New Massachusetts State Bankruptcy Exemptions

When clients consult with us about filing bankruptcy in Massachusetts we are forced to make a decision concerning what exemptions they wanted to claim. In the past, the choice was easy, if our client had more than $20,000 in equity in their home, then we would choose the Massachusetts exemptions in order to take advantage of the $500,000 homestead exemption. However, that meant losing protections on other items, such as a car or cash and our clients possibly having to either surrender property or hand over cash to the trustee.

In fact, Massachusetts’ exemptions were so outdated that other than the homestead, you were only afforded $700 for a car, $125 in the bank, 2 cows, 12 sheep and 2 pigs.

As of April 7, 2011, Massachusetts residents who file bankruptcy will have the benefit of choosing to keep their house, car, and some money to pay bills. While the federal exemptions will still be available and will be the best choice for many debtors considering bankruptcy, the increase in the new state exemptions will help a lot of people. Here is a review of the new exemptions available to debtors and chose the state exemptions:

Homestead: if you own your home, you are entitled to protect up to $500,000 in equity so long as you have lived there for 3.3 years; otherwise you are only entitled to $250,000. (investment, or vacation property is not eligible) The Massachusetts Homestead statute has recently been updated…but that is a topic of another post.

Automobile: In one of the most significant changes…you can now exempt $7,500 in an automobile. If you are handicapped or over 60, then you are entitled to $15,000. This exemption represents the “equity” in the vehicle. (if the Auto is worth $20,000 and you owe $15,000, then your exemption would be $5,000 which I allowable since it is less than the $7,500 exemption). Under the old statute, you were only entitled to $700.

Jewelry: You may now exempt up to $1,225 in personal jewelry.

Clothing, beds, appliances: The New Rule – All necessary wearing apparel, beds, bedding, 1 heating unit, 1 stove, 1 refrigerator, 1 freezer, and 1 hot water heater.

Furniture: Residents can now exempt $15,000 in home furniture. Under the old statute, you could only exempt $3,000.

Computer, TV, Sewing Machine: One sewing machine, one computer and one television, in actual use, not exceeding $300 each in resale value. The old statute did not exempt a computer or TV.

Cash for Rent: if you are a renter, then you are entitled up to $2,500 of cash in the bank (not to exceed your actual rent) to pay the rent for the dwelling unit you actually occupy.

Cash for utilities: you are now entitled to have up to $500 on hand to pay utilities. This is up from $75.

Checking & Savings: Cash or savings not exceeding $2,500. (up from $125).

Wages due and payable:
the greater of 85% of the your gross wages or 50 times the greater of the federal or the Massachusetts hourly minimum wage for each week or portion thereof.

Tools for Trade or Business: if you have tools that you use in your trade or business you can now protect up to $5000, up from $500.

Materials and Stock Used in Trade or Business: a debtor can now exempt up to $5,000 in materials that you use in your trade or business. (up from $500).

Fishing equipment: Boats, fishing tackle and nets of fishermen actually used in their business, up to $1,500. This is an increase from $500 under the old statute.

Wild Card: You can now use up to $5,000 of your unused tool, auto, or furniture exemption to protect any other property; so long as the value of any single item does not exceed $1,000.

This list provides a brief summary of the new changes in Massachusetts’ exemption laws as they apply to bankruptcy. However it is not an exclusive list, nor should you rely on this list to try to file your own bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is an extremely complicated area of practice and a mistake could lead to the loss of your home or car or could result in your case being dismissed.

 If you have any questions or would like more information about this topic please contact one of us at Landry & Landry, P.C. by calling 508-802-5880.