tennessee 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 a 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 Tennessee Exemptions

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

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