Should I choose Massachusetts or Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions?
By Attorney Ginger B. Kelly, April 1, 2017
Good news for Massachusetts residents. You have a choice weather or to protect your property using Massachusetts or Federal exemptions.
In many ways, Massachusetts is a great state to live in. Here, Bankruptcy filers have a choice whether to protect or to “exempt” property using Massachusetts bankruptcy exemptions or the federal bankruptcy exemptions.
In a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, any property not exempted can be sold by the bankruptcy trustee and the proceeds used to pay creditors. Nonexempted property can be kept, in a Chapter 13 case, but payment must be made for the value of that property, under the terms of a three or five-year payment plan.
For Massachusetts filers who have significant equity in their homes, the Massachusetts exemptions are substantial. Federal law offers a larger wildcard exemption. Since it is difficult to examine which exemptions work best, it’s very important to look at each exemption closely.
Mixing Massachusetts Exemptions with Federal Exemptions is not permissible.
In Massachusetts, a filer must choose one set of exemptions only. When figuring out which set of exemption laws is best for your circumstances, mixing and matching is not allowed.
Doubling Exemptions for Married Couples.
For married couples filing, you can double the exemptions, apart from the homestead exemption for under the Massachusetts and federal exemption rules. In Massachusetts, the rule is typically called Exemption Doubling.
Which to choose, Massachusetts or Federal Exemptions?
The answer to this question depends quite heavily on your specific situation and set of circumstances. For some filers, more property will be kept using the Massachusetts exemptions. For example, Massachusetts has more favorable exemptions for your house, your car, your clothing, other household items (like appliances and furniture), and tools of the trade. *
How do I keep from losing my home?
For Massachusetts bankruptcy filers, Massachusetts exemptions are excellent for homeowners. Homeowners who have filed and recorded with the registry of deeds, a properly executed homestead declaration are entitled to receive a $500,000 exemption. If no homestead declaration is recorded, the automatic exemption is still a hefty $125,000.
As mentioned before, just like the federal law exemption, the homestead exemption cannot be doubled for married couples filing jointly.
In the alternative, the federal law exemption for a home is only $23,675 and $47,350 for married couples filing jointly.
So, the key to keeping your home in Massachusetts is, if there is more than $23,675 worth of equity in your home, and you want to keep it, the Massachusetts exemptions are the best choice.
How do I keep from losing my car?
Under the federal exemptions, $3,775.00 is allowed for automobile exemptions. This means, that if the Kelly Blue book value of your car exceeds #3,775.00, you may want to choose the Massachusetts exemptions. Under the Massachusetts bankruptcy exemption law, $7,500.00 is allowed for the motor vehicle exemption. If a filer is over 60 years old or disabled, the Massachusetts exemption allows a $15,000.00 motor vehicle exemption.
If a filer’s car is worth more than $3775.00, or there is more than $3,775.00 worth of equity in that car, and they want to keep it, a filer would be better off using the Massachusetts exemptions.
How do I keep all my clothing?
Under the Federal exemptions, a filer can keep $12,625.00 in personal property, which includes clothing. But the maximum value for any one piece would be only $600.00. In Massachusetts, a filer can keep all of their necessary clothing in bankruptcy. So, under the Massachusetts exemption rules, a filer will likely keep more because the $12,625 federal exemption includes all other personal property as well, like furniture, appliances, housewares and other consumer goods.
How do I keep my appliances and furniture?
As mentioned above, the Federal exemption rules allow for only $12,625.00 in personal property. If a filer uses the Massachusetts bankruptcy exemptions, they will be allowed to keep any necessary beds and bedding, one heating unit, one stove and one refrigerator and one hot water heater. An additional $15,000.00 in home furnishings can be exempted, if they are necessary for the filer and the filer’s family.
Using the more plentiful Massachusetts exemption makes sense for most filers. However, if a filer has an extra refrigerator in their garage, it is unlikely the second refrigerator would be considered a necessity. If the second refrigerator is really that important, the federal exemptions may be a better choice, as long the value is that second refrigerator is less than $600.
How do I keep the tools I use for my job?
Filers in Massachusetts are in good shape when they have tools of the trade or tools used while doing business. The Massachusetts exemptions allow a $5,000 exemption for tools of the trade and an additional $5,000 for any materials used in their business. Federal law allows only a $2,375.00 exemption for tools of the trade. So, if a filer has more than $2,375 of tools and materials, used for their trade or business, then the Massachusetts exemptions would be the better choice.
Are Federal Exemptions Ever Better Than Massachusetts Exemptions?
In their entirety, the federal exemptions are less generous than many Massachusetts exemptions. However, there are a few exceptions. One exception is that the federal exemption law will protect slightly more jewelry and a larger wildcard exemption. This may benefit many filers, depending on their situation and what they want to keep.
How do I keep my valuable jewelry?
Since Massachusetts law offers only a $1,225.00 exemption and federal law a $1,600.00, a filer may choose Massachusetts exemptions over federal. $Granted, 375.00 worth of equity in jewelry isn’t a huge savings, but if it is important to the filer that certain jewelry is retained, the federal exemptions may be a better choice.
Which Wildcard Exemption do I chose?
Wildcard exemptions are used to protect assets not listed as exempt. In other words, a wildcard can be used to exempt nonexempt assets.
Per federal exemption rules, the federal wildcard exemption is currently valued at $1,250.00 plus any unused portion of the federal homestead exemption up to $11,850.00. * If a filer doesn’t need to claim their full homestead exemptions, they will be able to use up to $13,100.00 total. If the filer has no homestead exemption, only $1,250.00 can be used to exempt nonexempt assets.
In Massachusetts, the wildcard exemption is different. Per the Massachusetts exemption rules, the wildcard exemption is $1,000.00, plus up to $5,000.00 of any unused portion of the total exemptions provided under the $15,000 household furniture exemption, the $5,000 tools of the trade exemption and the $7,500 motor vehicle exemption. This is good news for certain Massachusetts filers. Under the Massachusetts exemption rules, filers can keep up to $6,000 in nonexempt assets.
Now that I know more about the exemption rules, why do I need a Bankruptcy Attorney?
In Massachusetts, there is no one-size-fits all bankruptcy. Even though Massachusetts law offers a more generous exemption package, federal law may be best for different filers for so many reasons. Thorough research of both sets of exemptions and all assets are critical, before making decisions. Attorneys can remove uncertainty, confusion and doubt and help you determine the best way to protect your home, your car and your personal property.
Hiring a competent, experienced bankruptcy lawyer to handle your case will save not only you a headache, but it may also end up saving you money. When everything is completed properly the first time, bankruptcy attorneys save you money. Mistakes are costly. Mistakes not only affect your time, but your finances and may end up costing your case.
Speak to an attorney who offers a free first consultation. Earlier I wrote about, “how to find an experienced and vetted attorney, FREE!” This offers good advice on how to find an attorney on a budget or pro-bono (which means free). Best of luck to you.
*NOTE: All the bankruptcy exemptions mentioned, above, may differ and are subject to change on or before April 2019.
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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.
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