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What Can I Keep if I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

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Chapter 7, the most common bankruptcy filed by people in the U.S., is essentially a debt cancellation. If you do not have enough income to pay your creditors, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to have the debts discharged, giving you a fresh start financially.

Can I Keep My Belongings If I File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

A big hesitation for individuals considering Chapter 7 revolves around the requirement to sell off assets to help pay your creditors. However, you may retain some of the assets through bankruptcy exemptions.

What Are Bankruptcy Exemptions?

Most of the debt discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is unsecured debt, which is not secured by collateral. Examples of unsecured debt include credit card debt and medical bills. People often think they will lose their personal assets in bankruptcy, but that is not always the case.

The bankruptcy code has certain exemptions that allow you to keep some of your assets from getting liquidated to pay off secured debt. These exemptions protect your assets up to a certain dollar amount, and in some cases, the amount is enough to protect the entire value of the asset.

Common Chapter 7 Exemptions

The following exemptions are available through the state of Ohio and the federal government (this list is not all-inclusive):

Your Home and Property

The Homestead Exemption protects your home for up to $136,925 of the equity in it. If you and your spouse file for joint bankruptcy, you can double the exemption amount.

Your Vehicle

Protection of your automobile for up to $3,775 in one motor vehicle.

Personal Cash and Household Items

Protection of your personal cash for up to $475 (either on-hand or in the bank).
You are also eligible for protection of household items (like furniture or appliances) for up to $12,250, with a per-item value of $575, and protection of up to $1,700 of value in jewelry.

Your Retirement Funds

Protection of your 401(k), 457, IRA, or other retirement plans.

Wild Card Exemption

Ohio also allows the protection of $1,250 for any property except real estate. The exemption can be used to protect something not covered by other exemptions or added to another.

Can I Keep My Tax Refunds?

Tax refunds are not exempt and can be added to your bankruptcy estate. However, it is possible to keep your tax refund, depending on when you file. See the below examples:

  • The tax year before your bankruptcy was filed: Your refund will go into your estate and be used to pay debts.
  • The tax year that your bankruptcy was filed: This refund is based on the income you earned after filing, so you may get to keep part or all of your refund.
  • The tax year after your bankruptcy was filed: This refund is not affected by your bankruptcy, so you get to keep the entire refund.

Keeping Your Home and Car

Often your secured debts can be discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which means you could get your home and auto loans discharged. However, if you want to keep your house and your car, you will need to continue making payments.

Declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy may make it easier to keep making payments on your home or vehicle. Depending on your circumstances, you may not even wish to keep your car if you owe more money on it than it is worth. Talk with a bankruptcy lawyer to decide the best plan for your financial wellbeing.

Questions about Chapter 7? LHA Can Help

The list above is not all of Ohio’s bankruptcy exemptions. However, if you want to know how your personal belongings will be affected by bankruptcy, reach out to an experienced bankruptcy attorney who can walk you through the process. The Ohio bankruptcy attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates can create a strategy to help you keep your home and car.

Contact LHA at 216-586-6600, online, or by email at advice@clevelandbankruptcyattorney.com and get your questions answered.