A debtor in California who files bankruptcy has two different statutes to choose from, each with different exemptions. The exemptions are listed in the California Code of Civil Procedure (C.C.P.) in section 703 or 704. Only one section (either section 703 or section 704) can be used to declare exemptions. It is not possible to choose the most advantageous exemptions from each section.

Filing for bankruptcy in California means you must use the exemptions outlined in these two sections. It is not possible to use the federal exemptions in California. Note that the exemptions are adjusted for inflation every few years. The numbers given here are effective as of 2014. The exemptions will change again in 2016.

Exemptions under C.C.P. 703

Major exemptions available when filing bankruptcy in California are listed below. A lawyer should be consulted to determine the particulars of each exemption and to determine all available exemptions that may be filed. 

  • Homestead (equity in dwelling used as residence) 
    – Up to $24,060 in value
    – Unused portion of the homestead may be applied to any property
  • Equity in automobile 
    – Up to $48,000 in value in one or more motor vehicles
  • Personal property 
    – Household items (Animals, appliances, furniture, clothes, etc.), up to $600 each item
    – Jewelry and heirlooms: up to $1,425 in value
  • Tools of the trade 
    – Up to $7,175 in value (including books and other items)
  • Insurance 
    – Disability benefits
    – Life insurance proceeds needed for support
    – Unmatured life insurance is also usually exempt, but details apply
  • Pensions 
    ERISA qualified benefits needed for support
    – Private retirement accounts, including IRA and Roth IRA, but details apply
  • Public benefits 
    – Unemployment 
    – Workers compensation 
    – Public assistance 
    Social security 
    – Veteran’s benefits
  • Alimony and child support 
    – Amount reasonably necessary for support of debtor and dependants

Exemptions under C.C.P. 704

Exemptions available when filing bankruptcy in California are listed below: 

  • Homestead (equity in dwelling used as residence)
    – Up to $75,000 in value for an individual (double if married)
    – Up to $100,000 in value for families (only if others living have no interest in homestead)
    – Up to $175,000 if single, 55 years of age or older, and earn less than $25,000 a year
    – Up to $175,000 if married and earn less than $35,000 a year and a creditor tries to force the sale of the home
    – Up to $175,000 if 65 or older, or physically or mentally disabled
  • Equity in automobile 
    – Up to $2,300 in value in one motor vehicle
  • Personal property 
    – Household items (Animals, appliances, furniture, clothes, etc.), all household items are generally exempt
    – Jewelry and heirlooms: up to $6,075 in value
  • Tools of the trade 
    – Up to $5,000 in value (Double if married and both spouses use tools)
  • Insurance
    – Disability benefits
    – Life insurance proceeds needed for support
    – Unmatured life insurance is also usually exempt up to $4,000, but details apply
  • Pensions 
    – County employees (includes firefighters and police officers)
    – Public employees
    – Public retirement benefits
    – Private retirement accounts, including IRA and Roth IRA, but details apply
  • Public benefits 
    – Unemployment 
    Workers compensation 
    – Public assistance 
    – Financial aid to students
  • Alimony and child support 
    – Amount reasonably necessary for support of debtor and dependants

Do I Need a Bankruptcy Lawyer?

Bankruptcy is a very complicated process and filing an exemption incorrectly can lead to that property being seized, even if the property would have been exempt had the exemption been filed correctly. California has two different statutes allowing for exemptions, each with different assets protected from creditors. A bankruptcy lawyer knows the ins and outs of filing for bankruptcy, and can recommend what chapter of bankruptcy is right for you. A bankruptcy lawyer can also ensure that your exemptions are filed correctly.