Exempt vs. Non-exempt Property Under Chapter 7


Filing for bankruptcy can reduce or eliminate unsecured debts such as credit card debts and medical bills. The Bankruptcy Law Offices of Stephen Johnson will use the bankruptcy laws to obtain debt relief for you.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Q: How does Chapter 7 liquidation work?

A: In a Chapter 7 case, the debtor must relinquish his or her nonexempt property to a bankruptcy trustee, who then converts the property into cash by selling it and pays the debtor's creditors from the sale proceeds. In return, the debtor receives a Chapter 7 discharge of certain debts if he or she is eligible for such a discharge, pays the filing fee, completes a personal financial management course and obeys the court's directives.

Q: Are all debtors automatically eligible for a Chapter 7 discharge?

A: No. A debtor may not be eligible for a discharge under Chapter 7 if he or she has been granted a discharge in a Chapter 7 case within the last eight years. Debtors who engage in certain fraudulent conduct related to the bankruptcy or their financial situation also may not be eligible for discharge. In addition, if the debtor refuses to answer questions or obey orders of the bankruptcy court, the court may refuse to grant a discharge.

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For most consumers, life before bankruptcy is fraught with financial difficulties. It is important to remember that although bankruptcy is not the first resort, it is best not to wait too long to take action. If you are facing what seems to be insurmountable debt, contact a chapter 7 attorney at once in order to make the best of a bad situation.

In a Chapter 7 liquidation case, the debtor must relinquish certain property to the bankruptcy trustee so that he or she can sell the property and use the proceeds to pay off debts. Property of the bankruptcy estate is broadly defined in the Bankruptcy Code. 11 U.S.C. § 541. The bankruptcy estate is technically the legal owner of all of the debtor's property and consists of all legal and equitable interests that the debtor has in property at the initiation of the bankruptcy case. Income that the debtor earns after the date of the petition is not included in the bankruptcy estate. Debtors, whether they are businesses or individuals, are often justifiably concerned about what property they will be allowed to keep and what they must give up. A bankruptcy lawyer at the Bankruptcy Law Offices of Stephen Johnson in Auburn, California, can answer these and other questions, allay fears and keep the process moving forward as painlessly as possible.

Non-exempt property

Items that the debtor usually must forfeit include:

  • Expensive musical instruments, unless the debtor is a professional musician
  • Collections of stamps, coins and other valuable items
  • Family heirlooms
  • Cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and other investments
  • A second car or truck
  • A second home or vacation home

Exempt property

A debtor must file a schedule of exempt property with the court. Exempt property is property that the debtor can protect from liquidation. The Bankruptcy Code allows each state to adopt its own exemption laws, which the debtor can select instead of the federal exemptions. It is important to consult with an attorney who can explain the exemptions available under your state's laws and how they compare to the available federal exemptions.

Exempt property typically includes:

  • Motor vehicles, up to a certain value
  • Reasonably necessary clothing
  • Reasonably necessary household goods and furnishings
  • Household appliances
  • Jewelry, up to a certain value
  • Pensions
  • A portion of the equity in the debtor's home
  • Tools of the debtor's trade or profession, up to a certain value
  • A portion of unpaid but earned wages
  • Public benefits - including public assistance (welfare), social security and unemployment compensation - accumulated in a bank account
  • Damages awarded for personal injury

Speak to a bankruptcy lawyer

If you have questions about what property you will be allowed to retain if you file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, it is prudent to seek the counsel of an experienced and knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney. Contact the Bankruptcy Law Offices of Stephen Johnson in Auburn, California, today to schedule a consultation.


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