Updated March 14, 2019
Most Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers can keep all of their household goods and furniture in bankruptcy. Whether you will be able to will depend on the property your state allows you to exempt, or, if your state allows you to choose between the state and federal exemption systems, the federal exemption amount.
If you fail to pay your bills, creditors have the right to take steps to recover what you owe them from your assets using collection techniques. However, it isn’t in society’s best interest to allow creditors to impoverish debtors, so you’re allowed to keep property needed to work and live.
To accomplish this, all states have enacted exemption laws that carve out the property that is off limits to creditors—and exemptions can be used in bankruptcy proceedings. If a particular item of property is exempt, you get to keep it in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Each state has some form of bankruptcy exemption that can be applied towards household goods and furniture. Some are specifically for household goods and furniture. Others set monetary limits and allow you to choose the item you wish to exempt.
Wildcard exemption. Many states also have a wildcard exemption that you can apply to your choice of property, including to household goods and furniture.
To find the exemption amounts in your state, visit your state's bankruptcy page on the Bankruptcy Exemptions by State on the Nolo bankruptcy site.
Federal law also has a list of bankruptcy exemptions. In some states, you can choose to use the federal exemptions instead of your state exemptions. (To learn which states can use the federal exemptions, see The Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions.)
The federal exemptions allow you to exempt household goods and furniture, as well as clothing, appliances, books, animals, crops and musical instruments, up to a total of $13,400. There is a $625 value limit per item. (11 U.S.C. § 522(d)(3).)
If you have household goods and furniture that isn’t fully protected by the exemption, the federal wildcard exemption might help. For instance, suppose that you own an antique table worth $1,625—$1,000 over the household individual item limit. You could use $1,000 of the federal wildcard exemption to protect the table fully.
The federal wildcard exemption allows you to claim an additional $1,325 in property along with up to $12,575 in any unused homestead exemption. (11 U.S.C. § 522(d)(5).) These figures are valid as of April 1, 2019, and change every three years. The next change will occur on April 1, 2022.