Homestead Exemption Bankruptcy Rules, by State

February 14, 2023 · 12 minute read

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Homestead Exemption Bankruptcy Rules, by State

Despite what the name might suggest, homestead exemptions aren’t some kind of dusty old prospector or settler law. They are statutes that, in a bankruptcy filing, are designed to protect a primary residence from creditors.

If the Smiths file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, how much equity they can protect with an exemption will be one of the factors determining whether they will be able to keep their home.

In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they won’t lose their home, but they will have to pay creditors an amount equal to the value of the property they can’t protect with an exemption, or their disposable income, whichever is more.
Before declaring bankruptcy, it’s best to consider the alternatives.

This guide will provide an overview of homestead exemptions as applied to bankruptcy, state by state.

What Is Homestead Exemption?

If you’re wondering what a homestead exemption is, it’s a provision in a state’s law that can legally protect a home from creditors in situations such as declaring bankruptcy or enduring the death of a homeowner’s spouse.

In these ways, a homestead exemption can both literally provide you with shelter (a roof over your head) and protection financially, possibly avoiding a situation in which you must lose your residence. That said, this exemption will not prevent foreclosure if a homeowner defaults on their mortgage.

You may be curious about what is the Homestead Act and if it’s the same thing as homestead exemption. They are two different things: The Homestead Act was an 1862 law that granted 160 acres of Western land in the U.S. to anyone who promised to farm it. It was designed to settle the West and drive economic growth.

What States Have a Homestead Exemption?

It’s easier to name the states that don’t have a homestead exemption than those that do since the vast majority of them offer this protection.

Currently, the only states without specific homestead exemptions are New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If you live in one of those states, then you know where you stand on potential shields with homestead exemptions.

If you live in any of the other 48 states, know that there are many more asterisks to hunt for, depending on your situation and financial plans.

Even if you live in a state that offers homestead exemptions, you may want to find ways to save money on your mortgage. These strategies can help you weather financial storms, such as considering refinancing a home loan and requesting a new tax assessment.

Recommended: The Pros & Cons of Buying a Starter Home

Which State Has the Best Homestead Exemption?

While there is no literal “best” state to homestead in because there are so many individual factors to weigh in assessing what’s advantageous, it is true that some states are more favorable than others for seeking the exemption.

Before reading the following, an asterisk: Because homestead exemptions are protections for primary residences, you cannot claim an exemption on an investment property or vacation home.

Some states allow bankruptcy filers to use federal bankruptcy exemptions instead of the state exemptions.

The federal homestead exemption amount is calculated every three years. For the period from April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2025, it allows you to protect up to $27,900 of the equity in your home. In cases where you and your spouse file taxes separately, do not live together, maintain separate homesteads, or (according to at least one court) do not have a direct financial connection with each other, each spouse can claim a separate homestead, up to the amount allowed by an individual.

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Also, most states allow a “wildcard” exemption, which allows you to protect any kind of property from bankruptcy proceedings. This can be of particular help if one or more of a debtor’s other exemptions falls short of protecting their equity. A wildcard exemption amount can be divided among multiple items.

As of April 1, 2022, the federal wildcard exemption is $1,475, plus up to $13,950 of any part of the federal homestead exemption that has not been used.

Since there’s so much variability in local, regional, and state codes and how they define the homestead exemption, it’s wise to consult local authorities or websites detailing the law’s specifics when you are in a situation that may trigger these laws.

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Here’s a rundown of what you might call homestead states that offer some of the strongest protections via exemptions. “Strongest” here is being interpreted as either affordances for high exemptions or greater flexibilities in the law — but other factors, such as cost of living, should also be a consideration:

1. California. California has two systems for the homestead exemption. Under one system, homeowners can exempt up to $600,000 of equity in a house. In the other system, they can exempt up to $31,950 of home equity. Determining what you can access requires research and/or legal counsel.

2. Florida. Under the Florida exemption system “homeowners may exempt an unlimited amount of value in their home or other property covered by the homestead exemption. However, the property cannot be larger than half an acre in a municipality or 160 acres elsewhere.” The exemption can also be claimed by the spouse or children of a deceased owner.

3. Iowa. An unlimited value in one home or a one-unit apartment can be sought in protection. The property must be in a city or town and is limited to one-half acre or 40 acres elsewhere.

4. Kansas. An unlimited amount of value can be sought in protection, but homeowners are limited in the amount of land they can protect. Homeowners can protect up to 1 acre of property if they live within city limits or up to 160 acres of farmland.

5. Minnesota. You can protect up to $450,000 of equity in your home and land or up to $1,125,000 of equity if your land (up to 160 acres) is used for agricultural purposes.

6. Oklahoma. Residents can exempt the entire value of their homes, but the homestead can’t be larger than a half acre if you live in a city, town, or village or up to 160 acres if you live elsewhere. (If you use more than 25% of the total square footage of your property for business, your exemption is limited to $5,000.)

7. Rhode Island. The exemption applies for up to $500,000 of equity.

8. South Dakota. If your home is less than 1 acre in a town or 160 acres in any other type of area, all of your equity is exempt.

9. Texas. For residences on 10 acres or less in a city, town, or village or 100 acres or less in the country, Texas offers an unlimited homestead exemption.

10. Washington. This state’s generous homestead exemption varies depending on the county the homeowner lives in, from $172,900 in Ferry to $729,600 in King County, where Seattle is.

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Homestead Exemptions in Other States

Here’s all the rest of the states and what homestead exemptions they offer:

1. Alabama. The Alabama Department of Revenue indicates that at the state level, homestead exemptions have a maximum value of $16,450. It only applies on land area that is not more than 160 acres.

2. Alaska. Homeowners may exempt up to $70,200 of their home or other property covered by the homestead exemption.

3. Arizona. Homeowners can exempt up to $150,000 for a house and the land it’s on, a cooperative or condominium, a mobile home and the land it’s on, provided the person lives in the dwelling.

4. Arkansas. You can seek an unlimited amount of equity in 80 rural acres or one-quarter of an urban acre.

5. Colorado. Up to $75,000 of equity in a home or other property, such as a mobile home, is protected. The amount increases to $105,000 if the homeowner, spouse, or dependent is disabled or 60 or older.

6. Connecticut. The state of Connecticut protects up to $75,000 of equity in real property, a co-op, or a manufactured home occupied at the time of filing bankruptcy. The exemption rises to $125,000 if a creditor is collecting for hospital costs.

7. Delaware. Exempts up to $125,000 in real property or a manufactured home that was used as a principal residence.

8. Georgia. Homeowners may exempt up to $21,500 of their home or other property covered by the exemption. They can also apply $10,000 of any unused portion of the exemption to another property they own—a “wildcard” exemption.

9. Hawaii. If you’re the head of a household or over 65, you can exempt up to $30,000 of equity. If you’re not the head of the family, you may protect up to $20,000 of equity in your home.

10. Idaho. A filer can protect up to $175,000 in equity in a home or mobile home.

11. Illinois. Protects up to $15,000 in equity in your home, which includes a farm, mobile home, lot with buildings, condominium, or cooperative.

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12. Indiana. A debtor can exempt up to $19,300 in real estate or personal property used as a residence. In addition, if you are married and filing jointly, that figure rises to $38,900.

13. Kentucky. Up to $5,000 of equity can be claimed.

14. Louisiana. Homeowners are allowed to exempt up to $35,000 of home equity, and more if their debts were due to what’s considered a catastrophic or terminal illness or injury.

15. Maine. Up to $80,000 of equity in property used as a residence can be claimed. The amount can be increased to $160,000 in equity if you have a minor dependent residing with you, or if you are 60 or older or disabled.

16. Maryland. Exempts residential property value up to $25,150 (husband and wife may not double).

17. Massachusetts. The state automatically protects up to $125,000 in home equity, and up to $500,000 for those who file and receive the increased exemption (this amount also applies to the elderly or disabled).

18. Michigan. Each homeowner and their dependents can exempt up to $40,475 in a property covered by the homestead exemption. If the homeowner is 65 or older or disabled, the exemption amount increases to $60,725.

19. Mississippi. An exemption of up to $75,000 of equity in the real estate you live in can be claimed, as long as the property is less than 160 acres.

20. Missouri. You can exempt up to $15,000 of equity in the real estate in which you live or will live, and spouses who file a joint bankruptcy can double the exemption.

21. Montana. Up to $350,000 in equity can be protected as applied to up to 320 farm acres, a quarter of a city acre, or one residential acre outside a municipality.

22. Nebraska. Up to $60,000 can be protected on a home, provided the owner is either a head of household, married, or over age 65, and the property does not exceed 160 acres.

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23. Nevada. Up to $605,000 in equity in a home can be claimed.

24. New Hampshire. You can protect up to $120,000 in equity.

25. New Mexico. Up to $60,000 of equity in your home can be protected; that increases to $120,000 being available to spouses who co-own property.

26. New York. The homestead exemption amount varies greatly depending on the county. If the property is in the counties of Kings, Queens, New York, Bronx, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, or Putnam, the exemption is $179,950. If the property is in the counties of Dutchess, Albany, Columbia, Orange, Saratoga, or Ulster, the exemption amount is $149,975. For any other county in the state, the exemption amount is $89,975.

27. North Carolina. Homeowners may exempt up to $35,000 of their home or other personal property. Homeowners who are 65 or older whose spouse is deceased may exempt up to $60,000, provided the property was previously owned by the debtor as a tenant by the entirety or as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship.

28. North Dakota. Homeowners can protect up to $100,000 of equity in their home when declaring bankruptcy.

29. Ohio. The state allows for the protection of up to $145,425 of equity as part of the homestead exemption. Spouses who file a joint bankruptcy may double that amount.

30. Oregon. A property owner may be exempt up to $40,000. Married couples, however, may be exempt up to $50,000.

31. South Carolina. The state’s law protects up to $63,250 in equity in a home or real estate used as a residence, with spouses who file a joint bankruptcy being able to double the exemption.

32. Tennessee. Homeowners can exempt up to $5,000 of equity — and that amount goes up to $7,500 for joint owners and $25,000 if there’s at least one minor child who is a dependent. People 62 and older can exempt up to $12,500 of equity in their home—$20,000 if married, and $25,000 if the spouse is also 62 or older.

33. Utah. Homeowners may exempt up to $43,300 to protect their home, provided it is their primary personal residence.

34. Vermont. An exemption up to $125,000 of the equity in a home, condo, or mobile home can be claimed; it can’t be doubled, however, in cases of joint bankruptcy filing.

35. Virginia. This state allows for protection of $5,000 of real estate or personal property as a “wildcard” exemption. That number doubles to $10,000 if the individual is age 65 or older.

36. West Virginia. Homeowners may exempt up to $35,000 of their home or other property. That figure increases to $70,000 if you are married, you and your spouse both own the property, and you file bankruptcy together.

37. Wisconsin. A single person can protect up to $75,000 of equity in a home; spouses can double the amount to $150,000.

38. Wyoming. In this state, up to $20,000 of equity in a home can be shielded from bankruptcy. This can double if you are married, you and your partner own the property together, and you file for bankruptcy jointly.

Still with us? If you don’t see a state listed above, that means it’s one of the two (New Jersey or Pennsylvania) that doesn’t offer any homestead exemptions for use in a bankruptcy filing.

The Takeaway

Homestead exemption rules can help protect your home in instances of a bankruptcy filing and can be very helpful during a difficult time. These guidelines differ greatly by state, but are worth investigating. If you can’t keep your head above financial water, these exemptions may allow you to keep your home.

Refinancing a mortgage may also provide some relief to a struggling homeowner. In addition to offering an array of mortgage loans, SoFi also can help you refinance at competitive rates and with a hassle-free process.

Find out how smart and simple a SoFi mortgage can be.

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